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Make-Up Is Evil

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"Why should false painting imitate his cheek,
And steal dead seeming of his living hue?
Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?"
William Shakespeare, "Sonnet 67"

A Forgotten Trope nowadays, but one that lasted for many centuries in western Europe: wearing any form of "paint" on your face is a sign of evil, particularly dishonesty, more to be expected of the Deadly Decadent Court or Vice City than any more wholesome place. Only an actress or some such disreputable woman would self-paint, which is why "painted woman" is not a compliment. The Femme Fatale and The Vamp obviously use make-up, as part of their stock in trade is unnaturally good looks. (The trope is rarer but stronger for men.)

Historically, also, many forms of make-up have been hazardous—such as lead-based or arsenic based ones—so a woman who used them might sacrifice her health or even life, not to mention her looks in the long term, for a brief attractive appearance. At the very least, this was a sign that she was vain and foolish.


The trope faded out as make-up became acceptable, with points at which heavy make-up rather than make-up in general was the mark, and the degree of evil entailed varies widely. The transition towards non-toxic materials also helped in this. Fastidiously-applied makeup might indicate a character is rigorous and strict, usually a trait found on villains, or Wicked Cultured; a male character wearing makeup suggests a character who ignores normal gender roles, with a whole host of Sissy Villain and Otherworldly and Sexually Ambiguous readings that have stuck around even as attitudes towards gender have relaxed.

When the trope appears nowadays, it's usually applied to garish makeup. From the very beginning, Punk Rock and Heavy Metal have demonstrated that a painted—and usually male—face is a sure sign that a character is mean or crazy, or at least sinister.


May overlap with Beauty Equals Goodness and Evil Makes You Ugly: only evil people would need to paint, since good ones are naturally beautiful.

This often involved very heavy make-up in visual media, to make it clear that the character wears it, the alternatives being showing it being put on, having it run from tears or rain, or becoming lipstick kisses.

A staple of the Creepy Crossdresser.

Sister Trope to Sensible Heroes, Skimpy Villains, Femme Fatalons, and Delinquent Hair. An influence on Uncanny Valley Makeup. See also Excessive Evil Eyeshadow, Beauty Is Bad. Monster Clown and Enemy Mime are extreme versions of this trope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Femto (Griffith's God Hand persona) and Slan from Berserk are the only God Hand members to have such red lips.
  • In Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z, the source of Sedusa's powers of imitation is make-up tainted by Chemical Z, and one tell-tale sign that she's around is that she smells like cheap makeup.
  • Seen in the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga with Ms. Chono, a Sadist Teacher who wore so much makeup it was practically a mask.
  • Shapiro Keats of Dancougar, being a triumphant example of a Sissy Villain and The Fighting Narcissist, wears very prominent blue eyeshadow.
  • Played straight and Subverted by Kai Hiwatari in Beyblade: no matter on what side of the Heel–Face Revolving Door he's at the moment, if he's beyblading he's wearing facepaint.
  • Although heroic characters of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure are also seen wearing makeup in many illustrations the most prominent villainous examples would be Kars with his distinct eye-makeup and the multiple instances of Dio being portrayed wearing dark lipstick.
  • Ultear, Minerva, and Midnight in Fairy Tail all wear makeup, though in Midnight's case it helps emphasize his Goth look. Noticeably, they all wear much less after their respective Heel Face Turns.

    Films — Animated 
  • A buttload of Disney movies do this, and some pretty recent ones as well! In most of these movies, the only person with makeup on is the villain; Evil Queen Grimhilde, Maleficent, Lady Tremaine, Medusa, Cruella, Jafar... Ursula takes this Up to Eleven by squashing a sentient creature to produce lipstick, literally making her makeup evil.
    • It should be noted that most of the women mentioned above are truly ugly even with the makeup. Maleficent, being a demon, even has a sickly green face—which makes any actress who dresses up as her at the Disney theme parks to be a Real Life example.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Madam of Liquid Silver in Tank Girl is really overly made up.
  • In Little Shop of Horrors Audrey (the girl, not the plant) wears a lot of make-up due to her poor self image. She takes it off when Seymour convinces her she doesn't need it in the "Suddenly Seymour" number.
  • In The Hunger Games most citizens of the oppressive, decadent Capital wear heavy make-up (in the film, if not always in the book). The most evil characters tend to avert the trope, though.
    • This trope was even used to show a subtle shift in characterization for Effie Trinket. While in the first film, it's practically impossible to see Elizabeth Bank's skin under all the makeup she wears, by the second film, although Effie's clothes are still outlandish, she's wearing considerably less makeup, showing that she's begun to identify less with the citizens in the Capital and more with Katniss and Peeta.
  • The Joker from The Dark Knight. He does it to accentuate the grisly scars across his face, in this version the white face being clown makeup and not his actual skin color.
  • There's also a (more subtle) example in the original Batman (1989): Dark Chick Alicia is always in glamorous makeup, while Vicki Vale is (usually) barefaced, or at least looks natural by comparison. This is then turned Up to Eleven in the museum scene: Vicki is wearing hardly any makeup at all, while Alicia has painted her face white to disguise the fact that the Joker has burned off half of it.
  • The film version of Tommy:
    • Sally Simpson applies lipstick and eyeshadow after being seduced by The Power of Rock (which her vicar father certainly considers evil). She then attends one of Tommy's concerts, where she has her face split open by a policeman's baton, has a grotesque scar stitched across her face to close the wound, and then marries a rock musician and becomes a sleazy teenage mother.
    • Tommy's mother (Ann-Margret) turns into a vain, decadent woman after she becomes rich, sporting excessive mascara on her eyes. She also wears a ridiculous amount of costume jewelry, which her son rips off of her after she converts to his new religion.
    • Played more straight with The Acid Queen who is not as "evil" as the creepy uncles and sadistic teens of the world but is definitely framed as immoral and insane. This is emphasized by her demonic red lipstick on her Un-Smile. See for yourself if you dare.
  • We reach some kind of singularity with the Catwoman film. The two main villains are the CEO and spokeswoman for a cosmetics corporation, and their Evil Plan involves an anti-aging cream that causes skin to rot if you stop using it.
  • In Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Elvira checks into a motel and meets the cranky old motel owner. The owner's grandaughter then comes downstairs, only to be confronted by her grandmother, and be told that she will not wear makeup. Later in the scene, Elvira reassures the girl that she used to have the same problem with the nuns at the orphanage. (Of course, she was only 8.)
  • One of the most insistent teachings of Maria's church in Stations of the Cross is that make-up, fashion, and dresses are self-absorbing topics that serve only to invoke lust in men and keep women from God.
    • The first scene sees the parish's priest mention fashion and dresses as a temptation established by the Devil to lead the people of the real Church astray.
    • In the second scene, Maria tries to avoid being in a picture to avoid thinking of her appearance, but her mother orders her to. Ironically, Maria's mother chastises her, not for lacking confidence, but for being too preoccupied with her appearance by not being preoccupied with her appearance. Faced with a family that will always see her as self-obsessed, Maria ends the scene on the verge of tears.
    • In the fourth scene, Maria's mother smiles and tells Maria she can buy a dress with stripes for her Confirmation, as if that's somehow scandalous and cool for a mother to allow. She acknowledges that her standards are a little peculiar, but only in the context of decrying the fashion of the modern day.
    • In the fifth scene, the parish priest pushes for Maria to confess that she's been attempting to stir lust in a boy she's been talking to, even though Maria knows that's not the truth. Still, it confuses her enough to want to totally cut contact with that boy, who happens to be her only friend as she goes through suicidal depression.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:

  • In L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, Valancy had once tried to put color in her cheeks before a party by pinching them. This started a rumor that she had worn rouge, which, unusually, did not manage to sink her reputation, because everyone knew that dowdy Valancy Stirling could not be fast.
    • In A Tangled Web, Aunt Beckie puts on rouge before her last family gathering, shocking her living companion, but insisting on it. Then she orders Nan to wash off her rouge—over Nan's objection that Aunt Beckie was wearing it herself. (Afterwards, Nan amuses herself by setting out to romance a young man to take him from his fiancee.)
  • In Gene Stratton-Porter's Her Father's Daughter, this is a mark against Eileen.
    I never knew Eileen to be honest about anything in all her life unless the truth served her better than an evasion. Her hair was not honest color and it was not honest curl. Her eyebrows were not so dark as she made them. Her cheeks and lips were not so red, her forehead and throat were not so white, her form was not so perfect.
  • Queen Jezebel of The Bible notoriously put on makeup before confronting God's prophet. Unfortunately, it didn't stop her from becoming dog food.
  • In the Victorian story "The Fatal Cosmetic" a woman who starts out flattering a poor performance ends up using a dangerous cosmetic, not disposing of it properly and then lying about it, so that it is mistaken for medicine and administered to another woman with fatal results.
  • In Tom Robbins's book Skinny Legs and All, this is the in-universe Berserk Button for fundamentalist preacher Buddy Winkler, he calls the protagonist a jezebel for wearing makeup and once washes her face till she bleeds.
  • In Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Meg is made up "like Cinderella" but it includes this—though she revolts at rouge.
    On the Thursday evening, Belle shut herself up with her maid, and between them they turned Meg into a fine lady. They crimped and curled her hair, they polished her neck and arms with some fragrant powder, touched her lips with coralline salve to make them redder, and Hortense would have added 'a soupcon of rouge', if Meg had not rebelled.
    • There is no doubt of the evaluation, since when later confessing to bad behavior at the party, Meg includes it:
    "Of course not. Don't I always tell you everything? I was ashamed to speak of it before the younger children, but I want you to know all the dreadful things I did at the Moffats'."
    "We are prepared," said Mrs. March, smiling but looking a little anxious.
    "I told you they dressed me up, but I didn't tell you that they powdered and squeezed and frizzled, and made me look like a fashion-plate. Laurie thought I wasn't proper. I know he did, though he didn't say so,
  • In G. K. Chesterton's The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, one character comments on its decreasing significance, but still thinks it shows something of character.
    we all know that making-up and even dyeing your hair doesn't mean what it once did; lots of women do it who are perfectly decent; but not those who are—well, utterly inexperienced.
    • In "The Sword of Wood", the stranger is known to come from the corrupt city by this (and does turn to be, if not quite villainous, hardly a good guy).
    'His face is painted,' said Griffin. 'That is the sort of thing they do in London. And he wears a pile of false hair out of a barber's; and walks about in it, like the house of a Jack-in-the Green.
  • In Gone with the Wind, Melanie is admonished for acknowledging Belle Watling, a painted woman who was a prosperous town prostitute. Later, Mammy has a fit when Scarlett asks her to buy her some rouge, outright stating that only whores wear "face paint".
  • In Lisa Shearin's All Spell Breaks Loose, while the princess wears make-up, Raine comments on how she probably would have looked just as well without it, and the villainess wears too much for good taste.
  • In C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle, one reason why Susan refuses to remember Narnia is her obsession with make-up.
  • In P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novel Right Ho, Jeeves, when Tuppy and Angela quarrel, he says he disapproves of this habit of modern girls, putting on make-up.
  • While not exactly "evil", Midnight Sun has Edward go on about how all the other girls in Forks are unwilling to do things like enjoy the rain because it ruins their makeup, with the implication that those girls are silly and shallow. Of course, Bella doesn't wear makeup because her complexion is flawless anyhow. Naturally.
  • The notorious French couplet Egle, belle et poete, a deux petits travers: elle fait son visage et ne fait pas ses versnote nowadays, saying "you are a plagiarist and you use make-up" is ridiculous, but in the 18th century both were seen as equally dishonest.
  • In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Rosemary And Rue, Toby's criticism of a girl who confronts her at Home mentions the overdone makeup—and how one thing she looked liked was a downtown whore.
  • In Viva Maria, Marie tells the titular Maria that her otherwise kind father once hit her when she once put on lipstick. Though this may be more because she put it on despite them being members of La Résistance...
  • In Xenophon's writings about Socrates, make-up gets mentioned twice: in a legend about Heracles being offered a choice between two women, one Vice and one Virtue, and it's pointed out that Vice was more white and scarlet than nature allows; the other when a husband finds his wife wearing make-up and goes to rebuke her, pointing out that she would not like it if he falsely showed her property than was not his.
  • In Another Note, the only character described as wearing any kind of makeup is the Villain Protagonist, Beyond Birthday. (A notorious Serial Killer, who acts more like a realistic Ninja.)
  • The Apocryphal Bible book "Enoch" specifically mentions makeup as being something mankind was not meant to know, and a secret given to the world by sinful angels.
  • In The Jennifer Morgue, the Bathory PaleGraceTM makeup line carries a youth-projecting glamour and uses Virgin Sacrifice as an active ingredient. That said, thanks to stem-cell research and Post-Modern Magik, the manufacturers have cut the virgin blood down to just 14 parts per million, so at least it's efficiently evil.
  • In line with her staunch Beauty Is Bad beliefs, literal Plain Jane Rizzoli refuses to even wear lipstick to try and improve her homely looks. A scene in the first novel has her visiting a makeup counter and being so disappointed in the results that she outright declares that models out to be shot for giving women false hope that makeup can make someone unattractive gorgeous.
  • In the family memoir Cheaper by the Dozen, father Frank Gilbert becomes increasingly strict with his daughters as they approach womanhood, refusing to allow them to cut their hair, wear stockings, perfume, and indeed, makeup, deeming all of the above as only worn by loose women.
    • He doesn't mind it on his daughters' friends, though.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Appears once or twice Downton Abbey, reflecting opinions of the time. In particular, Mrs Patmore is furious when she catches Ivy wearing rouge (no doubt to impress the chaps), and demands she scrub it off immediately.
    Mrs Patmore: Not in this house, Miss Hussy!
  • The trope is played somewhat more literally in Horrible Histories, where the dangerous nature of 17th and 18th century makeup has been touched on in a few skits. The ladies wearing makeup are just vain and oblivious to the danger, not evil, but the makeup itself is literally bad, because it's got things like lead or arsenic in it.
    • The more standard take on this trope pops up in the Cromwell Christmas sketch, where Cromwell actually says almost as much ("Make-up is SINFUL!!").
  • An Invoked Trope in Rome when Octavian's propaganda machine is accusing Marc Antony of having been corrupted by Cleopatra and her decadent Eastern ways. "He blackens his eyes with soot like a prostitute!"
  • When she's impersonating Sarah while meeting their mutual birthmother in Orphan Black, Helena gives herself away (to the viewer) by the light red eyeshadow she hasn't removed.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor's Evil Counterpart, the Master, is often associated with makeup, with the Delgado and Ainley versions wearing heavy Guyliner, the Simm version being shown applying it, and Gomez's "Missy" incarnation using a makeup compact as a weapon, as well as often being seen applying lipstick or doing her nails. The Master's gimmicks are disguises and Hypnotic Eyes, playing along with the 'beguilement' and 'deceitful' part of this trope.
    • Male Time Lords in "The Deadly Assassin" wear makeup as part of their culture's ceremonial dress, but it's subtle or absent on the sympathetic characters. Runcible and Spandrell are barefaced while Goth and Borusa paint it on, and you certainly wouldn't catch the Doctor in white lipstick and eyeshadow (though this overlaps with Wardrobe Flaw of Characterization in his case—his own culture's clothes don't suit him for clear Rule of Symbolism reasons).
    • Men and women wear Uncanny Valley Makeup in "The Robots of Death". The makeup itself isn't evil but the degree to which it's modeled on robots is suspect, and drives home how decadent and dependent on technology that Kaldor City society has become.
  • Murdoch Mysteries
    • A subtle one occurs in the episode "Till Death Do Us Part". When Eunice is first seen, she is complaining that she remains pale no matter how much she pinches her cheeks. Later, after she is revealed as a con artist and a murderer, she is applying bright red lipstick.
    • Later invoked but averted in "Painted Ladies", when the male characters are surprised to learn even respectable women visit the cosmetician. The times are changing...
  • Parodied on an episode of Inside Amy Schumer. A Boy Band appears to Amy and starts singing a song called "Girl You Don't Need Makeup", about how she should remove her makeup because she doesn't need it to be beautiful. As soon as she does so, the boy band literally change their tune, singing about how they were wrong before and Amy should put her makeup back on.
  • Mimi from The Drew Carey Show wore infamously garish makeup for which Drew often mocked her, and she was often a grade-A bitch. The trope is a bit downplayed, however, in that the mocking was overall more because she was a bitch, rather than the fact that she was wearing makeup. Given the nature of the show, a similarly painted but nicer character probably would have gotten much lighter and more good-natured riffing.
  • Played with in Power Rangers In Space. One of the first things Astronema/Karone does after her Heel–Face Turn is ditch her wig(s) and most of her makeup. The Rangers certainly consider it an improvement.

    Music Video 
  • This appears in the video for the Paramore song 'Misery Business'. As part of a Humiliation Conga inflicted on the preppy, evil high school bully at the end of the video, Hayley Williams wipes a damp towel across her face, revealing that she is caked in makeup. Hayley then tuts and walks away. Rendered deliberately ironic by Hayley's spectacularly dyed hair and flamboyant eyeshadow, but nevertheless...

  • Shakespeare's "Sonnet 67" is a lament that people try to imitiate a man's beauty with make-up, so that he is actually a corrupting influence.
    • "Sonnet 68" chiefly complains in similar tones of wig-wearing, but opens with the observation:
    Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn,
    When beauty lived and died as flowers do now
  • Christina Rossetti wrote an early poem about a woman who fainted at a ball, but had not grown pale—did this woman paint?
  • In Robert Browning's The Flight of the Duchess, the Duchess used damaging make-up that ruined her looks.
  • In Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, Belinda's use of make-up is tweaked:
    Sees by degrees a purer blush arise

    Professional Wrestling 

  • In Hamlet, the Prince berates Ophelia (or, rather, all women) for being false in various ways, and through makeup:
    I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another.
    • Later, faced with a skull, he comments on how it will not keep her alive.
    Now get yet to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.
  • Subverted in "Welcome to the 60s", from Hairspray, where part of Edna's confidence-boosting make-up specifically calls for lipstick.
    Dontcha let nobody steal your fun/ 'Cause a little touch of lipstick never hurt no one!
  • In Titus Andronicus, Aaron derides the other characters as using paint—"Ye white-limed walls! ye alehouse painted signs!"—and cites his own black skin as preferable because it could not use make-up.

    Video Games 
  • Ultimecia from Final Fantasy VIII plays this trope straight, complete with Facial Markings and Excessive Evil Eyeshadow. Edea is a justified case, as she was victim of a Grand Theft Me from Ultimecia, and after regaining control, stop wearing it, as seen in the ending.
  • Medusa's appearance in Kid Icarus: Uprising, while based off of her depiction in the original game, seems to have taken on a more gothic look, with (among other things) eyeshadow and a tattoo around her left eye.
  • Inverted in Mass Effect with the turians, who for the most part have painted-on facial markings indicating which world they're from, a tradition stemming from a civil war between turian colonies a thousand years before the events of the series. 'Barefaced' turians are considered untrustworthy, and the term 'barefaced' is even used as slang for a politician. It's worth mentioning that all this is told through the codex, which is intentionally a bit of an Unreliable Narrator, and given that Shepard never sees any prejudice between turians in game, the stigma may have faded.
    • Could also have something to do with the fact that the only barefaced turian consistently seen is Saren... Mass Effect 2 gives us a couple more in with Warden Kuril and Joram Talid. Neither is trustworthy.
  • Played straight in Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, where's God's angels will tell you take makeup is the work of the devil. Considering how much of a Jerkass God is in Shin Megami Tensei, though, you should take it with a grain of salt. Lucifer isn't much better, though.
  • In Skullgirls, Adorkable, plain-faced Filia is the resident Nice Girl. Her Evil Counterpart, Fukua (a clone made by an even-more-morally-questionable-than-usual Mad Scientist), dons eyeshadow and lipstick.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, Sith Warrior companion Jaesa Wilsaam can turn out either Light or Dark-side depending on your actions, with the main physical difference being that Dark Jaesa wears purple eyeshadow and lipstick.


    Western Animation 
  • On Atomic Betty, Penelope Lang is the only girl in school who wears eyeshadow. In contrast Betty just wears lipstick, mostly while in her Galactic Guardian uniform, but she sometimes she puts on lipstick for special occasions. Also, Betty's mom wears both eyeshadow and lipstick, but while she might be a bit of a neglectful and self-absorbed mother she's not evil.
  • The Mega Man cartoon had a corrupted cosmetics robot attack Roll and give her a bad facial.
  • The flashback episode of The Simpsons that shows how Homer and Marge got together has Marge's mother insisting she pinch her cheeks before high school prom to make them look rosier. When Marge asks if she can just use some rouge instead, she give Marge this advice: "Ladies pinch! Whores use rouge."
  • Major The Powerpuff Girls villain Him always wears a lot of make-up, and he's basically the devil with lobster claws for hands. There is also the one-off villain Mask Scara who ran across the city covering everyone in make-up that wouldn't come off. When she came across the already made-up Him she dressed him in clown make-up.
  • The Legend of Korra:
  • In the fifth 1980s Strawberry Shortcake TV special, Sour Grapes' obsession with making the perfect perfume causes a huge, rotten-smelling cloud to form and threaten Strawberryland and the Berrykins, and she tries to capture and shake the scent out of the Berrykins to get it right.

    Real Life 
  • "Cosmetics" used to be a euphemism, because still earlier a cosmetic meant something that would actually improve appearance, removing a blemish or freckle or whatever instead of hiding it.
  • Caroline of Brunswick, being sent off to marry George IV, got a lot of grief for her appearance at the British court, including for her "painted eye-brow".
  • Some religions discourage or forbid the use of makeup, on the grounds that either looking too good will entice others to Lust, or that changing one's natural appearance is an affront to the Creator(s).
  • Adolf Hitler condemned the wearing of cosmetics by Nazi-era German women, since it violated the "wholesome" image he wanted the women of his country to have. He preferred German women with their hair tied back, their legs covered, and no makeup—not "whores in Indian war paint."
  • Communist regimes were also very heavily against make-up, especially in their more rigorous programs.
  • The term "painted lady" was a euphemism for a prostitute.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Everyone who performs in a film, television show, or a theater performance is wearing makeup to some extent, to make them look natural under the lights.
  • Depending on who is saying it and what context, the ever-classic "I think you look better without makeup" is either a complement or an expression of this trope.


Example of: