SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (WOMENSENEWS)–Tiffany Yabsley, a 15-year-old tennis player in Santa Barbara, California, walked onto the court for a Saturday morning match with two things on her mind: Could she and her partner beat their opponent duo and was her mascara running?

Yabsley, like many of her teammates and opponents, wears makeup while practicing and competing in games or meets.

“I feel judged when I don’t wear makeup, and when I meet people for the first time, I don’t want them to judge me in that way,” Yabsley said. “This is why I put on makeup before matches. I don’t want to be judged by the people watching or by my opponents.”

She added that not only does makeup give her confidence, but she feels uncomfortable in public without it.

“Looking good” in front of others was a common worry for many teenage girls talked to for this story, and makeup is one way for them to decrease outside worries during a game, ultimately heightening their focus on the competition.

This connection between performance and confidence has been proven in many psychological studies, according to Dr. Jill Mines, a dermatologist in Southern California.

“We are going to perform better if we feel better about ourselves,” she said. “There is a state of mind in psychology, and I know some guys might not approach it this way, but I think for most human beings, how they feel about themselves is partly due to athletics and partly due to their appearance.”

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that when research subjects wore a white lab coat, which made them feel more confident in their actions, they continually performed better than those who didn’t on a basic test of “care and attentiveness.” This study proved the theory that how one feels about his or her appearance has a significant effect on the execution of tasks or activities.

Form of Intimidation

For Yabsley, this idea of looking good is not only a boost of inner confidence, but also can be a form of intimidation for her opponents. She applies makeup before her tennis matches in hopes of enhancing her appearance, and therefore intimidating her rivals.

“I want my opponents to be intimidated by me, both athletically and by my appearance,” she said.

Laurel Kujan applies foundation, mascara and bronzer—the same makeup she wears regularly—before volleyball games. The 17-year-old is a Santa Barbara beach volleyball player and past member of the Beach Volleyball USA Junior Olympics team. She said wearing makeup helps boost her confidence while playing the sport and also minimizes some potential worries, allowing her to focus on playing well.

“If I think I look good, I worry about that less, and can focus on playing rather than how I look,” Kujan said.

The debate on athletes and makeup came up during the 2016 Summer Olympics and took a turn when Fox News broadcasted two men commenting on the issue. In the broadcast Bo Dietl declared, “Why should I have to look at some chick’s zits? Why not a little blush on her lips and cover those zits?”

Besides feeling good, there can be other benefits to wearing makeup while playing outdoor sports. Makeup can give girls and women added protection from harsh UV rays.

“The one thing that I really see when I talk to people is that wearing foundation is an extra layer of sun protection,” Mines said.

No Less Confident

But not all teens said they like wearing makeup while playing sports. Laguna Blanca soccer player, and star four-season athlete, Julia Fay, 16, said that while she does wear makeup at times, she feels no less confident without it.

“I don’t feel that I need to wear makeup for sports, because it’s not really about looking good. For me, it’s only about playing well. I definitely understand why many of my teammates put on makeup before playing in games or practices, but for me, I don’t feel like it’s necessary,” Fay said.

For Santa Barbara athlete Casey Albert, it’s not a matter of confidence. “Wearing makeup is a way to express myself and my creativity,” the 18-year-old past-basketball player said. “Some people wear crazy socks during games or unique hair pieces. For me, applying makeup is the same as that.”

This story was funded through a generous grant from Say it Forward in support of our teen journalists.