When walking into your local Sephora, you look around at the bustling aisles, looking from one side of the store to the other and marvelling at the vast range of different products offered. There are ranges of colors that catch the eye like a sparkling rainbow and beautiful ombre of foundation shades found in various aisles of the store. Everywhere, you can see makeup enthusiasts bonding over makeup looks and skincare routines as you walk through the aisles. Though makeup has created a lifestyle in society in which it can be extremely commonplace and necessary in everyday life, something that doesn’t often come to mind immediately is how much of this seemingly simple and harmless product has actually changed the way society views beauty in a way that is not only negative, but also discriminatory.
Makeup has created an unrealistic expectation of what women should look like in society, and as a result, often marginalizes women of color and confines women to a prison of impossible standards in society.
This has been a recurring theme in makeup and cosmetics throughout history, as seen with the backlash that female celebrities receive when they do not [adhere] to society’s standards of beauty. In addition, women of color have only recently been welcomed into the world of makeup, where in the past they were completely ignored.
The cosmetic industry has made a name for itself throughout history that has caused it to be such a normal and almost obligatory product in women’s lives.
According to Amber Clifford in The American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia, the “beauty industry is more prevalent in the lives of 21st century Americans than ever before”. In fact, the beauty industry has made it almost always imperative to have makeup on when someone leaves the house not conforming to the societal standard of beauty, and “we increasingly [see] cosmetics and fashion as essential to women’s success in the workplace” (Clifford, 2010, para. 3). In a society where a woman’s worth is often defined by one’s appearance, women often fear been seen in public in fear of backlash from the society. This is closely tied to if not equated to how an identity is formed and warped throughout young girls’ lives.
The problem with makeup being such an integral part of our society is that it makes people have an unrealistic standard of beauty and create a psychological need to conform to the standard. This is shown in the way that makeup companies advertise their products, with photos of beautified women with perfect skin, long eyelashes, gorgeous bodies, perfect hair, all wrapped up neatly (or purposefully messily in an attempt to look effortless and “natural”) in sexual outfits that show off their “assets”. This image of perfection is overused and heavily marketed that the beauty industry is able to ingrain this standard of beauty into everyone in the society.
As a result, when people find things that they believe don’t conform to their idea of beauty, especially female celebrities, they resist the look and often verbally abuse the celebrity online because of their looks.. Though some may argue that times are now changing, and with the coming of the Crocs hashtag “#ComeAsYouAre”, which focused on not being tied down to society’s standards and being yourself; and the Dove campaign “Real Beauty”, which tapped into the idea of getting women to view themselves as beautiful and unique, “with a stated mission to widen the definition of beauty”, but it is still clear that the unhealthy standards of ideal beauty, ironically enough, still are very much alive and well.
Kylie Jenner, arguably one of the most accomplished social media influencers of our time, has had plenty of exposure to both makeup and media, and even has created an extremely popular makeup brand with an enormous following. Recently, she promoted her appearance on the cover of the infamous magazine, Vogue, where she claimed that she had gone “makeup free… and [had] only moisturizer” on her face, attempting to cater to the idea that being “natural” is the new beautiful, rather than relying on makeup to conform to beauty standards (Pham). But quickly following her post, fans were quick to realize that her face on the cover of Vogue was missing her natural freckles, which led fans to speculate “that Kylie wore highlighter, mascara and even foundation”, and if she didn’t wear makeup in the magazine cover, it is very possible that there was severe photoshopping done to her face, in which case there shouldn’t have been any boasting about going makeup free in the first place (Pham).
There is a blatant lie going on in one way or another, which makes the situation worse since Jenner is in the prime position to be promoting positive ideas about loving one’s natural beauty. This is indicative of the untenable beauty standards that society has set, which even affects celebrities, who are generally considered to be the standard in the first place. Though “Kylie Jenner did remove her lip fillers before getting herself photographed for the magazine”, it was not nearly enough to claim that she went makeup free on the cover of the magazine (Sohail). The utilization of makeup has warped our concept of beauty to the point where even famous celebrities can’t seem to shake this idea of needing to adhere to the beauty standards of today, even taking to lying to their viewers in order to make it seem that they just happen to naturally be up to society’s beauty standards.
With the advancement of technology and gaming, a type of entertainer has emerged called a “streamer”, where they play online games from home and talk to people through chats while showing off their prowess in one game or another. This platform of entertainment is one of the most scrutinous areas of entertainment in which beauty standards are an extremely big deal. A League of Legends and Fortnite streamer named Pokimane recently decided to start streaming without any makeup on in order to show her viewers what and how much work it took her to get ready for a stream, in order to showcase the fact that it was okay to not look perfect all the time.
The intense backlash she got from doing this was incredible. Soon after Pokimane’s stream ended, a Twitter user posted a side-by-side photo of her with makeup and one without, and others scrambled to comment negatively. BlurryVisions commented “the right one gotta be an old pic or somethin dawg i cant believe this nah” (Asarch). Some were downright vulgar, saying that Pokimane “had ‘catfished’ her followers… called her ‘disgusting,’ ‘a creature,’ and ‘ugly’” (Hale). Because these people were so used to seeing women, more specifically Pokimane with makeup, they simply assumed that that is what she looked like, or at least couldn’t even imagine that a woman could look so differently with makeup. This is an exemplary instance in which the impact of makeup has caused society to subconsciously file the image of a woman of makeup on as the “standard”, which is both unhealthy and completely unrealistic.
It is possible to argue against the fact that these beauty ideals are now being toned down by arguing that almost immediately after the backlash, there was a flurry of fellow gamers and Twitch streamers that flew to Pokimane’s aid by posting selfies of themselves with no makeup and supporting her decision to begin a stream without makeup and being confident with who she was. They “began posting pictures of themselves without makeup, in order to demonstrate how much effort goes into it and that… they, like Pokimane, look different with and without makeup” (Grayson). But, it is obvious that the stigma still exists and is thriving in society based on the reaction from Pokimane’s audience. If makeup has really is not negatively affecting society’s conception of beauty, then there would be no need for others to have to protect a fellow streamer from backlash because there wouldn’t be such a strong reaction at all. When will there be a stop put to these unrealistic beauty ideals?
In the United States historically, women of color were often ignored by the cosmetic industry. There was not a lack of demand for cosmetic products from the African American community, but rather a lack of cosmetic products that were produced for the skin tone of people with non European descent. Tim Samuelson, a Chicago’s official cultural historian, “points out that access proved to be the major reason black women couldn’t get the makeup they wanted” (Nittle, Racked). Even though there were a few companies who specialized in creating cosmetic products to fit every shade of skin for women of color, large department stores often ignored the needs of minority women and did not carry products designed for them, despite the need and demand for cosmetic products for African Americans.
Therefore, there was never a mainstream product line cosmetic product designed just for women of color. That is, until American pop sensation Rihanna produced a makeup line called Fenty Beauty to be “for women of all skin tones” and “so that women everywhere would be included” (Shatzman, Forbes). Her makeup line includes “a whopping 40 shades of foundation”, more than almost any other mainstream makeup brand has ever released before (Shatzman). Though some could argue that “Fenty Beauty wasn’t the first [to launch an extensive variation foundation shades], it definitely was the brand that pushed everyone else to think harder about an inclusive foundation range” (Rodulfo, Elle). What is amazing is not only the release of such an eclectic collection of different shades, but the fact that many famous makeup brands are now following suit in order to be more inclusive in the makeup industry. CoverGirl, Tarte Cosmetics, and Revlon are just a few of the brands that have also released 40 shades of colors in order to be more inclusive towards women who are not of European descent. With the release of these varied makeup shades, it is apparent that we are seeing the beginning of a revolutionary change in the world of makeup and concept of beauty.
It is clear that times are changing and that great strides have been made in the past to move past these unrealistic beauty ideals and eventually move into accepting natural beauty as the new norm. With large companies such as Crocs and Dove attempting to spread awareness about natural beauty and loving oneself; female streamers standing up for Pokimane’s brave decision to stream without her makeup; the introduction of more racially-inclusive makeup shades being more commercially available, it almost goes without saying that things are improving. There is still a stigma that is so ingrained in society that keeps people from acknowledging that they can be beautiful without the assistance of makeup, which is one of the main reasons it is so hard to move forward. But are these new social movements and changes only creating a new standard of beauty, or are we moving towards a society where we place more value in one’s character than one’s appearance.