Trawling through my inbox last night, I found a commission that was written in 2014 for a great digital magazine that unfortunately folded shortly afterwards. Reading it back, the subject matter seemed just as relevant today as it did when it was written so I thought I’d let it see the light of day here.
Whilst the beauty trends of the 1920s are as easily recognisable as the fashion, it seems we’re rattling towards to 2020’s with a thoroughly indiscernible ‘look’. The beauty icons of old have been replaced with an amalgamation of aspirational aesthetic goals (a post-Coachella tan, poreless skin, etc.) – many of which don’t, or pretend not to, involve makeup.
Even beauty brand ambassadors seem to have become a transient stream of barely made-up celebrities; Bobbi Brown recently replaced the fresh-faced Katie Holmes with the, err, fresh-faced Kate Upton. This surge in popularity for barely-there makeup was cemented on Vogue’s April 2014 cover, with Nigella Lawson’s toned-down (post-court case ‘war paint’) makeup acknowledged as heralding a new chapter in her life.
With skincare sales in the US growing to $3.6 billion in 2013, and the craze for BB and CC (beauty balm and colour corrector respectively) leaving brands clamouring to clear shelf space for these minimal coverage bases, it seems we’re all chasing a naturally flawless finish – but is the ‘look’ of 2014 really as barefaced as the hashtags would have us believe?
Despite being fully immersed in the beauty industry on a daily basis, I’ve found myself wearing less and less makeup. While I’m passionate about colour cosmetics as a form of self-expression, a mood and confidence booster, I’m ok with not looking perky 24/7. I’m generally only fully made-up for nights out, or simply when the mood strikes me, and I relish days when I have a couple of spare hours to really experiment with pencils and lipstick. However the freedom and lack of obligation I feel around makeup is frequently called into question by responses to my semi-bare face; if I skip foundation my dad never fails to tell me I look ‘washed out’, and female acquaintances struggle to conceal their bewilderment about how I can possibly call myself a beauty writer without sporting full face to work.
As Vogue’s almost-barefaced Nigella cover attests, there’s both a demand for and supply of slap-free celebrities. Where dark circles and pimples once appeared spitefully ringed with red, freshly cleansed famous faces are now ostensibly making a wilful statement. Like the #nomakeupselfie movement, this rejection of the airbrushed status quo has been portrayed as everything from a declaration of togetherness and girl-power, to a push towards improved self-esteem; but the reality reveals a complicated relationship between women and makeup (and men).
Blogger, Leandra Medine (aka The Man Repeller), recently penned a piece in which she explained why she didn’t feel the need to wear makeup. The post was in response to, amongst other things, an unfortunate cc: email incident in which a male website founder said she was funny and smart, but ‘ugly as f*ck’. It was a piece Leandra was clearly reluctant to write as, she rightly observes, her website doesn’t ‘sell bodies’ but ‘ideas’. Despite the positive conclusion, her writing (and the comments below) drew attention to a marked anxiety about men’s perception of makeup-free female faces.
While most men I know would happily admit they can’t spot the difference between a bare face and ‘natural’ makeup, hashtags drawing attention to the absence of cosmetics have produced mixed responses. To quote one misfiring compliment I saw on a photo during the recent ‘breast cancer awareness’ selfie-spree; ‘Oh, you’re actually quite pretty without makeup’.
It seems, particularly for young teens, there’s a perception that our entire being and worth somehow shifts with the removal of makeup. You need only search one of these hashtags on Instagram to bring up thousands of photos (63,621 at time of writing) of girls accompanied by comments consisting almost entirely of variants on ‘you’re so brave’. Though the #nomakeup hashtag itself is arguably both reductive and sexist, particularly in the case of cancer awareness, perhaps worse still is that it’s often coupled with connotations (or #real) that those who do choose to wear makeup are somehow now inferior or ‘fake’. If we adopt that thinking, the current trend for ‘no-makeup makeup’ is the most dishonest of all.
Though the more ‘bare’ faces we see in print and across social media (like most, I see plenty in day-to-day life) may push towards an adjustment in the way all genders view makeup (as a source of pleasure rather than with a feeling of necessity), there’s new pressure to sport the sort of glowing skin that suggests a wholesome life of Wholefoods trips, kale juice and ashtanga yoga – and this pressure to look ‘naturally’ perfect is being felt by all genders.
Since 2008, the market for men’s toiletries has grown by 15%, and is expected to boom another 13% by 2018. With Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs now selling dedicated lines of men’s colour cosmetics, this decade’s dalliance with men’s makeup looks set to extend beyond Johnny Depp-inspired ‘guyliner’. Though, with any luck, this won’t be the start of boyfriends reluctant to nip to the shop without concealer, steps towards normalisation for men who do want to experiment with cosmetics is debatably a positive thing.
Conflicts aside, there’s a glimmer of hope that the combined effort of the #nomakeup selfies and un-retouched celebrities will result in a positive shift towards a more balanced perception of makeup for all genders. Whether you’re sporting a red lip daily, or just for your office Christmas do, maybe the biggest beauty trend of 2014 will be the one where we’re finally all doing as we damn well please.