I love makeup. Like, I really, really love makeup. I can count the number of pastimes I have on one hand. My work schedule is often such that I barely have time to catch a few hours of sleep every night, much less pick up a skill or hobby. But makeup? I always have time for makeup. I also, somehow, always have money for my cosmetics addiction, even when I really don’t (as in sometimes I go without grocery shopping because I can eat rice for a few days if it means getting a new palette.) To be fair, I have always picked up fixations. In elementary school it was dragons, in middle school it was cats, and in high school, it was international relations. Now, it’s makeup. But what’s unique to the cosmetics industry that can’t be said for the cat and dragon industries is that cosmetics are uniquely marketed to the insecurities of flaws of women.
Makeup is not sold as a hobby, it’s sold as a cure. A fix for your skin, your lashes, your eyes. Age-defying, tone correcting, lash extending, makeup finds all of the quirks and characteristics of their demographic’s features and then offers solutions to problems that you didn’t even know you had. At the same time that these products are being pushed on women and girls, our culture demands that those imperfect, flawed individuals be natural, authentic, and beautiful. You can’t wear makeup, else you’re being dishonest. But you must also be beautiful so that you’re consumable. Airbrushed images promise perfection, but you can’t ever be truly perfect because then new products couldn’t be marketed. This has been true of the industry for decades.
What is so damaging and so bad about modern makeup marketing is that it’s no longer clear and transparent. Young girls, 12-year-olds, 10-year-olds, are on Instagram, longing to look as polished and primped as grown women on Instagram who have the money, sponsorships, and photo editing tools to present their Perfect Selves. These are children who are craving perfectly tapered brows and bright red lipsticks. This is the action of an oppressive culture, once which teaches children that they are sexual objects to be consumed only to then blame those children when grown men assault and stalk them.
Then there is the literal cost. High-end makeup runs very high, with Too Faced palettes costing as much as $49, and NARS palettes costing hundreds of dollars. Even drugstore makeup adds up when you’re buying the full effects. There are creams and lotions and foundations and BB creams and primers and setting powders, not to mention eyeshadow and eyeliner and mascara and brow liner and brow gel, and so much more. Somehow, of all of these products, very few come is shades that reflect the diverse shades of women of color, creating a rather racist standard that excludes dark skinned beauty.
When fervor is running low, existing techniques are re-packaged and re-marketed with new intent. Contouring has existed for ages, but suddenly there was a surge in marketing contouring and strobing products as everyday necessities. Then, once these products are steadily flowing, they become new methods by which to hide one’s features. Once, out of interest in contouring more precisely myself, I looked up contouring tips for my square face. Every single article and listicle and advice column I found insisted that I should avoid sharp angles and certain colors and certain intensities because my jaw was too sharp and my features too stark. I didn’t have an urge to disguise my natural edges, I actually enjoy accentuating them so that my features are even more dramatic. But that wasn’t an option, and at first, I assumed it was because square faces were associated with masculine features. But sure enough, when I looked over advice for other face shapes, I found that across the board each shape was treated as a flaw that must be hidden or fixed and refocused.
Makeup is an art and a skill. It can be used to make subtle or dramatic effects, and applying makeup can be relaxing and fun! I absolutely love playing with color contrast and eyeliner shape. I love lining my cheekbones with glitter and highlighter that sparkles in the light. But makeup can also be cruel and it can be damaging. If you wear makeup, please, do not believe what you are told. Your face is beautiful and bright. Your skin tone isn’t too dark. Your lips aren’t too small, or too big, and your nose is perfect. Wear makeup because it’s fun and because you feel beautiful in it, but remember that it’s okay to feel beautiful without makeup too. And if you don’t feel beautiful without it? That’s okay too. Beauty is not our purpose, it is not the end-all of our existence. We do not exist to be looked at. We are not products for consumption. We are people, and we are deserving of self-love and goal fruition with or without blush.