The Beauty Evolution
The Beauty Evolution
By Lexi Phillips
For the typical Western woman, makeup is a vital part of everyday life. In fact, according to a survey released by Today and AOL in 2016, women spend an average of 335 hours each year doing their makeup.
In many cases, makeup is seen as something used to cover up flaws and make you look beautiful—and for a long time, the beauty industry has promoted that, with mascaras meant to make your eyelashes twice as long and lipstick that’ll bring all the boys to your yard.
Now, though, the way we wear, and view, makeup has evolved, as has the way it is sold to us. The conversation surrounding makeup is changing, and it’s time for us to listen.
The Purpose of Makeup
Makeup carries a stigma dating back decades in which women are seen as wearing makeup for the purpose of attracting men into their lives. And while this still may be the reason some people wear it, makeup now has many purposes. For Nic James and Libby Akin, both senior theatre arts majors, makeup is a tool for expressing themselves.
“I feel like as an artist, I use it more as a tool now to execute a vision. Whether that be in cosplay or whether it be in creating a look for an event or whether it be just trying to make myself look cohesive head-to-toe, I see it as a tool, not as a necessity,” says James, who is also a BareMinerals makeup artist here in Ellensburg.
The use of makeup as a statement or expression is common—in 2017, activist and Army soldier Chelsea Manning wrote an essay for Yahoo Beauty in which she talked about wearing dark lipstick to protest President Trump’s announcement that he would be banning transgender people from serving in the military. “I’m not just saying, ‘I like this edgy color.’ This is an expression of my humanity,” she said, adding, “I’m wearing a lot of bold lipsticks, because I’m trying to make bold statements: I’m here and I’m free and I can do whatever I want.”
This patriarchal stigma hasn’t just gone away, though. Kelsy Colvin, a 35-year-old from Portland, Ore., argues, “As long as female sexuality is stigmatized, the tools women have historically used to express themselves as sexual beings will also carry a negative association.” That doesn’t mean we should shame women for wearing makeup, she says, just as we shouldn’t shame them for expressing sexual desire.
Alexis Grimaldo, a 26-year-old makeup artist from Yakima, Wash. has experienced this stigma firsthand. “When I … once wore red lipstick, people told me, ‘That’s for hookers.’ And I’d be like, ‘Red lipstick is not like that [anymore].’”
And just as makeup has been seen as a tool of attraction, it has also long been seen as a way to cover up your own insecurities.
“I think that every generation goes through that at some point in their life,” says Shawn Phillips, a 54-year-old from Battle Ground, Wash. (related to writer). “I think in their early teens until they really find who they are and find that self-confidence within themselves … where they just didn’t like themselves unless they had their full makeup on, ready to go out, even if it was to the mailbox. But I think that as we age … we find that self-confidence to know that you’re wonderful whoever you are.”
Meagan Hays, a licensed cosmetologist and esthetician from Kelso, Wash., says she doesn’t use makeup to hide. “For me, it’s highlighting my features and accentuating what I do like about myself,” she explains. “I really like the color of my eyes, so I will do … colors that will highlight my eyes.”
Ultimately, why you wear makeup isn’t important, according to Akin. “We’re all wearing makeup regardless of what [our] intention is, so there’s no way for me to be like, ‘Women who wear makeup are insecure … or they’re conforming [to] the patriarchy,’” she says. “We should just always encourage each other to make choices based on our values and be yourself and not worry about other people’s personal journey with themselves.”
The Makeup Revolution
It’s no secret that makeup is changing. We are seeing more warm tones in eyeshadow and more vibrant colors all around as opposed to the nude trend we had just before. According to Hays, what we’re going through currently is a revolution—one that is pioneered by social media. Hays cites Instagram, YouTube and ‘beauty gurus’—YouTubers and social media influencers who create their following by posting beauty tutorials and blogs—as the major contenders of this.
“I think that just a lot of people being more comfortable expressing who they are through makeup has changed the idea of makeup a lot,” says Hays.
In addition to this, the brands and trends that have emerged in the last few years have found their way through social media. “That seems to be where the money’s coming from right now,” says James. “When you look at the statistics, beauty gurus sell so much product, and these companies are making so much [money] off of YouTube influencers.”
In 2018, people watched more than one million beauty videos each day on average, according to BBC News. These videos are so popular that cosmetic brands have started collaborating with beauty influencers—sending them products to try out on social media and teaming up to create makeup lines and palettes, like the popular Morphe X Jaclyn Hill palette, for example.
James also points out that it is become more common to not wear makeup at all, as well. “While there are people who are, in 2018, more skilled at makeup than people in past generations, there are an equal amount of people who are deciding to say ‘no’ for sociopolitical reasons,” he says. “We see a lot of oils being used and lots of skincare being used, which I think is really important because instead of caking our face with these … heavy products, we’re investing in vitamin oils and we’re investing in caring for our bodies.”
The Empowerment Dichotomy
If you spend any time on the internet, you’ve probably heard about the debate—is makeup empowering or not? This is a trend among many things which relate to women’s bodies and the patriarchal gaze. Just as a woman showing skin was once seen as ‘slutty’ and demeaning and is now being reclaimed as a woman owning her body, wearing makeup today is, arguably, doing just the same.
“Makeup, in my lifetime, has been empowering me differently at different stages of my life. So, at certain times when I felt most vulnerable, having makeup made me feel like I could face the world. It was my armor against what people could actually see, because that was kind of not who I am,” says Phillips. “At other times in my life, like right now, makeup makes me feel empowered because I really feel like it presents myself as having it together at the age of 54. … I’m ready to greet the world … instead of ‘I’m hiding from the world’ at a different stage of my life.”
For Colvin, using makeup to feel put-together has the opposite effect. “Makeup is one of the … many ways in which I learned in my socialization as a female that I was expected to alter my physical appearance to be deemed expectable,” she says. “The idea that I should be received any differently whether I am or am not wearing makeup feels like it imposes an unfair expectation on me. I choose to wear makeup at work to respond to the idea that I look ‘healthy’ and ‘put together’ when I am wearing it.” Colvin adds that she does enjoy wearing makeup in more casual environments when the makeup feels “more related to [her] style than about obligation,” though.
Gloria Bacon, a sophomore communications studies major, says makeup empowers her because “being a black woman with short hair and someone who doesn’t necessarily dress in the most feminine way … makeup is a way to embrace my femininity in ways I can’t on a daily basis, which is really nice.”
Makeup has a way of relating to one’s identity, especially today. According to Colvin, “Expectations of younger generations are looser when it comes to gender identity and expression and with that comes less gender-specific obligation to wear makeup or not wear makeup.” She adds, “In an environment where makeup feels more like a choice than an obligation, it has the power to be tied to personal identity and that is empowering.”
James says his own identity plays a part in his wearing of makeup. “As a gay man myself, I constantly feel pressure to look attractive and to attract a mate, so when I do want to get myself together to be attractive to other people, I will put on makeup—and that is very oppressive, in my opinion,” he says. “There are definitely times when I put on makeup because I want to and I think that it’s fun and I think that I can express the ideas in my head, but I definitely think the idea of daily makeup is a product of the patriarchy.”
However, both James and Akin agree that the word ‘empowering’ is not always applicable. “I don’t like it for myself because I’m not empowered by makeup,” says Akin. “I empower myself, and I use makeup. It’s just a stick of eyeliner; it’s not a magic tool for making me feel better about myself of making me feel stronger.”
James adds, “I think that the empowerment behind makeup comes from the intention of the user. … Sometimes we use makeup to hide and we use makeup to conform to the heteronormative patriarchy. But I think that re-owning makeup and realizing that it is creative and it is a form of expression and using it for that purpose is, I think, empowering.”
The beauty industry has long been considered as biased towards certain groups of people—namely, “if you happen to be a white, cis woman then lucky you, everything’s for sale,” says Akin.
Austin Kong, a first-year at CWU, adds, “There are a lot of makeup brands that are more reserved when it comes to things, so it’ll always be for girls [and] it’ll always be for certain skin tones.”
Indeed, one of the most hot-button issues as of late has been brands’ lack of diversity in their foundation shades. Many makeup brands have been criticized for offering a wide variety of lighter-skinned shades while only having a small number of darker shades.
“There’s always another scandal, like, ‘This brand only has 20 shades in their new foundation line’ and it’s always just white, white, white, white, white,” says Hays.
It wasn’t until Rihanna created her own makeup brand, Fenty, in 2017 that a major brand was offering a wide variety of darker shades as well as lighter shades. Since then, brands have begun releasing their own darker skin-inclusive foundation lines.
Paulina Mendez, a makeup artist from Yakima, Wash., believes their intentions may not be as revolutionary as their actions, though. “I think they’re competing,” she says. “They want to sell their product, obviously, because of money … but do they really care?”
But perhaps things aren’t as bleak as they seem. “I know that there are a lot of black women that are coming up into … [the] makeup industry and they’re the people that are creating it, and there’s definitely a market for makeup for brown and black girls,” says Bacon. Indeed, many big-name brands have started creating products meant for darker-skinned people, such as Too Faced’s Cocoa Contour palette and Colourpop’s Brown Sugar line, which is a collaboration with model and actress Karrueche Tran.
Another demographic that is beginning to find its acceptance in the makeup industry is men—in 2016, James Charles became the first male spokesmodel for CoverGirl, and has since become a big-name beauty guru alongside other male influencers like Jeffree Star, Manny MUA and Bretman Rock.
However, there is still a way to go. “[The revolution has] definitely changed the game a lot and allowed a lot of men to come into the industry,” says Hays, “but there’s still always that… I don’t want to say animosity, but there’s a different view of men doing makeup.”
“[Almost] every ad is geared towards women,” says James, adding, “We’re starting to see men on posters in Sephora; we’re starting to see men in MAC ads. … A majority of the beauty gurus who are the most successful are men right now, which is very interesting.”
James also says that there still tends to be a disparity in the way straight men do their makeup versus how gay men do it. “When you look at the style of makeup that [these influencers] do, it’s very effeminate,” he says, adding that it may speak to “the culture of straight women being drawn to gay men because of pop culture, [which] influences the beauty industry.”
With straight men, on the other hand, James says that “the reason [straight] men do not play around … with fun, colorful makeup is due to heteronormativity; I think it’s due to the social pressure for men to be extremely masculine and rugged and not be able to appreciate pretty things.” James says to amend this, “we should stop selling products ‘for men’ and ‘for women’; it should be for all. And I think that we should include, as well as feminine men, more masculine men in advertisements.”
One bias that many don’t consider is age. When we think of age and makeup, we often picture ‘age-defying’ products that are meant to reduce wrinkles and make the skin suppler.
“I think that there’s definitely … ageism that goes on,” says Phillips. “For me as an older woman, trying to figure it out can be quite daunting [or] quite difficult to figure out. … I think there’s a whole generation that’s left out or not served.”
Phillips adds that stores like Macy’s are the biggest culprits, heavily pushing products to make people look younger. “For me, it’s not about looking younger, it’s about feeling better,” she says. “Not necessarily hiding all my flaws, but maybe accentuating the positives.”
Selling the Look
Like any industry, money is a significant factor in what we are sold and how it is sold to us. “There’s always going to be money in making people feel beautiful,” says James, quoting his aunt who also works in the makeup industry.
In the last decade, beauty brands have begun using a new tactic to sell their products—activism. Take Pantene, for example. In 2014, the brand released its “Sorry, Not Sorry” campaign in which it urged women to stop spending so much of their lives apologizing for trivial things.
There has been controversy surrounding these types of ads, though. In a 2015 article for Business Insider, writer Nosheen Iqbal wrote about Pantene’s ad, “No more apologies for existing, ladies (or for having limp, dank locks). If the commercialization [sic] of the movement has taught us anything, it's that you can challenge gender norms, battle inequality … and buy more shampoo.”
According to CWU Assistant Professor of Public Relations Emily DuPlessis, this selling point is not at all surprising. “I think advertisers are always going to use the … buzz terms or whatever’s hot politically to push their products out,” she says, explaining that this tactic is called newsjacking. “They can take whatever hot topic is going on at the time and spin it into a way to get people to pay attention.”
DuPlessis argues that using activism to sell a product isn’t necessarily bad. “When you look at it in terms of their voice to the masses, if they are pushing out a positive message,” she says, “that’s not a bad thing. That is still using their budget, which they would maybe otherwise spend on just an ad of a woman with beautiful hair; they’re using that platform to push out a message that maybe would get a couple others to think twice about an issue.”
James asserts that brands could go a step further, though. “If [brands] actually want to make a difference instead of just selling makeup, [they should] donate the proceeds to these causes,” he says.
Just because a company isn’t donating publicly doesn’t mean they’re not donating at all, though. “Some of these big huge cosmetic companies … will funnel money into specific campaigns or political agendas in other ways; they just don’t do it on such a blatant statement as an advertisement, says DuPlessis. “So, either way you look at it, companies are either spending money behind the scenes or … they’re spending money using their own advertising budget.”
Colvin takes issue with the tactic “not because this type of self-expression is negative for people,” she says, “but because I believe consumerism is bad for everyone and this type of advertisement is encouraging the next generation of feminists to be active consumers.”
No matter where you stand on makeup, make sure you’re doing it for you. As Mendez says, “Everybody deserves to wear what they want.”