The Beauty Myth

Mainstream definitions of beauty are ever-changing. Our notion of what looks good and what doesn’t shifts decade by decade, the powder-white faces of the 1920’s and the hot pink lipstick of the 80’s have now been demoted to the realms of fancy dress. History is (in part) characterized by fashion and beauty trends that distinguish the era. Although we can appreciate former aesthetics from afar, what was considered ‘beautiful’ fifty years ago has now changed; and fifty years from now people will say the same of us in all our wavey-garmed glory. The perfection we strive to achieve will no doubt be satirised at future millennials-themed parties everywhere. So why do we put so much energy into complying with notions of ‘beauty’ that are forever in flux? It’s sad that women’s faces are becoming increasingly subject to the same demoralising and dogmatic trends to which our bodies have been slave for years.

These days, unexpectedly, it seems that not wearing makeup is one of the most misrepresented beauty trends going. The fact that so many women go bare is a testament to how we are reclaiming our image, maybe a testament to feeling more inclined to live life rather than simply prepare for it. But that doesn’t mean that those who don’t have that confidence – or who, entirely justifiably, just enjoy getting dolled up every now and again (because I know I do) – should be judged. In fact, what we put on our faces shouldn’t be a measure of our self-confidence at all. Not all women who don’t wear makeup are doing it to subscribe to a trend: some of us just don’t care.

For decades make-up has been an intrinsic part of the feminine identity: it’s where we look to first when we grow up. It’s drilled into us by billboards and the media, ‘this is what a woman should look like’. When I was younger I wore makeup every day. When I was in my teens I wasn’t entirely sure what I was about, so the time spent on my appearance in the morning always resulted in a confidence boost. A few years down the line, I wear less make-up and I’ve grown into myself a bit more. Makeup helped me at the time, and sometimes it still helps me. I enjoy waking up and being able to cover those bags if they need to be covered (which they usually do). I’m not doing it for others, or to look like someone I’m not, but I’m not in denial either. I’m just a girl with certain tools at her disposal. I like to do things that make me feel good, and quite a lot of the time my Nars bronzer helps with that. Wanting to feel good about yourself is a feeling we can all get behind. But just because a woman wears make-up, it doesn’t say that she’s uncomfortable in her own skin; what we put on our faces shouldn’t speak for us. If a woman wears too much make-up, she’s slutty and if she wears too little, she’s lazy. Where are we left? With a false dichotomy that alienates women, and once again judges them based on appearance.

The problem ultimately boils down to the conception of beauty that we hold as a society: it’s bullshit. The dictionary defines ‘beauty’ as ‘perceived physical perfection’. Perceived. If beauty is entirely in the eye of the beholder and can’t exist objectively, the idea that a society can define what deserves aesthetic appreciation is a reductive myth that needs scrapping. As trends dictate that we enhance our cheekbones, fill in our brows, over-exaggerate our lips but then simultaneously sod all that because going bare is better, we are sacrificing self-determinism for the pressure to adhere to impermanent trends that will change just when we think we’ve cracked them.

You can’t bare all and shun those who don’t want to as slaves to an anti-feminist system, or spend hours in front of the mirror and look down on people who haven’t. There has to be no expectations, no standards, no trends that dictate how our faces should look.

In a culture that prioritises image, especially female image, over almost everything else; that puts us in boxes that make us competitive, insecure and afraid of ourselves, it’s hard to know how to win at the beauty game or where to turn for answers. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where we’ve gone wrong, but the constant image-sharing and online sociability that dominates our lives can’t be helping. We’re constantly inundated with images of ‘perfection’ that we naturally compare ourselves (and others) to, expecting all women to live up to unstable, unrealistic yet worryingly universal beauty standards with which we’re becoming increasingly accustomed, perhaps unconsciously. Tying notions of beauty so closely with a trend implies that a woman’s face is a commodity; that we have to be ready to adapt when the tides change. It gets to the point where you can’t leave the house without making a statement, make-up or none. Just look at what happened with Alicia Keys.

It seems to me that we need to reclaim our right to our faces in the midst of a beauty-obsessed society, and embrace whatever image makes us feel comfortable within this strange, narcissistic world. Lippy or no lippy, contour or no contour: you may as well do what you want because chasing mythological and inconsistent notions of ‘beauty’ is impossible. We’ll never catch up because as soon as we don beauty’s fabulous facade she will have put on a new disguise. It’s time we truly saved face and dropped out of the race to go our own way.

Follow Amy on Instagram: @amymaceee