by Christina Vargas
The sunspots were obvious. The acne on her forehead resembled freckles. Gone was the shimmer that always made it seemed as if she was glowing. Her eyes, without any enhancements, gave the impression she was high. They didn’t pop like they have in her professional photos and videos.
The Alicia Keys on display at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards looked drastically different than the one many have come to love. Yet, she is still beautiful. Not the dazzling gorgeousness that, along with her musical talent, made her a global star. Not the packaged glamour fitting for a covergirl and network television star. But it was still beauty. Natural. Simple. Real.
That kind of beauty took courage. Keys, as pretty as they come, still had to find this beauty. The 15-time Grammy winner said so in her 2016 song When a Girl Can't Be Herself:
In the morning from the minute that I wake up
What if I don't want to put on all that makeup
Who says I must conceal what I'm made of
Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem
Makeup was once believed to be a way to hide blemishes. But for many it has become a cover for self esteem issues. It can serve as a mask that projects confidence in the place of doubt. It is also a boost to the self-assured, lifting glam to new levels.
The exploding popularity of makeup begs examination. For some it is an extension of fashion and art. Yet, it is also evidence of the pressures of beauty standards in society. Young girls are bombarded with images and perceptions confining beauty in often impossible parameters. Older women are forced to adopt traditions and maintain appearances so much that they lose the confidence in the beauty behind the makeup.
Makeup has become the pathway to pretty. It is the evidence of professionalism and the magic trick to achieve biological features even if you weren’t born with them. It is the bold statement of feminism and the bar for seriousness. It is the paint of dreaming little girls.
Somewhere along the lines, the end result became women who can’t leave the house without a face full of makeup. Young girls are believing makeup is the foundation to their day, the most important part of their presentation to the world.
And if Alicia Keys is feeling the heat, imagine the difficulty regular women must feel.
“This was the harsh, judgmental world of entertainment and my biggest test yet,” Keys wrote in her May 2016 Lenny Letter explaining her embrace of #nomakeup. “I started, more than ever, to become a chameleon. Never fully being who I was, but constantly changing so all the theys would accept me.”
Chameleons use camouflage strategies to avoid detection by predators. They alter how they appear by manipulating the light surrounding them. These creatures are capable of customizing their color palette to the visual capacity of various predators. It is a survival technique.
Just like the chameleon, women are exposed to the predator of perfection. Women strategize to manipulate their face to the influencing light of beauty standards. It is a survival technique. And it is big business.
According to a June 2015 report by Research and Market, the world's largest market research store, the global cosmetic market
raked in a striking $460 billion in 2014. The same report estimated the industry would reach $675 billion by 2020.
In a sign, though, of how the climate of beauty and makeup has changed, the largest chunk of the industry belongs to skin care. There has been a shift, highlighted by Keys’ stance, to shift the focus of cosmetics to something more holistic.
A grassroots climate of feminism and self-empowerment has called traditional beauty standards into questioning and even challenged some of the premiere companies on their messaging.
The growth in the cosmetic industry, and the popularity of makeup, has coincided with a growth of women investing in the care of their natural beauty.
Las Positas College student, Sam Danis, is a makeup artist at Sephora and self-proclaimed skincare enthusiast. She believes skin care is the most important aspect of a makeup routine and should be practiced as early as possible.
The emphasis on skin care has led to the emerging of organic products in the cosmetics scene. The growing concerns of long-term effects caused by using chemically infused cosmetics daily, in addition to the carbon footprint, has many women being particular about what they use. Companies that specialize in organic and vegan products are becoming more popular due to the benefits of eliminating parabens, which are chemical preservatives, and other synthetic ingredients.
Many drugstore and luxury brands use drying agents to the ingredients such as sulfates and alcohols. Using natural products free of sulfates and dying agents are believed to make the skin more glowing and luminous before the makeup.
With that said, what’s wrong with makeup as a coverup? Should women who like makeup be made to feel bad?
“I think people who wear makeup to hide their insecurities have just as much a purpose to wear it as a person who uses it to create,” Danis said.
“Makeup is whatever people want it to be. That’s the real beauty of it. The fact that you don’t have to perceive it as art, and instead just as a way to feel good about yourself when you don’t feel your best, is so cool. Sometimes all it takes to get through your day is just a good lipstick or a poppin’ highlight.”
Social media has changed the way makeup is marketed. The appeal of makeup tutorials, in a market crowded with brands and products, is that they allow customers a sort of test drive. Watching how it works in real life, how to apply and how it could look, has proven to be a fruitful way to pitch to makeup lovers. And followers of the connoisseurs on YouTube end up developing a sisterly loyalty.
Beauty tutorials are taking Instagram by storm. The sped up how-to videos show its audience an instant transformation within IG’s one-minute parameters, which match with the consumer’s short attention spans. Once you watch one video, you are sucked in. On Instagram, #makeuptutorial has well over five million posts filled with all the best products and fully loaded faces one could ask for.
Prime examples of the social media revolution in makeup are companies NYX and Becca, which have turned into multi-million dollar brands from the power of Instagram and YouTube.
Per a May 2017 article in Forbes, Los Angeles-based NYX was ranked third among cosmetic companies and has grown to this place by unpaid social media influencers. The company saw their social media engagement grow 97 percent in a year. By the end of 2017, NYX had more than 12 million followers on Instagram -- a following they bolstered by sending talented beauty gurus new products to use in their tutorial videos.
Australian-based Becca latched onto popular YouTuber Jaclyn Hill, who happened to love the company and its products. Hill endorsed Becca’s Champaign Pop highlighter and, when the product launched at Sephora, it sold 25,000 units in the first 20 minutes. Hill wound up creating an entire line of products with Becca.
The makeup culture on social media is relevant and growing. And the leaders are coming from among the people and not the corporations.
“I’m dating myself right now,” said Heike Gecox, a psychology counselor and instructor at LPC. “Pre-Facebook and all this other stuff, you’d used to go to the newsstand or to the supermarket and you’d buy your fashion magazine and it was fine. But now, you are connected to this thing 24-7. There is no time to shut off and retreat (to) where you can ‘recover’ from some stressors, You are constantly bombarded with that.”
The marriage of makeup and social media, and the ensuing boom in the cosmetics industry, arguably began with Kim Kardashian.
There had always been a mystery surrounding how she achieved her flawless makeup. Her face looked so symmetrical. What product does she use? How are her cheek bones so defined?
In September 2012, Kim K spilled her secret on Twitter and the makeup tip changed the game. Although contouring dates back to the 1500’s -- according to a November 2015 article on the beauty website Byrdie -- this style muse put this trend on the map for the modern generation.
Shortly after she revealed the craft of how to achieve the perfect face, the demand for contouring kits soared.
Kardashian didn’t create her own contouring makeup line, KKW Beauty, until 2017. She released her creme contour kit on June 21 and it sold out the same day. Her powder contour kit dropped on Aug. 22 and were gone that night.
That’s a byproduct of her having 160.8 million followers on Twitter and Instagram combined -- and that is in addition to her virtual reality game app, her for-purchase lifestyle app and her Kimoji app.
“In every generation there’s a situation where we have someone who takes the spotlight of what glamour is,” celebrity makeup artist Sir John, who counts Kardashian and Beyonce as clients, told the fashion and beauty website Stylecaster in 2015.
“In the early ’90s, actors and actresses wanted to be seen as serious, like Sigourney Weaver or Jodie Foster – they didn’t want to be glamazons. So that’s how supermodels came to fame because they were what we could look at as pretty, shiny figures of the time. But these ladies—like Kim Kardashian—they’re a throwback to a Sophia Loren or some kind of vixen, not burlesque in a sense, but women who take so much pride in their appearance and who are self-obsessed. So as people, we can identify, or we want to identify with people who are totally obsessed with themselves. And they represent that in a major way. They’re our guilty pleasure.”
While Alicia Keys decided to go au naturel, and reclaim her unrefined beauty, Kardashian has a makeup artist with her at all times, ensuring her appearance is always pristine.
Which is right? Neither? Both? Who knows.
Though they both approach makeup and beauty differently, one conclusion can be reasonably made about both radiant superstars.
Neither gets their self-esteem from makeup.