The “No-Makeup Makeup” Look: What is natural beauty?

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Words: Eleanor Yates (She/Her)

Most of us can remember the bold-lipped, cut-creased, and sharply-contoured beauty trends of the last decade: the dawn of the Kylie Lip Kit which sparked the desire to have large lips, as well as to make our eyebrows as dark and Delevingne-esque as possible. If we were still living in the mid-2010s and envisioned the future of makeup, it would seem unfathomable that we would go in the opposite direction. Nowadays, the purpose of makeup is to appear as though we aren’t wearing any at all, except a nude eyeshadow here or a tiny winged eyeliner there. We probably would have asked ourselves: well, what is the point? Back then, makeup was not only about enhancing our beauty but also about making a statement. Despite our creativity, was it about covering our flaws under a thick disguise, too? If so, does our “no-makeup makeup” look allow us to embrace our natural beauty instead? 

One answer to that last question is: not really. With the domination of beauty influencers on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, we are more insecure about our appearance than ever before. In a survey conducted in 2020 by the UK Parliament, around 6 in every 10 women who participated said they were insecure about their bodies, citing the images they see on social media as a reason to blame. The “no-makeup makeup” trend may take on a masquerade of embracing our “natural” beauty – but it is still makeup, paradoxical in its name. Features such as smooth and untextured skin, small noses, as well as fox eyes are still prevalent on social media and we could even go as far as to say they are expected as part of the look. 

So, what would happen if we all collectively dumped our makeup in the sea (or an environmentally friendly equivalent) and decided to leave the house bare-faced every day? Celebrities like Pamela Anderson are already on the wave; she’s like a breath of fresh air entering the red carpet. But on a widespread level, something like that is never going to happen – at least not in our lifetime. The beauty industry is far too profitable and it intends to stay that way, reaching an estimated 129 billion dollars in revenue by 2028. Because patriarchal attitudes still frame makeup as a “need” for women, it’s no surprise that the industry would try to capitalise on the ubiquity of the “no-makeup makeup” trend. Especially when the technique is often marketed as “effortless” in online beauty tutorials by Vogue and Glamour, despite involving countless products and steps. What is natural about this? In a final hit on the nail, these tutorials always provide links and price tags for the products mentioned. 

With all this being said, another answer to our question of whether this trend embraces natural beauty is: no, but it might have the potential to. As I was writing this article, I actually tried to wear this look one night to go out with my sister for a drink. I didn’t follow any particular tutorial: I applied a thin layer of foundation, some concealer, mascara, and Bob’s your uncle. Usually, I go for my long, dark streaks of winged liner to modify the way my eyes look, but it felt somewhat freeing to abandon that step. I enjoyed the subtlety of the look, it was like wearing a second face that accentuated my natural features rather than obscuring them. It might seem hypocritical of me to critique our makeup culture whilst also participating in it, but this is a crucial skill. We can enjoy something and simultaneously be capable of seeing its flaws; taking a step outside ourselves, paying attention to whatever zeitgeist haunts us. 

Natural beauty doesn’t involve excessive rituals. It comes from allowing your body to live its life and allowing life to leave its mark on it. To be clear, I don’t condemn makeup: I don’t claim that people who wear makeup are not beautiful, or that there is such a thing as “false beauty”. Makeup can be such a powerful facet of creativity, in the right contexts. And there are lots of different kinds of beauty – it’s up to the individual to decide what is beautiful to them. But our current beauty standards are far too rigid to accept anything “natural” about the human body. They can’t abandon the expectation of makeup – not just yet. More work needs to be done, but as more celebs decide to ditch the brushes, they could be paving the way towards a new era in beauty that gives our skin (and ourselves) a chance to breathe.


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