Why Do We Sneer At Girls Wearing Heavy Makeup?

Slut shaming and body shaming are forms of discrimination it’s fashionable, and necessary, to call out. But a recent social media campaign by Dutch beauty blogger/Youtuber Nikkie Tutorials aims to fight what she sees as ‘make-up shaming’. It’s perhaps not initially a cause you’d take to the streets with a placard for: defending the ‘make-up lovers’ who spend a lot of time on Youtube, a load of money on HD makeup and who, according to their detractors, are tragic for just wanting to look like a Kardashian. It started when Nikkie, having had enough of the rude comments, created a hashtag campaign and an extra-glam video tutorial to promote it.
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These days, when anything popular will attract negative attention as well as likes, it’s hard to prove that make-up shaming is really a cause for concern, much less a form of discrimination. However, there does seem to be a movement to counter what’s seen as narcissistic selfie culture, including heavy make-up like drawn-on brows, exaggerated lips in industrial-strength matte liquid lipstick and blocks of highlighter. The ‘approved’ way to wear make-up – in catwalk shows, fashion editorial and campaigns – is sparingly, with little or no foundation plus either a swipe of mascara or red lipstick, accessorised with wind-blown hair or a radical buzzcut. On the one hand, there’s chic and understated, for example NY cult brand Glossier [tagline, ‘skin is in’] and Bobbi Brown, the eternal advocate of the natural look who admitted in a recent interview that a contributing factor to her walking away from her eponymous Estée Lauder-owned brand was pressure to create a contour palette, a trend she’s not on board with. And on the other hand, there's the loud and proud Youtubers, social stars like Huda Kattan and Desi Perkins with millions of followers, and Sali Hughes of the Guardian (the oracle, basically) who has vigorously defended the right of anyone to be into beautifying without compromising their intelligence, integrity or right to be taken seriously. But does one side have to win or could they both be right?
With 7.2m Instagram followers and fans including Pat McGrath, Nikkie’s calling card is heavy foundation, preceded by multiple primers and followed by lashings of contour and highlighter. Whether or not you’d pin her to your personal beauty board, you have to admire her achievements, and you couldn't say she’s not creative, (hello, emoji crown eyelids) or brilliant at execution.
Make-up has been associated with performance since the beginning of time, and Youtube culture makes the application of it into a performance in itself. Bloggers like Nikkie attract millions of views (35m for her biggest, The Power of Make-Up). In her words, "beauty lovers don’t use make-up because they’re insecure or want a mask. They do it to use their creativity, their art, and because they love the process of transformation. Besides, what harm is it doing?" Not all lovers of make-up are desperate to hide beneath layers of it; Youtubers often begin videos completely make-up free, regardless of whether they have spots or dark circles, which, if they were anxious about their natural appearance, wouldn’t make sense. And if there is an element of insecurity, then attacking someone for that is surely the definition of bullying, and therefore pretty indefensible. Perhaps critics of heavy make-up feel it’s somehow wrong because it’s vain? Vulgar? Or maybe they object on purely aesthetic grounds. It's an effort to police taste when, really, it's nobody's business.
Putting your face on is an enjoyable, often therapeutic ritual for millions of women, a space in which to be creative and experimental. Arguably, crazy theatrical makeup – be it on Youtube or in a club – is a subculture in itself. Rather than judging people for having different taste, maybe we should applaud them as pretty fucking talented. Exploring the world of obsessive make-up enthusiasts, from those who earn a handsome living from it, to hobbyists who may or may not be trying to make it a full-time thing – is muchos fun.
NYX, the US brand founded by Toni Ko aged 25, (once a make-up enthusiast herself, now a multi-millionaire after selling her company to L’Oréal) holds its annual FACE Awards in several different countries where makeup artists compete against one another in a less comedic version of RuPaul’s Drag Race to out-primp each other, creating some seriously extra faces and sci-fi-worthy special effects. Then there’s the blossoming London female, or ‘bio’ drag queen circuit where cis-gendered girls can compete with trad queens at clubs like Sink The Pink or The Glory, at events like Lipsync 1000.
Although I’d have to put myself in the little or no makeup category day to day, (spending the best part of a year wearing no make-up whatsoever confirmed my suspicions about foundation that the more you wear it, the more you need it. But I’m not proud of this, because it’s boring, especially compared to the younger me, who’d think nothing of going into the office in black lipstick and gloss, or crimson eyeshadow, and who’d pack enough multi-coloured glitter for festivals to open a face-painting stall.
Our culture, bizarrely, also frowns on the absence of makeup, for example when any female public figure appearing without it – from Alicia Keys to Hilary Clinton – makes headlines. If you’ve ever googled the phrase ‘job interview make-up’ you’ll find a million articles mandating the use of neutral eyeshadow and clear lipgloss, as anything too scarce or too showy may jeopardise your chances of success.
As the visual vernacular of the internet continues to influence us all, hopefully a wide range of ways to style ourselves will become normalised. Going by the phenomenal numbers who love the painted-on trend, it’s going nowhere. But as Instagram, Youtube and Snapchat carve out niches where people can appreciate diverse beauty approaches, from barefaced to wild circus drag, so we will IRL as well.
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