Chances are, you don’t need to scroll through your feed to picture the aesthetic – its cookie-cutter format consists of heavily powdered eyebrows, lips saturated with matte liquid lipstick, and skin highlighted and contoured to within an inch of its life. Everyone is at it, it seems, from world-famous bloggers to the girls you went to school with; each new enthusiast a facsimile of Kylie Jenner, Huda Kattan or Nikkie Tutorials. Strangely, the debate doesn’t centre around whether or not the 'Instagram face' looks good – the biggest criticism is that it is slowly killing authenticity and, in turn, creativity. Which should alarm millennials. “It gives no room for personal interpretation,” says Lisa, Zoeva’s makeup expert, when I ask what she thinks of the trend. “Makeup is now less of a creative output. It has become standardised.”
Social media was hailed as revolutionary because it championed diversity and provided a space where different notions of beauty could be celebrated. Trends were no longer established and communicated by magazines. Yet along the way, social media’s central message – ‘you do you’ – seems to have gotten lost, because now we're all striving to look the same. Worst of all, it’s becoming ingrained within our beauty subconscious. “Quirky trends tend to come and go but this idea of ‘perfect makeup’ where every inch of the face is altered seems to be where we’re most comfortable with makeup now” believes Charlotte Savoury, Illamasqua brand ambassador.
New York-based pyschologist, Dr. Vivian Diller also believes that the rise of Instagram face is more of a cultural phenomenon than a fleeting trend. She tells Refinery29: “Girls now grow up with a camera in hand, sharing photos instantaneously. The ability to transform one’s face through dramatic makeup can feel very alluring, especially to those whose self-esteem is vulnerable and those who yearn to enhance their appearance in order to be 'liked'.” Yet there are forces at play that we don’t take into consideration, like Facebook and Instagram's new algorithms, which make discovering aesthetics outside of your tribe harder. “This makes it appear like everyone is copying the same look” notes Alexia Inge, founder of Cult Beauty. Just like fashion, beauty aesthetics have always been tribal, a signifier that you belong to a certain group. Social media magnifies these aesthetics and allows members of each tribe to find one another, wherever they are in the world.
Social media also makes it easy to share exactly what makeup you use and how. Constantly watching ‘how-to’ videos has helped us to become our own makeup artist, Alexia tells me. “It started with the brow focus three years ago and evolved to trying other pro techniques such as contouring, highlighting, strobing and baking. The ‘90s and ‘00s were about shades of beige so it felt right to go mad with makeup and create these really ‘done’ looks for the Insta-lens.”
The fame game invariably plays its part, as there is serious money to be made from being beautiful on Instagram. “You get people competing for that top slot and this increases the attempts to look a certain way,” explains Millie Kendall from BeautyMart. “I think the look relates to reality TV stars that have made money out of their appearance and there is a tendency to want to affiliate yourself with these people”, she adds.
A backlash does seem to be emerging, however. Terry Barber, MAC Cosmetics' creative director tells me that “Women want options. They don’t want to be fixed, or to be shaded into someone else and they don’t want 16-year-olds on YouTube telling them how to look.”
Alexia agrees: “The heavy makeup trend has been big for over a year now, but I have seen resistance recently with people requesting us to advise on the ‘no makeup’ makeup trend inspired by Alicia Keys.”
She also predicts that the Instagram trend will become more individualistic. “The beauty community has learned the techniques and taken its L-plates off, so we’ll see people branching out and bringing more original creativity to play. Grown-up glitter is currently a great example and Stila’s Magnificent Metals and the Violet Voss Glitters are flying.”
As for how to take yourself out of your comfort zone, try focusing on one key feature. “Dial it up towards a look that has a colour pop. A transparent colour layered onto a stronger shade that’s interjected with a bright liner also give your features drama”, instructs Amanda Bell, head makeup artist at Pixi by Petra. “Rotate your makeup bag contents,” advises Millie. “Remember you can always take it off if it doesn’t work.” Multipurpose products give myriad options for use, so results can be very interesting. Layering is a brilliant way to introduce uniqueness. Creating a different look for the skin, whether sheer, dewy or velvety, is also fundamental to creating a unique finish.
Switch up your follows – Val Garland, Tom Pecheux and Pat McGrath are always pushing boundaries, and are a world away from the constant stream of smoky eyes and contoured noses – or go old-school with a book: Lan Nguyen-Grealis’ Art & Makeup is a beautiful representation of how far creativity and makeup can be pushed, without losing the human face. Also, follow brands like Rituel de Fille, Vincent Longo, MILK, and Glossier, which utilise creativity in different ways. Founder of Studio 10, Grace Fodor, let me in on some of her favourite sources of creative inspiration: “Illamasqua is about unique identity, whereas Charlotte Tilbury encourages women to be creatively glamorous. Studio 10 is more about using the aesthetics of makeup to create stunning looks for women as they age. KIKO is also brilliant for their extensive colour libraries and accessible price point.”
As human beings, it’s impossible that any of us can run out of creativity. There’s no way to use it all up. While social media may have stifled the flow a little, makeup is by definition a creative product, therefore what we can create with it is unlimited. That's the real beauty of the beauty industry. So next time you reach for your makeup bag or purchase a new palette, try something new. Try anything, just not the Instagram face – we’ve seen it all before.