what’s with all these weird beauty trends?
Wavy eyebrows; alien glamour; face pearls -- today’s Instagram-born beauty trends are weirder and more wonderful than ever. But do they have a place in the real world?
Image via Instagram
Remember the days when glamour carried connotations of a smokey eye, a bit of lippy and some Piz Buin bronzed skin? When beauty was a dream we saw on red carpets and in fashion shoots, but rarely existed in the real world? Well guys, we’re in a time of change. Not only have we seen make-up artistry seep into our homes by way of YouTube tutorials, where Bella Hadid’s most recent looks are recreated with a masterful, needle-like precision, but the very definition of that word “beauty” is changing. It’s become weirder and more provocative than any smokey eye we’ve seen before, and it’s finding its home on Gen Z Instagram.
In 2018, our greatest beauty trends could be split into two quite loose categories: anarchic glamour and ethereal beauty. But what’s the deal with those? And should they have to manifest themselves IRL for us to take them seriously?
“Why undergo cosmetic procedures to hide one’s flaws, when you can embrace them and enhance them...?”
Anarchic glamour is the term we might apply to IG influencers who use their brilliant skills to tread the fine line between shock art and make-up artistry. They’re the kind of people who use cosmetics to transform their face into something superhuman and purposely disconcerting. Take Hannah of the fashion-slash-performance art duo Fecal Matter, who uses make-up to turn herself into an intergalactic cracked china doll, with serpent-like eyes. Or Korean IG star MLMA, whose face has become a canvas for gummy-worm-wavy eyebrows and lips. We even have i-D cover queen Jazzelle aka @uglyworldwide, channeling 2003 Nelly by fashioning a band-aid into the centerpiece of her look. These looks aren’t designed to accentuate any of their wearers' features, or help them look conventionally “pretty”. It’s about expressing their true selves through make-up artistry.
Ethereal beauty, on the other hand, takes that old fashioned notion of what’s attractive and turns the dial up to a thousand -- a blinding kind of beauty, if you will. In this ‘weird’ subsection of the beauty sphere, you’ll find trends like glass skin: a Korean-pioneered skincare routine that involves layering hydrating serum and buffering your skin until it resembles a barbie doll’s, or you get an animated dewiness like Lil Miquela: flawless, almost translucent and with the highlight shine of a champagne flute hitting the light. Then there’s face pearls: a fashion editorial staple that queens like Aryuna Tardis have slipped on to their IG feeds, with hundreds of younger beauty influencers following suit. And to top things off, we have Joanne T, whose stunning jewellery is designed to accentuate the curves of your nose, putting your bog standard septum piercing to shame. Speaking to i-D, Joanne T posed a pretty important question that somehow makes sense of our generation’s approach to beauty and all of its possibilities: “Why undergo cosmetic procedures to hide one’s flaws, when you can embrace them and enhance them...?”
After what felt like decades of being force-fed cosmetic surgery as the only way for us to feel good about ourselves, only to see the consequences of how that panned out with tabloid ridicule later down the line, the idea of going under the knife became an unattractive option for anybody dealing with low self-esteem based on their looks. As a reaction to that, we were introduced to this era of YouTube beauty influencers: a gaggle of young make-up artists who proved that there was a knack to applying cosmetics that could make us all feel glam for a hot minute without having to be best mates with Charlotte Tilbury.
But what happens when that landscape gets so saturated that there’s no room for newbies -- unless, of course, you’re someone of Kylie or Kim’s calibre? You stage another revolution. You take the contour kit and turn it on its perfectly preened head, creating art from the notion that we all have to look conventionally gorgeous. That, perhaps, was the beginning of this weird beauty trend. If standard Insta-fuelled make-up artistry was the coolest girl in school, these weirder trends -- whether they’re ethereal or anarchic -- would be her strange, loner little sister: infinitely more interesting, and easily misunderstood.
But the question we find ourselves asking is this: do any of these trends have a place in the real world? The likelihood of any of us waking up in the morning, spending hours meticulously gluing little pearls to our face only to be gawked at by the cashier in Aldi is pretty unlikely. So what’s it all worth if it’s something we indulge in purely for the sake of Instagram engagement? These are the kinds of questions that weird beauty trend naysayers -- usually tabloid newspapers and unwoke people born before the 90s -- like to lambast Gen Z with, as if having an emotional investment in something many consider ‘degrading’ or ‘vacuous’ like make-up (old fashioned much?) is a reflection of our intelligence. Wrong.
Like so many art forms, there’s a sharp separation between what happens on a platform and off. Nobody criticises Marina Abramovic for walking down the street like a regular person when she was being tortured in the name of art the day prior. Nobody asks drag queens why they take off their eyelashes and untuck at the end of a show. Our greatest art is performative, and nowadays, our strongest platform is the one we can build and curate for ourselves: our Instagram feeds. Our feeds don’t always have to reflect what happens in the real world. In fact, maybe it’s better that we’re allowed to switch off and create something that doesn’t conform. Historically, this patriarchal society wants women and men to look a certain way, without any sort of dialogue about what that is taking place. Is it too much to ask that we decide for ourselves what we want to look like?
This crazy rise in weird beauty ubiquity comes down to our generation’s desire to hold a middle finger up to beauty standards. In the past, the media has been widely criticised for perpetuating dangerous, and grossly desirable ways for women and men to see themselves. With social media platforms democratising the concept of fame and creating the ‘influencer’, anything that challenges that oligarchic, ageing idea deserves to be championed. Whether we find it inane, fascinating, or nothing more than a fleeting fad -- weird beauty is an empowering thing, and we should be allowed to revel in its fantastical brilliance, as spectators or participants, without being read for it.
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