Beauty Au Natural?


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In the mediated world of the twenty-first century, it can seem like all your friends at 21 have the same, smooth-as-a-baby’s-bottom skin that they popped into the world with, sans trickery. And while the fact is most of them won’t and we all know it, we still torture ourselves with the idea that the rest of the world is perfect, and we, the ugly club’s sole member, should probably be getting that brown paper bag for our heads already… BUT. Just like the models at fashion week will have been wearing cosmetics, so will they. While ‘The Barely There’ face is of my favourite make up looks, it is named with a wonderful amount of irony, considering the amount of products this actually takes to achieve for most. The make-up trade’s trick is to do au natural, without letting on there’s anything there at all. That’s easier said than done, however as someone once said, it is simply that practice makes perfect, and this philosophy is as true of make up as it is of anything else. From the internet to in the supermarket, on the TV to the billboards, from me to you: we’re all wrapped up in this casual trickery. Should we be worried?

Last term, Charles III Photography collaborated with friends to create their ‘People in Places’ album, and I had the pleasure of working as make-up artist with model-for-the-day, the lovely Caroline Lewin to recreate a subtle, natural glowing skin tone. The great thing about working with non-editorial/beauty models is it not only gives you a chance to demonstrate your skills as a make-up artist, but even better, it gives everyday gals a chance to realise that with the right make-up, anyone can match the supple, fresh complexion of Taylor Swift. Which in turn, makes me wonder…

Fresh, glowing skin for  © Charles III Photography
Fresh, glowing skin for © Charles III Photography

Working and living with make up day in and day out, as most women of our era do, can make one wonder about the conflicting pressures to be a certain type of beautiful, and to be it naturally. Let’s face it: as unfortunate as it is, we can’t all be that (annoyingly pretty but most likely lovely) friend who’s skin unfairly perfect. Certainly growing up in my house, I was always told not to wear make-up, but I was left to make my own decision this evidently did not happen. From around fifteen, I had a morning routine of experimenting with “painting my face” (quote Daddy Black) and as I’ve grown older, this routine play with and between a ‘natural’ self, self-representation and self-fashioning that happens each morning, has become an interesting dilemma – which crops up particularily when I get the feeling I shouldn’t step out of my room without looking decently human. To be fair, my hung-over zombie look is not particularly pleasant for anyone involved, but who am I pleasing when I chuck on some concealer and mascara…?


It doesn’t take much internet searching or general pondering to see that the bigger and overt issues of ‘acceptable’ image are everywhere from the London SlutWalks, the first UK case legally classifying an attack on a goth in Manchester as legitimate hate crime, the Berka banned in French schools. But even the issues as simple as the way our complexion is, or the size of the circles under are eyes are in play with these standardisation of what is deemed ‘right’, ‘preferable’ or even ‘acceptable’. There is underlying a societal pressure to meet a disturbingly naturalised idea of appearance that simply doesn’t seem to be reachable without make-up, and it’s been prevalent in human society as far back as the Egyptians.

While it’s all great to celebrate ‘natural beauty’ and damn the cosmetics industry for instilling false ideals of ‘real’ beauty, how natural is the beauty we’re celebrating? Realistically, if you get an inconveniently placed spot and have to option of covering it up, most of us are still going to reach for the concealer and conform. Ladies, if you’ve got bags under your eyes because you’ve been up writing essays/blogging/procrastinating, Benefit’s Erase Paste is probably going to be on the agenda the next morning. (Lads, is the equivalent a bleary shave, careful mussing of the hair and a lot of splashing cold water?) There is something to be said for how our scientifically validated world values what science says is healthy. And to state the blindingly obvious, no one I know actively strives to look bad. But the conversations that don’t happen are the ones about what this pressure of ‘bad’ is and where it comes from…

Where does bad come from then? Maybelline, it’s not looking good for you…

Realising the tools the media industry has at its disposal to warp our self-perception can be powerful, and at least empower us to consider what influences our everyday decisions. We all know that physical beauty is what it says on the tin – skin deep –  but that knowledge (for me at least) doesn’t supplant some socially constructed and innate desire to look a certain way. Should I be more wary of the discourse I am entering into and perhaps advocating by performing a certain type of image and denouncing another? Furthermore, what are the fashion, beauty and make-up industries which I so adore, doing to the way we perceive and present ourselves? Is this concealer routine a path of good, or evil?

This is is more of a pondering on self-perception and social influences than any attempt to pose an answer or impose a judgement. Equally, there are still so many thoughts of social branding and non-verbal communication flapping about my head that I simply cannot continue to ramble on with.  Make up is still for me, a pretty fantastic way of creatively “expressing yourself” or “self-fashioning” or whatever you want to call it – albeit superficially. I’m (a little self-indulgently) convinced as long as I’m thinking about these things, and trying to make conscious choices, my brain won’t vegetate.

What do you think, Emma?

Any thoughts? Comment.

Peace out.



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