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Somehow, in recent years, an absurd idea has become extremely popular: Women should wear makeup that makes them look like they’re going makeup-free. Known as “no-makeup makeup,” the trend involves wearing minimal, expertly-applied makeup that looks like your own face, but better, like a real-life Instagram filter.
No-makeup makeup looks, popularized by brands like Glossier, emphasize subtle, natural beauty. But if natural beauty is the goal, why not simply go without makeup? This trend isn’t really about staying natural; instead, it’s about achieving perfection. Using these makeup techniques, women can look perfect without looking as though they’re trying. But by making the process behind achieving perfection invisible, no-makeup makeup causes women’s unrealistic expectations for themselves to skyrocket.
It’s hard to be bombarded by images of women who look makeup-free and wonder why they all have perfect eyebrows and glowing cheekbones when your own face looks nothing like that without makeup. It can make women wonder if something is simply wrong with them, whereas the truth is that those brows and cheekbones are the result of deliberate effort and an array of products. In short, the danger of no-makeup makeup is the same danger of photo-editing apps like Photoshop and FaceTune, which subtly convince us that this is actually what women look like.
In a similar vein, singer Alicia Keys famously decided to forego makeup in 2016. However, as the months went on, she gradually began adding subtle hints of makeup back into her routine — some brows there, cheekbones here. Keys can do whatever she wants to with her face, but to claim that bare-naked beauty is your motto and then show up with a polished, perfected face sends confusing and harmful messages to other women. They expect that they, too, should look luminous and sculpted without makeup on, and that if they don’t, they are flawed.
The idea that women should somehow look perfect without any effort comes, in large part, from men. Let's face it — men hate obvious makeup, and they hate makeup that significantly changes a woman's appearance. The internet is awash with jokes about making women go swimming on the first date to see how they "really" look.
On the other hand, society is hard on women who don’t meet its beauty standards. People won’t hesitate to ridicule and dismiss a woman for having the wrong skin tone or lips. We’ve been brainwashed with so many images of Photoshopped, professionally-made-up women that we think those images are what women should always look like — and ironically, men often can’t identify when a woman is wearing makeup or not. Thanks to the no-makeup makeup trend, neither can many women.
There’s nothing wrong with natural-looking makeup, but when perfection is the baseline expectation, distorted images of beauty take over. There's nothing wrong with visible, in-your-face makeup, and there's nothing wrong with letting your natural beauty really show — blemishes and all.