How Can We Teach Girls To Enjoy Makeup, Not Rely On It?

November 28, 2018  |  

Cheerful mixed race woman with big smile

Source: Martin Novak / Getty

Last week, I started watching ‘Follow This’, a Buzzfeed-led docu-series that delves into tantalizing pop culture topics that many of us have thought about once or twice from the millennial lens. I came upon the episode “Teen Boss” on Netflix where host Scaachi Koul gets a fly-on-the-wall look into the teen beauty influencer world. Following YouTubers and Music.ly stars as young as 15, I found myself intrigued by the way beauty has truly transcended into our lives via almost every angle possible and has become more of a lucrative business for consumer/influencers than the brands to some extent.

The influencer followed throughout the episode was a Music.ly star with more than 9 million followers. Dolled up to the nines pretty much every day (she posts to her account about 3 times a day), I noticed that while she seemed to truly enjoy makeup and making herself up, she also seemed to need it in a way that threw me off. It seemed as though, subconsciously, wearing makeup shut her down emotionally to the negativity spewed at her on social media. Her daily routine of putting on a face and posting for her followers has been granting her monetary rewards and notoriety, but it also seemed to create a new standard for her on how she should look every single day.

And that’s when the episode became uncomfortable. I felt like I was witnessing a reliance on makeup that wasn’t just about making money but about living up to the not-so-secret online beauty standard most influencers have begun to adhere to, whether out of personal preference or peer pressure. You know, the filler lips, carefully carved cheekbones, subtle eyebrow lifts, and heavily contoured features. The teen’s mother expressed concern and fear for her daughter’s online megastar presence, as any mother would. Yet Saachi also reminded her, “Well…you could control what she wears,” And I thought the same.

While the notion of beauty has never been an easy thing to explain to adolescents, I can’t help but think about how hard it must be to teach little girls and teens today how to enjoy makeup for its true purpose: self-expression. Makeup is artistic, cultural, and even political at times. My hope was that the beauty influencer boom would shift us away from the traditional media standards that we as women were tired of seeing. Yet, what we’ve done is created another unrealistic standard that not only involves drastic measures to attain it at times, but also comes with a side of cyber bullying if you don’t fit the new beauty mold. So how can we actually encourage girls (and boys) to enjoy makeup and not rely on it, when our generation is essentially tied to a device that constantly shows them how they should look?

The truth is there is no real escape from the torture of the scroll. Unless, well, you’re not on social media at all. You can clean up your feed, unfollow, and mute, but there’s no way to completely filter yourself from negative comments, or a photo of someone with the perfect snatched waist, or even an #ad that throws off your confidence in the moment. Given my upbringing, I started thinking about how my mom or dad would have reacted to me being a 15-year-old social media megastar with a career based on my looks. They wouldn’t have stopped me from getting a bag or kept me away from my passion of beauty, but they would have made sure I knew I had options. The option to choose how I want to look, based on how I want to feel. The constant reassurance I received growing up about the option to be who I wanted to be is one I don’t think women and girls are always taught.

You have the right to choose how you want to present yourself to the world. The internet is a weird place we jump on, or into, in mindless ways that suck us into this cycle of perfection, bullying and reaction. Encouraging girls (and women) to enjoy makeup by giving them the option to do so, especially during what feels like peak at social media obsession, may be the first step in helping a lot of them realize that just as much as a brand or page has the option to tell us what they think is beautiful, we have the option to do the same.

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