Not Wearing Makeup: Is It Feminism, Laziness, or the Rise of Cosmetic Normcore?

What Women Really Think
April 16 2014 3:30 PM

Not Wearing Makeup: Is It Feminism, Laziness, or the Rise of Cosmetic Normcore?

no_makeup
DGAF or KHGSL (knows how good she looks)?

Photo by Voyagerix/Shutterstock

Is makeup going away? Is it the End of Makeup? We’ve seen hordes of #nomakeupselfies—all pale, chapped lips and hooded eyes—on Twitter and Instagram and, oddly, as part of a cancer awareness campaign; we’ve seen New York runways drowned in “raw beauty”; and now, ABC reports, brides are forgoing blush and shadow to achieve a “more natural look” on their wedding day.  

“I think it’s a big trend for brides and couples alike,” said Anja Winika, site director for TheKnot.com. One bare-faced bride added: “I wanted to look presentable for my wedding day, but didn’t feel like makeup was part of that process.”

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Though cosmetic sales are rising, a survey conducted by StumbleUpon in August of last year found that most women between the ages of 18 and 25—67 percent—use fewer than three products in their hair and beauty routines. Only 20 percent use four to seven products, and a tiny 3 percent use more than 12. (I want to meet those people.) The call of fresh-facedness is even stronger for women over 25, 72 percent of whom limit their makeup use to zero to three products. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data varies by region, with Northeasterners overall painting their countenances more than women from the West and Midwest.)

I’d love to believe that the women who are now eschewing makeup just love the way they look or can’t be bothered. That is how fashion writer Leandra Medine, aka the “Man Repeller,” explains her powder abstinence: “The reason I don’t wear makeup is because I am lazy,” she says. “I want to know that if I don’t wash my face, I won’t tarnish my pillow. I don’t want to see the ingredients that constructed my previous night’s visage wiped off into a towel. I also read somewhere that if you sleep with mascara on your lashes they are 70% more likely to fall out so as far as I’m concerned, maintaining real lashes that aren’t quite as plump as they can be is ten times more compelling than having none at all.”

Her money quote: “I am who I am and even if that infers ‘ugly as fuck,’ I think it’s, I don’t know, beautiful.”

Medine’s confidence, bravery, and eyelash pragmatism are thrilling. But her philosophy has nothing to do with what those celebrity selfie-takers and au naturel brides are up to. These women are clearly pursuing cosmetic normcore.

Like regular normcore, no makeup makeup seems to proceed from the assumption that, as Simon Doonan put it in Slate, the “final fashion frontier” in an “era that embraces the distinct, bespoke, and quirky” is to reject fashion itself. Coupled with that irony is the modern emphasis on authenticity—which often seems pretty phony. So wearing no makeup allows you to check all your supertrendy boxes: You are “real,” you are perversely glamorous, you DGAF. (The exquisitely calculated degree to which you DGAF is evidenced by how great you look even wearing no makeup!) Thus, on the cover of W magazine, gorgeous Rosamond Pike takes a washcloth to her face. Gwyneth Paltrow’s skin looks as clear and pure as the water she’s drinking in a photo she posts to Instagram. Scarlett Johansson appears, untouched by mortal brush or wand, in a Vanity Fair Hollywood spread. A bride who has taken the time to wind flowers through her hair on her big day refuses a sweep of color to her cheeks. One starts to suspect that these particular statements are less about not wearing makeup than pulling off not wearing makeup. 

Of course, that’s not everyone—it’s not all the people tweeting out #nomakeupselfies for cancer or choosing not to spend 15 minutes primping in front of the mirror because they’d rather listen to a podcast. But to the extent that even the more benign face nudists seem to think their identities flower forth in the absence of cosmetics, I disagree. Your body is just your interface with the world. That’s no more or less true when it’s wearing lipstick. 

As for me, I put on two swipes of blush, eyeliner (both over and under the lids), and lipstick every morning. My reasons are resolutely bland and predictable: I think judicious color improves the way my face looks (which matters to me). I also find the daily ritual soothing and believe there might be some good to come from interposing a bit of shimmer between me and the world. Like, world, I have upped your daily dose of shimmer. You’re welcome.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

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