In light of recent discussions about beauty, skincare, and its popularity, I thought it might be interesting to examine why it is that the beauty trend is so strong. For me, beauty was never an issue for me until I was around 18, and started wearing makeup and taking an interest in skincare. Sometimes I wish I’d gotten into skincare sooner so I’d have been able to combat my skin problems instead of taking my mom’s well-meaning but ultimately destructive advice. I saw a girl on youtube recommend Paula’s Choice, so I started using the Skin Balancing series to take care of my oily, acne-prone skin.
It was a revelation.
My zits were suddenly under control. Around the same time, I started using makeup to express myself and yeah, to make myself look pretty. I won’t pretend it was more noble than it was. Filling in eyebrows and wearing (uneven) winged eyeliner was a whole new world of experimentation with my look that I suddenly gained access to.
So that’s the personal side. But let’s take a wider, cultural and socioeconomic perspective, shall we?
The body is the status symbol du jour. Starting with the bodycon fashion trend in the late 00s, the increasing popularity of workouts, cleanses, “healthy” lifestyle choices and in no small part athleisure fashion, your body has become a kind of trophy, a class marker. Celebrities are sharing their workout routines on social media while sharing discount codes for slimming “detox tea” or yoga class apps.
Plastic surgery adds to this, making your body a sort of home improvement project that never ends. So it’s not surprising that beauty, which interacts with the body in a more intimate way than say, fashion, is popular – improving your physical features by using beauty products is part of the health fad and body conscious movement.
Furthermore, another mark of luxury is privacy. Through social media and widespread surveillance, privacy in the modern world has become a rarity. Thus, the beauty ritual, once the most private and almost secret practice of all, has become increasingly “shareable”, showing your peers that you have the capital to give yourself “me time”. Personalized products like custom-blended foundations, appointment-only shopping experiences and small-batch beauty lines are the height of modern luxury. In addition, private rituals are promoted as “self care”, directly tying into the aforementioned wellness and beauty trend.
And luxury itself, in the traditional sense, is more scarce – in fashion, prices are rising while quality drops, and many of us are experiencing an economic climate that feels shaky at best and hopeless at worst. Here, luxury beauty makes a more accessible alternative to high-end designer fashion or other expensive luxuries – you might not be able to afford a dress or a pair of shoes, but a luxury lipstick won’t break the bank and will still feel special. Similarly, a spa visit or facial treatment poses an alternative to more expensive escapes from the every day world. A trip to the riviera might be impossible, but a trip to a luxury spa might be manageable.
Furthermore, it’s undeniably significant that our faces are increasingly shared amongst ourselves through portable digital technologies like smartphones and pads. Smaller screens are more suited to displaying faces than full bodies, while higher resolutions subject our faces to greater scrutiny – imperfections are so much more noticeable.
Our faces are also increasingly important markers of identity, as they are used to unlock smart phones or even track your movements through surveillance. Facial recognition software and deep learning can now use our faces to find lookalikes through art history, or steal somebody’s face for advertising or pornography.
So you see, the face is a marker of class, culture and identity more than ever. Its maintenance becomes a necessity, and the beauty trend is a natural result.
*Header Image: Vibeke Hansen shot by Jamie Nelson, 2012