Destroying Something Beautiful : Lipstick Smashes, Social Media and Conspicuous Consumption
Recently, I asked my instagram followers why videos or photos of destroyed makeup – like the videos where I smoosh lipstick with a palette knife – are so controversial. These images generally cause strong reactions – some people love it, and some people take it very personally. Editor Emily Dougherty, known for blending lipstick colours on instagram by chopping up bullets, even has a disclaimer that all lipstick mixes are saved – to deter angry commenters who unleashed their fury on her for “ruining” makeup.
I could do the same – assure you that I save the lipsticks I mash up or that I only destroy cheap ones or expired ones. But that’s not the point. I don’t think that should matter. I should be at liberty to do whatever I like with my belongings.
The comments I received when I asked about this touchy topic of destroying product were all different, and thoughtful, and I feel very grateful that people took the time. There were two camps, if you will – those who thought it was wasteful, and those who thought it was satisfying. Some left more nuanced comments, like beauty editor Emma Veronica who pointed out that in reality, a lipstick is just a lump of fat with pigments and holds little real value, even if they’re expensive. She also said that human existence is inherently wasteful, that everything we do burns cash, and I think she’s right.
Social media is largely a site of conspicuous consumption. This means, essentially, showing off your spending power. Hauls, shelfies and so on are all examples of this – it’s about asserting status as a consumer. Now, if you’re showing off how you destroy the objects of consumption, it’s essentially showing off how you can drop money on something only to ruin it in the next moment. Personal belongings are disposable to you. However, there’s not the same kneejerk response of anger at, say, people who show off their hundreds of identical nude lipsticks. Those products are just as “wasted”, because it’s impossible to use them all before they go off.
Furthermore, the comment about the actual chemical composition of lipstick got me thinking – what is the difference between a lipstick mixing video and a paint mixing one? The latter is a now-defunct fad on social media, where copious amounts of oil paint are satisfyingly blended with brushes and palette knives. As a recovering visual artist, let me point out that oil paint is, indeed, expensive too – a tube of good-quality ultramarine will set you back a good amount of cash. But people don’t fly into a seething fury over paint mixing videos.
In a way, I think destroying makeup causes such a visceral response, whether positive or negative, because it is a symbol of femininity. It’s so tied up with women and our self image that it’s difficult to distance ourselves from it. For me, mashing up a luxury lipstick is satisfying exactly because it feels wrong – it’s a trespass, a rebellion if I may be so bold. I hold no bars claiming the destructivity of femininity and its trappings – I’m not a woman who will claim that makeup empowers or holds any feminist value, quite the opposite. I know it’s made to hurt and control us.
That’s why, to reassert my dominance, I think I need to commit some sort of violence against beauty products. To prove I’m the boss, so to speak. Is that crazy? Am I overthinking? Maybe a little. But I’m not overthinking any more than the people who get upset at seeing a lipstick destroyed. It’s only makeup, after all. It’s not important. Destroying it leads to no disasters or terrible consequences. But it’s very fun.