Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Tuesday 13 March 2018 by Melissa Towriss

Makeup is not a mask that covers up your beauty; it’s a weapon that helps you express who you are from the inside.” Michelle Phan

Today, consumers treat brands and products as an extension of themselves. Some fill their homes with quirky furniture. Others like to make a statement with the clothes they wear. As my own form of self-expression, I turn to makeup. For a long time, I have used eyeliners, eyeshadows and lipsticks to outwardly express my creativity so I can look any way I wish.

In this age of social media, the beauty industry I have grown to love is booming. Open online spaces such as Instagram, YouTube, Twitch and Pinterest are empowering consumers to share makeup looks that were only publicised by qualified makeup artists before. Through these inclusive platforms, anyone can share their weird and wonderful creations to inspire others – from full glam faces to fishtail brows.

It’s no surprise that more than half of consumers consider user-generated content more legitimate than content pushed out by brands. Social media influencers are now more valuable to PR execs than generic A-listers and catwalk models. Beauty brands that embrace this inclusive approach are bulldozing the competition and their products are flying off the shelves.

An industry that once defined strict stereotypes for what is considered beautiful is changing – and, in my opinion, for the better.

Makeup for the many

In his book Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry, Geoffrey Jones stresses how the beauty industry previously facilitated the homogenisation and commercialisation of western beauty ideals. But with today’s accelerated rates of globalisation, the industry is again being reimagined.

Larger brands are breaking down barriers – both physical and ideological. They are transcending national boundaries. They are responding to a greater diversity of cultures and lifestyles. And they are making people rethink stereotypes linked to sexuality, gender and race. For example, Anastasia Beverly Hills uses men in its marketing campaigns to normalise male makeup fans, while Maybelline appointed male social media influencer Manny MUA as a brand ambassador last year. Back in 2016, Covergirl introduced 17-year-old James Charles as its spokesmodel, stating:

All of our COVERGIRLs are role models and boundary-breakers, fearlessly expressing themselves, standing up for what they believe, and redefining what it means to be beautiful. James Charles is no exception.

Even MAC Cosmetics, the beauty industry giant, collaborated with Patrick Star to create a makeup line targeted at his fan base. And in Japan, Shiseido published this attention-grabbing ad:

Also proving that makeup is for all (regardless of gender) is Jeffree Star. The statement-glam entrepreneur launched his own makeup brand back in 2015. His YouTube channel (with 6 million subscribers and counting) is packed with daring tutorials and his marketing campaigns are inclusive of the transgender community. Already this year, Morphe has partnered with Jeffree for the launch of its fourth flagship store.

Similarly, Rihanna’s makeup brand, Fenty Beauty, prompted excitement last year for addressing another inclusivity issue. From the first teaser posts on Instagram, Rihanna made it very clear that she wanted to create products for “all skin tones”. And in September, she launched 40 varied shades of her Matte Longwear Foundation.

Beyond showcasing just how many shades are out there, the products also revealed an untapped gap in the market – proven by the darkest shades selling out first. A foundation had hit the shelves that was finally “universally flattering”.

Fenty Beauty foundation in multiple shades

Makeup speaks volumes

The makeup industry’s push to speak out against prejudices has had a trickle-down effect. Facilitated by the inclusiveness of social media platforms, artists and influencers have used their networks to raise awareness of issues including medical, mental health and societal problems.

The art_for_change Instagram profile publishes images from Instagram users who use the #brushesagainstbullies hashtag. They publicise how the art of makeup can be used to raise awareness around topics including gay pride, cervical cancer and anti-bullying – while promoting love and empowerment at the same time. Similarly, the influencer Madeyewlook published this YouTube video to start a conversation about diabetes:

Given the industry’s size and influence, it’s exciting to imagine a world where these conversations become the norm across multiple fields of business and prejudices are completely eradicated.

Dare to be different

While dainty looks still exist, striking and surprising styles are gaining popularity as brands are being more “out there” with their colours, products and campaigns.

NYX hosts the NYX Face Awards annually to scout artists all over the world who use their products to create out-of-the-box looks. And Mehron hosts the #NextFaceOfMehron challenge on Instagram to find the next face of the brand. Both encourage and promote creativity, experimentation and self expression.

Makeup influencers like Kat Von D also release statement colours and experimental products. Her Everlasting Liquid Lipstick Glimmer Veil Collection “took all the stars and colours of the universe and condensed [them] into one bottle” – with black, purple and gold shades featuring. Kat also launched the Artistry Collective (in March 2017), where she hand-picked makeup maestros as brand representatives.

It’s no longer about the “rules” of makeup either. Lipsticks don’t have to stay within the lines of your lips – they can become blushes, eyeshadows and even eyeliners. And with a full palette of colours available, makeup now commonly adorns artists’ bodies and belongings. (Be sure to check out Timothy Hung and Hungry to see some more makeup masterpieces.)

It’s not just a brand – it’s a lifestyle

Along with being more inclusive, some makeup brands are driving their own trends to further differentiate themselves in the beauty space – choosing to become “lifestyle brands” instead.

Cruelty-free cosmetics, vegan products and eco-beauty companies are showing how brands are pinning their identities on ethical and moral codes – and consumers are loving it. Companies like LUSH, for example, have always been about philanthropy. Its brand purpose has been built on a do-good approach and, as a result, the business has shaped consumers whose ideologies are aligned.

And if evidence were needed of the danger of brands failing to live up to their ideals, look no further than NARS Cosmetics. NARS made headlines after announcing it would comply with Chinese animal testing laws to enter the untapped market. The brand turned its back on the “cruelty free” identity customers had grown to love, with many boycotting it as a result:

NARS cosmetics comments on Instagram

Progress or just the same old?

With the first transgender woman occupying the glossy pages of British Vogue and Toyota hiring drag queens as campaign curators (and creators), you could say the beauty industry’s personality of progression is rubbing off. But even though many brands are changing for the better, some are still making schoolboy errors. We’re only three months into 2018 and both Tarte and H&M have been called out for being racially exclusive.

Although some may criticise the online backlash from consumers, I believe it’s important that social media remains a space where people can connect directly with brands. Just as makeup artists, streamers and YouTubers can become influencers, opinions expressed by consumers on these channels should help shape the future offerings – as well as the behaviour – of brands like Tarte. Ultimately, a diversity of perspectives will lead to more inclusive brands.

Stay outside the lines

There has never been a fixed definition of beauty. And today, individuals have the freedom to express themselves through the art of makeup to wider audiences than ever before.

With the lack of constraints, the phrase “you do you” rings loud and true. Beauty is now an open forum where you can be exactly who you want to be, whoever you are, without judgement. The rule-book hasn’t just been re-written – it’s been totally incinerated.



  • Branding
  • Social media