Credit: GG Features Editor Nairne Clark Hopkinson (@nairne_creates)

The foundations of foundation

By Rothery Sullivan

Does the makeup industry just conceal a darker agenda?

Throughout history, women have faced colossal societal pressures in regards to beauty standards; their bodies, hair, size, and face have been critiqued again and again, with society continually changing its idea of what true beauty looks like. In doing so, women are faced with endless amounts of pressure to mask and erase their “imperfections”, causing them to spend billions of pounds each year on products for hiding their “flaws” from others. While the diet industry is also a huge contributor to the ideology that women need to change their appearance to be beautiful, it is the cosmetics industry, which can hide behind a veneer of empowerment and normalcy to push itself as a necessity onto the consumers.

Wearing makeup can be harmful for a multitude of reasons, such as the possible repercussions for our skin. While some high-end products promise a blemish-free experience, most affordable face-makeup products, such as foundation, concealer, bronzer, highlighter, blush, etc. can block pores, lead to premature ageing or cause dry or oily skin as found in a study from Revere Health. In fact, many other cosmetic skincare companies create, promote and sell products to then fix these skin issues at a high price; most good-quality skincare products are expensive. The supply and demand business model of makeup literally relies on us buying their products to fix what problems their products caused. In 2019, the UK cosmetic industry was worth approximately £9.3bn, which proves the amount of money people are willing to spend to have a “perfect” face, whether it be through wearing makeup or purchasing skincare products. Moreover, a worrying statistic from Glamour tells us that the average woman in the UK owns £113.77 worth of makeup and facial cosmetic products at any one time, and spends on average £482 a year. With the combination of makeup and skincare pressures, women are drawn into a vicious cycle of spending money and time on skin-damaging makeup, only to spend even more money and time on products to “fix” the harm the makeup causes. 

The need to fix or hide blemishes stems from many advertisements that promote blemish-free skin as “healthy”, which therefore insinuates that any skin that is not smooth, bright and clear is “unhealthy”. In a world where societal norms pressure us to appear healthy (indicated through the pressures to be thin and fit, or have clear skin, shiny hair, long nails, etc.), the thought of having “unhealthy” skin seems embarrassing and is a thing to be feared by most young adults. Cosmetics promote the ideology that uneven or dull skin is always correlated with poor health, which leads to a further correlation that our worth is reliant on our health; this concept is ableist and entirely untrue. 

Furthermore, makeup is harmful as it often-times causes women to feel dependent on it. They may find themselves feeling reliant on makeup, and ugly without it, leading to lower self-esteem as many promotions of makeup indicate that features such as acne, thin eyebrows, and wider, less defined facial structures are characteristics that should be hidden, characteristics to be ashamed of. In a study conducted by the University of New Hampshire regarding the impact of wearing makeup, the results showed that women not only found makeup important for their self-confidence and comfortability in social situations but that it was important in professional situations as well. This reliance on makeup indicates an unhealthy relationship wherein women feel they must, or should, wear makeup in social and professional situations. I think that this reliance is unhealthy, and although the people affected are not to blame in the slightest, they still face the repercussions of this unhealthy relationship. 

To find out more, I conducted a brief study of my own amongst uni friends. I would first like to note that this survey was conducted for anecdotal purposes, and with a small sample size of only eight people. In my findings, some things were unanimous across the group: everyone had felt pressure at some point to wear makeup (especially to social gatherings), everyone liked wearing makeup when going to public events where there would be a lot of people, and everyone wore makeup because they felt it improved the way they look. One user also noted that they feel less pressure to wear makeup since quarantine started, which shows the amount of pressure the public places on wearing makeup. 

People also seemed to wear makeup for different reasons: while some preferred to wear makeup to accentuate certain features, others wore it to cover blemishes or other parts of their face they didn’t want to show. In all circumstances, though, people used makeup to change their face to meet their own standard of “ideal beauty”. While I think most of the responders seem to have a pretty healthy relationship with makeup, they all indicated a motivation to wear makeup to improve the way they look when going out in public; when asked when they wore makeup, no one answered that they wear it when alone by themselves (although I’m sure some do just for fun). My survey also confirmed that makeup is used to “improve” a person’s outer appearance. 

Most responders noted that they liked the feeling of not wearing makeup, describing it as feeling “clean” and “good for my skin”. These comments point to an unhealthy relationship in the sense that many feel cleaner and happier without makeup, yet choose to wear it anyway, often due to outside pressures. However, these comments could also indicate that a healthy relationship with makeup as they are able to feel comfortable without wearing it; they are not dependent on makeup. Personally, my behaviour mimics the trends of this survey, as I am a lot more likely to wear makeup when I will see others as opposed to when I am alone or with close friends, and that I enjoy days where I am makeup-free. Overall, though, I think that our relationship with makeup can often be unhealthy as many people are affected by the previously-mentioned ideology that people should wear makeup to improve their appearance and appear more professional. 

However, some responders also noted the importance that makeup has in portraying how they feel internally that day, whether it be a mood through different colours or a more masculine/feminine look through accentuated features; they view makeup as an art form, a form of expression. In this sense, I think that makeup can be utilised in a healthy way as it gives makeup wearers the control to express themselves to the world. Using makeup as an art form is highly beneficial in stimulating creativity, which is an especially great way to start the day if makeup is applied in the morning. 

A survey responder summarised the overall consensus perfectly; “I think I look prettier with makeup. I feel better about myself when I wear makeup. When I wear makeup, I am doing it for me, but the reason I feel better about myself is sourced from outside influence.” I think that most people have a decently healthy relationship with makeup, but I think that everyone is influenced by the unhealthy pressures of societal norms. Whether you have a healthy relationship with makeup or not is an independent affair that you can decide for yourself. 

The most important thing that I want to note here is that wearing makeup is your choice, no matter your reasons for wearing it. There is no shame in wearing makeup for yourself, for others, or because you feel pressure to wear it. If you have an “unhealthy” relationship with makeup, this is not something to be embarrassed by in any way; “health” has nothing to do with worth. We all should have the right to alter our appearance in whatever way we want to without the judgement of others, whether that be with no makeup, some makeup, or a full face of makeup. Society has put enough pressure on makeup wearers to use their products, and we do not need any further pressure from those against makeup to be “makeup-free”. 

So, my fellow makeup-users, I want to leave you with a final question: why do you wear makeup? I hope that your choice to wear makeup is because you want to and you find happiness in doing so, but no matter what your answer is, remember that you have the freedom to wear whatever you choose, and you don’t ever deserve to face backlash due to whether you do or don’t wear makeup.


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