barefaced beauty and
the beastly effort behind it

words, photography and styling by andrea philbin

The trouble with being a woman in 2019 is that everything is a statement. Social change is the norm and companies are capitalising off it.  Recently, I have noticed a trend of women ditching their makeup to go “barefaced.” Think: the beaming fresh Glossier model with perfectly rosy cheeks or the effortlessly chic “french girl makeup” with next-to-nothing face makeup and a quick swipe of red lipstick.

There is a heavy emphasis on looking good all the time. Most, if not every, mainstream movie depicts female characters going to sleep or waking up with a full face of makeup or a natural glow that most of us don’t have after the morning a few too many vodka sodas.

A more permanent flawless face is en vogue.  One trend that has been rising in the last couple years is the “no-makeup-makeup-look” with heavy emphasis on the prep to the skin and face before any actual make-up has touched the face. This means putting more into skin care routines so you can wear less or no makeup at all.

Let’s start off by stating that this question of barefaced beauty is heavily layered in privilege. Wearing makeup in itself is a privilege. Products in drugstores start around $10 per item, retail stores $20 and so forth to triple-digit luxury products in high-end department stores.

The treat yourself movement has been thriving for years. It has been normalized that extra time and dollars can and should be spent more on making yourself feel better through beauty routines – because baby, you deserve it. Nowadays, there are more and more ways to spend money on looking good. Microblading, chemical peels, lasers, face “workouts” and eye-wateringly expensive creams – the list goes on. That also doesn’t take into consideration the opportunity cost associated with time spent putting on and taking off makeup each morning and evening, or the down time to visit and recover from those medspa procedures. The act of buying, collecting and using products has become an obsession. It’s become a popular subject on social media. YouTube videos include these themes with titles including highly-searched terms such as “haul,” “collection” and “empties.” I’ll bet women’s bathroom cabinets look a lot different than just five years ago.

“The treat yourself movement has been thriving for years. It has been normalized that extra time and dollars can and should be spent more on making yourself feel better through beauty routines – because baby, you deserve it.”

What if you don’t fit into this mold of naturally possessing glowing bright flawless skin? What then for you? More time, money, and effort invested in fitting in? Why do we chase the proverbial fountain of youth? What does this say about our self-worth? And, importantly, what does this say about our society?

Taking a deep dive into this leads me to believe that while embracing barefaced beauty may be empowering for some, the no-makeup trend is inextricably layered in privilege, class, and capitalism. After all, a ton of the products and procedures suggest to women that they will succeed by becoming more beautiful if they fix their superficial “flaws,” all while spending copious amounts of money on new things they might not necessarily need.  We are told to use said products to make your skin better, but often, skincare products are really created for people who already are deemed to have acceptable skin by societal standards. This in turn makes it easier for them to find the confidence to go barefaced and are praised for it – whereas women who might have acne or hyperpigmentation have a double edged sword. If they cover up their flaws, they are mocked for wearing too much make-up and if their flaws are visible, they are mocked as well.

As I am a subscriber to this possibly destructive beauty narrative, I chose to reflect on these thoughts with my friend Hannah.

Hannah is a contemporary dancer, freelancer and caregiver to a handicapped woman in New York. In the past year she decided to forego makeup in most, if not 99% of occasions and pare down her skincare to a simple, low-waste routine with emphasis on natural, accessible ingredients and homemade recipes. We are a bit different in this way, as I wear at least a bit of makeup most days and regularly practice these seemingly extravagant beauty routines. For example, I personally love facials more than full-body massages and try to get them at least every couple months. Also, I have gotten a non-invasive cosmetic procedure in the past and open to more in the future. Seeing as we are at slightly different ends of the scale, I thought it would be nice to have a conversation with her about this trend.

AP: Why did you choose to forego makeup?

HW: I spent one summer at a six-week long dance festival and noticed that I would sweat off all my make up in [dance] class each day. It was ridiculous and a waste of my makeup. So I just stopped putting it on every morning.

AP: Were there any initial reactions to this decision?

HW: Nothing really changed because I was in a new environment that summer and was surrounded by people who didn't know me well and had only seen me wear makeup for about a week; for all they knew, the no makeup look was my everyday look. No one is really noticing the things I notice about my makeup-less face because they really don't care!

AP: How do you feel now that you haven’t been wearing makeup for a while?

HW: Being mostly bare-faced has been really empowering. I feel like when people talk to me, they're really seeing me. Seeing me for exactly who I am, how I was born, how I am growing. Allowing myself to let go of the things I used to be so concerned about has made me feel healthier and more myself than ever before.

AP: Do you believe your artistic career provides leeway on not wearing makeup?

HW: I spend most of my time around dancers and artists, who generally, don't put as much effort into how they look when compared to those working regular 9-5 corporate jobs. I think if I worked in an office and had to look fairly put together every day, I would feel much more pressure to look perfect and put on makeup. 

AP: Do you think foregoing makeup is making a statement? What does it mean to you with gender expectations?

HW: For one, wearing makeup is a way of outwardly embracing womanhood and female beauty, while not wearing makeup is a way of unapologetically being simply human, as you were meant to be with no outward gender extremes placed on you. Though I do still enjoy wearing make up from time to time (it’s like playing dress up), the thing I love about being makeup free is how empowered and liberated I feel.

AP: Do you have different viewpoints than before of someone who wears a lot of makeup?

HW: Though I haven't caught myself looking down on people who wear more makeup more often than I do, I do find myself questioning their decisions. I've never liked the look of caked-on foundation. The phrase "caked-on" is a judgment in itself, whoops, and have always wondered why some girls do that, but that view has definitely gotten deeper since I stopped wearing makeup regularly.

“While embracing barefaced beauty may be empowering for some, the no-makeup trend is inextricably layered in privilege, class, and capitalism.”

AP: Lastly, do you yourself practice an extensive skin care regimen in place of not wearing makeup and what are your thoughts on the idea that this holds privilege?

HW: The idea of the no-makeup trend being geared toward people of privilege is extremely interesting to me. Though I use some different skin care than when I wore makeup, my routine has remained mostly unchanged. To me, the little skincare I do allows me to carve out a few minutes of the day to devote solely to how I look, and subsequently, how I feel. It also helps me combat the toxic/dirty air in New York City. Self-care is very important to me: it helps me tackle anxiety, keeps my health and diet on track, and influences my overall feelings of who I am and how I take on the day.

After discussing with Hannah, it is still hard to come to a conclusion. Is wanting to look your best so wrong? I don’t think so. Personally, I don’t have an issue with women wanting to be the best version of themselves through makeup, skincare or procedures. Many women find solace in a routine like applying makeup or a post-shower skincare. However, where do we draw the line of taking things too far? When does this desire of wanting to look your best become a standard that is imposed on all women? Such as, the thought that it is unprofessional to go to a job interview barefaced. What happens to the women that can’t afford, or choose not to subscribe, to these beauty ideals? If this issue is rooted in capitalism and representation in media can women show empowerment through their choice?

This issue goes beyond just individuals wanting to look their best – and speaks to larger structures that dictate who we, as a society, proclaim to be ‘beautiful enough’ to go barefaced. At what point will skin that isn’t as slippery as a dolphin become represented in media as a norm? Who is told that they look beautiful naturally, and who is told they must invest time, money, and resources to adhere to these beauty ideals, often rooted in race and class?

Both wearing make-up and going make-up free (while prioritizing skincare) are layered in privilege, and encourage women to spend more money to maintain their youth. While the bareface trend has been regarded by some as empowering, it seems to me that it does not actually largely deviate unrealistic beauty standards that have always been imposed upon women. While before it may have been en vouge to wear immaculate make-up, now the expectations are more innocuous and perhaps even more difficult to attain; to look beautiful ‘naturally’ while actually deviating from your skin’s natural state.

True empowerment will come when we can all celebrate who we are blackheads and all, and be accepted for that. For now, it looks like we have a long way to go.