Beauty Level-Up #12: Makeup Isn’t Always Worn to Look “Pretty”

Last month, Kim Kardashian was featured on a cover that got less attention than her problematic “Internet-breaking” Paper one, but that I think was actually quite quite a clever, fascinating, and subtle statement on beauty, specifically the kind of beauty of which she has become something of a symbol.

Kim Kardashian on the cover of LOVE magazine
Photo credit: Steven Klein for LOVE magazine.

Do you see what she did there with the shadows? I do! Given that her popularization of facial contouring has been of the kind that is supposed to make you look more conventionally attractive, I dig how the shadows in this picture make her look. It’s not the usual “make face look thinner with more prominent cheekbones, less prominent nose, smaller forehead and chin, etc.” She looks sinister, threatening, and powerful yet nonchalant in that power. The look stands in stark contrast to her usual performance of conventional beauty.

In other words, she looks very interesting rather than generically “pretty” as is her (and the rest of Hollywood’s) general M.O, and I really dig it. Generically pretty may be a widely-appealing look, but it’s a boring one that leaves little room for imagination, creativity, and visible artistry. As is to be expected, The Onion has something very apt to say about that form of beauty; completely non-jokingly, I’ve wished for a paint-on-mask-then-apply-to-face easy way to do the sort of makeup that makes one appear “naturally flawless.”

Heina on the left with "natural" makeup, on the right with added purple lipstick

What do I mean by performing pretty? In this image, I’m wearing the same makeup in both panels and merely added different lighting / angle and my signature flourish of MAC Heroine to the look for the right-side “after” shot. I jokingly captioned it “Yesterday, I had the time to do natural make-up, yielding the results on the left. I realized that I might inadvertently trick men into thinking I’m not wearing any deceptive paints, so I quickly rectified it with my favorite, decidedly unnatural lipstick. You’re welcome, men.”

I was being facetious, but there are men out there who believe that they prefer women to be wearing “no” makeup when they actually mean “no makeup that is too obvious or visible to me.” Similarly, there are men and women who believe that women could only possibly want to wear cosmetics to appear “pretty” and will give unsolicited advice to women who are wearing cosmetics that they believe are unattractive to men. More maliciously, there are men who resent makeup because they believe it’s a lie.

Makeup, lighting, shadows, and other look-creating tools can be used for a lot of things, but they are hardly capable of deceiving everyone always in every context. In my day-to-day life, I try to actively re-frame the conversation about beauty to be about how the people wearing cosmetics want to look rather than how closely they match some arbitrary set of standards of attractiveness. Unless I know for sure that normative “pretty” is the look that the person in question is going for, I assume that they are going for the look that they personally prefer.

Got beauty questions? Drop me a line via the method of your choice: Twitter / Tumblr [anon enabled] / Facebook/ (anonymous) / email to have you question answered as part of my Beauty Level-Up series.

Beauty Level-Up #12: Makeup Isn’t Always Worn to Look “Pretty”

3 thoughts on “Beauty Level-Up #12: Makeup Isn’t Always Worn to Look “Pretty”

  1. xyz

    This is such a good post about what makeup can be “for.” Personally I gave up on wearing “natural” makeup years ago and now I’m slowly learning to enjoy using my face as a canvas for self expression, but it’s taken a long time to retrain myself from thinking my own equivalent of the face on the left is my only acceptable everyday face, while my equivalent of the one on the right is “overdone.”

    I’d also be really interested in reading more about your thoughts on makeup as femme gender expression since you are nonbinary!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *