Fashion mags tend to suffer from the same fallacy as the tweeting ladies, assuming (or at least pretending to assume) that pictures of young, beautiful ladies looking young and beautiful without makeup! will somehow make other women feel better about themselves.
The tabloids ape this ‘bare is beautiful’ tone (“Lovely Kate Winslet steps out makeup free and gorgeous!”) as a cover for posting as many horribly unflattering photos as possible . Unflattering, mind you, because they catch the subject mid-talking or scowling, or just-out-of-bed and generally disheveled, or any number of reasons not directly related to the fact that heaven forbid she’s not wearing makeup.
The upside to the tabloid shots, I guess, is that the famous ladies do sometimes look genuinely awful, so maybe women see them and feel better because Kirsten Dunst or Katie Holmes don’t look perfectly gorgeous all the time? But then this only reinforces the idea that makeup is necessary, and it’s unsightly for a women to go out without it. The whole thing is really a damned if they do look bad, damned it they don’t situation. [Jezebel explores the paradox nicely here.]
What is perhaps most perplexing is what’s supposed to be shocking about most of these photos. Are we supposed to be surprised that Rihanna looks different without bright red lipstick, fake eyelashes and gobs of eye makeup? That’s what makeup does—it makes you look different. I know what I look like with dramatic makeup and without it. I know what my friends look like with makeup and without it. Makeup, at least appreciable amounts of it, makes people look different. Why should Snookie be any exception?
What makeup doesn’t do is make you look that different. It might camouflage a zit or under-eye circles. It might make your eyes look bigger, your lips plumper, or your cheekbones stand out a little more. It might help you affect a certain image or persona. Moderate gains in attractiveness, or camouflage, are possible.
But a very pretty girl is a very pretty girl, with or without makeup. And it’s not simply makeup that’s keeping me from looking like Natalia Vodianova.
So a word to famous ladies: Please stop tweeting pictures of your darling fresh-faced selves. We get it! You’re cute. And makeup makes people look different. Check. Moving on …
While bad-celebrity-photos are as much part of Internet media infrastructure as goofy cat photos—i.e., not going anywhere anytime soon—let’s at least stop acting like going makeup-free is either a gaffe or great feat. Let’s stop endorsing the idea that going make-up free is “brave,” or “bold,” or feminist. Let’s stop pretending that wearing makeup or not should be an indicator of one’s “true” beauty. Makeup is what it is (to use the parlance of reality TV shows). The opposite of making women feel like they need makeup isn’t fetishizing going without makeup. The opposite is making makeup—wearing it or not— unworthy of comment at all, no?