I’ve been thinking recently about the so-called “effortless” look, but I’ve also been thinking about its opposite, or perhaps its obverse: the heavy, colorful, ombréd look popular on Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube. At first I thought these two looks couldn’t be further apart aesthetically, but I’ve come to believe that they’re actually two sides of the same coin. While adherents of “effortlessness” scoff at the idea that anyone would spend an hour layering and blending color, both looks owe a good deal of their popularity to the Internet. Neither one began there, of course, but Instagram and other social media have helped to refine and codify the looks. Hence the phenomenon of making oneself up for selfies, as opposed to snapping a quick selfie before heading out for the day. (And hence my shorthand phrase of “Instagram beauty,” though I’m aware that many of these techniques were popular in drag, for instance, long before the invention of Instagram.)
|San Francisco, December 2013.|
When I first began following fashion and style blogs, around 2008, bloggers tended to emphasize the purpose of each outfit; there was a general sense that getting dressed up just for one’s blog was a little weird. I didn’t read beauty blogs back then, but I assume that the same was true for beauty bloggers. Blogging wasn’t yet a viable career for many people, and Instagram, founded in late 2010, was still two years away. By and large, the only people who wore clothes and makeup unsuited to real life were models in editorials. For almost everyone else, personal style grew out of lifestyle. You dressed and made up for your occupation, whether that occupation happened to be burlesque dancer or stay-at-home mom or graduate student. Blogs were appealing because they showed clothes and makeup on ordinary people with ordinary lives, not on Photoshopped models in lavish editorial settings.
At the same time, the Internet made editorials more widely available, which meant that more people could copy them. And as those imitations proliferated online, the fashion world turned toward the “effortless” look. Coincidence? I can’t say for sure, though I do think the effortless ideal in its current form is a reaction against popular culture’s adoption of the editorial look. But outside the fashion world, the stage for both of these looks is the Internet, which means they’re more similar than they might seem. Both begin with smooth, flawless skin: not a new beauty ideal by any means, but an ideal that the availability of filters has heightened. You can be your own Photoshopped model now: real life imitates selfie life.
Predictably, the beauty industry has responded with products designed to make us resemble our Instagram photos in real life, to make us look good in our Instagram photos, or both. The most blatant example is Too Faced’s new Selfie Powder, which promises to make the user “look filter-flawless in real life”:
Finishing powders have existed for centuries, of course, but this is the first time I’ve heard of a powder marketed specifically to selfie-takers.
And it’s not just about looking “filter-flawless in real life”: note the #tfnofilter hashtag on the box and the “photo-enhancing” epithet in the description. In other words, you’ll look filtered in real life, but you’ll also have no need for a filter on Instagram, and you can brag about this with the #nofilter hashtag. The Instagram selfie has become an end in itself, and Too Faced wants to help you toward that end (and, presumably, repost your selfies on the company Instagram account).
See also Milani’s description of its new Moisture Matte lipsticks:
And pretty much every product description on ColourPop’s website (“Curated by @brittanysuleiman, inspired by the insta-famous Kylie lip”):
I admit, I used to find it weird that people would spend hours painting their faces for selfies. (Have you seen many people in real life wear that hyper-blended, hyper-stylized look? I’ve seen very few, though the fact that I socialize mainly with academics might have something to do with it…) The more I think about this phenomenon, though, the more I appreciate it. There’s something very democratic about Instagram beauty. Editorial looks are no longer confined to editorials; makeup artists no longer have a monopoly on advanced techniques like contouring. The beauty world has fewer secrets these days. I also like that the Instagram look is a performance of effort–the same effort that proponents of effortless beauty try so hard to dissemble. Why not look like you’ve spent some time and energy putting yourself together? Why not honor others by making yourself up for their gaze?
I wanted to provide examples of the “Instagram look” in this post, but that would have meant using other people’s personal photos without their permission. The best I can do is this promotional photo from CoverGirl’s Hunger Games collection in late 2013. This is obviously more costumey than most Instagram looks, but the basic elements are there: heavy contouring and highlighting, bright eyeshadow blended up to the browbone, overdrawn lips.
It’s a shame that CoverGirl didn’t actually produce that metallic teal lipstick; that task fell to NYX. (I’m convinced that NYX’s recent Wicked and Macaron lipstick releases, in colors like mint and metallic navy, are intended primarily for Instagram selfies.)
As an homage to Instagram’s many innovators, I tried out a maximalist look of my own. It’s far outside my usual repertoire (and could certainly be better), but I had fun creating it. I used these products…
…and got this result:
Because I lack quite a few staples of the Instagram look (foundation, bronzer, contour products, highlighter), this isn’t as finished-looking as it could be, but I did my best with what I had on hand. I filled in my brows with theBalm Sleek eyeshadow, using much more than I normally would. I was already wearing NARS Lhasa on my eyes when I came home and put together this look, so I kept Lhasa as a base and layered Kiko 251 on the inner corners, ColourPop Krinkle on the middle of the lids, and ColourPop Bae on the outer corners, lower lashlines, and browbones. On my upper lashlines I used Maybelline Line Stiletto, winged out. For some reason my blush isn’t showing up well in this photo, but it was NARS Mata Hari, with Milani Bella Taupe eyeshadow to contour. I lined outside my natural lip lines and filled in my lips with Milani’s lip pencil in 03 Nude. It was surprisingly hard to overdraw my lips, partly because of my ingrained horror at the thought and partly because I have very well-defined lip lines.
And there we are. Have you ever tried a similar look? What are your thoughts on selfie-consciousness?