Blurred Lines: The Changing Faces of Beauty

In On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry writes that beauty excites us. The thrill that we get from a beautiful view or face compels us to try to reproduce it, possess it, and protect it. It is through the arts (photography, fashion, music etc.) that we do just that. And funnily enough, the same can be said about “ugly” things—but more on that later. The ideals of beauty have long existed and evolved throughout history. For many of us these ideals became canons. They were internalized, learnt and absorbed from our surroundings: friends, family, and the fashion industry. The inevitable social pressure to conform was stressful, to say the least. But, in recent years beauty standards have steadily grown more inclusive and alternative beauty is increasingly welcomed within the industry thanks to social media. The lines are starting to blur. So that begs the question: Is this the start of a beauty revolution?


Image courtesy of Vogue.

While beauty muses have traditionally been replaced faster than iPhones, they’ve all shared similar qualities: Claudia Schiffer’s girl-next-door appeal; Cindy Crawford’s glamazon allure; and Kate Moss’ waifish heroine chic. Last year, Bella Hadid was crowned “the most beautiful woman in the world” based on the Golden Ratio of Beauty Phi test. But Bella Hadid’s isn’t just a beautiful face, it’s the “Instagram face”: youthful, poreless skin, high cheekbones, catlike eyes, long lashes, and plump lips1. There’s an apparent look that the industry holds as the pinnacle of beauty and it’s a look that we’re obliged to buy into.

But the discourses around beauty have become multifaceted because of social media. The rise of alternative beauty creatives on platforms like Instagram has ushered in a new age of beauty by chipping away at existing standards. Take Jazzelle Zanaughtti (a.k.a. @uglyworldwide), for instance. Her username in and of itself is the antithesis of mainstream beauty. Jazelle is all shaved eyebrows, bleach-blonde buzz-cut, gold grills topped off with cutting-edge beauty looks and outfits. Her fearless style is adored not just by her 662k instagram followers, but by mainstream brands like Savage x Fenty and Palladium Boots.


Image courtesy of @uglyworldwide via Instagram.

And it’s not just Jazelle, notable alternative beauty creatives like Salwa Rahman, Ana Takahashi, Yulia Shur and Nafrayou are also breaking boundaries with their work. Salwa Rahman is a beauty creative who rejects labels with experimental and vivid beauty looks. Ana Takahashi, a 21-year-old London-based makeup artist, creates works reminiscent of the great master painters. However, alternative beauty isn’t limited to a make-up look. Yulia Shur explores “poisoned beauty” through self-portraiture, while Nafrayou shows the importance of authenticity in beauty through her fierce, avant-garde style.

The nature of social media has played a pivotal role in spearheading alternative beauty’s industry breakthrough. Social media creates a level playing field where everyone has the same opportunity to express themselves. But with this opportunity comes insecurity. How do we stand out? How do we avoid getting lost amongst the masses? We make value judgments about each other and ourselves based on what we wear. A clean suit and a neat hairstyle says “professional”, while piercings and tattoos say the opposite. It’s only natural that that insecurity materialises in a desire to stand out visually. And so platforms like Instagram become the perfect backdrop for the good and the bad.


Image courtesy of @nafrayou via Instagram.

The rise of the Instagram face has again levelled the beauty playing field and that has triggered a desire to set ourselves apart, to display our individuality. That is best done by creating beauty that intrigues, disturbs and confuses. “Nothing is so boring as something beautiful. I prefer ugly things, I prefer things which are surprising… You force yourself to ask yourself questions”, according to Belgian designer Dries Van Noten2. With makeup, hair, and fashion, alternative beauty creatives have been able to break through and transform the oversaturated homogeneity of the industry. They are a breath of fresh air! Alternative beauty’s presence in the industry acts as a beacon and draws attention to the malaise of conventional beauty.

We live in an age where beauty, regardless of gender, sexuality, or race is being celebrated (even if it’s only in small ways). Social media has played a significant role in the alternative beauty movement, creating brand accountability and empowering alternative beauty creators to express themselves through their art. Regardless of the societal expectations to conform to the norms, beauty is diverse, liberating and changing—and there’s nothing more beautiful than being able to express ourselves unapologetically.


Written by Vania.
Featured image courtesy of @urgalsal_ via instagram.

1 The New Yorker: The Age of Instagram Face
2 Elle: Dries Van Noten Finds Inspiration In ‘Ugly Things’

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