YOUR TURN: The Natural Look

The Natural LookPhoto credit: www.julep.com

Your Turn” is a new, ongoing feature at Culture on the Edge, in which we just plant the seed by picking a ripe e.g. and then soliciting and responding to your analysis.

When I was twelve, I remember spending my birthday money on a “how-to” book on makeup application. I became particularly adept at “polka dot party makeup” (or a technique called something similar to that) wherein I dotted my eyes with black eyeliner in a way that I now realize probably resembled malignant freckles.

Despite my tender age, I remember recognizing at the time that there was some irony in the fact that the book featured a “natural look” section designed to help the makeup novitiate achieve a flawless “natural” state through the help of cosmetics. In the case of the photo above, this particular “natural look” is achieved through the purchase of the cosmetics sold through the website, and the photo supports an article on the same topic. Another related article tells the reader how to achieve a “no-makeup” look with — yes — makeup.

Many might (rightfully) comment that for those of us interested in the strategies of identity, this is nothing other than a misogynist attempt to reinforce beauty standards that not only consistently denigrate women but that also seriously limits them by locating their value in their looks. While all of this is true, there are other interesting identity markers at play in these articles that make them appealing reading.

What do you see here?  How is a “natural” identity constructed?

It’s your turn.

2 Replies to “YOUR TURN: The Natural Look”

  1. While I would agree that it is absolutely ironic to advertise for a “natural look” through the use of makeup, I would also argue that this move is perhaps not inherently misogynist. Rather, it appears to me the product of many years of naturalizing the notion that something about our performance needs to be enhanced when we are no longer in the privacy of our own homes – and this notion extends to men (though perhaps not through makeup). Growing up, it wasn’t the men in my life who seemed obsessed with typified notions of beauty, but rather the women – my mother, aunts, and friends, who indeed were the ones who taught me about the “natural look.” What I mean to say is that perhaps women take this unnatural yet “naturalized” sense of beauty and reinforce it upon ourselves. That said, the notion of changing oneself or one’s appearance in different circumstances is a concept that has been naturalized over an extended period of time; the idea that we address our bosses differently than we address our parents, our close coworkers, our cousins, our friends; that we dress differently at work, at home, at rock concerts, or at restaurants. When our environment changes, it is expected that our appearance and behavior will change as well to conform to social norms. As stated above, this expectation extends to men, though perhaps in a different manner. So this unnatural “natural” identity is one that isn’t new to us, and perhaps Eliot said it best: “There will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”

  2. Oh my, it’s my favorite topic! I’m a pretty huge fan of makeup and even more relatedly, not too interested in “the natural look”. In my knowledge of cosmetic history, I think this phenomenon is actually a recent one. The first makeup wearers i know of were the people (not just women) of Egypt. Although their kohl stained eyes were at least partially utilitarian (supposedly helping to protect eyes from the bright sun), there is nothing quite natural looking about heavy black eyeliner. The image may seem natural to us since everyone from Horace to The Scorpion King is portrayed as gothed up, but that’s an idealist image of beauty still. Other ancient makeup looks include the paper white face of classical beauty seen on geishas and nobility in Japan; war paint on any number of tribes and civilizations, used to enhance the appearance of strength and terror; henna designs in India, Africa, and the middle east; why, the idea of the value in an apparently unaugmented face seems peculiarly Western.

    McCutcheon once mentioned that I seem to have a grasp on the constructed nature of identity. He was referring to my clothes, hair, and makeup which I change frequently. I don’t stick to a particular style for long because I don’t want to be the same for long. Makeup gives me the opportunity to present drastically different images of myself on a daily basis. Occasionally, but mostly out of laziness, I will wear a “minimally processed” face. But the other unnatural parts of my appearance, notably my hair that is dyed black, prevent me from walking out of the house au natural. There’s nothing normal looking about transparent eyebrows and eyelashes on a black-haired person. It’s actually slightly unsettling to most people. My other body modifications encourage the use of everyday tweaks on my appearance; the naturalized phenomenon of image enhancement requires me, anyway, to put effort into looking average.

    For many people, a natural look is an everyday attempt. I totally support any person who uses makeup to create an image of his or her self they enjoy. It is empowering to have control over your own appearance. And sometimes at least, looking like a beautiful person who doesn’t wear makeup but still has particular features that don’t “naturally” occur on one’s face is a desirable goal. It is, therefore, well within the range of what I find to be empowering nature (haha) of makeup.

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