Natural Beauty is the New ‘Look’ [Embrace:Me]

Well, score one for all of us who have been hoping that the unrealistic standards of beauty our society obsesses over would go the way of the buffalo. It turns out that natural beauty is the big new thing! Has a new day dawned? Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of feeling bad about our inability to look like supermodels? Can we finally breathe a collected sigh of relief, relax, and start feeling good about ourselves?

Um, no.

Come on. Did you think some kind of miracle had occurred?

Health (magazine)

Image via Wikipedia

According to an article from Health.com, ‘natural beauty’ is in. It sounds so promising. I want to be happy about it. But I’m also skeptical about the feel-good potential of any article that comes from a website where the top fitness stories are titled, ‘Moves for a Better Body’, ‘Burn Fat With Ballet’, and ‘5-Minute Fat Burners’ (and let’s face it, that could be so many health and fitness websites targeted at women. It just so happens that those are the headlines from Health.com, but are they any different from the ones you’d find on Shape or Fitness?).

As it turns out, the kind of natural beauty that we’re all supposed to sport this season is just as contrived as any other beauty standard. Flaunt your freckles (but don’t forget to cover up other imperfections with powder)! Let your teeth be natural (but don’t forget to whiten them)! Don’t blow-dry your hair (but make sure it’s wavy)! No word on what we’re supposed to do if we don’t naturally have freckles, or our eyebrows are naturally thin, or our hair is pin-straight. I guess if that’s the boat we’re in, then we don’t get to hop on the natural beauty trend…because we’re not naturally beautiful. Maybe we could fake it by filling in our anemic eyebrows, drawing on some freckles, and having a friend knock our teeth crooked?

The thing about natural beauty is that it isn’t meant to be defined by any kind of parameter. Indeed, beauty isn’t meant to be defined by any kind of parameter. Often the things that are most beautiful are appealing and attractive for indescribable reasons. Unfortunately, once the media latches onto some idea about what beauty is, we all forget about the value of uniqueness and difference in beauty, and immediately start feeling pressure to conform to a standard that a team of marketers probably dreamt up in an office somewhere so that they could sell more lightweight bronzer and tinted moisturizer.

The media touting a new idea of beauty–one more “natural” than those from the recent past–is, sadly, no sign of change, and certainly no marker of a new era. Instead, it’s a campaign that’s just as insidious as the rest, an attempt to create a set of ideals against we measure ourselves, and can’t help but come up short. And to that, I say tchah. Let’s make 2012 the year we all stop caring about what other people define as beautiful, and find out what’s beautiful to us. What could be more natural than that?

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11 comments

  1. Funny, I just read this today:
    http://www.healthytippingpoint.com/2012/02/the-naked-face-project-week-1.html
    Something about it doesn’t sit right with me. It could be the two women behind it, both of whom I find to be disingenuous attention whores. Or it could be the fact (related) that they’re doing it for themselves rather than for any particular reason. In theory this is something I should support, but in practice it just comes off as another totally contrived pseudo-experiment designed to give these women something to do (and to write/speak about).

    1. Yes to the post (natural beauty replaces red lipstick with flesh colored right? ) and to Tracy – you’re gonna have to explain your comment! I don’t really agree with the operation beautiful movement – random, non-specific comments don’t make me feel better nor should it – but even if their project is solely to give themselves something to talk about it – isn’t it a topic worthy to be talked about?

      1. I don’t know, I can see both sides here. On one hand, yes- any time people start talking about something they hadn’t previously been talking about, that can be a good thing. On the other hand, though, why not take the opportunity to probe a little further and get into deeper questions. I have to agree about the pseudo-experiment part of the whole thing, although who can say? Maybe it will develop into something that contains a bit more social commentary, and not just, “Oh, how novel! You’re not doing those things that we all just *do*! That will be fun for a month!”

        All in all, I can’t deny that it’s somewhat productive–we’re talking about it here, right? I just wish the discussion about rejecting ridiculous and unrealistic beauty ideals could seep into a popular blogger’s next pseudo-experiment.

        And yeah, “natural beauty” just means a different color palette for all the make-up counters. Argh.

      2. I think some of my comments are in line with this:
        http://getoffmyinternets.net/2012/02/02/not-wearing-makeup-is-the-new-brave/
        I really don’t like the idea that they’re “brave” for doing this. I don’t like that it takes the focus off of the myriad reasons why women wear make up or shave or wear high heels or don’t and puts the focus ON these two women. I’d much rather see a critical discussion of WHY we do these things, rather than read a freak out of how Caitlin HTP might be asked to be on the Today Show and OMG what’s she going to do!!!

        I agree that this is worth of discussion, I’m just not sure that these two will manage a critical and balanced discussion. They don’t really have a focus: just not doing anything that they usually do for beauty reasons. I personally don’t lump shaving and make up and tight clothes all into the same category (a lot of women, myself included, wear make up or heels for reasons of confidence, not as a beautification thing). I don’t know… I’m probably rambling, but they way they’re doing it just feels kind of gimmicky to me.

      3. Both Emily and Tracy – good comments and responses, thanks. I do recall Oprah once doing a show like this actually (a woman who wore make-up to bed was forced to go with nothing for a week a month? something like that) so i guess i see your point about the underlying….motivations(?) for this being suspect and it is a pseudo-experiment.

        Although i’d hope, actually probably presume, that because they are both fairly well known in certain circles the underlying questions and social commentary etc will be raised. Okay well if nothing else as it goes on you could write your own commentary on it..!

      4. I hope you’re right that their popularity will inevitably lead to some sort of social commentary opening up. And yeah, I could always take it upon myself to do it if they don’t! Fewer readers, but it’s still just as important, right?

  2. i rarely wear makeup. i *might* put on a tinted moisturizer, but that’s about it. it’s mostly laziness, but i just don’t feel like i need to be all done up for everyday life.

  3. As a professional web content manager, I do see another side to this. Yes, media companies (whether magazine, online, whatever) continue to pump out “5 ways to lose 5 pounds” stories and the like, but they are pushed to the top in terms of popularity by the readership. The truth is, a story like that will outperform a story about loving yourself as you are every time, often ten times over or more, and as a member of a business, it is my job to keep the site working as well as possible. If the readers want that kind of content, it is very difficult not to supply something at least similar (and, for the record, I do think it’s the media’s responsibility to balance that kind of demand with content the company can stand behind – and often, they tread to far over that line). As consumers, our most powerful vote is to view and purchase content in line with what we want to see as ideals.

    As for the natural beauty trend, I do see your point about it being just another set of ideals, but this medium (and the beauty industry) is ultimately about selling a product. “You’re beautiful just as you are” does not incite us to buy a new blush, and thus will never be the mandate of these publications. I suppose it depends on whether we make a distinction between a “flaw” like having acne, versus a “flaw” like having freckles. Does it come down to it being acceptable to want to correct your acne, but not your freckles? If the beauty industry is even flirting with the idea of celebrating small things that make us different, I think that’s at least a baby step in the right direction. If the industry can sway more in the direction of products that highlight what we LIKE about ourselves, rather than always looking to correct what we don’t, I think that’s also a positive baby step. However, as a woman who suffers from adult acne, I still want to learn about the products that can help me deal with that issue.

    Uh oh, I got a little ranty 🙂

    1. Good points, Erin. I know that a lot of content like this has to do with marketing and selling a product (or an idea, a series of concepts, etc), and from a business perspective I can appreciate that. But I think you’re right in that there is a responsibility to balance content like this with more positive stuff that reinforces an affirmative message. Although then, at what point does it become problematic to have a source churning out material that’s internally inconsistent (I feel like a lot of beauty magazines like Glamour or Cosmo are guilty of this–love yourself! but workout like a celeb at the same time!!)?

      What bothers me most (I think, although maybe it just bothers me most at this moment) is the fact that this is really just “Here are the beauty trends for this season and the products you should be buying” *disguised* as a friendlier “look natural” message. Magazines and websites are going to run pieces like this, sure. But I don’t think that they should try to disguise them as something they aren’t. This isn’t about natural beauty, it’s about how to achieve a certain look so that you can fit into what some advertising agency or marketing department has decided is the trend. Call it what it is. Otherwise, it’s deceptive and more insidious than the standard beauty trends piece that we all know and love so much.

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