Has the "Insta" beauty obsession lost sight of true individuality?

Jun 27, 2019 | Anthony Frasca Picture of Jessica Felicio from Unsplash

Harvey is committed to getting the inside scoop on industries we are passionate about so we’re kicking off our Harvey Blog by interviewing someone who’s actually on the ground and behind the scenes in the world of beauty. New York based makeup artist Kavita Kaul, eats, lives and breathes all things beauty - from what you see on the red carpet to the runway. For the last twelve years she’s worked in the fashion/print/commercial industry in both London and New York, and she can regularly be found behind the scenes on-set for photoshoots, campaigns, commercials, ads and fashion shows, with models and celebrities alike.

We wanted to know about the influence of social media on current makeup trends, so what better way to bring you the beauty low-down than by talking to an industry insider!?

Harvey: As a makeup artist, what’s your definition of beauty?

KK: I honestly don’t know that I can define “beauty”. They say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” for a reason. There’s definitely been a shift from what I considered beautiful when I first started out as a makeup artist, to now. As I’ve matured I’ve learned there’s beauty in fluidity, individuality and most importantly in imperfection…I think that’s a hard one for people to grasp. Beauty is definitely an outward reflection of our internal state; it’s what we strive for as a result of what we do or don’t like about ourselves. Beauty is cultural and generational; beauty speaks volumes about how we feel about the world around us and ourselves – it’s very psychological and revealing. People have debated the topic of “beauty” for centuries…there’s a reason it’s a multibillion-dollar industry!

Harvey: On the topic of perfection vs imperfection and individuality, what do you think about the current makeup trends prevalent on social media platforms?

KK: *insert groan*...that probably says it all…that and the emoji of the little monkey covering its eyes. I’m going to level with you – the current Instagram and YouTube makeup looks (let’s call it “social media makeup”) that saturate our feeds, makes me want to scream and throw my phone across the room! As a woman and as a makeup artist…it’s incredibly frustrating. I see the same tutorials over and over…and over again…it’s mind-numbing. You know that sinking feeling you get when you look at a clothing tag that says, “one size fits all”? I feel like that’s what that makeup look is – “one face fits all” – it’s homogenized beauty – and how is that even possible!!?? And let me tell you, just because you do makeup on yourself, friends, and loved ones, doesn’t mean you’re a makeup artist! Sorry, but it doesn’t. There’s a big difference between working makeup artists, and social media “makeup artists”. And if you want to be a makeup artist, you’ve got a lot more to learn about than just makeup. Of course, I could give you that Instagram face; me and most of my peers can do that kind of makeup, but whether we will or not is another question. Ok…rant over!

Harvey: Is there segregation between artists that perpetuate these looks vs those that don’t participate in this trend?

KK: Let’s first define “these looks”. You mean that full-on social media look right? The ombre eyebrows, the baked under-eye, the draped cheek, the blinding highlight; it’s instantly recognizable and yes, it is a divisive look amongst me and my fellow makeup artists. I think that part of the reason this is such a difficult topic is because everyone literally perceives it differently. A “natural” look to one person could mean almost no makeup, or to someone else, it could mean a full face of makeup done naturally - I’ve had clients who’ve fallen into both categories. So not everyone sees this trend the same way.

If I’m being honest…I don’t think I actually know a makeup artist who does that look…that says something doesn’t it!? And if I’m being really really honest…I for one have never delivered that look and having to do so would challenge my personal and professional integrity.

Harvey: How so?

KK: Well I don’t believe in “one face fits all”; I don’t believe in eradicating your distinguishing features so I can draw them in as I see fit (unless I’m creating a character or doing SFX). I believe there’s beauty in individuality – not in everyone looking the same. And sure, there are makeup do’s and don’ts - the “rules” if you like - that are applicable to everyone, but they have to be adjusted according to the face that’s in front of you. Like…everyone looks great when the inside corners of their eyes are brightened; but I’m going to use different products for different skin types with specific placement on each person. Of course contouring helps pop everyone’s cheekbones! But not everyone’s cheekbones are the same, nor do they require the same contouring approach! Also – highlighting the tip of the nose!?

Don’t…please…I just can’t with that. Those “social media makeup” tutorials

completely disregard the uniqueness of each face – it’s literally like painting by numbers.

Harvey: Is there a reason we don’t see these looks in fashion magazines/on the runway, considering they’re so popular on social media and amongst the general public?

KK: Yes! There’s a very good reason. In fact, there are a couple of reasons so settle in for this one.

The first reason is cold-blooded. Beauty is a business and social media makeup doesn’t sell anything other than specific cosmetic products. That full-face beat isn’t going to sell a car, or a shoe, or a perfume…or a story for that fact. It’s a polarizing look that doesn’t speak to everyone, so purely from a business standpoint it doesn’t work outside of social media, because context is everything; it developed through social media, it lives in social media and whilst it’s spreading into everyday life, it’s a jolt to see that makeup look outside of social media.

Secondly – remember that everything is cyclical and trends come and go – that’s why we have period-specific makeup right? Social media makeup is a trend that’s current to now, and professionals working with those in the public eye, or in print – those images live on forever - so who wants their work to look dated 5 minutes from now?

This doesn’t mean working makeup artists aren’t creating cool and current looks. But think about it - you don’t see Sabrina Bedrani sending Charlize Theron or Gal Gadot down the red carpet with that face; you don’t see Nikki Wolf turning out Rosie Huntington-Whiteley like that. Hung Vanngo works with Emily Ratajkowski and Jennifer Lawrence – have you seen them sporting Insta-brows? Now Mr. Scott Barnes does give J.Lo a FULL beat - but tastefully and with the hand of a seasoned pro which means everything is beautifully blended and she still looks like herself…a damn fine version of herself! Even the infamous Kim Kardashian who’s often criticized as the culprit of this current trend - Mario Dedivanovic who does her makeup is sited as the artist who brought back the drag queen trick of “baking” – but he picks and chooses when it’s appropriate. There’s a time and a place for it and it’s not all the time and everywhere.

Harvey: As a professional makeup artist do you see these looks as having a positive/negative effect on the industry at large?

KK: It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand I love that social media has opened up the world for whom it wasn’t previously available to - so that’s positive; but on the other...it’s flooded the digital marketplace with visual noise which I feel is definitely negative. This particular makeup look has undeniably created jobs and brand partnerships for entrepreneurs, which is great! But social media has become a superpower, and with that, it’s also become a marketplace and an opportunity to

take advantage of consumers who are blinded by the deluge of content. With the advent of this new look that apparently requires a bucketload of weird and whacky products, the cosmetics market is now over-saturated with new, random items that are supposedly designed to achieve those looks. Don’t be fooled, because you’re being sold!

For working makeup artists on the ground, in the trenches...it feels like it’s over- complicated things and eclipsed much of the subtle flare a professional brings. For years fashion messaging shoved the “size zero” model in our faces and it caused a lot of damage to a lot of people’s mental well-being; as a result, now there’s a huge backlash with an inclusivity movement that’s long overdue. It’s a difficult process to de-program what we’ve learned from what we’ve seen, in order to then reprogram our brains to know a healthier truth. We need to be more careful about the legacy we’re leaving.

Think about this - millions of people across the planet have access to a phone and/or some type of technology now…how mind-blowing is that! The world is open to you from the touch of a button; you can virtually go anywhere, see anything, say anything and have it heard around the world. Technology and social media have given a voice to those who didn’t have one, and it’s allowing people who have been invisible…to be seen.

The reason makeup is so popular is because it’s powerful! It reveals, transforms, elevates and inspires – but when social media makeup influencers are re-creating the same look over and over again, what are we saying? With all this freedom to express yourself through makeup – who are you when you look just like everyone else?

You have as much power at your fingertips when you’re patting in your concealer, as you do when you’re posting your latest selfie. So make it authentic to you! I know people are thirsty out there. They’re looking for something bigger and better and brighter than what their daily life brings them. And social media is a wonderful window to a world of possibilities...but pause for thought before you drink that Kool-Aid! It might sound cheesy to say this...but what you’re looking for isn’t on someone else’s feed - it’s staring right back at you in the mirror...and it’s beautiful.

For more beauty industry insights please reach out to the Harvey Agency; with over 33 years’ experience in cosmetics, we have winning strategies to help engage your audience and fellow beauty enthusiasts, and we’d love to hear from you!


Next post: 7 Ways to Break Through Marketing Clutter
Back to blog