Double Take

26 September 2019

Whether you wake up an hour early to apply your ten-step Korean skincare routine and full-face beat, or roll out of bed and straight through the front door, the impact of the beauty industry plays on our self-perception and esteem feels undeniable.

As the value of this industry—which includes skincare, hair, makeup, and cosmetic enhancements—reaches US$500 000 000 000 (that’s right, half a trillion!) in 2019 globally, it becomes worthwhile to step back and examine the ethics at play. While there is no shame in being an avid makeup lover, we cannot understate the importance of critically evaluating an industry that profits off insecurities and pushes an unattainable standard of perfection.

Just as fast fashion is criticised for pushing extreme consumerism, the beauty industry should also be held to a similar standard. The many YouTube beauty gurus with millions of subscribers frequently record hauls spending hundreds of dollars at a time. Each palette or foundation has a barely noticeable difference in texture or sheen or concentration but still goes on the ‘must-buy’ list. This does have the benefit of providing the average consumers with a more in-depth review and demonstration of the products but are occasionally biased due to sponsorships and the scene is rife with its own in-fighting.

Animal testing is compulsory for all imported cosmetics in China; brands like Maybelline, Benefit, MAC, and Dior among dozens of other household names, all prefer access to sell in this billion-person market than cease animal testing.

“Hey perhaps the giant corporations that we love and hold dear because they give us a $10 birthday coupon don’t fully have our best interests at heart!”, isn’t exactly a shock- ing statement for anyone, but we fail to recognise the insidious forces lurking beneath the peachy-pink surface of a cute Mecca gift wrap.

For some, makeup can be an art, a hobby, and for others, makeup can be seen simply as a tool to boost self-confidence. But what does looking more put together mean, and is it ever really just for yourself? Many women get punished (implicitly or explicitly) for not wearing makeup in the workplace, and clear skin is tied to classist images of wealth and healthy living, despite acne mostly having unrelated causes.

The skincare industry is in an interesting position. Online discussion forums like Reddit and switched-on consumers who care more about what’s in the product than its packaging have established a trend of skincare becoming more science-based, which has launched the astronomical success of brands like The Ordinary, whose range consists of no-fuss product names like Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 or Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% instead of the adjective soup of years past. While intimidating at first, skincare has definitely become an at home science experiment for many hundreds of thousands of women (and men!). Surely it must be a good thing if any trend of encourages large groups of people to learn more about chemistry, and perhaps more importantly, encourages a demand for greater transparency about our frequent purchases.

But no, we can’t ever have nice things.

As I delved into the realms of skincare forums like Skincare Addiction and Asian Beauty on Reddit (which have over 1.5 million followers between them), I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming obsession on anti-aging and the range of preventative measures suggested. A woman’s value should not be based on how wrinkle-free her skin is, despite the brands that profit in the millions by saying so.

Cosmetic procedures like lip fillers and eyelash extensions have become extremely normalised. One can argue that the transparency of celebrities about the work they have done is good to breakdown what goes into unrealistic standards of beauty. But many change their features to mimic Instagram influencers who doesn’t even look like that themselves because of heavy-handedly applying Facetune to each photo.

The ease and relative affordability of injectables have given rise to celebrity plastic surgeons with cult followings, and one could argue that this is just the next logical evolution in the beauty industry. It’s not right to shame any individual for their choices when it comes to their own body, yet fillers and Botox are associated with a higher level of judgement than spending a similar amount on serums or eye creams. Nonetheless, no decision is made in a vacuum, and social media has undeniably led to a rise in body dysmorphia.

Still, despite all this, nothing makes me happier than a sheet masks after a long day and I love the feeling of a luxurious eye cream before bed. Traditionally feminine activities and hobbies are frequently viewed as more frivolous and inferior, and while it is important to occasionally cast a critical on what’s going on behind the scenes, one should be allowed to indulge (responsibly!) in what makes you look and feel good.

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