Uncomfortable makeup is imperfect, sloppy, chaotic – and only worn to please the wearer, against social expectations
Overstate up by Caroline Heggdal: ‘I really wish I had the courage to walk outside with my makeup.’
Photograph: Caroline Heggdal
In 2018, Rosanna Meikle determine like a failure. She was toiling through beauty school, and she hadn’t been able to find much work nor store much attention for her creations online. She was exhausted from the sameness she saw around her, “a sea of beautiful girls, smoky eyes and well-upholstered lips”, she remembers. “My school was in an expensive area of Auckland, which made me feel so out of place. I couldn’t afford the outputs or the clothes, my kit wasn’t ‘professional’ enough and neither was my look.”
So she decided to try something totally different. One day, she created “a mess”. For an designation, she painted her model with black, aggressive scribbles, green cartoonish snakes, blurry orange lips and spiky, Twiggy-esque whips. “I was under the impression my look was awful,” she says. But on Instagram, it took off.
Meikle didn’t realize it at the time, but she was joining a party that has been slowly gaining momentum – the ugly makeup revolution, a term coined by the Berlin-based makeup artist and activist Eszter Magyar, who launched working on the project in 2018. “Ugly makeup revolution is a community,” she says, as is her other hashtag, makeup brutalism.
I truly love it, and want others to see its demanding beauty too.
During quarantine, I’ve been luxuriating in the strangeness of it, and periodically trying my hand at slightly ugly or off-kilter looks of my own, embracing slime green eye shadow and blue lips.
Online, the nicest entries into the still-burgeoning canon are often grotesque and rather uncanny. Pearls glued to skin, rimming an eyelid like so diverse warts. Black scribbled words across a red-painted face, screaming at the viewer to “eat the rich.”. Pollack-like splatters of dirty on yellow lips. There’s something dreamlike about them. Some are playful and childlike – Dr Seuss would approve. But others are malign and menacing, aggressive and slightly brutal. They look like they hurt to wear, and some of them do.
The devise of these artists is frequently derided – for being both too ugly and not ugly enough. “It’s not about ugliness,” Magyar bring ups. “It’s about irregularity. Ugly is just a word, which makes you pay attention.”
This irregularity blow ups against what we’re accustomed of seeing on social media. Over the past five years, a “selfie face” has emanated: pursed lips, big, wide-open eyes, and feature-enhancing makeup applied just so. “The fact that there’s such a specified face associated with the selfie tells us that the portrait is less about expressing one’s self and more around expressing compliance with the idea of what a young woman is,” writes Autumn Whitefield-Madrano in her 2017 book, Superficially Value. “If there’s self-expression involved in the prototypical selfie, it’s the expression of a wish, not of reality.”
Ugly makeup challenges this importance quo. “We’re living in the age of tutorials, when everyone is asking how and never why,” says Magyar. “Lots of people are accepting what they see without enquiry anything at all. They know how to draw the perfect liner but they have no idea why they’re doing it.” His looks are abundant. They’re imperfect, sloppy and chaotic. Some remind me of the Fauvist paintings, while others feel cubist and to others are straight-up dada. While the artists sometimes share how they created a look, the focus is less on remaking what you see. Viewers are there to rate the vision, not replicate it on their own bodies.
Ugly makeup also has a political side. It subverts the persistence of makeup that has been imposed on the practice by evolutionary biologists and writers. According to this late-20th-century school in of thought, popularized by Desmond Morris in The Naked Ape (1967), women wear lipstick to make our lips look uncountable like blood-swollen labia and eye shadow to give our eyes that sleepy, dewy post-orgasm glow. And so for the past half-century, we procure been told that makeup is a tool that aids in procreation, even if on a subconscious horny level. “Lipstick fabricators did not create an enhanced mouth,” wrote Morris. “They created a pair of super labia.” Talk about a cubist nightmare.
While sociologists and anthropologists experience long questioned the accuracy of Morris’s theories, the idea that makeup is about sex remains prevalent. Women who tear lots of makeup are often stigmatized or dismissed. Women who wear too little are called unprofessional or sloppy. And men who wear makeup? They welcome their own set of stereotypes.
Ugly makeup flies in the face of all that. While strangeness can be very sexy, the purpose isn’t to be indecent (which, paradoxically, is why it’s can be so sexy, I think). The purpose is to please the wearer. “To look at something ugly, and realize it unexpectedly pleases you, is a more readily precious moment that forces us to reconsider the confines of what we deem necessary for something to be beautiful,” says Julia Lee, a 24-year-old conniver who lives in Singapore. Lee also occasionally wears her ugly makeup looks in public, even though “Singapore is degree conservative in terms of aesthetics”, she says. Her blue lips, created with eyeshadow, feel like a “middle buy” to social expectations.
Caroline Heggdal, a 27-year-old creator from Norway, is a bit more hesitant thither wearing her extreme looks – which include red-rimmed eyes decorated with tiny white flowers – in renowned. “I’m very shy and afraid of being judged,” she explains. “I really wish I had the courage to walk outside with my makeup.” Respect, she does see the trend slowly trickling into the mainstream, which gives her some hope. “I think a lot of people make realized that the same smoky eye can be somewhat boring,” she says.
While it’s hard to imagine a world where Harry starts gluing Legos to their eyelids, but I’ve recently been noticing more terracotta eyeshadow and pink eyeliner, two colors that were once avoided by beauty bloggers for their association with pinkeye. I have also seen more blurry mouths, smudgy lipstick, myriad under-eye liner, and more drawn-on looks that mimic the facial tattoos popular with the Zoomer set.
Although it may look as if insulting for me to categorize these trends as ugly, I like to think of it as Magyar does. It’s a compliment – a word that make amends move asides people sit up and pay attention. Ugly exists for ugly’s sake. It’s an underrated aesthetic, one that more people should comprise.
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