The beauty industry has changed, and so have I. Where once I spent an age searching for the right shade of foundation for my skin, there is now a lot more diversity across most brands. High street stores are offering ranges that are more inclusive - acknowledging and catering to different people with different skin tones, types and tolerances. But I’m no longer bothered by the beauty trends that come and go as quickly as the celebrities that tout them. I know how my skin works and what I like. I don’t need the ‘next best thing’ to make myself feel beautiful.
But that doesn’t stop the search for the next best thing. In fact, it’s never-ending. If it’s not a mascara that can lengthen your lashes with one stroke, it’s a matte lipstick that won’t budge after breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a cheeky snog. Of course this doesn’t bother me, I’m quite happy with my little make-up bag containing the six items I’ll probably use for the rest of my life. And I don’t have a problem with the people who do want them, and are prepared to queue for hours to get their hands on them first. That is, as long as they want it. What I do have a problem with is the idea that we need to have that new product in order to be beautiful. And it’s a phenomenon that only seems to be increasing. According to market research company Mintel, the colour cosmetics industry is worth a staggering £1.98billion - a 6% increase on the 2016 figures.
So what is it? This beauty thing? A lot of us spend countless hours wondering just that; scrolling through Instagram, watching YouTube videos, researching how we can achieve it. Is it having high cheekbones? Or long, thick hair? Is it having fair skin? Or being slim? Fit? Toned? No one knows. But one thing’s for sure: if we don’t have the faces or the bodies that correlate to the latest campaign, then we don’t have it.
There are countless campaigns for diversity at the moment, with slightly more black and Asian models in adverts, but all of these women are still a certain height, a certain dress size, a certain face. I want to see round, square, oval and everything in between faces. I’m all for seeing perfect cupid bows and button noses but I also want to see thin lips, long, big and crooked noses – they are beautiful too. I don’t have defined cheekbones and unless I smile really, really hard and clench my teeth, I don’t have dimples, which are apparently super adorable. Where are the women like me?
Body dysmorphia is more rife than ever before, and products such as waist trainers and concepts like thigh gap and thigh brow continue to trend in certain Instagram feeds. Girls as young as 16 can get lip fillers, albeit with a parent’s consent, and some surgical procedures are so readily available, you can get botox with your bagel before your 2pm meeting.
And while it is perfectly fine to get such procedures, we need interrogate the pressure people are put under to make these changes to their faces and bodies. Do the lunch-break botoxers really want it, or do they feel like they have to conform to an impossible beauty standard?
Two of my friends – very different in shape, size, skin tone and texture – have recently altered the way they look. One of them had lip fillers, the other has started wearing a lighter shade of foundation. I asked them both why:
“I decided to get lip fillers because I’d always fancied it. I wasn’t self-conscious about my lips beforehand but as I’ve always thought plump lips are beautiful, and filler isn’t permanent, it felt like there was no risk involved and I might as well see how it looked. A little like dyeing my hair,” said friend one.
Friend two? Well, she didn’t answer my question, but I’ve known her long enough to know she has had a long-standing issue with the tone of her skin. Growing up in India, she was exposed to the ideal of being ‘fair and lovely’ – also the name of a popular cream sold in India that is genuinely designed to lighten your skin. This isn’t ok and what makes it worse is that this complex started when she was a young girl. That’s where we come in.
The beauty industry might be the poison but society isn’t exactly providing the antidote. Perhaps in this age of Instagram, children need to be taught about body positivity from the moment they start consuming Peppa Pig. As a financial journalist, I often rant about how schools should be teaching teenagers how to save or what a pension is. As a young woman, I want to scream about how they should teach children as early as possible about diversity and inclusion, and how everybody and every body is beautiful. Because they really are.
I’m not saying I have always found inner peace with the way I look; there are still times I can’t stand my bushy eyebrows (slightly better these days though – thanks Cara Delevigne) or I wish I suited popping pastel colours. On most days I don’t even know how to take a compliment. The guy I was dating earlier this year said I looked beautiful while we were talking over FaceTime. I responded by hanging up.
Even though it’s taken me the best part of 27 years to figure it out, it is ok if I don’t want to wear make-up to work one day and that it is also ok if in two, five or ten years from now, I might consider feeding my frown lines with a little botox. It is ok because I want (or don’t want) to do those things and I want young girls to realise they can do what they want too.
I wish I realised a little sooner that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. That includes parents, partners, friends but most importantly, ourselves. We might spend hundreds, even thousands on beauty products, treatments, or surgeries, but that needs to be because we want to and not because we feel like we have to. And what happens after that? We might go au naturel or we might wear enough foundation to frost a cake. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to actually like what we see in the mirror.