Social Media and the War on Beauty

The topic of this post may not be relevant for a lot of people (and I’m thinking specifically of my dad who will probably start reading this), but I feel as if I’m caught in the midst of a generational crises of values. Today, a friend of mine shared a makeup tutorial video as seen below. I had viewed many makeup transformations before, but this one really started me thinking about how our society is transforming in the midst of the social media age. I do not wish to degrade the girl in the video or even to criticize her, as I’m sure that she is a lovely person inside as well. I also do not wish to condemn the beauty industry. But I wish to bring to light harmful trends within the youth community that are attributable to the use of social media, and in truth I find these trends particularly problematic and destructive within myself.

I think what made the video stand out to me was the use of 27 (!) products. It really made me wonder about what sort of expectations and precedents such videos create for women. Is this a realistic pursuit of beauty? How much should a girl do to achieve a look that she believes to be beautiful? While I realize that some do makeup for fun or as a hobby, it is sad that there are also many others who can’t go out with a clean face without feeling “ugly.” Personally, I’m okay without wearing makeup. But to be honest, I have suffered from issues of self-esteem and faulty expectations, and videos like this sometimes make me feel sick. Sick because there’s a little voice in the back of my head that’s telling me maybe I should change, and I know it’s feeding me ideas that won’t really make me happy. Sick also because maybe I AM a feminist and I realize that for a lot of women beauty is a major priority despite the many other qualities we have to offer. And sick especially because these are silly problems of self-worth that we have created in a first world society where we have come so far in women empowerment.

Below is another tutorial video that I think is actually pretty funny. I love watching the girls’ reactions. It’s as if every tip is a revelation worth its weight in heroin. If only people were that interested and engaged in University classes. I particularly love the lines, “This girl has a boyfriend who is 3 yrs younger than her so she wants to learn baby face makeup. And this girl has an 11-yrs-older boyfriend so she will learn mature makeup.”

One of the newest trends of the digital age that have possibly helped but mostly hurt women’s psyche is the selfie. A selfie is a picture taken of oneself. On Instagram there are 14.6 million pictures and counting hashtagged #selfie, 2 million tagged #selfies, and millions of other pictures tagged #selfiesunday #selfiemonday, etc. It really all started with the digital camera and Myspace. The classic Myspace photo was of one in a bathroom or in front of some other mirror featuring a blaring flash and an oh so attractive picture of oneself. Initially Facebookers stayed away from selfies trying to distance themselves from the Myspace image, but with webcams and Photo Booth on the MacBook the selfies made a strong resurgence and were here to stay. At first, there was an initial hesitancy to share selfies with concerns of vanity. But that shame died and the act was normalized. Future generations will have no need to worry or to even think whether they are indulging themselves too much.

Image from

Image from

Probably the worst encourager of this vanity epidemic is Instagram. I have been active on Instagram for about a month and a half. As I was exploring and becoming accustomed to the app, I stumbled across the Popular Page where instas with a lot of likes (in the x1,000’s) are shared. At first I found it bizarre that there were girls who weren’t famous at all in terms of acting, singing, videos, or blogging but who had 200,000+ followers. It seemed that their only claim to fame was posting Instagram pictures of themselves everyday, and it seemed like most of the people who really cared were women. In a lot of cases, the post would be a daily picture taken from the same angle with half face/half breasts. Where I really draw the line, though, is when there are hundreds of comments that read explicitly or in like terms “I wish I looked like you.” And then I get kind of depressed because I think WHY? What then? What would that do for you? Is their life so much better because they are attractive or because they wear a lot of makeup? Beauty is appealing but it is not an end and it is not who we are.

After getting Instagram, I then wanted more photo editing capabilities on my phone so I downloaded an app called PhotoWonder. I was shocked to find that it has a beautify function that can quickly improve and soften skin, enlarge and define the eyes, thin the face, add blush, and remove blemishes. I was even more shocked to find that the app received such high ratings because girls were actually using the function and loved it. As I learn more about social media, I can see a definite trend towards creating oneself to produce an image of perfection. But the cost is women’s self-esteem. It can’t be healthy to put so much emphasis on superficial appearances. Women need to learn that they have a lot more to offer and that they are much more naturally beautiful then they think they are. They need to learn that their worth does not come from their looks but from their intangible personal qualities that can’t be measured.

Below is an awesome TED Talk given in October 2012 by model Cameron Russell. She is really open and honest about image and beauty and I highly recommend a viewing. She shared that a lot of girls would ask her if they could be models when they grow up, and her real question was, “Why? You know, you could be anything. You could be the next President of the United States or the next inventor of the internet.” And it’s true. So then why do so many girls have the desire to be loved or to receive accolades for their beauty? Where does this emphasis on image come from? Well it’s obvious that beauty is emphasized because our society and culture have given it a high value and priority. It’s because it has been shoved down our throats with every possible exposure. It’s because beautiful women have the image that they are happy and popular and there’s a part of us that wants the same thing.

Sometimes I’ll put on makeup or wear something nice and I’ll bait my husband and ask him whether I look pretty or cute. It never works. His general reply is “Why? Who are you trying to impress? Who do you want to look at you? Why do you care what people think?” which is when of course I’ll get offended and say, “I’m not trying to impress anyone. I just want to look nice. Sometimes it makes me feel good.” In a lot of ways, that’s true. In a lot of ways, I’m just deceiving myself.

I hope I’m not the only one in thinking this, but, in addition to the self-esteem and confidence boost of looking one’s best, sometimes deep down women feel that life will be easier if they are beautiful. It’s like a crutch that will open doors or get something going before people can see that the woman is also competent, kind, and friendly. If you’re beautiful, people will like you more and it’s easier to make friends. If you’re beautiful, people will value, respect, and admire you and they will listen to you.

Women are compassionate and good people. But they also compare and rank themselves against others, and most women have felt jealous of another woman at some point in their lives. And if other women are jealous or want to be like you, then you must be special and you must be doing something right.

We need to stop! Just STAHP! Social media has circulated unrealistic definitions of beauty. It has created an intensified and socially acceptable culture of vanity and superficiality. Maybe these issues were the same in other times as they are today, but its so silly that in a day when women have so many advantages that they should suffer most from poor self-esteem. I hope that future generations of girls can grow up to love themselves for who they are. I hope that they will stop trying to attain images but will work on attaining learning, talents, and interests. I hope that they can feel beautiful without seeking the confirmation of others that we have become so dependent on through our social media. I hope that they can feel beautiful because they embrace real virtues and values of merit.


2 responses to “Social Media and the War on Beauty

  1. In that first video, I thought the girl looked very beautiful before she put any make up on.

    I once had a facial done, to see if I wanted to wear make-up on our wedding day (I never wear make-up). After looking at myself in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself and thought I looked like a different person…not me. I’ve never felt interested in wearing make-up since. I feel like it covers up who I really am. I feel more comfortable without it; it’s easier to be me. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with wearing make-up, but the worth of a woman should not be based on beauty products.

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading your posts.

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