Adele’s cover this past winter on Time is pure delicious make-up candy to me — original, bold, vulnerable and sexy as hell. She’s staring towards camera draped in a red sweater, done up perfectly in heavy-handed contour. The first moment I saw the cover, I was instantly inspired to try harder at embracing my femininity in full-female-drag (the heightened, un-lazy version of myself has always been a bit trashy and vampy). Conversely, many Kardashian-like images make me shudder. Which is an issue I’ve been pondering. Why does Adele’s makeup look so good, and the the latter tribe of K’s make me squirm?
It’s not that they aren’t beautiful. It just seems that some of their natural beauty is stripped away by the manner in which the make-up is applied. Adele’s artist and the Kardashian’s both bow deeply to the ‘full-faced-make-up’ goddess, who I bow to as often as I can. Both fake-lashed, contoured, lined and powdered within an inch of their lives. Yet Adele looks exquisitely alive and the Kardashian version of make-up looks a bit like a mortician went at them post mortem. The Kardashian’s are trend-setters of the highest degree, so when I say ‘them’ I’m now talking about wayyy more than those sisters five.
Imagine, if you will — A nineteen-year-old sits down in your make-up chair and immediately asks about her need for botox while confessing she hasn’t left home without fake lashes in a year. A seventeen-year-old shows you her ‘contour’ technique, which she refuses to leave the house without. You keep seeing young women with bruises on their cheeks which turn out to actually be poorly placed contour. These scenarios have repeated themselves in great succession this past year. These scenarios never happened in the twelve years before I was working as a make-up artist. I have realized there is a problem. Or a trend. A bad trend.
The Kardashian style of shaping the face is in. Yet it doesn’t feel like a ‘look’ as much as it feels like a mask, once just reserved (and very necessary) for actors on proscenium stages, aging public figures, or drag queens. Now full facial contouring has hit the strip malls, 7-eleven parking lots, and high-schools of America. It’s a fad, you say? Fine. But there is also some neurosis saddling itself to those younger kids being carried away on the trend.
Young women and men are shading and highlighting their faces as though life has already cast them aside. It doesn’t look fun, or care free. It looks as though there’s something wrong to begin with. As though the point of make-up is to ‘correct’ as opposed to ‘have a good time with your youth, girl’.
I always wore a lot of make-up as a teen. I likely wore too much make-up on a thousand different occasions between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. I’m certainly not a make-up artist by accident. I discovered make-up and began ram-shackling my way through my mother and grandmother’s make-up drawers when I was barely 6, asking if I could traipse up and down the block like a toddler-clown parade of 1. No one forced me into full face. I was itching for it, wanting to slather it on my face like how most kids wanted to shovel cake into their faces.
My experimenting wasn’t because I hated my face or wanted to alter something I was uncomfortable with. I looked (hopefully) hot and mildly rebellious. Who really remembers aside from myself and the 4 photos I still have of that time? I was young and wanted to look supercute and I liked bands whose members wore lots of eyeliner, so I would put on lots of eyeliner. I looked like a slutty raccoon (which can be partially blamed on the 90’s trend of sporting wayyy too light of shades of concealer). I never wondered about my nose shape needing ‘fixing’ or my cheekbones needing definition or my jawline needing a better square shape. I also never thought about having my photo taken 246 times a day. With no one but like-minded friends to advertise ourselves to, we could relish freely in too much or too little. Maybe I was a hot mess, but there’s very little photography proving whether I was or wasn’t. Only handful of people would register it: my parents and those at school who chose to look closely at my face. I never thought I needed a mask.
But, lo! The contour! The need for it when young is so unnecessary I wish to make it obsolete. The technique is complicated and difficult to master so the results often look somewhat violent. The reason one contours for images is because dimension is taken away by the act of taking a 3-D person and making them 2-D.
Contouring is used for stage due to distance and lighting issues. Remember when women were getting made fun of in the 90’s for lining their lips with darker liners, larger than their lips were? As Jerry Seinfeld said, “Where lipstick is concerned, the important thing is not color, but to accept God’s final word on where your lips end.” This is being done to the whole face. The entire face. being outlined.
I often preach that the wearing of make-up should be to reveal, not conceal. People also happen to love advice that rhymes. My favorite un-rhymed advice: I do my own makeup until I kinda want to make out with myself. I do my make-up until I feel a snap in my brain and step back and think ‘hell yes’. That moment changes daily — sometimes it’s heavy, bright and loud. Sometimes it’s just a dab of concealer with some lip balm. What are your intentions with your product? If you’re hiding behind it, people will see that. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a time or place for corrective techniques. I use corrective products. The Dream Barbie version of myself sure as hell doesn’t have circles under her eyes. But once I conceal, I then choose what I want to highlight. I fell in love with make-up because I could express my personality using it, magnifying with bold colors and dramatic technique who I hoped to grow into as a woman.
What is the invisible line between an Adele-style beat-down and a Kardashian contour bonanza? It’s lies somewhere between statement “I getto wear this” versus “I need to wear this”. Adele was giving us face for a year-end issue. The Kardashians sometimes are just going to the grocery store. Why do any of us need it? Hopefully because it’s fun and makes us feel more like ourselves. It’s as if there’s an existential sadness revealed when slathering on make-up because you feel you ‘have to’. Yes, we are all strangely under the scrutiny of the public eye now, with an endless social media cycle. Maybe we should just take a deep breath, say ‘screw it’ to what we think we need to be seen as, and remember what it was like to have fun with our faces.
Young youths of now, your faces are great. They’re naturally contoured by your taut skin and healthy bones. You aren’t gonna look older now for years to come. So go put on some purple eyeshadow, tacky gloss and glitter and take some creative chances. There is a time and place for us all to go full Adele. Even the occasional full Kardashian. But it’s not a world we need to judge ourselves in every day.