Awesome news just in for the busy festive season. The “natural look” is in. Result! Run a brush through your hair and dab a bit of concealer on any obvious pimples, and off we go.
Oh … wait. The “natural look”, according to Kim Kardashian, for casual days when she’s doing her own makeup, involves “old school, heavy foundation” and “a matte bronzer … I always contour my nose, and I love to contour my cheeks.” That messy bob Gigi Hadid had for the American Music Awards? Turns out it was a wig, which her hairstylist casually noted took two hours to put in place, after which there was some additional styling to be done. (He recommended an $18 volumising power that “makes you look like you just casually pushed your hair back”.)
At last month’s Victoria’s Secret show, the beauty buzzwords were “minimal”, “natural” and “simple”. There was talk of little flushes of blusher, and of working with the natural texture of each girl’s hair. Confusingly, though, there were also endless photos of the models sitting patiently at their makeup stations, hours before call-time, with their hair netted in hot rollers.
The relationship between how we look naturally and how we wish we looked naturally has always been highly charged, and one that many women negotiate at least in part with their fingers crossed behind their backs. Nothing new here: it has fuelled a cultural fascination with lucky winners of the aesthetic-genetic lottery from Aphrodite to #wokeuplikethis. The Pollyanna viewpoint would therefore be that since artifice and aspiration will always be with us, it is more wholesome to celebrate a healthy, flesh-and-blood complexion – even one enchanced by a little flush of blusher – than the blanking out of the self under a full mask of makeup.
But what has changed – in what surely will become known in the future as the Kardashian age – is that a new obsession with banality has fused with our fascination with beauty. We don’t want black tie, red-carpet glamour; we want cute bathroom PJ selfies. We are less interested in what movie stars wear to premieres than in what they wear on the school run. And so, to entertain us, celebrities play adorably at normal life, for the cameras. Three of the 10 most-liked Instagram photos of 2015 so far are of Taylor Swift at home with her cats. One is a Selena Gomez selfie, taken in a car, in which the caption notes that the plain grey top is her favourite sweatshirt.
Like Marie Antoinette in her Petit Hameau, the stars act out being regular folk by driving the Range Rover from Starbucks and SoulCycle. This is normal life play-acted for the masses by the beautiful people – as entertainment, but with a little nugget of pit-of-the-stomach insecurity lobbed in there. Last week, I got a press release about a new range of suck-you-in shaping underwear, specifically designed to be worn under your gym gear in order to look svelte while working out.
But if we normalise the wearing of Spanx, if we call what models look like after makeup and hot rollers a “natural” look, where exactly does that leave what we look like naturally? Is it still even allowed, to look like that? Do we have to fluff up our hair all the time? I had to switch hairdressers recently because he just could not get his head around the fact that I only blow-dry my hair on special occasions, and 19 washes out of 20 I just leave it to dry by itself. However many times I explained to him that any style that needed blow-drying was a complete waste of time, he didn’t seem to believe me. Now that “natural” means blown-out, bouncy waves, we don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about how we naturally look. Faux-natural is a problem if it turns natural into a dirty word.