As a newly fledged beauty editor, I have to admit, I’ve always had a preconceived notion about what it means to be a part of the beauty community. Coming from the world of fashion prior to this, my brush with beauty was more along the lines of fantastical makeup creations from the runway shows or editorial makeup that seemed cool in the context of my fashion spreads, but would never make it out of the pages of the magazine.
On a personal level, beauty was only something that I tinkered around with. Sure, I had a couple of go-to hair and makeup looks that I had perfected, and by now I have my AM and PM skincare routine down to a science, but beauty wasn’t ever something that particularly excited me.
I never consumed hours of YouTube tutorials trying to perfect a Euphoria-inspired beauty look and my trips to Sephora was akin to how I was at the grocery store — I wanted to be in and out in under 10 minutes.
So when I was tasked with a portfolio of managing a beauty beat, I was… perplexed to say the least. But as an outsider looking in, I sort of welcomed the challenge. Maybe without rose-tinted glasses, my perspective on the beauty world could be different. I could cater to readers who, like me, viewed beauty as a peripheral interest as opposed to a central part of their lives.
As I dived headfirst into this new territory, sifting through press releases and hours of beauty content, the word “empower” and all of its variations stood out to me. I was confused — when did purchasing something suddenly become a tool for empowerment?
“This moisturiser will change your skin, and ultimately your life!”
“This lipstick will empower you with the confidence to be yourself!”
“This cream isn’t just a skincare tool — it’s empowerment in a bottle.”
Or my second favourite phrase, self-care.
Before Covid-19 even hit the world, self-care was already the buzz word of the times. While it was initially more often used in health and wellness circles, it has now snuck its way into the beauty industry as the cure to all our problems. Or, at the very least, the excuse you need to buy that $75 lipstick.
But at the risk of playing devil’s advocate, why can’t I invest in beauty just because I want to look, well, beautiful? Is that so crazy? Must I be made to feel shame just because I place value on my appearance?
As women society demands so much from us — a big one being a need to attach a valid reason to enjoy the superfluous things in our lives, such as fashion or beauty. And with so much frivolity attached to women’s interest in beauty and outer appearance, it can sometimes feel… anti-feminist to place such importance in something that so many people deem shallow. And so companies pick up on this and find ways to profit around our shame and guilt, without actually empowering us in the ways we need to be empowered as women. Such as removing the pink tax, leveling the gender-wage gap or creating resources that help abuse and assault victims in society.
Truth be told, there’s power in beauty. A lot of it, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. But it’s when companies harness this power to sell you a message and capitalise on your insecurities, that’s when it becomes performative.
I don’t deny I feel more beautiful (and in turn, more powerful) now than when I was in my teens and early ‘20s. My skin has cleared up thanks to my hormones settling (although my current bout of retinol uglies has got me feeling like a pimply teenager again), I’ve invested in treatments and a good dermatologist, as well as a killer makeup routine to help me look the best I’ve ever looked in my life.
But I also know that my power doesn’t solely come from the way I look. It is the culmination of my experiences and the self-worth that I have cultivated in myself that go beyond my appearance. After all, those are the things that will be left once my own beauty fades.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still so much validity in choosing to take care of yourself.
Putting on a sheet mask and slathering myself in lotions is self-care or empowering to me because I deem it so. And the fact that I’ve decided this solely and have chosen to dedicate time to myself as a form of self-improvement, now that’s what I consider empowerment, not the company instructing me that my life will be better with these self-care rituals.
While beauty can be empowering, we shouldn’t need to justify it as so. Men’s shaving tools aren’t marketed as a tool for empowerment (though the toxic masculinity ideals in the men’s grooming industry is a whole other discussion altogether), so why should women’s shaving tools be? Last I checked, hairless legs did not help me successfully negotiate a promotion and a pay raise.
Placing value and investing in your appearance is completely fine, lord knows I’ve invested enough time and money in improving it. But it’s also important to take comfort in the fact that your appearance doesn’t define you, and is only one part of who you are as a vibrant human being.
Self-care and empowerment have to be intrinsic values that come from within ourselves, meaningful things and qualities that stay with us for life. Now try putting that in a bottle priced at $200 instead.