By Cinnamon Moore
Opening the door of a Sephora store is like opening Pandora’s box.
Normally built within its partner store, J.C. Penney, the cosmetic giant stands in sharp contrast to the relatively relaxed and neutral-colored department store.
Bright, white lights draw the eye’s attention to a space filled with a kaleidoscope of colors. Black and white-striped walls lend a Mad Hatter feeling to the space, beckoning those passing by to drop in just to have a look at the creatively controlled chaos. As planned, many women succumb to the not-so-quiet calling.
After taking the necessary seconds to adjust to the sheer magnanimity of a cosmetic store, one can marvel at just how many products are actually sold in this one relatively small space.
At least 50 mini-aisles fill the store, with a cosmetic company claiming either a side or a whole aisle. In these islands of small, packaged products, one can find every shade of matte, gloss or colored lipstick (there’s a huge difference between the three), makeup primer — a foundation that meets your skin tone and chemical preference — concealer, about a hundred different shades of brown eyeshadow, lip liner… The list goes on.
Urban Decay, first mini-aisle to the right, has a hundred different shades just in its Vice Lipstick line.
With each row of products color-coded and spotlighted, the effect of the cosmetic store can be dizzying. Mirrors adorn every possible surface so there’s never an excuse not to try on that shade of Nighthawk matte lipstick.
All of these products cater to the new, makeup-savvy woman of 2017.
With the growth of the cosmetic industry as proof of the world’s obsession with makeup, any curious person may wonder at the reason behind the boom in beauty products.
A survey funded by Renfrew Center Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to the education and prevention of eating disorders, found that 44 percent of women experienced negative feelings when not wearing makeup. That means nearly half of women in America feel uncomfortable in their bare skin and pressured to put on a mask.
Many have begun questioning the world’s reliance on makeup. A movement was even started by singer Alicia Keys promoting #NoMakeup and encouraging women to feel comfortable in their own skin — no makeup necessary.
Yet, in the midst of two warring sides telling ladies what to do with their face, a group of women journalists, bloggers and social media users have voiced their disregard for the opinions of others. Instead of a social obligation, these women emphasize that wearing makeup is fun and an expression of personality.
An artist with a new, blank canvas every morning.
With all these voices showering women with opinions, it begs the question of why the average young woman wears makeup: for men, for her peers or simply for herself?
“I’m drawn to stylish, classy, sophisticated women. How they carry themselves, the clothing they wear…and I think makeup is definitely a part of that. It adds a bit of mystery to who they are.” – Amiel Elbitar, 24
Using makeup is not a novel concept. Throughout history, women of all eras have applied makeup to conform to the flitting trends of the time. From the infamous dark kohl lining in ancient Egypt to the shaved eyebrows and ghostly pale powdered faces of the Elizabethan era, women have been altering the look of their faces for centuries. But while cosmetics were previously used as an aspect to make women stand out, now it helps women blend in.
“I feel like everyone is staring at me if I go out barefaced,” said Nicole Gonzalez, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In today’s culture, blemishes should be quickly hidden and the natural attractive aspects of the face enhanced. We live in a society of perfection.
A 2013 study by financial website Mint.com revealed that the average woman spends $15,000 on makeup in her lifetime.
Gonzalez admitted that she spends around $100 a month on cosmetics and watches various YouTube tutorials on how to use them. Her cache includes an array of eyeliners to make her deep brown eyes pop, highlighters and contour powder to make her face more angular and her cheekbones more pronounced, and a dizzying array of lipsticks to reflect whatever mood she’s in that day.
Alyssa Lashway, a recent UNC-Charlotte graduate, said as an individual with naturally oily skin, she often feels self-conscious about her face looking shiny.
“I don’t mind going out without makeup,” Lashway said, “but I do find myself thinking about how shiny my skin is probably looking.”
Because first impressions are very visual, Lashway said, she often feels pressured to make sure her face is powdered and absent of its natural shine.
“It’s definitely on a case-by-case basis, but I usually prefer women with makeup. It enhances beauty to a certain extend.” – Matthew McDonough, senior at St. Lawrence University
As a society frequently reprimanded for its obsession with perfection, it’s not surprising that a flawless face would be added to the laundry list of considerations toward the ideal individual.
“I wear makeup because if I don’t, I feel like I have no life in my face … and lots of imperfections,” Gonzalez said.
“Society has stigmatized women who don’t wear makeup,” said Amiel Elbitar, 24. “Women want to look good and have others see them as put together. Makeup is now a nuance of what and who they are.”
The United States is now the biggest cosmetic market in the world, with just above $60 billion in cosmetic revenue. From highlighters to mascara, the average woman is building up an impressive collection of beauty products. Essentially, makeup has become the norm of our society, a fact that cosmetic companies are both profiting from and exploiting.
In 2015, L’Oréal spent $2.2 billion in advertising and was rewarded with a $3.5 billion net profit. While not inherently mandatory, makeup products are simply seen as a way of life now, even bleeding into the professional realm.
“I feel like if I don’t have makeup on then I am not professionally presentable,” said MaryKate Frisch, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill.
A study funded by Procter & Gamble in 2011 found that when given a choice between women with and without makeup, a majority of participants, both men and women, judged women with makeup as more competent.
Like a pair of pressed slacks or a button-down blazer, cosmetics have become a way for women to look simply more put together and qualified.
“Makeup is sort of expected,” said Phillip Love, a 22-year-old student at Palmer University. “It’s become part of a woman’s outfit.”
Cosmetics to a woman are equitable to a haircut on a man — just a bit more expensive. And like a great haircut, women who have mastered the art of makeup, more often than not, receive high commendation.
“I think women without makeup are more easily approachable, absolutely. But I still find myself drawn to women who are wearing it, even if it’s just a little bit of makeup.” – Phillip Love, 22, student at Palmer University
Over the last few years, women and feminists have begun embracing the idea of makeup as both a creative outlet and a tool, instead of a necessity.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, if you got dressed up, it was simply to please men, or it was something you were doing because society demands it,” Nancy Etcoff, a psychology professor at Harvard University, told the New York Times in an interview. “Women and feminists today see this as their own choice, and it may be an effective tool.”
Matthew McDonough, a student at St. Lawrence University, said makeup can make women look either professional or sexy depending on the situation or their mood.
“On an active basis, I find the women in my life wear makeup more for themselves than for others,” he said.
Makeup makes them feel not only more attractive, but also more in control.
Essentially, many women are embracing makeup as an avenue to curtail how the world sees them. They’re taking something that the world deems mandatory and using it as a tool in their arsenal.
Makeup is now, whether we like it or not, an integral part of our society. While strongly dependent on it, women have the choice to use it as a crutch or use it as a means of personal expression. From eyeshadow colors to choice of lipstick, makeup can be a fun and creative way to add dimensions to one’s image and a flare of personality— like choosing an outfit for the day.
But, with this creativity comes an underlying understanding that makeup shouldn’t be determinant of self-worth. This means that while it may be more expected in certain circumstances, like business casual attire, it isn’t needed for every endeavor out of the house.
“I feel like people expect you to be looking fresh-faced all the time, which is not always the case,” Lashway said.
With a busy life, she said, there are simply things that are more important than a perfectly put-on face.
While it’s easy to get lost in the endless aisles of a Sephora store, it’s equally easy to get lost in the need for makeup. The key is to remember that everyone is trying to be a perfect human in an imperfect society.
Edited by Sara Salinas