Aisling Keenan: The Cosmetic Safety Blanket

Do you think a painter and decorator would pitch up to a house he was renovating, mix his plaster, and proceed to cover in completely the windows, nooks and crannies of the aforementioned house, only to paint them back on, mural style, when he was done?

Absolutely not.

So why, why in God’s name do women everywhere, but particularly here in Ireland, do the equivalent of that to their faces, day in, day out? I absolutely include myself in this. We take foundation or CC cream or BB cream or whatever bloody letter of the alphabet the cosmetic overlords are on now, and we cover every natural contour, every blemish, every inch of the skin on our face. Then out comes the bronzer, concealer, highlighter eyeshadow, brow pencils and everything else we were duped into buying in Sephora, with the sole purpose of redrawing what we’ve just erased.

From what I’ve seen in other European countries, Ireland is totally out of place with this fad. We’re behind France, where women cherish their skin – bathing it in micellar water from Bioderma, repair balms from La Roche-Posay and SPF from wherever they can grab it. We’re behind Spain. The women there, for the most part, are blessed with sallow complexions and thick, dark hair, removing the necessity of artfully drawing eyebrows on. We’re behind London, too. The women in the know there are veering away from the caked look and into the English rose realm of things, where undone is the new done and going natural is au courant. The Korean twelve step skincare routine is merely the stuff of beauty folklore in Ireland, with people barely being able to comprehend such respect for skin and natural beauty.

T’interweb is saturated with Irish make-up artists and beauty bloggers who, it seems, have a daily quota of product they need to use to qualify as Instagram-worthy. Their take on the natural look bears little resemblance to what most people consider natural. I watched one recently that was nine minutes long – not that long, right? – until you take into account that it was sped up to about 20 times its speed in parts. Using over 30 different products including, inexplicably, three different shades of lipstick, this Instagrammer, who has many thousands of followers, arrived at an “easy, simple, daytime look”. She had more make-up on her face than the entire cast of Ru Paul’s Drag Race and she was claiming it was simple.

Now, as a self-proclaimed selfie lover, I understand that it’s hard to take a picture of yourself and put it out there if you don’t feel like you look your best. But I also understand that when I post a picture of myself and I’ve spent an hour trawling make-up onto myself, I don’t proclaim it’s a natural look. I am the first to admit I look very different in real life than I do on Instagram, where everything, absolutely everything, is staged.

I heard a story the other day about a 20 year old girl who was getting lip fillers, botox and considering a boob job. My first thought was, “That poor girl, and her insecurities. I wish I could pep talk her away from the plastic surgeon’s office.”

My second was, “Maybe I should get some Botox too… Sure, I’m 27 and I’ve got expression lines I’m not too fond of.”

So, even as someone who considers themselves confident enough to advise a girl with body insecurities, the thought still crossed my mind that maybe I need work done too. It’s a slippery slope, calling you over with the promise that slipping will make you better somehow.

What if we ALL decided, on a day, to go back to basics. No make-up, no curly blow dry, no nail extensions or hair extensions or whatever-you’re-having-yourself extensions. If we all embraced what genes gave us and ignored what MAC and botulinum are peddling, it’d level the playing field. Imagine it – like the #NoMakeUpSelfie phenomenon, except without the cheating and brow pencilling, and without the pretense that you’re doing something noble for charity.

For one day, we’d all look exactly how we look. We’d all look washed out and without definition, we’d have only natural colour in our cheeks, a natural wave in our hair, the real life length of our eyelashes. Everyone would be in the same make-up-free boat, and for many of us, we wouldn’t feel ourselves. But surely it should be the other way round? Think about it. No alterations and we feel alien. Alter the day away and we feel human? There’s something wrong there.

My advice? Take your make-up off. Don’t use heated tools on your hair. And for just one day, embrace what you actually look like.

I’m a beauty editor and I’m a woman obsessed with cosmetics and all the confidence that beauty products can bring to a women, I promise. But I’m going to make a deliberate effort to pare back the trowelling on of cosmetics in favour of better skincare, more facials and a much more natural look. And while I agree that putting your face on, doing your hair and having yourself groomed can do wonders for how you feel about yourself, I think it’d be wise to remember that you’re so much more than just what you look like. You’re so much more than the frame perfectly pencilled brows gives your face. So much more.

French women, Korean skincare obsessives and those truly in the beauty know look at some of us, confused – why are we covering up our most beautiful asset, only to redraw a version of ourselves back on? What, beyond the natural contours of our face, are we trying to hide? I’m doubtful that one blog post on the topic will start a movement against something that women everywhere have been at for centuries… But I’d be happy if I ran into one person going au naturelle with confidence, knowing there’s more to life than contouring.

Aisling Keenan is the deputy editor of Xposé Magazine. She blogs at Think What You Like and tweets at @aislingmkeenan. Editorial note – Aisling is simply smashling.

2 thoughts on “Aisling Keenan: The Cosmetic Safety Blanket

  1. I always think it’s better not to wear make-up everyday so that when you do make the effort, everyone thinks you look fabulous! If people only ever see you in full make-up, the one day you don’t wear it, they think you look tired and washed out. They think you don’t look like you.


  2. Hi – thank goodness my comment hasn’t gone up – had a change of mind! Love this piece but think discussion should be for women in your generation!! I’ve made my peace but that’s based on my experiences etc – different for you all. Still – feck all that shit – whatever diverse places each generation needs to find, we all rock 😉


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