The latest celebrity to kick up a storm on the internet is Kylie Jenner, who has taken to Instagram to show the result of a minimalist makeup look created by Ariel Tejada, the Kardashians’ regular makeup artist. The youngest of the K clan, and founder of Kylie Cosmetics, appears in front of the camera lens with dewey skin, perfectly shaped eyebrows and a light burgundy lip color, explaining that she “doesn’t need too much makeup” because she has “a natural beauty.” The post stirred up indignation among social media users, who noted the irony of the celebrity, who made lip injections fashionable as a teenager, wielding the word “natural.”
In the 1990s book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf wrote that “the ‘beauty myth’ is always actually prescribing behavior and not appearance.” The writer referred to the fact that the ultimate goal of beauty justified the means to achieve it, from strict diets to compulsive cosmetic purchases and even plastic surgery. Those behaviors ended up becoming part of many women’s routines, absorbing their time and energy while forcing them to consume the products offering them youth, thinness or attractiveness.
“Inexhaustible but ephemeral beauty work took over from inexhaustible and ephemeral housework,” Wolf added. The writer argued that as women became legally and financially independent from men, they began to feel more pressure to adhere to unrealistic, often unattainable, standards of beauty generated by the media. The Beauty Myth was published long before the author could observe the effects of overexposure to new beauty standards, such as those created by the Kardashian family, or the insecurities generated by Instagram filters.
In post-Me Too times, as women’s everyday problems became part of the public conversation, the topic of pressure around physical appearance has come to the fore. Concepts like self-care and body positivity have become part of the popular vocabulary. And women’s relationship with their physical appearance, and with the tools they use to change it, have permeated the media discourse.
On one hand, some women have reclaimed makeup as a form of self-expression, against the prejudices that women who wear too much makeup are insecure or want to attract the attention of men. At the other extreme there emerged the natural makeup, or no-makeup makeup, trend. The look opted for discreet cosmetics that did not cover the face with heavy foundations, unlike the contouring popularized by Kylie’s older sister, Kim Kardashian. But as the journalist Chloe Arnold pointed out in an article entitled “The paradox of no-makeup makeup,” published in Vox, “it’s a claim of subverting beauty ideals that doesn’t actually subvert anything; both the ritual and the consumption of beauty are maintained.” The journalist also pointed out the type of woman who had the privilege to afford natural makeup: “The subtlest looks are rewarded because women who seemingly don’t care about their looks are praised and envied, so long as they still meet typical definitions of beauty.”
“Natural beauty is definitely not something that should be in this family’s vocabulary,” wrote a commenter on Kylie’s post. “Y’all all paid for your faces/bodies to change, nothing natural about it.” In a 2015 Keeping Up With The Kardashians episode, at just 18 years old, Kylie Jenner admitted having received lip fillers. The rest of her physical changes, which may or may not be the result of cosmetic surgery, are kept secret. However, both the media and the sisters’ fans have speculated about Jenner’s operations, including an apparent rhinoplasty, a possible breast augmentation, some type of buttock augmentation and liposuction. Regarding her possible breast augmentation, she said that her body had changed after her two pregnancies. Regarding her subsequent weight loss and the recovery of her sculptural figure after two births, she assured that she had become addicted to “walking and pilates.” Within the excessive artifice of the Kardashian circus, the youngest of the group seeks to highlight her own naturalness at all times.
Whether or not her aesthetic tweaks are true, the reality is that Kylie Jenner, as part of one of the most profitable families in the United States and owner of a million-dollar cosmetics business, has an easier time of it than the vast majority of women when it comes to achieving a flawless look. As Wolf pointed out, what Kylie Jenner is prescribing is an entire behavior: the inexhaustible, albeit ephemeral, work around the myth of beauty, even though it’s now called natural. Perhaps the greatest irony of Kylie Jenner’s performance is that, to show how little makeup she needs, she needs to use her trusted makeup artist.