Decoding the #NoMakeup trend
When Frances McDormand got up on stage to accept the Oscar for best performance by an actress in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, she set social media abuzz with her makeup-free face.
Those who have been following McDormand know that she is not one to comply with norms. It was no different at the Oscars, the biggest night in the motion picture industry, which has Hollywood stars presenting themselves at their glamorous best. However, McDormand with her short wavy blonde hair, and a green and gold dress stood out as a true original.
It wasn’t the first time either that McDormand had appeared on the red carpet with little or no makeup. Nor is she alone in embracing the no-makeup look. The movement has been gathering steam over the past couple of years and among its early proponents is singer and songwriter Alicia Keys. Then there have been instances of celebrities Gwyneth Paltrow, Gal Gadot, Adele and Jennifer Garner posting selfies sans makeup.
Even in Bollywood, take the wedding of actor Anushka Sharma with cricketer Virat Kohli. For her big day Sharma decided to opt for the no-makeup look, pairing it with a traditional Banarasi saree.
The no makeup trend is not just about celebrities. On Instagram, the hashtag #nomakeup has over 15.4 million posts of people showing off their faces with little or no makeup.
To be sure, we now live in a world where outward appearance is more important than ever before. A telling sign is the selfie. There are over 336 million #selfie posts on Instagram. Most of these are curated images or picture-perfect. In fact, India’s $8 billion (around Rs52,000 crore) cosmetics industry is flourishing. It will grow to $10 billion by 2021, according to India Beauty and Hygiene Association and ATKearney in a 2017 report. So, what’s causing this contra-trend?
When Keys decided to opt for going without makeup in 2016, she said she was sick of the “constant judgment of women”, “the constant stereotyping”. “I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing,” Keys wrote in an essay in Lennyletter.com as she decided to fight her insecurities related to what people thought of her.
Likewise for people posting no makeup selfies. It usually comes along with hashtags of #selflove—13 million posts on Instagram, #bodypositivity, #confidence and #empowerment.
There are plenty of studies done in the past decade that have shown a positive correlation between frequent use of cosmetics and anxiety, self-consciousness and conformity.
For instance, in a 2006 study, published in Journal of Applied Social Psychology, by researchers Rebecca Nash, George Fieldman, Trevor Hussey, Jean-Luc Lévêque and Patricia Pineau men and women were asked to rate pictures of women without makeup and then the same women with makeup. The study concluded that women presented wearing cosmetics were perceived as healthier and more confident than when presented without makeup. Moreover, women wearing makeup were also perceived to have greater earning potential and hold more prestigious jobs than the same women without cosmetics.
However, another study of people wearing makeup less frequently showed that they tend to have higher social confidence, emotional stability and self-esteem.
So far, major cosmetics brands are still to embrace the trend as they continue to use photoshopped pictures, shaping our perceptions of beauty. Nonetheless, changes are taking place. Earlier this year, CVS Health, an integrated pharmacy healthcare firm, committed to stop modifying the beauty images on marketing materials in its stores and online. Moreover, it’s asking its brand partners to do the same.
In fashion, brands like Aerie, Forever 21, Target, Asos, Nike and Missguided are leading the way. The last year saw Forever 21 and Nike expanding their offerings to include larger sizes for the first time. Meanwhile, brands like Missguided ran empowering campaigns with completely unretouched images, with the models’ stretch marks and cellulite on full display.
For brands promoting such causes, it makes business sense as well. When American Eagle’s lingerie line Aerie decided to take a stand and not retouch models in 2014, its sales surged. The December quarter was the 14th consecutive quarter of positive revenue growth for the brand at 19%, building on the 21% growth seen in the year-ago period. This is all the more impressive when contrasted with Victoria’s Secret, the iconic lingerie brand featuring celebrated supermodels and a world-famous runway show. The latter posted a comparable decline of 5% in the December quarter. That’s the power of real.
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