Contouring and Highlighting Our Knowledge of Makeup

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Table of contents

  1. The History of Makeup
  2. History of Contouring
  3. Capitalism and Our Idea of Beauty

Makeup is a form art, it is a form of self-expression, self-love and self-confidence, it used to enhance one’s facial features to create their desired look. I will discuss the roots of makeup and how it has created a massive impact overtime and through recent makeup trends such as contouring and highlighting.

The History of Makeup

While the cosmetic and beauty industry is constantly changing throughout the 21st century, with the help of social media. It is fascinating to find out about the evolution of makeup. “The earliest historical record of makeup comes from the 1st Dynasty of Egypt (c.310-2907 BC)”. Women in Ancient Egypt used kohl, which contained a powdered substance called galena, this was used to darken their eyelids. Chalk was used to whiten the complexion and rouge was used to stain the cheeks giving a blushed look. Fast-forwarding to the Regency era, “eyebrows were blackened, and hair was dyed” to hide away any signs of aging and grey hair which may be due to lack of self-confidence. During the late 1800’s women would create beauty recipes, these were the earliest forms of today’s D.I.Ys. Whereas, during the Victorian period they associated makeup with prostitutes, it was “sinful, although natural tones were accepted” this was to give a healthy look. “The real evolution began during the 1910’s”, this time women made their own forms of mascara by adding “hot beads of wax to the tips” of their lashes. The first mascara that was formulated was named after “Mabel, the sister of its creator, T.L. Williams”, this mascara is known today as ‘Maybelline’. (Medusa’s Make-Up, 2018)

As makeup now has much developed over time, both women and men have shown a keen interest in makeup. This lead to an increased exposure of different trends and techniques within the makeup industry. I will be analysing the well-known makeup trend called contouring. Contouring is a makeup technique that uses a warm or cool toned coloured makeup to define, enhance and sculpt the structure of the face. This technique can also be used on other body parts such as arms, legs and the chest. By using this contouring technique, it ultimately creates a chiselled and defined look by creating shadows this tricks the eye in a believable way. I have decided to specifically choose this widespread makeup trend contouring because, in contemporary society, makeup has been a growing more and more popular via social media and contouring being one of them. This makeup trend has become so widespread that it can be a part of a makeup lover’s makeup routine. It has become the norm that has been embedded in the makeup culture.

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History of Contouring

Where did contouring begin? Before the Kardashians, the era of flawless Instagram selfies and video makeup tutorials, contouring was used as a subtle technique by makeup artists and stage performers. This technique was used out of necessity rather than the desire for the chiselled look. When considering the history of contouring, it is absurd to think this makeup technique was used during the mid-1500s. Stage actors in Elizabethan England would apply chalk and soot, some also used “toxic lead containing materials including kohl, ceruse and vermilion” so that the audience could visualize their facial expressions clearly and “to exaggerate their facial features”. (Live Glam, 2018) Contour and highlight continued to be used in theatres and film, until we got to “2012 and the age of social media”. Contour and highlight became mainstream during 2012 after Kim Kardashian posted an Instagram selfie of her contour and highlight in progress. Sharing these makeup steps only created fans and makeup lovers to explore this technique. At last began the contour craze. Through this makeup trend, it conveys the form of self-expression. A way in which people could explore different techniques when applying makeup. This reminded me of the artist Basquiat, in which I thought to believe his artwork portrays self-expression. Through the way his art were just visuals coming to life from the thoughts of his mind – also known as self-expression. Makeup is another form of art except it uses the face as a canvas and makeup as its medium.

Makeup is used so that people can express themselves by enhancing their features or simply used for fun. However, it becomes concerning when women start comparing themselves to the images in a magazine. Second-guessing their own appearance in comparison to another female figure. Thus, utilising makeup as a mask to conceal their appearances to make them appear more attractive, as cosmetics can be used to manipulate appearance. This could lead to an “age when instantaneity of Instagram belies hours of careful filtering” to achieve their desired look for themselves. In this digital age, it is very easy for consumers to find out information to achieve a new look through blog posts and tweets. Thus “routinely capitalizing on the body’s susceptibility to enhancement” so that this is made to fit into today’s standard of beauty. Glamour labour is to manage appearance both in person and online, this is to “maintain one’s ‘cool’ quotient” and to show how the person is “in the know”. Its physical mode is to focus on beauty and fashion to uphold a stylish sense of self. Its virtual mode involves “to keep up with the trends” and staying up to date in terms of fashion and popular brands. However, the question is “how does a particular ‘look’ come to acquire status as the latest one” as the aesthetic content and trends are always changing. (Wissinger, 2018) For instance, when the contouring trend came about, until this day this trend is being carried out by makeup lovers who wish to style it in their own way to their own vision.

Capitalism and Our Idea of Beauty

To establish this, we need to look at what constitutes these changes in styles, beauty trends in society. As society is changing capitalism is evolving also. Culture plays an important role in capitalism. Since culture has been commodified it has become an important part of this new form of capitalism, which goes by many names such as, aesthetic capitalism, cultural capitalism, experience economy. An aesthetic economy is one in which “aesthetics is a key component in the production of particular goods” within an industry. (Enwistle, 2002)

According to a study by Julia Hartz the Eventbrite co-founder, it shows that “millennials are more likely to spend money on experiences rather than objects”. (YouTube, 2017) Thus, demonstrating the rise of the experience economy, millennials value experiences over material possessions. Regarding the beauty industry, some companies interconnect together to launch a beauty festival every year called ‘Beauty Con’. Essentially this brings together all makeup lovers and beauty bloggers. This is a time to share their experiences with makeup, how bloggers got into social media, to be able to talk to audiences about personal struggles such as self-love. As someone who has also taken part in Beauty Con, this gives an experience in meeting new people and discussing how makeup helps elevate their self-confidence and giving you more confidence without solely depending on makeup to make you feel beautiful.

This ties into the Marxist theory, as capitalism encourages this ‘cultural schizophrenia’ due to the fact that our vulnerability, which may be that lack of ‘self-love’, is profitable. Knowing very well that there are people who buy products to ease their insecurities. This “economic system […] with the goal of making a profit” has influenced consumers from buying habits to our concept of beauty. According to the Marxist theory, it focuses on how capitalism has become globalized. This theory suggests “the effects of global capitalism are to ensure that the powerful and wealthy continue to prosper at the expense of the powerless and the poor”. (AdorGalore, 2017) Capitalism encourages us to be naïve as we define ourselves through our styles and hobbies then ignore the politics and economics around us. Thus, suggesting we have become alienated in some sense as consumers are becoming dependent on material goods.

Nonetheless, cosmetic industry stems its success of the modern-day beauty standards and trends. These beauty standards are advertised online, in beauty magazines and even on social media. Most consumers get lured into buying makeup products when their favourite beauty blogger or influencer promotes certain brands. Companies use celebrity endorsement to gain popularity for their brand, for instance, “Miss India was used to promote” products by L’Oréal along with “Cindy Crawford”. (Ciochetto, 2011) The way the beauty standards are conveyed promotes a certain image that girls and women should look up to, whether it stems from to gain more self-confidence or to elevate their self-love. Thus, explaining why there have been major sell outs in beauty and cosmetic stores due to the influence of these beauty standards. To please the ideal western standard of beauty.

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Contouring and Highlighting Our Knowledge of Makeup. (2020, December 14). WritingBros. Retrieved February 24, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/contouring-and-highlighting-our-knowledge-of-makeup/
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Contouring and Highlighting Our Knowledge of Makeup. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/contouring-and-highlighting-our-knowledge-of-makeup/> [Accessed 24 Feb. 2024].
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