It’s no secret—I love makeup. I love waking up early, surveying my product collection, and ceremoniously decorating my face. I like layering eye shadows, I like lining my lips, I like nailing the perfect cat eye. Hell, I even like applying false lashes. I truly enjoy scrolling through social media and binging on YouTube tutorials for inspiration. I like finishing a look, taking a step back, and admiring the transformation. I like peppering my Instagram with images of my best work. I have a genuine respect and appreciation for makeup. Plus, it’s just so pretty.
That said, I try to take a step back once in a while and think about why I love makeup this much. I reflect to make sure I’m doing it for myself, as a creative outlet, not to please anyone else. Admittedly, I do feel less confident without makeup. But I can’t quite tell whether that’s because I feel like it’s intrinsic to my self-expression or because I simply feel like people won’t think I’m pretty if I go makeup-free.
I was interested in taking a deeper look into the relationship between makeup as an art form and makeup as a tool to gain approval from others, particularly on social media. To learn more, I spoke with a young Instagram influencer who has a unique perspective on the topic. To learn more about the connection between makeup, confidence, and social media, read on.
Recently, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one struggling to balance a love for makeup with a resistance to the idea that we need other people’s permission to feel beautiful. One of my favorite beauty and lifestyle gurus is a vegan YouTuber named Stella Rae. Rae’s bold, Instagram-ready makeup looks and precocious cool-girl personality could keep me clicking through her videos and wryly captioned IGs all day. When I first started following Rae, I was actually taken aback by how much makeup she wore (especially considering her age—she’s only 17). But quickly I learned that was just her aesthetic, and I adapted.
Three months ago, Rae suddenly stopped wearing makeup. Where overdrawn lips and high-impact luminizer used to be, there was now natural skin. It was an extreme change, and at first, I almost saw her as a different person.
A few weeks after going bare-faced on social media, Rae posted a series of videos explaining her choice. “[I used to think] I needed makeup to be pretty and popular and to have a lot of [followers],” she says. “But I think it’s good to prove to yourself that you don’t need it and you’re beautiful without it.” Rae explains that she noticed herself relying on makeup to feel pretty and confident on-camera. She no longer wanted that reliance, so as an experiment, she temporarily cut herself off. “Prior to this experiment, I always felt like I was on a higher level when I was all glammed up,” she later told me. “I wanted to show myself and the world that I could get on that level by just being my natural self.” For 30 days, Rae’s videos and IGs featured not so much as a drop of concealer.
Rae isn’t the first to use Instagram to spread the message that women don’t need makeup to be beautiful. Last year, Demi Lovato started the now iconic #NoMakeupMonday hashtag, where every week she posts a bare-faced selfie and encourages her followers to do the same.
Rae’s Instagram following isn’t as massive as Lovato’s, but it’s just as committed. Nearly 40,000 followers tune into her daily posts. After giving up makeup, Rae received a flood of positive feedback from her followers, saying they found the change inspiring. But overall, Rae’s no-makeup selfies saw a dip in likes and comments. Even Lovato’s #NMM selfies tend to get fewer double-taps than her glamorous, made-up looks.
This made me curious: Is there a correlation between makeup and Instagram attention? And how can that affect a person’s self-esteem?
“I think there’s definitely a correlation between looks and followers and likes,” Rae tells me. “We like things and people that are physically attractive. … We all have our ‘#makeupgoals’ or whatever.” Most of the likes and comments on Stella’s fully made-up photos come from one of two groups of people: guys who think she’s hot and young girls who look up to her. When Rae posts, she’s only really thinking of the latter.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wearing makeup… but I do think that it sets unrealistic expectations for people out there, especially impressionable young girls,” she says. “We think that we have to look a certain way, or do our makeup a certain way, in order to get validation from others.” For someone with a substantial social media following like Rae—even for those of us with smaller followings—much of that validation comes in the form of digital praise. We post a made-up selfie, the likes roll in, our confidence increases.
But Rae says that even though her no-makeup posts may have earned fewer double-taps and DMs from strangers, eventually the experiment caused her confidence to grow. “At first, I found that I didn’t feel as cute or confident when I didn’t have makeup on,” Rae admits. “But I kept up with it, and over time, I began to feel just as beautiful without any makeup.” The slight drop in likes didn’t matter. Rae knew she was promoting a message of self-love, and that felt infinitely more valuable.
Rae says she was actually overwhelmed by the genuine, positive feedback she received from her no-makeup experiment. “My followers, and other people, were at first startled, but then relieved,” she says. “I think most people found it refreshing, just seeing a natural face.” Rae says her followers, at least the ones she’s most interested in connecting with, care about what’s real more than what’s perfect. “Social media has made it so easy to get caught up in comparing our worst moments to everyone else’s highlights,” Rae says. “No one looks exactly like how they do on their IG 24/7.”
Stella doesn’t believe that makeup itself is to blame for perpetuating insecurity on social media. “Makeup is an amazing, creative, artistic outlet… and [I] continued to wear it after my 30-day experiment,” she says. But Rae’s natural-faced month did change her attitude toward makeup. She says that now she sees it as a fun option instead of a necessity.
“I would definitely recommend anyone out there who wears makeup daily to go a month, or even a week, a day, without it,” she recommends. “It’s wonderful for clearing both your skin and your mind.”
Personally, my IG followers are in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands. Still, going makeup-free on the internet stresses me out. Normally when I post a selfie, it’s because I want to show off a well-executed cat eye or fun new lip color. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But Rae inspired me to re-create my own mini version of her experiment.
Last week, I posted the first no-makeup, Facetune-free selfie I’d shared in a very long time. Keeping with the pattern, I received about half as many likes as normal.
At first, I felt embarrassed and vulnerable. But a few hours after posting, I started getting used to it. After a week of looking at the photo, I now feel pretty good about what I see. I know it’s only one picture—not a movement, not a revolt. But I already feel so much more relaxed about people on the internet, myself included, seeing what I “really” look like. Even if it doesn’t get as many double taps, that seems just as “likable” to me.
Shop our favorite no-makeup products below!
Next up, read all about the weird meditation technique that made me happier.