For the past few years, I’ve felt uniquely—nay, bizarrely—suited to nearly every beauty trend to hit It girls everywhere. Bushy brows? Great; I’ve been trying to tame my Italian hairs since middle school. Unkempt bedhead? I used to just call it “knotted,” but I’m here for it. Butts? Another of-the-moment attribute I can—ahem—get behind.
So as I witnessed the spring 2018 runways and realized that, once again, high-shine makeup dominated fashion week for designers like Victoria Beckham, Vivienne Tam, and Jason Wu, I should have felt my usual mixture of bemusement and relief. To be honest, though, my feelings are more complicated.
To step back, one of my first women’s magazine experiences (I was a 10-year-old at summer camp) involved an advice column about the dating disaster that was a shiny forehead. I remember being unable to wrap my head around the concept that shine—a quality reserved for the best things in life, like trophies and glazed doughnuts—could be unattractive. I only truly internalized the message that grease was gross once I hit puberty and had fully blossomed into an oily-skinned tween. In seventh grade, I literally thwarted my potential first kiss by explaining blackheads to him when we were finally alone. My “problem skin” was an obsession.
For the next decade or so, I would binge on mattifying masks that left me chalky and red, chemical-laced face washes that bleached my pillowcases a sickly yellow, and every powder that lined the aisles at CVS. So when face gloss made its debut a few years ago, I should have been thrilled. Instead, I remembered the countless dollars and hours I’d lost and began to wonder what this new trend really meant for me.
There is, of course, an unspoken right way to be glossy—and a wrong way. The sort of slick that’s in is a far cry from my natural sebum. Glossy, dewy skin involves a controlled, stylized sheen, both polished and playful while isolated to certain features. My natural oil, on the other hand, has more of an “allover nervous sweat” vibe. It’s the same way that a prominent butt is only considered conventionally attractive when paired with a Kardashian-esque whittled waist. The idea that I’m expected to continue painstakingly mattifying my skin only to top off my hard work with artificial grease seems counterproductive at best.
When face gloss made its debut a few years ago, I should have been thrilled. Instead, I remembered the countless dollars and hours I’d lost.
What it really comes down to, though, is that all trends must come to an end, and my skin won’t magically dry up once gloss is out. The commodification of a genetically controlled skin trait-—one that, in fact, imbued me with shame about my body for many years—makes me wonder whether it’s really fair to suggest that shine is only cool when it’s for sale. The heart of my frustration isn’t with a varnished visage, in particular; it’s just that for me, this trend has really illuminated how fickle our ideas of beauty can be.
While I’m going to try my best to ride out the trend in celebration of my sebaceous self—I’m not about to give up my beloved Balm Dotcom—I’d also like to be a little more mindful of trends that play off of attributes that come naturally to some us and that are, in reality, difficult to control. Because ultimately, I’d like to feel most in vogue when I’m just being myself.
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so… welcome to The Flipside (as in the flip side of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society’s definition of “beauty.” Here, you’ll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we’d love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideofBeauty). Because here on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.
Is there a certain commodified beauty trend that irks you to no end? Tell us about it in the comments below!