Why “Natural Beauty” Is Anything But

Is 2019 really the year of natural beauty? As photo essays begin to showcase women with imperfect skin and more and more brands stop using photoshop in ads, it’s tempting to say yes. But while women are becoming more outspoken in their revolt against unrealistic and suffocating body expectations, the reality isn’t so simple.

Although in some ways we’ve seen huge strides in 2019 in terms of dispelling beauty myths and encouraging body positivity, there’s been one phrase that appears again and again, in many seemingly innocuous forms. “Natural beauty” is everywhere — but how natural is it?

The phrase implies empowerment, that it encourages us to embrace ourselves as we are naturally — but that’s not the whole story. From “no makeup” makeup to a worrying rise in supplements and unverified beauty elixirs, scratching beneath the surface reveals that “natural beauty” is just another unachievable beauty standard. Instead of overtly pressuring women to have a perfect face of heavy makeup and carefully manicured locks, the pressure is now more subtle. You should still look perfect — but now you have to hide the fact that you’re trying.

In this sense, the rise of natural beauty has been an insidious one — hiding under the guise of a feminist, body-positive movement, it’s instead a different set of expectations. And for all of the “natural” rhetoric, there can be permanent and very real risks.

“No Makeup” Makeup

natural beauty

A quick YouTube search for a “No Makeup” look garners thousands and thousands of responses, the vast majority of which promise to show you how to achieve a gorgeous “no-makeup look” using… you guessed it, makeup. If “no makeup” makeup sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because it clearly is one. And it’s one that the beauty industry is cashing in on.

Because the natural look is anything but natural. Instead of embracing your skin as it is — crow’s feet, under-eye circles, and all — the idea is to make it look like you are flawless without even trying. Which, of course, means trying — a lot. Some natural looks require ten steps and as many or more products, which is a huge strain on your time and your finances.

The “no makeup” look may be the latest incarnation, but it actually builds on a long history of “cool girl” tropes. The cool girl doesn’t exercise and eats a whole pizza in one sitting, but is also a size two. The cool girl doesn’t put on any makeup or wash her face (she’s too busy playing video games and drinking beer, of course), but has never had a spot or a blemish.

The cool girl is a myth — but it’s a persistent one. And some are willing to take more extreme steps to embrace that image.

Permanent Fixes For Natural Beauty

If the “no makeup” makeup looks aren’t problematic enough, it’s important to recognize how far some women are willing to go to pursue the natural beauty aesthetic. Plastic surgery has been on the rise in the UK, but so have many semi-permanent fixes — all that claim to make you look better without any makeup at all. What they don’t advertise are the risks involved.

Botox, fillers, even semi-permanent eyelashes — all of them might make you look more sculpted in a “no makeup selfie”, but even non-invasive procedures can come with health risks and a huge price tag. Botox alone is known to cause flu-like symptoms, headaches, droopiness as it spreads to other parts of your face, temporary weakness, bruising, swelling, and a “frozen look”.  And you’ll pay £100 to £350 for treatment for the privilege.

Of course, there are other factors to blame for the rise in these so-called non-invasive procedures — and the more invasive plastic surgery options. The Kardashians, the media, even Love Island — you can point to so many different culprits. But they’re all feeding off of the same energy, one that tells women they need to look a certain way and, in 2019, you better be able to pretend that it’s totally natural.

With women undergoing chemical peels that are so severe that their heartrates and blood pressure have to monitored because of potential damage to the hearts and kidneys, it’s flabbergasting and infuriating that the words “natural” and “non-invasive’ are still being used. But for some women, the search for natural beauty goes far beyond skin deep.

An Internal Struggle

While some women look to make superficial changes, more and more men and women are seeking to achieve a more natural look by changing themselves from the inside out. The supplement industry has seen a meteoric rise, but one with sometimes deathly consequences.

Many people have pointed to the slightly laughable, Goop-like powders and elixirs being marketed at women — Beauty Dust, Spirit Dust, and even Sex Dust among them. And while it’s easy to feel some schadenfreude at people with too much money who choose to spend it on unverified and untested sawdust, there is a darker side to the supplement industry that’s too easy to ignore.

There is, of course, a fitness element to natural beauty. It’s a lot easier to be considered naturally attractive if you have a physique that meets society’s requirements for attractiveness. And while exercise and being fit is a laudable goal, the powders, and potions designed to get you there faster are a dangerously underregulated market.

Lachlan Foote died at his home from caffeine toxicity, after adding pure caffeine powder to a protein shake. Meegan Hefford died this year because of a genetic condition that meant her body couldn’t handle the high-protein diet she had adopted as an aspiring bodybuilder. There’s a worrying dearth of regulations and scientific rigor when it comes to supplements and proteins — and it’s stealing lives.

There is a lot to be said for the appreciation of natural beauty in its truest form. Embracing flaws, celebrating differences, and, at the most basic level, taking the pressure off of one each other — allowing us to live our lives without constantly obsessing over our looks. But natural beauty has been consumed by the beauty and fitnesses industries — industries that largely ignore the risks of many of the solutions they tout. It’s irresponsible and it’s dangerous.

So the next time you reach for a minimal makeup look or consider more permanent fixes, it may be time to stop and remind yourself what natural beauty really means — because if it’s really natural, then you already have it.