Minimalist Makeup: Through a Feminist’s (Mascara-ed) Eyes


On September 10th, Urban Outfitters launched a beauty line, Ohii beauty. Its products are adorned in bright, simplistic packaging geared towards teens and millennials. The line ranges from a traditional eye and lip products to multipurpose face makeup products, to everyday skincare items.


With a tagline, “it’s for you” and a claim to “enhance natural beauty, not hide it”, this range is clearly reminiscent of similarly down-to-earth, everyday brand Glossier. The onslaught of these fresh-faced, natural beauty products begs the question: is minimal makeup a trend or a movement? Does it promote traditional beauty standards, or subvert them?

Before I dive too deep into this issue, a note about makeup in general: Although I do not believe that makeup should be gendered, beauty products have been historically marketed towards women, and women face a lot of societal pressure to beautify themselves. These particular brands of discussion also only market towards women. Thus, I will discuss this topic mainly as it pertains to women, but I am of the belief that makeup is for anyone.

In many ways, brands like Glossier and Ohii are breaking barriers within the beauty industry. Both brands pride themselves on creating beauty that is fun, thus reconstructing the idea of makeup as being more optional, and an act of self-care for those who choose to partake. These lines are rather small, without enough products to create a full face of makeup. At the rate that this minimalist makeup trend is sweeping the beauty community, the days of harsh contours, dark smokey eyes, and layers and layers of lip product may be coming to an end. While full-glam looks are often complicated and intimidating for makeup novices, Glossier and Ohii’s products are designed to fit flexibly into a wide variety of beauty regimes that can work for anyone. The oppressive narrative that “beauty is pain” is beginning to dissipate, and the rules about how makeup is to be applied are becoming less stringent.

These products are designed to be quick to apply, user-friendly, and multipurpose, supporting the idea that makeup-users are dynamic people who have lives beyond their appearance. Thus, unlike the prevalent narrative in the beauty industry, brands like Glossier and Ohii do not pressure women to spend copious amount of time and energy applying makeup and drastically altering their appearance to fit a narrow standard of beauty.  Additionally, with the exception of the metallic and colorful eyeshadows, the products in each line are designed to be lightweight and provide a sheer wash of color. The natural-looking effect that they are designed to have encourages women to embrace who they are and enhance their features without trying to cover anything up or drastically change how they look.

However progressive these beauty lines may seem, they still subscribe to many mainstream narratives surrounding beauty. For one, diversity. Although these brands use models that are racially diverse, many of their products are only offered in a handful of shades. For instance, Glossier’s Stretch Concealer is only offered in five shades, which is not representative of the wide range of skin tones. There is not much gender or body-type diversity, either: models are all thin, and presumably able-bodied. Further, all of their models have clear, radiant skin, and are not reflective of how most women actually look. Although the products they are showcasing offer light coverage, these brands feature models who are already conventionally beautiful, even without much makeup. Thus, these brands still promote the same beauty standards of how women are supposed to look; the only difference between minimalist makeup brands and any other makeup line is the products which the consumers use to achieve these standards. In some ways, brands like Glossier and Ohii increase the pressure to be conventionally beautiful, it has become harder to tell what is someone’s bare skin, and what is makeup. Additionally, these user-friendly products make beauty standards seem easier to achieve, thus implicitly shaming those who do not measure up.

Many feminists have varying opinions on the use of makeup: is it a source of power for women? Is it oppressive? Regardless of the social implications, I believe that one’s self-expression and decision to use makeup should be personal. While the marketing of makeup to women as compulsory is unfair, makeup is not inherently a bad thing; it is an art form for those who enjoy it.