Bold and Brave: Embracing “Ugly Beauty”

Last Updated: June 10, 2024By

Bold and Brave: Embracing “Ugly Beauty”

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When Doja Cat showed up at the Met Gala on Monday night, you might have thought she got caught in a rainstorm. Her dress looked drenched, and mascara was streaming down her face. But it was all part of a daring makeup look by artist Pat McGrath, which has since gone viral.

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Doja Cat wasn’t alone in breaking away from traditional red carpet looks that night. Amanda Seyfried turned her blond hair grey and rocked lurid purple lips, a shade like verbena flowers. Zendaya, who made two appearances on the carpet, had eyebrows so thin they almost vanished.

Breaking the Mold

These stars are embracing a trend called “ugly beauty.” This movement has been growing on social media, showcasing everything from intentionally uneven foundation to gradient-colored lips and prosthetics to alter cheekbones or create tiny horns on the forehead.

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Unlike trends like the “clean girl” look, where skin appears flawless, or the “glazed-doughnut” aesthetic with shiny cheekbones, this trend isn’t about looking traditionally attractive. It’s about challenging what beauty can be.

The Artist’s Perspective

Emily Schubert, a top makeup artist in the film industry, sees this as a blend of special effects and everyday makeup. Her book, “Beauty of the Beast: A Makeup Manual,” from A24 (the studio behind films like “Priscilla” and “The Zone of Interest”), shares her techniques. She teaches everything from creating the illusion of no eyebrows to making hair look like it’s turning grey.

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Schubert started thinking differently about makeup after seeing how grey her face was following scoliosis surgery at 13. Now, she uses makeup as a storytelling tool. “Especially since we are now looking at screens more than ever and seeing people in 2D form,” she says.

The Birth of a Movement

The term “ugly makeup revolution” was coined by London-based visual artist Eszter Magyar in 2018. Six years later, Magyar believes it’s popular because people are tired of fake, filtered perfection. She sees it as a modern counter to cookie-cutter aesthetics, valuing character over perfection.

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In 2023, a City, University of London study found that 90% of women in their twenties used filters on selfies. These filters smooth skin, raise cheekbones, and give the illusion of a full face of makeup, blurring the lines between real and online appearances.

A New Kind of Rebellion

Some view the rise of ugly beauty as a reaction against unrealistic beauty standards, especially as AI keeps changing what’s possible. “People are under more pressure than ever to adhere to these standards,” says Alex Peters, beauty editor at Dazed. “Ugly makeup acts as a pressure valve, helping people release some of that stress.”

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On Instagram, it’s common to edit out blemishes and acne scars. While some spend hours hiding them with makeup, others use apps like Facetune. But Schubert turns these imperfections into art, using K-Y Jelly to create realistic pimples. During long film shoots, she considers how a spot might change over time, starting out oozing and later scabbing over.

Age and “Ugly Beauty”

Age is another aspect that “ugly beauty” plays with. Social media is full of young users asking viewers to guess their age and often getting upset with the answers. Schubert, who has worked with stars like Dev Hynes and Bella Hadid, has a chapter in her book dedicated to looking younger or older. She uses face tape to smooth wrinkles or create the illusion of drooping skin.

Cosmetic enhancements used to be for the wealthy, but now treatments like Botox and fillers are common and relatively affordable. An article in Dazed even wondered if “ugly” might one day become aspirational. If most people smooth their wrinkles and plump their lips, natural features like crooked teeth and smile lines could become rare and desirable.

Embracing Your Unique Features

Schubert doesn’t understand why people want to erase their unique features. “Did you know that truck drivers age more on the left side of their face?” she asks. “You can see the patterns of a lifetime on the face and body. People need to think about that and not see it as a bad thing. Why would you take away your own history?”

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