You’ve got a big night ahead of you. Maybe it’s your birthday, your bestie’s birthday, a holiday, or just a typical GNO, but no matter what the occasion is, you’re about to embark on the many step beauty routine you’ve perfected for nights like this to get all dolled up and feeling glamorous. Say hello to “birthday makeup,” a concept meant to encapsulate the full-face glam look that many women wear on special occasions, which has recently become the butt of jokes on social media.
“When you’re waiting outside your gf’s house, and you see a scary clown walk up to the car, but it’s just her in birthday makeup,” reads one TikTok video by user @thatsisaac where he looks up from his steering wheel, screams, and then has a sigh of relief. Alas, this trend – very clearly meant in jest – critiquing heavy-handed applications of cosmetics has since been lambasted by upset voices in women’s media. Refinery29 writer Izzie Deibe said that the birthday makeup “hate stinks of misogyny and sexism,” while Marie Claire writer Dionne Brighton said that the viral memes are “steeped in misogyny.”
Both critics brought up similar demands for men to stop commenting on or scrutinizing women’s appearances. So naturally, I knew it was time to get the boys involved, put the jokes aside, and see how our male counterparts genuinely feel about trends in women’s makeup. I enlisted the support of my male friends, who got candid with me about full glam looks like “birthday makeup” versus “soft girl,” “no-makeup” looks, and dove into the male perspective on beauty standards, psychology, and expectations.
"Is She Going to a Party or the Circus?"
The first video I had my guy friends provide their honest feedback on was TikTok user @georgia.barratt’s “GRWM for bday celebrations” look which she posted after another user expressed shock at the professional application she achieved. Georgia begins her video bare-faced before diving into her brief tutorial. The guys noticed this, saying, “She’s so pretty without it in the beginning” and “I thought this woman looked better in the beginning of the video.”
Georgia goes on to apply a bronzed smokey eye with thick glitter and black winged liner. Then, Georgia applies her base, bronzer, blush, and setting powder before applying falsies, filling in her brows, and finally finishing up her lips in the car with four products. Every single guy felt similarly that this look was “too much” for their personal tastes.
“It's her hobby and art form, but in a hypothetical situation where she's hugging me, I'd brace myself for a face print on my shirt,” said one guy. Another one shared a similar comment, expressing that her makeup was technically done well by makeup standards, but in his own personal beauty preferences, it missed the mark.
A few of the men used the term “caked on” to describe this look, even drawing comparisons to drag queen-style makeup. Others pointed out how they felt that makeup should be used to compliment natural features instead of completely conceal them. One even admitted that he thought this woman was doing herself an injustice by wearing so much makeup.
“I'm the type of guy that thinks women typically look worse on their wedding day than in normal life because most brides throw way too much makeup on for their wedding,” said another one of the guys. “I've found this to be routinely true with women I know personally in real life versus seeing them on their wedding day.”
Several guys said when women wear “birthday makeup” looks like this one, it communicates that she is “trying too hard.”
"It’s a Thousand Times More Understated and Natural Looking"
Next, I asked the guys to watch TikTok user @aliciabreuer0’s “updated ‘clean girl’ makeup,” which she captioned as being her go-to daily look. Alicia begins with a bare face, drizzles on foundation, applies concealer, contour, liquid blush, and mascara before lightly lining her lips and finishing off with setting spray.
“She looks absolutely beautiful. The makeup is well done and blended but not overdone. She highlights her natural features with color and adds light contour but is done very classy,” said one of the guys. “She really does look good. The ‘natural look’ doesn’t mean very little makeup, it means making it look natural and clean and not being fake-faced or heavy.”
Personally, I appreciated the distinction that he and a few other guys made to dispel the myth of the “natural” makeup look. So often with columns like the aforementioned Refinery29 and Marie Claire articles, you’ll come across women bemoaning that men want a woman to look good with “no makeup,” but frankly, it would appear that men are cool with knowing that women are wearing makeup so long as it is conservatively applied.
“From no makeup to makeup, I didn't see as much of a change as in the first video. She looks a little airbrushed and slightly photoshopped, which was maybe the goal,” said another guy.
Overall, every guy responded that they preferred this “final product” to the results of the first video.
“In the first video, the first thing you’d think when looking at the final product is ‘Wow, that’s a lot of makeup.’ This one, you could probably tell at first glance she’s wearing makeup, but it’s much more subtle and not overpowering. This is more attractive and an appropriate amount,” said another guy.
Out of my own curiosity, I poked through the TikTok user’s feed to see if her more glamorous, nighttime looks more closely suited “birthday makeup,” but it would appear that even her “night out” faces are done to enhance her natural beauty traits.
"Too Much Makeup Is a Scam, I Want To See the Real Person"
The gut reaction for many women who hear men critiquing heavy makeup is to give a metaphorical double-barrel middle finger. Look no further than testimony from the Marie Claire writer Dionne Brighton who, in her article, asserted, “I know that my make-up is for me, and it's what makes me feel good. I know for certain that I have never done a make-up look with a man in mind.”
Frankly, she does have a point that most of the men that I spoke with actually agree with – women primarily wear makeup because we love that little boost of serotonin to our confidence, because we want to look good in the eyes of other women, or just because we enjoy the actual process of applying makeup.
“I think women wear makeup to make themselves feel better, not necessarily for men or other women, even if that plays into it to an extent. I think if you surveyed women, most would say that they're doing it for themselves,” said one of the guys, pointing out that women might just want to hide a blemish or two, but aren’t doing so because a man asked them to. He continued, “Too many women overuse, underuse, or just otherwise inappropriately use makeup. And it's worth being able to sit down and evaluate your relationship with makeup – the how and why you're using it.”
From an evolutionary view, beauty implies that a person has stronger reproductive capabilities.
Beauty-enhancing behaviors are a universal trend that evolutionary experts can confirm have been an integral part of mating-market culture, from the Neanderthal’s shell bead jewelry to modernity’s life-altering bodily plastic surgery procedures. And, while men might often pooh-pooh elaborate grooming routines, the desire to look your best doesn’t discriminate because attractiveness can signal health. From an evolutionary view, beauty implies that a person has stronger reproductive capabilities.
Interestingly enough, researchers have actually suggested that there are no sex differences in beauty investments – just different methods of achieving “beauty.” For women, this looks more like investing time and capital into cosmetics, and for men, this looks more like bodybuilding and general exercise.
“Much like clothing, I believe the desire to look good is often a combination of wanting to feel good in your own skin and impress others because when we see that we are impressive to other people, we feel good about it,” said one of the guys.
Whether we like it or not, the time and attention we invest in our physical appearance matters in the eyes of the opposite or preferred sex. Standards may shift from culture to culture or even among a designated group of individuals (I mean, just think about the deep divide between American men in the “boobs vs. butts” debate), but our attractiveness signals moral character, immune function, and even competency.
With that in mind, the way that we apply our makeup could theoretically make or break a potential connection. I asked the guys how soon in their relationship they would ideally like to see a woman’s natural face, and while several explained that there shouldn’t be any explicit requirement or deadline, overall the guys wanted to know what we ladies look like underneath all of our pretty products much sooner rather than later.
“I have to wake up next to this person every morning. I better know how they look like early on,” said one of the guys. He went on to explain that to him, looks don’t actually matter that much as long as the woman isn’t hiding anything. That, of course, includes how they naturally look underneath heavy “birthday makeup.” He wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
“The more makeup she wears, the more I'm trying to figure out why she's putting on so much,” said another guy. “Is it because she's trying to hide something? Is it because she's interested in highlighting her features? Is it too much vanity, or is it an artistic expression?”
With Modern Beauty Standards: "It's an Awful Time To Be a Girl"
In the aforementioned investigation by Refinery29 writer Izzie Deibe, she cites cosmetic surgeon Dr. Lubna Khan-Salim, who says that women are held to “impossible standards” and that these “sexist standards” have also transcended history.
Last year, a collaborative report by the Dove Self-Esteem Project, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Deloitte Access Economics suggested that our society’s “toxic beauty standards” cost Americans upwards of $500 billion each year. A deeper dive into their research reveals that body satisfaction costs Americans $300 each year, so clearly there’s a pretty penny to be made off insecurity.
When I asked the guys how they felt about these unrealistic beauty standards the common woman may feel overwhelmed by, many of them felt that they are largely a “self-imposed problem, by women unto themselves.”
We would do better to take those beauty standards and mix them with a bit of humility and common sense.
“The only thing that's ‘unfair’ are the standards that aren't naturally achievable – which happen to be the things that I don't want to see anyways. I'm not attracted to unnatural shapes and tones. It's actually a huge turn-off. I think most honest, non-dirtbag men will say they prefer more natural-looking styles,” said one of the guys.
Quite a few of the other men suggested that Instagram filters and airbrushed, heavily photoshopped and operated-on social media phenoms like the KarJenners are to blame for inflating the beauty standards to unreachable levels. “Impressionable and insecure women fall victim to marketing from cosmetic companies and celebrities and couture fashion and a bunch of other stupid sh*t into believing that they should emulate these styles ... but no one is fooled into thinking these impossible standards reflect reality.”
But, like I mentioned before, it would appear that humanity is hard-wired to care about appearances. However, this doesn’t have to mean we should cover up our natural beauty traits with thick layers of products that may just break the bank and damage our skin anyway. As one of the guys put it, our beauty standards change and are mostly social constructs, but there are some standards for being presentable that should be maintained, such as good personal hygiene and looking well put together.
“Beauty standards may not be fair, but they are simply a fact of life, and pretending they don't exist is neither realistic nor healthy,” said one guy. “We would do better to take those standards and mix them with a bit of humility and common sense and search for ways to get physically healthy that allow us to feel better about ourselves.”
All things considered, there really is no one way to be beautiful. One of the guys admitted that while he thinks that most men don’t like “really fake-looking women,” a.k.a. those who use makeup in a way that covers up their natural beauty traits instead of enhancing them, he understands that some men certainly are into that look. We know that many women aren’t getting dolled up in full “birthday” faces as some concerted effort to attract male suitors, but we should genuinely be cognizant of how our physical appearance communicates different messages about who we are deep down.
Mastering the application of full glam is no easy feat, and I honestly commend all the girls out there who have figured out these borderline professional makeup jobs. But dolling up doesn’t necessarily have to include contouring your face with dark concealer to make your skeletal anatomy look different from its natural form or overlining your lips when thin lips can indeed be very beautiful.
Again, makeup is an amazing form of artistry and self-expression, but I may be on the side of the social media “birthday makeup” critics and my guy friends alike, one of which so nicely concluded that: “Ultimately though, every woman is made in God's perfect vision and they should cherish that – not ruin it.”
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