The Dark Side Of Glam: How Social Media Expectations Are Leading To Makeup Abuse

If you’re on TikTok or at all connected with Reels on Facebook and Instagram, you’ve probably come across Meredith Duxbury.

By Gwen Farrell4 min read
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The makeup influencer, who has 15 million followers on TikTok, is known for the unconventional way she applies foundation. Duxbury uses six to seven pumps of one foundation, two pumps of another, mixes the two together on the back of her hand, and then rubs the thick substance in with her fingers (not with a sponge or brush). Duxbury has said that this technique allows her to use all of the product instead of letting too much get absorbed by a sponge, and that using her fingers allows her a smoother complexion, but many have called her routine wasteful and even off-putting.

Duxbury has also said that she uses so much product to cover her freckles, but a lot of viewers are more convinced she’s doing it for the shock factor. By the time her self-described “full glam” routine is complete, it’s hard to argue with her logic: Nothing beyond copious amounts of high-end foundation, concealer, setting powder, and blush is visible.

Duxbury is an influencer, which means TikTok users and followers are not only buying the products she’s recommending, but using her techniques as well. This is an inevitable consequence of how social media works, but it’s also sending the wrong message, particularly to young girls who are venturing into the world of cosmetics. We need to stop abusing makeup. The point is not to transform our faces into something entirely different, but rather enhance the features we’re blessed with.

We’ve Always Worn Makeup, but Not Like This

Cosmetics originated in ancient Egypt, and since time immemorial, they’ve been used as both a beauty enhancer and a status symbol. Though makeup is now in widespread use with a plethora of brands at affordable price points, in many ways makeup is still an indication of status and luxury. Influencers and makeup artists often shill expensive skincare and cosmetics with astronomical price tags, which are only used by those who can afford it or those with huge social media followings.

The use of makeup has evolved from ancient Egypt to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and beyond, and women have evolved with it. Makeup is now a billion-dollar industry, and we continue to buy into it each and every year. 

Nowadays, makeup may not necessarily be about looking presentable or even looking attractive. It’s about trying a specific product we’ve been waiting to get our hands on or falling into a trend everyone else is talking about. Even with the “no-makeup makeup” trend, we’re still having to buy tons of products to look as though we’re wearing nothing at all. 

Nowadays, makeup is about trying a specific product or falling into a trend everyone is talking about.

Psychologically, it’s been proven that both men and women think women look most attractive when they wear a moderate amount of makeup, not a heavy amount. However, the study which discovered this also found that women believed that men would prefer when they wore a heavy amount of makeup. Women also feel more attractive when they wear even a small amount of makeup as opposed to none at all – but we’re conditioned to think that both men and other women prefer when we’re more heavily made up. In either situation, whether we use makeup for ourselves or for others, we’ve been misled about its purpose.

Why It’s Bad for Us

There are two consequences to abusing makeup, both figuratively and physically. First, it could be argued that constantly wearing copious amounts of makeup and essentially transforming ourselves into someone else is an exercise in self-destruction and gaslighting. We don’t look anything like we think we do, or we’re so dissatisfied with our natural appearance that our self-esteem plummets. We’re hesitant to let others, even strangers, see how we actually look. This is understandable in cases where we’re struggling with acne or a feature we feel self-conscious about, but we know by now that consistently wearing too much makeup or even heavily editing our social media photos is not normal.

Not only does our self-esteem spiral, but our sense of self suffers as well. We struggle to go out in public or be among friends and family without our full glam. We think we won’t be respected by coworkers or peers, or even taken seriously, if we’re not “attractive.” Our ability to function in the day-to-day centers around reaching an arbitrary standard we’ve set for ourselves. 

To make matters worse, there are the physical ramifications as well. Consider the standard makeup routine many women apply every day: primer, foundation, concealer, powder, eyebrow product, highlighter, bronzer, blush, eyeshadow, mascara, setting spray. To some, this is beyond excessive, but for others, this is their basic routine on a weekday. Multiply that by several days a week for hours per day, and by the end, you’ll have a skin disaster on your hands.

Even products that are labeled as “clean” or free from certain chemicals still have the ability to clog your pores, resulting in blackheads and other acne troubles. Makeup brushes and tools that come into contact with sensitive areas, like mascara wands which touch our eyes, can harbor and grow bacteria if not cleaned or disposed of regularly.

Additionally, the more we touch our skin, the more the oils from our fingers transfer, adding to potential issues. Pulling at our skin also decreases elasticity in our face, enhancing the prevalence of wrinkles. Even the best skincare routine can’t stop these breakouts, and in the end, we wind up with a vicious cycle – too much makeup causes us to break out, motivating us to use even more to cover up our blemishes.

Do We Look Like Ourselves or Someone Else?

The question is, how much is too much? This can easily be answered by how we look in the mirror. Do we look like ourselves or someone else?

Makeup is a powerful tool. With it, we can look like anyone we want to, even if that person has no remote resemblance to us. With our favorite influencers and YouTubers constantly going glam and putting on full faces, we become trained to associate attractiveness with excess. We associate confidence and empowerment with excess, and the real us becomes buried beneath it all.

We became trained to associate confidence, empowerment, and attractiveness with excess.

When we cover up too much, we lose sight of not only how we look but what we think of ourselves. We don’t go to the gym or the grocery without makeup on, and we become convinced we shouldn’t go out in public with our natural appearance. We don’t like what we see when we look at ourselves, and even if we’re consistently using too much, it’s never enough. Worst of all, we believe our bare face isn't good enough.

In reality, influencers and cosmetic companies aren’t concerned with how good or bad you look or whether you like yourself or not. They’re focused on selling you something you need in moderation, if you need it at all. They’re not focused on bettering your self-esteem or even selling you products in an ethical, non-sketchy way. But we make them our role models anyway.

If your face and neck are different colors or if you can’t make an expression without creasing five inches of makeup, you’re probably using and abusing makeup. But what really matters is if you prefer what you see in the mirror when you’re heavily made up instead of what you see before you put it all on.

Closing Thoughts

Our everyday beauty is being hidden underneath fake lashes and mounds of contour. We’re buying into a profitable industry, and we’re also buying into the narrative that we need hundreds of products to be attractive. 

Everyone deserves concealer and a touch of blush now and then, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to enhance what we’re naturally gifted with. But we run the risk of becoming addicted to looking like someone we’re not and losing our identity in the process of constantly seeking to be “attractive.” It’s time we redefine those standards and encourage celebrating our traits and features without using and abusing cosmetics.

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