Self-care. That hyphenated word which carries with it both an ethereal desirability, and involuntary eye roll. Or maybe that’s just me. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to wash our hands. Yet perhaps the health professionals aren’t the only ones telling us to clean up our act. If you follow any influencer, news outlet or friend who participates in a pyramid scheme, you’ll find nearly everyone’s been subliminally marketing for us to wash our face.
Being a fiend for the fashion industry, my social media has been inundated with information such as ‘take time out’, ‘don’t beat yourself up for feeling burnt out’ and ‘now is a time to reset’. And what do all these articles suggest as a cure-all for my pandemic blues? My career crisis? My creativity rut? A facemask, of course.
In times of global crisis, people search for what brings us together and seek to identify which industries sink or swim. And in 2020, the traumatic spread of COVID-19 has given a 10-point booster to the already accelerated rise of glycolic acid, cleansers, toners, Dr. Barbara Sturm, and The Ordinary. If you can’t find the link between any of those terms, first of all, lucky you. Secondly, I’m talking about skincare.
Skincare is the dark horse of the beauty industry. However, it hasn’t arisen out of nowhere. I myself am not a skincare fanatic, to which my friends and family probably say thank God. I do not need another expensive hobby. Admittedly, I have been to Mecca and asked one of the makeup artists to tell me about the philosophy behind Drunk Elephant. To be honest, if she hadn’t sounded so hesitant to answer my request, I probably would have caved and bought something.
Watching the skincare trend grow and flourish with everyone stuck at home has been interesting. It seems like a natural addition to complement our evolving expectations of beauty. The selling point of skincare as a preventative measure correlates with the increasing notoriety of cosmetic surgery and Facetune, inspired by the Instagram age. Skincare’s drive for plump skin and a radiant glow is not new. It has always been used as a tool to seemingly reverse ageing with mystical combinations of chemicals to make you look 10 years younger. It’s more that, in 2020, it has a new customer.
Skincare has evolved from a product used in a last-ditch effort to attempt to slow the onset of wrinkled skin and sun damage into a holy grail for beauty gurus in their twenties seeking to erase the idea of ageing altogether from consideration. In the Instagram age, youth is the selling point, with filters intended to give us skin as smooth and soft as a baby, doe-eyed features or a sun-kissed glow. By contrast, ageing filters are a comedic standpoint designed to share with followers and send on to friends, because how outrageous that our skin appears wrinkled?! Imagine looking like that?
Contemporary popular culture encourages our predispositions towards youth valorisation. Countless clickbait Facebook posts praise celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez for her anti-ageing formula which makes her look younger at 50 than she did at 40. On social media, the old-guard of fashion influencers are drawing suspicion for their strategic shifts from selling clothing to becoming ‘family influencers’ as they reach the ominous 30.
Additionally, one cannot write an article about skincare and anti-ageing without mentioning the Kardashian-Jenner effect. The rise of famous plastic surgeons such as Dr Simon Ourian, who the Kardashian clan have openly praised as responsible for their fillers and injections, has normalised the attainability of idealised supermodel perfection with the right equipment and bank balance. There is a whole subset of Instagram where women flaunt their Bratz Doll-esque beauty, with perfect skin, plump lips and larger-than-life eyes. Lil Miquela, a CGI Instagram influencer, has 2.4 million followers, representing the transition of beauty engineered by a computer for mass consumption and comparison. For months, many debated whether Lil Miquela was real or a robot, and if that isn’t ironic, I don’t know what is.
I’m not trying to discount skincare rituals or the self-care phenomenon by any means. There is definitely something to be said for taking time out, and slowing down. But what I personally, and the rest of the world it seems, is increasingly realising, is that health is wealth. Emily Oberg of Sporty and Rich, despite her other controversies, was clearly onto something when she delivered that marketing punch. I don’t think anyone is denying that a 45-minute skincare routine is a luxury. However, tying it with concepts of self-care as a marketing strategy becomes increasingly hedonistic, as well as damaging, veering closer and closer to that cyborg beauty standard we increasingly crave.
Next time I’m in need of some self-care, maybe I’ll revisit Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Something tells me it might resonate differently now.