During the longest lockdown in the world, I found myself having to find new forms of entertainment. I’ve tried cooking, spring cleaning, reviving my Netflix account, and endlessly bingeing YouTube videos. However, there’s one content form that really caught my attention — the viral Instagram beauty trends.
From the OG heavy contouring to using pantry items as colour correctors, these beauty videos have flooded our feeds and Explore pages. Entire makeup and skincare routines could be condensed into minutes-long videos set to a catchy tune. Though I know that personally, I wouldn’t be packing on the cream contour sticks and baking my face anytime soon, I can’t help but wonder: what’s so appealling about viral Instagram beauty trends?
The root of Instagram’s viral beauty trends
According to Robert Welsh, a professional makeup artist who also makes reaction videos of viral makeup hacks on his YouTube channel, these social media beauty trends were made to “grab attention” and “go viral” but aren't fit for real life. Common misused techniques such as colour correcting and excessive amounts of concealers and foundations are presented as the secrets to creating a bomb makeup look when they really aren’t. Yet, here I am, still watching these videos even though I wouldn’t be recreating them on my own face.
It’s understandable that such techniques are used for makeup videos. The heavier shades and layers appear prominently on-camera, and when coupled with a great lighting set-up, creates the appearance of flawlessly blended makeup looks. So while there’s a somewhat practical reason behind the heavy-handed approach, people can be led to believe that this is the professional makeup norm. Welsh even said that he was once asked why he wasn’t using a spoon to create a cut crease, which is a popular makeup hack on Instagram.
Then we have the artistic beauty trends like cloud makeup and watercolour eyeshadow as well as the more out-of-the-box and parodied trend of wavy eyebrows and controversial clown contouring. The weirder or more colourful the makeup, the higher the likelihood that it will catch the Internet’s attention.
What makes it so appealing?
One of the reasons why it's so easy to get caught up in these videos is because they're so digestible. In five minutes, you could have already seen five to a dozen looks. But these bite-sized content don’t show everything. The real minutes of blending away the excessive amount of product are carefully edited out, leaving you to appreciate the final look with a single snap of a finger. These are easy enough to process, yet could also be potentially misleading — especially to those interested in pursuing makeup as a career. Not everyone can go to makeup school, so we’re seeing a rise of self-taught makeup artists and influencers like James Charles learning from the Internet. Experience is a great learning tool in any field of work, but so is learning from seasoned mentors.
There’s also an element of living vicariously through these beauty influencers. Products featured in viral Instagram beauty videos either have a luxurious price (as is the case with Farsali, a popular brand used by Instagram beauty gurus), are exclusive to limited countries or come from hyped-up brands. For most of us, acquiring these items will take some time and saving up. But if you don’t wear that much makeup IRL, it’s pointless to buy them. So, we turn to these videos to see these products in action and dream about trying them in person someday.
It's also possible that avid makeup tutorial viewers achieve a sense of inflated confidence in their own makeup skills just by watching these short videos. A 2018 study by University of Chicago researchers suggests that the more one sees others performing a task, the more their belief in their ability to execute the same task increases. So the more we watch videos showing how to apply makeup, the more we receive a confidence boost.
The dangers of falling into the Instagram beauty trap
While we can’t deny that these Instagram beauty gurus are very talented and creative in their own rights, they still pose a danger for their viewers. Many people watch these videos as forms of instructional material — hence, the use of the word "tutorial" — yet such techniques are not one-size-fits-all. As Welsh pointed out in his video, if aspiring makeup artists are being taught that applying heavy layers of foundation, concealer, and powder is the normal way of doing makeup, this could have serious negative consequences.
Don't get us wrong, these makeup looks are undeniably beautiful. But, as Welsh points out with his professional opinion, the excessive amount of product would not look appealing on photos or in the daylight (since these videos are shot in professional or very flattering lighting) as well as bridal clients or those with mature skin. It unknowingly sets highly unrealistic expectations, when comparing it from the Instagram video to the real thing, since every form of media has the power to influence the way we think. This observation supports the results of the study as well since participants who experienced a confidence boost from repeatedly watching instructional videos had to re-evaluate their initial estimation of their abilities.
Take it all with a grain of salt
So what do we do when we fall into the Instagram wormhole? As with everything you see on the Internet, it’s best to take it with a grain of salt. Not every makeup tip, hack, or trend will suit you or your everyday situation. Some will work and some may not. Read up on a product’s reviews, both written and visual. But keep your expectations low when trying out a social media beauty trend in real life. At the end of the day, these viral videos of Instagram beauty trends are simple forms of entertainment — not the makeup bible.
Speaking of guilty pleasures, here’s how you can responsibly indulge in retail therapy amidst a pandemic.