Glossier and the “clean girl” myth

Glossier’s brand is all about the natural look, advertising barely-there makeup to achieve a minimalist “clean girl” aesthetic (which received a resurgence in popularity due to TikTok). Its motto, ‘Skin first, makeup second’, launched the virality of no-makeup makeup, and can be seen as promoting a healthy beauty lifestyle in which we focus on taking care of our bodies. 


However, the idea of ‘makeup second’ assumes perfect Glossier skin. Only a small, privileged few can lay claim to this, and oftentimes it requires money. Aestheticians have seen more and more increasingly asking for the “no-makeup look”, leading one to believe that this ideal isn’t as natural or effortless as Glossier presents, but actually entails a good deal of time and money. The no-makeup look can take hours of skincare, cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery, which only a small percentage can afford. The “clean girl” aesthetic has often been criticised for being classist, but when we apply this to a popular brand like Glossier it becomes obvious — we’re being asked to buy overpriced products built for skin that requires money to upkeep anyway. These treatments wouldn’t be a problem if Glossier and the “clean girl” aesthetic it promotes didn’t emphasise naturalness as its focal point. The models advertising a swipe of barely-there makeup have a certain privilege that the vast majority cannot afford. 


It massively excludes those with problematic skin. Although it goes without saying that every makeup product should be able to be worn by anyone, the no-makeup look that Glossier bases its products upon doesn’t include acne, or other skin issues. Those prone to breakouts or cystic acne don’t find their skin represented or catered to, despite the fact that the brand’s been around since 2014 (it’s had time to become more inclusive). Even its skincare is built for “perfect” skin, reinforcing the need for extraneous investment in skincare and cosmetic treatments in order to fit the Glossier ideal. Their use of fragrances disregards sensitive skin, and their lack of clarity on the strength of each chemical can result in these products triggering acne problems. They won’t, however, cause problems if you had “perfect” skin to begin with.


A Glossier Instagram video from October 2019 sees bright faced and clear skinned models describing what “Glossier skin” is: clean, dewy, healthy, and natural. This further perpetuates the image that Glossier sells, and makes it clear that the brand excludes those whose skin isn’t as clear as that of the models. Many seize upon this in their efforts to attain the “clean girl” aesthetic; but we need to be more critical and conscious of the brands we choose, if, like Glossier, they exclude those who don’t fit a certain privileged model. 


Emily Weiss has now stepped down from being CEO to take on the role of Executive Chairwoman, but as the founder of Glossier she’s irrevocably tied to its image and the messages it spreads. This is why Weiss’ six month pre-wedding preparation involving extensive treatment of ‘limbs, skin, wanted hair, unwanted hair, nails, muscles, digestive tract, lashes, and brows’ is so significant for its incongruence with her brand’s celebration of minimalism. The article disclosing these details was published on ‘Into the Gloss’, Glossier’s blog, so it’s impossible to separate the brand and these extensive treatments. This hypocrisy reveals how much of Glossier’s emphasis on naturalness is a pretence to sell a certain image, when, in reality, this image requires a great deal of effort and privilege. Even Weiss, a millionaire, was only ‘8/10’ happy with how she looked after all these treatments. Glossier has perpetuated the notion of natural perfection so much so that even money can’t always buy satisfaction. 


The fact is that there are alternatives to Glossier, selling cheaper, more inclusive products with wider shade ranges. But Glossier doesn’t really sell products; it sells an aesthetic. 


Featured image: Reuben Mansell on Unsplash

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