Photo courtesy of Circe Denyer / PublicDomainPictures.net

Permanent Makeup and the Blemishes of Society

These days, it seems like you can’t scroll through any type of social media feed without stumbling upon some new beauty, fashion, or diet craze: feathered eyebrows, the return of mom jeans, unfortunately even “appetite-suppressant lollipops” (Thanks, Kim K.). One trend that is quickly gaining traction, particularly among young women, is “permanent makeup,” such as eyebrow microblading, eyelash extensions, lip tattooing, and more. In general, the point of undergoing these procedures is so that consumers can wake up looking “ready” and “beautiful” without having to spend as much time on their beauty routine. On the surface, permanent makeup seems harmless if not superfluous, but what does its increasing popularity tell us about current societal norms, beauty standards imposed on women, and positive body image?

Permanent body art can be traced back to the Stone Age, around 3300 B.C., and according to research, was used by ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, and Greeks, to name a few. In the West, women flocked to the tattoo fad in the nineteenth century, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that cosmetic tattooing was popularized, and when it was, it was introduced to help patients with conditions that cause hair loss, like alopecia. From there, the practice took off, being utilized by cancer patients, burn victims, and those with arthritis or Parkinson’s disease, who have difficulty gripping and using makeup tools.

More recently, however, permanent makeup has become a trendy treatment for women who want to quicken up their makeup routine or simply want a little extra enhancement. Eyebrow microblading and micropigmentation have blown up in recent years; tattoo artists will create small, hair-like strokes that either last up to 2 or 5 years. Similarly, lash enhancement tattoos on the eyelids are essentially tattooed-on eyeliner which can last for 3 to 5 years. Eyelash extensions—the attachment of individual silk, mink, or synthetic lashes to existing lashes—only last for about a month, but fall under the same umbrella as semi-permanent and permanent makeup. Following the recent “trend” of having bigger, fuller lips, lip tattooing has also become marketable.

These procedures, individually, can range anywhere from $750 to $1,400 and can cause serious health issues later in life such as granulomas, keloids, blisters, scars, and more. According to Dr. Jessica Krant, a New York dermatologist, other unfavorable side effects have included H.I.V., hepatitis, and staph, as a result of contaminated needles and allergic reactions to dyes.

So, considering permanent makeup can be exceptionally pricey, both literally and physically, why is it becoming so popular among average women? Why do so many of us feel the need to be constantly camera-ready? And why do we have to “wake up ready”?  The answers, as you might have already guessed, probably have a lot to do with beauty expectations for women.

“The idea of ‘the male gaze' has always existed but because of the development of social media there is this new medium for the male gaze to be amplified and puts even more pressure on our appearance,” said Mariah Belisle, CSOM '21. “But as someone who enjoys using makeup to amplify my own features, I think that as long as women decide to use permanent makeup for their own happiness and with the intent to enhance their own features rather than replace or cover themselves, it’s a cool development.”

There has always been an enormous pressure for women to conform to whatever society decides is attractive at that moment; but right now, for the younger generation of women, this pressure has been multiplied by the omnipresence of social media. They are taught to idolize Instagram models and feel like they aren’t enough. Some women want permanent makeup so that they can roll out of bed and head out the door with a natural beauty look accomplished without effort. (And here's another double standard: women are taught that they should have enough makeup on their face so that they appear acceptable, but not too much that they don’t look “natural.”)

Who knows what the future of permanent makeup entails? It could gradually fade out, as many fads do, or it may become as standard for women as ear piercings. It’s made an incredible difference for people with health complications who want these procedures. And for the average woman, permanent makeup is a trend that can be an effective way to enhance one's features, if done correctly and for the right reasons.

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