Before TikTok convinced us to pledge allegiance to the 'clean girl' and no-makeup makeup had us in a chokehold, beauty obsessives across the globe favoured the more-is-more approach. With the rise of the Kardashian-Jenners and influencers like Huda Kattan (aka Huda Beauty), a typical makeup look almost always featured a good glug of foundation, contouring, bold eyebrows and intricate cut crease eyeshadow. Throw in a statement lip and fluffy false lashes for good measure and you've got it nailed.
Maximalist makeup has been immortalised in Instagram selfies over the years. While it may not be a makeup lover's everyday go-to in 2023, full glam definitely has its place. Now, it seems to be more of a special occasion thing and has recently become known as 'birthday makeup'. And it's fast becoming one of the most hated beauty looks on the internet.
The phrase 'birthday makeup' is now weaponised and shames women who like to wear full glam. Take Urban Dictionary's definition of 'birthday makeup', for example: "When a girl wears too much poorly put on makeup, typically worn on their birthday."
Straight, cisgender men have been scrutinising women's appearances for centuries. But 'birthday makeup' is oddly specific. The hate stinks of misogyny and sexism, and makeup artist Tilly Doody-Henshaw agrees. "'Birthday makeup' is just makeup that you do on your birthday, which requires a little extra time and effort," she told me. And why not? Your birthday is one of the only days of the year when it is all about you, says Tilly. "It normally involves extra shimmer, a statement lip and amping up the contouring. These are all techniques that perhaps you wouldn't do every day." Unfortunately, continued Tilly, most things that women do for themselves, like enjoying the full glam of 'birthday makeup', can be threatening to men.
Head to social media and you'll come across countless hot takes (mostly from men) who list 'birthday makeup' as their biggest ick. Many on Twitter have branded it 'hideous' and 'scary'. Numerous TikTokers are also racking up numbers for ridiculing the makeup look. The hashtag #birthdaymakeup has 139.3 million views currently. "When it's her birthday and you gotta be in public with her with that bday makeup," observed one TikToker in a video with 1.5 million views and hundreds of thousands of likes. "I have no problem with makeup," claimed one guest in a viral TikTok video taken from The Disruption Podcast, who then goes on to criticise 'birthday makeup' throughout.
I wanted to contact some men who have publicly dragged this makeup on social media to find out why. While most declined to comment or left me on read for obvious reasons, a few agreed to chat, though they were keen to remain anonymous. Read into that what you will; I like to think they're embarrassed at being called out. "'Birthday makeup' is fine for a special occasion," said one, "but most guys prefer a natural look on the female they are dating." He then audaciously asserted: "At the end of the day, makeup has to come off and we want to enjoy what we have to look at."
I want to get one thing straight here: women don't owe men a single thing. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, another told me: "I think men just don't like heavy makeup in general. Why do you feel the need to wear all that makeup? Is it societal standards, or are you just not comfortable with yourself?"
A study which evaluated a woman's face with heavy makeup found that she was perceived to have less competence, less warmth and less morality. The findings ooze misogyny.
@georgia.barratt Reply to @_material_gworrl_ one of my fave glams #makeup #beauty #xyzbca ♬ original sound - georgia barratt
Dr Lubna Khan-Salim, skincare expert and cosmetic surgeon, believes the 'birthday makeup' pile-on suggests that men think they have the right to comment on women's beauty or bodies. These sexist standards have transcended history. In Ancient Greece, for example, women were discouraged from wearing lipstick. Only sex workers were permitted to wear it in public.
In her book Lipstick: A Celebration of the World's Favourite Cosmetic, Jessica Pallingston writes that in the Middle Ages, women in England who wore makeup were deemed an "incarnation of Satan". It is reported that parliament drew up laws to punish the use of makeup to "deceive an Englishman into marriage". Later, in the Victorian era, 'obvious' makeup was seen as taboo. Women would buy their makeup in secret and hide it at home.
A final man I quizzed suggested that 'birthday makeup' is capable of 'distorting' a woman's features. He told me: "We don't want to feel as if we've been deceived like everyone else is when you go out in public with such heavy makeup. Natural looks are just so much more pleasing."
Sadly (though not surprisingly) a US study found that 63% of men think women mainly wear makeup to trick people into thinking they're attractive, hinting at an issue of mistrust. In an Refinery29 UK article written by Parisa Hashempour, Dr Brooke Erin Duffy, associate professor at Cornell University, highlighted a frustrating catch-22. Women are "expected to be effortlessly, naturally beautiful in a way that requires things like makeup and filters", said Dr Duffy, but going "too far" will have you observed as "fake, a fraud or narcissistic". This, Dr Duffy said, sets women up for intense scrutiny and ultimately failure.
Either way, we can't win. Mairead Molloy, relationship psychologist and global director at dating agency Berkeley International, echoes this. Is social media the driving force behind such vitriol? "If a woman wears makeup, then she is told she is most likely 'ugly' without it," said Mairead. "On social media especially, I've seen men take to the comments and say things like 'one wipe and it's over'. But if a woman is not wearing makeup and is comfortable with her bare face, she is more often than not told by people that she should wear it to look 'prettier'."
Women who don't often wear makeup feel they, too, are being judged for wearing 'too little'. Commercial model and presenter Linda Egwuekwe told me that she has been encouraged by loved ones to wear more makeup than usual on her wedding day, something she is reluctant to do.
Talking to men who divulge their hatred for 'birthday makeup' proved that there is a common denominator: they all supposedly prefer the 'natural' look. But what actually qualifies as 'natural' in the male opinion? I asked my male friends and Instagram followers to send me pictures of celebrity women wearing what they deemed to be 'natural makeup'.
In response, I received snaps of Selena Gomez, Margot Robbie, Addison Rae and the Kardashian-Jenners wearing what I'd call 'soft glam' (i.e. still a full face of makeup). Sure, there isn't any sparkly glitter or pops of bold colour. But there's contouring, carefully placed blush, smoky winged eyeliner and wispy eyelash extensions. Perhaps even injectables, such as Botox and filler, not to mention subtle filters and clever lighting.
The trend for hating on 'birthday makeup' says more about men and our society — particularly the impossible standards we are held to — than any woman wearing full glam.
It's not a new theory that some men have no idea what natural makeup actually looks like. In a viral TikTok video, one was visibly shocked to learn that a lot of work goes into making it look as though a person isn't wearing any makeup at all. In another viral clip, a man is convinced that the models and celebrities in various pictures he's looking at aren't wearing any makeup. They are. Lots of it.
Dr Khan-Salim rightly points out that women should be at liberty to do what they want when it comes to dressing, applying makeup or anything else that pertains to their identity and individuality. The trend for hating on 'birthday makeup', she expresses, says more about men and our society — particularly the impossible standards we are held to — than any woman wearing full glam. Sure enough, a recent study which evaluated a woman's face with heavy makeup found that she was perceived to have less competence, less warmth and less morality. The findings ooze misogyny.
It isn't just men, though. When it comes to glam makeup, internalised misogyny is also a huge issue. I can't forget 2022's Love Island, where contestant Danica Taylor was often ridiculed for her signature gold smoky eye. Every night, social media was flooded with insulting memes and jokes about her makeup, and even women threw insults. Some urged Danica to stop wearing 'birthday makeup', saying that she looks prettier without it. Others said that her 'birthday makeup' was terrifying men and claimed it was the reason for the lack of attention she was getting.
@adrianxortiz The “Natural Look” IS MADE WITH MAKEUP 😳😳 #fyp #foryoupage #foryourpage #girls #beauty #makeup ♬ Classical Music - Classical Music
TikToker Des recently went viral for questioning women who denounce 'birthday makeup', hinting that it's about seeking validation. "Feels very odd and like [you] only started making fun of it cus men said they didn't like it," Des wrote. "No no no," replied another underneath a viral clip calling 'birthday makeup' unflattering, harsh and aggressive, "birthday makeup is fun and supposed to make you feel happy and exciting. I cannot stand for this."
What's more, plenty of the online contempt towards glam makeup is directed at Black women. It's no secret that lots of current beauty trends are based on Eurocentric, exclusionary beauty standards, so it's all the more upsetting and frustrating that a makeup look enjoyed by many women of colour has amassed such disapproval.
Thankfully, in 2023 we're more likely to call out society's racist, misogynistic and paradoxical beauty ideals. As a result, makeup trends are becoming less about the spectator and more about the wearer and their personal style. "Pretty much every day I get told I wear too much makeup," said TikToker Miah Carter. "I've even had comments saying that people should take me on a first date to a swimming pool and see it all wash off — and it's mostly men that make these kinds of comments."
@miahhcarter Reply to @queen_hood21 here ya have it this is how i do my black eyeshadow look 🥰 tag someone who needs to see this #makeup #makeupartist #tutorial ♬ To Do List - Muni Long
For Miah, full glam makeup means being creative and showing off her skills. "I genuinely do not care one bit about what men — or anyone else — thinks of my makeup," she told Refinery29, "and that's because I wear makeup for me and no one else." Several studies have found a positive link between wearing makeup and self-esteem. Certainly, Mairead thinks we're taking our power back. She believes that if someone has the impudence to comment on your appearance (particularly if they think your look is 'too much'), they're not the kind of person you want to spend time with, anyway.
We exist in a patriarchal society that doesn't value self-expression through makeup. But the time, effort and money that goes into achieving glam or 'birthday makeup' shouldn't be underestimated. Any makeup artist will tell you that perfecting a cut crease takes a truly adept hand, and don't get me started on the skill required to achieve the understated glow of no-makeup makeup.
Women don't owe men authenticity through bare skin, or in general for that matter. Nor do women exist (or do their makeup) to please men. Of course, it's difficult not to internalise judgement, especially when it involves your appearance. But experimenting with makeup (whether a little or a lot) can be such an enjoyable experience. I won't let anyone take that away from me, whether I'm rocking a single swipe of lip gloss or a serious contour.