Sunday, 14 February 2010

Cosmetic Identity

There has been a wide range of creative make up applications seen on this blog so far, sometimes the link to cosmetic application has been incredibly subtle, and the materials used, symbols and representations have been as important to acknowledge as the ways in which the make up creatives share identities and distinguish themselves and/or their work as different from others.  In light of this, having recently re read an old article from the Independent on Sunday (September 2009) written by Rhiannon Harries, titled "In the Twinkling of an Eye', it is interesting to put her views in perspective.  She discusses the use of extreme make up as a feature of catwalk fashion, and the dissemination of the approach to avant garde beauty onto the high street via musical icons such as Lady Gaga, La Roux, Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine), and Beth Ditto.  In it, Alex Box (Illamasqua) is cited as believing that the experimental vibe that is transforming our attitudes to make up can be attributed to one person,
"There was a tipping point and it was Amy Winehouse", she says emphatically.  "A while ago she was absolutely the zeitgeist with her east London rockabilly look and I noticed the influence immediately.  Chanel did a take on it for one of its shows, Italian Vogue did a take on it.  Everbody took something from her look."

"Suddenly girls everywhere were going bigger with their eyes, their hair, their lips.  But not in a Jordan way - it wasn't just sexy glamour, it had an edge and people were putting their own personality into it.  In a short space of time, that has become so normal.  For me, it was a massive turning point in people's personal make-up."
However I am loathe to attribute the inspiration for the use of the avant garde within make up to popular culture alone.  Pushing the boundaries so that make up is used in ways that diverges from its traditional function of enhancing areas of the face in an attempt to define sexual attractiveness, is one that has also been explored within ClubCulture and by image makers for some time now.  In this sense, although as individuals we have to take up identities actively, those identities are necessarily the product of the society in which we live and our relationship with others. Identity provides a link between individuals and the world in which they live. Identity combines how I see myself and how others see me. Identity involves the internal and the subjective, and the external. It is a socially recognised position, recognised by others, not just by me.

The concept of identity encompasses some notion of human agency; an idea that we can have some control in constructing our own identities. There are, of course, constraints which may lie in the external world, where material and social factors may limit the degree of agency which individuals may have.  This construction of new representations, of new models, is a complex phenomenon, which implies several levels of analysis. The goal of this blog is to highlight the various social aspects, which might be related to the process of constructing an identity. The choice of such a goal is not an accident; it is repeatedly demonstrated that body representation, and especially feminine body representation, is the central pillar of any power relationship, either in the case of a man/woman relationship, or in the case of the more general relationship between politics and femininity.  It is one that popular music culture utilises for its own ends.  One only has to look to Bowie and the New Romantics/Blitz Kids to confirm this appropriation of style and attitude.

This is a fine line to balance, once the desire to construct a formal identification with beauty is removed, what are we left with?  As Box so succinctly puts it, "Where does doing something interesting and different tip over into ugliness?'


  1. The subject of beauty is so broad and varying, and as I am exposed to more, and learn more, my definition of the subject changes, stretches, and distorts itself almost daily. Something interesting and different tips over into ugliness when there isn't a certain understanding of life and individual motivation. Beauty has no fixed aesthetic, and people who believe that it is, do not understand beauty. Beauty is repulsion and intrigue, horror, and flaws. Sadly, the same idea of what is beautiful continues to permeate society.

  2. brilliant post!! I am very interested int he cojnstruction and deconstruction of identity through make-up. Image makers have been conversing on the subject in the 21st century, and through music idols and the industry, it has been known to heighten it even more.

  3. Hello there, thanks for your recent comment on this post. It has certainly made me consider the tipping point that Dr Box is referencing. Often it is cited as excessive, tarty or even grotesque. But those that understand make-up as a tool for experimenting with identity value it's capacity to reflect our changing ideas surrounding identity.