The Representation of Beauty on Instagram: Beauty on Fleek

Before the introduction of the popular phrase on social media “Eyebrows on Fleek” eyebrows and the precision of makeup or the lack thereof was an un-monumental act. Peaches Monroee’s satisfied declaration of her groomed eyebrows then resulted in the phrase “Eyebrows on Fleek”. What was once well made up eyebrows, contouring and makeup overall has now become a spectacle in the eyes of social media. The phrase has branched out from having eyebrows that are “on point” to revolving an overall trend on Instagram where beauty on a woman’s body and how she paints it, has become a site for discipline.

At the start of the course we defined discipline as a training to obey rules, a code and a punishment in order to correct behavior. Having good eyebrows according to Instagram means having them be “on point” or just right, in terms of the use of makeup to enhance them or the grooming required to have the right shape. It is assumed that there must be a form of control on them. It is something to be worked on, and discipline is needed to have good brows. If not, the punishment results in a judgment of character, of not having a control of brows, a grasp on life and what it means to look like a woman. This is done to achieve the “ideal woman’s body” especially over the look of a natural makeup. Makeup is shown as productive in that it allows the freedom to paint oneself however they want. It also is repressive because to have good eyebrows is to follow certain rules about how a woman looks.

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Since the birth of “Eyebrows on Fleek” the trend has transferred to Instagram, where it meets with other trends in makeup such as the dramatic contouring that Kim Kardashian wears or the exaggerated lining of the lips that Kylie Jenner often sports. Much of this makeup can resemble what some call natural and what others find similar to drag queen makeup. Many of the popular hashtags surrounding these trends are #instagrameyebrow #instamakeup #eyebrowsonfleek and #kyliejennerchallenge where instagram users put on display their makeup, and general transformation of the face to be judged by others.

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In Sweetman’s Anchoring the (Postmodern) Self?: Body modification, fashion and identity he writes about how the “modification of the body’s surface,” in this case makeup being the tool, can help to “construct a viable sense of self-identity” (307). The woman posting their makeup looks on Instagram are perhaps adding to the identity of what it means to have the ideal woman’s body. though Sweetman talks about tattooing, the adornment of the face can also indicate the “construction of a coherent and consistent self-narrative” (307). Makeup is a construct of self identity, but ultimately a tool for the construct of the ideal woman.

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With the female body comes discipline and rules that dictate it. Often on Instagram, those that have eyebrows on fleek, put eyebrows above other grooming and who practice the rigorous shading involved in the “instagram eyebrow” are applauded. Anyone with mediocre brows or makeup skills are shown by example that their own brows can be worked on and shaped by discipline much like Foucault’s idea on the docile bodies . He believes that the body that is docile can be “subjected, used, transformed, and improved” (136). Eyebrows on fleek is more than just a celebration of what one think makes a perfectly groomed eyebrow. It means that those claiming strong eyebrows game are then meeting the standards of what it means to be a woman, that training is occurring in a “look,” and that an ideal of what good makeup and brows look like is kept in mind, like that of Cara Delevigne, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner.

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Having discipline requires having the knowledge of what matters when it comes to beauty. This comes in the form of beauty videos on Youtube, influencers like celebrities, or by observing the looks filed under the #instamakeup. Along with knowledge, the act of purchasing makeup goods conveys what Veblen would call “conspicuous consumption” in that money is used to show off not just wealth, but knowledge in how to use certain makeup products. Those with a highest skill level who can pull off makeup looks that are not over the top are ranked higher on Instagram. For Veblen this act of conspicuous consumption can be seen as nonproductive because its about showing the consumption of makeup products, however its productive in that it shows others on Instagram the transformative power of makeup. This is similar to Foucault’s idea that discipline is productive in addition to repressive, meaning that if the women that show their makeup looks on Instagram are disciplined enough, they are showing others that this work can be productive because they feel good about themselves and want others to feel good as well by then imitating the look. 

image via https://instagram.com/ladychebli/

In order for beauty on Instagram to be an act of conspicuous consumption, there needs to be an authority or an authentic voice on the subject. Makeup artists and beauty gurus such as Wayne Goss produce videos demonstrating how to achieve a certain look and how to use makeup, all while talking about it and showing off. His position as “authentic” then gives him the power to critique and punish the beauty trends on Instagram. His most recent controversial videos touch on how he thinks the Instagram eyebrow should be illegal, and how Instagram is turning girls into drag queens. What he proposes is a more natural makeup. In his two videos he says that Instagram beauty is all rooted from “drag technique” which is seen in the fading technique on the Instagram brows. For him there is a spilling of drag makeup into the makeup world for “non-drag people”. Instead of makeup being used to transform male to women, to soften features and look like the real life ideal woman, the drag technique turns woman into an “Instagram ideal,” where the face shape becomes more angular and masculine because of makeup. This could then be read like a form of “camp” in that what is considered drag makeup is put on women who wish to perform a form of drag that says that they are in control, are proud of their look and assures their self-identity as ultra feminine. Perhaps women are then escaping the “trapping of oppression” that Frye touches on in “Politics of Reality” which plays on the way drag queens do their makeup (137).

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In Jantzen, Ostergaard, & Vieira “Becoming a ‘Woman to the Backbone’: Lingerie Consumption and the Experience of Feminine Identity” the authors write that women judge the way others wear their lingerie and then put them into groups in order to better understand them (196). Instagram makeup serves a similar purpose in that makeup artists like Wayne Goss or other women on Instagram can judge who is trying to adhere to the Instagram ideal versus the natural makeup ideal. Instagram and beauty gurus become sites where the rules are taught and perpetuated as well as a tool to control the women on Instagram.

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Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. “Docile Bodies.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.

Frye, Marilyn. The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing, 1983. 136-41. Print.

Jantzen, Ostergaard, & Viera. “Becoming a ‘woman to the backbone’: Lingerie consumption and the experience of feminine identity”. Journal of Consumer Culture. Sage Publications: July 2006. 177-202.

Sweetman, P. “Anchoring the (Postmodern) Self? Body Modification, Fashion and Identity.” Body & Society 5.2-3 (1999): Print.

Veblen, Thorstein, and Stuart Chase. The Theory of the Leisure Class; an Economic Study of Institutions. New York: Modern Library, 1934

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