The Power of Make-Up

Ephemeral trends are an integral part of social media, with at times, little evidence as to how and why they went viral, and amongst which group of individuals.

One of the trends that garnered widespread buzz in 2015 was around a series of images and videos showcasing how make-up does not only alter one’s image but also perceptions of who you are. This trend was dubbed the Power of Make-up.

Was it meant to defend perceptions of women in digital media, was it an anti-natural beauty movement, or simply a fun and ephemeral social media challenge?

We went back to the origins of this movement to try and understand its appeal and uncover motivations for engaging with it. Our qualitative analysis of social media posts indicated that it had been interpreted in many ways by social media users and was followed by different types of users. This piqued our curiosity and made us want to explore why it had captured the imagination of so many.

How did the Power of Make-up go viral?

The Power of Make-up burst onto the social media scene in Spring 2015 when Dutch vlogger Nikkie posted a video on her YouTube channel, showing her putting make-up on one half of her face, leaving the other one untouched. Nikkie explained her motivation for posting the video by saying "I feel like lately makeup shaming has become a thing. It's as if putting makeup on to have fun is a shame. Therefore, I thought it would be cool to show you the power of makeup. A transformation. Because FUN!" The video has gathered 26.4 million views to date. A video posted on 2nd May showing a South Korean user removing her make-up on only one side of her face, had also garnered 3.1M views. The Power of Make-up trend was born.

The Power of Make-up trend started as a counter movement to photo bashing and make-up shaming which had started earlier in 2015. Vlogger Emma Ford’s YouTube video You look Disgusting posted on 1st July 2015, was also part of that counter movement. The video has since been viewed 17.9 million times.

There is no doubt that the increase in beauty vlogging contributed to the Power of Make-Up trend taking hold. Vloggers showing themselves without make-up demonstrated that transformation was open to everyone.

A social media challenge?

The Power of Make Up was perceived as a challenge by numerous young women posting pictures of their faces with only one half covered with make-up, or posting two pictures of themselves side-by-side, one with make-up and the other none. Like other Facebook or Twitter challenges, this aspect of the trend was strongest amongst millennials and post-millennials.

For some users, the action of sharing half made-up pictures was a way to show their solidarity online to the pro-make-up cause.

As journalist Jonathan Borge described it in Instyle magazine, "The video of Nikkie was seen as the first of the kind to give a voice to the ones who actually love putting make-up and were afraid of looking fake by showing it, given the "natural beauty empowering move" going on these last years."

In an article focusing on the "selfie obsession", blogger Olivier Cimelière reported that 85% of 18-24s regularly take selfies, suggesting the selfie has turned from a trend to a mainstream digital behaviour.

This article also highlights social media users’ growing self-obsession, built on Instagram and Twitter and fuelled by the emergence of apps that allow users to play with their personal image (e.g. Makeup Genius from L’Oreal). This would therefore partly explain why the idea went viral, as it served to stroke users’ egos, whilst having fun in transforming their own image.

Users’ efforts to build their own virtual image on social media or "online lives" as described on could also explain the high levels of engagement with the Power of Make-up. As such, going pro- or anti-make-up was a way for users to take a stance and stamp their virtual personality.

Different things to different users?

Our research uncovered different interpretations of what the Power of Make-up is. Nikkie’s video was a catalyst in highlighting the transforming power of make-up, which was then declined differently by distinct user groups. In order to understand the spread of motivations for embracing the trend, we analysed 200 mentions qualitatively. Our analysis revealed three different interpretations of the Power of Make-up, with three distinct groups at their origin.

Make-up advocates

The make-up advocates were the majority group helping fuel buzz around the Power of Make-up. Including bloggers, vloggers, journalists and individual users, this group explained that putting make-up on was fun and should primarily be considered as such. Women posting a picture of their face half made-up acknowledged their picture could be viewed by a large audience and were not afraid to show their real selves.

Other bloggers and make-up advocates praised the idea of making a positive change to their everyday look using make-up. The Power of makeup was also used to endorse total facial transformation for transgender users, and was hijacked by make-up artists to demonstrate their make-up skills.

On the fence

The second group we identified had a less polarised views. The idea of having fun and playing with make-up once in a while, yet looking natural and enhancing one's natural beauty was how they interpreted the Power of Make-Up. As blogger Abi describes, you need to embrace your natural beauty but also to have some fun and play around with makeup once in a while.

This was expressed by contributor Shirin on with social media catching on, there was a need for girls to look picture perfect all the time, as if the paparazzi followed us all. But now it’s all about the natural look, and the bravest thing women have done is going half and half. Women are really embracing and accepting how they really look, and are also telling you how they want to look!

Missed the point?

A handful of users seemed to have missed the original point of Nikkie’s video resulting in these users advocating the opposite message to that originally intended. In an Ugly Betty-style video, vlogger dope2111 praised the use of make-up to make one-self more attractive to the opposite sex, hence stereotyping the use of make-up.

Ultimately, the Power of Make-up was a phenomenon that empowered users to emancipate via social media.

So is the Power of Make-up an ephemeral trend or here to stay? It has certainly gone beyond social media being mentioned in mainstream publications such as The Independent and Hindustantimes.

Marie Staveley, Brand Analyst, Brand Insight

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