Whenever I wear makeup—which is nearly every day, even when I don’t leave the safe confines of my studio apartment and venture out into the world, because the Equal Rights Amendment never passed and the patriarchy still runs this bitch—I do so begrudgingly.
I am as unenthusiastic about the multi-billion dollar beauty industry as I am unknowledgeable. My mother never taught me how to aesthetically attract the male gaze via the precise application of powders, liquids and rouges. Instead, she hired a doctor to cut me out of her womb, and after that let me figure everything else out on my own. (She didn’t even teach me how to floss, which has resulted in miscellaneous oral problems; when I recently asked why she neglected to do so, she informed me it was because she personally doesn’t “fucking floss,” but that’s neither here nor there.)
I do not, nor would I ever, own bronzer. I associate “contouring,” the oh-so-popular act of transforming one’s face into a flawless mask of fuckability, with performance of gender that goes beyond my own purview, i.e. drag queens and Kardashians. I acquire my society-approved, dignity-creating $40 foundation from Nordstrom via return fraud. I’ve owned the same eyeliner, which I purchased at the dollar store, for half a decade.
I am, in short, not the target demographic for a workshop entitled “Wow-Factor Makeup for Instagram.” And yet there I found myself, awaiting the start of a course entitled “Wow-Factor Makeup for Instagram” along with about twenty or so traditionally (and by “traditionally,” I mean, “artificially”) more beautiful classmates, the ages and ethnicities of which varied wildly, in a tiny storefront beauty college located in a particularly unglamorous part of Santa Monica, the existence of which an unsolicited mass email had alerted me to.
I was—suspend your disbelief—not wearing makeup at the time. I was, however, wearing a soiled military jacket I had recently stolen from the UCB prop room. My classmates and I were, according to the handout we were given upon entry, about to learn:
• How to create a #nofliter [sic] makeup for social media
• Layering texture for that #flawless finish #contouronfleek
• Perfecting brows and a smoky eye — without the fall out!
• False lash application
• How to apply glitter in all the right places
• All about angles and lighting
Neon cupcakes and individual slices of cheese and crackers sat in the corner; the cheese, untouched, sweated in the waning sunlight of the early evening. Outside, a heavily made up student paced and smoked. Her novelty tank top read, “The Only Coke I Do is Diet.”
As we waited inside, I struck up a conversation with a thirtysomething brunette. She did not expect, nor want, much from the free course, which we soon learned existed solely to act as advertisement for the college’s four-week, $2,000 “Digital Influencer” program, whose start date was gauchely planned for September 11th and would focus on “perfecting your makeup for Instagram [and] Snapchat,” even though Snapchat is, I’m fairly certain, an app wherein horny teens exchange photos of their genitals and little else.
“I’m super basic,” the woman told me. “I’m just looking for tips.” She was confused by the title of the course. “Look good on Instagram?” she asked. “Isn’t that what the filter is supposed to do?”
Our flower-crowned teacher, Donna, began the class by asking, “How many of you guys have heard the phrase ‘Beat Makeup’?” I, naturally, did not raise my hand. I, naturally, was in the minority. Beat Makeup, she explained, is all about “beating that face!”
I found her choice of language troubling, but said nothing.
“We know when we look at [the Kardashians],” she declared, “they’re Beat. And you know what Beat means, right?” A meek girl in the audience, wearing yoga pants, almost inaudibly whispered the correct answer: “Flawless.”
One, of course, is not born flawless. Flawlessness is a privilege, not a right—a privilege afforded to those who can afford the purchase of hundreds of dollars worth of powders, liquids, and accessories, as well as, of course, the expenditure of hours required to apply them. If your boyfriend tells you that you look just as beautiful without makeup as you do with it, he is a goddamned liar. What else is he lying about, Debra?
“Everyone should have two foundations,” Donna informed us. “One that’s warmer, and one that’s colder”—for the center and outer parts, respectively, of our faces. We were not there, however, to learn what we should own solely in order to qualify as female residents of Earth. We weren’t there to learn how to do the bare fucking minimum. We were there to learn how to create Wow-Factor Makeup. For Instagram.
As she mixed foundations with a tiny trowel in preparation to paint them on her abjectly gorgeous model, Donna gave it to us straight. “If you’re doing your makeup for Instagram,” she said, “you’ll probably need five different foundations.” Five. As in four more than one. And three more than two. How long, you may be asking yourself at this point, does it take your average Instagram celebrity to apply these foundations and their accouterment? “I guarantee you it takes at least an hour and a half,” Donna told us.
I thought of published author Kim Kardashian, face illuminated by the blinding, circular light currently affixed on Donna’s model (“You’d be surprised how many Instagrammers have that in their room,” Donna told us, while pointing at it) spending an hour and a half applying five foundations to her face while a nanny in the corner bounced lil’ North West on her knee. An hour and a half seemed genuinely overboard—nearly one fourth of one’s daily waking life. North’s nannies, I thought, surely earn their wage.
Instagram celebrities are considered—by women, anyhow, whose opinions in aesthetic matters are of more value to other women than that of men—to be exceptionally beautiful, the pinnacle of “Beat.” Since one of their job requirements is constantly taking selfies, they must constantly have faces shellacked beyond the reaches previously available to humanity; if you, too, want to be beautiful and envied and constantly look “on fleek” perhaps you should rip a page out of their book and buy five foundations and take “at least an hour and a half” to apply them daily. Perhaps, if you do all this, you can get your own book deal.
Even if you’re not trying to get a book deal, even if you just want to be seen as a social media tastemaker at maximum and fuckable at minimum, Instagram selfies are a time-consuming component of modern femininity. Cosmetics companies are creating products suited specifically for them. And even with the existence of filters, even if you don’t own one of those bizarre, sci-fi circular light things, it is assumed that, if you are under 40 years old and don’t take overwhelmingly flattering selfies, you are less of a woman. It is a terrifying assumption, one that is getting more terrifying all the time.
You see, your smartphone (a.k.a. the most important item in and bane of your existence) is about to have a “super high def,” 4K screen on it—the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S6 already do. 4K screens, Donna explained, have four times the magnifying capacity of the phones we currently hold in our well-manicured little hands. “And that’s gonna be your cell phones, guys,” Donna solemnly said. “It’s a little scary. How are we gonna take all these selfies?”
How indeed? Or, more to the point, how are we going to take them without five foundations to cover up? I find it hard enough to put one on, for Christ’s sake. And don’t get me started on brows.
Filling in one’s eyebrows, Donna told us, is “the hottest trend. Look around the room. Nearly all of you have your brows filled in.” I looked around the room; sure as shit, she was right. “How long does it take to fill in your brows?” she asked a random attendee.
“Two minutes,” the woman replied.
“I am so jealous!” Donna exclaimed, her envy echoed by the rest of the room. The outrageousness of this minimal time commitment set the gals atitter.
Brows, though—at least I understand them. I found myself zoning out as Donna talked about skin smoothing primer, much in the same way I would zone out while listening to a guy rattle off sports statistics. To this crowd, however, these were sports statistics. To them, Instagram was a game, one in which you’ve gotta play to win.
I came to as the gals were collectively gasping at the mention of a woman I had never heard of named Kandee Johnson. “I love everything about her!” one proclaimed. She, of course, was not the only “celebrity” I had never heard of. “Jaclyn Hill is pushing it so hard, with that ‘highlight on fleek,’” Donna gushed, continuing the seemingly endless task of putting makeup on her model. “She’s getting so gnarly, she’s collaborating with all these brands. She just BLEW UP.”
“I don’t get why you keep putting on more,” proclaimed a woman who wore “lipstick, eyeliner, that’s it” as Donna kept applying layer upon layer of foundation and bronzer and blush and God knows what on her volunteer.
Donna explained the layers were necessary in order to create a flawless visage; I, a novice, could not discern many differences in the model’s face as time crawled slowly by. A very, very light blemish was still visible on the right side of her cheek, because even five foundations can’t do everything. Good thing that egregiously bright light was there to blow it out.
At 8:05, Donna had literally been doing her model’s makeup for two hours. And she wasn’t done. A few, frustrated attendees had left—did the remainder want Donna to “just” put on fake eyelashes, or the infinitely more detailed glitter? “GLITTER!” they yelled. “GLITTER!”
One student was so giggly and excited about the prospect of glitter, she set the women’s movement back a solid century. “Look at my nails!” she implored the class. “They’re glitter gels!“ Donna, after literally gluing glitter onto her model, stepped back and admired her handiwork. “God-DAMN!” she exclaimed. “That’s a lot of glitter.”
And yet, in spite of it all, she was not done. It was fake eyelash time. The model was already #blessed enough to possess long eyelashes, but Beatness posed the question, what if they could be…LONGER?
The lesson officially ended, with the piece de resistance of lip gloss, two and a half hours after it began. The attendees got in a single file line; each took “after” pictures of the no-longer human appearing model through the circular light. “What’s your Instagram?” one student asked her. “I’ll tag you.”
Images courtesy of Megan Koester, illustration by Bobby Finger
Megan Koester is a writer and comedian (obviously) living in Los Angeles (somewhat less obviously). You can follow her on Twitter at @bornferal.