Was there a tipping point? A moment at which the definition of beauty cracked open and no longer pointed to one body type, age, ethnicity, or gender as its apex and ideal? Just as there is no longer one image that suggests what is beautiful, there is also no single word to describe beauty. Perfection has been replaced by authenticity, and this shift is evident most plainly in our language. As we have changed the way we talk about beauty, we have begun to change the way we think about it, too.
Allure magazine announced last year that it would “stop using the term ‘anti-aging,’” and while editors like myself were already beginning to move away from it, I can’t say we have found a suitable replacement. And that is understandable, because the idea itself is outdated and meaningless. We are not merely waging a war against wrinkles and cellulite, but instead we are considering ourselves lucky if we are moving forward and getting older every day (for some very beautiful examples of this, search the hashtag #agingisaprivilege on Instagram). It is not that we don’t want to look our best; it’s that we can look our best at every age, without denying or renouncing aging. And the language we use shapes our perception or understanding of that possibility.
It is not that we don’t want to look our best; it’s that we can look our best at every age.
This is a cultural shift that owes almost entirely to social media. The rise of digital platforms has given a voice to all, and so women of all ages and ethnicities are telling brands how they really feel and what they really want. That dialogue is affecting the way products are formulated. Skin-care companies are focusing on the aesthetic concerns of our time (creams that tighten the neck skin that wrinkles when we look down at our screens and highlighting makeup that mimics digital filters), as well as how and where raw materials are sourced, which ingredients should be left out, and who has been overlooked in the makeup aisle.
With consumers speaking up, new brand concepts are coming to market. The makeup line Mented Cosmetics, for example, was developed precisely because its cofounders, KJ Miller and Amanda E. Johnson, couldn’t find a nude lipstick to suit their deeper skin tones. As Johnson says, “We don’t all have pink lips.” So last year they launched a brand around what was missing: hues that have been designed specifically for women of color. The concept has been welcomed by women and investors alike: The pair recently raised $3 million in funding. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Flesh, a new Revlon-backed brand developed by former Allure editor in chief Linda Wells, have been celebrated for their extensive offerings for people of every skin tone (though it should be noted that brands like MAC, Make Up For Ever, and Dermablend have always done this). The good news is that increasingly brands are taking note. It is another march forward.
Ironically, even as we celebrate diversity and aging, we have never been able to alter our appearances more thanks to noninvasive cosmetic procedures. That, too, is its own allowance, and at a time when “you do you” has become the prevailing ethos, we can decide how we will define aging—in both our language and appearance.