‘When you’re building it up, you want that first or second sweep to be like BAM!’, gliding a brush packed with iridescent powder across the peaks of her cheekbones, LA beauty influencer Joanna Vongphoumy shows over 100-thousand viewers how to apply the ‘perfect highlight’. Having spent the minutes prior attaching false eyelashes, applying full coverage foundation and contouring her face, she reveals the secrets to achieving the ultimate ‘Instagram Makeup’ look.

Any user who has spent even a moment diving into Instagram’s beauty content will be familiar with this aesthetic. Described by Vongphoumy herself as the ‘Kylie Jenner-look’, it’s an approach to beauty that favours the selfie ready over the naturally beautiful. ‘The way I define Instagram makeup is full on glam’, says the influencer. ‘It’s a sharp brow and bold eye make-up’. Applying deep bronzers to dramatically accentuate the shadows of the face and shimmering highlighters to ensure that skin always captures the best light.. Taking guidance from stage make up, drama-inducing beauty techniques adored by drag queens, it’s an approach to beauty created for those who thrive in the limelight. But in a time where each of our devices prime us to be camera ready at all times, the look has caught on.

Professor Heather Widdows, Perfect Me

We’re looking at beauty through a HD television gaze.

‘We’re looking at beauty through a HD television gaze’ says Professor Heather Widdows. The University of Birmingham academic’s most recent work, entitled Perfect Me, explores how our understanding of beauty has developed with the rise of technology. Sharing the title of her work with a popular photo editing app of the same name, Widdows explains that the way we understand beauty is evolving, and the way we present ourselves on social media in person is a reflection of that change. In the Perfect Me app users can smoothen their skin, pinken their pouts and even modify the contours of their face all at the touch of a button. The aim is to achieve the same level of ‘flawlessness’ we tend to see in images of celebrities and popular influencers. ‘We know that the images (of them) are edited, we know that the celebrities don’t look like that and yet we still absorb those images and then compare ourselves,’ Widdows explains. As the Instagram Makeup trend celebrates the use of high-coverage foundations to conceal the smallest of pores and contour-kits that have the power to reshape a jaw-line at the swipe of a wand, the beauty movement can be seen as an in-real-life extension of Perfect Me technology.


The financial success of individuals through the world of beauty is leading increasing numbers of young women to correlate their physical appearance with success and achievement..  At just 21 years of age, beauty mogul Kylie Jenner turned a million figure social media following into a $900,000,000 cosmetic empire, whilst bloggers YouTube ‘gurus’ and entrepreneurs Desi Perkins and Michelle Phan have a net-worth of between 1 to 3 million dollars.

“It used to be the case that you compare yourself to your peer group, and that used to be girls in your class or your village,” observes Widdows, “ but now, it’s the whole virtual world.’  The proliferation of millions of perfectly poised and manipulated photographs are drawing a distinct parallel between one’s looks and success. Vongphoumy, admits that she herself only does her makeup in an exaggerated way when sharing content on the social platform. However within her immediate circle, the blogger reveals that she has friends that rely on wearing makeup to perform everyday tasks, ‘they feel as though they can’t leave the door without it’.

Florrie White, Make Up Artist

I think it’s innate in humans to want to be like the best person.



Where feminist critic Naomi Wolf once proposed that women are taught to view themselves through the eyes of men, are we now priming ourselves for the consumption of a wider audience? For celebrity makeup artist Florrie White, the social media led beauty world offers two opposing views.  White, who works regularly with clients such as Alexa Chung, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, believes that in many ways, apps like Instagram offer what she calls a lipstick sisterhood. ‘It’s brilliant that it does give confidence to people’, she explains, ‘but some people find it very difficult as they’re constantly comparing themselves to follow this perfect life that’s on Instagram.’


White views the Instagram Makeup aesthetic a demonstration of the pressures women have continuously felt to gain the idealised features of the time. ‘I always imagine that makeup started among a tribe or a group of cavemen’, she explains. ‘If there was one really beautiful female who had the darker brow or the pinker lips, the other females would want to look like them and would maybe put some kohl on their eyes or stain their lips. I think it’s innate in humans to want to be like the best person.’ In today’s digital world, ‘the best person’ is often recognised as the individual with the most Instagram likes, YouTube video views and virtual validation. So, the question raised is, how can we stay authentic in an age that celebrates the beauty of artificiality?


Joanna Vongphoumy is a Californian based beauty blogger, influencer and model, follow her tutorials here.

Professor Heather Widdows, BD (Hons), PhD, is the John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics and the Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research Impact at the University of Birmingham. Her latest academic work focuses on a variety of ethical and global philosophy, in her forthcoming book Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal explores beauty in a modern age.

Florrie White is a make up artist who has worked on some of the biggest names in fashion and her work has been featured in Vogue, I-D, Dazed & Confused, Pop and Another Magazine. Follow her work here.