If you had told me I'd become obsessed with Glow Up: Britain's Next Makeup Star a few weeks ago, I probably wouldn't have believed you. But here I am, head-over-heels in love with the BBC3 series (now streaming on Netflix). In hindsight, my obsession makes perfect sense: Essentially Great British Bake Off for beauty lovers, Glow Up is joyful, heartwarming, and genuinely captivating—whether or not you consider yourself a makeup buff.
I first discovered the show while stuck in isolation with COVID. Desperate for distracting content to binge but too anxious to handle something “serious,” and too tired for anything plot-dependent, I needed a very specific kind of easy-breezy, joy-inducing entertainment that could make me smile. Ideally, one with British accents.
Stumped, I polled my Instagram followers, requesting shows that fit the aforementioned criteria. Dozens of suggestions flooded my inbox: Great Big Flower Fight (also great, but just one season, and not entirely British), The Great Pottery Throw Down, and some less conventional options like Food Wars (this would require a dissertation to adequately explain). But Glow Up stood out above the rest, since I love everything that has to do with beauty and makeup—I mean, look at what I do for a living. I turned on the TV and started watching, and next thing I knew I was emerging days later, having finished all four seasons and following every Glow Up contestant on Instagram. I was, and am, obsessed.
The premise of Glow Up is simple and delightfully familiar: 10 supremely talented aspiring makeup artists, referred to as MUAs throughout, compete in an array of makeup-related challenges, like nailing catwalk-ready glam for London Fashion Week, applying theatrical makeup for Cirque du Soleil, and creating creepy characters using prosthetics for upcoming episodes of Doctor Who.
Alongside host Maya Jama, the MUAs are judged by L’Oréal Paris global makeup director Val Garland and MAC Cosmetics global senior artist Dominic Skinner, as well as a weekly guest judge whose expertise relates to the task at hand. This intimidating list of beauty icons includes Fenty Beauty global makeup artist Hector Espina, H&M Beauty global creative director Marjorie Lacombe-Jeline, and influencer Manny MUA, to name a few.
Val and Dominic assume their roles as industry veterans accordingly, but manage to do so without the customary cruel tactics exhibited in other industry-forward competition series like America's Next Top Model. One could even say Val and Dominic are the antithesis of Tyra Banks: While maintaining their status as a powerhouse duo, they never exclude anyone (audiences who know nothing about makeup included), clarifying each and every technique and challenging in the way a loving college professor might present an exciting lecture.
And they clearly care about each contestant: Upon being voted off, MUAs are hugged, complimented, and reaffirmed of their skills. When Val is so enthusiastic about up-and-coming talent, she shouts one of her several catchphrases (akin to a Paul Hollywood handshake): “Ding dong,” “Tick, tick,” and/or “Boomshakalaka.” And this optimism is genuinely infectious through the screen.
The contestants’ relationships are heartwarming too, their ethos a far cry from the “I'm not here to make friends; I'm here to win” culture for which competition reality shows are so notorious (and mocked). In fact, the aspiring MUAs cultivate genuine friendships with their competitors, crying not only when they themselves leave but when their new friends depart as well.
And it’s impossible not to root for each and every contestant. Mostly self-taught, Glow Up's MUAs are undeniably hardworking and passionate about their craft—all while balancing responsibilities and full-time careers. Season four’s Rachel, for example, is a pharmaceutical sales rep, while Yong-Chin nannies, and Lisa teaches elementary school (though she recently quit to pursue her dreams via Glow Up). Others, like Ryan and Mikaél, are either current college students or recent graduates, newly learning to navigate the lay of the land.
Despite some contestants' young age or lack of professional training, their talent, which reaches its full potential in each episode's “creative briefs,” is jaw-dropping—so much so I've literally reconsidered how I feel about and use beauty products. Pre–Glow Up, I leaned on makeup to conceal blemishes and feel “prettier.” After having witnessed the MUAs manifest everything from “rebellion” to mutated monsters into makeup looks in mere hours, however, I've decided that “pretty” is boring and makeup artistry belongs not on my face but on permanent display at the MoMA.
By the end of each Glow Up episode, I'm exhausted: I've laughed, I've sobbed, I've howled with joy. And before I know it, the two lowest-performing MUAs of the week are “facing off” in a final technical challenge, attempting an iconic makeup trend like a reverse cat eye, gemstone brow, or blue mermaid lip.
And while it's always sad to see someone go, Val and Dominic somehow make it all okay (and so does the fact that their follower counts inevitably skyrocket). So, dear Glow Up, I have just three words for you: Ding. Dong. Darling.
Originally Appeared on Glamour