Photo: Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongi/Trunk Archive
This isn’t a story about Beyoncé, but—like so much of pop culture these days—it starts with her. More specifically, her song “Flawless.” Depending on your interests, you know it as the song that samples Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, from the new Nicki Minaj remix, or as the song to which Blue Ivy danced at the VMAs. Doesn’t matter, because almost everyone can sing along to this line: “I woke up like this, flawless.”
It’s a confident jam, meant to remind us that we’re better than okay just as we are. And in some corners of the Internet, like this Tumblr of proud, bare-faced women, the whole “I woke up like this” message is having an impact. Beauty standards are being challenged! Flaws are being embraced! Imperfection is having a glorious moment!
And yet, a certain version of “I woke up like this” isn’t so cut-and-dry. I see it when friends post pictures of themselves with fresh blowouts or just-so lipstick. They look great, but the photo is often tagged with an ironic #iwokeuplikethis. I’ve made the self-deprecating joke, too—the verbal equivalent of a knowing wink. We laugh at ourselves because we most certainly did not roll out of bed with matte fruit-punch lips or Brigitte Bardot hair. A truthful #iwokeuplikethis would involve Pebbles Flintstone hair and the faintest traces of crumbled mascara tumbling down my cheeks—probably with a cat pawing at my hair.
We laugh at our jokey hashtag because it’s true, but there’s a not-so-funny side to it, too. Nope, we didn’t wake up like this. Not even close. It took time, whether we’re wearing just a bit of concealer or full-blown face paint.
In an era of “effortless beauty,” it’s not always easy for women to admit that it takes work to get dolled up. The woman whose primping routine takes 45 minutes (or 20, or 60) is rendered vulnerable to criticism. She’s too vain, people think. Too wrapped up in appearance. Worst of all, she’s not to be taken seriously. So we use #iwokeuplikethis to deflect the criticism, poking fun at ourselves before others have the chance. (Meanwhile, these critics are often the same people who cluck at low-maintenance beauties for “letting themselves go.” A girl just can’t win.)
I’m all for a good joke, especially when it takes a shot at the sometimes-impossible expectations of beauty, but let’s retire the nudge-nudge-wink-wink version of #iwokeuplikethis. Because here’s the thing: if we want to be real with each other, if we want to actually challenge rigid definitions of beauty, we have to have honest, judgment-free discussions around the subject.
That might mean some women don’t want to wear makeup. That’s okay! It doesn’t make them any less womanly. (Duh.) And other women might choose to adorn themselves with, say, fuchsia nail polish. That’s okay, too. It doesn’t mean they can’t be feminists. Which takes us back to a certain pop star. I scrolled through Beyoncé’s Instagram the other day; she was bare-faced in some pictures, maximum glam in others. The one thing they all had in common? She radiated confidence.
To me, being “flawless” isn’t as simple as posting a makeup-free selfie or a glammed-up one. It’s not about apologizing for your choice, either. (If reaching peak self-assuredness were as easy as doing these things, we’d solve self-esteem problems in five minutes.) Instead, developing that inner sense of flawlessness is a life-long practice. Easy? Hardly. But it’s a pretty good ideal to pursue upon waking up each day.