About half of you probably read the words “Cool Girl” in the title and nodded in immediate recognition. The other half of you are not hopelessly addicted to social media, in which case I will break it down for you. You definitely know a Cool Girl, and probably follow one on Instagram, who has an impressively high followers-to-following ratio and frequently posts candid photos of herself and her equally cool friends. She has naturally tousled hair and naturally defined eyebrows. She wears men’s clothes and looks good in them. She parties hard but never gets hungover. She’s always at the coolest bars, the trendiest concerts, the most exclusive parties. Alexa Chung and Suki Waterhouse are Cool Girls. Brooklyn is full of them. So is WestCo. Cool Girls never fail to wear the right things and know the right people, but most importantly of all, they never try too hard to be cool. They simply are.
Unsurprisingly, the beauty industry has been quick to capitalize on our collective obsession with the Cool Girl. Recently, makeup brands like Milk, Glossier, and Too Cool for School have started springing up to target millennial women who are too fancy for drugstore makeup and too laid back for Chanel. Their products tend to emphasize ease of application and a natural appearance, eschewing color correcting and elaborate blending in favor of light coverage and subtle color. Lipstick is sheer, foundation is dewy, and brushes are nonexistent. The end result is supposed to be effortlessly glamorous and beautiful without being overdone. In short, this is makeup for the Cool Girl. Everything about these brands, from the minimalist packaging, to the ad campaigns full of chic New Yorkers, to the endorsements from the likes of Karlie Kloss and Eva Chen, is carefully designed to maintain the Cool Girl aesthetic. They’re not just selling makeup, but rather an entire lifestyle. Buy the right concealer, they seem to say, and you too can be cool.
On the surface, this emerging trend in makeup might not seem like a big deal. After all, every product is really selling a certain lifestyle—that’s just how marketing works. And surely there’s nothing wrong with wanting an efficient, hassle-free makeup routine. A lot of these cosmetics are of reasonable quality, and some are truly fantastic (Glossier Cloud Paint, I’m looking at you). Yet there’s something irksome about the constant emphasis on being low maintenance, on the need to look flawless without looking like you tried. The Cool Girl aesthetic is alluring in its seeming effortlessness, but realistically a very small minority of women—a small, rich, and conventionally attractive minority—can actually pull off the look with ease. The rest of us, girls with frizzy hair and sensitive skin and back fat, have to work our asses off just to look like we’re not trying at all and frankly, I’m over it. This newfound fascination with the Cool Girl is just another version of the paradox women have been facing for generations: we’re supposed to be beautiful, but we’re not supposed to care about being beautiful. Women are constantly criticized for not fitting typical standards of beauty (just look at the comments on any YouTube video of a female athlete) but they are also criticized for actively trying to change their appearance. We’re supposed to be skinny without obviously dieting, well-dressed without obviously enjoying shopping, and now smooth-complexioned without obviously wearing makeup. Brands like Glossier pretend to empower women, but all they really do is force them to continue to maintain an impossible illusion.
Ultimately, I’m not trying to demonize anyone who buys these brands’ products, or prefers natural looking cosmetics. The heart wants what it wants, and if your heart wants Haloscope then more power to you. I just think it’s important to remember that there’s nothing shameful about wearing makeup, regardless of whether your signature look is brows and concealer only or full coverage foundation and purple blush. This reminder is as much for my benefit as for everyone else’s, as I often find myself wondering whether my eyeshadow is too glittery for Fountain or my lipstick too bright for Psych class. Ultimately, you should wear whatever you want, and always keep in mind that the girl you think is so unattainably cool? She’s trying just as hard as the rest of us.