Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

The downside of the ‘natural’ beauty movement

No-bra, no-makeup look is easier for those who meet traditional beauty standards
Alicia Keys_2.jpg
Alicia Keys: "I don't want to cover up anymore."

“No padding is sexy, now!” says a recent Victoria’s Secret ad for their new line of bralettes. “I don’t want to cover up anymore,” Grammy-winner Alicia Keys wrote in an essay on why she’s ditching makeup. She attended the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday “makeup free.”

The latest trend for some women is to go “natural,” to ditch traditional structured bras and layers of makeup for a more relaxed, simpler look.

While the natural beauty movement has been praised by many for flouting the pressures of society to conform to “traditional beauty standards,” not everyone is thrilled by the pressure to go natural because it excludes some women.

Going braless or without makeup is easier and more popular among certain groups of women, such as those who already meet traditional beauty standards. For bras, that means size.

Victoria’s Secret’s bralettes are available in sizes XS-XL, with XL recommended for standard bra sizes 40B-40D. Cacique, a popular plus-size bra brand sold at Lane Bryant, goes up to the much larger 46DDD in their sizing.

“I dig the [bralette] look,” says writer Kaye Toal. “But like many looks I dig, it is not meant for me.”

Toal, who writes for BuzzFeed, often about plus-size issues, noted that wearing a bralette or no bra at all can be painful for women with large breasts.

“I can’t imagine wearing them outside,” Toal says of the garment, which typically offers no underwire or other form of padding or support other than straps. “I’m a 42DD and the [plus-size retailer] Torrid bralettes are definitely more supportive ... but still not something I can wear outside comfortably. I think it’s true for many, many women.”

Lindy West, a fat-acceptance author and activist, says that “as far as my body is concerned, bralettes might as well be doll clothes.

“I need some scaffolding. Stone buttresses. Which is fine! Not every garment has to appeal to or work for every person,” she says. However, she adds that by promoting a garment for small bodies, “you’re establishing a cultural beauty standard that is deeply exclusionary. Small is great. Big is great. All bodies are good bodies, and all bodies deserve options and respect.”

Going braless is part of the natural fashion cycle, according Cacique vice-president for Design Gill Heer. She cites the 1920s and the 1960s and 70s as other eras when the natural breast shape was in vogue.

Cacique has bralettes with underwire coming in spring 2017 that still give the shape but provide more support.

“Irrespective of your breast size you should be able to embrace whatever trend you feel and I do think there is no one trend anymore,” Heer says. “I think that the great thing is that there is choice.”

Meanwhile, not everyone is eager to throw out that eyeshadow and mascara.

“I love the smiles and joy that [makeup] brings to people,” says Shalom Black. “It is definitely a confidence booster.”

Black is a YouTuber who went viral by uploading a Power of Makeup video (5.5 million views), a video trend in which the vlogger only applies makeup to half of her face to show its “power.”

“I believe that everyone can do whatever they choose to do with their face and body,” says Black, who has burn scars covering her face from an accident. She knows people who don’t have “perfect skin but go about their day to day lives without ever wearing makeup. And then you have people like me with problematic skin who like doing both whenever need be, or just because we love and appreciate the art of makeup.”

The first Power of Makeup video was uploaded by the popular beauty blogger NikkeTutorials in response to criticism of women who love makeup. “I’ve been noticing a lot lately that girls have been ashamed to say they love makeup, because nowadays if you say you love makeup … you do it because you don’t love yourself,” Nikke says in the preface to the video, which has more than 31 million views.

Part of the backlash to the no makeup trend is the fact that achieving a “no makeup” look requires time and beauty products, even if those products aren’t traditional makeup like lipstick and eyeliner.

In an interview with website Into the Gloss, Keys’ makeup artist Dotti Streeters explained how she achieves the “natural” look for the singer.

“Even down to her eyebrows, we try to keep it natural,” Dotti said. “I’ll cut individual false eyelashes and use them on the eyebrow to have that realness.”