INSTAGLAM: Ashlee Vaughn talks “ugly beauty”

Rejecting the narrow confines of "prettiness" more and more makeup artists are embracing alternate stylistic possibilities.

Scrolling through Instagram, you’re confronted by the face. You know the one: fillers, botox and an oddly sculptural look. On a very basic level, it makes us feel bad about our own faces, but on a grander scale it’s worth considering what it means it terms of homogenising beauty standards and promoting a version of beauty that, dependent on surgeries both invasive and non-invasive, can only be attained with sufficient capital. 

Perhaps as a response to the glossy, exclusive club that is Instagram Face, more and more makeup artists have been embracing the creative possibilities of “ugliness”; an aesthetic category that becomes more expansive as the criteria for “beauty” become narrower. Amongst the vanguard of this group are the likes of makeup artist and influencer Salvia, whose otherworldly push at the boundaries of what it means to be human. Elsewhere on the Internet, platforms such as @glooparchive & @uglymakeuprevolution are spotlighting the creatives troubling the easy conventions of beauty.

Amongst these makeup provocateurs is Ashlee Vaughn, an Instagram artist whose thoroughly queer approach to makeup sees smoky club-kid styles and wax-dripping experimental eye looks that are far from the sanitised styles we’ve become accustomed to across social media. Taking some time out from their busy schedule, the beauty auteur sat down to answer some of our burning questions. 

In your own work, would you say that you strive towards bold, boundary-pushing or dramatic makeup rather than makeup that’s primarily  “pretty” or “beautiful”?

I would say that I do tend to lean more towards bold or dramatic makeup rather than conventional ideas of beauty & makeup. I personally find a lot of meaning and purpose behind intentionally bold or confrontational makeup. 

Why do you think this is?

Anyone can be conventionally pretty or beautiful but I think it takes a strong sense of self and perspective to push the boundaries of makeup expression and question the concepts of beauty, and embrace the ugly… I find that to be deeply beautiful.

Would you say that there is a trend towards “ugly makeup” on Instagram?

I do think there is an “ugly makeup” style that’s grown on instagram in response to the over-saturation of influencer-type makeup which tends to be more artificial and uniform. It’s hard to pin down exactly what the ugly makeup look is, but I guess I might say it’s anything that deconstructs typical makeup and turns it inside out. 

Who should fans of the ugly makeup look be following?

Artists like @gloopmakeup, @chibinena, @blurry.eyeart, @jar.of.fliez and @makeupbrutalism are some of the people I tend to associate with this style of makeup, just to name a few. There’s collectives as well such as @glooparchive and @uglymakeuprevolution that give a platform to many artists from all over the world that embrace the “ugly makeup” style.

How have you been inspired by ugly beauty?

This look is what started to push me out of my comfort zone and challenge my own artistry and helped me put my work out there more. I initially started doing more conventional styles of makeup on my IG but I wasn’t connecting with what I was creating. So when I started discovering artists that weren’t subscribing to the mainstream concept of beauty, I found my voice and inspiration as well as a community full of support. I think the state of mainstream IG beauty can feel really stark and manufactured sometimes, and the “ugly makeup” style celebrates freedom and authenticity from artists that might struggle to find their voice in the IG beauty world, and I hope to see more artists explore this style and expression. I think it’s a really vital aspect to the makeup world right now.

24 January 2020