Correction: EFFORTLESSNESS IS IMPOSSIBLEOn the labor of looking carefree.

Correction: EFFORTLESSNESS IS IMPOSSIBLEOn the labor of looking carefree.

  • Words Allyssia Alleyne
  • Photograph Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen

Glossier has been criticized for selling users a vision of dewy perfection that functions to enhance the features of young people genetically blessed with good skin. While this was largely accepted when the brand only sold makeup, it riled users when they branched out into skincare. The skincare range was ineffective or, as one Twitter user put it, designed “for people who wash their face with water and have picture perfect skin.”

In her 2016 book, Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind, Barbara Gail Montero, a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York Graduate Center, observed that, “Although we praise effort, we prize effortlessness.” A former professional ballet dancer, Montero was referring to the feats of athletes and dancers, as well as musicians and other artists. But the sentiment applies neatly to the way we evaluate beauty and style: In magazine articles, on social media and in countless SEO-friendly blog posts, insouciance is always in fashion.

“Effortless style” is Jane Birkin in jeans and a men’s shirt, with a straw pannier on her arm; Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s ’90s minimalism; and virtually every photo of Zoë Kravitz. It’s Glossier’s paradoxical no-makeup makeup and the aspirational realness of Reformation apparel.1 It’s also a beautiful, profitable lie.

Like the execution of a jump shot or the performance of a concerto, effortless style has less to do with actual effort exerted than the perceived ease with which it’s achieved. Beauty and a cultivated sense of style, for those who value it, take work: There are garments to be chosen, tailored, broken in and laundered; skincare regimens to be purchased and adhered to; unruly bodies to be disciplined into submission. To be called  “effortless” is merely to be told that labor was so masterfully executed as to be rendered invisible.

As in athletics and music, the pursuit of effortlessness privileges those with natural ability and financial resources—the winners of the genetic lottery, for whom glowing skin and a conventional, easily dressable physique are borderline accidental; and the winners of the actual lottery, who can invest time and money to affect it, an exercise in inconspicuous consumption. They stand in contrast to the contemptible try-hard, the woman whose hard work is written all over her face.

Not everyone is able to pull off the illusion; perhaps the standard is too much of a deviation, or they lack the right tools to pretend it comes naturally. But maybe it’s just as well: The quickest way to have your work devalued is to let everyone think it’s easy. Besides, there’s something to be, if not prized, then admired in those who own the process as much as the outcome. It doesn’t matter if people can see the lines if your appearance is a labor of love.

Glossier has been criticized for selling users a vision of dewy perfection that functions to enhance the features of young people genetically blessed with good skin. While this was largely accepted when the brand only sold makeup, it riled users when they branched out into skincare. The skincare range was ineffective or, as one Twitter user put it, designed “for people who wash their face with water and have picture perfect skin.”

You are reading a complimentary story from Issue 43

Want to enjoy full access? Subscribe Now

Subscribe Discover unlimited access to Kinfolk

  • Four print issues of Kinfolk magazine per year, delivered to your door, with twelve-months’ access to the entire Kinfolk.com archive and all web exclusives.

  • Receive twelve-months of all access to the entire Kinfolk.com archive and all web exclusives.

Learn More

Already a Subscriber? Login

Your cart is empty

Your Cart (0)