Why are we obsessed with gross beauty aesthetics?

The sorry state of pop culture might be a good place to start. As the equation now famously goes: social media + consumerism = a flattened culture, leaving us fighting for individuality and using greater access to previously fringe aesthetics to do so. Case in point: beauty looks designed to disgust are an easy code for transgression, AKA a way to perform alternativeness. It’s no surprise that alt-leaning public figures like Ashnikko, Eartheater and Doja Cat have all played with gore or anti-beauty to help assimilate themselves with the most extreme edges of their brand (and therefore their perceived legitimacy as an artist). As we all seek out art that helps us feel like the individuals we know we are, maybe the same is true for us too.

But it’s not just a case of appetite: our tolerance for grossness is rising too. Blend the mainstreaming of alternative visuals that reference the disgusting with our exposure to extreme content, not only is there greater demand for shock-factor, but it’s all the harder to reach. @breedingcastle’s account is a circus of the ugly and gruesome (see: a carousel dedicated to worms, an image of two giant snails lying on someone’s stomach, a mummy doing an MRI scan). They believe that we consume disturbing content in an effort to feel something, or even anything. “It’s easy to feel numb and bored scrolling through the current landscape, where there is exponentially more media produced, while at the same time it’s sterilised to fit community guidelines,” they say. ”I want to see something new. I want to experience shock, awe, horror. Everything disgusting I post I still find beautiful (or at the very least funny).”

Disgust, it seems, offers a controlled environment for both sensory stimulation and escape, at a time when fantasy is ever-important to artists and consumers. I recently contributed to Meta-Beauty, a report by creative strategy studio MORNING which analysed this shifting relationship between beauty and fantasy, finding that “our appetite for world building is greater than ever, as is our ability to create the worlds we want to step into”. Make-up artist Chicherdrink, who creates spellbindingly gory looks, echoes that sentiment. “The dryness and the tediousness of reality makes me want to run away from the standard that people already set to guide us to be ’beautiful’. By doing make-up in an unusual way, I can create my own utopia”.

These transgressive aesthetics in beauty act as a very real form of resistance, too. Faced with a terrifying world, it’s not much of a leap to suggest that our desire for disgust acts as a kind of exposure therapy or protest against it all. “New generations reject the world past generations have built, that’s why I think being attracted to unnatural and disgusting things is a kind of rebellion towards a decadent society,” says make-up artist Manuel D Lorenzo, who creates surreal looks that see his face impaled with needles or smeared with feathers. “We are influenced by this depressed historical moment where the future that awaits us most likely will be unnatural and disgusting.”

All of this feels like part of a wider shift, one that’s expanding make-up’s capacity for art. “In an increasingly referenced and regurgitated world, our bodies are the one canvas that we can truly own,” as the MØRNING report says, explaining why artists are gravitating towards make-up as a form of expression (and why beauty is increasingly morphing into art). “Make-up can 1715771993 have greater significance”, says MUA Yan Fang, “as a relatively new artistic means to express our thoughts, questions, and philosophical ideas”. As we grapple with numbness in a horrifying world, it seems disgust is the one of the emotions that hits hardest, while beauty, it seems, is the most potent site to express this. 

And there’s one final thing that I can’t help noticing as I flick through all of the weird, gory beauty looks on my feed, all blood, dirt, hair and mould. That is, in all their fantasy or horror, how closely they reference the natural world. Maybe, just maybe, these gruesome references are speaking to a desire to connect to our humanity, flesh and blood, in the IRL. We all want to feel something, and maybe simply feeling alive is all it is.

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  • Source of information and images “dazeddigital

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