The Clean Beauty/Clean Girl name-drop needs a clean-up. The beauty industry has always been stuffed with virtue-signalling, subterfuge and shoptalk but never as much so as with the definitions of Clean Beauty. ‘Clean Beauty’ and the ‘ Clean Girl Aesthetic’, while being two different things, actually revolve around one very true concept about beauty.
Since the pandemic, the value of health and its premium as an industry has increased dramatically. The health industry is projected to increase still further. From a very basic level, beauty is a universal language: it’s not sociopolitical. A weakened immune system is a weakened immune system. Dry skin is dry skin. Anemia and zinc deficiency can happen to any human, regardless of ethnicity. Good health is nature’s two fingered salute to the perennial war against sickness and extinction, its nature’s sign of dominance and ability to secure a quality mate, to produce a high-calibre gene pool. In a fragmented world where our ability to physically check out these credentials has been limited, rude health signs have become the barometer of checking out the quality of the individual before you.
But wanting to appear healthier, younger, richer or more genetically secure (symmetrical) than you actually are is not a new thing. An entire beauty industry has been based on the fact that the majority of the human race are lacking in perfection – and, if we ever doubt it, there’s plenty of images to ensure we don’t forget. Pre-pandemic, it didn’t really matter what you actually were; it’s what you presented to be that mattered: ‘Fake it till you make it.’
‘Clean Beauty’ is the counter-movement against cosmetics that are actually toxins. It’s one thing to want to cosmetically change your appearance, another to be deceived into parting with your money and forfeiting your health. Clean Beauty seeks to address this. It is a movement that started over thirty years ago in France after the Morhange Talc tragedy. The USA has fewer regulations so real clean beauty took longer to develop there but, post-pandemic, it’s really taken off. France, Japan, Sweden and Korea have invested heavily in science and product development for decades. And, of course, for those communities in developing countries, there were the Clean Girls: the resilient women who learned how to preserve and enhance their natural assets when the beauty industry excluded them. In fact, they had refined it to an art: the Clean Girl Aesthetic. Beauty is not a god; it’s a service to enhance the health and wellbeing of the living. So Clean Girl, more than any other aesthetic, celebrates the core values of beauty.
Clean Girl originated in Latino and Afro American communities in the 1980’s promoting the natural health and wealth of said girl versus the over-accessorised, over madeup fake women. It was a way of celebrating natural beauty without adhering to white norms, probably one of the first resistant movements to the homogenous beauty industry. Bodegas and beauty salons stacked up on coconut oil, castor oil, Vaseline and other hydrating essentials required to preserve and celebrate darker skin tones and thicker hair. I first encountered Clean Girl aesthetic when I moved in New York city in 1993 and loved it. I remember thrity foot posters of Kate Moss straddling Mark Wahlberg on Times Square versus the lush clean homegirls stomping the streets in Timbalands and baggy jeans with pristine dewy skin, baby-haired smooth foreheads and long, curled eyelashes, Vaselined lips. I knew immediately who I was modelling myself on. Before then, the only reason I went into a chemists was for toothpaste and laxatives.
Who would not want natural health? Yet, back then, it wasn’t fashionable because such health equated to poor communities! Heroin chic was in: grunge, smudgy eyeliner, ripped clothes, skinny jeans and a few toxic habits. Being a clean girl did not help my social careet at all for a few decades. But I still was not tempted to try the alternative.
However, the increase in pollution, climate crisis and pandemics has permanently changed the dynamic in fashion and beauty. There’s no mileage in looking wasted, looking like you’ve money to burn if the world is actually already burning.
The remix of Clean Girl is not reapprorpriating Hispanic or black culture; the original Clean Girls were the toughest girls at that time who wanted to preserve their assets. But Clean Girl 2.0 is another beast entirely. Clean Girl 2.0 is both an essential and a luxury. Good quality skincare is more important than designer shoes. Rude health is an utter luxury; you must have some exclusive lifestyle to maintain your wellbeing in 2021. Makeup and skincare has to work far, far harder in a world that is increasingly toxic and with a food and nutrition famine. Ageing starts younger and hormones are weaker, thus not able to regulate our stressed systems. The price you pay for looking after yourself is a high one – but not as high as not looking after yourself. Drugstore beauty is just not able to deliver the goods like it used to because our environment has changed so much.
21st century beauty requires science. It requires more potent, pure ingredients. It requires education. And more than ever, it requires resilience and resourcefulness. Yes, it’s good to know your history but it’s even better to know your future. The Clean Girl Aesthetic and clean beauty are about both.
Undoubtedly, there’s lots of fake cleanliness and greenwashing but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater: Clean Girl and Clean Beauty need to stay. They are not trends but essentials.