The infantalisation of beauty: Is our love of unicorns doing more harm than good?

Guys, I think we might have a unicorn problem. Well, not so much a unicorn problem than a full blown mythical creature obsession. From mermaids to unicorns, high fantasy has become a cultural touchstone in beauty.

Far from a flash in the pan seasonal trend (a la Too Faced’s Unicorn tears irredentist lipstick circa 2015) our love for glitter, rainbows and everything else in-between shows no signs of slowing. Hell, even Primark are getting in on the action with their own range of unicorn horn inspired brushes.

But is this cuteification of fashion and beauty doing more harm than good?

Cheryl Wischhover for Racked explored our global love for “unicorn goals” earlier this year touching on the appeal and why it’s become such a big part of the cultural Zeitgeist. “This trend is all about fantasy, iridescence, glitter, rainbows, shimmer, and creatures that don’t actually exist in real life but that people desperately wish did.”

And there’s a big appeal in that. It’s the ultimate form of playing dress up; it’s based in creativity and expression – with more of the products based based on their niche appeal than their ability to be easily integrated in to part of a common beauty repertoire.  Unicorn (and her slightly less popular brethren the mermaid) is partially about escapism and is nothing if not a big fuck you to the concept of “natural beauty” but is it actually dangerous?

The unicorn trend is on the polar opposite of your typical vixen’s make up, your red lip and cat eye that has become beauty’s short hand for power, confidence and ultimately sex. Rainbow brushes, chunky glitter and face crystals couldn’t be further away from that, and certainly appeal to a more traditionally perceived performance of youth and childhood. 

It certainly seems on the surface that it is some how safer and it’s a declawing of women through rainbow highlight.  Except this trend is so far removed from mirroring that classic femme fatale that it’s devil may care attitude takes on a whole new power in it’s own. It takes a brass neck to cover your entire body in unicorn snot is what I’m saying. This is a trend that is about being noticed. It’s about individuality – which while shares familiar tropes and trademarks that can be seen throughout  – that is linked with a sense of frivolity that popular beauty can be seen shying away from.

More than that, our love of fantasy is marketing gold. And by gold I mean serious big time dollar dollar bills y’all. Instagram has over 1.5 MILLION hits for mermaid hair and there’s countless hits for unicorn make up across Pinterest and YouTube – it makes sense that brands would exploit that – whether that’s Make Up Revolution’s Unicorn Elixir Highlighter or Lime Crime’s semi-permanent vegan “unicorn” hair dye line. 

Of course it’s not just mythical creatures that are getting the branding treatment.  Moschino’s collaboration with Sephora saw a line of super cute teddy bear palettes and popular nail salon Wah!London are currently seeing the Powerpuff Girls take up show as part of a month long residency ahead of the launch of their hotly anticipated fourth PowerPuff.

So far so harmless right? However as with any trend we’ve got the extremes, including the more insidious yaeba trend in Japan. The cosmetic procedure is dental and designed to create  the look of slightly too many teeth in the mouth – the appeal being that perfection can be too intimidating and  this “youthfulness” makes those who have it done seem more approachable. 

That said, our approach to cosmetic trends in the West is towards hyper-sexualisation through exaggerating tell-tales of youth (pert tits, full lips) so really they are both sides of the same coin.  The core of anything with this should be individual autonomy, and whether that’s a trip to the dentist or under the knife – it’s about what makes you feel sexy.

Do I think this whole cute culture in beauty is dangerous? Nah. There’s more than one way of being a grown ass woman.  Whether you could not give to fucks about the latest gloss or are a ride or die glitter fan, embrace it, feel awesome and kick ass.


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