Emily Loke’s Instagram challenge

baldwin meme
Do memes count as intellectual property? Is having those words in the same sentence an oxymoron?

I haven’t decided on an update schedule yet, but it seems responsible to have one.  Past experience with webcomic publishing is screaming at me to go Tuesdays-Thursdays, but for this first week I’ll aim for three posts just to get things started.  And so, on to entry number two: challenges.

Before we dive into this embarrassment that I call my lack of good judgement, let me define what a challenge is.  It’s when someone – anyone, really, including myself sometimes – sees something visually interesting and says, “Hey, wouldn’t this be a great idea to recreate… on my face?”  I am a total sucker for these kinds of challenges for some reason.  I’ve done dozens and will probably at some point in time end up posting them all on this blog in fact.

This particular challenge is a more traditional one which hails from Emily Loke – blogger and lucky owner of both classically beautiful features and a husband skilled enough to capture them on camera.  It was apparently born when her photographer husband requested help testing a new camera and asked her to wear makeup similar to the one featured in this picture:

an instagram beauty
I have no idea who this is. If this is you, drop a line. Seriously!

Yes, a new challenger appears: Instagram.  Or maybe I should call it, “how much makeup can you possibly put on your face at one time?”  Since we couldn’t allow Emily to suffer alone, a whole bunch of us (there will be more on “us” at some point in the future) decided to accompany her on this journey to skin hell.

Frida Kahlo
Rock it, sister.

First, let’s define what makes an Instagram portrait (if I can humanly help it, the word “selfie” is never going to appear in this blog again) different from a standard one?  The obvious answer is eyebrows, thank you for stirring the pot, Mr. Drama Llama Wayne Goss.  I have mixed feelings about these brows: drawn on as they are, I think they look unnatural and unflatteringly weird.  And yet I am a child of the 90s.  My wild, bushy werebrows resisted any attempts at taming and made me the butt of many a hair joke back in the day.  So in some regard, the sudden onslaught of artificially thickened brows has made my lack of brow grooming not only easy, but also advantageous.

What else differentiates an Instagram look from an everyday one?  Contouring and highlighting.  I’d like to say it’s a thing Kim Kardishan started, but being almost completely disconnected from social media and current American pop culture, I have no idea whether this is actually true or not.  If I had to make statements based in fact (not a trend these days, apparently), I’d say it’s more of a Kevin Aucoin thing making a return from the 80s. But I’m old, and Kevin Aucoin would probably be weeping tears of pain if he could see what his highlighting and contouring tips have turned into today.  That, or rolling in the money his company is making selling contouring and highlighting powders.

Contouring. This isn’t even just joking, Instagram contouring lifts directly from drag queen tricks.

Last but not least, overlining the lips seems to be a huge thing for Instagram portraits these days.  I’ve heard that this is somehow related to someone called Kylie Jenner.  I have no idea who Kylie Jenner is.  I looked up pictures of her on the internet.  Nope, still don’t know.  I’ll just mash her up with all of the other American celebrities I hear mentioned all the time that I’m guessing are not worth the bother to research in any depth.  Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.

Well! Now that we’ve gotten our introduction to what exactly this challenge is out of the way, we can move right along into how I massacred it.  It was a painful process, involving what I like to think of as nearly all of my makeup collection, though more honestly it was probably only 2% of my eyeshadows.  I do have dry skin and a few wrinkles, so I’m not joking about the painful bit – all of the buffing that was required to smooth out the spackle really hurt after a while, as did lining my waterline with a black pencil.  My eyes were having none of this business and gave me the pouty squint you’ll see in all of the pictures below unintentionally.  Here’s a taste of what I started with as a base:

my bare face
I’m actually quite happy with my bare features. Feel free to NOT INFORM ME if you disagree.

The first thing I got down to doing, which proved to be a mistake later on, was the heavy contouring and highlighting.  My skin naturally leans towards a yellow fair-medium (MAC NC25ish) thanks to my heritage, so trying to find a product in my collection that would make it appropriately lighter was rather difficult.  I ended up using a NYX full coverage concealer jar as a foundation, and boy did my skin regret it.

Then I moved on to contouring.  I tried a couple of different products, and in the end, the only thing that was really anywhere near dark enough was my Sleek Honour blush, which has two drawbacks: it’s a powder, and it’s a shimmery powder at that.  Well, as M. Night Shyamalan has so often declared, “I’ll fix it in post.”  This was the beginning of the downfall, because in the real world you can’t contour with shimmer.  Shimmer brings forth, matte recedes.  Light brings forth, dark recedes.  Logically one should always contour with a matte dark colour, then, as you’re recreating shadows.  Well, what does logic have to do with an Instagram portrait, though, right?  Below, you can see the result of the mix:

contouring and highlighting
Watch my facial expression change as I progress.

As you can see, I also tackled eyes and brows in the last two steps.  For my eyebrows, I used my standard brow powder (Shiseido dual brow powder), but I used a lot of the darkest shade rather than mixing it in with the lighter shade, and I specifically tried to go for the blocky fronts in the brow, as well as extending the tails of my brows to a sharp point.  I then went over any stray hairs outside of the “block” shape with even more NYX concealer.  Spackle them down!

On my eyes I used the Sleek Matte v2 palette, dipping into only the dark shades: dark purple, burgundy, dark brown, there may have been some black in there, all applied over a black cream eyeshadow base to make it even darker.  There was also a little bit of pure white highlighting going on under the brows, and shimmery white highlighting in my inner corners (from the LORAC Pro palette).  This was failing number two: no matter how carefully applied, dark eyeshadow will have fallout, and when you’re wearing sticky concealer all over your cheeks it’s going to collect that fallout like a lint roller.  My solution?  Even more concealer on the cheeks of course, because brushing it off was just not an option.  My dry skin already hated me at that point.

In the lower third picture, you may also see that I overlined my lips in a purple colour.  Tips for people who do this in the real world: overlining can actually work, as long as you don’t stray too far from your natural lip colour – just a shade or two darker that is – and as long as you use matte shades.  Since I had neither a nude lip liner darker than my natural lip pigmentation nor a matte nude lipstick, I just winged it with a purple lipliner and a shiny nude lip cream on top.  (NB: The lip cream pegged itself as a “matte” lip cream.  Very funny, p2.)  The result was OK from a distance, but still too shiny to mask the natural lipline up close, which is why I think it looks weird.  “We’ll fix it in post!” I told myself again.  Yeah, that never worked for Shyamalan either, come to think of it.

After all of that was done, I got down to the SERIOUS highlighting.  That is, the sprinkling of shimmery golden powder over my cheekbones and temple.  At this point in time there was so much concealer on my skin that it just literally sucked up the gold powder and made my cheeks furry.  FURRY.  I included closeups of my skin texture to illustrate that point clearly, as well as show the disadvantages of wearing seven layers of mascara in real life:

skin texture
The camera is lying to you. This is what “smooth skin” looks like outside of your cell phone.

The last bit of the Instagram challenge was recreating the glowing, poreless, smooth skin that is usually granted to pictures by the beauty setting on your smartphones.  Or by being young enough that buffing actually works on your skin still.  As my Lumix camera doesn’t come with a beauty filter, I decided to add that in using Photoshop’s Gaussian blur.   Also, I did this challenge around 22:00 so there was also a distinct lack of palatable lighting which needed to be fixed.  You can see the results below:

Heavily filtered.
Lightly filtered.

How much photoshop did I actually do?  Here are the unedited original photographs:

instagram02And here are unedited normal frontal portraits without the silly pose.

straight on portraits
Normal unedited portraits.

This is how this face looked unedited, but taken on the newest iPad Air2 camera:

pout face
Pouty face on the iPad Air2 camera.

I think this particular photo gives a great idea of how much the camera actually washes out, even when you’re not trying to spackle on your makeup heavily.  As far as I know, I had no beauty setting activated on my iPad’s frontal camera; all I had going for me was yellowed, bad lighting.  But this proves a great point: if you take a portrait of yourself, especially with a cell phone, some of your makeup is just going to disappear.  That’s the nature of the camera lens, it eats contrast.  It doesn’t mean you need to wear more makeup if you can’t see your blush well.  You have to be careful or you may end up looking a bit like my furry-cheeked self in the real world.  So when you take a self-portrait on your mobile device, remember:  you probably look better in reality than your camera is telling you in that snapshot.

messy vanity
I don’t think so.

So, what’s the moral of this story?  Enkida will do any makeup challenge?  Maybe.  I do have a reputation of making poor makeup decisions.  But more importantly, it drives home for me my gut feelings about social media: it’s not reflective of reality at all, and it’s a poor standard for us to be pitting ourselves against, especially for issues of beauty.  Besides, do you really want your vanity to look like this at the end of every day?

NB: I ran out of both my foundation and my concealer about 3 days after this challenge.  Go figure.


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