Annabelle Fernandez looks at the evolution of beauty ideals.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Annabelle Fernandez looks at the evolution of beauty ideals.
My Reading Room

What makes a beauty icon? I found myself wondering as we embarked on our Beauty at Every Age issue. Style icons are straightforward— from Jane Birkin’s love affair with denim to Kate Moss’ rock chick glamour, it boils down to what you wear, and how you wear it. But while we often wax lyrical about those whose style we love, it seems there are far fewer ruminations on those whose makeup and grooming choices inspire us.

Naturally, I turned to Google for the answers. Site after site devoted to descriptions of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren and the like emerged. Ranging from fresh-faced gamine to va-va-voom sex symbols, no one can deny that these icons of old Hollywood epitomised beauty in the ’50s and ’60s. But looking through these lists, one would think the world had ceased to produce any beauties after 1970—which, obviously, is not the case—and that the beauty ideal did not stray far from a certain mould.

Dissatisfied with what I found online, I took my query to the office. After an impromptu poll with my colleagues, I realised two things: 1) the online discourse on beauty icons doesn’t necessarily translate in real life and 2) just as everyone has their own definition of what a style icon is, so too does it work the same way for beauty. “Faye Wong” said Senior Beauty Writer, Joyce Cheo. With her own penchant for pixie crops and experimental approach to beauty, it’s easy to see why she would look to the Chinese chanteuse. I didn’t even have to ask Lifestyle Editor Dana Koh to know her answer would be “Bella Hadid,” whose slick centre parting and flawless eye makeup are a perfect match for Dana’s beauty look.

While the stars of before might have espoused the same over-arching beauty ideals, the ones of today run a wider spectrum. There’s no better example of this than Bella and her sister, Gigi. Born to a Palestinian father and a Dutch mother, the Hadid sisters are two of the most famous Instagirls around, and their looks couldn’t be more different. One is a fresh-faced blonde, the other, a brunette with feline features—and there is room for both (and more) in the ongoing beauty conversation.

Take Beyoncé and Rihanna: These beauty chameleons push the envelope each time they appear in public; their looks instantly broken down for women from Shanghai to Sydney to try at home. Sometimes, literally—every product used to achieve Bey’s Grammys 2017 look was later revealed online so us mere mortals could actually dream of recreating that incandescent glow.

In 2017, mere mortals in Asia can also look at the red carpet and see faces that actually look like us: Priyanka Chopra, Constance Wu, CL… Each as stunning as the next, breaking boundaries and making strides for women across the world with their every appearance.

And as we continute to root for Meryl Streep and her ever-growing collection of awards, we also have the privilege of seeing her age in front of us; alongside people like Madonna, Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore... Each with a strong sense of self, without ever giving a damn about what anyone else thinks—showing us what the phrase “beauty at every age” means. As Diane von Furstenberg put it in her book, The Woman I Wanted to Be, “There is a saying that with age, you look outside what you are inside... Your wrinkles reflect the roads you have taken; they form the map of your life.”And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I believe “beauty icons” are made. Send me your comments on Instagram: @neonwatermelon

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