The Perils of Glow-Up Culture

Kat Rajwar

If like me, you’re a person who spends the majority of your time on the internet, you have probably witnessed the transformation of Kylie Jenner from the baby Kardashian into the lip-kitted, superhuman, bone-structured billionaire of today.  Perhaps, you laughed. Perhaps you rolled your eyes at the inauthenticity of celebrities, or maybe the old Kylie made you feel a tiny bit better about yourself.

Behold friends, ye ol’ faithful glow-up.

My ‘research’ for this  consisted of many endless 2am YouTube spirals: “GLO UP CHALLENGE”, “NOT CUTE TO REALLY CUTE TRANSFORMATION”, “WHEN DID YOU GET HOT??”, “Forcing a glow-up in less than 24 hours!” While at first glance, videos like these may simply appear to be a clickbait. Worryingly, the concept of a glow up itself is somewhat damaging.

The glow-up trend is essentially social media’s repackaging of the humble makeover. One only needs to look to the myriad of makeover movie montages which saturated almost every film from the late ’80s to the early 2000s. Think: Pretty Woman, Devil Wears Prada, The Princess Diaries (Anne Hathaway had a lot of glowing-up to do, clearly), Clueless, etc. These films, while undeniably entertaining, perpetuate the idea that ‘improving’ one’s appearance corresponds directly with the improvement of the quality of life. If only. In debt? Get a manicure! Heartbroken? Fix your hair, sweetie.

If the cult classic film subtext isn’t enough for you, one only needs to look to how the magazines, which line supermarket shelves, hail celebrities as saints for shedding a few kilos or dyeing their hair. Still not convinced? Consider the countless weight loss or makeover reality TV shows which have dominated our screens for years.

I should, however, acknowledge that my issue is not with self-improvement. I am all for people being empowered by their own choices to make changes in their physical appearance. Not for that ‘revenge bod’ to spite your ex, not to ‘one-up’ someone else, but to simply feel confident. The issue lies in the emphasis placed around the value of the glow-up.

It is also impossible, not to draw attention to the economic factor behind all of this. Going back to our Lord and saviour Kylie, a lot of the jokes made surrounding her astounding makeover speak to the fact that her glow-up was only possible because of her billionaire status. Likewise, it is almost maddening to think of the sheer amount of money that some YouTubers are spending on their glow-ups.

Clearly, there’s also a massive problem around the language used around glow-ups, words like “forcing a glow up”, or, “my ugly to less ugly transformation in 24 hours”. Yet another concern: the need to make such a stark transformation in such a fleeting period.  Making changes to your appearance can obviously lead to heightened confidence, but the expectation to change so much, so instantaneously is alarming. It’s almost as if we are being expected to glow-up rather than grow up, resulting in us missing the awkwardness of navigating the world of fashion and beauty—we really don’t need to talk about my goth phase here. While such periods of our lives are excruciating, and sometimes painful to look back on, *deletes and untags old pictures of myself in black lipstick and fishnets from Facebook*, they’re certainly character building, and a part of the cliché of finding yourself.

While the very concept of the glow-up was founded almost solely for entertainment value, makeovers pose a perilous threat to individuality, as they predicate the notion that conventional beauty outweighs the value of uniqueness. To hope that someday we’ll get over our fascination with the quintessential ‘before and after’ transformation could be wishful thinking, but perhaps we can find healthier ways to approach self-improvement.