"Not wearing makeup: is it feminism, laziness or the rise of cosmetic normcore?" wonders Slate. Huh. Good question: having a face and not smearing cosmetics upon it: is it a political statement, sloth, or, uh, some kind of weird fashion thing? Or could be it be some strange, unheard-of fourth option... such as being a human in possession of a face who doesn't feel the need to apply products to it, and it is really just not a big deal?
Let's examine the evidence. The piece's author, Katy Waldman, cites a few disparate (and, in my opinion) somewhat unrelated examples of makeup-free making it big:
[O]n the cover of W magazine, gorgeous Rosamond Pike takes a washcloth to her face. Gwyneth Paltrow's skin looks as clear and pure as the water she's drinking in a photo she posts to Instagram. Scarlett Johansson appears, untouched by mortal brush or wand, in a Vanity Fair Hollywood spread. A bride who has taken the time to wind flowers through her hair on her big day refuses a sweep of color to her cheeks. One starts to suspect that these particular statements are less about not wearing makeup than pulling off not wearing makeup.
Most of these things are about "pulling off not wearing makeup," but none of it really relates to the quotidian experience of the average women. Calling it a trend is a big extrapolation. When magazines feature celebrities without makeup, it's a statement because makeup is the industry norm; that statement gets people talking (as we are, now) and sells copies. It's the same sort of thing when celebrities take "no makeup selfies" — because we expect our idols to appear perfectly coiffed and polished, it's somehow significant when they aren't. And, in the story of the bride eschewing blush, she says "she typically doesn't wear makeup and didn't want to change just because it was her wedding." Being bare-faced is only a statement on her wedding day, and that's because we have a cultural expectation that every woman should want to be the best-groomed princess in all the land while exchanging vows. But in her day-to-day life, it's really unremarkable. We can't really say that something's a trend for the everywoman if the everywoman has already been doing it without much thought.
It's terrifyingly overwhelming to think that everything a woman does has some kind of big hermeneutic repercussion. Seriously, though — some ladies don't wear makeup because they literally don't think about it ever! Some just don't like it! To posit that there must be some kind of big cultural reason for women to reject makeup-wearing is to imply that everyone sees makeup as a requirement of womanhood; to say that it's lazy intimates that it's a Female Duty. Not all women would agree with that.
And the comparison to "normcore" (sigh) is pretty specious. In my understanding — as a person who tries to think about normcore as little as feasibly possible — the trend is about rejecting the notion that one has to make some kind of big, identity-affirming statement through his/her clothing. It's an embrace of aggressive blandness that rejects the exhausting performance of "trendiness." Courting intentional neutrality sartorially is very different from wearing no makeup. As everyone in America learned from that one Devil Wears Prada scene, even cheap, mass-marketed clothing is subject to the whims of the fashion powers that be. Because we're all required to wear clothing by weather conditions and/or social decency norms, we all have to buy clothing and thus we're all implicated in the fashion industry. But we're not all required to wear makeup — so opting out isn't necessarily a statement. It could just be the result of disinterest in something that some women like to do and others don't.
Furthermore, there's conflation here between not wearing makeup and courting "the natural look." Most self-congratulatory makeup-free celebrity fashion media — which, by the way, isn't at all a new thing — falls into the latter category. Take, for instance, Nigella Lawson's recent British Vogue cover (which was hailed as "makeup-free"), Penelope Cruz's 2013 "bare-faced" Elle cover, Lady Gaga "basically barefaced" covering Harper's Bazaar in 2011, etc. They're all wearing makeup.
Wearing "natural" makeup is about camouflaging the effort that goes into maintaining one's appearance while still putting in the work — "look how naturally pretty she is, with just concealer and foundation and blush and a little bit of mascara and lip gloss and perfect lighting!" It's nothing new, just the beauty myth as usual. The fashion industry isn't going to actually embrace makeup-free anytime soon because it needs to sell you beauty products. Wearing no products at all on your face will never be an industry-approved trend.
The "natural look" philosophy also plays out vis-a-vis most of the "no makeup selfies" discussed in Waldman's piece. Like, yeah, you don't have any makeup on — but you've positioned yourself in ideal lighting and found the perfect angle to hold your face at and you've probably applied a filter if you're posting it on Instagram. Obviously, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that — but it's neither subversive (most #makeupfreeselfie takers are still complying with dominant beauty norms) nor lazy (it takes a lot of effort to find the right face-angle). It's also not "cosmetic normcore": if we're going to find some over-used Internet parlance to describe it, it's probably closest to cosmetic humble-bragging. Which is great! Humble-brag away if you wish! But such behavior isn't really generalizable: posting a photo in which you draw attention to the fact that you don't have makeup on isn't the same as not wearing makeup on a regular basis. That's a false equivalency. If it really were a trend or statement or ~lifestyle~ you were abiding by, it would be redundant to call it out; bringing attention to it just reinforces prevailing beauty norms as the standard.
Not wearing makeup is just... not wearing makeup. Try as the fashion industry might to convince you otherwise, it doesn't have to mean anything, and there's no explanation or justification necessary.