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Beauty Disruptors Series: Eszter Magyar on Beauty as a Tool of Defiance

Published January 26, 2023
Published January 26, 2023
Eszter Magyar

In the Beauty Disruptors series, BeautyMatter speaks to those breaking the mold of the traditional beauty industry―from shining a light on controversial issues to paving an alternative discourse of its themes.

Instagram has given beauty center stage—sometimes to the benefit of entrepreneurs and enterprises, sometimes to the detriment of our mental health. Glossy, Photoshopped, and filtered images portray images of unattainable beauty that breed insecurity. Yes, beauty is performance, but at what cost of entry?

There are those who use the very same tools that breed aesthetic “perfectionism” to counteract these effects, creating provocative images that question societal beauty standards and our definition of what is beautiful. Think of the “ugly-pretty” fashion trend that emerged in 2014, or SHOWstudio’s “Ugly” series, which featured essays exploring the appeal of the repulsive, and the ways in which it has been picked up, reinterpreted, and introduced to the masses through fashion.

In the world of  Eszter Magyar, known under the Instagram account @makeupbrutalism, color and conceptual artistry become a channel for this discourse and an opposition to the perfected exterior the platform tries to portray through any means necessary on a daily basis. Born in Budapest and currently based in London, Magyar is a makeup activist, “mixing social criticism with human aesthetics to radicalize the female gaze.” Peak onto the @makeupbrutalism page and you will find subject matter depictions ranging from ethnic identity and violence (her mouth outlined in black, with the words “Eastern European accent” written on the lips; a bloody mark on the lower lip disrupting the script) to landscapes (a drooling tongue with a house, meadow, and sky painted on it) and reflections on the future of machine-generated art (eye closeups covered in “What Do Machines Dream Of” artwork by digital creator Tamás Olajos). Upon its debut, it was deemed the “most hated beauty account on Instagram since 2018.”

Today, the account has not only amassed a cult following but also extended to a wider community with Ugly Makeup Revolution―an online platform to showcase other artists and drive conversations around beauty activism, with #uglymakeuprevolution bringing up over 60,000 posts. Magyar has also brought her powerful message offline.

In April 2022, she staged an exhibition that featured artworks such as “Anti Industry Palette,” a barren, 3D-printed plastic palette containing the word “ugly”; a fake lashes and salt crystal object called “We Cried So Much Our Lashes Turned Into Salt”; and a piece called “Your Beauty Is Fragile,” which showed an upright pink balloon with the namesake slogan, surrounded by pins, threatening to burst at any moment. Her ongoing series “Skinscapes” captures close-up images of indentations on human skin―“a visual presentation of how everything leaves a mark on us, even [if] it stays unnoticed.” Magyar’s makeup artistry and photography have been featured in publications such as Infringe Magazine, Tush Magazine, Nasty Magazine, and Rouge Fashion Book. Her creative stylings have been commissioned by musician Ohnody, accessories brand Kara Bags, and creative technology studio Playtronica. Other partnerships include Victoria Beckham Beauty, Make Up For Ever, and Farfetch Beauty.

As the creative maverick continues to develop striking imagery and thought-provoking projects, BeautyMatter spoke to Magyar about absolute creative freedom, the physical price of tongue paintings, and rebelling against the social media status quo.

How would you describe your earliest beauty memory?

I don’t have those romantic memories about me watching my beautiful mother doing her flawless makeup in the mirror. She was not using makeup at all; did not really own any products except a beauty compact, a vanity case with all the different products in it: eyeshadows, glitters, blushes ... which I used as furniture in my dollhouse. With some pillows added, it was a nice little couch or table for my dolls.

What is your background prior to setting up @makeupbrutalism?

My makeup artist career started in 2011. I worked mostly on editorials and commercials, campaigns, e-comms, adverts, the usual. I was based in Budapest, which is not a fashion capital, let's just admit that, so I often traveled to Berlin to build my portfolio. Photographers there have a different approach to work and publishing. In 2016, I relocated to Mumbai for a few months, seeking new opportunities. I wanted to become the best editorial MUA, wanted to travel more, work for the biggest names in the industry, and never in my wildest dreams thought I could stop doing makeup. It was my comfort; it made me feel useful and needed.

The experimenting started around 2017 when I got bored with my clients' requests and all the compromises I had to make. I needed space to discover my true sense of style. I experienced a disconnect between what I have to do and what I could do. The first eye closeups were uploaded to my MUA account (@esztermagyarmua), and it got a lot more attention than anything else there. Even my makeup school got interested in the creativity I portrayed through those looks and asked me to create a “creative makeup” workshop for the new students.

That was the time when I came up with the name Makeupbrutalism, and after the workshop, I created a separate account for the closeups. First these were only about texture and color, but it became more and more conceptual with time. I started the lockdown as a makeup artist, but when it ended, I was a visual creator and never went back to doing makeup. Since then, I work as a creative for the brand The Unseen Beauty and am with Cream Creators as a content creator.

What parallels do you draw between architecture and beauty?

Brutalism is raw and honest—it does not want to hide anything or convince. It is what it is; you can love or hate it. It is controversial.

What is your creative process like?

It always starts with an idea—execution is secondary, even though I really enjoy the process of editing as well. Nowadays, I'm into analog methods. For example, when I created looks for Isamaya Beauty, I printed, laminated, and burned the images. Sometimes I build chairs from lipsticks or paint sentences on canvases. It is always different.

What are your thoughts on the polarized reception of your account?

I enjoy the impact I have on people, whether it is good or bad. I'm happy and grateful for the support and use the negative attention as a base for new series and looks. Let's just say I recycle every kind of attention I get.

"Brutalism is raw and honest—it does not want to hide anything or convince. It is what it is; you can love or hate it. It is controversial."
By Eszter Magyar, founder, Makeup Brutalism

How would you describe your collaborations with Gucci and Byredo? How do you decide on which brand partnerships you pursue?

I feel lucky because the instructions are always the same―do something “makeupbrutalism” for us. That’s what absolute freedom looks like. With Gucci, which was my first brand collaboration ever, I was more sophisticated and shy, but with Byredo I went full-on crazy. When a brand approaches me it is always an easy decision made in the very first seconds. If I feel connected to the brand, the message, the founder, or the products, I say yes. But it's not always that serious. Fun fact: I said yes to Victoria Beckham Beauty because I was the biggest fan of the Spice Girls.

To date, what has been the most challenging look to create?

Probably when I painted on my tongue. That left my jaw sore for days.

How do you think Instagram and social media, in general, have impacted representations of beauty?

Social media is the best and the worst, honestly. There are so many different approaches visible which is exciting—amazing creators with bold visions; you can find hidden gems of any industry. But since TikTok came in and everyone started to dance and sing, that was the moment everything became too overwhelming for me.

People should realize not everything should be content; that quality should be an important factor and that not everything needs a label. Not everything needs to be trendy, on point, or hashtag “on fleek.” No one should tell others what to like, do, or share. Fake wisdom, fake empathy ... social media is just too much noise. It is very hard to find real value in all the trash at this point. It has not just impacted the representations of beauty but our personalities and how we see each other.

How important is it to create political, anti-beauty expressions in today’s current climate?

It is the most important! Beauty is limited to this toxic view of being desirable, and makeup became a tool of body dysmorphia instead of self-expression. Having a smaller nose and bigger lips regardless of how you look is not healthy at all—and no one challenges it. Of course not; you have to tiptoe around everything on social media. You cannot be honest otherwise they will punish you for thinking differently.

Everything is labeled; everything has a slogan attached to it. Toxic negativity was followed by toxic positivity―always telling others how to behave and what to think … so exhausting. This is why it is especially important to go against these “new norms.” Authenticity is a weird phenomenon in the online space, too. People often mistake it for something else. Because being authentic is not always trendy or cool. Sometimes it is odd and different. But it's always brave and honest. That’s what we need more of.

What can you tell me about your ambitions to create more offline experiences of @makeupbrutalism?

My dream would be to exhibit my works; that would be another level of success for me. I have so many ideas in my head, which would only work as physical pieces in an offline space, but not as content on social media. Mostly installations and artifacts. I had a little event this year with the same concept, which was an amazing experience. But to be honest, I know my work is “too mainstream” and “too makeup” for the art world. I’m without a formal art education and proper connections, and there is a lot of gatekeeping which stands in the way, but let's see what the future holds!


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