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Beauty Words 1

From ‘fleek’ to ‘beat’ – the beauty words that defined the decade

As we continue to reflect on the past 10 years, we explore how the beauty dictionary got updated

Hi and welcome to our look back at the 2010s. Did we grow up? Yes. Did we glo up? Yes! The beauty industry, on the whole, developed a conscience, and with it, became a lot more inclusive, a lot less chemical-heavy and a little bit kinder to the environment. We as individuals went through a decade of transformation, often reshaping reality with fillers and filters or just a bit of a Glossier glow. 

Of course, how beauty in the 2010s played out for you will really depend on who and where you were; you might have been into alien beauty, having a dip dye or a balayage (lol remember those?), overlining à la Kylie, getting the perfect Insta brow, laid edges, or wearing grills. But trends aside for a second, we wanted to ask: what were the other new(-ish) words or phenomenons that really defined beauty in the 2010s? 

Below, we chose ten beauty words that summed up the decade, from “contouring” to “on fleek” to our real beauty word of the decade: Fenty.


Genesis 1:1 – in 2012, Kim Kardashian posted a selfie. It was her face, in close crop, covered in dark and white unblended contour make-up. ‘WTF is going on?’ we thought. Looking back now, this is the moment largely credited with catapulting contouring into our consciousness, despite the fact that the make-up technique has actually been around for ages. In the 1500s, Elizabethan actors smeared soot and chalk on their faces so that their expressions were more visible in dark theatres (contouring has remained a mainstay in theatre make-up since). In the 1920s and 30s, it was used in the world of black and white cinema to accentuate expression and heighten drama; Marlene Deitrich was a fan, Max Factor was a proponent. By the 90s, Kevin Aucoin was subtly sculpting the faces of everyone from Cindy Crawford to Janet Jackson.

But why was contouring so popular in the 2010s? Well, other than the Kardashian effect, it makes sense to consider its history in cinema or stage: in the 2010s, we lived our lives through cameras, and Instagram arguably was our stage. As demand for fillers and plastic surgery went up (see below), contouring became a quicker, cheaper and easier way to get a lot of the same effects, allowing anyone good enough at it to make their faces look entirely different, or entirely symmetrical. But it wasn’t just contouring – there was tontouring, strobing and baking too; for a “no make-up make-up” look it was all very high maintenance. Maybe that’s why HBA seemed to take the piss out of the contouring craze when it sent models down the runway with unblended contour in 2015. Our personal favourite take on the contour, though, was Karim Rahman’s anti-contour at Rick Owens SS20 – a sickly yellow glow, anyone? 


Ok so vloggers have been around since before the 2010s; the first unboxing videos cropped up in 2006 (in which people unpack their products on camera – strangely mesmerising) and by late 2010, around a quarter of a million haul videos had been shared on YouTube (where people empty out their purchases and talk through them, often in great detail). However, the early and mid-2010s were when the beauty haul video really began to shoot up in popularly, particularly as more and more brands realised that they could pay beauty YouTubers to review or feature their products, or even – after YouTuber Jaclyn Hill's collab with Becca in 2015 – create products with them. Whatever the price tag, when it came to haul videos, charisma and abundance were the name of the game; Jeffree Star posted haul videos ranging from Ulta to Gucci, while Tati Westbrook would alternate between $1 make-up hauls and $240 luxury lipstick hauls.

In 2014, the Advertising Standards Authority clamped down on influencer marketing, putting out a warning that vloggers must label any paid-for or promotional videos with “ad” or “sponsored content”. Then, around 2017, as awareness around plastic waste improved in the beauty industry, we woke up and worked out that less was more; anti-haul videos started garnering as many views as haul videos, focussing instead on what to cut out of your beauty routine. In 2019, Samantha Ravndahl, a make-up artist from Vancouver, made headlines when she asked brands to stop sending her products for review, in order to reduce on waste. In a more eco-conscious beauty environment, to some people, the traditional haul video began to look a little crass. 


“Fleek”, as in “on fleek”. Invented by Vine user called Kayla Newman AKA Peaches Munrooe back in June 2014 (well, there were some earlier uses, but this is the only one that counts) the dictionary has it down as “extremely good, attractive, or stylish”. But that doesn’t really sum it up, does it? Fleek is a word in a world of its own, closer in meaning to “on point”. It began life as a way to describe the perfect eyebrows, but quickly became applicable to pretty much whatever you wanted, especially after Ariana Grande sang about it. A bit like “snatched”, it was an affirmation that defined the 2010s. 

But what does an on fleek eyebrow look like? At the start of the 2010s, it was still a skinny brow. Then, around 2014, when we got “on fleek”, it tended to mean an eyebrow that was perfectly formed: outlined and shaded and symmetrical (and for many this is still more important than ever!) However, over the years since “on fleek” went viral and became part of our everyday parlance, we’ve really come to learn that they’re sisters not twins, especially with the rise of the bushy brow trend, peaking around 2017 (see: Cara Delevignge and Kaia Gerber). Then, in 2018, Dazed Beauty’s own Isamaya Ffrench teamed up with Rihanna and made us consider a whole different kind of brow altogether.


If one thing was quintessentially 2010s it was the explosion of words from ballroom and drag culture into the mainstream (see “yaas”, “fierce”, “werk” and “shade”). Apparently, “beat” is also one of these words – some sources say it’s been around in drag queen communities since the 1970s, making its way through ballrooms in the 80s. Meanwhile, others attribute it – or at least its popularity – to the make-up artist Beatfacehoney, who in 2015 made “beat face” the only way to truly describe an exceptional make-up look. In the years since, “beat” has just become a casual shorthand for “your make-up”. 

Ten years ago it felt like make-up was still mostly – unless you were a make-up artist, or part of a specific subculture, like a punk or a goth – more about accentuating your features in a classical way or else with a lick of 2000s lip gloss. Today, however, Instagram and TikTok have given us a platform to showcase much more radical or experimental make-up, the gradual erosion of the gender binary means it’s now common for men to wear make-up too, and subcultures live and die so quickly online that beauty trends move at lightning speed. So whether you were doing an expert contour, a high concept drag look, or painting a full on artwork onto your face in the 2010s, of course we needed a word like “beat” to express enthusiasm for all this creativity and diversity.


In the 2010s, the number of people going vegan boomed, with figures only set to rise in the 2020s. It only goes to follow that we’d get a boom in vegan make-up and hair products too. One study even found that women were more concerned about buying vegan make-up than eating vegan. While a lot of cosmetics are animal tested, others contain things like honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, albumen, carmine, cholesterol and gelatin (in fact there are so many it can be kind of confusing). Beauty brands like Skyn, Bleach, and Le Labo offered us an alternative in products that are certified vegan. 

The rise in vegan beauty reflects a wider shift in how we became more conscious as beauty consumers this decade, worrying about plastic waste, or buying organic, natural and clean. The invention of apps like ThinkDirty helped us identify things like parabens, or synthetic chemicals in our products, and cut them out of our routines. Conscious of climate change, and conscious that our skin is, afterall, the biggest organ in the body, we demanded a #cleanbeauty revolution.


Thicc: curves in all the “right” places, which usually means the ass and thighs. In May 2018, a song called “One Thicc Bih” was created on Ditty, an app that converts text into singing, and became a meme after it was posted on Tumblr. In December 2018, an aquarium in California had to apologise after it posted a picture of a sea otter online, with the caption: “a thicc girl” and “#bodypawsitivity”. It got called out for cultural appropriation, given that the term originates from African American communities, yet the aquarium was “not black-run or specifically focussed on black audiences, explained one Tweet. “Thicc” or the aesthetics of thiccness were also appropriated by the people accused of blackfishing in 2019: white influencers who used make-up to make themselves look darker in skin tone, and potentially used photoshop to make their bodies appear more curvy. 

Thicc makes it into the beauty words of the decade however, not because its appropriation sums up an era where people continued to unapologetically “borrow” from people of colour (although yes, that too), but because it’s a positive word to describe women’s natural curves, and if anything, this was a decade of unprecedented and huge leaps in terms of embracing body diversity in fashion, beauty and the media; Aaron Philip championed models with disabilities, model La Shaunee topped the Dazed 100, and the Victoria’s Secret show got cancelled. This is what we call progress. 


Fenty totally transformed the beauty industry after Rihanna launched it back in September 2017. With its inclusive range of 40 foundation shades (now 50), it highlighted just how out-of-date and frankly discriminatory a lot of older major beauty brands were when it came to catering for all skin tones. And when newer brands did try to compete, they were often criticised for not holding a torch (see KKW). Fenty Beauty foundation was such a landmark that it was even named as one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2017

The brand itself came along in an era when the beauty industry was making more strides towards better, more diverse representation – for instance, including trans models, depicting people with acne, or natural body hair. However, with improved diversity came a debate: when does inclusion become tokenisation? In December 2017, someone asked Rihanna on Twitter why she didn’t include any trans models in her Fenty Beauty campaigns. “Too often do I see companies doing this to trans and black women alike! There’s always jut that one spot in the campaign for the token ‘we look mad diverse’ girl/guy! It’s sad!” Rihanna replied (literally imagine if Rihanna replied to you on Twitter). She concluded: “I don’t think it’s fair that a trans woman, or man, be used as a convenient marketing tool!”


Remember #gloupchallenge and #2012vs2018 and #10yearchallenge? In the 2010s, we kept getting swept up in viral challenges where people posted a pic of themselves, say, six years ago versus today, to show the “improvement” in their appearance, or else to simply crack a good joke (like the iconic girl who posted a picture of her in freshman year with male prom date and another of her in senior year kissing a girl.) Celebrities got on the bandwagon too; the best ones were the ones where they looked EXACTLY the same, see Nicki Minaj and Reese Witherspoon.

Perhaps Vox put it best when it said: “At its core, the 10-Year Challenge is a wholesome, socially acceptable way to brag about how hot you used to be, how hot you are now, or how hot you were and continue to be.” In some ways, posting about our glo ups also reinforced that there’s one way to look that’s more desirable than the others, since for the people who did look “better” usually that just involved no longer having acne or braces, or wearing a load more make-up. On the plus side, glo up challenges were a way to publicly embrace our awkward adolescent stage or bad make-up and fashion choices in the public realm, taking away the awkwardness of it all. Overall, having a glo up was mostly about feeling yourself. That we could get behind. 


In the 2010s, use of fillers creeped up gradually. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ data, the use of soft tissue fillers in the US went from 1.8 million procedures in 2010 to 2.68 million procedures by 2018. Undoubtedly the biggest moment for fillers this decade was 2015, when Kylie Jenner, at the time just 17, revealed that she’d had lip fillers, and enquiries for the procedure went up 70 per cent within 24 hours. Soon, it became almost normal to walk into a beauty salon or clinic with a photo and say “I want that”, like you might a hairdressers with a picture of your favourite pop star in the 90s. 

Cosmetic surgeons started offering Kardashian packages (which were later banned), and in the UK, after Love Island aired, you could buy a Love Island botox package, with cosmetic surgery companies advertising off the back of the show. With the popularity of Kylie’s lips, came the popularity of overlining, and of Kylie’s lip kits; when the first products were launched in 2015, they reportedly sold out in less than a minute, crashing the website. In one day in 2016, Kylie Cosmetics reportedly made $19 million, which makes it easy to see why the Dazed Beauty cover star is one of the world’s youngest billionaires and one of the biggest names in beauty in the 2010s – for better or worse.


No list of beauty words from the 2010s (good and bad) would be complete without “filter”. If the 2010s gave us FaceTune and VSCO, over the last decade it also became completely normal to augment our faces in real time with everything from cat ears to freckles to full botched plastic surgery lewks. Given that, with the click of a button on social media platforms we could get an instant glo up, by way of a literal golden glow and an airbrushed aesthetic, it’s no wonder that, in 2018, there was widespread panic about Snapchat dysphoria, the phenomenon of people starting to prefer the way they looked through filters than in real life, and so turning to plastic surgery to get the look offline. In 2017, 55 per cent of facial plastic surgeons saw patients who wanted surgery to help them look better in selfies, compared to 13 per cent in 2013.

In 2019, Instagram banned a load of filters that mimicked cosmetic surgery, and implemented new rules surrounding posts that are seen to promote it. One r filter that was banned showed the lines that a surgeon might draw on your face before you go into the theatre. In response, a black market for plastic surgery filters arose. Still, it’s not all bad; filters bridged the gap between talented bedroom coders and designers and Instagram users everywhere, and gave birth to some fun online moments. There was the FaceApp challenge, which despite its dodgy privacy, let us see what Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X would look like at 60. Euphoria came out with some pretty good ones. We even made our very own Dazed Beauty Instagram filter.