Why Everyone On Screen Kind Of Has The Same Face Now | Explained

Hollywood promoting unattainable beauty standards is certainly nothing new, but in recent years people have begun noticing some odd new trends (and finally getting fed up with a rather old one) on screen and the way they negatively impact our ability to truly immerse ourselves in a story – and, more importantly, the pressure they put on both women in the audience and the actresses themselves to fit into impossible molds.

From always having to look picture perfect even during the literal apocalypse, to “smartphone face” – aka actors who just look too modern to fit into period settings, to the rise of plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures leading to so many people we see on screen starting to have nearly identical features, these trends have become more and more talked about in recent years. And while the expectation certainly isn’t that everything on screen has to be exactly true to real life all of the time – it is entertainment after all – it is interesting to take a deeper look at what drives these kinds of societal trends. The judgment is usually placed on the actresses themselves, but there is much more at play here.

“In a very short span of time, human beauty standards, especially for women, have gone from something that is pretty unattainable to most people to not even really based on what human faces look like.” The Financial Diet, The Terrifyingly High Cost Of Instagram Face

So let’s take a deeper look at the truth about these on screen trends, how they alter our viewing experiences, and can even affect how we see ourselves.

The Rise of Smartphone Face

Smartphone Face, in the vein of Instagram Face, is when someone looks unmistakably modern – as if they’re using TikTok’s Bold Glamour filter or Facetune at all times. The ‘aesthetic’, which Jia Tolentino from the The New Yorker referred to as “generic sameness,” was initially popularized by the Kardashians-Jenners, particularly the so-called “ethnically ambiguous” aspects, and went on to become the template for social media influencers and models. But as this became the most desirable look, it also started crossing over onto our TV and movie screens as well. Stars have been getting plastic surgery since the dawn of Hollywood – indeed for a long time it was often required in their studio contracts that they get certain procedures to look a certain way (check out our Rita Hayworth video next to learn more about that terrible time.) Through the 1960s and 70s there was a desire for a more real, true to life look (though still glamorous nonetheless,) and there’s often been a very delicate tightrope for actresses to walk: they have to get enough done to be accepted as a Hollywood beauty, but not so much that they’re mocked and shunned for going “overboard.”

Now we’ve arrived at our modern era where many actresses feel pulled between two worlds – they want to act, but they often need to attain some level of social media cache to actually be able to afford to. Though it’s usually denied by studios, there are always rumblings that role choices are made based on social media following rather than talent alone. As Sophie Turner told Porter Magazine, “I auditioned for a project, and it was between me and another girl who is a far better actress than I am, far better, but I had the followers, so I got the job. It’s not right, but it is part of the movie industry now.” And social media “stardom” often isn’t just about clout for these actresses, it’s the way they keep their bills paid. As journalist Kelsey McKinney wrote in her Defector article The Money Is In All The Wrong Places, about how Hollywood bigwigs refuse to pay the people actually making the media so that they can keep more for themselves, “[Sydney] Sweeney posts almost constantly, and almost half of her posts are advertisements… For every image Sweeney posts of herself on the cover of a magazine, there is a branded selfie. She is working.” So, given all of this, it’s not surprising to see that many actresses have started leaning into a more ‘modern’ look – even to the point of changing their faces to achieve it. And all of that is of course also on top of all of the other pressure actresses are under to never age. But all of these changes to “keep up with the times” also leads to on screen incongruencies when they’re supposed to be in a different time.

Dakota Johnson’s adaptation of Persuasion was panned for many reasons, but as many joked, her “resting iPhone face” certainly didn’t help matters. We also saw similar thoughts about hit miniseries Daisy Jones & the Six, with some saying it can be hard to ignore the modernized looks of the cast. One of the most recognizable features that stands out are their straight, pearly white teeth. Veneers have been a part of Hollywood for decades but didn’t become popular until the 80s, especially as cosmetic dentistry became more accessible to consumers outside of the industry, and so don’t really fit in with the era of the show. Many viewers also felt that Camila Morrone, who played Camila on the show, just overall looks too modern to be believable as a young woman living in the 1970s. Older actresses attempting to keep up with Hollywood pressures also get dinged for this, too – take Nicole Kidman getting flack online for her (alleged) plastic surgery not fitting in with the AD 895 setting of The Northman.

Beyond the ‘too modern’ aspect, another issue audiences have with Instagram face is how homogenous the look is – no matter what someone looked like before, they always end up looking nearly identical to everyone else with Instagram Face. This can just feel a little Uncanny Valley on social media, but on screen it feels even more out of place in stories that are supposed to be about all different kinds of women living all different kinds of lives. Erin Moriarty, who plays Starlight on The Boys, became embroiled in discourse when she seemingly got plastic surgery in between seasons, turning her youthful look into a more chiseled one much more in line with the Instagram Face look – and was bullied so relentlessly online that she chose to quit social media altogether. Her struggle shows that the tightrope is still very real for actresses as they face more scrutiny of their looks than ever before but also have to live in fear that they’ll be hit with endless backlash if they go even just a touch too far in trying to fit themselves into the day’s beauty standards. And then this, of course, trickles down to all of us in the audience – we see all of the beautiful, glamorous women on screen that society tells us we’re supposed to look like – but only naturally, and if it becomes too obvious that we’re trying too hard, we’ll get hate, too.

The Lie of No-Makeup Makeup

When it comes to makeup, society pretends to prefer a “natural” look (because a lack of makeup somehow equals authenticity.) But what some don’t realize is that what we’re told is natural is actually a lot of work being very carefully crafted to appear natural. We’re made to believe that it’s normal to wake up with beautifully tousled hair and unsmeared, perfectly done makeup, and so that’s what we’ve come to expect we’re supposed to look like and get down on ourselves for falling short. But it actually takes a lot of effort to look effortless.

“You look beautiful.” “No, l’m sure l look terrible. l just woke up. Are you kidding? l’m sure l’m a mess.” Bridesmaids

Even teen dramas are known for showing high school students regularly attending class in full glam makeup, expertly styled hair, and fabulous outfits that they never wear more than once. (Not to mention wearing heels to school!)

“Even in those morning scenes when we wake up we have makeup on like for two hours we’ve had a professional makeup artist sit there and put eyelashes on.” - Shay Mitchell on working on Pretty Little Liars

Women on screen aren’t allowed to be too unpolished even if they’re running for their lives, surviving the end of the world, or killing zombies. Post-apocalyptic films and TV series make sure the characters look a little dirty and disheveled, but always make sure that the female characters are never too undone or unseemly. Sure, she just survived a plane crash and is trapped on a magic jungle island, but she’s still gotta have her eyes perfectly tightlined and her blush set! The Walking Dead is guilty of this with characters like Rosita who always has perfectly groomed brows. Rarely if ever are they sheltered in a place with running water, let alone the means to maintain a beauty regimen. (And even if they did, there are more pressing things than beauty going on.)

Some people had this initial criticism regarding Fallout as they thought Lucy looked too clean for someone living in the post-apocalypse. But she grew up in a vault with access to medical care, toiletries, hot showers, electricity, and most of the regular amenities we have now. So it actually makes perfect sense that she starts out nearly pristine in her uniform and becomes progressively more disheveled after spending time on the surface. And when she briefly returns to another vault, she takes the opportunity to clean up, instead of just magically resetting every episode.

Society demands perfection without intervention, shaming women for hiding their “real” face under makeup and praising them for bravely going makeup free at work, on camera, or in any public setting (as long as they still look “acceptably pretty,” at least.) When we can’t live up to these unrealistic expectations, it lowers our self esteem and distorts our perception of what is considered “normal.” The narrow ideals of beauty that society upholds often feel nearly impossible to achieve, especially in this catch-22 of needing to be “perfect” but getting flack for doing anything to try to achieve that desired look if you didn’t happen to be born that way. While promoting A Star Is Born, it was revealed that Bradley Cooper apparently didn’t want Lady Gaga hiding behind “artifice.” While the stripped down, “no makeup makeup” look did apparently help her get into the vulnerable, self conscious headspace of her character, the implication that she couldn’t be real while wearing makeup sends a confusing message, because again she is wearing makeup – just the kind that’s hard (for men in particular) to notice, so it seems more ‘real’. No-makeup makeup is very much still makeup, and still takes time and money to upkeep. But the preference for the look in society shows how what’s considered desirably “real” or “natural” isn’t about actual reality, but the guise of being able to attain that desired perfection without trying.

Changes in the Industry (Perfection Is Boring)

In tandem with the growing surge of desire to hide any imperfections, there has been a movement in the opposite direction to embrace real life aspects of ourselves – even things that might be deemed imperfections. And not only does this help make the characters more relatable, it also helps remind us that Hollywood perfection isn’t real life. Something as simple as Saoirse Ronan’s intentionally visible acne in Lady Bird can make an impact, not just to the story itself but also to the audience. Shows like Yellowjackets let their young, mostly female, characters look as they would after surviving a plane crash and living in the wilderness. Natalie’s dark roots grow out, no one shaves their body hair, their skin is chapped and dried from the conditions – exactly how any teenage girl would look in this harrowing, unglamorous situation.

Other TV series show how everyday women look before and after they apply makeup and style their hair, making it clear that, like it is for us in the real world, these cosmetic things aren’t some inherent part of their being but a choice they are making day to day for various reasons. In the first episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Midge secretly removes her makeup and sets her hair in rollers while her husband sleeps. Before he wakes up, she’s already re-applied her makeup, showing how the pressure to always look your best has been ingrained in us for decades. Viola Davis made it a point for How to Get Away with Murder to reveal her character Annalise as a real woman adhering to beauty standards, particularly for dark skinned women of color. Just the simple act of taking off her wig on screen was an iconic moment.

“I did not want to be that woman because I don’t know that woman and I’ve been watching that woman in movies for several years.” -Viola Davis, The Wrap


Movies and television exist to pull us into other worlds – some close to our own and some very, very different – so it’s not in and of itself a problem that some people are almost unrealistically beautiful. But it is important that we really take stock of the stress this can put on us as viewers, and the pressure it can put on those very people on our screens. At the end of the day, our look is our own personal choice, but it’s important to be aware of the larger societal pressures that might be making us think we need to look a certain way – either because it’s upheld as the default that we should somehow just be at naturally or because it starts to feel like literally everyone else is doing it. Our faces are our own, and we should feel free to exist comfortably with ourselves however we like.

“The most important thing when you’re doing your makeup is that you feel good about you from the inside out. Sometimes I’ll do my makeup and you know it’s really just for me.” Lady Gaga’s Favorite Makeup Hacks