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File:Cosmetic Catastrophe 6609.jpg

The Path To Manhood has many obstacles. To prove his worth, a youth may have to complete the Training From Hell, avenge the deaths of those dear to him, carve some notches on his bedpost, wrestle a bear, or become embroiled in a "manly project" predestined to go wrong.

The path to womanhood, on the other hand, seems limited to the correct application of make-up. Frankly, sometimes you're better off with the bear-wrestling.

This is a fairly common plot in works aimed at a pre-teen/young teen audience. A girl will decide that she needs to change her look, and that a complete makeover is the only way to do it. The occasion might be prom night, her first date, the dreaded school photo, or even just proving that she's a young woman, not a child. Whichever it is, she has her heart set on using "grown up" cosmetics.

Problem is, she's never used them before. She might even be specifically banned from using make-up/hair dye/curling tongs until she's "old enough". So, she swipes some of her mum's make-up, sneakily buys some hair dye, and runs off to the bathroom for some makeover magic. And, of course, it all goes horribly wrong.

Apparently, few people in TV-land think to bite the bullet and ask mum for help, or enlist the assistance of a make-up savvy friend, or even read one of the millions of magazines only too eager to tell girls how to paint their face. Which leaves only trial-and-error as a means of finding the right look. With emphasis on the "error" part.

She'll put so much lipstick on that she ends up looking like an evil clown. Eyeshadow and blusher will be laid on so thick that she resembles a Picasso masterpiece. She misreads the instructions on the hair dye and ends up with her scalp on fire...or magenta hair. As for her eyebrows...well, you don't know what you've got until they're gone. She might realize the disaster straight away, or, if the writers are really cruel, she might think she looks great right up until she walks into a room only to have everyone kill themselves laughing at her.

Strangely, the moral of "you look beautiful the way you are" is becoming quite rare...especially as the media steers girls towards the beauty industry at an increasingly young age. Instead, the moral is more likely to be a more standard "obey your parents," since mum will do an "I told you so" as she fights to restore her daughter's hair to some semblance of normality. Which seems a bit warped, really -- the message is effectively "don't use beauty products until you're old enough to get a part time job. Then you can spend all your cash on trying to make yourself beautiful."

Back in reality, make-up is nearly essential in the television set -- the nature of the studio lights means that most people will need at least some blusher or foundation just to look "natural." Which can make it a bit tricky to do this plot in a live action series where the audience has probably realized that the Naive Everygirl wears foundation and mascara on a daily basis, so why should she screw it up now?

This can happen to older characters too. It's a good way of pointing out the geeky/awkward girl; either she won't wear make-up at all, or she'll stick with a single look, unlike her more popular or practical colleagues. Expect hilarity to ensue if she decides it's time for a change.

It used to be that the victim of the trope was Always Female. With the increase in beauty products and procedures that are acceptable for men to use, it is no longer, although it probably won't involve makeup, relying instead on tanning, hair alteration, or tooth whitening.

When the Cosmetic Catastrophe is the result of dying one' hair, that becomes the subtrope My Hair Came Out Green.

Related to (subtrope of?) Uncanny Valley Makeup. See Inelegant Blubbering for another catastrophe involving cosmetics. Often stems from Femininity Failure.


Anime and Manga

  • Shortly after joining The Shinsengumi in Peacemaker Kurogane, Tetsunosuke gets jealous at Yamazaki Susumu, who does his spying work crossdressed as a beautiful woman. Tetsunosuke grabs a spare kimono and borrows Susumu's makeup box, ending up looking more like a Kabuki clown than a lady, to the horror of innocent bystanders.
  • Eureka in Eureka Seven goes through this. When she tried imitating the use by several other crewmates to cover up some scar she had on her forehead the results were bad. Talho then gave her some that just covered up the scars, but she's never seen with it again.
  • Makie of Mahou Sensei Negima, Genki Girl that she is, tends to put on make-up a tad too enthusiastically whenever she tries to on her own.
  • A variant of this occurs in episode 28 of Pokémon, Team Rocket run a fake beauty salon for pokemon. Ash and Misty get into an argument about fashion that ends with Ash daring Misty to take her Psyduck to the salon to get a makeover. She tries, but Team Rocket end up thinking that she wants a makeover. So they put her in weird clothes, give her a new hairstyle, and paint her face with ridiculous clown-like makeup. She thinks it looks good, until Ash sees her and laughs his butt off at how stupid she looks.
  • When Nodame of Nodame Cantabile tries to make herself pretty for Chiaki, this happens.
  • Happens in Tenchi in Tokyo when Ryoko applies make-up to her face by the pound. Everyone is startled but then laughs hysterically when they see her face (especially Princess Ayeka, who's rolling on the floor laughing so hard she's crying at the sight!)


  • Employed in the 1990 New Mutants Summer Special where Rahne is given a makeover by one of the residents of Megalopolis to seduce her over to Consumerism. The "mirror" shown to her is a glamor shot. Her actual makeup consists of childish scrawling and a badly fitted wig.


  • In the 1999 movie The Other Sister, Juliette Lewis (playing a mentally challenged girl) gets a cheap makeover in a mall. Unfortunately, she has to find out that it covers just half or her face.


  • Georgia Nicolson, the Cute Clumsy Lovable Alpha Bitch protagonist of Louise Rennison's series (beginning with Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging), is the queen of this trope... even though she does use make-up on a regular basis. Somehow, she always has to push things just a bit too far: she dyes a blonde streak in her hair only to have the hair snap off when her boyfriend runs his hands through it, she tries to make a pimple look like a beauty spot with the aid of a lip pencil (making it even more obvious) and shaves off her "orang-utan" eyebrows when she decides tweezing hurts too much. In another book, she dyes her legs bright orange in a self-tanning-lotion mishap.
  • Tracy Beaker, of Jacqueline Wilson's The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Dare Game, and Starring Tracy Beaker has an example of this in the first book, with an on-the-money illustration by Nick Sharratt. However, she doesn't do it for a boy, but because an author is coming to her care home and she wants to make an impression. She does. The author, Cam Lawson, later becomes her foster mother. The worst part is that she doesn't even realize why people are laughing...
  • Letty Chubb in the Teenage Worrier book series had several of these. She has dyed her hair orange, ruined her mother's expensive ballgown by stepping on the hem while wearing heels, broken out in a rash because of her allergy to perfume, and more.
  • The Robert Heinlein book Podkayne of Mars has Podkayne try to imitate garish makeup from a magazine cover. Fortunately an older woman shows her how it should be done.
  • This is the unfortunate result when the transvestite protagonist of the YA novel Flipside attempts to apply makeup for the first time, almost discouraging him entirely from cross-dressing until his girlfriend (who finds him most attractive as a girl) teaches him the proper technique.
  • In one book of The Baby Sitters Club, Mallory, while in California and away from her strict parents, basically blew all her money on make up and "Temporary" Blond Dye Job. The Catastrophe in this scenario is that that it's implied in her narration that she's wearing too much, and that the dye is not going to come out before she has to return home.
  • In the short story Liar! by Isaac Asimov, the cold and harsh robopsychologist Susan Calvin is led to believe that a man she has a crush on feels the same way about her, so she begins wearing makeup to draw his attention; her inexpert efforts are less than subtle, and she doesn't get a positive reaction.

Live Action TV

  • In an early episode of Boy Meets World, Cory tries to use a hair care product but fails to read the directions. After they manage to unstick the comb from his head, he tries and fails to slip through the whole day of school wearing a hat. At least he doesn't end up "bald as a cue ball", which is what Eric insists someone else who used the same product did.
  • On The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Cody decides to differentiate himself from his brother by lightening his hair. Result: pink hair. On the day of a scholarship interview. Naturally, a Twin Switch is the perfect answer. Not.
  • There was an small early arc in Yo Soy Betty, la Fea where Betty tries a makeover by buying a new dress and trying a new hairdo and makeup. Unfortunately, she don't have fashion sense, and let herself in the hands of the saleswoman and the hairdresser, who are as clueless as she is. Predictably, it fails horribly, prompting the rest of the cast to say that she looked worse than her usual self. Later, (after the proper makeover) this experience becomes an inspiration, and she capitalize it into a program to create salesgirls with fashion knowledge, so they can act as consultants for the clients and they can get a better experience (and clothing that suit them).
  • On Friends Ross used too much of a dental bleach agent, causing his teeth to glow in the dark under his blacklight and scaring off his date.
    • In a different episode he manages to get two applications of fake tan on the front of his body and none on the back - after repeated attempts to rectify this he has eight applications on his front and still none on his back.
  • In an early episode of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Ami tries to bond with Usagi by engaging in girls' typical activities with her and her friends. One of these is a pajama party at Usagi's (for which Naru had come as well): at one point, they start showing off their make-up. Ami, not having much practice with it, messes hers up royally... And all three girls share a good laugh.
  • An episode of Yeralash is about a little girl who's left alone with her mom's cosmetics. In the end, two robbers break into the flat... and run away in fear.
  • In one episode of Dad's Army, the platoon are told that Home Guard members who are too old to fight will be drafted into ARP under new government rules. Preparing for an inspection which will decide who is too old to stay, the men go to increasingly desperate lengths to attempt to look younger - toupees, girdles, and even covering themselves in the makeup that Frazer uses when preparing corpses. Meanwhile, Hodges tries to disguise himself as an old man so he will not be sent to the Home Guard. Hilarity Ensues all around.
  • An episode of Malcolm in the Middle has Lois getting a trashy makeover from a girl at work and she ends up being mistaken for a hooker. Hal loves it though.
  • In Two of a Kind Ashley gets an ink stain on her cheek a few days before class pictures are being taken and Carrie attempts to cover it up with makeup. The result is a completely white face, over-rouged cheeks and clown lipstick.

  Ashley: Oh my God, I look like Grandma.

  • In an episode of The Waltons, Mary Ellen tries on makeup like a visiting movie star's hoping to look more mature. Her family laughs at her, saying she looks like a carnival doll, and her mother tells her she'll "look more grown up in a few years if she's patient." Mary Ellen runs away in tears.

Video Games

  • In Fire Emblem Awakening, Severa and Kjelle's second support conversation has Severa dragging Kjelle into trying makeup in an effort to make her more "ladylike." The player doesn't get to see the results, but according to Severa, it failed miserably.

Web Comics

  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, Gadgeteer Genius Kat falls for a boy at her school, tries to paint her face in an effort to impress him, and messes it up. Best friend Annie salvages the situation by removing all the makeup. When Kat notes that she doesn't look different from normal, Annie tells her that she's beautiful as she is, making this one of the rare instances where that particular Aesop is specifically employed.
  • Hannelore of Questionable Content tries to apply makeup with the help of a robot whose cosmetic knowledge is derived from porn websites, with predictable results.
  • The Perry Bible Fellowship points out one more inconvenient side of the vampirism.

Western Animation

  • In As Told by Ginger, the heroine and her two best friends try to make themselves look beautiful for the school photo, by stealing Lois' (Ginger's mother's) cosmetics. Then, when they're found out and forbidden from using makeup, they follow a magazine's instructions for making "fake-up" out of household materials. The results are predictably disastrous.
  • Jane suffers the hair-dying variety in the Daria episode "Dye! Dye! My Darling". It's a subversion considering that Jane basically expected, at least subconsciously, Daria to screw it up in order to pick a fight with her.
  • Katara and Toph try out cosmetics after a day at the spa in one episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The makeup doesn't look that bad, but it's still off enough to attract the attention of a trio of snooty girls. Toph and Katara respond to the criticism by dropping them into a river and washing them downstream.
    • In the sequel series The Legend of Korra, the Tomboy-ish main character has absolutely no interest in make-up since she's been raised in a very sheltered environment due to being the Avatar. Few after meeting her first female friend, a very feminine and much more worldly girl named Asami, she is faced with....DUN DUN DUN, a powder room. Sinister music plays as she suspiciously picks up the puff... only for, unsurprisingly, the powder to explode all over her face.
  • This is, predictably, the effect of Homer Simpson's "makeup gun" as demonstrated on Marge.

 Marge: Homer! You've got it set on "whore"!

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