As anyone who reads my red carpet reports knows, I’ve got my celebrity beauty crushes... and then I’ve got my people like Ariana Grande.
With her ever-present ponytail, oversized false lashes and mask-like makeup, she has developed a very particular beauty aesthetic—which couldn’t be further from mine. It’s the “Sexy Baby” concept, as Vice has called it (and includes a wardrobe rotation of racy, lingerie-like outfits that wouldn’t look out of place on a Bratz! doll).
Even still, those things don’t really bother me. What I actually find unsettling is the development of what I like to call her Resting Smug Face. Or, as Buzzfeed puts it: “Have you noticed that Ariana Grande always looks like she’s politely listening to a very bad joke?”
But things weren’t always this way.
I, for one, suspect that cosmetic interventions may have played a role in 28-year-old Ariana’s dramatic transformation. Here’s how her look has changed from back in her Nickelodeon days until now.
From 2008: Before She Was Famous
In High School
So, what did Ariana look like pre-ponytail? Now we know, thanks to a photo shared by her dad (which she probably made him delete) and recovered by the Instagram account @ariana_deleted. This would have been taken around 2008, when she was 15 years old. There’s no trace of the smug expression here, just a genuine, happy smile. Her hair is naturally dark brown and curly, with full brows to match.
From 2009-2013: The Nickelodeon Years
At the 2009 Holiday of Hope Tree Lighting and One Hope Benefit
In 2009, Ariana became a redhead for her role on the Nickelodeon series Victorious, and you know what? I don’t hate it on her. Although it’s not a natural-looking red (and isn’t meant to be), the shade gives her a very flattering, peaches and cream complexion. At this point, she’d also started straightening her hair.
At a 2010 Promotional Appearance for ‘Victorious’
She went an even darker shade of red the following year, but with the wrong shade of foundation, it’s now clashing with her skin tone. (You can see where the foundation ends, at her collarbones.) She’s got a few teenage blemishes underneath it (she was 16 here), and this is obviously her natural nose. Also check out her eyelids, and the short distance between her lashes and brows!
At the 2011 Angel Awards
This is when Ariana started with the ponytails—no doubt because her hair was becoming damaged from all that dye. It’s also when she began getting spray tans, which I’ll admit are better than a mask of warm-toned foundation, but still clash badly with burgundy hair. Have you noticed how the colour of her brows keeps changing? Now they’re ashy in the middle, and brassy on the edges. I’m also surprised to see her in red lipstick, which would be very off-brand for her these days.
At the 2012 Variety Power of Youth Event
This might be my favourite photo of her, at 19 years old. Bright pink lips, fresh makeup (way less than she wears now), sun-kissed skin and a more realistic shade of red hair—this is a look I can get behind. But already, there are signs of changes to come. Her brows seem to be getting higher, and her upper lip is now fuller than the bottom one.
At the 2013 Radio Disney Music Awards
I’ve got a couple shots to show you from 2013, because this was a pivotal year for Ariana. This is when her eyebrows permanently migrated up her forehead, and the Resting Smug Face really took hold. Above might have been a “test round” because one brow is actually higher than the other. She also returned to the spray tan, but traded her red hair for a medium brown. (And yes, that’s a ponytail again, too!)
At the 2013 Billboard Music Awards
Fortunately, her brows look more even here, but they’re definitely sitting much higher up on her forehead versus back in 2010. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s a too-tight ponytail that’s causing this situation. I can’t help but wonder if she tried out the look with Botox first, liked it, and then decided to undergo a more permanent procedure.
From 2014-2016: Global Pop Stardom
At the 2014 Teen Choice Awards
It was in 2014—at age 20—that Ariana finally hit her stride, blossoming into a full-fledged pop diva. Everything is more exaggerated now. Her hair has tripled in size thanks to some new extensions, her lips are obviously over-lined (and maybe injected), and her eye makeup is more dramatic than ever. Although I don’t doubt a surgical procedure was involved, too, it kinda looks like her ponytail is pulling up her eyelids here!
At the 2015 Grammys
The next year, she went back to her natural dark brown hair colour (which I think suits her the best). She also switched up the rust-toned eyeshadow we’d been seeing over the last few years, and tried out a pair of cat eyes with soft, baby pink lips. But there’s something else to pay attention to—her nose. It could just be her profile, but to me, it appears somewhat smaller in relation to her other features.
At the 2016 Grammys
But just when we thought Ariana’s uneven eyebrows had been corrected... they’re back! (And so is the blonder hair, at least on the ends, and tanned skin.) Needless to say, it appears to be a botched brow job, but maybe it’s only noticeable in certain shots because she knows her angles? In any case, if the smoky eyes are supposed to distract from them, it isn’t working.
At the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards
Later that year, she showed off a new set of bangs (which were likely clip-ins), and honestly, it's a smart idea. Now, whatever is going on with her brows is obscured—although to me it almost looks like they’re pulled even higher, especially at the outer tails! The other big change is her nose, which is most definitely more petite than it used to be. Oh, and we’ve got another case of mismatched foundation; this time, it’s too light for her body.
From 2018-2021: A New Aesthetic
At the 2018 Met Gala
By the time she was 24 years old, Ariana’s style started evolving in a new direction, as you can see here. A mask of makeup seems to be the look she’s going for, what with the lighter tone of foundation, drawn-on eyebrows and supersized eyeliner flicks. The finishing touch is a dab of glowy highlighter placed just so on her newly refined nose.
At the 2020 Grammys
Two years later, she stepped out in almost the exact same look she wore previously. Even her pose is similar—did you know that she only allows the left side of her face to be photographed?! That might have to do with the aforementioned eyebrow issue, because I don’t notice it as much in this shot. What I do see, however, is some newfound volume in her lips, no doubt from injections!
On Instagram in 2021
So far in 2021, we haven’t seen Ariana on the red carpet, just in selfies like this from Instagram. (And frankly, if it didn’t come from her account, I’d never know this was her!) So I assume it’s been filtered to the max—but we can still see that she continues to dabble with lip injections. At first, I thought she might’ve had her brows fixed, too, but then I realized this photo is flipped. (Her ear tattoo gives it away!)
Ariana Grande Before and After
Ariana in 2009 vs 2016
The most surprising thing about Ariana’s Before & After is that she wasn’t born with her Resting Smug Face. Apparently, it came about through her cosmetic interventions—and I suspect a brow lift was most at fault.
“Comparing the position and shape of [her] brows from 2010 pictures to 2016 and on, one notices a clear and relative elevation of the medial (close to the nose) aspect of her brows,” says Dr. Jacob Sedgh in a Q&A on RealSelf. “In general, some brow elevation can be done chemically with neuromodulators such as Botox, the effectiveness of which can be different on people based on some anatomic and innervation variations. The more definitive, robust and long-lasting method to do it will be through a brow lift (forehead lift) surgery.”
That’s why I always felt like something was “off” about her features, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I realized (years later) that there was a surgical procedure that could do that!
As for the rest of her face? When you look at the difference between 2009 and 2016, you can clearly see that her nose became smaller. Dr. Anthony Youn chalks it up to “makeup” and “angles,” and dismisses the idea of a rhinoplasty because she was always in the public eye at the time. But I disagree. Look at the side-by-side photos—I wish makeup was capable of making that much of a change!
However, one thing I think we can agree on is her lips. It’s obvious from her most recent photos that she’s now doing lip fillers in big way. What celeb isn’t, these days?