Friday, July 29, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 7.29.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

Neodymium magnetic blow-dryer (via)

From Head... 
Hair magnet: Styling products using magnetic fibers to create a fuller, thicker appearance are being developed in Israel. This is sort of brilliant, and a possible plot point in espionage films, when the femme fatale with a luscious mane walks by the supercomputer and erases all covert files.

...To Toe...
Ice cream pedicure:
Okay, so they don't soak your tootsies in melted ice cream, but the fact that there is such a thing as a pedicure inspired by ice cream flavors pretty much proves the study we talked about yesterday. You know, the one about cosmetic use being primarily driven by emotion?

...To Everything In Between:
Thieves!: 41% of British men surveyed borrow their wife's or girlfriend's beauty products, with moisturizer leading the pack of stolen goods, followed by razors. 12% of women argued with said British men about this habit.

Eirebrush ban: The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland has banned two L'Oréal ads for retouching them beyond what the product advertised would be able to achieve. You know, as much as I don't like airbrushing, this claim actually seems sort of hollow to me--am I oversimplifying here? Am I optimistic or cynical for thinking that while these ads are manipulative, the mere act of using Julia Roberts to advertise a product means that we as consumers sort of understand that the ad doesn't represent what the product is capable of?

Mea culpa or greenwashing?: Proctor & Gamble has vowed to go green: using 100% renewable or recycled materials for all products and packaging, creating zero consumer waste in landfills, and designing products that maximize the conservation of resources. Sounds good, but is it just a more elaborate form of greenwashing?

But do they use coupons?: Sixty-four percent of women surveyed earning $100k-$149k a year would continue buying a store-brand beauty product if they were pleased with the results, as opposed to only 50% of women making $50k-$74k. My question is, who wouldn't continue buying a store-brand beauty product if they were pleased with the results? Of course, I'm so rich I replaced all my teeth with rubies, so.

Did the beauty myth kill Amy Winehouse?: I think addiction is far more complicated than what Andy Martin posits here in the Times, but he makes some excellent points: "[H]er devastating — and finally lethal — self-critique tended to home in on her body."

U.S., U.K., and body image: American women report more body confidence than British women, but also want (and get) more plastic surgery, reports Allure. "We love our boobs and we love our butts, but we still want plastic surgery? What do you think is going on?" Allure asks. Well, since you asked! Maybe hyperfocusing on the body, even in a positive sense, leads to the sense that we have and should have total control over our shape? Or that hyping up our body's good points ("I love my butt!" say 30% of American women) just leads to a greater gulf between our ideal selves and our reality? Maybe we shouldn't be focusing so much on "loving" our bodies (for love can invite hate, as anyone who has ever shouted at a lover who would never shout at a friend can attest) and instead focus on caring for them?

Of corsets complicated: On the heels of Decoding Dress's post about shapewear comes a WWD piece (subscribers only, but the gist is that shapewear is now more acceptable, and the market is doing well). "It’s affordable and there isn’t the stigma of cosmetic surgery and the paranoia. It’s like, ‘I put on my lipstick, my perfume and my shaper, and I can take it off whenever I want.'" says stylist Phillip Bloch. Makes sense to me. Of course, so does the concluding quote by psychologist Jennifer Baumgartner: “When people have extra weight on, they don’t like the feeling of their flesh jiggling and shapewear often eliminates that,” she said. “Shapewear can offer a sense of security, but it’s a crutch and a quick fix. It can actually become addicting.”

Hair-care regulation in Ghana: The Ghana Hairdressers and Beauticians Association is lobbying for state licensing. This could have trickle-down effects in the States; unlicensed (and unqualified) hairstylists can flood the African/African-American hair-care market and spread misinformation that can lead to traction alopecia.

Not in favor of unsafe cosmetics, mind you: And in regulation news closer to home, not all small beauty companies are reacting to the proposed Safe Cosmetics Act with joy.

Is it really the makeup that needs to be how-to'd here?

"Ancient Chinese secret" not so ancient: Chinese cosmetics brands are reinventing their images to compete with global brands for Chinese touting natural ingredients and traditional Chinese ways. I know, I know, we all thought the Chinese women applied their makeup by correctly channeling their chi. But this is an interesting look into how traditional production can be fetishized even within the country of origin.

Body-image sovereignty mad libs!: Allyson at Decoding Dress takes on questions of bodily ownership when you want to lose weight but don't want to feel like you're falling prey to the beauty myth in doing so, prompted by Virginia's earlier take on the matter in response to a reader question. (Also, if you liked my post on "dressing your figure," check out her post on the myth of horizontal stripes.)

"I woke up as a man today": Holly Pervocracy on gender performance ("Butt-ass naked and half-asleep, in a completely "default" state for a human being, I was about as masculine as a person can get"), and her gracious clarification when she realized she might've gotten it wrong. (She usually doesn't. Get it wrong, that is; she's a lucid writer on gender, though there are many places where I disagree with her.) "I, personally, feel like femininity is something that requires me to make effort and make changes, and masculinity is just how I am when I wake up. I, personally, am not everyone." 

On seeing, and being seen: Oliver Seth Wharton on a run-in with his neighbor that would have been unremarkable, were it not that it marked the first time he'd seen her without her chador. He questions his own complex reaction in light of seeing her outside of her usual proscribed role: "The smile disconcerted me more than her presence. It felt both like a gesture of neighborly kindness and a confession. Well, you caught me. This is what I look like. ... Maybe we just can’t bear the raw power of seeing each other."

"You are capable of much more than being looked at": Congrats to Beauty Redefined--their media-literacy and body-image billboards have hit northern Utah, and they are fantastic. Take a peek!

Musings of a recovering woman: Rachel Hills on her eating disorder history, and the ways it plays (and doesn't play) into being a feminist. "Having an eating disorder didn’t make me a feminist. I was a feminist a good few years before I started starving myself and throwing up meals. But I do suspect that the emotions and general sense of confusion that led to me doing those things might be the same emotions and confusion that led to my fascination with gender issues."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why We Wear Makeup, as per Science

It's our product and we'll cry if we want to. (via)

A recent study from University of Basque is going to blow your mind. Are you ready, readers? The leading force behind cosmetics use isn’t how well the products work, it’s our emotional response to them. (Of course, most people using cosmetics are ladies, and you know us, we’ll laugh or cry at just about anything. Wite-Out! Self-cleaning ovens! Dentistry!)

Maybe I shouldn’t be flip here, even if this seems to sort of come from the Duh Department. There’s a dearth of well-done studies--which, actually, this is--that touch on issues of attractiveness, or rather what we do to make ourselves attractive. (Most often these sorts of studies either hammer away at women-feel-bad-about-themselves with little variation, or everything-can-be-explained-by-evolutionary-psychology-YOU-JANE theses.) So while it’s hardly surprising to read that emotion, not utility, is the primary driving force behind cosmetics consumption, it’s a solid step in a direction I dearly want to know more about.

Still, a few things jumped out at me. It’s odd that the study authors made this determination using products with no immediate short-term effects. Instead of using, say, mascara or blush, the researchers plied participants with anti-aging and body-firming creams. Given that there’s no observable way to determine the actual effectiveness of these products (unless you used them on only half of your face or body, but who would be foolish enough to do that?), what other reason could there possibly be for using these products? Of course it’s emotional—and it would be emotion-based even if the utility were immediately apparent. Because as much as we know that looking attractive can get us better pay, more dates, and the occasional freebie, most of us aren’t wearing cosmetics, Spock-like, based on calculations of pay increases and mating options. We’re wearing them because we want to look better, or we fear looking worse. And I know it’s more complicated than that (exhibit A: this entire blog; exhibit B: women who feel the “utility” benefits stripped from them when they refuse to wear makeup, like Melanie Stark, who was fired from Harrods for not wearing the stuff), but at its baseline it is all about how we feel.

Which isn’t to say that I find the study to be useless. For starters, it acknowledges feelings of “sensorial pleasure” in cosmetics use and also acknowledges the joy that comes with feeling sexually attractive (which could arguably fall under the “utility” aspect of the study). The #1 motivation for wearing products, according to the study, is “relief from dissatisfaction” with one’s appearance, followed by sexual attractiveness, with perceived actual physical benefit coming in third. But not far behind that is how good the product feels, smells, and looks. It's a relief to see this reported some way other than anecdotally; the ad folks have certainly picked up on the "treat yourself!" angle, but "sensorial pleasure" is essential to self-care, and it warrants research. The study also shed a bit of light on what makes consumers believe a product will “work.” Get ready to drop dead away again, folks: It’s packaging!

But the heart of the study, while it sort of falls under the women-feel-bad-about-themselves umbrella, puts a fine point on some of the negative emotional impulses we might have surrounding cosmetics. The study found that it’s not so much that we’re chasing after some unattainable dream, but that the #1 force behind cosmetics use is “relief from self-dissatisfaction.” This made me think back to my interview with beauty editor Ali: “I think cosmetics make people feel good about themselves, not bad,” she said. Now, I’m not going to suddenly start accepting paper bags under the table from Procter & Gamble, and certainly part of cosmetics’ success depends upon its advertising nudging along that dissatisfaction in the first place. But a certain degree self-dissatisfaction, if we’re going to get all philosophical here, is part of the human condition. Shame and guilt we should do without, but are those the inevitable accompaniments to self-dissatisfaction? Can we swipe on our concealer to improve our self-satisfaction without feeling the twin baggage of shame and guilt? Is “relief from self-dissatisfaction” necessarily driven by misogyny, negative self-esteem, and The Man, or can it be the sort of relief you feel walking into an air-conditioned apartment after a long, hot day?

At its baseline, the study merely quantifies what we already know--even if the makeup wearer in me wanted the study authors to better acknowledge that utility and emotions can’t be separated when we’re talking about our reasons for prettifying ourselves. But it’s a quantification we need in order to provide a better base for research into this area. (I hear science works that way? This is why I blog.) This study paves the way for research into questions about women, emotion, and beauty products that may prove more surprising than these results. For starters: Is there a difference in the way women regard color cosmetics versus creams and lotions with fewer definable and fewer short-term effects? How do consumers really internalize go-girl advertising like “Because you’re worth it”? What traits in a consumer makes one more likely to experience products with joy instead of “relief from self-dissatisfaction”? And perhaps most of all, when we claim we wear makeup because it’s our bodies, our choice, is there an X-ray that can peer inside our liberated minds and see if how much they match our lipsticked mouths?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Am I an Apple or a Pear, Part II: You're a Daffodil, Love!

According to the Wikipedia entry on female body shape—because of course “female body shape” has its own Wikipedia entry—I am an apple, as my shoulders are broader than my hips. Of course, according to their definition, I’m also a “rectangle” (my waist is less than 9 inches smaller than my hips), a pear (my hip measurement is bigger than my bust), and perhaps even an hourglass (when terms like “almost” are used, as in “hips and bust are almost the same measurement,” it’s unclear whether we’re talking ½ inch difference or three inches). A list of various other shapes I might be—a spoon, a brick, an A-frame—reads more like a lake house in Wisconsin than a body.

I used to chalk this up to having a sort of weird body shape. Now I realize it’s not because my figure is weird, but because it is utterly unremarkable.

I don’t have the trim waist and ample bosom of an hourglass. I don’t have enough of an imbalance between my upper and lower halves to land me in a pear orchard. My tummy is generous, but “apple” advice is usually for women whose bellies protrude, not someone who’s just thick in the middle. In other words: My figure is far from perfect, but I don’t have any outstanding physical feature that I “need” to dress around on a daily basis. And chances are, if you don’t know your body shape, neither do you.

So I’ll settle this for you, friends: If you can’t tell whether you’re an apple, pear, or an hourglass, you’re none of them.

Not satisfied? You might have more luck with something like Trinny & Susannah’s body shape guide, which has 12 possible forms—but, if you’re like me, you’ll still be left untyped. This isn’t because of your crazy, freakish body type that is unfit to be clothed. It’s because your body is probably a combination of run-of-the-mill (I mean that with love!) without a particular feature that calls for attention, and certain features that you may want to highlight or conceal but that don’t land you in one of the classic types.

None of this is to say that A) any of us need to “fix” anything with our dressing, or that B) women who are easily fruit-typed are contractually obliged to dress for their shape. For more on point A, I’ll again refer you to Mrs. Bossa’s awesome quote roundup on dressing for your figure. For more on point B, I’ll refer you to a gloriously pear-shaped former roommate who looked smashing when she emphasized her delicate upper body and voluptuous lower half in tight jeans and a tiny tank—and who sometimes just wanted to not be the lady with the amazing hips but merely a lady with a lovely and comparatively unremarkable figure, and who would then trot out her tasteful A-line skirts and colorful ruffled tops. Either way is fine, but isn’t it nice to have a choice in the matter?

For all my no-particular-body-shape sisters, I offer the following advice:

1) Quit trying to figure out what shape you have.
Despite how intimately we know our bodies, there’s so much value attached to certain features that it can be difficult to know what your body actually looks like. I was always paranoid about my thighs—indeed, I found my whole body to be too generously sized for my tastes. The result was that until my early 30s, I faithfully followed standard fashion advice for pear shapes and plus-size women, despite being neither particularly pear-ish nor plus-size. I wound up with a closet full of circle and A-line skirts and lots of black. This would be fine if it were my natural taste, but A) I followed this advice for so long that it muted whatever authentic style I might have had, and B) it wasn’t my natural taste. I let my fears about my body, not my actual body’s gifts and flaws, dictate how I dressed. I have since recovered, and do not own a single circle skirt.

As for bucking the black, I offer you...mojitos!

2) Forgive me for stating the obvious, but: Try it on. Not just clothes you think will flatter you, but clothes you think won’t. Hell, try on pieces that are totally outside of your style—I tried on jeggings and a striped batwing top once as a joke to myself (never say I don’t know how to amuse myself) and though I wouldn’t wear that ensemble, I was surprised to find that instead of the blousy top exaggerating the thickness of my waist, it worked with the fitted bottom to make my legs look longer and leaner than they are. The look worked. If I’d stuck strictly to the fashion advice for thick-waisted gals, I’d never have learned that for whatever reason of proportion, the look worked for me even though it went against standard wisdom. (Currently trying to figure out how to rock this without going über-Williamsburg, where I would be immediately spotted as a fraud who has never read David Foster Wallace. Help?)

3) Ask a friend. Not long ago, I shyly asked my glamorously stylish friend Lisa Ferber for some style help. We spent the evening with me trying on dress after dress after dress of hers, and we’d look in the mirror and figure out why each piece either worked or didn’t. As a result, each and every dress I’ve purchased since then has been a total win: I know to look for fitted sleeveless dresses in bright colors or large patterns that stretch over the torso to elongate it, and to not have too much fabric below the waist. It was such a gift for her to give me, and when I thanked her profusely she reminded me that it was a joy for her to be able to guide a friend. (She happens to have an amazing wardrobe, but this could have taken place at Macy’s or wherever, albeit without cocktails. OR MAYBE WITH.) I suggest you choose a trusted friend with whom you don’t have to choose your words gingerly or have any element of rivalry. I think the whole “women secretly hate each other!” thing is bogus and for the movies, but if I hadn’t trusted Lisa as completely as I do, there might have been a little voice that wondered what she really meant when she’d say something didn’t work on my frame. (I know she just didn’t work on my frame.) 
This lady clearly also got some fabulous style advice. Oil painting, Lisa Ferber, 2011.

4) Look to style experts who don’t hang their hat on “dress your shape.” This is one of many reasons why I love the approach of Sally McGraw of Already Pretty. I purchased her excellent self-guided mini-makeover PDF, and what leaped out to me was that there was next to no “dress to flatter” advice in there. (Body shape only makes an appearance when she suggests getting a professional bra fitting, since “Bodies change, you know”—a flaw in many “dress your body” approaches. Never once, in a dozen years of scrutinizing these pages, have I seen an acknowledgment that you may need to reassess your figure on occasion. I weigh the same as I did in 2003 but my waistline has grown, changing my shape.) She seems to assume that the reader can look in the mirror and figure out if something exaggerates a feature she’d rather not play up—an assumption I think is correct, for even if I’m not style-savvy enough to know why an empire waist looks so bad on me when by all means it “should,” I sure as hell know it does look bad, and I’m not going to fill my closet with them. Image consultant Arash Mazinani is outright anti-body-shape, and his explanation makes sense to me: “I mean, think about the human body and think about all the different shapes and sizes it comes in. Can we really just slot someone into 1 of 12 shapes?” Help is out there! Just listen to the right people.

The Citizen Rosebud said it perfectly on Mrs. Bossa’s roundup: “I like the idea of guidelines...but the mirror and an honest eye works better than any Fashion Bible.” Now, I don’t fear that those of us who don’t neatly fit into any category are walking around in a state of fashion paralysis. Chances are that intuitively, you’ve absorbed the important part of Citizen Rosebud’s words here.

But if you came here by asking the Internet “am I an apple or a pear?”, here’s where I’m going to point to your ruby slippers and tell you that you had the answer with you all along. Look at yourself honestly in your favorite clothes; look at yourself in the clothes you want to like but never feel quite right in. Try not to approach this with a critical eye; try to approach it with the eye you’d cast toward a person who loves you, and whom you love back. That person won’t give a damn if some pieces make your tummy pooch out a bit—but she’ll sure notice when you show up wearing an outfit that shows you at your best. Put on her glasses, map out what works for you, and trust that. It will help you more than any figure-flattery advice out there.

For part one of the "am I an apple or a pear?" question—and why I think figure flattery can have more in common with personality tests than actual style advice—click here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Am I An Apple or a Pear, Part I: Body Types as Personality Test

"Well, Doc, I see a moth, my father, and a 22-inch waist." 

As a kid, there was nothing I loved more than taking every personality quiz I could find. I gave myself Rorschach tests (the administrator was possibly biased and definitely untrained), took the Myers-Briggs annually starting at age 8, gobbled up every YM quiz known to girlkind, and drove my parents insane with a book called “1001 Ways to Find Your Personality,” determining my core self based on everything from swimsuit color to favorite art epoch. (I eventually repaid my debt to the teen-mag world by penning this quiz on “What Kind of Feminist Are You?”)

I still like personality tests in the way I like astrology: It’s not so much that I believe being born on May 27 means that I’m adaptable, cerebral, and a bit inconsistent (moi?!); it’s that having a personality imprint in front of me gives me a baseline from which to compare, much the same way I never know where I want to go for dinner but can always pick when given the choice between pizza and Mexican. But when I came across Cult of Personality by Annie Murphy Paul, I paid attention. Her beef with personality tests--especially the sort that are administered by institutions to determine professional “fit”--is that they’re often “invalid, unreliable, and unfair,” more entertainment than science. Her argument is compelling, but since I largely approach them as entertainment already, what I got out of the book was a questioning of my own drive to compulsively categorize myself.

There’s something comforting about being able to locate oneself within a larger pattern. Identity is such an amorphous creature that it’s no wonder we yearn for tools to help us stake our claim: I’m an ENFP, let me do the talking. It’s an anchor, something to hold on to as we navigate our complicated lives--especially in a culture like America’s, whose success is pegged upon a mix of individualism and solidarity. It can give us a sense of revelation to see ourselves presented in a neat little paragraph package, or so says this “charming, ingenuous, risk-taking, sensitive, people-oriented individual with capabilities ranging across a broad spectrum.” (I blush, Myers-Briggs!)

And if that’s all true for personality, imagine what power that has when applied to the vessel that’s such a handy receptacle for our griefs, stresses, anxieties, and pride--the body.

To be clear: I don’t think we seek our personalities through apple/pear/hourglass. I think we look to them to help guide us toward making smart sartorial decisions. But when we heap so many expectations onto our bodies--their size and their shape--is it any wonder that we might be looking to body-type assessments for something a little more critical than whether we should wear pencil skirts?

“Dress for YOUR Figure!” pages are perennially popular in women’s magazines; that’s why so many ladymags feature them. Readers love them; they’re cheap to produce--everyone wins, right? But when I noticed that one of the most popular search terms that lands people at this blog was “am I an apple or a pear,” I started to wonder if everyone was winning. Most of us are amalgams of body types, yet we keep on looking to see if “our” bodies show up. Beyond apple/pear/hourglass, of course, there’s The Body Shape Bible, which features 12 types (none of which are mine, incidentally), The Body Code Quiz (which called me a “Visionary,” along with Twiggy and Gwyneth Paltrow, whose bodies mine resembles only in that we’re all homo sapiens), Joy Wilson’s Shape Guide (which introduces strawberries into the fruit salad of women’s bodies), Shop Your Shape (I’m a spoon!)--and so on and so on. 

What this says to me is that we’re all hungry for validation that our bodies--in all their short-waisted, full-hipped, apple-bellied glory--belong somewhere on the grid of attractive human beings. It speaks to that ever-American desire to be recognized both as an individual (“this advice is specifically tailored to me and my needs”) and as a part of a larger group (“obviously I can’t be alone in my rounded belly if there’s a whole page on how to turn an apple into an hourglass”). And that drive to compulsively categorize myself that I felt at age 8? It shows up in a small twinge of happiness I feel whenever I see hourglass flattery advice that also happens to work on my non-hourglass figure. Maybe I’m not so far from my ideal after all, I’ll vainly hum to myself. And if the odd A-line skirt helps me bridge the gap between my real body and my ideal one--well, if that just means I need to check a different body box than I’d like, so be it.

On its face, it seems to be pro-woman on all fronts--these magazine pages are among the few to acknowledge the existence of women size 10 and up, and there’s often an air of empowerment that accompanies the advice. If I’ll make the argument for Jersey Shore as a beauty democracy, certainly dress-your-body pages can’t be far behind--with just a few words and pictures, ostensibly readers can learn how to mimic an hourglass shape with a series of small tips that maximize our best features and artfully conceal the other bits. (Of course, I usually just wear a sandwich board, so none of this applies to me.) And there’s a lot to be said from a feminist perspective on this--Mrs. Bossa’s insightful series on what it means to “dress your shape” gets into this, particularly with its culmination, a roundup of quotes and photos from other feminist-minded fashion bloggers. “What’s really happening here is about making my beautiful, unique body look like someone else’s...on the other hand, I like this vision [dressing to mimic an hourglass] of my body,” writes Allyson of Decoding Dress.

That mimicry is what it’s about, isn’t it? Doesn’t all the fashion advice in these “dress your figure” bits just try to make us all look like hourglasses? As much as websites and magazines spin it in a go-girl way (“You’re an apple! Play up your fabulous legs!”--huh? But read “apple” advice enough and that’s what you’ll see), at the end of the day we’re trying to locate ourselves on the matrix so that we can stake our claim on land that isn’t really ours. I was doing it at age 8 with the Myers-Briggs, feeling the thrill of seeing “myself” on the written page without really knowing what the grand purpose was. We do it with astrology, draw-a-person tests and related memes, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, enneagrams, and other forms of modern voodoo. They're all meant to be useful, and, on occasion, entertaining--and we love these tests for reasons far beyond their utility. Am I alone in attaching value beyond the circumference of my hips to these body-type breakdowns?

Tomorrow I’ll take a stab at answering the question that’s brought so many readers here: Are you an apple or a pear? (Hint: You’re neither, but we’ll get to that tomorrow.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 7.22.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

But what about two-tone villainesses?

From Head...
Killer blondes: A look at hair color and hairstyles of classic villainesses--entertaining, even if the premise (Murdoch phone-hacking ringleader Rebekah Brooks' shock of red waves) is a tad shaky. 

...To Toe...
Natural nail polish remover: One of the sticking points of a green beauty routine is nail polish for your pedicure. No More Dirty Looks has tackled this before, and The Daily Green rounds it out this week with highlighting a natural nail polish remover.

...And Everything In Between:
Man-made: Gee, how long did it take folks to go from celebrating men's cosmetics to looking askance when they look a little too made-up, as here about Elizabeth Hurley's new fellow? About a millisecond?

Nasty boys: The Sydney Morning Herald asks why men get their own product designed to allow them to not shower. Are men dirtier than women somehow, or is the idea that they like showering less, or...? 

Smell of success: Duane Reade/Walgreens Look boutique is paying off, at least for Demeter fragrances (I wonder if their Funeral Home scent could have a role in Illamasqua's postmortem cosmetics service?), which has gotten a serious boost from its prominent store placement.

Food-scented beauty products may stimulate your mental appetite: Study participants in the Netherlands applied one of three lotions: a chocolate-scented lotion labeled as a chocolate-scented lotion, a chocolate-scented lotion with no label, and an unscented lotion with no label. People who applied the labeled chocolate lotion then ate more chocolate than either of the other groups. I dislike the term "obesity epidemic" for a variety of reasons, but we do live in a society with a wildly disordered relationship to food, and examining issues like these seems worthwhile enough—not so we can all slim down, but so that we can begin to understand the mess of conflicting food messages we get every day.

Why we buy cosmetics: A study from the University of Basque Country proclaims that we buy cosmetics because they make us feel good, not because of their practical use. Gee, glad that's settled.

Big businesz: It's not just in the States that small cosmetics players get knocked off the markets; between 2006 and 2010, 1,200 cosmetics stores disappeared from the Polish market, to be replaced with chains, which now generate 80% of the country's cosmetics sales.

Military brats turned beauty queens: A surprising thread connecting several Indian beauty queens: They're daughters of India's armed forces members. “I guess it comes from the gift of adaptability from having to move from place to place," points out Gul Panag, Miss India 1999. "It makes us more open, broad-minded, inclusive, allows us to go with the flow, connect easily with people, places, environment and circumstances that lead us to be, at any point, both flexible and positive.”

Nexus Vomitus, Millie Brown. Canvas and vomit, 2010.

Puke me a rainbow: Conceptual artist Millie Brown produces colorful vomit as performance art, and About-Face questions whether this glamorizes bulimia. It's a question worth asking, but ultimately I disagree. (Surprise!) Bulimia is marked by an incredible sense of shame; I imagine a bulimic would have a different reaction to Brown's work than most viewers, but my educated guess is that she wouldn't perceive it as a green light. The Lady Gaga video that Brown is most known for is stratospherically weird, but actually glamorizing bulimia? I wish I could see it because it makes logical sense, but honestly I just don't. (Brown doesn't eat for two days before performances, which certainly isn't healthy, but if she doesn't have an eating disorder then it's also not something that needs an intervention. If she did have a history of EDs, I'd feel differently.)

Is makeup a daily must?: Sally McGraw on tumbling down the "cosmetics rabbit hole" and becoming a daily makeup wearer after a lifetime of occasional use. I'll testify to her struggle: I have to be careful about what makeup I experiment with, because if I know something looks good on me I'll probably start wearing it every day. (My special-occasion look barely differs from my day-to-day look for this reason.)

Hair color, depression, and being seen: Velvet Cerebellum's compelling essay on how dyeing her hair wild colors has helped her manage depression. "I'd go out and kids would stare and smile, they liked it. Could a world as terrible as the one I imagined also be a world with kids waving and smiling and loving my hair?"
(via Already Pretty)

But I'm a Gemini!: Hugo Schwyzer on flirting for validation of attractiveness: "When married or otherwise 'taken' folks flirt with people who aren’t their partners, they’re often not trying to start an affair. What they want is affirmation of their continued attractiveness, a reassurance that their own significant others can no longer give."

Tattoo you: The Tattooed Philosopher on how tattooed women may buck the beauty myth: "I have found in my conversations with other tattooed women a unity...rather than a competition with each other or a divide from within. This unity of tattooed sisters shows the lack of power the beauty myth has on those of us gals who freely define ourselves and have our own ideas of beauty."

The "M" ain't for marriage, people: Virginia at Never Say Diet on a study that "proves" that couples are happier when the ladypartner has a lower BMI than her manpartner. "Ours is a forbidden love," she writes of her marriage (which, despite obviously being a sham, seems like it might somehow be making both partners happy?). If I'm the Oedipus of cankles, she's the Thisbe of BMI.

What's feminism got to do, got to do with it?: Some excellent talk about feminism, self-love, and dieting from Beauty Schooled, Anytime Yoga, and Kjerstin of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall via her guest post at Sociological Images.

Magic underwear: Allyson at Decoding Dress on shapewear, or rather why we choose clothing that makes us look like we have something we don't. Confession time here: I love shapewear--rather, I wear it on occasion, and I like the effect it gives enough to deal with the discomfort. But, yeah, I do sort of feel like I'm "cheating"--like I'm telling the world that my waist is a bit more nipped-in than it is, my bosom a tad fuller. And besides the obvious self-esteem question of why I'd suffer discomfort in order to whittle my waist, every time I put on a waist cincher I wonder about its larger implications. I've written before about how artificial beauty can actually be a sort of democracy, so hell, let me look like I'm more of an hourglass than I actually am! Bring it! But I also know that's sort of a cop-out on my end, a conscious opting in of a certain beauty tyranny--we're not talking false eyelashes, we're talking false bodies. And the push-pull continues.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thoughts on a Portmanteau: Manorexia, Drunkorexia, and Liarexia

Webster's, 1894: Anorexy: Want of appetite, without a loathing of food

As Portmanteau Week here at The Beheld* concludes, I’d like to turn away from cankles and mandals—I know, how could anyone turn away from mandals?—to something with a tad more gravity: manorexia, drunkorexia, and liarexia.

These spinoffs of anorexia seem, at first (and second) look to undermine the severity of these conditions. Anorexia indicates that the sufferer needs treatment; manorexia implies that the sufferer is an outlier, not quite an anorexic (even though that’s exactly what he is), more of an anomaly than a person who might be welcomed into a treatment community. Drunkorexia conjures up not anorexia with alcoholism comorbidity (or alcoholism with disordered eating comorbidity) but a gaggle of sorority girls who skip dinner so they can hit up the beer bong and still fit into their Sevens. As for liarexia, the word didn’t appear to exist until this very month, with the Daily Mail piece about women who eat heartily in public but who restrict in private. The condition, of course, has been around for ages—it falls under the umbrella of ED-NOS, or eating disorder not otherwise specified, which actually has a higher mortality rate than both anorexia and bulimia.

Overall, I’m inclined to agree with Stephanie Marcus at The Huffington Post, who writes that “labeling the behavior ‘liarexia’ distracts from its seriousness,” which I feel goes for all of the above terms. But here’s where I’m going to trot out my beloved Gloria Steinem quote again: Because of feminism, “We have terms like sexual harassment and battered women. A few years ago, they were just called life.” The emergence of manorexia shows that people are beginning to understand that men can be afflicted with eating disorders—something that wasn’t true outside of the medical community (and often within it) less than a decade ago. Drunkorexia might get the mental wheels turning in some women who have been doing it for so long that they don’t realize it might actually be a problem, not just a Saturday night. As for liarexia, it highlights the larger problem behind the condition: We’re so on guard about women’s food intake—and we attach so much emotional and moral value to what we eat—that eating a cheeseburger becomes a signal that all is well on the food front, even when it’s not. See also: DIPE, or Documented Instances of Public Eating—which, incidentally, the Daily Mail piece addressed.

In fact, the Daily Mail piece that raised my ire is actually a pretty solid piece that raises awareness that one doesn’t have to have a full-fledged eating disorder in order to have a problem. I’m constantly reading up on this stuff, so I’m always glad to see a public take on eating disorders that goes beyond the classic poor-little-rich-girl tale (thankfully, there are more complex depictions of EDs out there now, but that’s a fairly recent development). But most people learn about eating disorders primarily through mainstream outlets, and by relying on cutesy terms, those outlets are failing the public. The Columbia Journalism Review opined that this New York Times piece about anorexia offshoots was frivolous, even as the writer stressed that addictions and eating disorders are troubling. “But worth nearly 1,400 words in the Sunday Times (the Style section, but still)—and deserving of the implicit validation that comes from reference as a ‘phenomenon’? Doubtful.” Yet I’m doubtful that the CJR would have taken issue with the topic if actual medical terms—say, anorexia with alcholism comorbidity, or ED-NOS—were used instead of the word drunkorexia. In pointing fingers at the Times for its reportage, the CJR dismissed a legitimate concern as a “trend piece.” But with a word like drunkorexia, can you blame them?

Anorexia spinoffs are the inverse of cankles: Where cankles invents a trivial problem to shame us, drunkorexia/manorexia/liarexia labels an existing legitimate problem and then inadvertently trivializes it. And I am fairly sure it’s inadvertent: Neither the Daily Mail liarexia piece nor the New York Times drunkorexia piece glosses over the issues at stake. (I’m picky about the way this stuff is reported and certainly see gaps in the presentation of the information, but overall I found it reasonably responsible.) What I’d like to see from here is a proper naming of what’s going on. If coining one corner of ED-NOS as liarexia helps alert some of its sufferers that what they’re doing is not normal behavior, then I don’t want to get rid of liarexia. Admitting to yourself that you have an eating disorder—especially when it’s not one that leaves you thin enough to warrant concern from others, or that doesn’t have easily diagnosable behaviors like purging—can be a long, self-searching process. My optimistic hope is that the minimizing of ED-NOS through terms like liarexia and drunkorexia may, on occasion, worm their way into sufferers’ minds in a way that a clinical term might not. (Manorexia is more problematic: Men with eating disorders already suffer a double shame, both the shame of having an ED in the first place and then the shame of not being taken as seriously as a woman with the same symptoms might. Male anorectics are already sidelined and belittled enough—but I suppose that there may be anorexic men who find solace in the term, as it indicates that other men suffer in the same way.)

I just want these terms to be portals to real discussion that could lead to real treatment for the people who need it, instead of allowing them to reside in the mental space created by the trivialization of their problem. I’m guessing that for every woman for whom hearing drunkorexia sounds an alarm, there’s another woman who uses it to laugh off her symptoms, popping martini olives—you know, dinner—into her mouth as she jokes about being drunkorexic. If we’re going to use these words as ways to develop a more comprehensive understanding of eating disorders, we need to do so with care.

*    *    *    *    *

Language evolves with the people: Copyediting is my bread and butter, but nonetheless I wholeheartedly subscribe to a descriptive approach to words and grammar. (Don’t tell my clients!) You’ll never find me hand-wringing over the inclusion of LOL, OMG, or IMHO in Oxford; these are terms we use to help us communicate, and if we’re going to communicate effectively we need to make good use of all the tools at our disposal, IMHO. This includes portmanteaux—even the ones I’ve examined with skepticism this week.

But I’d suggest that we should proceed with caution when coining new words. There’s no evidence that language changes more quickly than it did before the Internet; what the Internet has done is give rise to the ability to create mini-phenomenon. When I was researching terms for Portmanteau Week, it stood out to me how the words were clustered. Cankles hit its peak in 2009 (it had gone mainstream well before then, but 2009 provided the most buzz); drunkorexia was big in 2008; liarexia has more than 14,000 Google hits, and I’ve yet to find one of those results published before July of this year. (Mandals, ever the outlier, stands alone, popping up with seasonal regularity.)

What this indicates to me is that we’re eager to examine what may (manorexia) or may not (cankles) be a genuine cultural shift, and that we’re getting better than ever at coining catchy words to describe them. I’d like to see us be careful to not chase clever terminology at the expense of the actual meaning of the words. Trend-ifying portmanteaux may hopefully (hopefully!) work well when we're talking about things like cankles (if we can agree that 2006-2009 was the era of the cankle and be done with it, I'll be thrilled). But it doesn't work out so nicely when we're talking about legitimate concerns that need legitimate examination. We can't allow for the issues behind those talk-cute terms to be swept under the rug once their press cycle has expired.
If coining manorexia leads more sick men to seek treatment for anorexia, fantastic—but we need to keep discussing these issues in order to avoid turning them into the trend that their catchy portmanteaux labels indicate they are. Let’s not forget that the Times drunkorexia piece appeared in the Fashion & Style section (as do most things affecting the ladies, but that’s a different post). Human suffering is not a trend, and giving it the trend treatment makes that easy to forget.


*Note that I must qualify Portmanteau Week with “at The Beheld,” because otherwise I’d run the risk of confusing readers who surely participated in 1995’s “Fun People” Portmanteau Week. Everything I do, I do it for you. Also, please allow the record to reflect that as analytical as I got here, I recognize that the concept of Portmanteau Week is utterly ridiculous. Or—and with this I shall allow Portmanteau Week to close with love—ridonkulous.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thoughts on a Portmanteau: Cankles

The earliest mention of cankles in written matter has nothing to do with either calves or ankles. Chosen not for its imagined meaning but for its terrific dissonance, c-a-n-k-l-e was deemed so ludicrous by sci-fi writer Don Webb that he chose it as the premise of “Late Night at Webster’s,” a 1996 postmodern essay envisioning how new words enter the dictionary. “A word was dropped in their midst. It was cankle,” the essay begins, with his imagined characters bantering back and forth, "Canker and ankle. A foot sore." "Canner and baker. A grandmother." "A compound, can and kill." “I move that cankle is a dead metaphor.” "I can't picture Goethe saying cankle." It’s lunacy, and that’s the whole point, for who would ever take cankle seriously?

And yet, as we know, we did take the cankle seriously. So I began to research its early usage outside of postmodern sci-fi essays—and here, Dear Reader, I have a shocking confession: I am the Oedipus of cankles.* I started researching early uses of the word in an effort to point a triumphant finger and say, This is where it began! Behold Pandora's box!—and found that the earliest print usage of cankle as an actual word was in a 2003 issue of Glamour magazine that I’d copyedited. I could have abandoned cankles on a mountaintop, Jocasta-style, but instead I chose sympathy and let it thrive—and here, today, in front of you all, cankles has come back to wed its blogmother.

 The Finding of Oedipus, French School, 17th or 18th century. 
To think I was once as naive of my role in cankles as Oedipus was here of his
filial relation to his bride Jocasta. O innocence!

The copy reads, "It's a genetic fact: Some women have cankles—thick, calflike ankles." I remember feeling uneasy about the word at the time, and also feeling powerless to speak up; supposedly clever wordplay was the premise of the piece, which was a roundup of words Glamour came up with to describe various appearance-related phenomenon, like deep fryer for a woman who overtans. (In truth, I was a young freelance copy editor and there's no way anyone would have taken it out on my say-so, but I prefer to think of myself in a tragic Hellenic fashion here.) 

In any case, I was deeply relieved to learn that cankles had an earlier appearance in a more appropriate setting—2001’s Shallow Hal, uttered by Jason Alexander’s superficial character. So Glamour didn’t coin the term (and I can’t be certain that Glamour marked its print debut, but I’m unable to unearth anything earlier), but the magazine did take cankles from its purposefully loopy origins—as something said by a character whose comedy stems from his inability to see anything but someone’s adherence to a conventional beauty standard—and made it something we’re supposed to be legitimately concerned about. Certainly Glamour helped tip it from the realm of comedy into the mainstream: By 2006, cankles had made it into Men's Health, Women's Health, Newsweek, Skinny Bitch, a small library of novels and un-noteworthy books, and the Weekly World News, which recommended a magic spell to get rid of them (it involves the new moon, African violet, and visualizing your cankles going to a person of your choosing).

Really, though, cankles aren’t the least of it. I’m focusing on cankles because it’s Portmanteau Week here at The Beheld (I encourage everyone to celebrate Portmanteau Week with me; we'll make appletinis!), but my concerns here are broader: love handles, saddlebags, potbellies. Muffin-tops, bat-wings, back bacon, FUPA (which is thankfully little-known outside of people who make a sport out of shaming women’s bodies, so I won’t get into its acronym here). Hell, to keep it on point with portmanteaus, we have ninkles, which barely qualifies as a portmanteau (if we—"we," of course, meaning the British Vogue editor who coined the term and exactly no one else ever—must come up with a word for knee wrinkles, can’t we have it be kninkles?) We keep coming up with these terms to describe parts of women that are perfectly normal parts to have, or that indeed aren’t a part of their bodies at all—even the slenderest of women will have a “muffin-top” if her pants don’t fit right. We name it to shame it.

We’ve gotten quicker to name these wobbly bits, and we’ve gotten meaner too. Love handles, which originated in the late 1960s, is generous to that bit of flesh above the hips—the term implies that maybe we’re to be adored, and then handled, for having it in our possession. We may still wish to exercise them away, but they’re endearing, and its usage implies affection. “His girlfriend grabbed the rolls around his middle and playfully christened them love handles” (Dr. Solomon’s Easy, No-Risk Diet, 1974); “I kissed Alex, putting my arms around the bulges above his waist, the ones my mother always called love handles” (Galaxy magazine, 1975).

So with love handles being too full of, well, love, muffin-top came in as a handy replacement for it, right along the time we started hearing shrieks about the obesity epidemic (and, of course, abdominal obesity, which can “strike” even slim-seeming Americans). Muffin-top is talk-cute, no doubt, but there’s a meanness to it that I don’t sense with love handles. William Safire disambiguates love handles from muffin-top by saying that the muffin top is more circular as opposed to being strictly on the sides, as with the “handles” in love handles. That’s part of it, but it’s not the whole story. Muffin-top is specifically a term about how people look when they’re dressed—its very definition relies upon flesh spilling over a waistband. Love handles is specifically a term about how people might possibly be touched—amorously—when they’re undressed.

“We have terms like sexual harassment and battered women,” wrote Gloria Steinem about the progress of feminism in her 1979 essay “Words and Change. “A few years ago, they were just called life.” The inverse intent holds true too: If naming domestic violence allows us to go about fixing it, what does that do for cankles, which were once just called life? Every time we use a word like cankles to describe bodies—our own or other women’s—we give them more power than they merit. The entire purpose of these supposedly cute words isn’t to nullify women’s shame about our bodies; it’s meant to amplify it.

In some cases, these words are developed to create shame where there wasn’t any, which is another neat trick of these terms—most of the time, we don’t really know if we possess the dreaded words. Do I have saddlebags, or do I just have hips? Do I have bat-wings, or are my upper arms merely fleshy? Do I have back bacon, rolls of porcine flesh spilling out over my bra band—or do I just need a better bra?

The naming problem applies across the board, but the portmanteaus here seem particularly egregious. Portmanteaus fill a need, or describe something that’s already happening. When they’re created not to label an existing phenomenon that begs discourse—say, e-mail—but to create a demand, it’s usually a corporation that’s doing the naming: Verizon, Rolodex, Amtrak, Texaco. But with the ugly little portmanteaus (portmanteaux?) we use to describe body parts, The Man isn’t benefiting. Sure, big business is known for inventing problems so that they could be solved; eyelash hypotrichosis (conveniently solved by Latisse!) is my personal favorite. But other than Gold Gym’s 2009 “Cankle Awareness Month” and a couple of ebooks titled things like "Say Goodbye to Cankles," businesses aren’t benefiting from these specific words of body policing, even as many of them funnel money into the weight-loss industry. So if the corporations aren’t winning with cutesy terms like cankles, who is?

*Actually, if we're going to get all word-nerd here, Oedipus is the Oedipus of cankles. The poor babe was bound at the ankles by his father so that he couldn't crawl, then abandoned on a mountaintop so that he wouldn't survive in order to fulfill the Oracle's prophecy of marrying his mother and killing his father. Oedipus was rescued by his adoptive parents, who named him for his swollen feet and ankles: Oedema is the ancient Greek word for swelling. (It's where edema comes from, incidentally.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thoughts on a Portmanteau: Mandals

Speaking of portmanteaus, would this T-shirt qualify as anti-mandal slacktivism?
(For the record, I am all about sandals for all, Jesus-style.

"Didn't the Greeks invent sandals?" asked a sandal-wearing male colleague the other day. (Actually, it turns out Oregonians did, thus setting the stage for the state's eventual reputation as hosting a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing, craft-brewing lovefreaks. Which, if my days at University of Oregon are any indication, we are.) His question was in context of mandals, hardly a newfangled fashionisto invention—indeed, they are merely sandals, which, at their base definition, are unisex. "Why do we insist on calling them mandals?" he asked.

Why do we, even if we generally sputter it out with a laugh, always using it self-consciously, making fun of the term even as we use it? It got me thinking about the uses of portmanteaus (a word formed by combining two other words, like brunch) in general, and how they're often invented to describe a new phenomenon that needs naming (like e-mail, motel, newscaster, or, hell, Tanzania) or something that somebody with an agenda names in its infancy in hopes of creating a demand. Whether it's a product (turducken) or a movement (blaxploitation), these words might not be coined cynically (there is nothing cynical about turducken), but when the term precedes its visibility in the culture, it begs investigation. I’ll be doing a mini-series this week on portmanteaus as they apply to gender and the body, beginning with exactly where my beach-oriented brain is at today: mandals.

In the case of mandals—and murses, and manpris (which, in all fairness, I've never heard anyone say out loud)—we seem to have cutesy portmanteaus that serve to trivialize aspects of men's lives that might bring them closer to the traditionally feminine realm. It's worth noting that early uses of mandals, notably in Carson Kressly's Off the Cuff, refer to a specific type of thick-soled sandal that Kressly refers to as "way too lesbian hootenanny" and that the authors of Is Your Straight Man Gay Enough? (!) call "rough and tumble sandal imitations." Presumably in its origins there was still a little wiggle room for a dignified sandal, a structured, manly, Italian-style slip-on that would allow American men to walk through heated summers with a little breeze between the toes. (In fact, early excavations of mandal find it necessarily paired with the admonition about not wearing them with socks, which, frankly is just good common sense.)

Now, however, that distinction has been lost—it's every mandal for itself, whether it be sleek and leather or rubber and chunky. My question is: Who benefits from mandal, murse, and the like? (I am tempted to include jorts, which, judging from the subjects of, are strictly worn by men, but the word itself remains gender-free, the hir and ze of the jeans shorts world.) Companies aren't using the term murse or mandal to sell, well, murses and mandals; they're using the perfectly good preexisting terms such as bag, satchel, messenger bag, etc. (Which, for the record, are all words women use as well for what we carry as well. I carry a midsize leather bag with internal pockets and mid-length shoulder straps designed to be worn on the shoulder, so it's distinctly a purse, not, say, a tote bag, messenger bag, satchel, or backpack—all of which might be called a murse if it were carried by a man.) In fact, if you Google murse or mandals, you'll find not links to actual bags and shoes, but criticism or praise of the items. "The Horror of Mandals," writes the Phoenix New Times. "There needs to be sand beneath your feet, or your name needs to be Matthew McConaughey,” says a source in The Daily Beast's mandals piece. On the flipside, Internet celebrity William Sledd proclaims, "I love my murse!" Of course, Sledd is best known for his "Ask a Gay Man" YouTube series, thus lobbing man-bags right into the arena of sexual identity—not because he's gay, but because he's saying this very pointedly in the persona of a gay man. (And thus we come full circle back to Carson Kressly, whose Queer Eye for the Straight Guy now seems downright quaint.)

So the companies aren't directly benefiting. You could argue that the terminology exists because of a demand for men's sandals and bags (I can't find numbers on whether sales of these items have increased in recent years), and that might be true, whether it's consumer- or company-driven—but I can't imagine that belittling terminology would actually help sales. At the same time, you don't hear the people wearing murses and mandals using the terms with a straight face—in fact, nobody says it with a straight face. These terms exist to make it clear that we as a culture are willing to cut men a little bit of slack about borrowing from the feminine sphere, but not without hazing them first. We'll allow men to wear shoes that offer a bit of relief in sweltering weather; we'll allow men to carry a bag so that they're not jamming everything into their pockets—but we'll be sure to tease them, rough them up a little, let them know that their comfort comes with a price.

In short, nobody benefits with these terms of mild derision—not men, who might wish to wear sandals but know they'll have to brace themselves for some light-hearted teasing, and certainly not women, for it's our fashions that are being suddenly framed as frivolous and shame-worthy instead of practical. (I never thought twice about sandals being gendered until I heard of mandals—I'm of the "my feet need to breathe!" camp, which I know is a deeply polarizing issue, but anyway.) Surely the world has greater linguistic problems than mandals, but I think it's a term worth looking at if we're trying to work our way toward gender equality.

This is why I'm hesitant to say that the widening field of men's cosmetics signifies any sort of progress in loosening gender roles, even as some spot-on feminist thinkers stake their claim otherwise. It's lovely to think that the boom in men's skin care means that we're slowly working our way toward allowing men access to the same realm of fantasy and play that we grant to women through fashion and beauty. But I simply don't see that as being the case: If we as a culture can't allow men to wear shoes that expose their toes without giving them some special word that keeps them in the corner, are we really going to be able to give them shame-free access to eyeliner—excuse me, guyliner—anytime soon?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Can't Call It a Beauty Blog Without 'Em: Five Beauty Tips

After 12 years of reading beauty tips in women's magazines, I've gotten pretty cynical about most of them. There are the product-oriented tips meant to push a particular brand, of course, but then there are plenty of tips that have no ad-sales agenda that still leave me a little bewildered. Like, am I ever going to take time in the morning to dip cotton balls in milk and use them to depuff my eyes? Do I even own cotton balls? Do I even own milk?

That said, every so often there's a beauty tip that is either so simple that I wonder why everyone doesn't know it already, or one that's so effective I feel straight-up relief for having tried it. You'll never find a lot of beauty advice on this blog, but every so often there's a tip that should be shared. Here are five of them:

1) Use toilet-seat covers as facial blotters. To date, this is my absolute favorite ladymag beauty tip of all time. I'm forever going into the bathroom and taking toilet seat covers to my face (and I always wonder if other people in the bathroom hear my crumpling of the paper while I'm peeing and wonder what the hell I'm doing since I'm not using the cover for its intended purpose, but I'm overthinking this. Right? In any case the noise helps with the occasional bout of paruresis). I was also delighted to learn that this beauty tip was what got Molly of Smart, Pretty, and Awkward to start blogging in the first place. Is it the beauty tip for unlikely beauty-tip givers?

2) Groom your eyebrows. It's one of the easiest ways to look polished, and it really is sort of amazing the difference it makes. I don't want to play body-hair police to anyone, though eyebrows somehow seem to fall into a different category than body hair. I think of grooming my eyebrows as more akin to getting a good haircut than to getting a bikini or leg wax—body hair touches on sexuality, but our eyebrows are literally about the face we present to the world. So! I get mine threaded every few weeks for $6, though I understand that outside of New York that can get expensive. A good brow specialist might cost you $30 at first go, but from there you can just maintain the shape yourself, even if you're not skilled enough with scissors and whatnot to maintain the exact manicuring of it (certainly I'm not). Also, don't be afraid to play with eyebrow pencil if your brows are skimpy. I was always scared of it, but when Eden did my makeup she explained that just a little eyebrow pencil provided a nice frame for the rest of my face. It doesn't look overdone; it just looks a little more together.

I dare you to get an anatomically correct graphic manicure.

3) Nobody looks that closely at your manicure, so your manicure can be sloppy and nobody will notice. Okay, to be honest I don't 100% subscribe to this. Rather, I don't think anyone will notice, but I take my nail polish to heart: I'm a recovering nail biter, so it still awes me that I have actual nails, and when I do them I like to do them right. It's one of those things that I really take pleasure in and would do even if I lived in solitude, so I like my manicure to be near-perfect. If I don't have time to do it right, I just go bare. But I have a wonderfully stylish friend who tells me that she always just keeps a bottle with her and she fixes nicks on the go, and though up-close it looks uneven it's never anything you'd notice if you were anyone but the owner of the fingernails. So if the manicure goal is to look pretty for others, relax!

Of course, if you do tip #4, you may want to choose a subtler shade of bronzer than I did this winter to avoid the white-neck effect. There's a reason I don't usually write beauty tips, people.

4) If you wear blush, try bronzer on your temples and forehead. Even well-applied blush can look a little artificial, and I've found that a touch of bronzer on the temples and forehead helps sort of...contextualize? Like, it's not just that you magically have this rosy glow on the apples of your cheeks; it's a flush from the sun that also magically gave you a hint of color elsewhere on your face. (I've doubly come to believe in bronzer after my time at the Jersey Shore, where my face got tanned and left me looking much weirder than I ever have just from an artificial glow. It's a beauty paradox. I'm all for embracing the pale but I find that I feel like I have a bit more verve if I look like I've been, I dunno, playing tennis or polo or something.)

Try baking soda as an exfoliant. Normally I'm not that into DIY beauty tips, mostly because the concoctions are most often for things I'd never use. (I find face masks to be a total waste of time, oatmeal/avocado/yogurt/whatever, doesn't matter. It's on your face for just a couple of minutes, so how does it make a difference?) But I do keep a box of baking soda in the shower, which I use twice a week as a face exfoliator and also as a body scrub. I just pour some into my hand, get a little shower water into it to make a paste, and rub. So soft!