Friday, December 16, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 12.16.11

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


From Head...
Favorite random find of the week: The British Optical Association Museum, which has online exhibitions, including the history of contact lenses. You thought gas-permeables were bad? Apparently early lenses were made from the cut-off bottoms of test tubes.

...To Toe...
Wants and needs: A story about a homeless man who, upon discovering a credit card in the street, made a beeline for a salon to get a pedicure showed up in my various news feeds no less than seven times. (I'm not linking to it because they all name him, and the guy's gone through enough already.) The news, of course, isn't that a person in need found a credit card and used it (he didn't steal it and isn't accused of doing so) but rather than instead of getting what he "needed," he got what he wanted. There's an argument in there about the role that small indulgences can play in giving comfort, but I also find it practical: There are resources for homeless people to get enough food and clothing to be reasonably safe, and some shelters offer showers and other hygiene services, but if you spend a lot of time outside in harsh conditions, your feet are probably in pretty bad shape. This isn't news; it's illumination of what people "need" after all.

...And Everything In Between:
All-American Shame: Estee Lauder agrees to pull ads from "All-American Muslim," a Muslim reality show, at the urging of Christian group Florida Family Association (Muslims, as we all know, do not have families, and certainly not in Florida!). “The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks,” writes the FFA in the letter they sent to advertisers like Lauder. For real? For shame.

Proctor & Guillaume: I've covered the Procter & Gamble/Unilever laundry detergent price-fixing scandal before and was prepared to leave it alone since it's...laundry detergent, but this juicy bit from The Economist is too good: "Each of the companies had a code name: 'Pierre' for P&G, 'Laurence' for Unilever, 'Hugues' for Henkel and 'Christian' for Colgate-Palmolive. The conspirators met in suburban Paris hotels for meetings termed 'store checks.'" Who knew laundry powder could get so cloak-and-dagger?

Avon lady: Avon CEO Andrea Jung stepped down this week (though she'll now be executive chair), unsurprising considering the company's middling results and bribery scandal in its Chinese branch. Corruption aside (!), I'm bummed to see this happen. For an industry that relies almost entirely on women's spending, hardly any top decision-makers are women, and I liked that Avon had kept its woman-friendly ethos all the way to the top. Being an "Avon lady" was a stepping stone for plenty of women throughout American history to recognize their own potential by signing up to do independent sales; I've read stories of it giving women confidence (and funds) to leave violent relationships, giving more heft to its anti-violence program. It's a historically important company for women, and I want to see that continue.

Presumably Somalia was not as troubled 2011 years ago as it is today.

We three kings: Frankincense and myrrh, not just gifts of the Magi but ingredients still used to scent cosmetic products, are largely sourced from war-torn regions, making them both economically and politically important. Frankincense, the third largest export from Somalia, is particularly questionable, as droughts have led producers to engage in unsustainable sourcing.

Caprine beauty: Goat milk is more profitable when used in beauty products than when used as...goat milk. That could possibly be because goat milk tastes like it's milk from a goat, but I'm no expert.

Who needs safe when you've got cheap?: The Personal Care Products Council keeps increasing its lobbying funds, presumably in an effort to quell the Safe Cosmetics Act.

Race and eating disorders: A well-timed reminder in the wake of the Allure body image survey that showed black women have a healthier body image than white women: Black women get eating disorders too, and the longer we confuse body image and eating disorders, the more shame black women will feel for having a disease that implies shame--perhaps even race shame. Adia Color writes at Huffington Post, "I was supposed to be on top of everything--a good example for my school, my family, God, my race... An eating disorder didn't fit into that equation, and the last area--the race one--certainly didn't match up with the eating disorder status quo nor with my preferred narrative."

"Maxi muscles": Courtesy Virginia Sole-Smith, I now know that Glamour magazine has been kind enough to give all of us a choice! We can have "mini muscles" like Gwyneth Paltrow or "maxi muscles" like Gabrielle Reece or Feminist Figure Girl! No, wait, the maxi muscles belong to Cameron Diaz, that she-hulk of a movie star. Sorry, my bad.

Beauty by the book: Rachel Shteir reviews en masse the bevy of beauty books that have come out in the past year or so, elegantly posing questions about what the authors ignore (psychology) and why we're all suddenly turning to economics to break down beauty. (I've always wondered why we want to break down beauty at all.)

The Girl With the Rape Survivor Wardrobe: Fashionista asks if the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo H&M collection minimizes the experience of rape survivors. It's made clear in the books that Lisbeth Salander's sartorial choices are a response to her repeated victimization, making a collection based on her look seem icky. But no more icky than the books, I daresay! (One of the more misogynist things I've read in my life, this from a book that prided itself on not hating women.) Edit: Be sure to read Beth's comment here in the comments section--"So if H&M did a line of clothing based on my style, would they be insensitive to my childhood trauma? I'd be more inclined to think that they were celebrating my artistic response to that trauma." And after reading her argument, I'm inclined to agree.

Brazil: The Atlantic delves into the practice of bikini waxing (specifically the Brazilian), and somewhere in the Naked City, a blogger screams.

Beauty and pain: Margaret Cho, whose own beauty story has been unique in its own right (and then made doubly so by her creating an entire storytelling act around it), is taking a more nuanced stance on beauty these days. "My mother first informed me of the idea that beauty was pain... I am not a masochist. I don’t want pain. And therefore, beauty and I are incompatible. I no longer believe this to be true. To be beautiful is actually to be aware of yourself as art, and to frame your art in a way that is unique to yourself and easy to yourself and fun to yourself. We are just masterpieces waiting to be framed and mounted and lighted then worshipped. We are worth this, as we are more priceless than anything." There are plenty of pitfalls to be thinking of yourself as a masterpiece waiting to be framed, but I like the general perspective here. (via Gala Darling)

"A troubled form of power": Newly minted lawyer Vina Tran weighs the merits of makeup and erotic capital in the legal profession. I was pleased to see she linked to something I wrote about erotic capital, but given that I've actually now read Erotic Capital and find it a tremendous pile of hogwash, I feel like a mild redaction is in order. (More on that soon, promise.)

Represent: Nahida at The Fatal Feminist has an excellent three-part series on cultural representation of Muslim women, particularly those in the west. It's all worth the time to read, but part II, about visual interpretation of western Muslim women, is outstanding. "One of the beautiful things about hi’ jab is that, at least in the privileged West, it is association by will, an act of choosing one’s community rather than being assigned. I don’t wear the headscarf, but I’m quite possessive of my faith—it’s who I am. But it’s not who I am the same way it is who another Muslim woman is, and it’s incredibly discouraging that such an obvious thing need be said. When you’re in a position of disadvantage, like being a religious minority and a woman of color, the balance between the erasure of your individuality by stereotyping and the show of your solidarity with your sisters is delicate."

Failure and envy: Hearing about what other women consider their failings in any area is illuminating--particularly so with beauty, because we can see the evidence before us. So despite the melancholy I felt upon reading Rachel Hills's thoughts on failing at beauty (as loosely inspired by my post here a couple of weeks ago), it's ultimately a reminder that we always perceive "failure" as something quite different than those around us do. "I felt like I hadn’t tried hard enough," she writes of not feeling beautiful enough on her wedding day, fully knowing that trying to be beautiful and being beautiful are two quite separate things. On a related note, Sally asks us to consider the flip side of envy: That at some point, somebody has envied us. I do find this thought comforting, not so much because it then validates what others may envy me for ("why yes my hair IS that shiny!"), but because it illustrates how much of both failure and envy are about our own battles, our own struggles, not about anyone else's perception of our successes. I tend not to be a jealous person overall--but when I am, I really am. Which means it has nothing to do with the person I'm jealous of--it's entirely about me.

But where's the Ramona Quimby makeover?: I usually zoom by makeup tutorials, and indeed have no intention of actually doing any of these anytime soon, but I am in love with Literature Couture's tutorials on re-creating the look of everyone from Anne Boleyn to Gloria Swanson to Sigrun the Valkryrie. (Now if only I could get Another Zoe Day to spill her Frida Kahlo secrets.) (via Beauty Brains)


  1. I'm pretty obsessed with Anne Boleyn, so I naturally LOVE that tutorial!

  2. I disagree so much with the idea that emulating Lisbeth's wardrobe is insensitive to rape survivors that I have to comment here.
    I think that
    1. a lot happened to her as a child and her wardrobe, if I remember correctly, was a response to all if it.

    2. The wardrobe is one that is supposed to be a reclamation of power, not a retreat into victimhood.

    3. THERE ARE SO MANY male counterparts to this same wardrobe-as-a-response-to-tragedy, but most of the time they include spandex and a cape. ALL the superheroes I can think donned their new wardrobes, and their new powers, as a result of some tragedy. I think the Salander character is very much in the superhero tradition. (I mean, don't the books even sort of read like traditional comic books, right down to their misogyny?)

    3. Thinking about it, I'd have to say that some of my own style is the result of the traumas of my childhood. I dress to be seen, and this post made me realize that I started doing this in high school, most likely because I didn't feel very seen then. So if H&M did a line of clothing based on my style, would they be insensitive to my childhood trauma? I'd be more inclined to think that they were celebrating my artistic response to that trauma.

    I have a feeling that many of the stylistic choices many of us make are in some part a result of our traumas -- because style is a form of self-expression, and the selves we're expressing have been through traumas.

  3. Courtney, glad to pass it on!

    Beth, you're making some really compelling arguments, especially #2. I hadn't thought of Salander as being in the superhero tradition, and in that light not only is the book far better, but the H&M line could potentially hold some powerful connotations for people who wear it specifically because they liked Lisbeth. I found the character compelling but also hated how Larssen seemed to be patting himself on the back for having a "strong" female character, when in truth no person I know is anything like her--I saw her as being one version of an idealized version of a rape victim, one who takes the sort of revenge that men might think women fantasize about. (Certainly plenty of victims fantasize about revenge; I just found this as being so far outside the realm of realistic behavior that it was hard for me to take it at face value.) But the superhero idea makes more sense.

    Utterly agreed about how our choices are a result of our traumas. I hid for years in baggy clothes and dark colors because I felt ashamed of my life; I overcompensated for a while and went fairly high-maintenance (for me, which isn't saying much) as a sort of reclamation of conventionality after a tumultuous time. And no, if H&M did a line based on my life I may well see it as a celebration. Thank you for this perspective! (I'm actually editing the initial post now.)

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