Friday, September 30, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 9.30.11

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

(via Makezine)

From Head...
Totally rhombic: Math haircut!

But what about the log lady?: Portrait of Twin Peaks' Audrey Horne (née Sherilyn Fenn) done in cosmetics for the biweekly "Beauty Myth" feature in Toronto Standard, in which the newspaper commissions artists to do portraits using makeup as the medium.

...To Toe...
The littlest libertarians: The Hartford Courant profiles an unlikely champion to make a case for industry deregulation: fish pedicures.

...And Everything In Between: 
Pacifica discount: If you're still mourning the fact that you didn't win my August self-care giveaway, fret no more! Pacifica—a company I've loved for a while, both for their delightful lotions and transporting candles—is giving readers of The Beheld a special deal: Just use the code pacifica5r9 at checkout on for 10% off any order. And you can get a taste of the other part of the giveaway, Beautiful You by Rosie Molinary, through her meditative blog. 

Pink think: Two interesting bits on the pinkification (word?) of breast cancer this week. First, an interview with "pinkwashing" activist Barbara Brenner, who takes on Avon's breast cancer research and questions not only its efficiency, but its possible hypocrisy. Second: New research indicates that heavily gendered breast cancer awareness ads might not be as effective as gender-neutral ads. When female study volunteers were shown pink-heavy ads with female faces, they rated their own personal risk as lower than volunteers who were shown non-pink ads with no photos of women. Obviously breast cancer is overwhelmingly a female disease, but I'm happy to see people looking at how pink kitsch might backfire. (Unless it means I have to give back my pink Kitchen-Aid "Cook for the Cure" mixer, which is adorbs.)

GenX beauty today: How GenXers are shaping the beauty industry—and indeed, fragmenting traditional markets on several levels. "Like baby boomers, [Allure editor Linda] Wells says, Gen-Xers have grown up not accepting the status quo. That can translate to wearing long hair even past a certain age, eschewing 'mom jeans' and participating in music, sports and other interests once reserved for 'younger women.'" Basically, we are still totally radical.

Digital beauty: L2, a think tank for digital innovation, rated beauty brands on their digital and social media savvy. Unsurprisingly, cool-girl club MAC tops the list—and with three other Estee Lauder brands not far behind, the brand is proving itself to be a digital leader. The report also shows that "digital IQ" correlates to heightened shareholder value.

Root for the little one: Procter & Gamble takes on a small soap company for trademark infringement. Willa, a soap company named for the 8-year-old daughter of an entrepreneur who created the suds after hearing her complaints of the "babyish" soap offerings available, is uncomfortably close to Wella, P&G's hair-care line that has nothing to do with soap, children, or the g.d. American way.

What's the buzz?: The making of a hot new brand in China: Burt's Bees.

Lighter shade of pale: Business-side look at skin-lightening creams, which make up 30% of the skin care market in China.

Ripoff down under: Australian retailers appear to be pocketing makeup profits; Aussie women are paying up to twice what U.S. women are for the same products, a disparity not explained away by duty taxes or currency differences.

Cosmopolitan's role in bulimia treatment: Bio of psychiatrist Chris Fairburn, who "discovered" bulimia after working with a patient who exhibited symptoms of anorexia but was curiously of normal weight. Fascinating bit of ED history: Because bulimics tend to be secretive, Fairburn couldn't find enough patients to allow his research to be comprehensive, so he rallied the editors of Cosmopolitan to write a short article about this "new eating pattern"--and got more than a thousand responses (most of whom thought they alone suffered from bingeing and purging), enough to begin treatment research.

Abercrombied: The "look policy" of Abercrombie & Fitch employees, and what that means for women with textured hair. (Thanks to re: thinking beauty for the link.)

"From where I come from, you holler at a girl": Nice look into what actually happens in the teen groups moderated by Men Can Stop Rape, beginning with a deconstruction of street harassment.

Fame game: Lady Gaga is suing Excite Worldwide for branding makeup under the Lady Gaga name. The buried lede: She did the same to a London sweets shop selling breast milk ice cream under the name Baby Gaga.

Hotel humanitarian:
Two of my favorite things, flight attendants and travel shampoo, come together here with Karen Duffy's story on Nancy Rivard, a flight attendant who started Airline Ambassadors after persuading her colleagues to donate their tiny hoarded hotel bottles to refugee camps.


Gaba girl: Thanks to Autodespair for turning me on to Lester Gaba's Cynthia, the first "realistic mannequin," who had her own radio show in the 1930s. It seemed pretty awesome à la Ruby until I actually saw Cynthia, and now it seems more like Real Doll territory, but maybe that's just my damage from this documentary talking.

Mais oui!: French feminists are rallying to get rid of mademoiselle, which denotes one's marital status à la miss. I'm all for this, but the fact is I get a kick out of using miss. I also like and use Ms., but sometimes Miss feels more appropriate because it allows me to simultaneously poke fun at and utilize its old-fashioned gentility for my own purposes. La hypocrite, c'est moi.

X-ray specs:
Which underwire bras work best for airport security? Chime in over at Hourglassy!

Ladies of the press: Anna Kendrick, Seth Rogen, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt briefly chat about the different ways men and women are treated by the press, with Kendrick reporting that she's always asked about her beauty routine. Besides the overarching idea that what a woman looks like is more important than she does, there's another thing at play here: You know all those beauty pages in magazines? Editors are desperate to fill those pages with something other than straight-up shilling, and so there's always a need to get celebrities to say what they like. Anytime a ladymag reporter goes to an event, she's armed with questions about facial care and exercise routines in the hopes that the celeb will throw off a quick answer. (There's an amusing bit in Laurie Sandell's wonderful graphic novel The Impostor's Daughter on this, from when she interviewed Ashley Judd for Glamour. Laurie: "So, what's your biggest beauty secret?" Ashley: "Serenity." Laurie: "OK, um, what's one beauty product you never leave the house without?" Ashley: "My higher power.")

Smells like cream spirits: Pastry chef who has made his name concocting desserts with notes of famous perfumes is reversing the equation. You know, another thing I did in the '90s was just wear vanilla extract behind my ears, but whatevs.

Fashion vs. beauty:
Feminaust—an excellent site geared toward Australian feminists but of great interest to us Yankee feminists too—on delineating fashion from beauty in ways that go beyond neck-down versus neck-up. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusion (I'd put "attraction" closer to the end of the beauty spectrum than the fashion end), but it resonates with me because while I'm somewhat interested in the ways we style ourselves, my true interest lies in what draws us to one another—the "animating spirit" as the writer here puts it.

"A new haircut is a butch accessory." —Kelli Dunham

"Why Is the Fat One Always Angry?": If you're new to The Beheld, you may have missed my interview this spring with boi comic Kelli Dunham, who had some fantastic insight into gender roles, butch privilege, and where to find a barber in this damn town. So check it out, and then if you're in New York join me this Saturday, 10/1, at The Stonewall Inn for her new show, "Why Is the Fat One Always Angry?" She's a great performer, and she's also promising cookies, I'm just sayin'.

Compliments, competition, and public living: From Nahida at The Fatal Feminist: "What do I care to impress strangers on the street, who couldn’t know? Who couldn’t possibly know that sometimes–sometimes–I’m still afraid of the dark?"

What's wrong with ugly?: Parisian Feline on being an "ugly girl": "When you’re conditioned to believe that ugliness is bad and prettiness is good, well, most people will do anything to show you how 'good' you really are. But here’s what I’m here to say: being ugly isn’t a death sentence, it doesn’t say anything about your character (any more than being pretty does) and it’s not mutually exclusive from being awesome." It's a point well-taken—as evidenced by me not being able to bring myself to remove the quotes around ugly girl. It's hard to use that word without judgment, for the very reasons Ms. Feline outlines.

The science of shopping: Elissa from Dress With Courage on shopping studies: "What so many studies on shopping seem to discount or even ignore is the intimacy this activity creates." I don't particularly like shopping, but I can't deny the powers it has to bond people—and much like the bonding of beauty, it's often dismissed, and that's a shame.

There's an app for that: Virginia—who, admittedly, is a body image blogger whose work resonates with me, whose work is sometimes categorized as body image blogging—on the iPhone body-image app: "I'm not sure we need any more websites, blogs, and apps about body image!" Hallelujah, someone said it! I'm grateful for the work that's out there but I worry that the intense focus on body image might drive us away from the point, which is to feel liberated from being preoccupied with our bodies.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Come as You Are: Nirvana and GenX Beauty

In the late fall of 1991, my friend Tony gave me a ride home from school. As we settled into the seats, he pushed in a tape, and I heard this jangly guitar—it sounded like it was barely plugged in, or something, somehow off, somehow disconnected—followed by this aggressive, to-the-point kick of the drums. The intro turned into the actual song, with this voice chanting Hello, hello, hello, how low?, and without knowing what I was listening to, I felt something within me twist. I could barely understand the words, but I didn’t need to; the chords, or rather the discord, said all I needed to hear. The cynicism, the apathy, the longing, the anxiety, the edge of eruption—I felt it before I heard it, and it made me want to do something. What, I didn’t know exactly, but I felt immediately and intensely uncomfortable, the kind of discomfort you feel because you know, acutely and irrevocably, that something needs to change.

But instead of doing something, I just turned to Tony and asked what we were listening to. “This is Nirvana,” he said.

Then, as now, I rarely listened to new music, preferring my parents’ Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Blood Sweat & Tears. So I wasn’t surprised that I hadn’t heard Nirvana before, even though I’d been hearing about the band for months around school; I’d assumed it was like other buzz-generating music (which, at the time, was Vanilla Ice, if that gives you an idea of the popular music scene at my suburban high school). What surprised me was how much a part of it—whatever “it” was—I felt. Without knowing it, I was a part of the zeitgeist.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Nevermind, so I’ve been thinking about the stirring I felt in my friend’s car. When I remember how “Smells Like Teen Spirit” resonated with me without me knowing that I was listening to The Band That Was Changing Everything, I have to credit factors larger than either Nirvana’s musicianship or my own musical sensibilities. Without blathering on about what people far more qualified than I have already written about the disillusionment of GenXers: I’d seen the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Rodney King videos, Exxon Valdez, Jeffrey Dahmer, Magic Johnson’s AIDS announcement, and Nintendo. I’d seen my country invade another for reasons that were unclear to me, this after my enchantment with an earlier era in which our country invaded another for reasons that were also unclear to me, and the main difference seemed to be that while our parents took to the streets, my generation—including me—was doing jack shit. I don’t want to overstate the case here, but we had a lot of reasons to be cynical, withdrawn, and discordant. There was a reason I heard those jangly guitar chords and instinctively knew they meant something.

Now, there’s been plenty of ink spilled over what Generation X really was, and if the whole apathy/cynicism bit really held true or if it was just a handy marketing tool, or what. All I know is that I was a product of the early ‘90s, and it showed in the way I dressed myself and put on makeup: Believe me, I cared fiercely about how I looked. But the ways in which I was trying to look good reflected what was going on at the time. I was earnest about wanting to be seen as pretty, but lackadaisical about how stringent I needed to be to get there. I styled my hair by teasing it a little bit up front and brushing it constantly, but except for special occasions there were no curlers involved, and flatirons were seen as extravagant. Few of us wore foundation, though we agonized plenty over our pimples and tried as many concealers as our allowance would allow. I thought I was freaked out over body hair, but really I just felt normal teen-girl embarrassment about the stray hairs on my upper lip—a “bikini line” in 1991 truly meant the line of a bikini, tweezing stray hairs when we’d go swimming and not giving a damn the rest of the time. We didn’t wear much blush; it looked too...healthy. We didn’t reject fashion and beauty by any means—I spent hours in front of the mirror trying out various hairstyles, none of which ever saw the light of day—and we eagerly gobbled up products geared toward us. (Bonne Bell Lip Smackers survived the grunge era.) But our laid-back ethos seeped into our self-presentation. We didn’t know what tooth-bleaching was.

Spot the '90s! 1) Flannel around my waist. 2) Tucked-in T-shirt. 3) Cutoffs over hosiery. 4) VHS tape pile topped by Stephen King books. 5) Tie-dye. 6) Converse (in background). 7) Black eyeliner applied after melting tip of eye crayon with lit match to make it go on heavier/messier. 8) Pendant (you can only see the chain in pic #3 but trust me, there was a big ol' ankh at the end of it). 9) Small flower pattern dress. 10) Smirk.

*   *   *   *   *
I tend not to get too worked up about Problems Facing Girls. Or rather, I tend not to think much has changed over the years. There’s a reason I’ve never mentioned Toddlers & Tiaras on here, or gotten excited over the Botox mom; like Virginia Sole-Smith writes, “By focusing only on these extreme, headline-grabbing stories, we get to outsource the issue and blame the victims.” And in my case, I tend to think that “the issue” is the same old thing we’ve been talking about for more than 20 years (is it a coincidence that The Beauty Myth came out the same year as Nevermind?). When I read about the looks-based anxieties girls face today, I tend to superimpose my experience onto theirs. Without belittling what girls and teens go through—having been there, you can’t help but respect it—there’s also a loud part of me that says, But that’s how it’s always been. Nothing has changed. The topical issues might shift, I believed, but the underlying causes never have.

I still think that the roots of appearance anxiety are essentially the same for a 15-year-old girl today as they were for me when I was doing jumping jacks alone in my bedroom to the B-52s. Girls are succeeding just a little too much to maintain the status quo; all the better to feed them diets and eyelash extensions to keep their eyes on a different prize. But it wasn’t until I gave some thought to that moment in my friend’s car that I thought about the ways other cultural forces shaped the way I regarded my grooming choices. If the ethos of my time seeped into my way of presenting myself, that means the ethos of today’s time is doing the same thing. And I know I’m probably late to the party here—yo, Madrano, things have been harder on girls for a while now—but if the ethos of today is about putting a heavier premium display and individuality through appearance (Lady Gaga, anyone?), that’s worming its way into girls’ minds in ways my generation was spared.

If you watch The X-Files today, it’s shocking how ill-fitting and shapeless Scully’s clothes were in 1992; no wonder people freaked out about the length of Ally McBeal’s skirts in 1997 (which, for the record, now seem totally normal). Compare wardrobes of The Real World with that of The Jersey Shore. And does anyone remember the fashion item that Julia Roberts made enormously popular in 1991? Blazers. And not cute little cropped blazers, but loose men’s-style blazers that enveloped my teenage body, giving it relief from being appraised for the size and shape of what was underneath.

I don’t have any sort of treatise here; I don’t think that returning to 1991 would necessarily do us much good. Hell, the retro-grunge fad from a couple of years ago showed that: Millennials were told to achieve the grungy bedhead style through products. (The truth is, most of us in the early ‘90s just didn’t do a damn thing to our hair except dye it with Manic Panic, or, for those of us less committal, Kool-Aid. We weren’t nearly as greasy as today’s magazines would have you believe.) In some ways this post may just be a mea culpa to the world at large for not having paid closer attention to the differences between what young women experience today versus my experience as someone who came of age at a time when baby tees hadn’t yet been invented. I maintain that the root issue isn’t that different. But more has changed than I realized.

There was plenty working against teenage girls in 1991, which is part of why I felt so anxious about how I looked back then even though the end result of my efforts were of the times—low-key, a tad sloppy, free-flowing. But I’m only now realizing how much was working for us back then too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Invited Post: Letting Myself Go

When I read the essay "Chasing Beauty: An Addict's Memoir" by Good Men Project publisher Lisa Hickey, I was riveted. I'd been turning to The Good Men Project for insightful commentary on gender issues aimed at men for a while, but this was different. This was speaking to men, yes, but it was also speaking to me: "[W]hen I’m beautiful—or close to beautiful—it’s all I think about. When I’m beautiful and I’m with you, I’m wondering if the guy across the room thinks I’m beautiful. I think beauty is going to connect us; but I’m not connecting with you, I’m connecting with a beautiful image of myself that I think you might like."

If you followed my month without mirrors project, you know that divorcing myself from my
image of myself was one of the major themes I was working with—so to read someone else share her own thoughts on the matter was a thrill. I reached out to Lisa to thank her for her work, and she responded with what in some ways functions as a sequel to "Chasing Beauty." This time, it's "Letting Myself Go."


It’s five years ago, and I’m walking down the street with Caroline, a work colleague; we just had grabbed a couple of salads at the nearby cafeteria, and she’s asking about my dating life. I murmur what I hope is something non-committal about the non-existence of a "dating life," and she says “Yes, I had a friend who also let herself go and my friend found it really hard…” And that was the last thing I heard. The implication that I had somehow “let myself go” was just too hard to bear. I couldn’t listen to another word she said. It was true I was no longer beautiful. It was true I used to be beautiful. But “letting yourself go” implies that you woke up one day and said, "Aww, screw it, ugly wins" with a shrug of the shoulders. Or perhaps you gradually crossed off this and this and this from your beauty routines. But it didn’t come close to acknowledging that there was still a Herculean effort going on with me vs. the forces of nature, and that the tidal wave of ageing was simply winning out no matter how hard I fought.

*   *   *   *   *

Last night I’m in the car with my two daughters, Shannon, age 16 and Allie, 19. I tell them about Autumn’s experiment with a month without a mirror. They both get all excited about the concept. Allie yells out gleefully, “Shannon could never do that.” At the same moment, Shannon says, “I could never do that.” Shannon is honest and resigned. “I think that makes me narcissistic. But I couldn’t do it. I need to see me to be me.”

I’ve written about my addiction to beauty that I’ve had most of my life, but beauty wasn’t all I was addicted to. It took me an equally Herculean effort to get sober after I became a blackout alcoholic at age 14 and drank every night of my life for the next 30 years. The addictions went hand in hand. I never understood the concept of being comfortable in my own skin. And I couldn’t stand it. So I drank to get rid of me. As a long-term life plan, it wasn’t the wisest of choices.

Caroline’s dig at having "let myself go" came at two years into being sober, when everything was still perilous. There was no escape route. I had to figure it out. I had to get a life I could own and embrace. A life I could own—that was a new concept for me.

About that time, I was realizing something profound about my interactions with other people. I couldn’t recognize faces. I had always known there was a problem, but now it seemed impossible. Everywhere I went—my kid’s hockey games, work functions, meeting someone for coffee—I had no clue who people were. Men, women, children, would come up to me, have a conversation, and I had no idea who I was talking to. I started to panic about going out in public. It was one thing if someone was the same place I had seen them last—office cubicles were a pretty safe bet—but anywhere else I’d have to search for contextual clues to recognize someone—clothing, the room we were in, height, glasses, voice, piercings. Without something specific, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t recognize someone I had met the day before unless they had really specific unique qualities. I was constantly smiling or saying “hi” to people that might be someone I knew, just in case they were. I couldn’t tell a complete stranger from someone I had known for months.

It was maddening, and I found a name for it—prosopagnosia, or face blindness. I never knew why I had it, or what caused it.

Until I read Autumn’s one-month experiment without a mirror, with this paragraph in particular:
When I see my image reflected on a mirror behind a bar I think, Oh good, I look like a woman who is having a good time out with friends. Or I’ll see my reflection in a darkened windowpane, hunched over my computer with a pencil twirled through my upswept hair, and I’ll think, My, don’t I look like a writer? Or I’ll walk to a fancy restaurant and see my high-heeled, pencil-skirted silhouette in the glass of the door and think: I pass as someone who belongs here. You’ll notice what these have in common: My thoughts upon seeing my reflection are both self-centered and distant. I’m seeing myself, but not really—I’m seeing a woman who looks like she’s having a good time, or a writer, or someone who belongs at Balthazar.
And it hit me. My inability to recognize other people’s faces happened because—whenever I met someone—in my mind, I was visualizing my own face, not theirs.

Everything clicked. I had been so worried about how I was being perceived, that it was me I was seeing in every situation, not the other person. No wonder I couldn’t remember them.

This story really, truly does have a happy ending.

I’m still sober, and along with it, all the joy of having a life I’m not constantly trying to run away from. Accepting the fact that beauty cannot, should not, will not be the defining quality of my life forced me to figure out which qualities should be. I learned to talk again by writing. I learned to connect through social media—slowly, learning about people first, caring about them first, letting them care about me long before they even knew what I looked like. I had always wanted to be funny, so I took a humor-writing course, and then a stand-up comedy course, and then an improv class. People laughed. I wrote poetry and did poetry slams. I learned to love public speaking—a feat I never would have thought possible. Public speaking, after all, requires you to actually connect with an audience, not just stand up there and look good. One of the first times I tried, it was a presentation to a room full of 75 people, most of whom I had known in various times in my advertising career. And I started out by saying “I bet most of you are here today because you didn’t actually believe that I could speak in public.” Loudest laughter I had ever heard.

Somewhere along the way someone told me, “If you want self-esteem, the best way isn’t to tell yourself you look good. It’s to go out and do something esteemable.” OH.

Somewhere else I heard, “Love is an action word.” OH. “Feeling” love wasn’t enough to make the other person love me. OH.

A sentence from a book: “Seek to connect, not to impress.” OH. OH.

And, gradually, gradually, gradually, I realized—once I didn’t have to worry about appearing funny but could talk and upon occasion have a funny sentence come out of my mouth; once I didn’t have to worry about appearing intelligent but could just offer insights that combined my knowledge with the other person’s equally important intelligence; once I didn’t worry about appearing loveable, but instead could just act with love to the person I was with—then—then—then—I could actually get into the flow with another person, just as Autumn described it. Not by performing for other people; and certainly not by desperately trying to come up on the spot with an appearance that I hoped would impress them. And once I got in the flow with the other person, even my memories of interactions changed—my memories became about them, not me. And I was able to recognize faces.

I had finally figured out that in order to connect with people—really connect with them—I, did, in fact, have to let myself go.

And that’s something I can live with.


Lisa Hickey is publisher of The Good Men Project, and CEO of Good Men Media, Inc. When she’s not writing about beauty, she’s writing about men. Her post on The Good Men Project that started the connection between Lisa and Autumn is here: "Chasing Beauty: An Addict’s Memoir."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Should We Reward Companies for Acknowledging There's More to Beauty Than a Pretty Face?

It’s been a guest post bonanza for me lately, and with two of my favorite blogs at that! On Friday I wrote about beauty and visibility at Already Pretty, and Saturday saw me at Sociological Images, sharing my thoughts about the Bare Escentuals ad campaign and its exploitation of models’ inner lives.

My thoughts on that aspect of the campaign are laid out over there, but the campaign intrigues me on other levels as well. For those who haven’t seen the ads: Bare Escentuals claims to have found “the world’s most beautiful women...without ever seeing their faces.” At the model casting call, applicants filled out questionnaires about themselves, and Bare Escentuals chose its models based on their answers and ensuing interviews. The company executives never saw the models until after they’d been selected.

Now, on its face it seems like a pretty great idea—even a feminist one, the idea being that it’s inner beauty that counts, or something. Jezebel did a nice job of looking at how the campaign appears to give Bare Escentuals some cred for being daring—but since the questionnaires were distributed at a casting call consisting of models and actresses (i.e. professional beauties), not, say, the DMV, the risk was minimal. (The legitimate risk that was identified by one of the executives—"What if all five of them were blonde, blue-eyed, and 30?"—turns out to be a boon for the campaign, and indeed my favorite aspect of the ads is that it shows that blind casting will naturally result in a more diverse pool.)

The campaign’s taglines intrigue me as well. They sound really nice, especially when accompanied by the smiling faces of the models in their (supposedly) everyday lives:
  • “Pretty attracts us. Beauty changes us.”
  • “Pretty can turn heads. Beauty can change the whole world.”
  • “Pretty is what you are. Beauty is what you do with it.”
  • “Pretty is an act. Beauty is a force.”
Now, we all know I’m a sucker for examining the words we use to describe women’s appearances. But on top of being semantically questionable (pretty is what you are, but beauty is what you do with it? whaaa?), the delineation seems odd when it’s being used to sell things we put on our face to make us look prettier. Bare Escentuals doesn’t sell slots in the Peace Corps, so what exactly is creating “change” here? By connecting itself with progressive dialogue on beauty, the company assures us that it understands our concern about wanting our rich inner lives to be seen as beautiful, and gets us to connect their products with our noble ideas on “change” and “force.”

Does it seem like I’m being uncharacteristically nitpicky? There’s a reason: Women have long been raising legitimate questions about the beauty industry, and while it’s nice to see a cosmetics company attempt to answer those questions, I also know that’s exactly what they’re banking on. Whenever a company identifies concerns of their target audience and attempts to ameliorate them through advertising, not through product change, we need to look even more critically at the message and its package. (And for the record, I don’t think Bare Escentuals should change its products—it’s a cosmetics company and it needn't be anything other than that.) By co-opting the messages many women have been saying—beauty comes from within, beauty is more than a pretty face—the company gets to look like it’s really listening, but it’s merely a variation on the same old theme. All advertising is. Advertising is never subversive.

I don’t think that the Bare Escentuals campaign is, like, offensive; I think it’s advertising. But in comparison to another recent campaign, its patronizing tactics come into sharp relief. MAC Cosmetics in the UK reached out to its avid fan base with its “online casting call for six models with style, heart, and soul to be the faces of MAC’s fall colour collection.” The six chosen models are diverse in age, race, and sex—and they look utterly fantastic. The end result showcases the products beautifully—they’re glamorous, transporting, and made all the more so by the audience knowing the makeover backstory.

Now, MAC’s whole thing is over-the-top transformation, as opposed to Bare Escentuals, a natural mineral makeup company specializing in, well, bare essentials (that smell good? I dunno, the name’s a mystery). MAC is able to highlight the actual products in ways that Bare Escentuals can’t, but to me that makes it all the more appealing. Ironically, through the glammed-up makeovers, we get to see more of the products and more of the people wearing them, allowing the campaign to succeed on two separate levels. I feel like “buying into” the MAC campaign is buying into the products. With Bare Escentuals, we’re asked to buy into abstract concepts of beauty that, if you’re concerned with such things, you’ve probably already confirmed on your own.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 9.23.11

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

Bedtime makeup is for those afraid to be a total glamourpuss like Miss Golightly.

From Head...
Sleeping beauty: Is this a Thing? Has this been around for a while? Makeup for when you're sleeping? I mean, I admit this would be sort of awesome for early sleepover phases of a relationship (ooh la la!) but, I dunno, those early phases are sort of a handy test, too, you know? Like, if I can't let him see me without makeup, why am I letting him see me without clothes?

Big gulp: The world's first antiwrinkle pill! I'm going to swallow it on half my body for a month and then post pictures.

...To Toe...
Playing footsie: South Africa communications minister files an expense report including $1,300 in pedicures and manicures.

...And Everything In Between:
DIY divas: The new group of YouTube makeup gurus are teens showing other teens how to make their own cosmetics. This is totally brilliant—who didn't love all those DIY recipes in Seventeen? It seems like these girls are sharing information in a particularly inventive way and calling attention to the overpricing of makeup, which, now that they can order ingredients like mica and magnesium stearite directly from sites like DIY Cosmetics, they know the actual value of.

Mutant beauty: New beauty line FCX-DNA is incredible if for no reason other than its level of scienctific BS. They'll test your DNA to "detect mutations in certain genes which affect skin aging" and then recommend appropriate products, which have been "developed [using] a process to extract the essence from organically grown fruits and vegetables without harming its texture or genetics." Other awesome words in the press release include: nutrient metabolism, dermagenomics, micronized. CAN'T WAIT!

Nails painted like antidepressants: No comment!

Avon calling:
A Q&A for investors interested in Avon after the corruption charges filed earlier this year.

Mary Kay China sales to overtake U.S. sales by next year:
Mary Kay is investing $25 million in a distribution center in China, which makes total sense given that because of its sales method the company doesn't need to rely on shopping spaces like malls.

Beyond Marie Curie: The copy here reads suspiciously cheerleader-like, but the point is well-taken: More than 50% of L'Oréal's cosmetic scientists are women, and the company encourages cross-disciplinary women in science too with five $100,000 grants each year to women scientists.

Good news for consumers down under: Cosmetics laws in Australia are becoming streamlined to be more consumer-friendly.

Dead Sea: Flagship Ahava store shuttering in London due to anti-Israel protests.

Halal cosmetics: How to market halal cosmetics? Well, given that 23% of the world population is Muslim, there's a head start already—but this piece points out that halal cosmetics certification also qualifies a product as strictly vegan. Cross-marketing opportunities!

Fly me: With all the press surrounding Pan Am (which I don't plan on watching but am terribly curious to find out if any of the lessons from Arlie Russell Hochschild's study on flight attendants and emotional labor, The Managed Heart, are portrayed), this British Airways ad is particularly interesting. As Deep Glamour notes, it's impossible to pretend that flying as a passenger—or even as a flight attendant—is glamorous, given how un-glamorous flights are now. But by relying on the masculine glamour of old-time aviators, the message still gets across.

The state of supermodels: Great piece at Grantland (a new discovery for me, which is why I missed this piece when it was published in August) on the intersection of the self as brand, the valorization of vanity, and why that means we've likely met the last great American supermodel, Ms. Cindy Crawford.

Beauty from within: Balance is coming out with a nutrition bar that has beauty benefits. The 120-calorie Nimble bar will feature antioxidants, beta carotene, lutein, and tiny elves that massage your face from the inside.

Hand me the man-shampoo, Billy!

No girls allowed!: Proctor & Gamble is working with CVS to create a "Guy Aisle" so men don't have to "weed through the pink razors, floral body wash, and hundreds of shampoo formulations" when buying their grooming products, because unlike us dizzy girls who just love to titter over all the AMAZING FLORAL BODY WASHES in the drugstore, "Men are buyers, not shoppers," said Michael Norton, director, external relations, male grooming at Gillette. No news yet as to whether the boys-only aisle will be located in a secret tree club house at which one has to know the super-secret password ("boobies").

Beauty scandal!: A former Miss Utah was sued by a beauty product company that claimed she stole and then resold their goods; she's countersuing, saying that she was given the goods by the company under the auspices of a charitable donation, and then decided to sell the products and donate the proceeds to the same charity. It's small-time and confusing, and the moral of the story is, don't be Miss Utah.

"A very public table": Interesting article at Psychology Today about the inherent risk—and inherent solutions—of eating disorders among orthodox Jewish women.

"I LOVE MY BOOBIES": Leah at Hourglassy takes a moment of Jessica Simpson appreciation, and I'll sign onto that. (I don't care for her music, but enjoyed "The Price of Beauty," and I think she does a nice job of talking about body image stuff with an inquisitive, open manner and not seeming pat.) "So a celebrity who publicly says she loves her body, especially one who regularly receives public criticism, is a major win in my book."

Inked: A tattooed academic—whose work focuses on the normalization of tattoos and its effect on what was once a distinct subculture—on what might signal a shift in the way tattooed women are viewed. And, surprise surprise: The more accepted tattoos are, the closer its wearers are expected to be to the beauty norm: "Yes, tattoo magazines feature a lot of tattooed women, but which tattooed women?" (via Feminaust)

Model me, model you: MAC's new UK campaign makes over non-models who just love makeup, and for once I've got jack to say about such campaigns! The pictures look great.

Inner love: There's a lot of body acceptance in the blogs I read, which, obviously, is fantastic. But there's an irony there: One of the mantras of loving your body is focusing on the inside--which can be hard to do when you're experiencing doubts about your worth in other areas. Sally at Already Pretty borrows here from body love principles and applies them (and some others) to dealing with a sense of inadequacy in the realm of achievement. (I particularly liked this because the transition from school to job was hard for me, since I was so used to getting regular and positive feedback and suddenly was just expected to, you know, do my job.)
Edited to add: On the off-chance you read me and haven't yet discovered Already Pretty, today's your day to hop over and check it out, as I'm guest posting there today. Topic: Beauty and visibility: "Every choice we make about beauty is a choice about being seen. And the more time we spend focusing on the minutiae of beauty, the less time we spend focused on one possible outcome of beauty work—heightened cultural visibility."

What can a year bring?: Elissa at Dress With Courage asks: What sacrifices have you made for beauty? I've got a rather dark take on the study about how 16% of British women would trade a year of their life for the perfect body—I'm sort of like, if it means it would put an end to all my body struggles, then sure, sign me up! What's a year? But Elissa has an answer ready for cynics like me: "[A year can bring] the possibility of greatness that we all look forward to, the idea that things will probably get better, that we can grow and change into the people we dream of being."

Mirror U: Kjerstin Gruys of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall weighs in on the mirror-free high school in the U.K.: "Some people have suggested that this ban prevents creative expression. I call bullshit."

Chasing beauty: Lisa Hickey's stellar piece about being addicted to beauty is a must-read, even as it's painful: "When I’m beautiful and I’m with you, I’m wondering if the guy across the room thinks I’m beautiful. I think beauty is going to connect us; but I’m not connecting with you, I’m connecting with a beautiful image of myself that I think you might like."

Go fetch: Why do we use the word fetching both as a compliment and a command?

Attack of the 50-foot blogger: Caitlin at Fit and Feminist on the power and politics of women's height: "Height, like physical strength, is one of those things we don’t really care much for in women because we say it upsets the 'natural order of things,' which is that men are the Protectors and women the Protected."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Open Letter to an Unhappy Swan, and to All the Pretty Girls Who Get Pissed Off Sometimes About Being Pretty

"He thought how he had been driven about and mocked and despised; and now he heard them all saying that he was the most beautiful of all beautiful birds. And the lilacs bent their branches straight down into the water before him, and the sun shone warm and mild. Then his wings rustled, he lifted his slender neck, and cried from the depths of his heart—'I never dreamed of so much happiness when I was the Ugly Duckling.'" —The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christen Andersen (photo via) advice columnist Cary Tennis responds this week to "Unhappy Swan," a twentysomething woman who modeled herself from dowdy teen to “hot” young lady, and who is now pissed about the labor she puts into her appearance and the attention she garners as a result of fitting the mold of conventional beauty. His advice: “Enjoy it.” I have a few other words for her.

Dear Unhappy Swan,

The world has no shortage of advice for pretty young women, but not much of it is rooted in an understanding of the conflict you’re experiencing. I can’t claim to understand exactly where you’re coming from, but I think I come closer than Mr. Tennis, who nicely pinpoints the roots of your concern but then sweeps it all away with the glib idea that since “female short-lived” you may as well “enjoy it” since one day you’ll miss it—even though in your letter you actually express a desire to fast-forward through your life to the time when you’re “old and ugly and happy with life and not thinking about this.” Instead, I'd like to ask you to look at the "rewards" you describe as "addictive."

What sort of rewards are they? There are ways in which beauty is an advantage, but there are only four rewards you enumerate: compliments, numbers, dates, and discounts. And while all of those things are nice enough (particularly dates, which we'll get to), ask yourself: How much do these rewards really, truly matter to you? How much does it matter to get yet another phone number you know you're never going to use? How much does a compliment matter when it's not from someone you admire? How nice is a compliment to hear when its takeaway might be: Now you have to keep on being beautiful? How many discounts (or free drinks, or free meals, or quickened entry to clubs) are worth the self-respect that you, by your own account, are seeing slip through your fingers? (And might I remind you, those discounts can be taken away at whim.)

Dating, while I'd hesitate to call it a reward, is different from discounts and random phone numbers, so let's look at that separately. You say that when you gained some weight, the "quality and quantity of men" asking you out nose-dived. Have you considered that it was your self-identified work stress and the exhaustion from the "tedium of counting calories" that made you your lesser self, bringing lesser men to you? Have you considered that when one feels "depressed and worthless" as you did during this time, one isn't able to be one's shiniest self—which means that men of the caliber you're after will indeed overlook you? Have you considered that it was your fear of being your 16-year-old self, not the few extra pounds, that telegraphed to others that you were willing to settle for less?

As for the men themselves: What do you mean when you say that the quality and quantity of men plummeted when you gained a little weight? You may well have been attracting men who prey upon women's insecurities, which is obviously a quality dive. But I suspect you were referring to other factors: men with less money, maybe? Or less prestigious career paths? Less good-looking? Less social prominence?

I ask these questions because while I can’t claim that my experience is the same as yours, it’s similar in some ways. Unlike you, save for a particularly awkward year of junior high, I was never really an ugly duckling—and I was never really a swan. But there was a time in my life when lost a lot of weight to the point where I was finally bona fide thin, and I suddenly started buying more revealing clothes, and getting better haircuts, and wearing high heels. I was as conventionally attractive as I was ever going to be. Now, in my case, that wasn’t ever going to be “hot,” and undoubtedly the challenges that someone resembling a Maxim cover girl faces are different than the challenges I faced when DWT (Dating While Thin). Still, people noticed, and yes, I got hit on a little more, and yes, the type of men hitting on me changed.

Until I started DWT, I had a penchant for slightly nerdy, unathletic types—think chess team, not football team. Luckily, they had a thing for me right back. But DWT brought a new sort of man to the fore: the slickster. I started being asked out by more aggro types corporate business dudes who called their friends "bro" without irony. They were covertly nerdy (most people are), but they were also the type of man upon whom a certain strain of society often confers the title of Winner.

I don't want to paint every man I went out with during DWT with the same brush. Some of them were pretty great guys, others weren't. But what I found—repeatedly—was that the men I suspected wouldn't have looked twice at me when I was 30 pounds heavier weren't winners at all. One of them referred to his best friend's girlfriend as "thunder thighs." One of them stopped midsentence on our first date to let his eyes—obviously and visibly—trail up and down the body of a beautiful woman walking across the restaurant. One of them told another woman, while I was standing right next to him, that she was "the most beautiful girl in the room." Another kept hinting he'd like for me to ask along a particularly gorgeous friend of mine the next time we were to hang out; another, in a particularly telling exchange, told me he thought I was too thin, because if I put on some weight my breasts might be bigger.

Do you see a pattern here? No man I'd ever gone out with while 30 pounds heavier had made comments about my looks, or other women’s, that coldly to me before. I hadn't always picked gems before—I'd been with some fantastic men, and a couple of louses, and that's pretty much how the story goes for a lot of women. But the type of louse I'd chosen before wasn't the type of louse who overtly evaluated women on their looks. By pursuing a low-maintenance, attractive-enough-but-not-a-total-bombshell type like me, they'd already demonstrated that while they might value looks, they were going strictly by their own barometer. But shed 30 pounds and put on a lower neckline, and men whose values diverted from what I was used to were suddenly paying attention.

Now, this isn't strictly because I was DWT. It's not like conventionally attractive women are doomed to attract douchebags, or that average-looking women wind up with all the keepers. Nor is it that all “bro” dudes make these sort of evaluations of women, though I’d argue that men who gravitate toward status-conscious professions are more likely to choose mates whose appearance also brings them status. Had highly aggressive, highly looks-conscious men been after me all my life, I'd have developed a different sort of screening process rather than the one I'd developed for my own purposes. (For example, I'd long learned to put the kibosh on men who exploited my accommodating nature, because that was the sort I tended to attract—I'm guessing I would have added "appears to be seeking a status symbol" to my no-go list had this been a problem for me before.) And my own fluctuating self-esteem was part of the problem here—frankly, the first time one of these "winner" guys asked me out, I said yes only because I was so flattered to be asked. But I couldn't ignore the evidence: Coming closer to the beauty standard meant that I attracted a greater number of people who placed higher importance on that standard. In my case, that wasn't the kind of man I wanted to date. And while you express some conflict about this, I don't think that's the kind of man you want to date either.

For your sake, I hope that your experience was different than mine. I hope that when you say the "quality" of men was higher when you were thinner, you meant it in every way: That they were kinder, more engaging, more fun than the men you'd known before. But a hunch tells me that this isn't true. My hunch tells me that you're young, and that your confidence wasn't great to begin with, and that like I was at one point, you're just flattered to be asked out by a "winner," and that you're fucking terrified that if you ease up on yourself even a little, you'll be 16 again with a big nose and dowdy clothes.

You're, what, 24? 25? You're not long out of college, which means that you're not long into the world in which dating is what people do rather than just hooking up at house parties. Do you know that people will ask you out next week? They will. Do you know that people will ask you out next month, next year, when you're 35, when you're 45? They will. They will ask you out when you're unavailable, when you've gained a little weight, when you've lost a little weight, when you have a horrible breakout, when you're at the bookstore in a long skirt and a baggy sweater, when you're at a bar in a miniskirt and halter top. You will get dates. You will get plenty of dates. This I promise you.

Listen: If you take care of your body—if you feed it nutritiously (trust me, you don't need to be weighing and measuring your food anymore; you could mete out healthy portions in your sleep by now) and give it the exercise it craves, pay attention to what kind of clothes you feel best in, and develop a hair and makeup routine that highlights, not conceals, your natural looks, you're going to look just fine. More than fine, from what it sounds like. You don't need to eschew all of the grooming habits you've cultivated in an effort to be "hot," but you can evaluate what's really working for you and what's a ritual you cling to based on fear. You went through years when you were unattractive (or just felt it—I'm gathering that like many a 16-year-old you weren't nearly as hideous to others as you found yourself), then you went through a phase when you worked your tail off to be "hot," and then a phase when you felt the "hotness" slip away. You've been through some pretty drastic shifts, and all that is going to educate you for what comes next.

And what that will be, I don't know exactly, but I have an idea. It doesn't go away totally—hell, I’m 35 and writing this blog in order to work through my own thoughts and feelings on appearance, you know? Speaking of age, I think Cary Tennis’s advice is right to a degree: You’re already looking forward to old age so you can be relieved of this attention, so hell yes, “enjoy it” now, for that’s a far better alternative than living the next 40 years of your life in misery. But I don’t think you will live in misery. Most women I know have grown happier as they’ve gotten older, in part because we naturally come to a more nuanced understanding of these things. Everything in your letter indicates that you are becoming one of those women—that the anger and confusion you’re experiencing is part of that road. I suppose maybe my advice is indeed to “enjoy it”: the cognitive dissonance, the confusion, the occasional discount (why not?), the path. It is leading somewhere good. I wish you luck.

All my best,


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Science of Beauty

The Greeks had Aphrodite for beauty and Athena for science,
but Hindus landed a twofer, Saraswati. Economize!

When I first started seriously following the beauty beat, I thought I must have started at just the right time. There were so many new studies coming out about personal appearance, what a glorious coincidence! But when the stream of studies didn’t stop, I began to realize that beauty is an enormous area of study.

There’s research on how quickly we process and “accurately rate” beauty (accurate according to...?); how being good-looking can work against you (if you’re talking to a person of your sex who’s riddled with low self-esteem), or for you (if you just wanna be happy); the importance of symmetry in beauty (or maybe not); the number of us willing to trade a year of our lives (or just our chocolate) for the perfect body—and that's just a quick sampling. Now, this is great when you’re trying to come up with fresh content four times a week, so yay! But in the larger picture, isn’t the research attention paid to beauty sort of, I dunno, weird?

Some speak of personal beauty as this overwhelming force of nature: It’s uncontrollable, it drives men to their knees, to insanity, to the realm of madness; it launched a thousand ships, remember? It’s supernatural, immortal, otherworldly—beautiful women are witches, succubi, sirens. Not that women are the only ones who can cast the spell of beauty; Shakespeare’s fair youth, for starters, was a boy.

I happen to think much of this is bullshit (has ever a self-actualized person fallen onto their sword at the mere sight of a beautiful woman?), but that’s beside the point. The idea of overwhelm, I suspect, is what drives much of the academic research behind beauty. For if beholding beauty makes us feel powerless, why wouldn’t any of us want to deconstruct it—demystify it, find out what exactly it is that (supposedly) makes us tremble with rapturous delight? There’s an urge to pin down beauty in order to explain it, much the way that writer and prostitute Charlotte Shane writes of the satisfaction of quantifying one’s appeal by putting a price tag on it. I can’t help but wonder if the drive behind some of these studies is much the same: Researchers aren’t quantifying their own appeal, but they’re quantifying the appeal of others, which is, after all, where the power lies. It reduces the supposed power of beauty, transferring the power back to the appraisers, even when the outcome of the study is that beautiful people are richer and more intelligent. If you're researching beauty, you become the one who’s identified what’s really going on, which is a satisfying place to be.

One strain of beauty research focuses on what exactly makes someone beautiful. This is where you get the waist-hip ratio bit, the importance of symmetry, “baby face” beauty, and so on. Much of this falls under the desire to quantify beauty, but there’s also a philosophical component here, particularly when looking at studies about the role of the average. We tend to conceive of beauty as something unique and rare—but studies repeatedly emphasize that averaging photographs creates a face more attractive than any one face in particular. That is: We find the non-unique beautiful.

At least, that’s what this strain of research would have you believe. But what’s really being studied here is conventional attractiveness, not beauty. Some studies include this caveat (“It seems quite clear that there are few consistent standards of beauty across cultures,” Hamermesh and Biddle 1994), then plow ahead anyway. This may be worthy in its own right, but it’s interesting that studies repeatedly choose to focus on “beauty” instead of what they’re actually studying, ideas on conventional attractiveness—the key word here being conventional. By their very nature, most studies on appearance cannot study beauty. Instead, they must study what we’ve already agreed meets the culturally prescribed criteria of good looks. They’re studying stereotypes and conventions, which certainly can and do depict beauty—I’m not about to argue that Liz Taylor was any less of a beauty simply because she was widely acknowledged as such—but they’re not the full story. (Let’s also not forget that our perception of good looks may be more fickle than we’d like to believe.) The very efforts researchers take to make it the full story (say, rating subjects using a wide pool of respondents, or rating subjects over a long period of time) only serve to reinforce what we as a culture have agreed upon as beautiful, not what we as people consider beautiful.

At its worst, beauty scholarship isn’t even that: It’s what one person singles out as beauty. In this widely quoted aggregated report of five studies relating to beauty, four of the five studies relied upon the assessment of one person. (Actually, at its true worst, beauty science is just flat-out bad science, as with the “Why are black women less physically attractive than other women?" brouhaha. Incidentally, the author is now admitting that his analysis “may have been flawed,” a rather disingenuous way of acknowledging that in his analysis he never considered that racist bias may account for why photographs of black women were scored less attractive than women of other races.)

I’ve never attempted to define beauty on here, in part because that was one of my personal reasons for starting this blog: I wanted to find out what I thought beauty really was. I used to think of it a little more black-and-white: There was “inner beauty,” and there was physical beauty, and while someone’s personality can shape whether you see someone as physically beautiful, I believed there was a much stricter line between the two than I do now. I don’t know if we can map beauty. It’s an amalgam of genetics, experience, self-care, grooming, skill, circumstance, effort, finances, the time-space continuum, and plain old luck. Some beauty might be better caught in photographs than others; other beauty may best be captured in film; others still may shine only in person, when one’s electricity serves to illuminate them with the golden glow that beauty—whatever that is—confers.

And I think this might be what bothers me so much about these beauty studies. It’s an intense focus upon conventional looks to the exclusion of the magic beauty can create. I’m not exaggerating when I say that in more than half of the interviews I’ve done on here, at some point the subject has started talking, unprompted by me, about someone in her life who isn’t conventionally good-looking but who is magnetic. (I quickly learned I had to edit that out of interviews or risk being repetitive.) If we’re quick to categorize that as personality or charisma, we lose part of the original meaning of beauty—"a quality or aggregate of qualities that gives pleasure to the senses," as per Webster’s. Personality and charisma can be, but aren’t necessarily, distinct from beauty. The more we try to put a fine point on what exactly all this beauty business is about—with coefficients and calculations and n factors and quadratic formulas—the more we pretend there’s a formula to the magic of everyday life.

Listen, I write about beauty nearly every day. I like that these studies exist; I like that there are legitimate researchers trying to identify various aspects of beauty instead of just shrugging and saying it’s all up to the gods anyway. I like reading these studies and checking and critiquing my own assumptions. I like that there are people in the realm of the quantifiable doing what I’m attempting to do with words: learn more about appearance, and figure out why it can feel so damned important, why it can hold sway over us to the degree that it does.

But science, for all its quantifiable research, can have a veil of opacity over it as well. Scientific jargon can be alienating to the point where I want to just cry uncle because frankly, I don’t understand the language. (And it doesn’t help when science writers sensationalize studies, which is easy to do with beauty-related research because the public is hungry for it.) And when you don’t understand the language, it’s easy to just assume that they must know what they’re talking about. Even a skeptic like me sometimes just throws up her hands with a cry of “Science says!” because, hell, they have numbers and charts and data and PhDs, and what do I have but my dictionary and a women’s studies minor, right? But science isn’t infallible, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect our lived experiences. And when we’re talking about beauty—a quality that gives pleasure to the senses—to divorce it from our lived experiences and instead put it on paper can, when not regarded with caution, further alienate us from what we were gazing upon in the first place.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Grooming, Earning, and Why You Can Skip the Eyeshadow

Guess who earns the least?

If any study could put a nice crack in Catherine Hakim’s theory of “erotic capital,” it’s this one. Based on numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, researchers at Elon University have shown some interesting correlations between time spent on personal grooming and income. (Note that "grooming" here is everything from getting dressed to brushing your teeth to getting your legs waxed.) The three points of interest here are:

• White women who spent 90 minutes on personal grooming each day made 3.4% less than women who spent 45 minutes on the same tasks. The study didn’t give an exact percentage for minority women but said it’s “not dissimilar” to that of white women.

• Earning of minority men (50% Hispanic) increased along with time spent on grooming.

• White men’s earnings were unaffected by time spent on grooming.

This data is distinctly labor-oriented: It came from the American Time Use Survey, and this study is hardly the first to compare how time spent away from the job and other market activities affect earnings. Unsurprisingly, the more “non-market time” people seize, the greater the negative effect. But the grooming effect is greater than other non-job-related activities (like housework and time spent with family). It could be that the visibility of grooming contributes to the notion that someone isn’t dedicated to their work (I’d be interested to see if there was a “sunburn effect” on earnings—”Jed’s mind is always on waterskiing; did you see that burn?”), but I’m guessing that because it was women who were negatively affected, that it’s ideas about women and appearance, not just labor and leisure, that’s at play here.

The takeaway here seems pretty clear: Ladies, you’ve gotta look good, but you can’t spend too-too much time on it. I’m guessing that women who were spending more time on grooming suffer in the workplace from preconceived notions of women who pay great attention to such things. The grand prize of beauty is usually the person who supposedly rolled out of bed looking amazing. Spend too much time on your appearance and you seem vain, self-absorbed, insecure, artificial—and, more to the point of this study, not serious about your work. (I'd suspected there's a class component as well—that lower-income women might engage in a sort of personalized, feminized conspicuous consumption by telegraphing their femininity with more makeup and hairstyling. The study controlled for occupation and industry, however, so even if this is the case, it's not reflected in this study.)

The data on men is equally telling. The study authors theorized that minority men spent more time on grooming to positive effect in order to counteract negative stereotypes; put visible effort into your appearance, the thinking goes, and you show you're willing to not only play by the rules, you'll help make them too. (And if you look more like the management—statistically likely to be white men—your chances of promotion would probably increase.) Indeed, Latino men self-report an emphasis on the importance of grooming.

Then, of course, there’s white men, whose earnings were unaffected by their time spent on grooming. White men are still the image of The Man (and indeed are still the overwhelming majority of upper management in virtually every industry), so they’ve already sort of proved their right to the workplace just by being born. But let's not let them off the hook yet—after all, controlling for education, men are more affected than women by the long-documented “height premium,” with which tall people make more money. I haven’t been able to find information about whether the height premium for minority men is exaggerated from or similar to the height premium for white men—and that’s something I’m greatly curious to know.

Now, there are a good number of problems with the study itself, as even the authors note (“There is strong evidence that measurement error exists in the grooming variable”). But there's something I like about this study: It delineates grooming from beauty, treating the labor of beauty as separate from its outcome, and indeed as labor. Most studies on appearance tend to rate people's "beauty" as though it were a yes/no question instead of looking at the variety of factors that actually go into the appearance of beauty. I've always felt iffy about studies on attractiveness; when I saw this study about grooming, not beauty, I identified one reason—but there are more.

Tomorrow I'll be looking at the urge within the research community to pin down beauty in a quantifiable way. Today, however, I'm going to skip shaving my legs, because then maybe I'll get a raise!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 9.16.11

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

From Head...
Earth face!: If body typing is appealing on the level of being an ersatz personality test, physiognomy like this new face-reading book being touted in The Daily Mail is even more oddly appealing, even though I think it's utter bullshit. Always fun to play, though!

 ...To Toe... 
If the shoe doesn't fit: Decoding Dress on why capitalism made her hunt for a month for black pumps. With her size 11 fitting, "There aren’t enough women like me to make it commercially worthwhile for manufacturers to cater to us." (Solutions, or at least ways to ameliorate the problem, here.) The shoe size question is interesting to me, as when applied to clothes we can't help but integrate the discussion with body image (as Already Pretty did this week by reminding us that "Clothes should fit you, you needn’t fit them," and as an oldie but goodie at Inkdot does with this post on tailoring). Shoes have less of an impact on our body image than clothes, so looking at the lack of diverse size options in footwear is a nice way to examine the sizing problem from a numbers-based perspective—and, yep, the man ain't giving Decoding Dress a new pair of shoes easily anytime soon. 

...And Everything In Between:
Ask a Dude: Hairpin's Dude answers two questions this week about appearance: How to accept a compliment when you're all hot and heavy with someone, and what to do when you find out your gross boyfriend has been making gross comparisons between your body and another woman's. Gross!

I'll have what he's having: We're more likely to consider someone beautiful if we think our friends think the person is beautiful. Science sez!

Fashion weak: Ashley Mears, sociologist, model, and author of Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model, on modeling as precarious labor, with few rights for the people wearing the clothes that make Fashion Week so damned glamorous.

Southern belles: A look inside the world of Venezuelan beauty pageants, and what it means for all Venezuelan women. (Banks there give loans for plastic surgery with slogans like "Have your plastic on our plastic"?!) Venezuelan models tend to be in high demand in the U.S.--very young women who can earn far more from their families while living abroad than they can from working at home--so I'm wondering about the economic implications of the beauty imperative there.

"If you could change one of your physical characteristics, which one would it be and why?":
This was asked at the Miss Universe pageant, which is, as a reminder, a pageant in which contestants are selected for their physical beauty—but, of course, still need to be prodded to put down their appearance. Aiaiai! (Thanks to Caitlin at Fit and Feminist for the link.)

Vote for "The Illusionists": Filmmaker Elena Rossini (you've met her here before) is up for a nice publicity boost from IndieWire; won't you take a second and vote for "The Illusionists," a promising documentary about the exploitation of women's bodies for profit? UPDATE: "The Illusionists" won! (And had won before I posted this roundup, which I hadn't realized.) Nice work, all!

She's a winner!:
Guinness world record holder for world's longest fingernails tops in with a combined 19.2 feet in length. Vacuuming, of all things, is what she claims is the hardest thing to do. (Clearly she does not wear contact lenses.)

Survivor: Cosmetics salesman is lone survivor of plane crash in Bolivia. No word as to whether skin cream played a role in his survival in the Amazon jungle.

Fly this: I've seen plenty of "travel-friendly" beauty products but had never thought about what it meant for the industry: Sales of products under three ounces have grown 10% a year since liquid restrictions were placed on U.S. flights.

Mirror Abuse Resistance Education: A high school in the UK has not only banned makeup, but has removed mirrors from the bathrooms. I think this is pretty awesome--I hear the idea that makeup allows you to express your individuality, but if the idea is to focus on learning (à la school uniforms), this certainly removes a distraction. Attention, Shelley College students: I had a great month with no mirrors, and Kjerstin Gruys is having a great year without 'em--you'll thrive during your on-school hours if you let yourselves, okay? 

Everybody loves Tavi: Nice piece in Slate about the advantages Tavi Gevinson's Rookie has over traditional teen mags (plus an acknowledgement that feminists in teen magazines aren't unicorns! we exist!). 

Smart eye for the racist guy: Remember that Crystal Renn shoot in which her eyes were taped back but of course the idea wasn't at all to look Asian? Minh-ha T. Pham at Threadbared takes it on: "Renn’s explanation is an example of a post-racial narrative in which race is simultaneously articulated through and disavowed by discourses of class, culture, patriotism, national security, talent, and, in the case of fashion, creative license."

It's called "lift and separate," Captain.

Cartoon boobs: Hourglassy on breasts in comics. Hint for aspiring comics artists: "When fabric is stretched across boobs, no matter how tight the spandex, it does not suction cup itself to each individual breast."

The Evolution of Ape-Face Johnson: Speaking of comics, cartoonist Carolita Johnson has a stunning piece in The Hairpin about her journey from supposedly funny-looking child, to high fashion model, to supposedly funny-looking model.

Army of two:
Fantastic talk between Cristen Conger at Bitch and Hugo Schwyzer on the male beauty myth. "It’s self-centered in terms of meeting your own ideal, becoming the man you want to be. This all started with the Army...when they went with the most brilliant advertising slogan ever: 'Be All You Can Be.' ...They decided to stop selling patriotism because that was old school and start selling personal transformation, and that was absolute genius." (Or take it from the horse's mouth: Men's cosmetics marketers on their thoughts on the difference between marketing to men and women.)

"As much as I love feminism, I don’t believe it’s the only concept you will ever need": Nothing to do with beauty! But everything to do with feminism, and this Sady Doyle piece is one of the best I've read recently.

New No More Dirty Looks challenge: Meditation sort of kills me—it's one of those things I know I would really benefit from, but it feels impossible to do. So I'm eagerly jumping on the next No More Dirty Looks challenge: five minutes of meditation every day for sever consecutive days. (There's a prize too, but what prize could be better than EVERLASTING CONTENTMENT?) Guidelines for the challenge here, plus a nice how-to guide that shows you there's no "trick"; you've just got to do it.

Paging Amelie:
A take on what it's like to be the "manic pixie dream girl" trope that plenty of smart feminists have deconstructed, and that this smart feminist has embodied. (I've played MPDG and have experienced a hint of self-loathing for it over the years, and this helped me ease up on that front.)

Apology not accepted: Virginia of Beauty Schooled guest posting at The Daily Glow about why beauty makes us happy. "I noticed that a lot of women tend to apologize for how happy beauty makes them.... Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that it’s shallow to get too excited about beauty." But no more!

What do women look at first on a man?: Warning: This is sort of creepy and uncomfortable, but interesting as well—a man strapped tiny cameras to his biceps and crotch, then asked women for directions and let the cameras witness what body parts they looked at first. It's also interesting to see how various women respond to being approached; we only really know our own experiences, so it's a nifty insight into how others handle stranger interactions. (Basically, we're really really nice.)

How to be bold:
Ashe at Dramatic Personae on fashion and self-consciousness—and here I thought I was the only one who owned amazing pieces she never wore because she felt self-conscious in them!

"The point of all this" fitness jazz: A group of bystanders to a car/motorcycle crash lifted the burning car to free the motorcyclist underneath, and (naturally!) it's caught on video. That's not what impressed Caitlin of Fit and Feminist, though: "What struck me was the presence of a young woman in the crowd. She didn’t hang back and watch.... Instead, she jumped right in. I’m not a betting woman, but I’d be willing to wager that woman is physically active... Maybe she plays sports or she does a bootcamp or she takes a Pilates class. I don’t know. All I know is that confidence in her body and her physical abilities is tightly woven into the tapestry of her self-image.... She doesn’t recite it as a mantra in hopes of one day actually believing it."