Friday, February 10, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 2.10.12

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

From Head...

The extravaganza: Seems that we've always liked to mock vanity, and there's none better than Sissydude's hilarious collection of antique images satirizing elaborate hairstyles of yore. (via Final Fashion)

Celebrate good times?: Mark Black History Month—with a sale on hair relaxers! Oh my. To be sure, hair relaxers have a place in black history; plenty of black women straighten their hair and they're not race traitors because of it. But couldn't Family Dollar have come up with a better way to celebrate Black History Month? Like changing their name for the month to Family Fifty-Eight Cents to mark the continuing pay disparity between black and white Americans? (Actually, I now see this was from two years ago. But the misguided idea here is unfortunately persistent, as this updated roundup shows.)

...To Toe...
I cannot believe this isn't more popular: Shoe stores offering pedicures.

...And Everything In Between:
Bad week for makeup makers: L'OrĂ©al is closing a Cleveland-area plant because it's consolidating its shampoo and conditioner manufacturing, putting 260 out of work. And Proctor & Gamble is laying off and otherwise reducing work for several thousand employees making up 3% of its workforce. Counterintuitively, given the company's successful marketing campaigns, much of the reduction is coming from marketing and other non-manufacturing departments. (Also this week: Proctor & Gamble is responsible for killing lard. Lard! The best fat of them all!) 

Video star: I admit I don't really get the Lana Del Rey thing, meaning I understand neither the vitriol directed in her direction nor the passionate defenses of her—rather, I don't understand why her music has spurred such discourse. That said, the discourse is interesting, particularly this piece at Tiger Beatdown: "[D]udes are angry because they have been exposed to the artifice; because seeing Lana del Rey perform, they cannot claim that there is such a thing as a 'unique natural femininity.' They hate her, of course, because to acknowledge the artifice would, inevitably, lead to questioning the artifice behind their own notions of femininity and, again, inevitably, their own stereotypes of masculinity." I just sort of wish her music was as interesting as what people are saying about it. (I do like her music, for the record; I just don't how it's sparked this kind of discussion. Then again, I never understand music lyrics, ever, so maybe that's why she's lost on me? She could be singing in Cambodian for all I know.) 

Does this include Mary Janes?: What we buy when we purchase a named garment (like J.Crew's Minnie pants): "The emotional structure of a proper name sparks a relationship with pants that transcends the physical interactions that would normally occur in a store. Verbal and iconic structures confirm the pants are real, but the emotional structure connotes a person-to-person exchange. Online, the Named garment allows us to establish trusting relationships with products through action that simulates clicking personal profiles, rather than transactions devoid of humanity. That sweater? She’s Tippi. Those shoes? Mona."

 Ideally the spilling polish would also be a chocolate fountain.

Built to spill: Gimmick architecture of the year: Store designed to look like bottle of nail polish pouring onto the floor.

Ladyscience: Science writer Hillary Rosner's piece about her frustration on writing for women's magazines shows what goes on behind the scenes. I'm similarly frustrated by women's magazines and know what she says to be absolutely true (that is, I've never worked with Rosner but have seen this happen repeatedly in my career)—but I'm also a believer in what they've done for women, and what they can continue to do. Women's magazines were instrumental in women's health issues being taken seriously, and they do a good job of staying on-point with service for the reader. It's that very service—the single-minded aspiration to give readers a singular "takeaway"—that drives many of the problems Rosner is writing about here. We need the takeaway, but we also need credible science writing in women's magazines if they're to continue giving true service to women.

Cupcakes and cash: Cupcakes and Cashmere blogger Emily Schuman is signing on with Estee Lauder as social media editor, which makes sense, as she's "our ideal customer," according to the brand global president. It's an example of the crucial role of authenticity in brand marketing: Schuman has a loyal readership because they see her as speaking solely for herself, and by teaming up with Estee Lauder, that quality is transferred. (Also, and this is pure conjecture, hiring Schuman is probably cheaper than their usual promotional venues, which would make Wall Street happy instead of frowny over Estee Lauder's middling earnings.)

Shop after you've dropped: Thanks to Glamour magazine and the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, shoppers will be able to use their smartphones to buy luxury beauty products using special tags in a test flight of taxicabs. No word on a launch date for the "dream to shop" app that lets you buy shit in your sleep.  

Beauty at All Ages!: e.l.f. Cosmetics is having a downright revolutionary contest called "Beauty at All Ages," in which aspiring models can enter pictures of themselves in one of four categories: teens, 20s, 30s, and 40+. All ages, people, you hear that? All ages.

Oh Nicki: Clutch magazine casts a critical eye upon Nicki Minaj's embrace of the white beauty standard. "The fact that Minaj has generated so much success by merging the typical mainstream beauty standards of Barbie and Marilyn Monroe with the outlandish 'ghetto booty' that so many black men celebrate speaks volumes."  

On stand-ins: Maryam Monalisa Gharavi on the use of imagery in one of the most absurd news stories of late: the public use of a cardboard cutout of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to mark the anniversary of his post-exile return to Iran. "He who denounced immodestly dressed women as ‘coquettes’ (the Shah referred to them as ‘dolls’) has been dwarfed into a string puppet. ... I find myself more interested in what is really real in these photos than what constitutes simulacra of the real." It's an interesting story in its own right, but while reading I kept thinking: We can easily see the use of a cardboard cutout of Khomeini as patently ludicrous. But it's also an (admittedly dramatic) externalization of the way we do treat images as the real deal—worth keeping in mind with image-worship of beautiful women.

Haute hijab: Terrifically excited to see where Underwraps, a new Muslim modeling agency, goes.

The Chinese consumer: The state of cosmetics in China. Makeup was forbidden under the Cultural Revolution, paving the way for cosmetics education seminars targeting new consumers, including a "lunch and learn" program for administrative office workers.

Blue Ivy™: Did Jay-Z and Beyonce actually file a trademark claim on their daughter's name, with the intent of using it for a line of beauty products?

Easy peasy: Got acne? Put a frog on it!

Beauty Imagined: My reading list is a gazillion miles long, but this Bookslut review of Beauty Imagined: A Global History of the Beauty Industry bumps Geoffrey Jones's book farther up the list.

Gone raw: I feel pretty strongly that a raw-foods diet is way too close for comfort to eating-disorder-land, but if anyone could convince me otherwise it's Gena and her textured writings at Choosing Raw. And this piece about the dangers of pursuing a raw or vegan lifestyle as a beauty regime shows why. "There is a ton of pressure for people who eat healthy to also look 'the part.' It is assumed that healthy vegans and vegetarians will be slim, clear-skinned, and energetic at all times. ... I’ve been approached by readers when I was particularly exhausted before, and gotten worried: did I look pale? Did I have bags under my eyes? Obviously, those things indicate nothing more than the fact that I’m a full time pre-med student and blogger who doesn’t sleep enough. But the fear is that people will assume my healthy lifestyle habits are ineffectual, or a hoax."

"Appearance sports": Plenty of us are well-versed in spotting the signs of eating disorders. But this piece focuses on symptoms of eating disorders in female bodybuilders, whose symptoms may be less easily spotted because A) being thin isn't the point, and B) attention to physique is already a given in their lives.

"Repetition is the uniform": Brittany Julious, lyrical as ever, has a short prose piece "On Uniforms."

Also, owl tattoos: The Blind Hem looks at the "functionless fashion" of hipsters. "So instead of uselessly consuming the useless, as the readers of Vogue are wont to do, the readers of Vice consume—still uselessly—the useful. Hipsters pervert the traditional functionlessness of aesthetic objects by taking up, as fashionable, clothing that has as its only redeeming quality function (Carharts, Doc Martins, flannel, etc)... All this appears to constitute the kind of perversion that makes the non-hipster media not only uncomfortable but angry."

Dulce de leche:
Breastfeeding glamour, courtesy Nahida at The Fatal Feminist. 

Bellies up: Danielle at Final Fashion looks at the fetishized belly throughout history, from Venus of Willendorf to Christina Aguilera. (The day I read this, I purchased my first-ever empire-waist item, a long aquamarine nightgown. Coincidence? I think not.)

Also, she's all of 53: Two differing but ultimately compatible takes on the issue of Madonna and age, spurred by her Superbowl halftime performance. Caitlin proposes a moratorium on jokes about her age, while Julie Klausner and Natasha Vargas-Cooper at The Awl ask why she insists on clinging to a girlish version of sexiness instead of a womanly version of it.

Let's get comfortable: Decoding Dress, with her ever-sharp critical eye, examines a fashion double bind: In part I, she presents the question of dressing stylishly versus dressing comfortably, and in part II, she breaks down the role societal authority has in both creating and enforcing the double bind.

Extra/ordinary: On eating disorders and the desire to be extraordinary. I don't agree with everything this piece says (and I got the feeling throughout that the writer hadn't quite liberated herself from the need to feel extraordinary, but then again, who has?). But it's a good look into the links between "impostor syndrome," eating disorders, and achievement. So many ED stories focus on the "need to be thin" from an appearance-based perspective, and I particularly like that this doesn't do that, preferring to look at that drive from the more complex place where eating disorders are actually born.


  1. 1. "Put a frog on it!" has just become my new standard response to all my children's non-owie owies and non-illness illnesses. "Mommy, my finger hurts." "Put a frog on it!" "Mommy, I can't take the trash out, I have a sniffle." "Put a frog on it!" This is going to be so cool. Thank you for that.

    2. I think e.l.f. gets judged harshly not because their quality is low, but because their price-point is. I've found their stuff to be at least as consistently good as the drug store brands, and often more so; in fact, one of my must-have, wear-it-every-day, hate-to-leave-the-house-without-it products is theirs. It's a fascinating problem for brand marketers though. If you make the low price point a part of the branding (like e.l.f. does) you risk being viewed by consumers as cheap; if you don't (like, say, Wet & Wild perhaps?) you risk being seen as trying to look like a more expensive brand when you're not.

    3. Is there a essential difference between cultural critics calling Nicki Manaj "too white looking" and those calling Madonna "too young looking?" My instinct tells me there isn't, but I'm going to let my brain have a go at it before calling them all out. (I also haven't read the entire Madonna piece, primarily because as much as I love Julie and Natasha, this exchange made some of my internal organs actually hurt a little. I think it might have been my duodenum.) I'm also calling dibs on writing a blog post comparing these two articles. =)

    4. Thank you for your always-gracious words and for your links to my stuff! Hoping you have a wonderful weekend.

    1. 2) Oh wow--I'd never looked into e.l.f. before but I now see that it was inspired by the founders noticing women driving BMWs buying cheap products like Wet 'n' Wild (if Wikipedia is to be believed). So it's not only a part of the branding, it's essential to it: You're buying like rich people do, the ones in the know. (Also, Scott Vincent Borba of those rip-off Borba skin care waters was one of the founders.)

      3) Good point. I feel like both critics want to "own" the woman in question--some black women may want Minaj to embody a vision of beauty that doesn't nod to a whites-only beauty, just as women of a certain age may want Madonna to look like she's 53 already. (It's interesting that Madonna is criticized both for looking too young and too old.) And, heh, you can have that if you give your blessings for an examination of e.l.f.!

    2. I'd *love* to see you do a piece on e.l.f.! Deal!

  2. Where to start? Well, first off, after hearing the back story to the person that became Lana Del Ray, I have no inclination to ever listen to her music.

    That nail polish store looks cool! I don't care if it's a gimmick.

    Also, I think that copyrighting Blue Ivy's name is a smart idea business wise. Plus, you get all sorts of protection from people who are trying to sell things with that name on it. But, then again, this is Beyonce and Jay Z we're talking about. Would you expect any less?

    1. I guess that's exactly it about Lana Del Rey--I don't care about her backstory. She reinvented herself, so what? Plenty of artists do it. Was that what made you disinclined to listen to her, or was it something else?

      And, heh, it IS a smart business move re: Blue Ivy. It creeps me out to think they may have been considering marketability when naming her, though I guess that's a part of naming kids now, to a degree, if we're to buy into the whole idea of the branding of the self.

  3. I see "put a frog on it" rapidly becoming the new "put a bird on it."

    Thanks again for the link love, and also for all of the reading material to sneak in between writing news stories about murder and budget clusterfuckery.

  4. Great set of links - the Khomeini one is bizarre!

    Re: Lana Del Rey - the conversation isn't about her music. I personally am a fan both of the music and of what LDR represents. Artifice is nothing new, and it's not a bad thing! Every artist ever manipulates themselves... they have to, don't they? Which brings me to...

    Nicki Minaj - if you want to be a Monroe-level legend, you MUST be blonde. This is the reason why Beyonce is blonde now, it's why Gaga is blonde, it's why Madonna is blonde, it's why Britney is blonde, pick your poison. If you look for an outlier - say Katy Perry - she seems to buck the trend until you find out that under her hair-colour-du-jour she's a natural blonde! Anyone who wants to be top-tier iconic goes blonde.


    1. I might well have a different view on Lana Del Rey if I'd heard the vitriol before I heard the backlash against the vitriol--the first time I heard of her it was a defense of her image manipulation (and in fact 90% of what I've read on her has been exactly that). Coming at it that way I don't quite get the beef anyone had with her in the first place!

      Interesting re: blonde, that it's still so top-tier iconic that even when it's so obviously artifice it's still what's desired. And I appreciate the artifice that Minaj embraces. The writers at Clutch were critical of it and I see why, but there's also something sort of spectacular about the idea of piecing together different aspects of female iconography to fashion a new image.

    2. Also, YES to your entry about beauty reflecting power. It's interesting that Minaj, in being a member of a traditionally disempowered group, is borrowing from the set of "power tools." Blondes are iconic for a reason--the reasons being exactly what you laid out. Thank you.

  5. Okay, I just read the essay about the problems with science journalism and women's magazines, and I found it extremely interesting and frustrating. When I went to j-school, I went out of my way to study science journalism because I was so annoyed by the sloppiness with which many journalists reported on science and scared about it because for many people, journalism is their only access to science. The way I saw it, to have people who are functionally scientifically illiterate serving as an intermediary between researchers and the public was a big cause for concern, but now I see that it went even deeper than that. Fascinating post. Thanks for sharing a link to it.

    1. Both of these are problems--the qualifications of people doing the "translation" and the larger industrial concerns in women's magazines. And I don't think simplifying science in order to communicate it to the average reader is a bad thing, but it obviously leads to all sorts of bending of the truth--and the segmenting of health information that drives me nutty. Now, if science writers just put a frog on it...

  6. re: the absurdity of celebrating Black History Month with HAIR RELAXERS. ye gods.

    I am in The Deep Stuff if there is ever an app that lets me shop in my sleep. Also broke. Very broke.

    <3 this as ever.

    1. If that app existed, right about now I'd be waiting for a gigantic green colored pencil that was nearly as tall as I am that I'd use to write on the floor, as per last night's dream.

      (and thank you!)

  7. Outlandish ghetto booty? Awesome judgement of body types, right there, wrapped in a little ethnic superiority

    1. Anonymous, I'm not sure if you mean that Clutch was being ethnically superior (it's a magazine by and for black women, though obviously that doesn't preclude anyone from getting something out of its excellent content); I think they were saying that "booty" has been an iconic nod to black women's beauty. And there's a lot to say about the idea of booty and what it signals for black women, but in this case they were using it as a juxtaposition against an iconic nod to something particular to white women. I don't think the writers were being judgmental and I hope you can read their article in that light, though I'm always glad to hear people question troublesome language on here.