Friday, July 27, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 7.27.12

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

Satisfied Latisse customer.

From Head...
Batty: Makers of eyelash-growth drug Latisse got grumpy about RevitaLash eyelash conditioner and filed a suit against RevitaLash claiming it was a drug, not a cosmetic, and therefore subject to the same regulation as Latisse. RevitaLash lost in district court this week. My greatest dream from here is that the company challenges the ruling and the case gets all the way to the Supreme Court so that we can watch Ruth Bader Ginsburg try to keep a straight face while hearing about the tragedies of "eyelash hypotrichosis," a "medical" "condition" totally made up by the Latisse peeps 

...To Toe... 
Home sweet home: Whenever I play "If I were rich I would ____," I fill it in with get massages as often as humanly possible. But if you fill yours in with have my toenail polish changed every day for eternity in the sanctity of my home, you might want to look into this for-sale Philadelphia home, featuring...two pedicure stations. 

...And Everything In Between:  
Beauty geek alert: Pantone and Sephora have collaborated on a system that will allow women to scan their faces to receive a unique, color-corrected skin profile, thus helping them buy shades that perfectly match their skin. Speaking as someone who still mourns the loss of the Prescriptives line, which produced The One Perfect Concealer For Me, this is fantastic news (even if the idea of having my face scanned is off-puttingly futuristic). The program will launch out in NYC and San Francisco soon, with full-roll out to come. 

Beauty fail: Canadian drugstore chain Shoppers faces losses after their experiment with high-end beauty failed to pan out.  

Big moves: Coty gets a new CEO on the heels of some uncharacteristically high-profile moves (a massive takeover bid for Avon, fragrance collaboration with Lady Gaga). 

Salary range: Why do aestheticians in Atlanta make roughly half as much as those in Colorado, as shown in this salon-industry infographic? My first thought was race and the devaluation of black women's work, but Atlanta has a similar demographic makeup to Washington D.C., where aestheticians make far more than they do in Atlanta. Thoughts?  

B Just: Loving this beauty company: Just B–B Just, which is staffed almost entirely by people who used to be homeless. Business skills are taught on the job, and best of all, it was founded by a resource center and driven by a woman who was homeless at one point in her life, not someone who might just be un peu d'exploitative of people in need in order to look like the good guy. (Plus, cedarwood-sage soap, yum.) 

Take two: I've heard of recycled cosmetics packaging before, but not products actually made from recycled materials. But why not? It's the next step up from the whole "keep your coffee grounds for a yummy body scrub" business that has earned many a teen girl a shower that smells like stale coffee. (Not just me, right?) 

Cut It Out: Trade organization Professional Beauty Association has what sounds like an innovative, important program: Cut It Out, a domestic violence education and awareness program. One of the keys to ending intimate partner violence is understanding that many victims are isolated; if you want to help, you've got to find them in places where they're both safe and not raising their abuser's suspicion—like, say, a hair salon. I've never seen brochures about relationship violence in a salon but have seen materials in women's bathrooms and the like—it's a splendid idea, a way to signal to people being abused that they're in a safe place. Thanks to salon chain Great Clips, which recently donated $100,000 to the program.

Click-n-sniff: The State's collection of writings on perfume and scent is a veritable garden of reading pleasure. (Is a roundup featuring a roundup too much? Has the Internet just imploded?) 

Phallic casts of the 2008 Iceland national handball team, cast in silver for the Icelandic Phallological Museum

Measuring up: Rachel Rabbit White looks into a quietly tittered-over body image problem for men: penis size. It's something I've only heard discussed in body-image terms in intimate relationships, and I can't help but wonder what that means for the men who have this anxiety. It's good that they can confide in intimate partners, but if my own experience with body image is any indication, the person who knows your body most intimately also brings a lot of their own stuff to the table.

Purged: Demi Lovato, as a part of her long-term recovery plan from an eating disorder, has surrendered her cell phone. Part of what eating disorders do is numb and distract its sufferers; it's not a stretch to see how the mini-computers we insist upon still calling "cell phones" do much the same thing.  

Photoshopper: Interview with a photo retoucher: "The skin retouching and smoothing is the most deceiving thing, but if we stopped doing that now, you'd flip through your magazine and say, oh my God, honey you need to put on some makeup. To stop doing it now would be so noticeable." And it's true. I'm not as anti-retouching as some of my colleagues in the blogosphere, for reasons much like this interview points out: Creating an image that's basically collage isn't exactly the problem, it's the lack of understanding of how retouching actually works that allows us to interpret photographs as reality instead of as something more akin to illustrations. 

Natural/beauty: Blisstree hits it on the head again with its examination of the connection between "green" beauty and feminism. Call it an (accidental?) offshoot of ecofeminism, but they're onto something here: It's no coincidence that so many natural beauty lines were not only founded by women but remain woman-helmed to this day. But it's not just that (it's not like everything owned by a woman is feminist); it's that investing yourself in what you're putting on your body can actually transform the way you think about yourself. I keep bringing up this quote from No More Dirty Looks' Siobhan O'Connor, but it's only because I love it so much: "Something inside both of us transformed over the course of writing and constantly thinking about beauty and our relationship to it—every woman’s relationship to it. We’ve seen a lot of people fight their natural look. And it’s cheesy to say, but you know what it’s like when you see a really healthy woman, regardless of the shape of her nose or her body, and you’re like, whoa. There’s health and joy, smiles and truth—it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world. Natural beauty can go beyond products; it’s about stripping all that other stuff away and just taking joy in the natural curl of your hair or the natural glow of your skin."

On eating alone: Sometimes it can literally take my breath away when I hear or read someone else sum up my own struggles in just a few words. This time, it's Mara of Medicinal Marzipan who leaves me breathless: "Why do I hate sitting here and eating quietly, in my own space and solitude? Because it feels like a punishment." 

An apple a day: New hair straightening treatment: apple stem cells, culled from the rare Swiss strain Uttwiler Spätlauber. 
 It's a glamour bonnet, like, duh.
Glamour bonnet: Best-ever collection of bizarre vintage beauty apparatuses. Glamour bonnets! Dimple-makers! Perm machines! And yes, I'm certain that the featured 1921 "home electric massage vibrator" was indeed "as necessary as the brushing of your teeth." 

The most wanted face: Through a poll of beauty industry professionals and plastic surgeons, we have the most requested face, a collection of features most asked-for by clients. (Kylie Minogue has the world's most wanted forehead? Really?) (As far as mash-ups of "most wanted" features, I'll always prefer the exquisite—and bizarrely listenable—22-minute song of the world's "Most Unwanted Music." So worth a listen.)

ED bytes: Excellent piece that gives context and insight into the new direction of pro-eating-disorder sites; I'd say it's a must-read for anyone concerned with social media or eating disorders. "The translation of pro-ana communities from the language of the message board to these more image-based aggregation platforms is a tragic variable in the world of social media. With the rise in fluidity, flexibility, and simplicity, communities are no longer bound by a single website. ... [T]he ease with which the community has adapted its rationale across platforms is worth noting, particularly in light of the subculture’s habit of reinterpreting existing medical terminology. The anonymity that once proved seductive for so many is beginning to dissipate." 

"Damn good-looking": This character analysis of Brett, or Lady Ashley, from The Sun Also Rises, helped me understand why I was so entranced by the character when I first encountered her at age 16: "Subconsciously, perhaps, Brett’s appeal also lies in that her true allure, her charm and sexual confidence, can be channeled by anyone, even those of us who don’t feel conventionally attractive." (via Lauren Cerand) 

Tatterhood: Leave it to the Threadbared team to make me want to ferry it out to Governors Island in New York to see a bunch of tattered old clothes on exhibit for the last time before they're retired from museums, too ragged to be considered museum-quality any longer. "The organizational structures of museums (from the public arrangement of displays to the behind-the-scenes preservation of the objects) reflect and reproduce a dominant value system about what objects are beautiful, valuable, and worth protecting. But if clothing functions as a material sign of social status and a site of knowledge production about the meanings of beauty, value, and worth, then the choice of which clothes are worth saving and studying is also a decision about what kinds of lives are valuable and worth remembering." 

On femininity: Forget commentary, I'll just let Nahida speak for herself here: "To what standard do you strive, but that set by men to say that masculinity is the ideal to which all women should aspire? Let women define what it is to be a lady, strength and fearlessness and love. Let us be who we are, manly women and womanly women and womanly men and manly men. This is to remind us whatever is feminine is of equal worth, not to be abandoned. Say the word orgasm and smile crookedly when it reminds you of hotels in July." 

#nodads: Amy Poehler on makeup and daaaaaaads who won't let you wear it. (via About-Face) 

Sex it up: Yes, beauty and fashion are connected to sex. But as Danielle illustrates in this mini-treatise on sex, visibility, and constructed identities, they're not connected in the way you might think they are. 

Huzzzah!: Hourglassy celebrates the world's largest natural breasts. Even better is that the owner of these 102ZZZs celebrates them too. 

Heya dollface: Why are mannequins so creepy?

Pretty baby: The bad news: Six-year-old girls are sexualizing themselves. The good news: There's a possibility that body awareness—like dance classes—can help them see their bodies as something more than a vehicle for sexiness. Little girls and dance classes sometimes get a bad rap in feminist circles, and surely there are a good number of dance teachers who tsk-tsk at belly pooches. But for the most part, dance classes are fun—and for girls like me, who hated gym class with an enduring passion, it was the only exercise I got. So! (via Feminist Philosophers)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Already Pretty Giveaway

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’re well aware of my admiration for Sally McGraw, the mind behind Already Pretty. The fashion blogs I read are few and far between: Unless it’s fashion history and theory like Final Fashion, or fashion politics and philosophy like Threadbared, in general I’m just not interested. Looking current means little to me (most of my clothing is vintage-inspired if not actually vintage), and once I figured out what looks work on me, I figured out where to shop and rarely visit new stores. Creature of habit, I suppose, leaving me with little purpose for fashion blogs.

But when I stumbled across Sally’s work, something clicked. Here was a voice that wasn’t just articulate and strong but feminist, and forthrightly so. Instead of just chirping about “loving your body” (which, half the time, I think is an empty phrase—what exactly does that mean?), everything on Already Pretty surged toward the larger goal of increasing confidence through the development of personal style. Whether it’s an essay on the flip side of envy, a tutorial on winter tights (leading to my SmartWool purchase), or her way of identifying why certain visual principles work the way they do without adopting the tone of rap-on-knuckles style schoolmarm I’ve seen time and again elsewhere, in reading Sally’s blog I felt like I had someone in my corner. Because, like any reader of Already Pretty, I do.

That said, sometimes style advice comes best in a package instead of in a daily blog—or maybe not best, but most handy. And Sally’s book, Already Pretty, is just that. Here, my three favorite points in the book:

1) No, there’s no all-purpose “must-have” list. Finally, confirmation of what I’ve suspected for years: No, I don’t need a suit, no matter what say those “basics every woman needs” lists that crop up every so often in ladymags. There is no universe in which I would need a suit—no job interview, no meeting, no business occasion in which I would ever, ever need a suit, something I wish I’d realized before buying a ridiculous little suit my last semester of college because all the fashion magazines told me I needed to, leaving me with a cheap polyester suit that made me look woefully out of place at the job I’d bought it for. (Hell, I don’t even own any button-downs, as they make me look like a 12-year-old boy, something that no other item of clothing has managed to do, ever, including baseball tees.)

2) Look good, feel good. This is something I misunderstood when I was younger, and by younger I actually mean when I started this blog at the beginning of 2011. I knew that I felt my best when I looked my best, but I thought that was something to sort of work against, because it was somehow a capitulation to the beauty myth. It was only upon articulating my thoughts here that I recognized that didn’t need to be something to work against; it could be something to work for—not working to stick to some sort of societal ideal of beauty, but rather to look how I feel my best. Which could mean jeans and a T-shirt that fits me well and that doesn’t make me feel self-conscious about my belly pooch, or a cocktail dress that skims over my midsection and shows off the parts of my body that I’m a touch vain about. Point is: When I started making a point of dressing my best on days I felt down in the dumps, instead of “saving” my “good” clothes for days I had more confidence and therefore wouldn’t mind being looked at, I noticed how easily the appearance of confidence (at least, what I associated with confidence) transferred to the reality. Yes, of course feeling good from the inside out is crucial. But sometimes it can come from the outside in.

3) “Figure flattery” doesn’t have to mean “skinny, busty, tall, and hipless.” Sometimes it might mean that, sure. But as Sally points out (and which was one of my biggest “aha!” moments in reading), flattery can mean so much more: clothing that lies flat against your body, clothing that doesn’t pinch or pull, colors that make your skin and features look more vibrant. On top of that, sometimes we may want to play with the proportions we have to create different kinds of “flattering” looks: The dress I’m wearing today has a flounce at the bottom, which makes me look hippier than I usually prefer to look, but with its polka-dot print and cigarette-girl styling, it’s super-flattering because it makes me look curvy. But the sheath dress I wore to a dinner this weekend minimizes my hips, giving me a straighter, slimmer look all around. In my pencil dress I prefer to look as busty; in a slipdress I prefer less contour. All of these looks work on my body, but in an entirely different way, and the way Sally approaches the concept of figure flattery makes this clear.

So those are some key points I got from the book. Now (and here’s the giveaway part) what will you get from it? Sally will be giving away a signed copy of Already Pretty to a reader of The Beheld chosen at random from all comments on this post (whether at, The New Inquiry, or Open Salon). Just leave a comment on this entry by 11:59 p.m. EST Wednesday, August 1. All comments will receive a giveaway entry (which will be chosen at random from an online number generator), but to keep it interesting, why don’t you leave a comment with your most favorite—or least favorite—piece of fashion advice, whether from your own mind or someone else’s? My favorite: Wear dresses whenever possible. People often think I’m dressed up; little do they know I’m just too lazy to pick out two separate pieces! Least favorite: “A-line dresses work on all figures!” Yeah, except mine. Your turn.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Alienation of Mary Kay

Karl is wearing TimeWise® Firming Eye Cream, .5 oz., $30, or your nearest Mary Kay lady

Near the top of the dry erase board where I keep a running list of fragmented ideas—nose job thing, Miss Piggy, story about yogurt (all in due time, my friends, all in due time!)—there’s long been an item that makes me laugh every time I see it, because of its sheer grandiosity. Is beauty inherently capitalist??? it reads, question marks included. I have no idea where my line of thinking was at the time I scrawled it; certainly now the question doesn’t make much sense, unless one is willing to look at beauty as inherently being a good, which I’m not. The best I can come up with is that I meant is the beauty industry inherently capitalist, which, duh, yes, as are all industries, right?

Reading “The Pink Pyramid” by Virginia Sole-Smith in this month’s Harper’s, however, it seems my overblown, half-baked question has a stark answer. Specifically, I’m wondering if one arm of the beauty industry—Mary Kay and its masquerade of empowerment through direct sales—might not actually be a classic case study of why our economic system works the way it does, exemplifying certain aspects of capitalism, specifically the ways our own labor alienates us from our fuller selves. (The piece isn’t fully available online, but Sole-Smith has written about it at her blog and in these ungated pieces, and the piece is definitely worth picking up a copy of the magazine.) I’d always found Mary Kay old-fashioned and fussy, sure, but I rather liked the idea of women being able to work on their own schedule—the original flextime!—building upon a business founded by a woman, catering to women, being unabashedly feminine and celebrating the small joys of beauty.

The picture Sole-Smith skillfully paints with her investigative reporting dismantles any protofeminist notions: Mary Kay makes its money not so much from the sales parties conducted by its team members (a.k.a. Mary Kay ladies), but rather in roping in more and more people to become team members. For in order to successfully sell Mary Kay, it’s best to have lots of inventory—inventory purchased wholesale by team members from their “sales directors” (i.e. the next rung up on the pyramid), who receive a cut of the inventory sales before any client has actually purchased a thing. (And hey, if need be, Mary Kay saleswomen can just charge their inventory to their Chase Mary Kay Rewards Visa card.) With frequently shifting inventory and the tendency for potential sales party attendees to back out at the last minute (does anybody really enjoy going to those parties?), team members are stuck with thousands of dollars worth of inventory they can’t sell. The higher up the pyramid, the sweeter your deal. But hey—you don’t have to buy inventory in order to be a Mary Kay lady; you can just have your clients place orders and they’ll get their products in a few weeks—so it’s not technically a pyramid scheme. So technically, it’s not illegal.

In other words, it’s genius. Not only are Mary Kay participants basically jumping into a pyramid scheme, which preys upon hope, but the way Mary Kay evades being an actual pyramid scheme is the very thing that made me view the company as charming, even vaguely empowering: sisterhood. If you’ve ever been to a Mary Kay party or its ilk (I haven’t, but an ex-boyfriend’s mother once invited me to a “Passion Party,” and people-pleasing me actually went), you know what I’m talking about: an “it’s just us girls” tone that hits midway between no-nonsense big-sisterly advice and ostensibly pro-woman nudges to buy more products. (“You really are helping a friend and yourself,” says a sales director in the article’s opening scene. “That’s how Mary Kay works.”) If beauty talk serves as a portal for the kinds of conversations we’re actually hungry to have with other women, Mary Kay charges by the word.

That’s insidious enough, particularly because it puts a dollar value on the sort of tentative connections I see women try to make with one another all the time—proof that the catfight imagery that dominates depictions of female friendship is a divide-and-conquer technique that masks the vulnerability that’s so often laid bare in those relationships. But I’m just as intrigued by the way this dependence upon our wish to connect translates into dollars.

I lay zero claim to be a Marx scholar, or even to have seriously read Marx, so excuse me if this is beyond rudimentary. But as I understand it, a principal theme of Marxism is alienation from various aspects of labor—alienation from the product of one’s labor, the act of production, and human potential. This alienation is an inevitable outcome of a stratified class society—a social pyramid, you might say—in which people are only privy to their particular cog in the wheel that makes society go ’round. Lurking throughout the process of alienation is mystification, or the ways the market conceals the hierarchies and class relations that set the stage for alienation.

Mary Kay could hardly be more literal in its manifestation of alienation and marketplace mystification. Team members (the bottom of the pyramid) depend upon sales directors, (the next rung up) to supply their products and help build their clientele; a saleswoman’s interaction with Mary Kay proper seems nil (alienation from production). The company tracks wholesale numbers only—that is, what saleswomen purchase to sell, not what customers actually buy—so while a saleswoman has the illusion of complete control over her own labor, in fact she’s playing a crucial role in marketplace mystification, which serves to keep workers alienated from the true results of their own labor. It’s a strategic refusal on Mary Kay’s part, since it allows for the myth of team members’ potential to become the stuff of legend. The pink Cadillacs are only part of it; the brochure Sole-Smith was given in her first meeting with her sales director cited $17,040 as a reasonable outcome for holding just one skin-care class per week. (In her three years of research, of course, Sole-Smith didn’t find women who made anywhere near that amount.) The workers themselves seem to hesitantly accept the mystification to the point of superstition; legend has it that to have a successful Mary Kay career, you need to have your picture taken while standing in Mary Kay Ash’s heart-shaped bathtub. “I think most people were a little torn about doing this, because the line was so long, and it was all so campy,” said a sales director whose precarious Mary Kay-related finances played a role in her eventual divorce. “But at the same time, there’s this huge tradition that you can only be successful if you take the picture in the tub. So nobody was willing to forgo that step.” That is, the workers were afraid to pay attention to their own instincts that were whispering This is ridiculous, because the promise of earnings loomed so large. The alienation was complete.

When I interviewed Sole-Smith for The Beheld last year, she talked about what she calls “beauty gaps.” The gap between a customer paying $50 for a salon service and the worker receiving a fraction of that to perform outsourced “dirty work” (and, indeed, the overall gap between what women spend on beauty and what women earn when they become beauty workers); the gap between what a buyer is promised with a beauty product and what she actually receives; the gap our culture has created between being the smart girl and the pretty one.

This piece examines another beauty gap: the gap between the true actualization of human potential and the reality of the lives of the story’s subjects. Mary Kay talks a good talk about encouraging its workers to fulfill their greatest potential (“How can I help u achieve your dreams?!” the local sales director texts Sole-Smith at one point). But in truth, what Mary Kay workers hope will be flexibility turns out to be precarity—the very thing that prevents many of us from “fulfilling our dreams” or “reaching for the stars” or any of the bootstraps-happy talk we’re led to believe is the key to success. (Which, as Sole-Smith points out in a companion piece to "The Pink Pyramid," is particularly troublesome when our national conversation about women is still centered around the question of “having it all.”) Most of the women who do wind up making money from selling Mary Kay earn minimum wage. And some who lose money on their first attempt keep coming back, certain it’s not the system that’s at fault but rather their own lack of expertise that’s holding them back.

But hey, even if it’s a pyramid scheme, well, these women are going in with their eyes open, right? This is more about bad business, not about the beauty industry per se, right? Well, not really, and not only because Mary Kay talks a good (and misleading) talk. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Mary Kay is built upon the same idea as the Tupperware party plan—popular in the 1950s, the height of the “feminine mystique” era that put a hard sell on the idea that women should be wholly fulfilled by homemaking and child-reading alone. Today, in a world where the valorization of housewifery has been displaced by a combination of the beauty myth and superwoman, is it any surprise it’s a beauty company that has taken hold? And is it any surprise that in a world where it’s hard enough for regular consumers to manage their own combustible insecurities of appearance and money, some workers within the industry might fall prey to that same toxic combination?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 7.20.12

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

From Head...

Seeing red: Do redheads have such a difficult time finding products that they need their own product line? Side question: What's up with taunting redheads for being "ginger"? Why is this a thing, ever? I've heard otherwise thoughtful people say some really stupid things about people with red hair, and I don't understand it!

...To Toe...
Holy grail: I'm not quite narcissistic enough to actually consider this news, but in case your shoe checklist is the same as mine I feel the moral responsibility to share: I have found the perfect heeled sandal. It's comfortable even after hours of New York strolling, it's durable, it's low-vamp with no ankle strap (hate!) but feels secure anyway because of the construction, it's dressy enough for most occasions but not so dressy that you feel overdone in casual settings, and (to my decidedly non-adventurous eye, anyway) it's cute. It's pricier than I'd normally pay for a shoe, but I would happily buy them again. (And in fact I may buy another pair, knowing that the last time I found a pair of shoes I loved it was pink jellies circa 1988.)

...And Everything In Between:

The "pink pyramid": Virginia Sole-Smith has a fantastic cover feature in Harper's this month, one that beautifully weaves together themes of labor, femininity, women's precarity, and the American dream, using the "pink pyramid" of Mary Kay's sales structure as the core. I'll be looking at this more next week, but whet your appetite with this excerpt courtesy the Investigative Fund (which provided research support), plus Virginia's take on why she went to beauty school, where she encountered her first Mary Kay ladies, to begin with.

Seek and ye shall find: Taking a cue from Sephora, Target is testing a "beauty concierge" program, with roaming consultants available to advise shoppers and "act as a friendly face in what can often be an intimidating department." What's intriguing here is the idea that cosmetics are intimidating—certainly they can be, and I think "product shyness" is pretty common. (See also: me and lipstick.) But isn't part of what makes cosmetics intimidating the idea that one needs a guide in order to successfully navigate the aisles? They're creating their own mythology.

Ladies first: We've seen repeatedly how fashion can serve as a portal to politics (one word: headband), and Worn Through asks why it still only seems relevant when we're talking about women.

Pageantry: Trinidadian feminist blogger Creative Commess on the "classism, colourism, elitisim, racism and just all around meanness of spirit" that has permeated this year's Miss Trinidad and Tobago competition, the winner of which is dark-skinned, provoking all sorts of coded comments about how she's not the usual "cup of tea."

Botoxed: The UK's General Medical Council issues a new guideline stating that patients must receive a face-to-face consultation before receiving a prescription for Botox, instead of merely a phone consult. And here I thought England was a free nation.

Purple haze: Bulgaria has replaced France as the world's largest producer of lavender and lavender oil. Also: Lavender is crushed by foot?

East is East: Somehow this piece on India's influence on western beauty and fashion never mentions the word orientalism, hmmm. Certainly it's possible to look to other cultures for their beauty secrets—who isn't a sucker for the idea that there's some amazing fix-it that's only found in foreign lands? We're all Ponce de Leon, searching the globe for beauty cures (or at least perking up when we see something is made from some plant found only in the tropics). But there's something about the lure of India in particular that seems to stick, and I don't think it's only about the notoriously thick hair Indian women possess. 

Also, after a good night's sleep: Love this comment thread at No More Dirty Looks answering the (admittedly corny, but not too-too) question of when you feel the most beautiful. Dismounting from a motorcycle, wearing vintage clothing, horseback riding, ovulating (!), samba dancing, telling jokes, sharing a decadent meal. (My additions: sunbathing, recalling various exchanges of meaningful looks, hosting solo dance parties in my living room, presenting a homemade treat that I know will be a hit. Also, what Annette says.)

Remember my name: What's going on with the ad for Lady Gaga's new scent, Fame, in which tiny men crawl upon her reclining frame? "As a woman trying to decipher Lady Gaga's perspective, it reads something like, we need you men but as replaceable sexual commodities, a symbol of our subversive feminine dominance, yet certainly not to establish our fame. So, as with all subversive statement, it is very much acknowledging the classical strcuture of dominance, only upsetting it a bit."

It couldn't be unique to my high school that there was plenty of overlap between the fashion crowd and the jock girls, could it?

Fielding: I liked the point of this blog entry at Shine fingering a new PSA aimed at keeping girls in sports; the blogger described the ad as pitting an interest in beauty and fashion against "real" interests like sports. That is, I liked it until I watched the PSA in question. This message is splendid, and it's handled well, I think: It's clear that it's the capitulation to societal pressures to look a certain way, not a genuine interest in beauty and fashion, that's at fault here. (Hell, the forlorn girl in the last frame is pretty clearly wearing some makeup.) There are plenty of problems with the way we pit an interest in conventionally girly things against things of legitimacy—like being smart, or being feminist, or, sure, being athletic. But I see an ad like this as putting the blame where it belongs: an encouragement of either-or thinking, not on beauty itself.

Danell and Daniela: Speaking of the false dichotomy of pretty-or-talented in the depiction of female athletes, in ESPN magazine's stunning photo set of nude Olympians, why are men like gymnast Danell Levya shown doing their sport while women like tennis champ Daniela Hantuchova are shown...not?

Weird beauty tip of the month: Milk of magnesia as a mattifier?

A tale of two niqabs: Teju Cole on the connection between van Eyck's Man in Turban and the June riots in Brussels that happened after a Muslim woman wearing a niqab was beaten by police for not removing her face covering upon request. On a far happier note: the best niqab ever.

The new black: The Guardian asks what's up with the "trend" (or is it, as the headline implies, a "trick"?) of celebrities not wearing makeup, and Feminist Philosophers responds, Why is anyone assuming this is a trend? Surely there couldn't be any other reasons that women whose entire lives have been ruled by tyrannical beauty standards would want to opt out for a minute or two?

Well-curated: Smithsonian + fashion history blog = careful what you wish for, for it shall keep you up past your bedtime. From a meditation on Joan Didion's packing list to an examination of the beauty pageant swimsuit competition, this blog is one to watch. (via Danielle

Edge of Seventeen: Something major is happening with readers of teen magazines being fed up with photo retouching and demanding transparency. At Jezebel, Jenna Sauers raises an eyebrow at the magazine's delayed response to a reader petition about retouching; the magazine managed to sound progressive while not actually promising readers a single thing. Meanwhile, Katie J.M. Baker points out that at least there was a response from Seventeen, unlike as with Teen Vogue. Having worked at a teen magazine (and having worked with Ann Shoket, now editor of Seventeen), I can say that there really is a general understanding that retouching has a different context when the reader is 12 as opposed to 30. Most of the retouching notes I saw (which, I should point out, were only a tiny percentage of what actually went on) were about making models look less bony. (To which I say: Hire less-bony models, but that's another day.) That said, without knowing Seventeen's photo retouching policy I can't say for sure, but I highly doubt that the only things they've retouched are stray hairs and the like. This is sort of a golden moment here: Readers know about retouching, and instead of asking for its elimination they are asking for education, which seems totally reasonable. The Seventeen response was somewhat satisfying, but I'd have loved to see them get into the philosophy of retouching. Girls can handle what we give them, so why not give them a more nuanced understanding of the practice?

Teenabopper: More Seventeen news: RIP Estelle Ellis Rubinstein, creator of "Teena," the marketing icon created by Seventeen magazine as a sort of ur-reader—a technique that's still used today, if only in-house. (I've sat through more than one magazine presentation designed to educate staffers about the target reader, who sometimes actually has a name—the most recent one I "met" was named Melinda, I think.) Also from Teenage this week: What's up with all the dead teen girls?

Playing nice: Molly Fischer of n+1 revisits her earlier treatise on ladyblogs (which I responded to here) and, with her characteristic thoughtfulness, zeroes in on the question of why the nicey-nice. Add in the response from Kate Zambreno, whom Fischer had included her analysis, and the conversation continues to grow. I've already responded to Fischer and don't have much more to say, but what I will say is this: Reading both of these pieces together is proof that women are wholly capable of having conversation that both disagrees and strikes a note of supportive vulnerability. I get tired of nicey-nice too, sure, especially when it's the sort where there's no room for dissent, which is suffocating. But at the end of the day, I "talk like a girl," and I see no reason to reconfigure. In fact, when I've tried to reconfigure and not be so damned agreeable, I wind up feeling like crap—not because I can't handle dissent, but because I'm working against modes of communication that allow for open displays of support and consideration. I just feel like we are finally—finally—at a point in feminism or even "postfeminism" or whatever where women are a little less afraid to say how dearly we hold the opinion of other women, and how precious our relationships with other women are. If at this tender point in time the cost is a few too many smiles all around, well, I'm willing to take that risk.

I hate to play favorites: ...but how could this not be my favorite link, like, ever? Top 10 weirdest ersatz beauty pageants. #8: Nuns.

I, Autumn Paz Whitefield-Madrano, find elbow patches sexy.

Hey professor: Inside Higher Ed on the notoriously questionable fashion tastes of academics: "We wish to demonstrate that we just don’t care about these kinds of mundane trappings because we are so engrossed in the ethereal, all-consuming life of the mind." Yep. More than one academic woman I know has commented on how she fears not being taken seriously if she dresses fashionably—and simultaneously fears the self-esteem sag that can come if you're not dressing the way that feels natural to you. (Bonus: 20 Popular Faculty Styles. #17: "I wanna wear jeans! But I’d better make it formal by adding a blazer.")

Roy G. Biv: Lush has managed to do it again: impress me through my thick shell of marketing cynicism. The brand is dipping into color cosmetics for the first time with its "Emotional Brilliance" line based on color therapy, which of course the hippie in me is all over. But what really impresses me is how the most potent pigments—lips and eyes—are designed with interchangeable applicators, building experimentation, costuming, and play into its functionality. I'm pretty conventional with my makeup and don't see myself puckering up with a teal lip liner, but Lush's approach is making me think of something No More Dirty Looks cofounder Siobhan O'Connor said in our interview: that approaching her beauty routine from a nontoxic perspective actually shifted how she thought about beauty, and about herself. I feel like this is a similar thing: If you see even the most traditional of makeup as being one of a vast number of playful possibilities, aren't you going to have more fun with it?

SoftSheen Blvd.: A street in Chicago was renamed in honor of Ed and Betty Gardner, founders of SoftSheen (now owned by L'OrĂ©al). Ed Gardner in 2011: “We were not only a hair care company—we were also concerned with the needs of the Afro American community, as far as producing jobs. ... We had to have the black community feel as though they were apart of the business, as well as improve the quality of life of the Afro American person. When you consider that there were very few major manufacturing companies owned by blacks throughout the nation, those that were successful had a responsibility to give back as much as possible.”

Silver linings: The Illusionists (which longtime readers may remember from filmmaker Elena Rossini's guest post last year) calls attention to something I had no idea existed: digital retouching in films. I don't know why I thought this didn't happen—I guess because I'm so used to seeing photo retouching happen in magazines, I assumed that the level of labor necessary to do each film frame would make it impractical. (Because, you know, Hollywood is so known for being practical.) Anyway, this post gets into the practice. (Thanks to Matthew Elliot for the heads-up.)

All for one and one for all: Do you dress for individualism or collectivism? Danielle Meder peers into the history of each style, using punk style as a hook. Me, I'm a collectivist—I like to look nice, but I actually like the idea of not giving away too much about myself with my clothes. 

Tall tales: Lili Loofbourow says about Brave, "It’s risky to tell a woman’s story, which is why Pixar hasn’t done it until now. Riskier still to tell a princess’s story, which, as reviewers note, has been done and redone and parodied and remixed from every conceivable angle. Why, many moan, did the first girl Pixar movie have to be a princess movie? ... Pixar understood that its first effort featuring a female protagonist had to sidestep both the traditional romance plot and the shallow triumphalism often seen in films with plucky 'role models.' Pixar knows its film conventions. It has heard of the Bechdel test. It knows Disney because it is Disney. It knows Shrek and Tangled and G.I. Jane. With Brave, they wanted to be better than all that, and the studio opted to meet the enemy on its own terms, using its own weapons. It had to be a princess."

Fuhgeddaboudit: What Would Phoebe Do on what it means to actually, truly, genuinely "not worry about it": "'Not worrying about it' means accepting that abandoning whichever [beauty] ritual might not amount to any improvements. It means outgrowing the middle-school imperative to look your best and then some. How you look matters—and can be controlled—less than you think. But yeah, it could be that you would look noticeably better doing X, Y, and Z, yetalso that there are better uses of your time. These things are not inconsistent. Life is easier for the better-looking, but there's only so much primping can do, and there's a threshold at which you'd be better off changing other things about your life than your looks."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere Freaky Friday 7.13.12

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


From Head...

Radio lab: Radioactive beauty products, for real, back in the day. Isn't it fantastic that we now have laws and stringent federal regulations against putting poisonous crap in our cosmetics?

...To Toe...
Made for walking: Virginia Postrel on our collective fascination with shoes (including a follow-up from the poll from a couple of weeks ago about how many pairs of shoes you own): "[The] distinction between media manipulation and personal meaning hints at the bigger issues at stake in all this talk about shoes: How do we understand life in a commercial, consumer-oriented society?"

...And Everything In Between:
Rock on: Procter & Gamble is partnering with the United Negro College Fund and Black Girls Rock! (you know they really rock because of the exclamation point) to "document the current state of black beauty with an in-depth look at the influences—people, fashion, music, education, pop culture—and provide tools and resources to foster a greater sense of self and confidence within the next generation of young black girls." Undoubtedly at least some of the findings will include ways that Pantene, Head & Shoulders, and Olay can be integrated into the lives of black girls—but if this initiative actually listens to what young black women are saying about their lives, then I'll try not to raise my eyebrows too high. Deal?

Global beauty: No matter how many times I see this kind of piece, I'm a sucker for it every time: makeup, beauty, and skin care trends across the world. Why are women in Japan concerned about the shape of their face? Why do women in Russia play matchy-matchy? Why do New Yorkers love their weirdo nail polish colors? (I thought this was everywhere, but of course we New Yorkers think New York is ur-everywhere, so.)

The specials: So tired of "lipstick index" blather. But this piece at Investor's Business Daily manages to look at the business end of why specialty retailers—including specialty beauty retailers like Ulta and Sally Beauty—manage to thrive in a recession beyond the (likely erroneous) folk wisdom of "small pleasures in hard times," which we have heard ad nauseam.

Il criminale: Italian cosmetics mogul charged with embezzling 19 million euros from his company, Limoni, and making fraudulent bankruptcy claims. Also, the Italian term for embezzle is appropriarsi indebitamente. We should all speak Italian only, forever.

The fashion system: Maryam Monalisa Gharavi follows up on her series about fashion and Occupy, splendidly intertwining Bill Cunningham, Kanye West's Givenchy plaid, Roland Barthes, and, natch, Simon Doonan. (Fact: "In the wake of Occupy New York reinforced an anti-mask law on the books since 1845.")

Grody grody gross-out, Part I: "There is nothing sexier than brains and power, unless it is brains and beauty. In that spirit that I have compiled a list of the Top 30 Hottest Political Women." I don't think we even need to say what's wrong with this linkbait list from the Washington Times, now, do we? But if you'd like someone to spell it out, About-Face will oblige. (No direct link because I don't want to give the Times the satisfaction of a single click-through.)

Grody grody gross-out, Part II: The CDC—as in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as in a federal agency, as in that's my goddamned beer money—swoops in just in time to cure the nation's severe shortage of wedding advice for nervous brides with its hi-lar-i-ous "Wedding Day Survival Guide" that successfully communicates how batty those bridezillas are, you know girls. Your tax dollars at work, folks! (Thanks to Lindsay for the link.)

"Because you're worth it."

Zoning restriction: Revlon chief Ron Perelman hosted a fundraiser for Mitt Romney. Also this week at Revlon: The company launched the Revlon Expression Experiment, designed to help women "step out of their comfort zone" with makeup by meeting monthly challenges like wearing a bold red lip. Certainly if Romney wins in November, women will step way out of their comfort zone, so hey! Corporate consistency.

Balk like an Egyptian: Hospital janitor let go from her job after refusing to tone down her dramatic Egyptian-style makeup.

Put on your face: Saudi Arabia leads the Gulf nations in cosmetics spending. I'd never thought about it, but why wouldn't you wear makeup under a niqab? Not that every Saudi woman covers her face, but from what I understand many do. I wear makeup even when I don't "need" to look good; it's sort of my way of readying myself for public. I suppose some women who cover their faces might feel the same way. 

Boycott update: The U.S. Presbyterian church votes to boycott Ahava for basing its factory in the West Bank, but narrowly decided not to divest funds from companies that manufacture equipment being used in questionable ways beyond the Green Line.

Magical mystery tour: Elizabeth Greenwood on Magic Mike: "Soderbergh uses the guys’ impulse to get naked for money as emblematic of the raw deal all Americans have been handed in the 21st century. But unlike with female strippers, the motivation for these men to shed their G-strings is assumed to be purely financial and not because of some Oedipal issue to replace mommy with a cougar, not because of some bad-boy moral depravity. Their performance actually enhances their masculinity rather than corrupting it, because when they are on stage writhing and strutting, the pressures of making ends meet seem to dissolve, and their chiseled Adonis-like bodies are worshipped like kings." Meanwhile, Tits and Sass critiques the "stripping" part of the stripping movie.

Compliment complement: Hugo Schwyzer picks up where I left off on my compliment series: What about men receiving compliments from women? As he points out, with all the attention given in the press to the uptick in men's beauty products, you'd think that men would be on the receiving end of compliments more frequently—but it hasn't turned out that way. And are women secretly longing to compliment men more frequently? When I talked with Hugo for this piece, he brought up the phrasing of a compliment women often give men: "That [item of clothing] makes you look good." And sure enough, that's what I'm most likely to say to men in my life, whether romantic or platonic. It can feel like too much of a risk to say, "You look great" to a man—even when he does look great—because it feels too personal, too intimate, too forward. And maybe that's okay (I don't want to be the equivalent of the dude who thinks "hot" is a fine compliment to give to a coworker), but withholding isn't really the answer either. 

He is legend: I'm a sucker for an awesome-sounding abstract. From Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture"I will argue that whilst [Will] Smith’s body initially appears to be fetishized, his representation is characterized by performance and fragmentation that renders the body and blackness a construction, rather than a naturalized/essentialist object of desire. Mythic phallic power and desire is displaced onto clothes and accessories that function to construct Smith’s on-screen personas as a new male hero with crossover appeal in order to maximize his celebrity commodity status." Ten bucks says this started as a bet involving the impossibility of getting publishing cred out of Will-Smith-gazing.

Death of the metrosexual: The beauty industry giveth, and the beauty industry taketh away.

Talk therapy: Hamilton Nolan at Gawker asks if the streak of depressive beauty editors at xoJane could be a result of all those beauty products. I ask if the streak of depressive beauty editors at xoJane could be a result of xoJane.

Lit up: A psychologist specializing in treating eating disorders says out loud something that plenty of teen girls already know: Reading eating disorder literature can be a symptom of an eating disorder. He acknowledges—as do I—that the slew of YA books focused on eating disorders can be helpful to some sufferers, but he also points out that "Readers who are afflicted by an eating disorder also might view the protagonist in a work of ED lit as a 'successful' heroine/hero to be admired and emulated, or as someone to compete with in terms of weight loss and thinness." Yes and yesI can't tell you how many book reports I did revolving around eating disorder lit, fiction and nonfiction alike, to the point where my parents forbade me to do any more book reports on the matter. (Related: For the past 25 years, every time I have made a batch of brownies I remember a scene from some terrible YA book about anorexia that featured an uneaten batch of brownies as a pivotal plot point. Unrelated: I once won the Glamour staff brownie contest. Here's the recipe. You're welcome.)

The case of the missing woman: That's women over 40, in the media, who aren't depicted as pathetic, evil, or asexual, or as the target of ridicule. As ever, Beauty Redefined lays out the issues here perfectly: "Wonder why you never see women with gray hair featured positively in any sort of mainstream media? Because gray hair doesn’t make anyone any money."

My Little Brony: I really try not to fall into "X is for girls, Z is for boys" thinking. That said: Grown men + My Little Pony = ?!? (via Shy Biker

Signs and signifiers: Feminist Figure Girl, playing off Daniel Hamermesh's findings on the economy of beauty, gets into the signals we send with our beauty choices. (Snort: "Butt implants='I will do anal.'")

"Girl bathers let sun 'King Tut' their arms": A history of the suntan, replete with vintage advertisements. (General heads-up: This blog is fantastic, if you're interested at all in teenagers or mid-century history.)

The reluctant femme: When feminine appearance is so prescribed, what happens when a gay woman with a "butch" girlfriend is suddenly labeled "femme" despite not feeling like one? "When we walk down the street a stranger would easily label us 'stud' and 'femme.' While being called a 'stud' leads to unfair and often incorrect assumptions and connotations about who she is and how she acts, it does put her in a position that connotes dominance. I had never been submissive or aware I was seen as such until then. I wasn’t so much frustrated with being unable to pick a label; I was frustrated with having become a 'femme' by default." (via Sally)

All that jazz: A photo exhibit of vajazzling. Now, at last, the art world can rest.

"You have to be a voice": Remember that fashion spread with a plus-size and straight-size model embracing that got everyone talking a couple of months ago? Worn Journal has an interview with the editor

Beauty myth: No, sweetie, those horizontal stripes don't make you look fat after all. Science sez! (via A Dress a Day)

"I wonder if dolphins think other dolphins are more beautiful than one another": Edith Zimmerman, editrix of The Hairpin and one of my favorite Internet presences ever, is her usual hilarious self in this Into the Gloss interview about her erstwhile acne—but the vulnerability here is what makes this a winning read. "My reality had shifted: I wasn’t pretty, because I had this thing, and if anyone saw it, they would know that the reality was I was gross." But don't fret! There's a happy ending! (via Jessica Stanley)

Bionic boobs: Leah at Hourglassy asks what's up with the whole breasts-as-weapons thing. It seems like one of those things that masquerades as vaguely "empowering" but that, in truth, is anything but—and that caters more to a male fantasy of female power than women's actual fantasies of their own power.

Wee bit of self-promotion: My Whole Living piece from the June issue is now online. I'm so pleased with how it turned out—a million thanks to the team at Whole Living, who made this essay the best it could be.

Something smells funny: Can you imagine an ad for a women's fragrance using humor as its selling strategy? Yet Old Spice and Axe alike manage to do so time and time again

Know your ABCs: With her painstaking (and amusing) tales from the fitting room, June at Braless in Brasil confirms every bra experience I've ever had at Victoria's Secret: Their fitting is atrocious. (And for the record, I wear a very common size, and the few times I've tried to buy something there they never have it.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mirror Fast Redux

Mirror MeAnnika Connor

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember last year’s month without mirrors, a project that brought on a monthlong wash of serenity. So serene was I during that time, in fact, that I decided I’d make it an annual event for myself—going a month each year sans mirror, a yearly retreat from self-surveillance. I hadn’t intended on writing here about revisiting the mirror fast, since I thought it would basically be rerun of what happened last time. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

To be painfully honest, the past few months have been difficult for me. I’ve had some health problems, enough to interfere with my work both on this blog and elsewhere. I lost someone I loved, my maternal grandfather. I’ve been under general work stress, and have been showered with a variety of personal stresses. And, of course, being in a funk makes one’s relationships suffer—and it also leads some of us to isolate ourselves from those we probably need to spend time with the most. My life was hardly falling apart, but suffice to say that in life’s highs and lows, the past few months have been parked firmly in the latter.

In fact, the last time I’d remembered feeling like I was on one of life’s distinct highs was May of last year—the month I did my first “mirror fast.” I felt like I was in this philosophical playground of self-discovery; my thinking was clear, my senses were heightened, my awareness was keen. So how better to wriggle my way out of a dark space than to mimic where I was when I was feeling on top of the world? Surely going cold-turkey from the mirror would bring the same rewards this time, right?

You know the punch line here: This time around going mirror-free was excruciating. I had more urges to look in the mirror the first two days than I did the entire month last go-round. Instead of feeling gently “unmoored,” I felt like the ground had been snatched out from underneath me. I found it difficult to focus on conversation; for that matter, I began to find it difficult to look people in the eye. The playful curiosity I felt last time about how I looked was replaced by a certainty that I looked horrible. When a friend complimented me on how I looked at a party I was nervous about attending, I got teary-eyed, so thankful was I to have some affirmation that my face hadn’t morphed into some grotesque bizarro-world version of myself.

The mirror, as it turned out, had been crucial to me during the previous difficult months, doling out assurance along with bouts of anxiety. On particularly bad days I’d sometimes look in the mirror and see that I looked the same as ever, providing a momentary stability. (There were also plenty of days when my blargh feeling was matched by how I interpreted my reflection, of course.) On better days I might take an admittedly vain pleasure in watching myself—not because I actually like the self-consciousness that sort of autosurveillance fosters, but because I was feeling so cruddy that having something positive, even if it took the form of vanity, was a relief.

The past few weeks have driven home a point I danced around last time but could never get to the heart of: The mirror is a reflection of how we feel, not how we look. Last time I focused more on how we can never really understand what we look like to those around us—or even to ourselves—but I stopped short of admitting exactly how much a temporary state of affairs can fracture our relationship with the mirror. At my lowest point in the past few weeks, I felt like everything I was feeling about myself and the world was written all over me, visible to everybody—and without the ability to verify that everything was status quo, I was nearly paralyzed with vulnerability.

A week and a half in, things started to lift. The timing coincided—actually, it’s hardly a coincidence—with a conscious effort to take care of myself. Really take care of myself, not the stay-up-too-late-watching-movies-and-procrastinating-whilst-eating-graham-crackers-because-I-deserve-it-goddammit method of “taking care of myself” that I’d slumped into as of late. I slept eight and a half hours a night. I cut back on the excessive sugar that had crept its way into my daily diet. I finally listened to the whole “alcohol is a depressant” business. I took dance classes, I reached out to friends, I wrote letters, I cleaned my apartment. I cried for my grandfather when I wanted to and didn’t when I didn’t, I put a stressful project on hold, I said yes to social invitations and no to extra work. I people-watched on the subway instead of forcing myself to do the “eat your vegetables” type of reading that I rarely leave the house without. I researched every stupid stress-related nutritional supplement out there and spent an absurd amount of money getting the ones that actually seemed to do something, and every day I swallow seven stupid vitamins, and every day I’m reminded that it’s one small thing I’m doing to feel better.

And somewhere along there, the intense vulnerability of looking how I look without knowing exactly how I looked—it lifted. There was no moment of clarity, no wash of sage wisdom. Instead, there was space. Space created by my own conscious efforts; space carved out by what I’m not doing this month. It was only when I realized I’d stopped feeling desperate for July 15 to arrive—the last day of my fast—that I saw I’d let go of the anxiety that plagued me the first week and a half of the experiment.

I’ve got a few days left, and I don’t think I’ll be writing about it again on here unless something really strikes me. (I will say that I took a cue from Kjerstin Gruys—who went a whole year without a mirror—and learned how to apply makeup sans looking glass, which makes me feel like a Makeup McGyver. Related: The "smoky eye" look is very forgiving. At least, I hope it is.) There’s not much more to say; the point here wasn’t to write about it, but rather to experience it again and connect with the serene part of myself that flourished last year during my first go-round. That part of myself is still there, it turns out; it never left. It’s just that like anything vital, it needs nourishment.