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."


  1. I guess I can kinda understand the red haired thing. I have auburn hair and really fair skin, as in I'm so pale that during winter, NC15 is a tad too dark for me. I can definitely see the need for paler makeup ranges. I don't have red hair so I can't comment on the hair care issue.

    As for the ginger thing, my boyfriend has bright red hair and the amount of abuse he gets for it bothers him, even here in Ireland. I don't understand it at all.

  2. I always thought that the red-headed teasing thing came from British racism against the Irish which was endemic until surprisingly recently. But I've read (although this sounds doubtful to me) that it started with Viking raids against Saxon Britain - Vikins being much mroe likely to be red-headed! Sounds dubious though...

  3. As a super-pale redhead with curly hair, I have to say that I love the fact that there are some redhead-specific beauty products out there. There's not a single eyeshadow that looks understated on me, and my hair gets so dried out and sundamaged that it'll start to look more pink than anything.

    That said, none of this stuff is going to be natural, so I'll STILL be making my own products. It's just good to know that they're out there.

    As for the "ginger" thing... well, I can't really comment. It doesn't seem to be such an issue in Western Canada. In the cities, at least. Hutterite colonies and rural villages seem to be the most upfront about it, but usually they're just curious and want to TOUCH the hair.