Friday, September 28, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 9.28.12

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

From Head...
Oh, fine: Bagelheads.

...To Toe...
Tales from the salon:
The most socially awkward pedicure ever.

...And Everything In Between:
Hijab hijinx: A subcontractor for Procter & Gamble is suing the company for religious discrimination. Safa Elhassan was fired after she refused to accept the apology of a female colleague who forcibly removed her hijab in the presence of male coworkers, which, at press time, was perceived by this blogger to be really fucking rude.

Story of O: The long-awaited skin care line from Estee Lauder developed specifically for Asian consumers is finally launching. Osiao—beginning and ending with the letter O so as to "convey a sense of harmony and balanced skin," and containing five letters, considered lucky in China—will hit stores in October. Can't help but wonder if it's a tad late, given that Chinese domestic brands have been giving other North American behemoths a run for their money.

Russian beauties: Revlon is opening a training center in Moscow in order to churn out 20,000 (Revlon-savvy) beauty experts a year. 

Buyout news: Physicians Formula—or, The Brand That Copy Editors Hate Because It Has No Possessive Apostrophe But Really Should—has been bought by Markwins International. Markwins International is not as racy as it seems despite having an "adult" tab on its website; it's only there to distinguish it from its plethora of youth makeup lines, including Disney Princesses, Disney Faeries, Barbie, and Madame Bovary Kidz.

Full package: Sort of loving fashion designer Norma Kamali for her new personal campaign: Stop Objectification, a visual movement aiming to to subvert tropes of objectification and reveal the accomplishments behind, say, a great rack. You can argue that the idea that pretty ladies do things besides stay pretty isn't really helping the cause—but in fact I think it comes closer to recognizing the totality of a woman's existence than something that ignored the fact that plenty of women like looking pretty/sexy/alluring/etc....we just don't want our value to begin and end there. (Thanks to Lindsay for the heads up!)

Paint the town red: After a batch of red cosmetics dye fell off a cargo truck, inhabitants of the Shandong province of China found their homes, clothes, cars, pets, and water had been stained pink. To make matters worse, the dye is designed to be diluted, meaning that efforts to clean up the spill are in vain.

Lysistrata's cousin: "We are taking off our clothes so people can see that we have no weapons except our bodies," says a leader of Femen*, a Ukraine-based feminist group dedicated to combating the global patriarchy. Part of the group's mission is to train women physically and psychically for feminist resistance; another part is to do such resistance in the buff—which, understandably, some are calling a confused mission. But as a member says, "Classical feminism is like an old sick lady that doesn't work any more.... We fight in a way that will attract young women to the ideology again. Early feminists fought for the right for women to wear trousers and jeans and won. Now we can wear trousers and jeans, but when a woman speaks in parliament, do the men listen?"
*not to be confused with Fremen

Cut and paste: Thieves made off with thousands of dollars of cosmetics after cutting a hole in the side of a British cargo truck delivering Bond Street skin care products—while the driver was pulled over for naptime. Cosmetics thieves are getting creative, let's give them that!

Behind every good candidate: As the U.S. enters presidential debate season, let's take a minute to consider Kriss Soterion-Blevens, the makeup artist who has worked on every presidential candidate in the past five seasons (and who released a shade called Debate after viewers of an Obama-Clinton primary debate requested "the Hillary lipstick"). 

Thai tragedy: Yet another tragedy with unlicensed practitioners performing cosmetic procedures, this time a Bangkok man who gives women "beauty injections" meant to lighten skin and increase the size of clients' rear ends. After a 33-year-old "patient" went into a coma, police arrested him; the woman is not expected to recover.

Equal opportunity disorders: Dances With Fat says what we all should know, but what plenty manage to forget: Fat people can have eating disorders too, and no, not just binge eating disorder. "Our cultural tendency to conflate weight and health can be deadly when it comes to eating disorders."

In your blood: Developments in forensic science are allowing technicians to render sketches of crime suspects from their DNA material, like specks of blood from a crime scene. The idea here is that the ability to create likenesses of suspects without depending on notoriously unreliable eyewitnesses will lead to an increase in arrests and believability with jurors. I can't help but wonder about its application to beauty, though, if only in philosophy: There's something about this highlighting that we're supposed to look the way we look—that it is encoded in our DNA, and that there was really no other way for us to look—that makes forcible alterations seem even more like playing g/God. 

Like cures like: The newest acne treatment could be on your face already: Scientists have zeroed in on a virus that lives on our skin for the sole purpose of killing acne bacteria. The idea is that acne sufferers don't have enough of this bacteriophage, so by multiplying or synthesizing the virus, people with acne could become as "naturally" clear-skinned as people who, say, don't shudder at the smell of Oxy.

"Flower men": We've looked at the boom in male cosmetics in Korea before, but this video from the Associated Press on the phenomenon is worth watching.

Smile, baby: Seemingly average joes on street harassment—specifically of the "Smile!" variety. Which, naturally, a couple of the respondents don't see as harassment at all—and which, refreshingly, plenty of them do: "This person is one of those 'mellow controllers,' as I call them—one of those seemingly laid-back guys whose syrupy drawl masks the constant conviction that he knows best."

Twitterpated: If you're on Twitter, start following Parisian Feline, who every so often drops bombs of beauty wisdom like this: "The conversation around beauty is impressively circular, and not progressive AT ALL. This is because people WANT a beauty standard, and their work is to create beauty standards that include THEM." Hard truth, people.

Pan/tones: Loving Angelica Dass's Humanae project, which photographs people against Pantone backgrounds of their skin color. It's visually engaging, and also interesting to see how even when expertly matched, our skin by its very nature contains immense variation in shading. Dass's goal is to catalogue all possible skin tones, which—wow. (via Britticisms)

Department of Interior: Vogue magazine mistakenly identifies the deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. State Department as an interior designer—baffling, given that the magazine, like all Conde Nast publications, employs a fact-checking department. (We all make mistakes; I'm a copy editor, I should know. But...?) Yet as The Atlantic points out, that's nothing compared with the magazine's February fluff profile of "A Rose in the Desert," aka Asma al-Hassad, aka the first lady of Syria, aka the wife of the man whose regime has slaughtered more than 8,000 of its own citizens and displaced thousands more. Fact-check all you want; where's the judgment check?

Strike a pose: Speaking of Vogue, remember that revolutionary health initiative they announced a few months ago about not using underage models or models who appear to have eating disorders? Yeah, neither did they, thus proving that a lack of surprise does not mean a lack of disappointment.

Beauty and braaaaaains: The second annual zombie beauty pageant will be October 28 in Redlands, California. Please note regarding the talent portion of the evening: "Limbs falling off are acceptable as long as they cannot injure self or others." (via Wild Beauty)

Spokesmodel: In a turn that we all shoulda seen coming, Patricia Krentcil—aka the "tan mom" who was accused of child endangerment after allegedly taking her 6-year-old daughter into the tanning booth with her at the salon—is now essentially modeling for a skin care expert who's hawking a new book. 

Vanishing act: How to dress invisibly: The im/possibility of dressing invisibly—"a sort of deliberate version of the Emperor’s new clothes, minus the humiliating nudity"—and what it has to do with the female ass. (Thanks to Emily for the link, and also for noting that the writer's reference to mirror fasting doesn't quite get what I was aiming for—not the writer's fault here; it's become par for the course.)

Beauty mask: One of the things I love about Meli Pennington's excellent blog, Wild Beauty, is that her perspective as a makeup artist—and feminist—allows her to take a critical look at beauty that's consistently underlined by an appreciation for the artistry behind it all. To wit: Makeup as ritual.

Honorary Emmy: Combine my love of Breaking Bad with my appreciation for seeing tropes of zee sexy ladies critiqued and subverted, and there's pretty much no way I couldn't love this Hourglassy post paying homage to the subtext of Skyler White/Anna Gunn's cleavage.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

MAC Office Hours: "Weisure," Beauty Labor, and Order

She's a glamorous go-getter with nothing temp about her! Full-time, overtime—her makeup, like her day, goes on and on. What she loves: the no-fade staying power of these M∙A∙C Pro Longwear formulas—including new M∙A∙C Pro Longwear Blush. 

I don’t mean to pick on MAC—really, I don’t. In fact, if the brand didn’t intrigue me so much I’d ignore it (when have I ever written about, say, Maybelline?). It used Miss Piggy for a model, for chrissakes, and even though I hopped right onto that with looking at the version of “authenticity” MAC peddles, the fact remains that I have to admire how well MAC’s marketing team zeroes in on what skeptics comme moi might sniff out in a brand.

So at first, when I saw this astute Makeup Museum post critiquing MAC’s latest line, titled Office Hours, I glanced at the styling of the ads for the collection and actually had a knee-jerk defense of the brand. Yes, the ads depict a working woman whose office looks like cotton candy, and who appears to do nothing more demanding than file her nails; yes, they’re styled in a retro fashion, hearkening back to the days when the best a woman could hope for was being head of the secretary pool. I saw the spot-on points the Makeup Museum’s Curator was making—but truth be told, I sorta liked the look of the ads. Pretty much the only fashion trend I’ve endorsed since grunge fell out of favor is the Mad Men-inspired 1960s revival (I’m writing this while sporting a checkered pinafore and a bouffant). The show and the styles it brought back have been critiqued as a manifestation of our national longing to return to a “simpler time”—simpler being code for racist, sexist, and psychically stifled—and perhaps in some aspects it is. But as creatures of 2012, we also have the luxury of being able to see the era in perfect hindsight; in loud shift dresses and winged eyeliner we may see not conformity but a generation of women on the precipice of feminism, rebellion bubbling inside them, just waiting for the right moment to burst forth.

Point is: At first I saw the MAC collection as being a reference to where women actually are today, not an idealization of the past. I didn’t even mind the Barbie-fied version of work the ads fed us; I don’t particularly want a “real” work-based makeup collection featuring a shade called Printer Preset Blues, you know? Certainly I wouldn’t want it from MAC, which even more so than other beauty brands is not in the business of reflecting our realities; they’re in the business of creating our fantasies. So, sure, let the vision created with this collection be not an office populated with Flavia coffee machines but a Mad Men-style glam kitsch office where martini hour starts at 3 and Esquivel is piped through the intercom.

That doesn’t answer the fundamental question raised over at Makeup Museum, though, or the question lurking beneath my own assessment of the campaign: Why office work? Why, of all the possible themes for MAC to choose from, choose a place associated with drudgery, in-the-box thinking, and tedium? (Apologies to all who enjoy their office jobs; my freelancer bias is showing, I suppose.)

The campaign is a sort of reverse nod to a trend sociologists have noted in the past several years—a conflation of work and leisure (or “weisure,” if you must) most readily visible in the expectation that because new technologies allow us to be available 24/7, we’ll actually be available 24/7. Theoretically, the upside is a more flexible work culture (I can work poolside on my smartphone!); the downside is an expansion of what can fairly be considered “office hours” (must I work poolside on my smartphone?). Running parallel to the phenomenon of working hours coming to resemble leisure is the phenomenon of leisure time beginning to resemble work. I mean, when else in the history of humankind have 34 million people signed up to spend their leisure time tending imaginary farms? Or eagerly signed up for the privilege of basically creating our own timesheets of time-and-place accountability?

The idea behind things like Farmville and Foursquare is that our leisure time will seem somehow more pleasurable if we view it through the lens of work; they provide us with rules, feedback on our own activities, and clearly defined parameters. There is comfort in regulation. And so it is with MAC’s Office Collection: Beyond the kooky pink kitsch of the ads, there’s definite—and appealing—order. Lip glosses take their place in the office drawer alongside paper clips and staple removers; blush compacts line up next to perfectly sharpened pencils. MAC’s immensely popular Lipglass is shown open but immaculate next to a broken pencil (the writing kind, not the eyelining kind), the idea being that Lipglass is more reliable than good old-fashioned work tools.

It might sound like I’m strictly cynical about MAC’s conflation of work and play, and I am, but no more so than I’m cynical about any campaign. In fact, there’s something refreshing here about MAC openly acknowledging that beauty isn’t always play. Sometimes it’s work, even if you approach it with a MAC-like sensibility of makeup being about “expression” and play, and the idea of linking their products to heavily styled drudgery serves as an inherent acknowledgement of women’s individually performed beauty labor. (It also makes me wonder what our other manifestations of “weisure” might be telling us about how we choose to spend our supposedly free time. If this collection is a nod the labor of beauty, what does Farmville’s existence signify—a longing to get “back to the land” without leaving the comfort of our sofas? Do the constant check-ins of Foursquare signal our active acceptance of surveillance, to the point where we’ll broadcast our own locations to the world at large?)

The collection itself reflects the message of regulation behind the campaign (which, I suppose, is the entire point): The shades are neutral, tasteful, traditional. No matter how over-the-top the styling of the campaign may be, right below the “fun” retro styling beats an orderly, conservative heart. These shades are office-ready. The model’s pompadour, the monochrome palette, the exaggerated 1960s look: MAC gives us a glamorized version of office work here, which we need in order to want to participate. The company is partially relying upon its reputation as an innovator in the field in order to give us a wink and a nod—you know we’re not really saying you should want to be an office drone, right?

Yet without the products themselves having any subversive qualities (pink blush! taupe eyeshadow! oh my!) it becomes clear what the campaign is: the packaging of a rather boring color collection that still lets us get our kooky side on. That is, it’s doing exactly what marketing is supposed to do—highlighting hopes and fantasies we may have hushed over time, but ultimately just feeding us versions of ourselves.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 9.21.12

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

From Head...
And yes, the leader's last name is Mullet:
Members of the rogue Amish sect responsible for a spate of hair- and beard-cutting attacks on other Amish people were found guilty of committing hate crimes. Sentencing isn't until January, but the hate-crime classification carries a far stiffer possible sentence than mere assault—decades, perhaps.

...To Toe...

Everything's bigger in Texas: Sarah Hepola's wonderful series examining the beauty rites of Dallas women zeroes in on sky-high heels and how they intersect with the city's car culture.

...And Everything In Between:
Drug war: L'OrĂ©al gets a slap on the wrist from the FDA for making claims about eight of their products that, if accurate, would mean the product should be classified as a drug instead of a cosmetic.

Learning curve: In order to successfully target emerging markets, personal care behemoths must understand not just the product needs of different populations, but the very way societies shop. How to distribute widely and effectively in India when most people buy products at small neighborhood shops instead of large stores?

Avon stalling: The Securities and Exchange Commission has recommended no action be taken in one course of the Avon bribery scandal, in which Avon executives are suspected of bribing Chinese officials when seeking licensure for door-to-door sales. All this recommendation does is suggest that the state needn't investigate whether the company inappropriately contacted analysts during the bribery investigation, so the heat is still very much on Avon—not that that matters to the financial world, which saw a 2% increase in stock valuation directly after the announcement was made.

Certifiable: Retailer Whole Foods will start to independently verify that personal care products claiming to be organic actually are organic. It's a step in the right direction—this is part of what we're talking about with the somewhat meaningless phrase "corporate responsibility," oui?—but I can't help but wonder if this also lets the government off the hook. (Disclosure: In a capacity entirely separate from this blog, I do subcontracted work for the Whole Foods marketing division.)

Hey Mr. Taxman: Salons in northeast England are under review, with the taxman studying records to nab tax evaders. Four other industries are soon to follow. (Ladies first?)

Numbers don't lie: Theoretically, I'm all for transparency about numbers—weight, measurements, etc.—because the longer women safeguard their numbers, the easier it is to feel as though they're "wrong" somehow no matter what. (In practice, it doesn't work for me; anytime I read anyone's weight or numbers it is utterly impossible to not compare it to my own. Alas!) But in what universe is it okay for an interviewer to ask anyone their weight on national television?

Monster stories: Why are we so fascinated with grotesque tales of plastic surgery gone wrong? This lecture raises—and attempts to answer—the question. (Thanks to Elliott for the link!)

About-face: Meet the face-kini—a face covering some Asian women are beginning to wear to protect their faces from sun damage while swimming—which Worn Through considers with their characteristic analysis: "[T]he face-kini does have a resemblance to the balaclava. And while none of the Chinese beach-goers were wearing their face-kinis in support of the Russian punk band, it was an interesting coincidence that news of this new trend broke at the same time that the members of Pussy Riot were sentenced for their anti-Putin protests at the beginning of the year. However, it does serve to highlight just how a single garment can take on intense socio-political meanings in one culture (balaclavas have now become a symbol of political protest in Russia thanks to Pussy Riot), while a similar garment in another culture will not be affected in the slightest."

Layman's terms: The Royal Society of Chemistry makes a strong case for cosmetics scientists as "translators" of chemistry, transforming highly complex concepts and technologies into familiar items non-experts use and appreciate. The writer here focuses on the fragrance industry, putting fragrance marketing in a new light: How else can you translate an invisible product to potential buyers? At best, fragrance marketers are translators of the translators; at worst, they're the epitome of smoke and mirrors.

Well, it's about time: NASA technology finally comes in handy. “Using equipment originally created for the space program, this company is developing a line of very exciting new cosmetic products with biomolecules that are produced in a weightless environment. These advanced, anti-gravity skin care products represent a stunning breakthrough that can’t be reproduced by competitors." But to be clear, NASA is still not developing a nutricosmetic drink, no matter what that vicious aeronautics gossip mill says.

Provoked: Provocative photo of Stephanie Seymour being essentially choked by a male model on the cover of Vogue Homme spurs action among domestic violence activists. But yours truly maintains that it's the "provocative" bit that we should look out for here—has Terry Richardson ever shot a questionable image without knowing that it would boost his name?

Bit of trivia for you: Who was the first American woman to build a cosmetics empire? I hadn't heard of her before but her story is intriguing—involuntary commitment to an insane asylum, and an eventual reinvention of self as an influential journalist.

One-stop shopping: A South Korean department store tracked where cosmetics shoppers went after making a makeup purchase, and found that most women bought things other than clothes for themselves, speculating that cosmetics shoppers and clothes shoppers may have different purchasing psychologies. (Only women in their 40s were likely to go for a beauty-fashion double header, with other age groups going for accessories, children's clothing, or menswear.) Curious whether this would hold up internationally, given that South Korea is the global leader in cosmetic surgery, marking the nation as being outstanding in matters of personal appeaerance.

Beauty bust: Aw, crap, this BeneFit marketing campaign is actually hilarious, making me violate my own rule of steadfastly refusing to enjoy advertising or marketing campaigns. Dammit! Comic Sarah Colonna rides around on a Segway in a police uniform issuing tickets to pedestrians (who seem truly unaware that they're on film) for "beauty busts," like bad false eyelashes and socks with sandals. As AdWeek points out, insulting potential customers is a risky bet—but Colonna makes it work. Anything less than pitch-perfect and this would've been a lead balloon.

Future vision: Diane von Furstenberg demonstrates the Google glasses, which frankly still seem way mysterious, but A) this video helps, and B) it's cool to watch because you adopt the perspective of the glasses wearer. 

Click of the heels: I've fantasized for years about shoes with interchangeable heel heights—and now my dreams are reality! (Too bad I don't like the overall style, but whatever.) Bonus points for anyone who can determine why this shoe is being described as "feminist"? (Thanks to Lindsay for the link.)

Drop stitch: A brief, and sublime, history of the subversive politics of knitting.

The beauty of sobriety: This has made the rounds, and deservedly so—Olivia Singer on the intersection of beauty products, drug abuse, eating disorders, and recovery: "Nothing made me feel closer to my new roommate than when she unpacked a sack of facemasks that rivaled mine—when rather than just talking about how our mutual drug of choice had ravaged our lives, we could talk about how to minimise our pores. Nothing made me feel more like a normal girl than when we all stayed in on a Saturday night watching X-Factor and I could show everyone how to DIY nail art. I was no longer making myself up to hide everything I was ashamed of, because there was less and less to hide."

This is 30: It's a twofer, people: Elizabeth Nolan Brown's delightful This Is 30 features pictures of women who are, well, 30, and Phoebe Maltz Bovy's riff on it is a treat too. "[W]e also want to look young...for reasons not unlike scrappiness oneupmanship, reasons specific to living in a meritocracy. If you've achieved X before you started going gray, or before you noticed those lines on your forehead, then you're basically a child prodigy. For those new at any life stage, there's something amazing about the fact that you do the same thing as that real grown-up over there." 

Kosmetikum: Venusian Glow continues the Beauty Around the World series, this time with Germany. Yeah yeah, plenty of German women don't depilate body hair—but I was surprised to learn that well-cared-for hands are considered essential. Who knew?

Live art: I've seen these incredible live-art pieces before: people painted in distinct artistic styles so that it appears that they're actually created from pointillism or whatever, walking around live and in the flesh. But Kourtney takes it a step further, asking how this is really any different from the ways so many women paint ourselves every day.

Bathing beauties: I am a sucker for old-timey beauty pageant pics, and this collection is a total hoot. Can you imagine a shot being taken today like the one with the winner laying between their fellow contestants' legs? (Thanks to Baze of Beautycism for the link.) 

20 centimeters, for the record: Scratch the above. Can you imagine a world where the distance between beauty pageant contestants' nipples is actually a qualification for entry? Oh wait.

Fat envy: Jumping off from Rebecca DiLiberto's piece in HuffPo, Virginia asks if thin folks secretly envy fat people. This hit home for me—certainly I don't envy fat people the lack of "thin privilege" that I enjoy (I'm not what you'd call thin, but neither do strangers approach me to offer diet suggestions). But the truth is, if I weren't concerned with gaining weight, my food choices would be different. So yeah, why wouldn't I envy people who are able to eat intuitively without undue worry about belly pooch?

For shame: Sally on shame as a motivation for personal change: "[C]onsider carefully how much shame you include in your personal motivational cocktail. Shame often makes for a painful, weak, and unsustainable motivational force." I'd argue that shame is a painful, unsustainable, and very, very strong motivational force—but the end game here is the same: The fire of shame burns quickly.

Data entry: How did I not know about Bratabase before? An expertly designed bra database that can give suggestions for your specific shape and needs. (via Hourglassy)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lexie Kite, Ph.D. Communications Student and Co-Editor of Beauty Redefined, Salt Lake City

The minute I found Beauty Redefined, I knew I’d found a site to take notice of. Giving active points about media literacy, cultural messages aimed toward women, body image, and beauty ideals, every post on Beauty Redefined went beyond merely stating, Hey, folks, there’s a problem here, instead presenting airtight breakdowns of scripts we might take for granted. More important, the site gives active points for readers on how to begin to reject the messages we’re surrounded with. The Beauty Redefined team also gives one-hour visual presentations to arm viewers with tools and countermessages about harmful media ideals, beauty, and health.

When I learned that the incisive, dedicated, laser-sharp minds behind Beauty Redefined were not only two communication Ph.D. candidates at the University of Utah but also identical twins—well, how could I not want to interview them? Today we have Lexie Kite, whose dissertation focuses on women and self-objectification. (Read the interview with Lindsay, the other half of Beauty Redefined, here.) We talked about internalizing the male gaze, twins as mirrors, and prime-time pornography. In her own words:

On Self-Objectification 
When you grow up in a media-oriented world, like we all have, you grow up with the male gaze: the look of the camera, the look of the spectator viewing the object of the gaze on film. It’s the way the camera pans up and down these bodies, the way the dialogue revolves around that woman. It doesn’t happen with men—it happens with women, for the most part. That has become so normalized that the male gaze is now internalized by women. It’s not even something we question. So what’s happened is that now it’s desirable to not only become the object of the gaze—I mean, we’ve been talking forever about this idea of objectification—but also to be the subject too. To be the one who gazes and the one being gazed upon at the same time. I think it really comes down to the fact that when we see this many images of women’s bodies signifying sex and power, we are cut down to our bodies—and somehow we begin to believe that’s true. Self-objectification is just the natural next step—the most harmful natural next step. When we are consumers of women, we are consumers of ourselves.

One of the areas where I see self-objectification playing out—and one that I think is so frustrating—is Victoria’s Secret. Five billion dollars a year! It’s powerful. I got interested in the industry of Victoria’s Secret because I was a shopper there; the semi-annual sale was very appealing. But then I’d get those catalogues in my mailbox, and I started seeing images that were pretty jarring. Then I caught wind of the fashion show they have twice a year on CBS, so I looked into how many people are viewing this show, how popular and powerful Victoria’s Secret really is. I found one other scholar who has really talked about this, and the stuff she said about Victoria’s Secret in her own historical and critical analysis was that those images were women’s pornography. Images of women, marketed to women, packaged and sold. It comes right into your home. It’s kind of like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, in that it’s the most popular, credible sports magazine, and then once a year we get this other thing that is packaged in this way and sits on your coffee table. So you think it’s safe, but it might not be as safe as we think. In terms of Victoria’s Secret, I see that playing out, this idea that it’s just lingerie, but you’re really getting something else.

The Victoria’s Secret mission statement has said that these images are about women feeling good about themselves. They are not for men to look at. But if you look at the images, it couldn’t be anything more than what the male gaze is. It’s as graphic as anything you would see in soft-core porn—it’s just women pulling at their underwear or being naked. They can be completely naked some of the time and they are wearing thongs that say “All-Night Show.” But Victoria’s Secret says this is not for men to look at, this is for you to feel good—and we believe that. Maybe we don’t even think of it as a contradiction, like this is for us to feel good about ourselves, but that says self-objectification to me. To me self-objectification is the idea of taking some beauty thing—let’s say breast implants—and saying, “This isn’t for men—this is for me to feel good about myself.” I see that as the literal embodiment of self-objectification, internalizing that male gaze so much that you can’t even break apart the fact that being gazed upon is your greatest desire. You’ve internalized that male gaze, so that’s how you feel good about yourself. It’s crazy stuff. 

On Pain 
I was very confident in my abilities in high school—I was class president every year, was nominated for homecoming queen, I was always running assemblies. I was confident in what I could do and what I wanted to say. But somehow I lived this contradiction: I could do a lot, but for some reason I thought I couldn’t be everything that I was supposed to be, and couldn’t look good doing it. That was internalizing the male gaze, right there: I learned that it was all about how I looked and not about what I could do. So I was confident in who I was as a person; it really did just come down to the looks thing. All those messages that I heard from the media were telling me that if I wasn’t hot enough, I wasn’t good enough. And if I wasn’t going to get to that place of feeling like I really was good enough, nobody can. It’s unattainable, and I don’t think I really knew that. You’re never going to be pretty enough. You’re never going to be skinny enough. Because the whole point is that these messages are telling you that you need to be someone you’re not. It creates a void. I didn’t even know that I had that void, not until I took a class on media criticism my freshman year of college. We were looking into pop culture and how powerful those industries are and what kind of messages they are putting out. I felt my heart beat more rapidly because I was hearing stuff that resonated with what I’d come to think about myself in really harmful ways. For the first time I started being able to critically think about the messages I’d heard. They didn’t necessarily pertain to my reality—but I wanted them to so badly.

I’m a body image activist and I’m so passionate about this stuff, but it’s because of the pain I’ve felt. I know that pain brings progress. I can’t do this work without having been privy to intimately knowing the reason it resonates with people. They feel this pain too. I internalized this gaze, and I didn’t know how to articulate that—maybe that’s just because it’s so normal and so lived. It’s how most of us live our lives. But our research has helped me profoundly. I had been walking through life picturing myself from an outsider’s perspective. I’d taken less time to enjoy what was around me, yet it looks like I’m enjoying what’s around me. That division is so harmful. 

On Being a Twin 
Most of us view ourselves from an outsider’s gaze. But I don’t even really know how to think about that, because—maybe it’s the same thing as viewing myself from an outsider’s gaze, but in ways I view myself as being like Lindsay. Lindsay and I are especially hyperaware of competition. We’re such similar people—you know, identical DNA, as similar as you get!—and people put us in competition against each other, in conscious and unconscious ways. In terms of our looks—in terms of everything else too—but it definitely made me aware of my own features and my own looks, because I feel like Lindsay is a reflection of me to the world. I know she feels the same. I feel like I want Lindsay to represent me well. Because Lindsay could easily be me to people; we get called by the wrong name still, even in our own program at school. So I want her to be a good reflection of me. And yeah, that part of me is really aware.

Whenever I’d picture my face, I never thought Lindsay and I looked the same. I know the intricacies of my own face and what makes me different from her. Plus, being twins, people point out that stuff like crazy. So Lindsay looks different to me, but I get how people know we’re twins, especially when I see pictures of us. With the body it’s different. When we look at ourselves in the mirror we’re kind of seeing this two-dimensional image of our bodies; we’ve never getting the full feel. It’s why when you see a video of yourself it can be intriguing—you want to know what you look like from all those angles. So I can see Lindsay’s body—I can see her from every angle and it’s normal. She’s right there in front of me, in every dimension. It’s sort of a mediation of my mirror image and myself, and I can’t get that body perspective any other way. And then of course we have identical DNA, and people tell us we look so much alike—so even though I think our faces look different, I can internalize her body as my own. Sometimes I’ve pictured my body how Lindsay’s is; my body image becomes what Lindsay looks like. When her body changes, it can actually change my own image of my body, because she looks how I picture myself. And having someone else sort of be your body image can be a struggle.

My perception of my body image doesn’t have to do with size necessarily. Despite compliments I might get from people, it’s really about what I’m saying to myself. Body image is an internal thing. Lindsay has been able to brush off the negative messages better than I have, despite our similar appearances. To hear Lindsay value herself and not engage in fat talk, and just really refuse to be preoccupied with these notions about our bodies—it’s really helped me, just seeing her be positive. We don’t talk a lot about our bodies to each other—there isn’t a lot of that “Oh my gosh I feel so gross,” talk, and we don’t even do a lot of building each other up, because we’re such a unit that it feels weird. Like, I would never say, “Linds, you look so good!” I mean, occasionally, but that’s just not my first thing. I’m not going to just go to her and talk about her appearance. I don’t even know how to explain that because I’ve never known it any other way. Twins are weird!

For more interviews on beauty, click here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lindsay Kite, Ph.D. Communications Student and Co-Editor of Beauty Redefined, Salt Lake City

The minute I found Beauty Redefined, I knew I’d found a site to take notice of. Giving active points about media literacy, cultural messages aimed toward women, body image, and beauty ideals, every post on Beauty Redefined went beyond merely stating, Hey, folks, there’s a problem here, instead presenting airtight breakdowns of scripts we might take for granted. More important, the site gives active points for readers on how to begin to reject the messages we’re surrounded with. The Beauty Redefined team also gives one-hour visual presentations to arm viewers with tools and countermessages about harmful media ideals, beauty, and health. 

When I learned that the incisive, dedicated, laser-sharp minds behind Beauty Redefined were not only two communication Ph.D. candidates at the University of Utah but also identical twins—well, how could I not want to interview them? Today we have Lindsay Kite, whose dissertation focuses on physical health and the ways media distorts our perceptions of what health and fitness entail—and ways to help people of all ages recognize and reject those harmful messages. (Check back tomorrow for an interview with Lexie, the other half of Beauty Redefined.) We talked about the limitations of academia in applied work, laboring to change beauty ideals as God’s work, and the number-one question she’s asked about being a twin. In her own words:

On Rapid-Heartbeat Moments 
My very first semester of college, I was sitting in a journalism and media criticism class. At that time I didn’t really identify as a feminist or care about media messages. My professor criticized gender and violence and how those messages are perpetuated through the media, and how that affects our lives. When my professor was talking about advertising, particularly in women’s magazines, my heart started racing. I just felt it had affected me so much without me realizing it. It was a happy feeling. It wasn’t a feeling of fear or of, Wow, I’ve been so controlled by this. That was part of it, but I think I recognized there were strategies we could use to combat this. There are real solutions. So from there I was very much a feminist. I’d never quite known that; my mom always was but she didn’t know it either. We didn’t really have the name for it. 

I still take in plenty of media, but to be able to recognize why the women in TV shows and movies look the way they do is liberating in itself, because you have a critical view and recognize that it’s not real, that it’s meant to make me feel a particular way and I don’t have to feel that way if I don’t want to. That’s where the rapid-heartbeat moment came from, this feeling of: Yes, this has affected me, but I don’t have to be affected by it anymore. I don’t have to be brainwashed to believe that this is normal and natural and beauty has always looked this way and men would only want women who looked this way. My heart continues to beat rapidly every time I read books like The Beauty Myth and read scholarly articles about media criticism and feminist work that is trying to counteract these ideals. All these things make my heart beat just as fast and make me feel extremely excited about work that’s happening to liberate women from these restrictive cultural ideals. I love it.

On Accentuating the Positive 
It’s a lot easier to criticize things than it is to find concrete actions we can take. It’s easier to get research on how women are affected by certain things—and these are sensational topics. The media likes to focus on dangerous things, the scary big shocking things we hear about women and their bodies and self-esteem and all that. But it’s harder to help people than it is to take apart media, or to take apart the way women feel about themselves. That stuff is easy to document. It’s harder to break out a strategy to combat those feelings and document the way women feel afterward. If people feel bad about themselves, it’s this normative discontent where basically every woman is unhappy with her body and that’s something we all share, so it’s normal and taken for granted. We need to destabilize that. We need to recognize that this feeling isn’t natural. There are ways to do that; Lexie and I created our one-hour visual presentation for our masters project, showing the ridiculousness of beauty ideals and how money is behind all of it. We need to prove the effectiveness of that, but it’s hard. You try to get approval through review boards at colleges and universities, and that’s mandated by the whole academic system. It’s a process that takes time. So I’m working on how to actually measure the effects of our presentation. It’s hard, but it makes me so happy to see how it is used by other people, for them to rethink the way they think about appearance.

On Being a Twin 
Our entire lives, people have been trying to find differences to tell us apart by appearance. So we’ve been picked apart our entire lives by strangers—we’ve received some comments that people don’t recognize are totally insulting to one of us. We’ve gotten really ridiculous comments, like, “You’re the twin who does her hair” or “You’re the twin with straight teeth,” things like that. People think they’re complimenting one of us, but really it means the other one doesn’t have that particular positive attribute. Being compared to your twin sister your whole life can make you a competitive person from day one. It’s led both of us to be like, I don’t want to be the one who gets all the comments from strangers. It’s not fun to be the twin who doesn’t do her hair. 

It’s funny how much I get the exact same twin questions over and over again. The number-one question I get is: When one of you goes on a blind date do you switch in the middle of it? All the time people ask that! I swear they got that from some movie, either the Sweet Valley High kids or Mary Kate and Ashley or even Tia and Tamera. That’s where people are forming their questions for us, based on media. The whole twin comparison thing has really contributed to our ideas about appearance and its importance, and how free people feel about commenting on other people’s appearance. 

I just noticed this recently: I don’t necessarily have to look in the mirror to see certain things about myself. I’ll see it in Lexie and just assume I look the same way. I’ll see certain characteristics and think, I never noticed that about myself—but I’m not looking at myself, I’m looking at my sister. Looking at another face that looks so similar to mine can affect how I would be objective about what I look like. Sometimes I see things on Lexie where she has made a complaint about what she looks like, and I recognize that I look the same way or have that same characteristic, and I’m able to stop and think, Well, I don’t feel that way about it, so there’s no reason that she should. We can keep each other in check and not take certain feelings about features or appearance for granted. 

I find myself getting offended when she says something rude about herself. Like, if she talks about how she feels so fat, I might feel insulted by that, particularly if at the time I know for a fact she weighs less than me. And I should also turn that the other way around: I should feel more of a responsibility to Lexie to not put myself down. Maybe subconsciously I have—I don’t often say very negative things about myself, just because I’ve found that I feel better about myself when I don’t say mean things out loud.

On Keeping the Faith 
Lexie and I are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the church is very against pornography. We view that as something degrading that takes a sacred act between two people who are hopefully in love and hopefully married and causes the people in it to become objectified, dehumanized. So that’s framing our perspective. When we watch TV shows and movies that are just daytime TV—things that are rated PG, PG-13—and we see things that reflect pornography, that’s something that should be eye-catching, but it’s become normal. We see this normalized pornography all the time, and we’ve become immune to it. We’re numb to seeing women half-naked, or almost completely naked bodies at every turn; it’s not something that’s a big deal. Most of the time the men near the women are fully clothed, and the camera isn’t panning up and down their bodies, zooming in on their parts, and other characters are not necessarily looking at them or commenting on their appearance. If we look at pornography in its strict definition as imagery that is engineered to cause arousal in people, then all of these images of women who are being objectified and stripped for no reason—that’s exactly what they are. We want to help people realize what pornography is—not something that’s acceptable for network TV during the daytime or the Victoria’s Secret runway shows that are a huge moneymaker for a family station like CBS during prime time. It’s not just present on dark corners of the Internet; it’s not something you have to seek out. We have to recognize that in order to escape the harmful consequences it can have on our self-perception and how we view other people. 

My faith has been the driving force behind everything I do related to this work. It’s something that fits in perfectly with my religion. I was actually pretty shocked to figure that out. I thought recognizing gender roles and ways women are held back but men aren’t was going to challenge my faith, but it actually strengthened it. In my religion, we view people as more than just what we are on the surface, more than just bodies. We view people as being able to go on and live forever and have eternal life, not in our own bodies but in a more perfected state. So when we’re so focused in this life on what our bodies look like, that’s actually a huge waste of time and holds people back in every possible way. Doing service for others is a big part of living a Christ-like life, and when we are so focused on what we look like, that’s actually something pretty selfish—and that’s not helping people who really need help in more ways than we need to fix our hair or do these short-lived things that aren’t really making anyone all that happy. My faith has led me to honestly believe that I can do something to help other women feel better about themselves, so they can then go on and focus on more important things than their looks. If we can get women to accept themselves—and not necessarily just for what life they’re currently living or whatever state they’re in—well, women who feel okay about themselves are much happier and more productive, and they lead more successful lives in any way you want to define it. Beauty obsession stops all of that. 

I believe I’ve been led to this work by God, and as cheesy as that sounds, I really do believe that through his help I’m able to reach other women who are working for liberation from these painful circumstances. Every time I see somebody relay a positive experience of thinking of herself as more than just parts, as a whole person, I get that rapid heartbeat moment. And I think for women who can access that, it’s the happiest form of spiritual experience. As many times as I can help that happen, I will do it.

For more interviews on beauty, click here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 9.14.12

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

We've come a long way, baby?

From Head...Masquerade: The invention of the beauty mask—which, charmingly enough, was onceuponatime called a "toilet mask." (via Makeup Museum)

...To Toe...
If the shoe fits: I adore Jane Marie at The Hairpin, and I adore my local cobbler, so when Jane Marie answered a recent question about cobbling, I became happier than anyone really should about cobbling. (Except, perhaps, Daniel Day-Lewis.) Bonus: Video with second-generation cobbler!

...And Everything In Between:
Targeted: Estee Lauder is suing Target in Australia for selling counterfeit MAC products. Not only are the products allegedly not actual MAC products, but Target was never an authorized MAC retailer. Oops! Target is claiming that the products came from a legitimate source in a practice known as parallel importing, in which genuine products are imported from overseas wholesalers, which is legal in Australia.

Behind the scenes: A labor organizer for the garment industry in Bangladesh—which stitches brands like Gap and Tommy Hilfiger—was murdered in April. If you wear clothes, this story is a must-read.

Video killed the magazine star: Through all the fuss about digital media killing off print, Marie Claire UK is merging the two with a limited-edition run of a print magazine that incorporates a Dolce & Gabbana advertisement—in video. When readers turn to page 34, the 45-second spot begins to play. Welcome to the future, folks.

Popeyed: Revlon head Ron Perelman is embroiled in yet another legal battle, this time with art dealer Larry Gagosian. Perelman claims Gagosian cheated him out of millions by undervaluing pieces from his collection, among them Popeye, a Jeff Koons sculpture.

Uncustomary punishment: After she was caught smuggling cosmetics for resale from South Korea without declaring customs duty, a 30-year-old Chinese woman was sentenced to 11 years in prison and fined the equivalent of $78,000. The harsh punishment has drawn criticism: “It’s never easy for people to make some money from hard work. There are so many corrupt officials out there, instead of arresting them, you only target ordinary people," writes a user on Sina Weibo (basically Chinese Twitter). 

Miss Moneymaker: Clumsily translated but engaging article about the popularity of beauty pageants in China—the country sees around 300 a year. Yet it's not necessarily the public or even the participants who want them, but rather marketing teams that pay an average of around $9,400 for endorsements (and event organizers, who can earn up to $1.4 million for their efforts).

Import/export: Korean stores are selling imported products at higher price points than anywhere else in the world, with as much as an eightfold difference in prices from overseas markets. (Comparatively, whiskey is sold at a fivefold increase.) Could this be one reason domestic lines have seen sales increase 37% in recent years? Or, for that matter, why Korean cosmetics sales staffers suffer depression rates of 33%?

Geordie boys: Newcastle men spend more on beauty products than gents from any other county in England, while men in Bristol spend the least on baldness cures. I don't know enough about the connotations of different districts in Britain to decode whether these numbers adhere to stereotypes (like how in the States we stereotype Texan women as having big hair, etc.); any takers?

Here comes the groom: The obvious result from the combination of the uptick in men's grooming and "bridezilla" burnout? Being "groom-ed to perfection."

Welcome to the future: Was just alerted (thanks, Will!) to the existence of fashion based on 3-D printing. Specifically, Continuum, which currently offers jewelry and a bikini from their ready-to-wear (once printed, that is) line, is sort of amazing.

I spy: French researchers have developed a detection system for phthlates, which can contaminate cosmetics even when not a part of the chemical recipe for the actual product. 

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!: Apparently "science" has identified three factors within our control that can help us have the most beautiful breasts possible: hormone replacement therapy, not smoking, and daily moisturizing. People, I have never, ever moisturized my breasts—am I alone in this? (Thanks to my aunt Michele for the link!)

Glutenmania: Do people suffering from celiac disease need to avoid gluten-containing cosmetics? The jury is still out.

PETA still sucks, though: Strategic move from PETA in an effort to get Revlon to be transparent about its use of animal testing: buying stock in the company, in hopes that they'll be obligated to reveal information to stockholders. I'd be more jazzed about this if PETA didn't have a long, grody history of degrading women, but hey! Gotta have priorities, right? Ugh.

Like, totally flawsome: There's finally a marketing term for the tactic of showcasing personal "flaws" and incorporating them into feel-good messages for consumers tired of everything seeming perfect in brand-land: flawsome. It's even one of the top 12 consumer trends for 2012, as per We shoulda seen this coming, really.

Hostess with the leastest: For the season premiere of The Talk, cohosts and guests went makeup-free. I'm for this, and it was interesting to see the side-by-side comparisons of the hosts' normal makeup compared with their freshly scrubbed faces—but it was sort of disheartening that all but Sara Gilbert said they thought about "cheating." Whatever, transparency is good, right?

Bonus points for John Berger reference: One of the most thoughtful pieces of coverage of no-mirror experiments that I've read. Writes Katrina Onstad at the Globe and Mail, "Escaping one’s own reflection by shrouding mirrors is no small thing: It’s a gesture toward the kind of self-erasure promised by religious deliverance, whatever shape that takes. Maybe it’s particularly Canadian to have flirted with that feeling while spending time in the woods, working or camping. There, far from mirrors, you quickly forget how you look. For days or weeks, you see yourself mostly by the touch of your fingers. And then, upon return, stepping into that first bathroom, there is a startling glance – you, perfect and imperfect, caught in the glass."

Beauty in truth: After hearing from Angelika, whose relationship with the mirror changed after she started seeing herself through a True Mirror—that is, a mirror that reverses your usual reflection so that you're seeing what the rest of the world sees instead of the usual inversion—I'm super-eager to try one of these. One of my reasons for abstaining from mirrors was that I realized upon being told that I had a "mirror face" that the face I saw wasn't what the rest of the world saw—and even though psychically I've sort of come to terms with that, the fact is, looking at yourself in a regular mirror, you are literally the only one who will ever see yourself that way, as Angelika points out in her YouTube video.

Pretty pH princess: Oof, I've gotta eat my words here. I'm not opposed to "pinkifying" fields like science and math in an effort to show girls and young women that there are all kinds of ways to follow what interests you without adhering to stereotypes (of, say, lab rats with bad eyeglasses). But "princess scientists"? (via Sally)

Somewhere, there must be a strain of weed called Mother's Milk, right?

( • ) ( • ): Things that look like boobs that aren't.

Ladies Magdalene: A brief history of the Magdalene Laundries, where "fallen women" in Britain (and, I was surprised to learn, North America and Australia) would be sent for rehabilitation, i.e. imprisonment involving forced labor and abuse. I knew girls labeled as promiscuous could be sent there, but didn't know that girls could be sent there just for being pretty, thus making them more likely to be promiscuous (!)—or too ugly, making them vulnerable to temptation. (The Magdalene Sisters, a 2002 film depicting some of the abuses, is worth watching, despite it underplaying the severity of the conditions. Which, if you've seen the film, is saying something.)

Racy underthings: Lingerie blogger Cora Harrington on a lesser-commented-upon area of little diversity in the lingerie world: race and disability. I'll join my bigger-busted sisters in solidarity (my C cups support you, my G-cupped friends!) when they point out that lingerie ads seem to intentionally leave out large-breasted or full-figured women—but as Harrington points out, representation in this area is far more diverse than race representation. "[T]he sad truth is I can go weeks at a time without coming across a nice photo of a woman of color in lingerie. And if we're talking older women or disabled women, it can be months. The same simply isn't true for fuller-figured or fuller-busted women."

Game over: Danielle of Final Fashion has a juicy new series: Trend Ender, a documentation of trends and their origins, and a loose attempt to predict their demise. First up: topknots.

Owning it: Sally offers a meditation on compliments, examining how compliments angled toward praising stewardship of one's appearance might help ensure that the compliment is heard in the way it's intended. "We cultivate personal style, select our own clothing, and make decisions about how we clothe our bodies. Compliments on personal style and the clothing items we wear are tied to taste and active choices. Someone may say, 'I love that skirt,' but underneath that is, 'and your taste and personal style.'"

Lushthink: Courtney at Those Graces looks beyond the concerted "all-natural" image put forth by Lush and finds some disturbing facts: "My investigation shows that every Lush moisturizer has 3 to 5 ingredients which rank as a Moderate Health Hazard according to the Environmental Working Group." Oof! I'm a fan of Lush; I like their products, and I like that they're one of the few beauty companies that is unafraid to take stands on political issues that might actually alienate some consumers (as opposed to slapping a wholly inoffensive pink ribbon on a jar of face cream and calling it a day). But I don't like that their marketing scheme hinges upon the illusion that these are products your cool friend just whipped up in her kitchen, with no unpronounceable ingredients (like, say, triethanolaine) to muck up their philosophy—despite that not actually being the case.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why I Had My Body Spray-Painted Brown, Plus My Advertorial Policy

It was the spray tan that did me in.

See, the minute you have the word beauty in your blog’s metadata, the Marketing Powers That Be descend upon you with offers of free samples for your review. Lotions, polishes, tonics, scrubs, glosses, serums, creams—if it’s in a bottle and designed to perform miracles, its press release may find its way to my inbox.

The first time I received an offer for some review samples, maybe four months into my blogging venture, my knee-jerk reaction was hell no. Through my years in ladymags, I’d become cynical not only of the “advertorial” function of beauty pages, but of the products themselves. The first few times you see an entire bin filled with fifty-plus types of blush, it’s exciting, but after a bit you begin to realize that it’s all just packaged petroleums and tints and talcs, and that the item you’d been paying $8.99 (or $26, or $56) for is actually just worth pennies, and that for the most part there isn’t really that much difference between the products. (The number-one question beauty editors are asked is, “But what really works?” Yes, there are some that do, but that’s another post.)

So the lure of free products didn’t hold much sway over me; I still have a handful of unopened products from various beauty sales over the years. More important, I prided myself on not falling into the advertorial trap: No, I was not going to give companies free advertising—that is, my time and labor—in exchange for a prettily packaged batch of titanium dioxide. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that, but A) there are plenty of product review blogs already, and I have nothing to add to the chorus except SEO bumps for the companies; B) that’s not what this blog is about, and in fact when trying to explain what I do here, the first words out of my mouth are usually something like, “It’s a beauty blog, but not, like, lipstick reviews”; and C) after years of working in ladymags, I’ll be damned if my passion project—for which I receive the occasional stipend from my syndication with The New Inquiry but which otherwise isn’t monetized in any way—was under the sway of anything other than my editorial judgment. I decided long ago to not have advertising or sponsors for this reason—even from companies and organizations I think do good work.

Yet the product offers keep coming. Sometimes, in the case of particularly hilarious-sounding products, I’ll fantastize about accepting and then ripping the product to shreds. But honestly, I don’t get my jollies from thinking of clever quips about silly products—and since my reader base is healthy but not enormous, I’m being targeted by a lot of startups and beginner companies, and I have little interest in mocking them. (Plus, I think most companies subscribe to the “no such thing as bad publicity” line of thinking. I mean, have they read a single entry of mine? I’m more likely to write a 2,400-word screed on “the secret language of toner” or some shit than I am to just be like, “Pores smaller!”)

And then came the spray tan.

See, I was a sun-shunner for my entire adult life, until a trip to the tropics in 2009 turned me into a full-fledged worshipper. I discovered that not only was it easy for me to develop a light tan, but that I liked how I looked with a tan; once my natural color faded I spent a small fortune on self-tanning lotion. This year I developed a sensitivity to the formula (it makes me itch most unbecomingly); around the same time, I adopted a semi-nihilist attitude that made me realize I had little interest in living past age 80 or so, and decided to hell with it, I’m going to get as much sun as I can, skin cancer risk be damned. (Lecture me all you want; I’ll readily admit you’re right, and will continue to wear SPF 4 regardless.)

Accordingly, I had a tanned summer—but now that beach time has faded, so has my color, and I’m not quite ready to give it up. I knew about airbrush tanning, but am way too frugal to spend the $60 to $90 it takes to get one—plus, the thought of paying a stranger to essentially spray-paint my body brown seemed...I mean, when you think about it, it’s uncomfortably close to those “believe it or not” historical tidbits, like how Romans were supposedly bulimic with their vomitoriums. (Which, by the way, they weren't.)

So when the invitation to “meet Kelly and get a B. Bronz Sunless Tanning Treatment” showed up in my inbox (something to do with Fashion Week?), I deleted it at first, as I do all such invitations and offers, no matter how much the product promises to “dazzle” my readers. But it stuck in my mind. I found myself getting sort of huffy over my own policies, like, Hey, why shouldn’t I be getting the occasional swag? I work hard! Harder than I did in magazines, when I could buddy up to the beauty editors and waltz out of the closet with a lifetime supply of conditioner! You know who pays this blogger's salary? Me! And I’m cheap! And I abuse my staff! And if I weren’t such a rotten boss I might have gone to the beach even more this summer and might have a deeper tan and I wouldn’t even need this body spray-paint thing in the first place, so take that!

I said yes.

I did my homework beforehand; I knew you were supposed to exfoliate and not use any body products so that the tanning agent would be able to better sink in. I also knew you weren’t supposed to sweat for 8 to 12 hours afterward, which might be fine if one’s body is spray-painted in the Helsinki twilight but is more difficult in the recent spate of 90% humidity we subtropical New Yorkers sweat our way through.

I showed up at the spa that was hosting the event and was ushered into the treatment room, where I did indeed meet Kelly, a polished, gracious woman in flowing jersey who looked far less...fake?...than I’d expected from someone who paints people brown for her trade. Actually, as it turns out, Kelly is both artist and chemist: She created the B. Bronz line, which is available both for professional and home use and, from what I saw on the bottles, comes in fragrances like “Citrus Mojito,” which surely is far more appealing than the lingering scent of yo, you just dyed your body brown that I’m all too familiar with from my usual sunless lotion, which shall remain nameless (see paragraph 5). Kelly has the distinction of having tanned members of the National Bodybuilding Association, the San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush Cheerleaders, and the Oregon Ducks Cheerleaders (my alma mater! also, it is impossible to get a natural tan in Eugene, Oregon), as well as Miss Washington, Miss Oregon, Miss Michigan, and Miss California. If I was going to have someone spray-paint my body, I may as well go to the best.

At her behest, I stepped into what resembled a lightweight tent and undressed while Kelly finished spray-painting another blogger’s body. Upon her return, Kelly directed me into various positions—to the right, to the left, leg extended to spray the inner thigh, arms lifted to get my ribcage—while she answered my handful of measly questions that I’d hoped would mask the fact that I’m not really a “beauty writer” at all but rather a cynic who might refer to airbrush tanning as having your body spray-painted brown. Kelly appeased me there too: When I asked about the function of the bronzer as opposed to the actual tanning agent that would keep me golden for about four days, she candidly replied that the bronzer was in the formula “so that the customer feels like she’s paid for something.” Without the bronzer, clients would leave no darker than when they entered, since the tanning agent takes 8 to 12 hours to fully develop. (There’s also a clear, bronzer-less formula available for clients whose supreme faith in the art of the spray tan means that they don’t need to feel like they stood naked in a tent while a stranger hosed them down with brown dye for no immediate effect.)

I’d been trying to look Kelly in the eye to telegraph how terrifically secure I was standing almost entirely naked in front of a stranger, but at a certain point I looked down at my arm and saw that it was a gorgeous golden hue, more glowing and vibrant than how I look when I’ve actually been sunbathing. “It’s gorgeous!” I exclaimed, and I meant it, and Kelly smiled before she frowned and started dabbing my cleavage with a towel. “You’re sweating a little,” she said, “so this was getting...funky.” I looked down and saw that my chest looked like someone had splattered coffee across it, brown beads dripping between my breasts.

I stood there trying very very hard not to sweat, while my body dried off for a couple of minutes until Kelly gave me her blessing to get dressed. Which was nice, except then I’d have to exit the cool spa and enter the world of 90% humidity, which I feared meant my entire body would soon look the way my cleavage did. In the subway—possibly the most humid place in New York City save the Tenth Street Russian & Turkish Baths—I stood in the darkest place possible while fanning myself with B. Bronz literature and rubbing my face with a tissue in hopes of at least evening out the sweaty brown beads of body dye that were surely forming there. I studiously avoided eye contact once on the train, hoping to avoid the humiliation of others witnessing me turning into a live Jackson Pollock painting—good thing, too, because when I got up I saw that I’d left a trail of brown drops across the back of the seat.

Having lost all dignity, I made a beeline for home and raced to the mirror, where it turned out that it was only my back and chest that had become mottled (and which was easily taken care of by rubbing in the solution). The rest of me, including my face, had a soft tan glow. Throughout the day, the tone became richer and deeper—though when I took a shower after the prescribed length of time and rinsed off the bronzer, I was left with a golden hue closer to what I’d first seen when Kelly sprayed me in the tent. It lasted for about four days; I can still faintly see the “tan” lines from where my underwear was but it’s barely noticeable.

Forgive the sports bra shot; I already had a light tan on my upper body but my stomach hasn't seen the sun since 1979, so here's the color the spray-paint—ahem, airbrush tan—gives unsunned skin.

All this is to say: It was absolutely fine. Given that there is now a seat on the Q train with a spatter of brown liquid gifted from my body to the MTA, I can’t quite fully sign on to the B. Bronz statement—“The B.Bronz Sunless Tanning Treatment is designed to be applied flawlessly in less than two minutes, and there is no mess, residue, or rub-off, which is perfect for Fashion Weeks' high demands”—but that’s my own damn fault for daring to sweat before the 8 hours were up, right? If you’re someone who would spend money on having a stranger spray-paint your body brown, the B. Bronz line is more than adequate; I’ve seen some airbrush jobs look hideous the same day, while this looked nice and natural even at its darkest.

All this, really, is to say: Thank you, B. Bronz, for the free airbrush tan, which was perfectly nice. And thank you, readers, for allowing me a forum where I can write about beauty without feeling like I need to write about airbrush tans, even the perfectly nice ones—because in attempting to write about it today I find that I don’t know how to do so without swallowing my voice. Which is the opposite of the reason I write here.