Friday, November 2, 2012

On Hurricanes and Beauty

This week has been unusual, to put it mildly. Thank you to readers who inquired about my safety and well-being. I'm fine. My city is not, but New Yorkers are a resilient bunch, and the same goes for our neighbors in New Jersey, Connecticut, and other affected areas.

The beauty community was not untouched. Lauren "Lola" Abraham, 23, was one of the 40 residents of New York City who perished as a result of the storm. A makeup artist who was simultaneously enrolled in beauty school and higher education to eventually become a social studies teacher, Abraham was described by friends as "a beautiful girl, very carefree," according to the New York Times. May she, and all those who fell victim to the storm, rest in peace.

Of course, beauty is a business as well—a big one, and one that, like so many industries, has its epicenter in New York. With an estimated 70 percent of the American beauty and personal care industry located within a 200-mile radius of the city, cosmetics companies large and small will undoubtedly be affected. In fact, one beauty giant has already been affected, though in a different way than one might imagine: Jane Lauder, granddaughter of Estee and a board member of the company, owned a beachside cottage that has been destroyed by the storm. Yet she's only one of the more high-profile people in the industry who have been affected, and one with ample resources. I don't have statistics, of course, but I'm guessing that the majority of beauty workers who have been impacted by Sandy are more like the hairstylist whose sudden three-hour commute illustrates the up-and-at-'em attitude New Yorkers have about getting back to the swing of things. (Note also the tidbit in the piece about nail salons giving mani-pedis in parts of the city that have lost power—you can take away our power but you can't take away our polish!) In any case, the Professional Beauty Association has a relief fund for beauty professionals who have been affected by natural disasters.You can contribute to the fund—or apply for relief.

On the lighter side—sort of—leave it to the inimitable Gala Darling to write something both poignant and wry about Sandy's aftermath, jumping from images of sodden mattresses on the street to muse on "hurricane glamour." (I'll add to the list: As one of the many who defiantly drank their way through the storm, my conviction that red wine makes for a fantastic lip stain is only strengthened.)

*  *  *

There was plenty else that happened this week in beauty. The Kardashian girls might be sued by makeup company Chroma for naming their own line Khroma; Drew Barrymore may add makeup mogul to her list of business pursuits. Yet even typing out those names feels—not quite right. I'm all for humor alleviating the intensity of natural disasters; I don't think throwing out all the things that may seem trivial in times of duress is any way to help ourselves get back to normal.

Not that I find beauty trivial. I don't, and if I did I wouldn't be writing this blog. It's not in the realm of loss of life, no, but if we start thinking that way exclusively, we lose sight of the ways the seemingly trivial and the seemingly important intersect. And we begin to point fingers in an effort to seem more legitimate than those silly people who care about silly things. We're seeing this with post-Sandy talk, actually, with the controversy over this set of Sandy "glamour shots" from Brazilian model and actress Nana GouvĂȘa. Disaster trumps glamour, right? So exploiting disaster for glamour, is wrong, correct? Yes, it is. But as M. Monalisa Gharavi points out on Twitter, the eye-rolling being done over this (the photos have officially "gone viral," as per HuffPo) doesn't show nearly as much white when "shock contrast" shows up in other areas, such as when the fashion industry exploits the global south in their own imagery. Imagery that is considered legitimate and not mock-worthy, I might add. But "If one lone, expatriate non-American model embrace the calamity trope (without the dark natives, and likely without profit) so help her God."

I don't want to make the mistake of trying to hierarchically organize what's Important versus what's Not Important, nor do I want to forget that beauty itself can play a vital role in preserving the idea of normalcy. That's part of why many of us wear it in the first place: It gives us a routine, it gives us a sense of control. And in a time when it's clear that no matter how hard we plan, there's only so much we can really control, the concept of beauty work, no matter how illusory it might be, becomes particularly potent. So yes, regardless of the chaos going on downtown and in the region as a whole—the elderly and disabled people trapped in high rises, the gas shortages, the neighborhoods completely ravaged, and, of course, the still-rising number of people who have died as a result of Hurricane Sandy, not only in the U.S. but in the Caribbean and Canada as well—beauty still matters.

I believe in the importance of beauty. But this week, its urgency feels far lesser. The news I usually spotlight here can wait. And so, it will. 

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