Friday, December 21, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 12.21.12

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

From Head...
You can be beautiful too: 
Is there a difference between salon and drugstore shampoos? The answer, if you are a faithful reader of The Beheld and therefore probably inclined to be a hint skeptical of the beauty industry, will not surprise you at all!

...To Toe...
Pedicure dreams: 
The first pedicure for Mary Ann Doll, age 90, courtesy Hospice Dreams (sort of a Make-A-Wish for seniors in hospice care).

...And Everything In Between:
In bloom: It's official: Drew Barrymore will launch her own makeup line with WalMart. Flower will retail between $5 and $14, but is aiming for a "masstige" angle—prestige products and connotation at a mass market price. Certainly WalMart has the funds for a prestige-level research and development machine, so we shall see.

Say cheese: The autonomia Marxist scholars reading this (holla!) should click through to this dense but intriguing paper on smile-scan technology and affective labor; the rest of us might just be content (or malcontent, as it were) to learn of the existence of smile scanners, which some workplaces in Japan are using to monitor the "smile!" angle of customer service amongst employees. "Workers at Keihin Electric Express Railway will receive a print out of their daily smile which they will be expected to keep with then throughout the day to inspire them to smile at all times, the report added."

Naked honesty: Actress and writer Louise Brealey gives a compelling piece on what it's like to be naked onstage, in her case to play Helen of Troy: "The idea of standing naked in a theatre the size of a corner shop, five feet from the audience, whilst pretending to be Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman on the planet? That sounded like a very bad idea indeed. ... Exposing myself to 75 strangers a night has made me think a lot about what psychologist Susie Orbach calls 'body terror,' the chip in your brain that tells you your body isn’t good enough but if you buy this cream, eat this thing, do this exercise, you can look like Rihanna and you will be happy." (via Jessica Stanley)

Stem cell blues: "I paid $20,000 for cosmetic surgery and all I got were these lousy bone shards growing in my eyelid."

Hunger games: "How to one-up ourselves after The Biggest Loser?" NBC executives asked themselves while splashing about in a bath of virgin blood. "How about The Biggest Loser—for Kidz?" If the idea of a weight-loss competition show for children seems like as bad an idea to you as it does to me (and after you read this interview with one of the show's finalists, I assure you it will), let NBC executives know. Yes, I've written about the pain that being a fat kid brought upon me. I'm certain that embarking upon a highly visible, public weight-loss effort would be far, far worse. #stopbiggestloser 

Afro Blue by Andrea Pippins, limited-edition print, $45, Etsy

Crowns of Color: Interesting interview with Andrea Pippins, an artist whose celebratory woodcut-style posters of black women's hairstyles are the focus here. "Because we so rarely see black women represented as free, pretty and majestic I wanted these ladies to be that in a very lighthearted way, as if they were getting their portraits printed to capture their nobility, but in the style of a barbershop sign or woodblock print. Instead of a precious painting that only one person could own, it would be more in the spirit of propaganda posters that everyone could have and hang in their homes."

Work up a lather: In a recent study, about a third of black women said they exercise less than they'd like because of concerns about their hair. As Charlotte at The Cut points out, this is hardly limited to black women, but I do wonder about the general sentiment at play here, given other contested points surrounding black women and exercise (body image, body size, musculature and femininity, etc.).

Visions of sugarplums: With all the intense focus on food—coupled with constant tips on how to stay trim during the holidays—this time of year can be incredibly difficult for people who have or are recovering from an eating disorder. Margaret Wheeler Johnson has some deeply considered advice on the matter, and it's advice that can only come from the sort of lived experience she dips into here.

Shut-eye: I sure felt a helluva lot better when I read the scientific explanation for why you sometimes look better when you're hung over. (Dehydration! Tightens the pores. Also, don't do it.) Not sure if this will play out the same way, but nice to see a scientific explanation of why we look like hell when we're tired.

Man style: This is sort of a win-lose situation: I expected this piece geared toward professional hairstylists on how to boost male clientele to be chock-full of blather about appealing to patrons' masculinity and not making them feel like they're vain for caring, etc. Pleasant surprise there; the tips are pretty much the same as you'd expect for women. But then the growing sense of ill spreads: "Past are the days when men just wanted a $5 buzz, they are now interested in all areas of grooming from hair color, highlighting, waxing, custom cutting, facials, manicures, pedicures, spray tanning and last but not least products to take home.” We knew this already, but something about seeing it put in terms of consumerism makes it super bleak. If it's now expected that all of us want custom cuts and blow-dry expertise, our point of comparison shifts radically. And I don't think the answer here will be equality; I think it's just that women's maintenance will have to raise the bar to keep that point of comparison intact.

Off the cuff: Jeans that update your social media for you. You know what? I'm with the Mayans, the world is ending.

And I feel fine: And since the world is ending today, here's how to go out looking good: Diana Vilibert's beauty tips for the apocalypse.

"...and to all, a good night!"

Hurry up my chimney tonight: On the sex appeal of Santa—scientifically speaking, of course: "Recent studies in the Perception Lab have also found that people choose partners with redder faces, as red skin is indicative of health. The result of increased vasodilation of blood vessels in the face, redness can occur as a result of high levels of physical exercise, such as delivering presents to the children of the world."

It's a wrap: The name of this Tumblr, Fuck Yeah Fat Brown Hijabis, sorta says it all. (via The Closet Feminist—another aptly named blog dealing not with undercover feminists but feminism and fashion)

Small talk: If silence during a haircut is apparently a sign one is inclined to visit an unimaginable act of violence upon an elementary school, it's a small miracle NYPD isn't knocking on my door right now. Don't we have enough to figure out on a "national conversation" level about why white American men like to kill loads of people without this sort of crap? (via Phoebe)

Sung to the tune of "Tradition"Geek culture and nail art collide, prompting Cassie to look at one connection between the two worlds: obsession.

Lush love: Can I get fangirl for a sec? Mkay. Not only does Lush have spas in the UK (!), but there's soon to be one in New York (!!!). It's on the Upper East Side, just near enough to The Most Annoying Place On Earth Despite Presence of Candy to make me think the place will be overrun with obnoxious teenagers, but still! Lush Spa.

Feministas: I'm thrilled to be mentioned (alongside excellent company, Tashira of Politics and Fashion and Jenna Sauers of Jezebel) in this Ms. blog post about feminist fashion and beauty bloggers by Avital Norman Nathman. I began my career at Ms. as an intern in 1999, so there's a particular satisfaction in knowing that I haven't strayed too far from my roots.

Screw it: Can you have sex in Spanx? Intrepid reporter for NYMag attempts to find out.

All made up: It's Makeover Week at Deep Glamour—fitting, because both the makeover and glamour itself embody an element of both artifice and revelation. In any case, check out this mini-bio on Eddie Senz, who did the first-ever ladymag makeover in 1936, and this interview with makeover specialist Diane Gardner.

Work it: Feminist Figure Girl looks at the neoliberal approach to women's bodies—presumed to be bodies we can mold, shape, and transform, if only we put enough doggone American determination into it!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hosed: Conservatism and the Return of Pantyhose

I love pantyhose. What’s not to love? They add a little warmth, they even out splotchy skin, they give a hint of support if you’re into that (or a lot of support if you’re into that), they keep you from sliding around in heels, and, most important, they make you look just a little more polished. I buy the cheap drugstore kind—to my chagrin I can no longer find the kind that comes in a plastic egg—but given how often I wear them, I have probably spent hundreds of dollars over my lifetime in pantyhose. I love pantyhose.

Which is why I was genuinely confused—to the point of being surprised by my own naivete on the matter, given my years working in fashion magazines—to find out that plenty of people don’t. Somehow I missed the spate of articles in 2011 on the matter, which tended to focus either on Kate Middleton’s apparent fondness for them or on the L’Eggs campaign aimed at getting the 18-to-34 set back in the control tops. (Of course, I turned 35 last year, so perhaps I overlooked the articles because I was just too old to notice that pantyhose had become unfashionable over the years, along with scrunchies and sanitary napkin belts.) Pantyhose naysayers find them dowdy, old-fashioned, stuffy, stuck in the ’80s (see the Night Court reference in this pantyhose face-off), even sexist, which, given that they’re not necessarily the most comfortable things around and have no equivalent for men, is understandable. (“Meggings” don’t count.)

But just one year after Slate pondered whether it was “too late to pull nylons back from the brink of extinction,” it seems I needn’t worry. The very same industry expert quoted in that Slate piece from November 2011 was quoted a year later in the Times, saying that with the continued popularity of the dress (and the obligatory nod to the economy, which might make women want to “dress for success,” as though that’s new), pantyhose was seeing a resurgence. Which it really is: Hosiery sales increased from $900 million to $1 billion in 2011, with sheers “definitely leading the legwear pack in terms of increases,” according to a vice president at Bare Necessities. Pantyhose is back.

Except it’s also, like, not. Reading comments on any article about pantyhose, you’d think we were talking about the Gaza strip, not flimsy tubes of nylon. Trends come and go, and people find themselves wearing things they thought unimaginable to don only months earlier (I have yet to buy a pair of skinny jeans, but I’ve tried them on, this despite being a vocal opponent during their initial resurgence in the 2000s). But there’s something about pantyhose that’s oddly divisive.*

Part of this, I think, is that unlike skinny jeans, pantyhose isn’t about fashion; it’s about lifestyle. It’s one of the few wardrobe items that definitively is or isn’t in people’s wardrobes—punks and preps alike all have jeans, skirts, and sweaters of some sort, but pantyhose? If you work at a smoothie joint in Oregon, you might not have ever worn them; if you work for the federal government, it might not cross your mind to not wear them. In fact, depending on your workplace, you might have to wear them, as this Wall Street Journal post points out. Geography comes into play too: In the Northeast and Plains states, pantyhose never really went out of fashion for dressy events, whereas I’m guessing most famously casual Californians would likely only wear them if it’s a part of a dress code. This can be mighty baffling if you operate in separate spheres: “Like many women, I found our ‘liberation’ from pantyhose terribly confusing,” wrote Margaret Hartman for Jezebel in 2011. Between her Senate internship (hose!) and working in ladymags (no hose! I never got the memo, obvs), “Suddenly I had to review my personal pantyhouse policy on an event-by-event basis to determine if I'd be committing a fashion faux pas.”

It can also be mighty baffling if you find yourself straddling generations. At 36, I consider myself a Gen-Xer, as are most of my friends. But I also have plenty of friends in their 20s, and it’s interesting to note the little things that mark our age difference. Remembering a world with East Germany and without MTV is one; pantyhose is another. For even if women my age choose not to wear pantyhose now, we grew up with it—I distinctly remember a period when it was fashionable to wear shorts over black pantyhose, obligatory flannel shirt wrapped around our waists, and I can’t imagine that any of my classmates went to prom bare-legged. But women in their teens and 20s—geographic and lifestyle dictates notwithstanding—didn’t. In fact, that could be integral to what appears to be its return: Women in their 20s can embrace pantyhose in part because their mothers had the freedom to shed it—and were likely raising their daughters with the knowledge that nylons were no longer a must. (And in Japan, where pantyhose sales are growing as well, teens may have some shyness about exposing bare legs, thanks in part to their mothers’ fondness for leggings.)

Whatever the case, insofar as pantyhose is back, it’s, as they say, not your mother’s (optional) pantyhose. “Value-added” hosiery is partly responsible for the category’s resurgence; call it the Spanx effect. Between consumer expectations that foundation garments give a virtual tummy tuck and technological developments that mean such garments are no longer insanely uncomfortable (trust me, “control top” in the early ’90s was a different beast), it’s no surprise that part of the L’Eggs campaign emphasizes the shaping functions of their hosiery. Plus, since opaque tights have been perennially popular for several years (whereas they weren’t particularly in vogue 15 years ago), hose can now be marketed as “sheer tights,” an exercise in oxymoronic rebranding if there ever was one.

That doesn’t mean that the reasoning for pantyhose’s comeback isn’t retro. Bare legs—at least according to the Hollywood Reporter, which, well, whatever—are now beginning to look “tawdry” and “cheap.” So let me get this straight: Pantyhose was once thought dowdy, and now appearing without it might be tawdry. Virgin/whore, anyone? Between the association of bare legs with “cheapness” and pantyhose with somewhat conservative fields and regions, I’m actually wondering if there is some sort of connection between pantyhose and conservatism, even if most of its wearers—like myself—don’t consciously think of it that way. I wore it in earnest for years and still do, but at least now I can play it up as a sort of “retro” thing à la Mad Men—a show that was born from America’s conflicted relationship with conservatism.

Certainly one of the complaints against pantyhose—that it looks like one is trying too hard—registers with this line of thought. “Trying too hard” can take a lot of different forms, but it has immediate associations with a sort of over-the-top femininity that goes hand-in-hand with the conservative “let women be women again!” mind-set. And though I don’t find pantyhose particularly uncomfortable, it’s not exactly comfortable either**—again falling into line with conservatism, the idea that maybe women shouldn’t be too comfortable with their bodies.

Still, despite the connections, I’m going to stick with ’em. For here is my conservative little secret: Pantyhose, to me, are one of many symbols of womanhood. My mother didn’t wear pantyhose, but I remember visiting her mother when I was a kid and eagerly accepting a pair of nylon knee-high castoffs that I figured would have to do until I was old enough to wear full-on big-girl pantyhose. Which I started doing in 8th grade, for special occasions: I loved feeling encased in this tight, stretchy stuff that somehow didn’t look tight but just looked...finished, making me feel finished, giving me a sense of finesse that I lacked otherwise. It does that for me still: I happily go bare-legged in the summer, but come fall, slipping on a pair of pantyhose is an adult version of putting on my back-to-school wardrobe. Pantyhose means I’m ready; it means I’m in public, wanting to be seen not as a prolonged adolescent who still sleeps on a futon and wrinkles her nose at broccoli, but as a professional. As an adult, as a woman who isn’t afraid to take herself a little seriously. As someone who looks at what some might say is a sign of “trying too hard” and instead interpret it as a willingness to go the extra mile. My nails may be chipped, my hair may have flyaways, my lipstick might be eaten off. But my bottom half? I’ve got it covered.

*To wit: Despite being firmly in the pro-pantyhose camp, black pantyhose now makes me shudder. Tights are fine, as are black thigh-highs in the boudoir—but the sheer stuff, on the street? Ix-nay, otally-tay.

**Certainly not as comfortable as these freakin’ amazing fleece-lined tights that I am totally shilling for without shame because I love them so much, and they really do keep you warm.

Monday, December 17, 2012

'Tis the Season: The Beheld Gift Guide

I hesitated at the idea of doing a gift guide at first. I mean, for a "beauty blog" I already mention, like, no beauty products, so it seemed disingenuous to suddenly mention a bunch of "stuff I love!" on here. But it is a gift-giving season, and there are things I love, and things you love—and just as there are 364 posts on The Beheld that aren't about any specific product but are about beauty nonetheless (and exactly three posts that are about specific products), there are plenty of potential gifts out there that are related to beauty but in an indirect fashion. So! Here we go.

The "boot" part of "boot flask" here is optional.

For the fan of the Two-Cocktail Makeover: Now, of course I'd never suggest that you encourage anything illegal (except maybe civil disobedience and jaywalking), but you might know someone who enjoys a good old-fashioned Two-Cocktail Makeover now and again, and wouldn't you like to enable her to have one anytime she wants? Makeovers on demand? In my twenties I gave flasks as a standard sort of gift, and more than one friend has reported back to me, years later, that it's come in unexpectedly handy. Think of it as the gift that keeps on giving. (I also sort of want to do my part to reclaim the flask for women; the "Flask Gift Set for Women" at isn't quite cutting it.) $17 and up, liquor stores, or Etsy if you're so inclined

For the reader of The Beheld: You've told your friends all about this blog (thank you!), and at least one of them has cottoned to it (right?). Option A: Since you're enjoying your subscription to The New Inquiry so much, why not give it to that friend as a gift? Option B: Give her a subscription to Worn Fashion Journal, tout de suite. This is the fashion magazine you and your smart, critical, stylish-but-not-trendy friends have been longing for, as reflected in the tagline: "Where ideas get dressed." Every page of the most recent issue, which had a hair theme so was particularly delightful to me, was filled with treasures: a feature on the importance of wigs in the drag community, a cheeky but informative rundown of hairstyles in contemporary history, a look at modernized versions of Victorian hair art—each of these pieces took a topic I thought I knew something about and spun it in a fresh manner, with a sort of open inquisitiveness that marks the best fashion journalism. It's skilled, it's thoughtful, it's—may I resort to a cliché here?—like sitting down with a particularly well-informed stylish friend who manages to tell you exactly what you want to know about style without boring you with the stuff you don't. If you're giving this as a gift, your friend already has you, of course, but don't you want to broaden her horizons? thenewinquiry, $2/month;, $48 CDN/two years

For the massage junkie: The obvious here is a massage gift certificate (or, if this is your thing, a gift certificate for one by you). But speaking as a recovering massage addict (they get expensive!), I can say that this is the next best thing, and it's one your gift recipient can access anytime. The Bed of Nails is a mat (it's also available as a pillow) with short, sharp plastic spikes that you lie down on. The spikes work as a sort of allover acupressure system, stimulating endorphins and giving you that tingly "good pain" feeling that's parallel to—though different from—the sensation of a massage therapist doing deep work. It's both relaxing and invigorating, and after 10 minutes on it I have the sensation of my blood somehow flowing more easily. I'm fairly certain that's a psychosomatic sensation, but never mind that! It feels good; that's the point. I also enjoy standing on it for a moment or two after a day traipsing about town, giving myself the foot-massage shivers., $40

For those interested in but ambivalent about fashion: One of the reasons I've always been more interested in beauty than in fashion was because beauty just seemed...easier. I was always confused by the "dress for your figure"-type pages in magazines; I never understood how to put separates together (and still don't, hence my collection of dresses that mask the fact I'm clueless). Cross that with my generalized body issues and it's no wonder I always thought of fashion as someone else's game. Enter Sally McGraw of Already Pretty, whose blog shows up so frequently in my roundups because it's so spot-on and useful—and her book of the same name only magnifies those qualities. The workbook of sorts (though McGraw also has an actual workbook) approaches personal style from a perspective rooted in the fact that you're, well, already pretty—instead of telling you what to do to minimize your waist, your size, your self, the book emphasizes identifying what you feel best in, and then tells you exactly how to do it, step by step. I'd say it "takes the guesswork out of building a wardrobe," especially for the fashion-ambivalent like myself, but it's more that it takes out the uncertainty, leaving in all the little thrills of discovery that go along with the right kind of guesswork., $20 hard copy, $8 digital

Blood quantum earrings by Chickasaw metalsmith Kristen Dorsey, $45

For your friend who forwarded you that link to Native Appropriations: If people in your midst get as grumpy as I do about the long line of pop figures (No Doubt, Ke$ha, Victoria's Secret, Outkast, etc.) who have used American Indian symbols with apparently no thought or background research whatsoever, they'll appreciate receiving a piece of jewelry that A) is made by Real! Live! Native jewelry artists, and that B) is so beautiful and eye-catching that C) it'll give them a built-in opportunity to talk about cultural appropriation, as they'll be getting so many compliments on it. Beyond Buckskin has reasonably priced pop jewelry (in addition to the higher-end couture fashion and accessories) from a breadth of nations. As the site's "about" page puts it, "In effect, the artists represented on Beyond Buckskin reclaim Native America's right to determine what is 'Native' when it comes to fashion." Sing it, sister., $15 and up

For stuffing anyone's stocking: Okay, okay, one sorta beauty product on this list. Literally the only product I'm diehard loyal to—I've used it since college and will likely use it all my life—is Neutrogena's Norwegian Formula Hand Cream. I hate the sensation of my hands being greasy, but they also get dry really easily, and this stuff manages the miracle of absorbing quickly while still lubricating your hands enough to soften skin. It also makes a nice lip balm. It also probably has nothing to do with Norway, but let's not hold that against it, eh? drugstores, $4

Friday, December 14, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 12.14.12

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

From Head...
Shifty stuff:
You know about flappers, of course, but do you know about the Shifters, a subset of flapper that may or may not have had a Ponzi scheme going on? Either way, they had some serious fashion codes involving hats and paper clips: Two clips on the brim meant a Shifter was looking for a kiss, and so on.

...To Toe...
The idle woman's pedi:
Are you really supposed to wait 24 hours after painting your toenails before wearing heeled boots?

...And Everything In Between:
Busy bodies:
Fast Company takes a business-end look at Procter & Gamble's strategies, and find the company comes up short. Case in point: the gazillion and a half Olay products on shelves, confusing the company's message. (Remember when it was just...Oil of Olay?)

Korea time: Even in the relatively short amount of time I've been paying attention to the global beauty industry, I've seen an enormous uptick in interest in Korea. This week, Korea is making in-roads to the international market—this time, in Malaysia, and an American expat in Korea shares her experience with "byzantine Korean standards of beauty." Plus, male "K-pop" stars in South Korea are being tapped by cosmetics companies to endorse products; just as with Legos and beer, it turns out that using men in these ads attracts consumers of both sexes.

Persia style: The first-ever book surveying the history of clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics of Iran, going back 5,000 years.


Hotten-not: It's interesting to me that the central question around tennis pro Caroline Wozniacki's crude imitation of Serena Williams is whether it's racist, for as Jessica Wakeman points out at The Frisky, regardless of whether it's racist (and there's, like, no argument to be made for it being seen as not racist), it's certainly hypersexualizing. And, ya know, just tacky.

Lab rats: I somewhat defended the "Science: It's a Girl Thing" video from the European Commission when it came out—if the idea is to get more girls interested in science, you should probably speak to them in some sort of code that girls will understand is channeled directly to them, and like it or not, that's frequently the girly-girl stuff. Not ideal, but as one of a full arsenal of tactics, I'll take it. So it's no wonder that I'm missing the joke of this spoof video released by a group of female scientists. Says one of the creators of the video, "We made the video mainly for fun, but also because the original was so awful. It was really demeaning to women, and contained no science at all—just make-up." So the group rebelliously went on to create a video that...contained no science at all—just makeup. It also contains plenty of humor, though, so I'll just chalk it up to that arsenal I mentioned?

Let's talk about sex: Feminist underwear prank! Who says we don't have a sense of humor? When a group of activists launched a fake Victoria's Secret underwear line stressing sexual consent (think "Ask First" panties), plenty of regular VS shoppers tweeted how thrilled they were to see the company take a stand on the matter. What would happen if a major company did produce this line?

Pucker up: What to do when your partner doesn't like your makeup? (In my experience, lipstick is the biggest culprit here. I think dudes are afraid of sporting it themselves post-kiss, which seems like a fair complaint to register.)

Subjectified: This documentary exploring young women's attitudes toward sex sounds riveting for a number of reasons, but the one that's relevant here is the way the film opens: The documentarian asks the subjects, "Are you beautiful?" I've asked this of a number of my own subjects, and believe me when I tell you that I will never be able to predict what comes out of people's mouths. (via Already Pretty)

"There's a profound ambiguity in the gaze of the Other": Is it possible to truly reinvent yourself, or are our identities so caught up in being both recognized and misrecognized by others that reinvention is impossible? Mr. Teacup muses on the question, using fashion as a lens—which makes sense, given how much we'd like to think fashion is about identity.

Airbrush makeup: How would Photoshop work as an actual beauty product? (Gaussian blur. Gaussian blur!)

Pump up the volume: Lose yourself for a while in the engrossing responses to Sally's question of her readers: How much appearance enhancement are you willing to do? 

Clouds in my coffee: Kate's post on vanity is rife for exploration. As someone who has been called vain by commenters (not by you, of course!), presumably because I write in the first person about my relationship with my looks, her refutation of the concept of vanity is intriguing. I'd also be interested in reading a defense of vanity, though I'm not the one to write it. (Sarah Frye Valencius wrote a related guest post for me last year; check it out.) Anyone?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The New Inquiry: Subscribe!

I announced this when it was first official, but it's time for an update: The Beheld is syndicated with The New Inquiry, a journal of criticism that has exposed my work to a broader readership that might not have found me otherwise. Working with TNI has been wonderful—it's a thrill to see my work contextualized in a different way, and to see my writing appear alongside wonderful writers like Laurie PennyElizabeth Greenwood, Rob Horning, Moe Tkacik, Nathan Jurgenson, and more. If you read this blog, I'm guessing you believe that beauty and appearance is a complex topic that usually gets superficial treatment. When the TNI staff asked me to be a part of their team, they weren't just saying they agreed with that perspective; they were saying they'd lend me their own credibility in order to help make the case.

The New Inquiry is midway through a subscription drive. The site itself is free, and indeed all the content is eventually available online at no cost. But for $2 a month you can subscribe to the digital issue, which is brilliantly designed and thematically produced, giving all the work a different context—and subscribers get to read the pieces before they go online. So you're not only getting a rich, unique magazine each month, you're supporting the entire TNI endeavor. The TNI team has laid out for you exactly why you should subscribe, but let me give you five reasons of my own:

1) Because it's a vote in the future of online publishing. Subscribing to the digital issue is a way to support all the excellent content that goes online only—for free—and by subscribing you're essentially saying that you're eager to see quality content be both affordable (free, even) and supported. This pay model beats advertising, pay gates, and panhandling.

2) Because it's where the women are. The New Inquiry was founded by three women, the most recent masthead and table of contents were almost exactly 50/50, it consistently reviews works by women. This shouldn't be noteworthy in the least, but looking at the byline balance of supposedly gender-neutral publications like The New Yorker, London Review of Books, The Paris Review, Harpers, etc., makes it clear that this is exceptional. Without specifically targeting a female readership, TNI has done what every publication should be doing: treating the world as if women mattered. And the more support it receives, the more of a model it can be for other publications, and the closer we'll be to where we should have been all along.

3) Because at $2 a month, the only thing that might beat it in value is a Kind bar.

4) Because they pay me to do what I do. When I started The Beheld, I vowed to keep it ad-free. After working in ladymags for so many years and seeing how that particular velvet steamroller functioned (read Gloria Steinem's classic essay on women's magazines and advertising for more on that), I wasn't comfortable having this space be under the influence of anyone other than myself and whomever I collaborated with. Which is great! But what that means is that the only way I make money off the considerable work I put into this project is indirect, mostly commissioned articles that came about because I have this platform. I'm fine with that, but honestly, it's nice to make a little money from my labor here directly. And The New Inquiry team knows that, and your subscriptions make it possible.

5) Because of "Wrong Ways to Eat" by Charlotte Shane. Because of "Encounters With Lindsay" from Sarah Nicole Prickett. Because of "Cruise Control" by Max Fox. Because of this interview with Kate Zambreno. Because of "Sex on Inauguration Night" by Mike Thomsen. Because of "Demoting Beauty" by Rob Horning. Because of Austerity Kitchen, Shines Like Gold, South/South, Socialism and/or Barbarism, Marginal Utility, Double Take, and Zunguzungu. Because it's good, it's really really good, and you won't be sorry you did.

Subscribe here!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 12.7.12

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

Hair brooch, most likely used as a mourning memento

From Head...
Hairy history: Next time you're in Missouri, swing by Leila's Hair Museum, featuring centuries of ornaments and jewelry made from human hair, which is awesome and creepy in equal measures. There's also a Victorian Hairwork Society, if you want to get social about it. (via Makeup Museum)

...To Toe...
Ms. Fix-Its: Taking the "blowout bar" service one step further, Fix Beauty Bar has mani-pedis that you can get while your hair is blown out—the sheer glamour of which did not go unnoticed by Deep Glamour, which features an interview with the cofounders this week.

...And Everything In Between:
Get your claws out: Vice president of Ask Cosmetics, a nail-care company, accused of defrauding the company of CND $700,000 over a four-year period.

Big gamble: Rajat Gupta, the Procter & Gamble board member convicted of insider trading, will remain free on bail while his appeal is pending, ruled a federal appeals panel.

Lose inches overnite!: The Ministry of Health in Dubai issued a public health warning about unscrupulous health and beauty social media advertisers (think weight-loss spam), including skin whitening products.

Rihanna and subversion: These two posts make nice companions to one another. First up, this blogger takes a good stab at answering what cuteness might look like when used as a tool of subversion: "Because women of color (excluding East Asian women) are scripted as inherently sexual, it may bring the subject/voyeur (read: society) into a troublesome gaze when they cannot view the objects (brown and black women of color) as sexual because they are non-sexualized when they perform cuteness." Then philosopher Robin James looks at one particular case of a woman of color toying with personae and subversion: Rihanna, and her use of lyrics and styles that mimic the violent dynamics she had in her relationship with Chris Brown: "As Angela Davis repeatedly demonstrates in her book on the blues, black female singers often use lyrics that superficially portray their victimization to critique the very racist misogyny that would victimize them. Why aren’t people at least granting the possibility that Rihanna is participating in this tradition?" 

"Wherever Seth Rogen conceives with Katherine Heigl, the dream lives on": We're not quite done yet with the Richard Cohen/James Bond "sexual meritocracy" bit, are we? Good. Then allow me to point you toward Ta-Nehisi Coates's piece on "democracy and the inalienable right to hit that."

Holy moley: Excited for Salon's new rotating "Body Issues" column, which promises to bring "a series of personal essays about obsessions with our own bodies." First up: Sarah Hepola, always a treat to read, on how she felt about her dusting of moles. I'm mole-y myself so particularly appreciated this piece, though it's funny: Unlike Hepola, I was never self-conscious about my moles until an acquaintance playfully started counting the moles on my arms, and even after that it's just something I'm aware of, not ashamed of—I wear sleeveless shirts a lot, and short skirts. I was excruciatingly self-conscious about pretty much every other part of my body, but never my moles. Funny what our brains decide to zero in on, eh?

Game-changer: Deep Glamour takes a look at Gordon Parks, who effectively changed the course of fashion photography singlehandedly by taking models out of the studio and planting them on the streets. 

This dude is trying to sell you nail polish but it's okay because there are ladies in the background so he's not, like, gay or anything

Strong enough for a man: As someone who firmly rolls her eyes at nail polish lines for men—not because I think men shouldn't wear the stuff but because it's not like, oh, every single shade in their collections doesn't already exist—I was intrigued by this interview with the CEO of Alphanail. "Q: If girls' products are good enough for gay men, why not for straight men? A: They should be. Honestly, it’s a marketing strategy." Yessir, it is!

Meow!: Zara tells us about the pin-on mood-indicating kitten tail that's hitting—where else?—Japan, and I die.

Women, food, and the therapeutic narrative: Charlotte Shane argues that the social narrative around food is disordered, and we're not talking in a Michael Pollan way either: "To have moderation in all things except immoderation echoes the close-fistedness of my most manic restrictions." I'm still wrestling with this provocative, laser-sharp piece, which in part makes a case for the semi-normalization of behaviors that are conventionally seen as troublesome in women, because it soundly echoes my own (disordered) eating history—a history that has troubled me, and that isn't "over" even though I've publicly gone through my own therapeutic narrative (the concept of which I discuss here about body image, but which applies to disordered eating as well).

Meat lovers: So wrong it's right (right?): Pizza Hut perfume.

"Like": This Jessica Valenti piece on women and likeability has a roundabout connection to beauty—yes, women want to be pretty because that has a singular value, but there's also a component of conventional beauty that's about placating others. Still wrapping my mind around this one (I'm very much a honey-not-vinegar type, and I can't help but feel like I'm being a little scolded for that—but I also know my niceness has been a detriment at times).

Wish list: Makeup artist (and fantastic blogger, and if you enjoy my roundups you should absolutely be reading hers as well) Meli Pennington at Wild Beauty has an impeccably curated list of beauty books that serves as a nice tip list if you're holiday shopping.

On what we don't look like: These two entries complement one another: Kate, with her characteristic elliptical grace, on giving herself permission to occasionally feel disappointed about the way she looks: "But I have all of these other images of what beauty looks like stuck in my eyes, so that they waver, floating, translucent, over my face. All of these other faces taunt my own. And they’re the pretty ones. They are how I should have looked, might have looked, if I were luckier. And I think it’s fair to think that way...there is so much belief in beauty as something critical for girls and women." Sally arrives at a similar conclusion, through examining the ways we're encouraged to treat celebrities—with their personal trainers and stylists and makeup artists and a job in which looking flawless at all times is a requirement—as role models isn't helpful, but can be liberating: "I’ll never look like that. And acknowledging that fact is actually quite freeing."

Infidels: Phoebe Maltz Bovy muses on the role of male beauty in infidelity. "[Women involved in betrayal], I'd imagine...follow certain scripts, and conform to a narrative about wanting to be found beautiful themselves. Well, perhaps so, but why by whichever man in particular? Might it have something to do with his looks?"

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Beauty and Infidelity, Part III: The Other Woman

"The camera served Tereza as both a mechanical eye through which to observe Tomás's mistress, and a veil by which to conceal her face from her." —The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera (film, 1998)

Several years ago, I found myself overwhelmingly attracted to a colleague, and, despite the existence of his long-term girlfriend, we wound up kissing at a party. Affair is too grand a word for what ensued in the following weeks, nor is it wholly accurate, as he soon told his girlfriend about our liaison. She promptly broke up with him and then called me, wanting to talk. We agreed to meet at an ice cream parlor, of all places.

What struck me upon seeing her sitting at a corner table was her beauty: wide-set eyes, honey-colored curls, creamy complexion. I’d met her once before, so it wasn’t that I was only then seeing what she looked like, but rather that I was seeing her in relation to myself. In my mind there was an algorithm of attraction whose full components were a mystery to me; I just knew that two parts of it were her appeal, and my own. Sitting face-to-face with another part of the messy equation made me question the math I’d come up with: I’d talked myself into believing I’d overestimated her allure the first time we’d met, for if she were really as pretty, charming, and vivacious as I remembered, what was her boyfriend doing kissing me? At the time I was inexperienced enough to believe that the fellow had betrayed her because of some magnetic pull between us, instead of what I now see was the case: He was bored, and I was willing.

“I know it’s weird,” she said, trying to explain why she’d called. “My friends were like, Why do you want to meet up with her? But—” She looked up, her face flushing for the first time since she’d seen me walk through the door. “You understand why I wanted to, don’t you?”

I did. At least I believed—and believe—I did. She had an algorithm to question too. For as I watched her eyes occasionally brim with tears, her head bow and bob with a mixture of sadness and defiant optimism, I began to understand exactly how off my math had been. Despite a bearing I interpreted as confidence, she might have had an algorithm with the naivete of mine: Maybe he went for her because she’s just all that. I saw in front of me someone beautiful, earthy and ethereal in equal measures, capable and grounded, and the thought that she might be questioning her own appeal burned. I wanted her to see herself as I saw her, and it occurred to me that if she was doubting her allure, she might be doing so because I helped her doubt it.

As neutrally as I could, I answered her questions, which began as you’d expect but eventually moved into the territory of a first date. Where are you from, what did you study? Who are you? Easier than you might believe, our conversation began to flow. We both made jokes that probably weren’t very funny, but we were both easy laughs so it didn’t matter. We stayed long after we’d finished our cones, long enough to get sodas because we got so thirsty. At one point she said, “I’m actually having a better time with you than I did on my first date with him.” “Me too,” I replied. It was the truth. We lived in the same neighborhood, so we walked home together. When we parted, we hugged. 

Four days later, I saw her again, as I was walking down the street hand-in-hand with her ex-boyfriend. As we passed her, I could see that her steely expression belied a map of tears. He and I broke up a month later. I heard through friends that he tried to get back together with her, but she refused him, just as she refused me when I tried to contact her a few weeks after our ice-cream outing.

*     *     *

I have been the other woman. I could chalk up my indiscretions of this sort to youthful impudence or an “exploration” of sexual ethics or falling for the same old lines, but the truth is I was just plain selfish. Would it help if I tell you that it is a selfishness I have outgrown? Today fidelity is more appealing to me from every angle than its opposite, or even its shyster cousins—inappropriate emotional investment, Olympian flirting. But that is now, not then, when I’d mentally say I was sorry and mean it, just not enough to stop.

What strikes me now about this weakness is not the way I felt toward the men involved, but toward the women. The spritely live-in girlfriend of a man I longed for and did not resist when he told me he shared my longing; the sloe-eyed designer whose partner told me had lost interest in sex with him years ago (of course!); the husky-voiced business major whose date slipped me a note at a party saying he wished he were there with me instead: These women intrigued me, and not competitively so. It would be easy to chalk this up to my own tendency to cast a golden light of admiration onto women in general. It would also be easy to chalk this up to being the other woman, not the—woman-woman? The girlfriend, the partner. The beloved, supposedly. When I tried to explain my bizarre reverence to a friend, she rolled her eyes. Of course you get to feel that way, she said. You won.

I’m resistant to attribute this sensation to “winning,” though, even under the faulty logic of other-womanness as winning, for it's happened when I’ve been the betrayed one too. I once discovered a stash of messages sent to my then-partner by a woman whose name I didn’t recognize, but who clearly knew who I was. Most of the content was your typical affair nonsense, but this was a woman who was thoughtful about me in the same sincere, curious, and egregiously self-involved manner that I’d had in past liaisons.

She’s prettier than I imagined, one of her messages went. My first thought was to wonder what she’d imagined me to look like, and whether my boyfriend had given her clues: She’s medium build/she’s brunette/she’s gotten thick in the waist. But her note continued: It makes me insecure. The admission had the effect of both a stab and a caress. A stab because as much as I hated the existence of this woman, I hated that she too used other women as mirrors that reflected back her doubts. I’d have preferred that she be superhuman, for then I’d have a receptacle for my vitriol that might have allowed me to stay with my boyfriend, whom I loved. And a caress because reading that she shared my own reaction—insecurity, shaky doubt, a plea for affirmation—did allow me to use her as a mirror, did let me see that whatever the reasons for his betrayal, it wasn’t because I wasn’t enough. If she was made insecure by my looks, and I by hers, that canceled each other out, right?, so the reason for the betrayal logically had to be something else. (Because logic and love go hand-in-hand so often, I know, I know.)

In tales of infidelity, we overlook a central fact: Two people share another. She and I already had two things in common—the man himself, and being the kind of women who would pique his interest. In another time, another place, another life, our begrudging sisterhood could have been sisterwives. We would live together, create a home together, prepare food together. I might braid her hair. And secretly, each of us would worry that the other would forever be more alluring to him, therefore—in my grief-stricken, abjectly depressed reasoning of the time—more alluring to all men, everywhere. How could I not be fascinated by her? I looked her up. She was beautiful.

There’s a particular way that someone you become intimately involved with knows you: They know a side of you that remains hidden to not only the public eye, but most private eyes as well. My best friend may know me better than most of my lovers have, but she’s never felt me grasp for her touch in the middle of the night, or seen me through the shaky moments that come after an act of, quite literally, naked vulnerability. What that means is that there are dozens of women roaming around who know those same things about the men who have entered my heart. Ex-girlfriends, ex-wives, yes, and I’ve been fascinated with them as well. But it is the other woman—the woman who knows not the man at age 19 or 27 or 38 or whatever age he has long passed, but the person he is now, the person who may have had dinner with you mere hours after a kiss good-bye with her—that you are actually sharing a person’s affection and attention with, in real time.

That’s what makes betrayal sear so acutely, of course. It’s also what links the women together.

*     *     *

Beauty cannot exist without fascination. Unless something captivates us enough to hold our interest for more than a fleeting moment, it’s pretty or pleasant or maybe lovely rather than beautiful. It’s why people we love become more beautiful to us the longer we love them; it’s why we find “flaws” beautiful on others. When I love someone, I’m quick to become fascinated by what fascinates them. Soccer, Slovenia, antipsychiatry, Montaigne, urban gardening. The other woman. It’s fascination once removed, but it is fascination nonetheless. I want to keep looking; my attention is held. This is part of what defines beauty. Is it any surprise that when I look at the various women I’ve been triangulated with—some against my will, some against my better judgment—I find beauty at every turn?

When I’ve been cheated on, occasionally friends have taken the tactic of beauty assassination in an attempt to assuage my grief. Girl could use some Clearasil. You’re pearls before swine, she’s pig slop. Or just: What was he thinking? I mean, look at her. I’m quite certain the same has been said of me when I’ve played the other role. You see the problem, don’t you? That using beauty as a lever in infidelity displaces the exquisite pain of betrayal? That Clearasil was a beauty in her way, and that Pig Slop was too, and that this is entirely beside the point? That to lament my own loss of appeal served only to prolong the lamentation of my loss of trust?

I’d like to think that my preternatural, private devotionals to the women I’ve been triangulated with are reciprocal in some way. Not that I want them find me pretty per se; it’s more that I want a sort of confirmation that I’m not the only one attempting to divert the pain of betrayal away from the accomplice and toward the betrayer, whatever side of emotional treason any woman might be on. But just as “girl talk” is a route to female connection only when each party is open to it, I now have to admit how much of my visual admiration of other women is one-sided. How much it’s about wanting them to see me: I wanted to stay in that ice cream parlor with my new boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend because I had nothing to offer her other than myself, and if she stayed there with me despite my rotten actions, it meant she saw something worth sticking around for. Inherent in being the other woman is a deep cynicism of men: You believe they always want something other than conversation, and this belief is played out with clandestine brushes against your knee beneath the dinner table. Women, though—at least women in these triangulated roles—have no such motivation. 

Since beauty functions as a code of connection between women, I turned to it as a sort of pass key to intimacy in times when my faith in the true nature of intimacy was shaken. After being betrayed myself, finding the other woman beautiful was a way of finding (concocting?) a trust that had been taken from me. And after helping someone else betray another woman, finding her beautiful was a misguided way of trying to reconcile the selfishness that landed me there in the first place with the way I wanted to relate to these women. I knew that somewhere inside me was a person with more respect for other women than my actions indicated, but at the time I didn’t have the character to allow that better instinct to thrive. The halo of beauty that I created was a paltry symbol of that instinct. It wasn’t enough.

With age and maturity (and therapy), I’ve learned to avoid situations that might find me turning these mental somersaults. This piece isn't a mea culpa; such opportunities are long gone. Opportunities for refocusing my efforts at emotional intimacy with other women remain, though, and it’s in the name of those opportunities that I’m trying to figure out why I’ve repeatedly returned to a different sort of gaze in the midst of infidelity. Perhaps when I felt so tethered to the male gaze myself, creating a female gaze and projecting it onto women I’d hurt (or been hurt by) was the only way I knew to express a true apology (or forgiveness). But apologies are only good if both parties speak the same language. And I don’t want anyone to be fluent in the tongue I was speaking back then.

Not long ago I discovered that Google logs all your searches, and that you can summon a historic tally of everything you’ve searched for when logged in. It’s been more than a decade since I last saw the woman I shared ice cream with, but in the seven years since I got my Gmail account, I’ve searched her name often enough that it’s the sixth-most-Googled term in my personal history. I have fantasized repeatedly about running into her. Each time, I look her in the eyes and say, I am sorry. Each time, a litany of excuses tumbles out: I was young, I was insecure, I was selfish, I was stupid. And each time, even in my fantasy, she walks away.

This is the last of a three-part series about appearance and infidelity. Part I, on using beauty as a scapegoat in infidelity, is here; part II, examining social science research on looks and betrayal, is here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

"You're Gorgeous": Invited Post

Claire Napier is a midlands-based, commissionable illustrator and comic artist whom I met through the now-defunct Feminist Fashion Bloggers group. I saw bits of her visual work on her blog, but was largely struck by her thoughtful writing, whether that be things like her musings on conventional femininity, or something out of our shared sphere entirely, like her awesome gift guide for the unemployed. So when she reached out to me about my series on compliments with some ideas about visually expressing her own complex feelings toward unsolicited compliments from men, I jumped at the chance. Enjoy!