Friday, October 26, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 10.26.12

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

From Head...
Hair art: Love these stunning pieces of hair sculpture, and now want Nagi Noda to do a pony/tail. Ba-da bum.

...To Toe...
Steal my fantastic idea, svp: Nonplused by this Clos du Bois set that includes a nice pedicure shade, but am in mild shock that as far as I can tell, nobody has created a Beaujolais Nouveau pedicure. You've got three weeks, people! Go!

...And Everything In Between:
Bad gamble:
Rajat Gupta, former Procter & Gamble board member, was sentenced to two years in prison (and $5 million in fines) for insider trading. 

Cheek swab: A London salon is offering DNA tests designed to help users find a cosmetics regime that's compatible with their genetic makeup. Finally, a way to tell what makeup looks best on your skin! 

The house that soap built: An Ohio court rules in favor of a developer who wants to tear down the 1830s mansion of James Gamble, son of the Gamble in Proctor &, and the inventor of Ivory Soap. The city of Cincinnati had tried to stop its demolition due to the house's historic significance. And in happier historic preservation news, the synagogue Josephine Esther Mentzer—better known as Estee Lauder—attended as a teenager has gotten a loving restoration; ribbon cutting was this week.

Model citizens: Two lawsuits involving models, including a class-action suit suing major agencies for using models' images long after the workers' contracts had expired. Lead plaintiff Louisa Raske is charging that in a similar suit in 2007, the agencies intimidated the models into dropping their claims—something that we're hoping won't happen this time,

Quick exit: The CFO of Ulta, who had been on the job for nearly six weeks, has resigned "effective immediately" and by "mutual agreement," which doesn't even qualify as code for "fired," does it?

Pinkwashed: Don't forget that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. And don't forget that one of the major sponsors of the month's pinkification sells products that have been linked to cancers of all forms, mmmkay?

Hairy situation: Students of body-hair history (raise your hands! I know you're out there!) will recall the engineering of "ew, hairy pits!" that took place after sleeveless dresses became the fashion in the 1920s. Something similar is happening now in China, and—what's that you say? Genetically speaking, Chinese women tend not to be terrifically hairy in the first place? Just shush, you! (Thanks to Willa for the link!)

The wild east: If you're at all interested in Estee Lauder's new line in Asia, Osiao—the first major cosmetics line from a western company developed specifically for Asian consumers—read this piece from the Wharton school analyzing the cultural and business factors that will likely play into Osiao's success (or lack thereof).

Little, late: In the wake of a series of women dying of septic shock as a result of "beauty treatments," China is going to make stricter divisions between beauty procedures (like, say, microdermabrasion) and medical procedures (like, say, anything that would leave someone dead of septic shock).

What the doctor ordered: Of a different sort of beauty/medical concern elsewhere in Asia is the news that obstetricians in Vietnam have been accepting kickbacks to "prescribe" cosmetics for postnatal patients.

Spot-on Iman: This Q&A with Iman at Beautycism is revealing, not just of Iman's sharp business sense but of how the beauty industry works. "I’ve been told by retailers that black women don’t shop online. They said, ‘We can’t put your whole line on the website.’ I said, ‘Just test it.’ It became the #2 brand on—they were clueless. So while all these companies rush to Asia, we’re trying to grow right here at home."

I get so emotional: Probably no news to any reader here that cosmetics have an emotional component—but how do companies learn beyond self-reports exactly what emotions their products evoke? 

DSM this: This op-ed at the Brown University paper makes a point about eating disorders that dearly needs to be made: Chronic undernourishment can be damaging to your body, even if you don't fit the diagnostic criteria for a full-blown eating disorder. There is so much mythology around eating disorders, even from those who only mean the best, that it's refreshing to see a writer get it right: No, skipping meals and swapping meals for smoothies do not constitute an eating disorder, but depending on the person, those behaviors can also constitute a legitimate problem that needs addressing. [Edited 10.26; see comments.]

Unseen consumers: Interesting post at Muslimah Media Watch from a Muslim woman who worked as a makeup artist and at a cosmetics counter.

Talk it out: What does "The Hottest Professor in America" have to say about beauty privilege? Interesting to have a male perspective on this; men are definitely rewarded for being good-looking (and, I'd add, tall), though I'd argue the penalties for being not-great-looking are fewer. But either way, beauty privilege remains incredibly difficult to talk about, and the only way to change it is to, well, talk about it. Which is something Rachel Hills does here on thin privilege. "The price of looking like Alexa that you can’t talk about what it’s like to look like Alexa Chung."

Go Babs!: I love that a group of natural hair enthusiasts is taking dark-skinned Barbie dolls and giving them textured hair (and better yet, then donating them to girls living in Columbus public housing), but I have to ask why Mattel hasn't done this first. I mean, Afro Barbie would just look cool, c'mon.

Heady politics: This video is from June, but I missed it then and it's fantastic: MSNBC round-table discussion with Melissa Harris-Perry of black women's hair. "Why tackle such a hairy topic on a political show? Well, there are few follicles more politicized than the ones that grow out of a black woman's head."

Philosopher queen: If you read one link I've ever suggested here, make it this essay by artist Molly Crabapple on her days as a "professional naked girl." Crabapple is best known as a painter and illustrator, but she proves here she knows her way around a sentence: "A woman's beauty is supposed to be her grand project and constant insecurity. We're meant to shellac our lips with five different glosses, but always think we're fat. Beauty is Zeno's paradox. We should endlessly strive for it, but it's not socially acceptable to admit we're there. We can't perceive it in ourselves. It belongs to the guy screaming 'nice tits.' Saying 'I'm beautiful,' let alone charging for it, breaks the rules."

"I've never heard of a beautiful witch before." —D. Gale, Kansas

Halloween special: Really hoping Wild Beauty is going to launch a regular series from this "Beauty Archetype" post on witches.

Bargain binned: Onceuponatime I was of the belief that all beauty products were basically the same, regardless of price or brand. Then I started having to pay for my own beauty products (working at ladymags sure spoils you for free stuff) and, lo and behold, there really are some things worth shelling out for. So I loved reading Sally's thoughts on the same, and will echo her thoughts on haircuts. Long hair = not worth it. Short hair = get the best cut you can afford!

3-D beauty: Digging these digitally printed cosmetics packaging.

On wigs as a superhero costume: "[T]he wig made the guy at my kitchen table uncomfortable. 'I want to be with the real you,' he said, rubbing his hands along my thighs. I lit a cigarette. 'What if this is the real me?' I asked. We never saw each other again."

Charmed, I'm sure: What is the intersection of beauty and charm? Charlie Glickman (inspired by moi, I'm pleased to report) looks at the cultivation of each. I'd add to his thoughts that they're part of a package of femininity: To be beautiful and not charming is to invite scorn, as though you're not delivering on some aspect of womanhood that's falsely advertised through your looks. And I'd suspect that people who fall outside the realm of what's considered reasonably attractive on a physical level get femininity's itty-bitty perks from charm alone. (Of course, most people are reasonably attractive, so there's that.)

Hair of a certain age: On the hair of Connie Britton, a luxuriantly tressed fortysomething actress currently starring in Nashville: "The Hair asks us to think about a heavy ponytail at forty. Let’s not dismiss this as a joke, or as the same question as Botox or artificially plumped lips. If Botox is always about youth obsession, Connie Britton’s Hair is not always–or even ever–an attempt to look like Lyla Garrity or Hayden Panettiere. It might actually be about the specific pleasure of forty-ness."

Lather up: I'm pretttttty sure that blind people have figured out a way to avoid shampooing their hair with body lotion (so ignore the opener of this piece), but I'll still say that a product line with Braille labels is a neat idea. Wondering what blind women think of this, though; is it perceived as a cheap marketing trick, or a genuinely progressive move, or...? If any visitors here are visually impaired, I'd be very curious to know what you think of this.

Poppy: The Makeup Museum has a thorough rundown on the Andy Warhol NARS collection, sort of the perfect collaboration.

Scent of a woman?: Disney is banking on women—not girls—contracting a serious case of princess syndrome, what with its release of its higher-end "Reigning Beauties" cosmetics collection. If you're going to spend $175 on Cinderella-branded perfume, let's hope it at least begins to smell like pumpkin at midnight. 

For everyone's eyes only: Splendid post at Eat the Damn Cake about how the whole beauty thing isn't for men...yet it's not really for other women either. As Kate puts it, "It was always about the whole world."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Half-Baked Thoughts on the Debates, or Curls and the Patriarchy


It would be a stretch for me to try to connect the U.S. election to beauty, or personal appearance, or anything truly germane to my focus here. There's plenty of research out there about height advantage in presidential elections, and how candidates' facial looks don't matter as much as we might think—which is better for democracy and a fair vote, given that Mitt Romney's "high-quality face" is apparently in the 99th percentile of attractiveness, making him, as Zoolander might say, really really goodlooking. (Presumably Obama is too familiar for study respondents to accurately rate his face, though that hasn't stopped us for, say, George Clooney, so.) But really, so much of the research is contradictory and can be spun in pretty much any way you'd like—and, I mean, we're talking about two conventionally attractive candidates here, not JFK and Nixon, knowwhatimean?

So I'll leap from my usual soapbox onto another and say something that has little to do with the issues (which overall are of greater importance than my bone here) but everything to do with the debates: Was it just me, or did the candidates respect the rules and format more with Bob Schieffer moderating than they did with Candy Crowley, or than the veep debate with moderator Martha Raddatz? (And do I need to point out what makes Candy and Martha different than Bob?)

Granted, they both also ran over Jim Lehrer in the first debate, which probably set the stage for the following go-rounds, so it's not just that they sit up and obey for the distinguished white man while trampling all over the ladies. But given the disregard for the rules displayed in every debate until last night, I don't think the candidates reined it in just to tone down the levels of rabidity. I watched them both essentially obey Schieffer, and then I looked at Schieffer—his grandfatherly eyes, his dignified manner, his tone that commanded respect. I contrasted it with the way they appeared to regard Crowley in the town hall debate, and then I looked at her.

And at this point, I realize that this does have to do with looks, at least a bit, for I went back and watched part of the town hall debate to accurately report on what I myself saw in Crowley, and here it is: full, maternal cheeks dotted with bright blush, arched eyebrows, curled hair. That is, I saw the signs of conventional femininity more than I saw a moderator. It pains me to write this—it pains me to think that after a year and a half of arguing here of the desire to reconcile hallmarks of conventional femininity with hallmarks of power, even I still have these thoughts, but there it is: I saw her bouncing hair and wondered how much of an invitation that was to the candidates to talk over her. I'm not blaming Crowley for this, or her hair; I'm blaming...hell, I suppose I'm blaming the centuries that came before us, whispering and yelling and ruling and singing that women—you know, the people who curl their hair and wear ribbons and darken their eyelashes and all that jazz—are better seen and not heard.

Listen, I'm voting Obama; I could expand on why but the fact is I'm pretty much a cookie-cutter liberal as far as this election is concerned. But one of the core reasons I'm happy to be voting Obama is that I find him to be a president who appears to have listened and internalized and understood the larger context of women's rights, reproductive and otherwise, in the U.S. and beyond. But that doesn't mean that he, or anyone, is immune to the subtle and insidious ways that sexism creeps into our day-to-day lives. Talking over Candy Crowley and then reining it in with Bob Schieffer certainly wasn't reflective of any conscious dismissal of Crowley, but rather something akin to what I notice happen to myself when I'm in a room dominated by men: Even when I know what I'm talking about, even when I feel confident, even when I'm fairly certain I'm better-educated on the topic than the men in the room, sure enough, I hear my voice dwindle. I'm a feminist who "knows better," and I do it anyway; I try to stop myself from piping down and playing good girl, but it's difficult enough to recognize it in the moment, and even more difficult to summon the voice to continue once my mental self-admonishments of be polite and honey not vinegar and maybe you've got the facts wrong anyway begin to kick in. It's not a stretch of the imagination to think that Barack Obama, despite his genuine dedication to women's rights and opportunities, despite what appears to be a genuine understanding of gender issues, might have internalized the inverse of the messages that find me silencing myself. (And yes, it is often me silencing myself; there have been plenty of times that I've been shushed by a man, yes, but they're outnumbered by the times I shush myself. I'm guessing that much of the time, men around me would be chagrined to know how often I stay silent.) It's not a stretch to think that he—and Romney too, though his record on gender equality is more questionable—subtly felt more within protocol to interrupt or ride roughshod over Crowley, not because they wish to dismiss her but because talking over women when they have something that feels urgent to say...well, that's just how conversations go. (And they'd be right to think that, as far as lived experience; linguistic studies have repeatedly shown that men interrupt women more than women interrupt men, and that when women do interrupt men it's likelier to be in the context of a supportive interruption, not a competitive one.)

I had several thoughts last night watching the debate, but only one as definitive as this: Judging from their behavior toward the moderators, both candidates long for a patriarch. That doesn't mean Obama has governed like one, nor does it necessarily mean Romney would. It's not like our political arena has done a stellar job of offering alternatives to patriarchs in leading roles—and judging from my own niggling thoughts about Candy Crowley and her hair, it's not like all of us feminists always do a stellar job of looking elsewhere for leadership either. Maybe right now this is the best we're going to be able to do. That doesn't mean I'm not going to question it. And it certainly doesn't mean I'm not going to question my own complicity in upholding the signals of patriarchy as what I myself unconsciously obey.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Emotional Work and Cultural Capital à Deux

Years ago, I dated a bona fide good dresser. Actually, it wasn’t so much that he was a good dresser as it was that he knew what look he wanted to embody: a 1950s career man, one who wears a suit to the office and definitive leisurewear on the weekends. (He may actually have worn a non-ironic fedora, though it’s also possible I’ve mentally superimposed it onto him postbreakup.) He had rules that seemed like someone my grandfather’s age might have—shorts were for boys, not men; always wear an undershirt; single-breasted sportscoats were for hoodlums, etc.

His rules gave me something more than a good giggle: a template. I wanted to be seen as a part of a team—his team—and by styling myself to look the part, I was hoping to become a naturalized citizen of his psychic nation. If I looked like I belonged with him, perhaps I might actually belong with him. It wasn’t only that I wanted to look conventionally good for him (though that too); it was that I wanted us to match. I wanted us to be on the same page of the catalogue, so to speak, so I tailored my own presentation in order to allow both of us to better envision a life in which we were on the same page in other ways. (My page, unlike his, did not include maintaining an active online dating profile while we were together. Must I spell out that part of my eagerness to look like we belonged together was because it was so clear we had no business being so?)

To be clear, this was about me, not him. When I dated an artist whose most recent project had been an installation piece juxtaposing nuclear warheads with My Little Pony, I favored a tousled, spiky haircut and artfully ripped ironic T-shirts; coupled with a wordsmith who wore a uniform of pressed slacks and neutral button-downs, I cultivated a more tailored look that sent a broad, nonspecific signal of ladyhood. Even when spending a week with my skater ex, with whom I’ve developed a siblinglike relationship, I gravitated toward the jeans-tees-sneakers triad that composes his entire wardrobe.

On the surface, what I was doing was matching my styling to that of my various partners. But you don’t have to actually dress alike in order to do what I was actually doing: absorbing responsibility for the public image of our “team.” The clothes I wore may or may not have mattered to the men in my life, but my willingness to perform the “women’s work” of emotional work probably did. “Emotional work”—the management of emotions in relationships—can be as simple as choosing your words carefully during an argument, or evoking a sense of importance in others by purposefully asking questions about their hobbies. Wearing certain clothes or adopting a particular hairstyle might not seem like emotional work at first glance: After all, what we wear has been framed in our current culture as a mode of personal expression. To shift our styling to adapt to a partner seems retrograde. But in a world where women have long been seen as creatures of beauty—and, just as importantly, where both women and men are increasingly being surveyed through social media—women’s longstanding expertise in presentation becomes a form of capital for the couple. Just as the stereotypical “trophy wife” boosts her husband’s social capital, the more plebian version—say, me in kitten heels and a pencil skirt to match my beau’s gabardine suit—boosts the social capital of the team. Dressing to look like Mrs. Him might be retrograde, but dressing to strengthen the notion of a modern dual-income couple seems downright savvy. (I'd be curious to know how this might work in same-sex relationships.)

When we discuss the benefits of beauty in practical terms, we often speak of it as a form of currency—a woman’s beauty in exchange for a man’s wealth. That mind-set is still around aplenty, but I wonder if one fallout of women’s increased independence is that instead of beauty coming into play as currency, it’s more like a form of cultural capital that manages to be both embodied and transferable. Under Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital—the non-financial assets we bring into the world at large, including the workforce—the social goods we bring to the table are largely non-transferable. That is, a wife can’t give her husband her Ph.D., and he can’t give her his ability to speak German. But beauty, as individualistic as it may appear, becomes transferable in romantic relationships: “She must see something we don’t,” we might say about a homely man who snags a beautiful woman. He then becomes elevated in our eyes: What are we missing?

At this point I’m wanting to protest that I’m arguing that, like it or not, beauty and style are a form of embodied cultural capital—not the “erotic capital” that serves to keep true power stratified along sex-based lines. That is, not the erotic capital that I’ve argued against before. But I'm now wondering if I’m just better able to acknowledge the role appearance plays in romance than it might in the workplace—where the bulk of the “erotic capital” rhetoric has been focused—because it seems less distasteful to “use” beauty in personal relationships than in professional ones. In the same way, it’s easier for me to look at my own “emotional work” within intimacies as opposed to professionally because even when it’s difficult on me personally, at least I can acknowledge it’s my own choice, to a degree.

And at this point, I’m wondering if I’m defending my personal history of playing matchy-match with terms like “embodied cultural capital” because I'm seeing exactly how powerless it has made me in the past to eagerly take on emotional work within intimate relationships—and how doubly powerless it can feel when that work takes on the form of not only emotional work but beauty work as well. So I’m shutting up with the Bourdieu and asking all of you: Have you found yourself purposefully using your appearance as a tool within intimate relationships? That is, have you used the tools of conventional femininity or masculinity as a way of communicating deeper desires within a relationship—a desire to be closer, perhaps, or a desire to display your unity to the outside world. (On the most basic level it’s impossible to avoid using your looks in the arena of romance—I mean, who wouldn’t primp before a date?—so I’m not necessarily talking about the actual attention you’d pay to looking and feeling alluring.) It’s only in retrospect that I’ve been able to understand the times I’ve done this in the past (and of course if you asked me if I’m deploying my appearance within intimate relationships now, you’d get nothing but doe-eyed innocence), and I know this is sort of an abstract question, but I’d love to hear people’s experiences of how your looks have played out within your relationships, either privately or in your public life as a couple.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 10.12.12

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

From Head...
Rachel redux: As the Wall Street Journal reports, Jennifer Aniston has been spokesperson for notoriously few products, so it's interesting that she chose a little-known hair product company to make her debut into beauty product endorsement. The science-driven company says it's all about "beauty and brains," making Aniston a natural choice; as for her part, she says, "You want to be part of something that's exciting and authentic [emphasis mine]. You can't get more interesting than these scientists." What's intriguing here is her reliance upon authenticity as a point of pride (and sales); her image has been successfully cultivated as being authentic, and now she's able to monetize that directly.

Debate: As a vice-presidential debate special, I offer you Biden and Ryan with switched hair.

...To Toe...
Crash course: An SUV crashed into a Dallas nail salon and didn't stop until it blasted into the hair salon next door—dragging along a pedicure chair and the client seated in it. The client was hospitalized but is okay; no news as to whether the pedicure had a chance to get a dry finish.

Kiddie pedicure: Woman kidnaps goat from San Diego petting zoo, returns it with hot pink pedicure.

Magic at your feeet: Virginia Postrel interviews Manolo the Shoeblogger on why people love to talk about shoes, beginning with, "Because shoes have magic in them." Indeed—who didn't love-and-or-become-utterly-terrified-by "The Red Shoes" as a child?

...And Everything In Between:
End of an era: Avon's transition out of the Andrea Jung era is nearly complete, as the chair and former CEO of the company will step down entirely at the end of the year. Jung left her post as CEO in April in the midst of a bribery scandal involving Chinese officials; she stayed on as chair to help the new CEO, former Johnson & Johnson exec Sherilyn McCoy, transition into the role.

Final farewell: RIP George Friedman, a longtime exec with Estee Lauder who helped create both Clinique and Aramis, at one point the world's best-selling men's fragrance. Aramis was the first prestige men's fragrance to be sold in department stores, paving the way for the sexier, more youthful fragrances that followed (Obsession, Drakkar Noir) the lead of Aramis, which was known for lending its wearers an image of wealth, dignity, and ultimate gentlemanliness.

Ronnie boy: Revlon agrees to pay shareholders $9.2 million after investors claimed controlling shareholder Ron Perelman played a sort of shell game of stocks in order to acquire even more of the company. Ronnie, Ronnie, what's gotten into you this year?

Global beauty: Makeup artist Meli Pennington of Wild Beauty joins a psychiatrist, cosmetics consultant, and the CEO of a green skin care company in this Huffington Post video about globalization and the beauty industry.

Little luxury: The focus of this article on recent spending slowdowns in China is ostensibly luxury goods, but most companies mentioned are beauty and skin care companies, making me wonder if we're asking the right questions here.

Can't judge by the package: You probably already know that the word "natural" means jack squat on beauty products—but did you know that "hypoallergenic" can be just as empty a claim? (I didn't.) ShopSmart's latest issue decodes 15 cosmetics terms.

"Seal boy": Forgive the clip's reductive title—"Can Prosthetics Be Art?"—and instead focus on the inordinate charms of performance artist Mat Fraser, who takes us through a video tour of an exhibit focusing on the aesthetics of prosthetics (which he himself seems to use only in a performance setting; he was born without fully formed arms). Usage, aesthetics, creativity, and "human adaptation"—they're all covered here. Worth a watch.

White GirlSarah Maple (via)

Stealth hijabis: As a non-Muslim in a neighborhood with a sizable Muslim population, I've made plenty of assumptions upon seeing a woman whose head is covered and whose feet are sporting killer stilettos. My assumptions are positive—rebel grrrl, way to claim your space, artful cultural navigation—but as Nahida points out about these "stealth hijabis," who wear headscarves along with things that might label them as "immodest" by some, those assumptions are short-sighted. "The approach of the stealth hijabi to life is a careful and restorative one, and not the irresponsible 'damaged beyond redemption' state that Muslims suppose or the simple 'rebellious child' that non-Muslims perceive."

Puppy love: Portuguese researchers have developed a skin allergy test that has the potential to significantly reduce the use of cosmetics animal testing even further.

Showbiz: I am fairly certain web series The Sisters Plotz—starring Eve Plumb, Lisa Hammer, and Lisa Ferber, and written by Ferber (whom you've met plenty of times on The Beheld before)—qualifies as madcap comedy. The second season is now online. (And yes, kittens, it also serves as my film debut; you can hear my warble at 1:06.)

#notgettingit: Just when I finally get #nodads (hint: "What could you give to this country, as a man"), #sorryfeminists creeps up. The idea is to make fun of people who cling to stereotypes about feminists—specifically, that we can't take a joke—by marking supposedly antifeminist things plenty of feminists do with the #sorryfeminists hashtag. ("Just got back from Pilates class #sorryfeminists.") But I dunno, the whole thing requires a sort of gymnastics humor that I'm not getting? And then I feel made fun of by people saying that it's funny that people don't get it? Am I old/out of touch/not in the clubhouse, or am I just that deep down the irony hole of #sorryfeminists by writing a pink-heavy beauty blog? I don't think it's offensive, but I don't think it's particularly...funny either. (#sorryfeminists) Thoughts? I want to get it but suspect that like any humor, having it explained sort of kills it.

#thighstilidie: Lena Dunham tried on the tap pants trend, the world stopped, and her response to her critics is nothing short of fantastic. "I don’t think a girl with tiny thighs would have received such no-pants attention. I think what it really was . . . ‘Why did you all make us look at your thighs?’ My response is, get used to it because I am going to live to be 100, and I am going to show my thighs every day till I die."

In yo faceIs bar soap's reputation as being too drying to use on the face outdated? (Since I haven't washed my face with anything but water since 2010, I'm wholly unqualified to comment—or perhaps inordinately qualified when I say that if you have normal skin, any soap is too much for your face?)

Exhibit P: An Ohio district attorney race took a turn for the weird when the challenger to incumbent Laina Fetherolf was accused of spreading rumors about the way Fetherolf handled a courtroom "wardrobe malfunction." The facts: Fetherolf did suffer a "malfunction" of some sort and had to leave the courtroom to fix it. The rumor: That upon learning the jurors were snickering at being able to see her dark underwear through her light dress, she left the room, removed her panties, and placed them on the judge's bench, saying "Problem solved." Judge John T. Wallace hastens to Fetherolf's defense, telling a local newspaper, "No panties have ever been placed on my bench by anyone, including her."

Bagel mods: Feminist Figure Girl gives a defense of the bagelhead: "They question rather than reinforce the beauty myth, especially the billion dollar face puffing industry, by displaying an anti-beautiful facial addition." Plus, she brilliantly ties it in with her field of expertise—bodybuilding—to ask why some body modifications are seen as discipline while others are seen as, well, weird. (I have a few thoughts on that matter but like the contrarian defense here.)

All the pretty girls: Literary project All the Sad Young Pretty Girls of Color is looking for a graphic designer—and is still accepting submissions. You don't have to be sad! Or conventionally pretty! If you're a young woman of color with a story to tell, this outlet could be for you; it's edited by three whip-smart women (all of whom I ran into separately online, so I was particularly delighted to see they're working together on this) and I'm terrifically eager to see what comes next from the project.

The clothes we keep: Lovely essay from Rebecca Howden on keeping clothes she never wears: "Like most people, I’m an emotional shopper. I buy clothes when I’m feeling sad, and when I’m feeling happy. I buy clothes when I’m feeling lonely, stressed, vengeful, excited. But most of the time I’m not really buying for myself; I’m buying for one of my possible future selves."

Peace out: Two of the best body image writers out there have some great offerings this week. Mara Glatzel of Medicinal Marzipan is launching an e-course that serves as a companion to her Body Love Homework book, which I can attest is a worthwhile read. And Sally McGraw gives concrete tips on what to do when you're having a nasty body image day. (The first pointer is my favorite—as much as I want to disappear into black flannel when I'm feeling bad about my body, I always, always feel better if I suck it up and wear something bright.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Beauty Privilege: Can We Talk?

Illustration by Steph Becker

Just like me—in fact, just like pretty much every woman who has ever written about beauty in a public forum—the coauthors of Beauty Redefined have been critiqued as being both A) too pretty to understand the challenges surrounding looks bias, and B) so unpretty that it's no wonder they're writing about body image and self-esteem issues, the poor jealous things. What's that I hear you saying? Something along the lines of: But those statements are totally contradictory? Why yes, they are. That is, they're contradictory in their sentiment, but they're identical in their value, which is: Whatever this woman—or any woman—is saying about appearance must be evaluated by her own beauty, or lack thereof.

Lindsay and Lexie at Beauty Redefined have some excellent talking points at their post on this matter, and if I could cosign the entry, I would. Their entry also got me thinking about one of the more elusive aspects of beauty privilege and looksism, which is: It’s really difficult to talk about.

I mean, we can talk about beauty privilege—or negative beauty bias—in the abstract, and we can talk about things we witness. But you think it's difficult to prove something like the subtler forms of ageism or racism or sexism? Try just discussing looksism. Not only is looksism even more amorphous than plenty of other "isms," but think of how you sound if you talk about it openly: It can seem hopelessly narcissistic to own up to one's "beauty privilege," and hopelessly affirmation-seeking to talk about suffering at the hands of looksism. Unlike privilege that comes from being white, able-bodied, male, thin—and even, to a lesser degree, being heterosexual or middle class—beauty privilege is something that's both physically evident and seemingly impossible to deconstruct from a personal point of view, which is a key way that privilege (and lack thereof) comes to be understood and taken seriously.

I'm guessing that as a woman who is nominally attractive but in no immediate danger of launching a thousand ships, I've received some benefits from looking the way I do but have been spared both the grander forms of beauty privilege (I'm fairly certain I've never been hired as set decoration) and the major drawbacks of beauty (nobody assumes I’ve coasted by on my looks). But here's the thing: I'll never really know to what degree I've experienced beauty bias, in either direction. Few of us do. It could be that the small perks I've been attributing to being a nice-enough-looking lady—say, getting slipped a free cookie now and then at the deli—are just people being kind, and that they'd do the same if I were homely, or a man. I'm sure that is indeed the case sometimes, but I've been smacked down by my own naivete in this regard enough times to know better than to get all Pollyanna here. (One of the free-cookie men suddenly stopped giving me cookies after I stopped by once with a male friend. It was the illusion of availability that he liked—and once that fell to the wayside, so did my supply of white chocolate-macadamia treats.) We can have our hunches, but for the most part that's all we have.

I think of the "click" moments I've heard time and time again of women discovering, without a doubt, that they were feminists; much of the time it's an instant recognition of and reaction to sexism. I'm left wondering what sort of "click" moment it would take for a woman to discover, without a doubt, that she was receiving or being denied a form of beauty privilege. Receiving privilege is particularly difficult to tease out, in part because privilege functions by being unspoken, and unrecognized. (Sitting at the front of the Montgomery city bus in 1954 wasn't what we'd now term "white privilege"; it was the law. Beauty privilege may be encoded in a handful of circumstances, but for the most part it's not.) And since looks are painted as being an ineffable part of a woman's essence—particularly in the case of women considered conventionally beautiful—it becomes even murkier than other forms of privilege. How can you have a "click" moment about something that's supposedly transcendent?

I don't write a lot about beauty privilege, and this isn't the only reason why (mostly I just feel like there are more interesting things to write about). But yes, it's a reason. Not only is there a fear of being called a narcissist if I write about whatever forms of privilege I might have experienced, there's a fear of being called delusional if any given critic doesn't find me...privilege-worthy, shall we say. Maybe this fear is rooted in my personal reality of being an attractive-enough but not stunning woman. Or maybe it's rooted in the reality of being a woman, period. (And, as it happens, I've been called both a narcissist and delusional just for writing about appearance at all, so there you have it.) As much as women are punished for not measuring up to some amorphous beauty standard, we're punished just as much for thinking we're "all that."

“When we dismiss someone’s words due to our assessment of their appearance, we’re minimizing them to their body,” write Lindsay and Lexie at Beauty Redefined. That’s absolutely true, yes. Yet unlike Beauty Redefined, a good portion of The Beheld is expressly written from a first-person perspective. Much as I’d like my words to speak for themselves, I can’t say it’s necessarily wrong to take the looks of people writing personal essays about appearance into account when reading their work. My experience of beauty is undoubtedly different than, say, Charlize Theron's, just as Charlize Theron's experience is beauty is different than it would be if she wore her Monster look 24/7. Readers who assume after looking at a photo of me that they know something unwritten about my perspective might not be entirely wrong—but as the disparate evaluations of my looks from various commenters has shown, they can't all be "right."

We’re so used to viewing women as objects (I include women in this) that we may forget they are subjects too, particularly when discussing looks. Most of the time we talk about beauty, we understandably talk about it in terms of how we look at people, not about the subjective experience of looking beautiful, or plain/cute/weird/misshapen/hot/ whatever. Certainly we don’t usually talk about it in terms of how we believe we’re seen. And if we want to understand the labyrinth of beauty in a richer manner, that might be the most revealing perspective of all.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Beauty Blogosphere 10.5.12

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

From Head...
Shades of gray:
Turns out not as many people go gray as is commonly believed: One in 10 people over the age of 60 don't have gray hair, as reported in a study funded by...L'Oréal, which for once actually seems to legitimize the findings instead of casting doubt upon them. (Wouldn't L'Oréal want to report everyone turning silver at 60 on the dot?)

...To Toe...
Tights and YOU: Finally, someone answers all the questions you've wanted to ask about tights (but were afraid to ask). "Q: How do you make sense of the weirdo tights-sizing charts on the back of tights packaging? A: Just ignore them. The ones in your hands are probably the right size."

...And Everything In Between:
China mini-roundup: Aha! I've never understood why some American-produced goods are cheaper in overseas markets with low per capita income, while others cost just as much as they would in the States. This article sheds some light on why luxury goods benefit from keeping prices high even when the corporation could easily afford to slash prices (though the hook of the piece is that Estee Lauder recently did cut prices in China). Another piece calls into question the effectiveness of Osiao, the new Asia-specific brand from Estee Lauder—this really is untested waters, and it could go either way in China. The timing is particularly iffy, as the products are made in Japan, which is currently sparring with China over an archipelago of islands; strong branding has prevented sagging sales of Japanese-made products, but an entrant into the marketplace doesn't have that security. Plus, new research is revealing a psychological portrait of the emerging Chinese consumer, who tends to be younger, more brand-loyal, and more likely to make purchases based on emotions—which could go either way for Osiao.

Remember my name: A branding study shows that mass market cosmetics have stronger brand equity than high-end cosmetics. This seems surprising at first, given the way the power of the interlocking Cs of Chanel can induce sensible people to spend $45 on lipstick, but really, isn't brand equity just another way of saying "recognition"? And even if you're Miss Hoity Toity, you probably head into a drugstore at least as often as you head into Saks. (But the minute Saks starts carrying disposable razors...)

Color of sin: Revlon-owned nail polish line Sinful Colors is laying off more than 100 workers, expected to mostly come from the Maryland facility.

Eau de Pussy Riot: This interview with a mass-market Russian perfumer is unexpectedly charming ("Perfume isn’t something you buy every day. It’s not like bread or vodka")—and politically revealing. On the impossibility of a Pussy Riot perfume: "Don’t hold your breath. Support for the opposition is critically weak. You can’t base a brand round it. Maybe 10,000 people on a public square make a newspaper story—but those numbers just don’t stack up for us." (via Scented Salamander)

Hot mods: Beauty Redefined knocks it out of the park yet again, this time turning their critical view onto modesty. There can be power in modesty, but the "modest is hottest" mind-set puts the power exactly where we don't want it: back with the male gaze and its evaluation of women as objects. The piece is written from a nondenominational perspective, but it was interesting to read it through the lens of knowing the importance coauthor Lindsay Kite ascribes to her Mormon faith in regards to her work at Beauty Redefined.

"From the outside, my eating disorder looked a lot like vanity": Carrie Arnold, whose wonderful blog ED Bites continually updates and expands our understanding of eating disorders, has an essay in Slate that ideally would end the equation of "eating disorder" with "image-focused," though that's probably an optimistic hope, oui?

The fame of eating disorders: Finally, someone says something about the recent spate of celebrities revealing their eating disorders other than, "Lookee here!": Eating disorders are often linked to perfectionism, which is also often linked to the drive to succeed in one's given field. Like, say, journalism, or music, or fashion.

Love your selfie: Ann Friedman's piece on the power of the "selfie" (the digital self-portrait, à la Lady Gaga's simple yellow-bikini shot that has caused a media firestorm) is worth a read, though I'm not sure I agree with her main takeaway here—that the ability for us to see imperfect celebrity images has the potential to bring in a lesser level of self-critique. I think we're so used to equating women's bodies with sex that neither nudity nor poor lighting sends the subversive message this piece implies. That said, I do think there's potential here in the "selfie," for as Friedman writes: "The selfie says, I’m here alone. It says, Here’s how I want to present myself. This is why Gaga’s nudes are so powerful. They’re poorly lit; they’re self-staged. Not only is there no airbrushing, but there’s no flattering lighting, no strategic body positions. They underscore the message of her accompanying words. They say, Here’s me. Just me." (I also love Friedman's piece on why we should bring back the slip, not that I needed convincing, mind you.)

On in/visibility: The best thing I've read on the Lady Gaga "bulimia and anorexia since I was 15" picture comes from Crunk Feminist Collective. "We, as the social creatures we are, long to see and be seen. ... I am routinely pissed off about the way beauty is defined and described so as to exclude me, and so, so many others. And I certainly derive strength from that rage. But then, I also have to pause. I notice my discomfort begin in earnest whenever we have conversations about beauty and body image that do not include in intentional analysis of beauty as something that lives right at the intersection of race, age, ability, gender and sex. It’s not an expendable luxury here, to name these things. For women of color, the notion of embracing and seeking the upside of ugliness is a complicated task in the fight against invisibility on one hand and hyper-visibility on the other."

Take it from a pro: The professionalization of the beauty industry helps create safety and training standards, and it also serves to legitimize a profession that is often undermined. But as this beauty-school blogger writes, it can also lead to an overdose of TPV: The Professional View, aka riding roughshod over clients' actual experiences in favor of a professionalized view of what "should" work.

Move over, Willy Loman: Any readers in the Birmingham, UK, area want to check out the hilarious-sounding play Death of a Beauty Saleswoman and report back to me?

Beauty myth: Turns out feminist sex writer Clarisse Thorn has a hand in fiction in addition to her insightful, provocative nonfiction books and essays. The End Of An Age: A Ramayana tells the tale of exquisite beauty and its consequences, through clear-eyed prose in the style of the Sanskrit Ramayana, an epic tale of relationships and their duties. Check out the story now—it'll soon be behind a paywall, though it'll only be 99 cents to read once it's gated.

Two sides, same coin: You know those studies that talk about how facial symmetry signals evolutionary health? This collection of digitally symmetrized portraits—a combination of lovely, spooky, adorable, and just plain weird—makes me wonder about the truth of that claim. (via Monalisa)

Melissa the Great: "Breasts and females, there’s a subject we could talk about for a long, long time. How our place in the world and our sense of self is shaped by the size, shape, tone and texture of our breasts. Mine worked really good. They fed my infant." I love Melissa Leo. (Okay, really I've only seen her in a couple things so clearly what I mean is: I love Kay Howard. Homicide represent!)

Pitiless perfumes: Given that perfume ads, by their very nature, have to rely almost entirely on marketing, branding, and emotional connection in order to make their sales, it's a wonder nobody created Perfumes Without Pity—a Tumblr parodying (with love! sometimes!) perfume naming and branding techniques—before now.

The other limitation of the MPDG: I haven't seen New Girl, in part because I was resistant to the whole gee-ain't-Zooey-Deschanel-quirky thing—but if anyone could convince me to give it a whirl, it's Lili Loofbourow and her piece that gives a different take on the manic pixie punching bag. "[I]f you have a proclivity toward selectively seeing sameness and ignoring difference, you’re missing the stuff that makes characters and comedy great. ... Fixing this bad habit, this blindness to variety, requires that we, as an audience, be re-trained. New Girl more or less announces in the title that this is what it’s trying to do with the '____ Girl' trope. It’s insisting on the possibility of a new girl, and chooses for that 'new girl' one of the most typecast film actresses of our time. Not just typecast—archetypecast."

On silvered glass: How private Roman peepshows, conquistadors, and 4-H shaped the way we gaze at ourselves—loving Wild Beauty's social history of mirrors.

Getting highlights: Sally might have titled this post "Highlighting Your Face Without Earrings," but for the most part it also serves as a guide for how to highlight your face without makeup (quelle horreur, I know, but I understand not everyone loves the stuff—but that shouldn't mean you don't know a few strategic tips here and there regardless).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thoughts on a Word: Fine

Fine is dignity, elegance, class. Fine is edges that manage to be clean yet soft. Fine is a low, respectful whistle emitted under one’s breath. Fine is manners, fine is taste—but if she’s so fine, why is there there no telling where the money went? Fine is the root of refined. Fine is delicacy, fine is restraint, fine is thin. Fine is balanced on the palate, hints of tannin and leather, aged in oak barrels. Fine is please and you’re welcome—and, depending on who’s speaking, wham bam thank you ma’am too.

Fine—unblemished, pure, of superior quality—stems from the Latin finis, meaning end, for once you’ve reached the end you can’t get any better, can you? Used since the mid-15th century to express admiration or approval, it quickly became applied to women’s appearances. From Jeremy Collier’s Essays Upon Several Moral Subjects, published in 1700: “Why should a fine Woman, be so Prodigal of her Beauty; make Strip and Waste of her Complexion, and Squander away her Face for nothing?” First Lady Elizabeth Monroe was repeatedly described as fine by newspapers of the time; a 1798 report of a woman’s travels in France describes une femme as “A fine-looking woman, evidently above the vulgar class.” Indeed, class, refinement, and elegance were tethered to the quality of being fine: A woman in the underclass might be plenty pretty or beautiful or even handsome, but fine? Hardly. Manners and affect of fineness mattered just as much as looks, and occasionally writers would delineate being fine from being pretty: “The elder was a fine-looking woman... Yet no one would call her a beauty” (McBrides, 1898).

It would be a mistake, however, to think that fine is always used with wholehearted approval. Even fairly early on, fine could be used as a double-edged sword. For all the elegance implied with fine, the word can also reek of She thinks she’s all that. When applied homogeneously among members of the same class, fine tends to be a straightforward compliment; in the hands of someone with lower socioeconomic status than the person labeled fine, it can turn sour. That fine little number needs to be put in her place—and the one sneering fine knows just the fellow for the job. “She's so fine that she thinks no one that comes up-stairs in dirty shoes worth speaking to” (1860). “Why, she's so fine she can't eat eggs outen chickens that costs less than maybe a hundred dollars the dozen" (1918). “[S]he’s so fine herself. That sort of a woman always finds her happiness in making some unworthy sort of a devil happy” (1911). And filed under U for “uppity women,” we find this entry from a 2001 Ebony: “There was a time where...all you needed to do was turn on the charm, whisper a few sweet nothings and that fine woman was yours.”

Its appearance in Ebony is hardly incidental. If fine tends to be a compliment when uttered by someone who considers himself to be of equal class to the fine lady, it can also be inverted by someone wishing to create class differences within members of the same group. Historically speaking, plenty of black men have been eager to diminish black women—motherhood may be held in reverence, but one glance at the catalogue of misogynist rap and hip-hop lyrics shows that black women aren’t necessarily held in high esteem by their male counterparts. It was actually a rap song that first alerted me to the subverted use of fine“She’s So Fine She Can Ride My Face,” by C-Boyd, aka “Mr. Ride My Face.” (Argue all you want for a song about cunnilingus to be a positive turn for women; the lyrics include gems like “I’m gonna take her home if she’s wasted”—presumbly not for a glass of Alka-Seltzer—so I’m sticking with my initial distaste to the phrase “ride my face.”) Then there’s hip-hop artist Akon’s take on fine women. “See that girl think that she’s so fine / I must believe her ’cuz I’m losing my mind / Look like the type that love to wine and dine / But I plan to get it without spending a dime”: Akon may have plenty of problems, but treating this bitch like she’s fine ain’t one.

Yet the turnaround use of fine is hardly the word’s dominant usage in the black community: “She’s so fine, I’d drink her bathwater,” exclaimed a Halle Berry fan in a 1999 Ebony. “‘Damn, all that fine body going to waste,’” quoth a black lesbian of what men sigh upon finding out she’s gay, in a 2005 report in Atlanta magazine of black women living on the down low. Going back to the word’s original meaning—that of class, elegance, and visibly “good breeding,” a fine woman is something to behold—that is, she is something to be seen. It’s an (unintended?) nod to the controversial idea of conspicuous consumption within black communities—that black and Latino populations spend more on visible goods (clothing, cars, jewelry) than white populations of comparable income. It’s been disputed by plenty who cite racial stereotyping (“rims!”) as the root of this theory; the 2008 study that examined race and spending concluded there was something to the notion, and that stereotyping does play a role—that conspicuous consumption in black communities comes from the need to prove one’s middle-class status when you’re assumed to not be middle-class by dint of race. Whatever the truth of race and spending, the prevalence of fine in regards to black women is notable: One of Google’s “related searches” options for the search term “fine women” is “fine black women,” while black women remain absent from suggested searches for beautiful, pretty, cute, and lovely women. And image-wise, none of the top 10 searches for those others sorts of ladies yielded a single woman of visibly African descent—while three appeared in the top 10 for “fine women,” including the lead result.

Hip-hop aside, the sheer number of songs about fine women is initially perplexing. Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Clarence Garlow, The Easybeats, Flash Cadillac, Big Boy Myles, Roscoe Dash—all of these artists have recorded a song entitled “She’s So Fine,” and none of them are the same. Compare that with the single entry of him being so fine (“He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons), and something seems askew—something, that is, besides the oodles of tributes penned to women in general, automatically tipping the balance in favor of fine ladies. For a word that has the potential to be applied evenly to the sexes—after all, men too can be elegant, classy, reeking of quality—the overwhelming number of times fine is tacked onto women makes not only the class aspect of the word clear, but the possession aspect as well. (It’s worth nothing that in the black community, the word appears to be more equitably applied, if things like the Fine Black Men Tumblr and Flickr pool are any indication.) Fineness in women is a good, a commodity; much like the fineness in material goods, in women the quality is something to be detected, pursued, and won over. It takes knowledge and discernment to distinguish something—or someone—that’s fine from its more common sisters. And if you have the skills to make that distinction, why wouldn’t you want to possess so fine a good? The songsters tell us this over and over. Lucky for them, fine rhymes with mine.

For more Thoughts on a Word, click here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Invited Post: Pretty/Funny

Eve Plumb, Lisa Ferber, and Lisa Hammer in The Sisters Plotz and Their Afternoon of Will-Reading and Poetry

When I interviewed artist, writer, and “highly productive bonne vivante” Lisa Ferber last year, she shared how two of her childhood heroines were Lucille Ball and Gilda Radner, because they managed the supposedly impossible feat of being both funny and pretty, and how as an adult she came to admire Fran Drescher for the same reasons. Lisa’s no slouch herself in the humor department—she writes and stars in a hilarious web and film series called The Sisters Plotz, directed by Lisa Hammer; its most recent installment, The Sisters Plotz and Their Afternoon of Will-Reading and Poetry, will air on Manhattan’s MNN Lifestyle Channel October 3 at 2 p.m., and on MNN’s Culture Channel October 7 at 10:30. It will also be live-streamed on during those times. (And if you need further incentive to watch, yours truly has a small role in it. I even sing!) So I’m particularly delighted to have her guest post today about critic Nikki Finke’s Emmy live-blogging feat in which she claims that—well, read on.

I snapped today when I read Nikki Finke’s much-talked-about critique of the Emmys, specifically her thoughts on Julie Bowen’s win for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. I’ll put Finke’s entire tirade here to spare you the trouble of clicking through (but if you must, it’s here): “Listen-up, Hollywood: Beautiful actresses are not funny. They don’t know how to do comedy. (As Bowen demonstrated with her acceptance speech that repeated the phrase ‘nipple covers’ 3 dozen times. To zero laughter.) Only women who grew up ugly and stayed ugly, or through plastic surgery became beautiful, can pull off sitcoms or standups. Bowen isn’t a comedienne just like Brooke Shields wasn’t and a zillion more. Because it’s all about emotional pain and humiliation and rising above both by making people laugh with you instead of at you. So stop casting beautiful actresses when you should be giving ugly women a chance. (Tina Fey always points out she looked like a troglodyte when she was younger.) This also applies to handsome men, by the way. Now argue amongst yourselves.”

Finke knew what she was doing; hits for her piece would go up by declaring something so controversial. And she’s already had responses with people ranting about her and posting photos of funny women, talking about what a fool she is. That’s all great and helpful. My response is that I’ve never understood why the funny vs. beautiful dichotomy even exists—and I’m questioning how we created a world in which it does. (Okay, and also that Brooke Shields is hilarious. When I saw her on Friends as the obsessed soap opera fan, I thought, “Yes, Brooke! You went from underwear model to blasé movie actress to Norma Desmond! You will not let people tell you who are!” Only someone who is unwilling to let herself grow would look at Brooke Shields and decide that a woman who used to parade around in her panties for a living can’t decide to start letting her wit do the dazzling…while still looking movie-star perfect.)

Beauty is mesmerizing, transportive; it makes tongues wag and it makes times slow down. Beauty says, “I am here as an object for you to admire,” and while it contains power, it’s a power that turns its owner into an object of projection and fantasy. Comedy is refreshing, jarring, true, smart. Comedy says, “I am powerful, in a way that means I am going to call it like I see it, and sometimes you will feel taken aback.” The ability to deliver a comedic line is a form of confidence that a person has—or doesn’t have. The ability to show up at an event and know that a certain percentage of people will stare at you is a confidence a person has, or doesn’t have. The difference is that beauty, though a quality that dazzles a room, invites people to make up who you are and fill in the blanks; comedy shuts that down. When a beautiful woman demonstrates a sense of humor, it goes one step past showing she’s smart and gets right to, “I’m not just smart, I’m questioning and I’m making observations. I am an active participant, not a shell.”

The idea that a woman can only be funny if she has suffered is an interesting one, for humor can be a sign that someone is able to find happiness at all times, and it is often developed as a survival mechanism for those dealing with hard times. But the implication—and this is not just Finke, it’s the reason she and others have this issue in the first place—is that beautiful people don’t have everyday problems and therefore can only be funny if they’ve suffered the plight of the underdog. What’s particularly disturbing about this implication is that a beautiful, funny person has to keep proving their pain—has to keep apologizing. “I’m still hurting! I’m not just enjoying being funny and beautiful! I hope that makes you feel better about your sucky life and limitations!” Why do we need to know that Tina Fey wasn’t attractive when she was younger? Why did Joan Rivers constantly make fun of her own appearance, then pick relentlessly on gorgeous Liz Taylor when Liz was struggling with her weight, and then resort to frightening plastic surgery? Do we need to see a funny, successful woman apologizing constantly for her wit and success in order to feel that all is right with the world? Must every beautiful funny woman pull out “awkward teenage photos” to prove “but I’m one of you! Really!”

The beautiful vs. funny issue comes down to the recurring problem of women not being allowed to embrace all forms of their power. A beautiful woman, out of politeness, has to pretend she doesn’t notice she is being watched, even though of course she should be aware of it, for reasons ranging from self-protection to understanding why she might receive special treatment, either preferential or jealous. A funny woman proves consistently that she is aware of herself in the world, and is insightful about human behavior and motivation—and when this is combined with prettiness, it leads to a viewer wondering, “Wait, so are you aware that each hair toss drives people wild too? How much of this are you picking up on?”

The division between beauty and humor hasn’t always been as sharp as it is now, and throughout film history there have been women who have shimmied through the cracks. On the late ‘80s/early ‘90s hit Designing Women, a rare woman-focused show where attractive ladies were not trying to cut each other’s throats for men—though they all did date and had some lasting relationships—beauties Dixie Carter and Delta Burke both owned their physical beauty and their comedic strengths. In The House Bunny and Legally Blonde, Anna Faris and Reese Witherspoon, respectively, win our hearts as women who discover that underneath their pretty exteriors they really are smart…and they are hilarious doing so. But the shining era of beautiful, glamorous, hilarious women in film was the 1930s. Myrna Loy, Constance Bennett, Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Kay Francis—heck, just watch The Women (the 1939 original, please) and you’ll see why I get so frustrated with how far we’ve regressed from when a film like this allowed each lady to shine.

So what changed? The foundational problem some members of our culture, like Finke, have with funny, pretty women is that they’re just too much of a threat—and in 1939, most women weren’t really seen as threatening in the least. Carole Lombard could be beautiful and hilarious in 1936’s My Man Godfrey because the biggest threat her dizzy socialite character could possibly pose would be selecting the wrong “protégé.” Fifty years later, women had gained in status, income, and independence—so quick, call off the funny ladies! You can see the unimaginative screenwriter’s dilemma: “Wait, she dazzles me and I project my fantasies onto her, but she also sees the world in a way that shows an ability to question everyday behavior and call bulls**t when she sees it. Should I objectify her, or go to her for wisdom? Can’t she make this easier for me?”

I’ve dealt with a rare type of snarky man who can’t laugh at a woman’s joke, and I smell it right off. I see humor as play; I see it as a way to connect, to loosen the atmosphere, and most men respond to this. But there are exceptions. When I was 20, I worked at a food counter in the stock market. All the men were sweet and friendly to me, but there was this one smarmy fellow who would never laugh at my jokes. My delivery is sweet and friendly, and occasionally dry, but I’m never trying to be “one of the guys.” When I delivered the food, I would banter, and the men would banter back, and it was fun. But this one fellow just couldn’t laugh, because I was a cute girl in his age group and therefore my purpose was to be an object he could look at as powerless. He would look at me in the sleaze way, but my jokes were not welcome. One day, I’d had it up to here with him. So when I showed him the day’s menu and he said to me, “Is the fish fresh?” all I could think was, He’s toast. So I put my hand on my hip and said, “Yeah, I shot it this morning.” Dude was so shocked that he burst out laughing, and I walked away thinking, “That’s right. Who’s your daddy now?” But it was only because I was finally saying, “Enough already—you’re going to deal with it,” that I broke him out of his attempt to make me feel that my attempts at showing smarts were unwelcome.

I currently write and star in a web and film series called The Sisters Plotz, featuring Eve Plumb and Lisa Hammer. We style ourselves in a vintage, feminine way with an indulgent dose of camp-glamour. Eve and Lisa are two seriously pretty women. Am I about to tell them to disempower themselves by perhaps wearing less flattering outfits or messing up their hair a little bit because I’m trying to decide if they should be funny or pretty? Maybe we should all make jokes pretending we think we’re fat or we should pick on some part of our face or body, because that will make people love us? Um, no. Right now I want to live the dreams I had when I was growing up. This is the one chance I get to be in the world, and I understand that there will always be acts of cruelty or even just idiocy that I don’t understand. But I want to live in a world where women are allowed to be funny and pretty and smart and free and strong and glamorous all at the same time—or none of these things if they don’t want to be—and I know that there will always be people who just don’t agree that I’m allowed to enjoy this type of privilege. But that’s all right. My red lipstick and I are ready.

Lisa Ferber paints and writes witty character portraits influenced by her fascination with humanity. Her works display an appreciation of the beauty and quirks of human behavior, as well as a compassion for its foibles. Her paintings have shown at National Arts Club, Mayson Gallery and other venues, and sell to private collectors. Her films have screened at the Tribeca Grand and the Bluestocking Film Series, and her film "Whimsellica's Grand Inheritance" won the People's Choice Award at the "It Came From Kuchar" festival. Her plays have been performed at notable theaters such as LaMama, DR2 Lounge/Daryl Roth Theatre, and her play "Bonbons for Breakfast" was a New York magazine "notable production." To learn more about her projects, please visit