The Beheld: Basics and Special Projects

Friday, March 29, 2013

Beauty Blogosphere 3.29.13

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

From Head...
Put a bonnet on it:
"Next to the circus, what better sign of spring than Easter bonnets?" Indeed—love this midcentury newsreel on the joys of Easter bonnets. Actually, last time I made it out to St. Patrick's on Easter, meaning 13 years ago, there were still a handful of people parading some wildly imaginative Easter bonnets. I imagine the tradition is hanging on, albeit by a thread. (I'm also going to take this opportunity to make a rare fiction recommendation: Later, at the Bar, by Rebecca Barry, a stunningly human collection of short stories—one of which centers around the sort of Easter parade I suspect many a Beheld reader would enjoy.)

...To Toe...
Easy feet:
 If you have a condition that necessitates orthotics, good news: You're not limited to "nurse shoes" anymore.

...And Everything In Between:
 What is L'Oréal hoping will give it an edge over Procter & Gamble in China? Mushrooms.

Smells like fame: The evolution of celebrity fragrances, featuring a juicy anecdote with none other than Audrey Hepburn.

Mamm's the word: The fascinating, contradictory, complex sociopolitical history of breasts—specifically what we can draw about North Korea's contemporary preference for small breasts from the busty post-WWII U.S.

All wrapped up: If you're interested in product design, you'll enjoy this slideshow of upcoming innovations in cosmetics packaging. (Actually, if you're really interested in product design you should check out The Makeup Museum, stat.)

Tattoo you: Getting a temporary tattoo? You may want to ask the technician if the ink contains hair dye, which, besides just sounding like a bad idea, has been garnering consumer complaints to the FDA.

Stop the presses: Women's magazines objectify women just as much as men's magazines. I'm glad to see this argument being articulated (and well-articulated, btw), but is this really news to any readers of women's magazines?

Recipe for recovery: This is a fantastic idea: a cookbook for recovering from an eating disorder (direct link here). One of the hardest things about recovery isn't just stopping old behaviors; it's learning how to create new ones, and eating disorders mess with your sense of appropriateness around food. Having a guide like this as a supplement to a more comprehensive treatment program would undoubtedly be helpful.

Where the boys are: Kate has a hard-hitting yet poignant essay on male body image issues—and she's particularly astute to use superhero images to illustrate it. The only way to save the world is to look like that? (And be a man, natch, but I digress.)

Hottest Women in Tech: Not sure what to make of this shitstorm surrounding Complex's "Top 40 Hottest Women in Tech." The writer insists that he took the assignment but made a point to not reference the women's looks, in an effort to make another "hottest women in_____" list not be about, well, being hot. Gawker seems to say he's at fault for even taking the assignment, and that his attempts were paltry. But here's the thing: Looking at the piece the writer actually turned in, it's in good faith. Change the headline and you have a nice roundup of women in tech. (Naturally, the magazine took away some of the writer's submissions and added their own—like TV hosts, complete with cleavage-baring glamour shots.) I actually see this as subversive, in a way: By titling a list "Hottest Women" and then listing accomplished women without once referencing their looks, this actually challenges the definition of the word "hot." When we think "hottest women," we think of hot-as-sexy, but "hot" has other definitions. Hot stock tips, hot piece of gossip, writers who are hot right now—we're using "hot" here as "exciting" without the prefix of "sexually." I'm under no illusions that "Most Exciting Minds in Tech Who Happen to Be Female" was Complex's vision for the piece, but I think that the writer took a risk here in interpreting "hot" in that way (even if he didn't realize that's what he was doing) and frankly, I'm bummed that people are vilifying him. I don't want to give pats on the back for halfhearted attempts at not being douchey, but I guess I just don't necessarily believe Audre Lorde's maxim of the master's tools never dismantling the master's house. To create change, we need people who are willing to work within the confines of existing structures and tweak the rules just as much as we need people creating change from the outside. 

Hey ladies!: If you've ever enjoyed my "Thoughts on a Word" series or just enjoy musing on the words we use to describe women, you'll have fun taking this survey from a graduate student (and reader of The Beheld) on the language of womanhood. Babe, bitch, chick, tease, lady—have your say on these words here.

Sniff test: A Rorschach test of sorts, with men describing newly released fragrances for women, and artists rendering the results from their words alone.

Wordy girls: I'm honored to have been named in this IFB (Independent Fashion Bloggers) post on blogs that focus on wordsmithing. (And by the lovely Ashe at that!) Best of all, I'm in excellent company: The Lingerie LesbianBusiness of Fashion, Final Fashion, and more are featured.

The pits: Yeah, yeah, women's waistlines and busts and legs are retouched all the times. But armpits?!

On womanhood: Tatiana asks how much of the "body love" message is about adhering to gender standards, even when the goal ostensibly is to shrug off expectations of all sorts. 

Pucker up: Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable might sound like a contradiction, but Courtney explains how she does it, and how red lipstick helps.

Moody blues: The Reluctant Femme writes about the connection between beauty and mental health like no one else, and she does it again here, powerfully: In the midst of extreme moods, how eyeshadow becomes a point of therapeutic mindfulness.

Workplace woes: Bra blogger June on working in a male-dominated industry as a woman, and a busty one at that. "Then there's the staring. ... I haven't been brave enough to call a guy out on it yet. Maybe some day I'll get there, that's my hope at least. But at the moment, I stand my ground and make sure I'm looking them in the eye. I don't slump my shoulders and slink away. Slinking away contributes to the problem. If I'm not a vocal member of the community, how will younger women in my field have role models down the road?"

Curves: When physical muscularity intersects with lingerie, the result can be some nasty slurs—made even more complicated when you factor in race. (Thanks to Tatiana for the link.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why You Gotta Be So Sensitive?

Anyone else remember Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Man from Singles?

There's no such thing as sensitive skin. Well, that's not quite right—I mean, the 60% of Americans who believe they have it can't all be delusional, right? Let's say this, then: There isn’t a clinical definition of sensitive skin, or at least dermatologists don’t agree on what that definition might actually be. But that’s not to say that it’s solely a marketing term—lots of people do have skin sensitivities, and there are plenty of medical conditions that render one’s skin sensitive. In fact, panels that test products for sensitive skin are typically made up of people with rosacea, atopic dermatitis, or cosmetic intolerance syndrome. What’s that last condition?, you ask. Well, it’s...sensitive skin, actually, usually caused by overusing harsh products like acids and scrubs—that is, it’s something that’s more about a product than a person. Then you’ve got that “dermatitis” bit: there’s irritant dermatitis, in which a product makes your skin itch or redden or blister for no apparent reason, and allergic dermatitis, in which your body has an autoimmune response to a particular ingredient. Let’s not forget atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema—eczema basically being dermatitis, except chronic, except not chronic by some definitions.

You see the problem here is simply trying to figure out what these conditions, or syndromes, or diseases, or whatever, are even called, much less what they actually are. No wonder around 60% of us consider themselves to have “sensitive skin”—who hasn’t at some point gotten a little itchy from something? So part of the sensitive skin conundrum is that the meaning of the term is largely subjective. A dermatologist might be able to look at your red, rashy skin and say that it looks like a reaction to a cosmetic, but when it comes to other symptoms of sensitive skin, you’re the only one calling the shots. There’s no medical threshold you need to cross to proclaim that your skin feels “tingly” or “tight.” 

Skin—unlike, say, the spleen—is an organ generally thought of in terms of appearance, not health, at least if you’re judging where consumer dollars are spent. Its unique place on the health-beauty spectrum means that we imbue skin with all sorts of judgments—some of which might be accurate, some of which might not be. For example, I used products meant for “oily skin” for years because my face is always shiny, but in truth I have utterly normal skin—I was just self-conscious about my shine, and by using products meant for a skin type I didn’t have, I was actually hurting my skin, not helping it. 

Sensitive skin’s openness to interpretation makes it a prime candidate for marketingspeak. Like most cosmetics claims, there’s no legal or industry standard for what products can claim to be “safe for sensitive skin.” Which is not to say that products marketed toward people with sensitive skin are bogus—like “hypoallergenic” products (another term with no industry standard), these products usually have no dyes or perfumes, and active ingredients may have been tweaked to be more mild. But there is something...odd? fishy? about a market full of people who have been largely self-diagnosed turning to the beauty industry for what amounts to self-treatment—especially in cases where it’s a beauty product that provokes a skin reaction in the first place. 

Which leads to the big question here: Why do so many of us believe we have sensitive skin? Natural beauty advocates would posit that the cosmetics industry, being basically unregulated, uses all sorts of chemicals that have no place on our bodies. Certainly there’s a big argument to be made here about skin sensitivities, natural products, health, and the environment. But it’s not like sensitive skin products are solely in the realm of the natural-foods store: Having a “sensitive skin” market benefits the mainstream beauty industry. I remember reading a bit in Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping about how if a consumer believes that a product has been specifically recommended for her, she’s more likely to buy it. Logically, then, if a consumer puts herself into a market of people with special needs, she’s more likely to buy products recommended for people in her particular niche.

Still, sensitive skin isn’t actually a niche: More people believe they have it than believe they don’t, with up to 60% of us reporting sensitive skin. But the term sensitive implies something different, a little special, a little unique—and who doesn’t want to believe there’s something unique about us (even if we’re actually in the majority)? And if it’s something that has a nice ring about it—something that allows us our human frailty but under the guise of having a medical-ish condition, one that’s not serious but that needs some tender care regardless—all the better. Much of the time women are told not to be so sensitive. If there’s an umbrella that allows us to be as sensitive as we damn well please, why wouldn’t we take it?

But! Men are included in that 60% figure. In fact, according to recent research from Procter & Gamble, 70% of men believe they have sensitive skin. Now, obviously P&G has a stake in finding and reporting a submarket among their existing Gillette consumers, so I’m not going to put tons of stock in that number. But the sudden appearance of all these sensitive-skinned men correlates time-wise to the overall rise in skin-care products for men. (In fact, it may be that that makes men realize they have sensitive skin—since many forms of the condition only result in a sensitivity toward products, women have a higher chance of recognizing their sensitivities since they experiment with more products.) And I also can’t help but wonder how the word sensitive relates to men here—the beauty industry is hardly shy about painting men’s and women’s needs as being so different as to require different terminology. (Grooming vs. beauty, for example.) So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the industry has kept the word sensitive in describing products for men. It might be tucked in among all sorts of hypermasculine terms—say, the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo Sensitive razor—but it’s there, not coded as allergy-prone or irritable or pissed-off (we’re talking about an industry that features products named things like Butt Taco, okay?), plain old sensitive, same as the ladies. By gently introducing into male-marked spaces terms generally applied to women, the beauty industry—excuse me, the grooming industry—subtly primes its market for other feminine markings. Sensitive men might not cry, but would they wear concealer? Perhaps.

I’m not trying to say that people with sensitive skin shouldn’t have a market directed toward them, or that we’re all making it up to feel like a special snowflake, or that we’re all just pawns of the beauty industry, or that we should be turning more to dermatologists. Obviously sensitive skin exists on a wide spectrum, and I don’t think you need to have weeping wounds before you start to investigate if niche products would be less problematic for your skin. Believing that your skin is sensitive is enough to make it sensitive—and what’s the harm in buying a product with fewer irritants? Maybe the beauty industry would be wise to flip it: Begin with a baseline allergen-free product, and build up to products meant for “hardy skin.” Think of the swagger that would come with announcing that you’ve started on Olay’s Level 4 Hardy Skin regime! Until then, though, we’re left with sensitivity as the exception, not the rule—even though it’s really the other way around.

Do you have sensitive skin? If so, when did you start to think you might have it? Do you use products designed for sensitive skin? Do you have a skin condition that makes your skin particularly sensitive, or is it more of a sensation that something isn't right?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Beauty Blogosphere 3.22.13

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

“Liliana Orsi, a 22-year-old beauty in Rome, Italy, displays her new atomic hairdo and the photo of the atomic blast which inspired it.”

From Head...
Da bomb: As Stuff Mom Never Told you puts it about this gem from Retronaut, the least politically correct hairdo ever.

...To Toe...
Flat-out cute: Sally to the rescue for those of us who need to take a break from heels: How to pair flats with dresses.

...And Everything In Between:
To boycott or not to boycott?: Thought exercise time: Let's pretend there's a company that makes sensible, affordable, well-made apparel produced entirely in America, but you have qualms about some of their practices—say, objectifying advertising, or perhaps the CEO is a total pig. What factors should you take into consideration when deciding to boycott? The Closet Feminist has some tips.

How many calories in whirled peas?: One way to bring Palestinian and Israeli women together in peace: diet talk. No, really. My knee-jerk reaction here to be utterly appalled, but in truth it's an extension of all beauty talk as a form of bonding with other women. (via Phoebe)

Gone fishin': For those of you waiting with bated breath to find out the results of the pedicure case wreaking havoc in the Arizona legal system, the wait is over: The state has ruled that the Arizona Board of Cosmetology was justified in banning spa owner Cindy Vong from continuing to offer the fish pedicure, in which tiny fish eat the dead skin from clients' feet. Vong may appeal the decision; no word as to reaction in the piscine community. Related: What deregulating the beauty industry—which has already happened in Indiana and is being considered in four other states—could mean for licensed practitioners.

One of (each) kind: "We already found one black girl. We don't need you anymore." Model Chanel Iman on racism in the modeling and fashion industries—hardly news, but every story here counts.

Old talk: A point of pride of mine is that I've never really engaged in "fat talk" with other women. It's boring, for starters, and I'd a million times over rather discuss why "fat talk" even exists than actually engage in it directly—and I've chosen my company accordingly. But "old talk"? Yes'm, sign me up, fine lines and stray grays and creaky hips and whoa I can't eat spicy food like I used to. But after reading the results of this study, which shows that "fat talk" may simply be replaced by "old talk" as women age, has made me vow to shut the hell up already.

Youth do: Um, but the above paragraph doesn't mean I won't try to look...not exactly younger, but fresher? Yes, fresher. And a recent study shows that heightening contrast between skin and features (i.e. darkening your lips and eyes) mimics the natural effect of youth...or "freshness."

H2No: Why you might want to rethink the healthfulness of water in your cosmetics (often the first ingredient—check!). (via Samvid Beauty)

Much cuter than most "period panties."

Thinx on it: Unless you've got one of those miracle clockwork uteruses (uteri?) so you can always plan ahead, chances are "Aunt Flo" has left some of your undies stained. So I'm excited to learn about Thinx—antimicrobial, moisture-wicking, stain- and leak-resistant underwear that actually looks cute. Developers Miki and Radha Agrawal and Antonia Dunbar recently won a product launch contest hosted by "Citizen Commerce" platform Daily Grommet (which will sell Thinx on their website), allowing the team to bring the product to market in May 2013.

For the record, I have no idea what Hemingway looked like when he was writing: I'm glad to see someone look at the role of beauty in the letters with the ambivalence the subject demands. (Jonathan Franzen, I'm looking at you.) But does anyone else sorta get the feeling the writer here just wanted to list which authors were good-looking? (Thanks to Erwin for the link!)

Shades of Butt Taco: Thoroughly intrigued by this background story on men's nail polish—a niche market, admittedly, but a slowly growing one.

Que sera, sera: What can you do when your daughter, still a child, looks at you and asks, "Daddy, am I pretty?"

Revved up: On occasion I'm naive enough to believe that men who objectify women are just going with the flow and simply haven't stopped to really examine what they're doing. Good thing the editor of U.K. Esquire is here to set me straight: "The women we feature in the magazine are ornamental. ... in the same way we provide pictures of cool cars." As an antidote, though, check out this video from Shelby Knox on the increasing youthfulness of sexualizing women. (Thanks to Baze of Beautycism for the link!)

"This Is What Happens When You Wear Semen-Scented Perfume": If that title doesn't hook you into this piece, nothing I could say would.

Beauty police: What is the "broken windows" theory if not cosmetics? Maryam Monalisa Gharavi looks at the ideological and etymological connection between cosmetics and the police regime. (Speaking of policing, want to be able to identify individuals in a crowd by their fashion sense alone? There's an app for that.)

"Perks, pitfalls, and profits": I enjoyed this personal examination of beauty privilege (and was honored that my own essay on the topic helped inspire the writer). "Whether you’re considered ugly, beautiful, or anything in-between, nobody has it easy in a culture where there is so much emphasis on appearances…especially if you are female. As a woman, you really can’t win in this arena. Yet, we’re taught it is the only game in town worth playing."


The vulnerability of lingerie: Lingerie Lesbian—a lover and defender of lingerie, obvs—neatly takes apart what's troublesome about this meme and the idea behind it. It's not that there's a problem with lingerie; it's that it's relegated to the private sphere. How, then, can it ever signal the same sort of power as a suit?

Beyond newsboy caps: Tomboy fashion! I'm pretty femmey myself but love the idea of "tomboy" clothes tailored to fit women's bodies. (via Sally)

Body/love: Two posts that articulate various troubles with "body love." Tori takes a political stance: "Regardless of whether I am beautiful, I expect that I should be able to find clothing appropriate to mybody and daily activities." Skepchick takes a...well, it's sort of political too, come to think of it: "The problem isn’t about women not loving our bodies. ... The problem is someone else telling me how to feel. The problem is being told that there is a standard of beauty, and I should ignore it. I should ignore it despite the fact that everyone is still holding me to it. I should ignore it and create my own. As long as it makes me feel pseudo-good, and makes other people feel okay with how I pretend to feel about me."

"Look, I Overcame!": Related to the above: If, like me, your eyebrow raises when looking at the "I love my body" therapeutic narrative, bookmark this piece from philosopher Robin James that looks at the ways women's adherence to such narratives has become a marker of "good girls" and "bad girls." "Overcoming must be visible because in the same way that individual feminine subjects use their resilience as proof of their own ideal feminine and ethical subjectivity, hegemony uses the resilience of its best women as proof of the ideally ethical and just character of its own social/political practices. ... 'Good girls' are resilient, whereas 'bad girls,' insufficiently feminine subjects, continue to be fragile and in need of rescue and/or protection."

And not a one of 'em is "quit shaving": Without having actually seen myself upon reading the title of this Refinery 29 piece, I'm pretty sure I had a cat-ate-the-canary grin: 10 Ways to Find Feminism in Your Beauty Routine.

Typing beauty: It's difficult sometimes to write about "beauty" because there's a dual-track thing going on with it: There's beauty and attraction as we experience it in a subjective way, and then there's beauty and attraction as presented by our cultural standards. The two mingle and overlap, but because of the nature of each of them, it's impossible to suss out what's subjective and what's...not objective, but rather what's shaped for us. Elisa sums it up succinctly in a way I just may print out on index cards and hand to people who insist in talking about beauty as though it's strictly one form or the other.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: Girl Model

Model scout Ashley photographing Nadya. Girl Model is available on DVD from First Run Features here and premieres on PBS Sunday, March 24 (check local listings here). It is better than Downton Abbey.

My favorite scene in Girl Model, a documentary chronicling the journeys of an inexperienced 13-year-old Siberian model and the adult scout who finds her, resembles the after-school pig-out sessions I’d have every so often with friends whose parents were more lenient about junk food than mine. Two 13-year-old girls scavenge the kitchen—“I have more cookies,” says one, while the other scarfs down a candy bar—nearly frantic, but joyous.

The innocence of that moment belies the truth of the situation: They’re alone, in Tokyo, where they were delivered from their native Russia by a modeling agency hoping one of them might become the next Big Thing. After weeks of going to casting call after casting call and getting no work—despite the agency’s promise of at least two jobs during their stay in Japan—they think to examine their contracts. Lo and behold, if they gain a centimeter in their barely pubescent bust, waist, or hips, their contracts become void. And so the junk food session begins.

Girl Model is good—excellent, actually—but in a way, that’s beside the point, except for how skillfully it makes the point that much of modeling is child labor, pure and simple, through telling the story of Nadya (the Siberian girl) and Ashley (her American scout, a former model herself). Much of the time when we bemoan the youth imperative in the modeling industry, we’re bemoaning it as consumers: Isn’t it a pity that women are pushed to aspire to look like done-up 13-year-old girls from Eastern Europe? And yes, it is, of course it is. But if this documentary looks at those questions, it does so only obliquely; instead, it gives us the industry as experienced by its workers. I’d say “as experienced from the inside,” except that the people who appear to be its biggest decisionmakers—the agents and clients—give only superficial (though at times painfully revealing) time to the camera.

We wade into the billboard’s-eye view slowly: The first problematic twitch comes in the opening scene, an event where hundreds of lithe Siberian teenagers gather in hopes of catching the eye of scouts. Such events when used for casting (as opposed to scouting) are called “cattle calls,” and it’s not hard to see why: The girls are paraded, asked their measurements, and assured that they’ll be put on diets if they’re heavy in the hips, while the powers-that-be mutter about the selection. This is what consumers are likely to think of when imagining the downside of modeling from the inside—and the thin imperative is indeed thriving in the industry, as evidenced by a recent panel on modeling and eating disorders hosted by The Model Alliance. But the alliance is first and foremost a labor organization, with child labor as one of its leading initiatives. And this is where the rest of the film focuses. We see Nadya arrive in Tokyo with nobody to meet her; she eventually has to ask the filmmaker for help in finding the desolate apartment she’s been assigned. (When her roommate Madlen, another Russian girl, arrives, we learn what would have happened to Nadya had she not been accompanied by the documentarian: Madlen spent four hours wandering through the Tokyo subway before somebody was finally able to assist her. And Madlen even has an intermediate grasp of English; Nadya had none at the time of filming.) Chauffeured from casting call to casting call, told to lie about her age, forced to borrow money from her wealthier roommate since she never winds up landing a paid gig, and suffering from severe isolation, Nadya quickly turns from viewing modeling as a glamorous way to see more of the world (and a way to help support her family) and instead sees it as a confusing scheme she can’t make sense of.

Bridging the gap between the models and the consumer (that is, us) is Ashley, who is so alienated from her own conflicted views on the industry that when we see her flat-out lie to a Russian news team about how models “only win” upon embarking on a career in Tokyo, it almost seems like an elaborate joke she's playing. (Both of the girls we meet in the film leave Tokyo in debt to the agency, a common situation with models.) The title of the documentary indicates that Nadya is who we’re really following here, but in some ways she functions more an avatar for all girl models. As revealing as it is to see the bloom of a child in her garden in Russia wash away to red-faced tears in Tokyo, Nadya simply hasn’t been in the industry long enough for us to see its cumulative effects. Her story is riveting, but anyone who knows anything about the modeling industry won’t exactly be surprised when things don’t turn out for her as they might in her wildest dreams (and in her agency’s promises). It’s the scout Ashley who embodies the philosophical realities here, who shows us what it can mean to sign away one’s teenage years in order to make money by being looked at.

Ashley appears to have a delicate but rich interior life, which is a roundabout way of saying she’s a total weirdo. At first, her sheer bizarreness seems a detour from the main plot of the film (“I had three,” she says of the two life-size plastic baby dolls she bought to keep herself company in the enormous house she bought with her modeling earnings, “but I dissected one”), culminating when the film crew comes to her bedside after she has an operation to remove fibroids and cysts filled with blonde hair that she equates to childbirth. But in a way, her dreamy alienation is the plot: She’s so deeply ambivalent about the industry and her role in plucking girls from around the world to enter a precarious industry that she literally lives in a glass house in Connecticut, preventing her from throwing stones too far in any particular direction. “They can see you, but you can’t see them,” she says. She’s talking of living in a glass-enclosed space and how it can get eerie at night, but she’s also talking of the industry that gave her the funds to buy that house in the first place.

It’s tempting to vilify Ashley here: She knows firsthand what it’s like to be alone in a foreign country at a young age, surrounded by people jostling to take advantage of you in myriad ways, yet she makes her living inviting girls to follow her footsteps. To squarely place the blame for the problems we witness on Ashley would be a mistake, though—not because Ashley and the scouting arm of the industry are blameless, but because it’s an answer that's too easy. Girl Model doesn’t assign blame so much as it reveals the constant passing of the buck. Are we indeed to point the finger at Ashley, the model scout, whose ambivalence about the industry runs so deep that when she drops by the girls’ apartment to check in on them, she appears nearly delighted by the room’s shabbiness? Are we to point the finger at the local agent, Tigran, who “cares” so much about his charges’ welfare that he takes the rowdier ones to the morgue to view the bodies of young people who have died from drug overdoses? Are we to point the finger at Messiah, the Japanese agency head who justifies his entire business as a charity of sorts? What about the girls’ parents—Nadya’s father, who stands in the hollow frame of a new house, saying that he’ll be able to finish building it if his daughter makes a little money? Her mother, who enrolled Nadya in the modeling contest in the first place? Are we to blame “culture” for wanting to dress up children as women and then make their image aspirational for all of us? Are we to blame international economics for creating a world in which it seems reasonable to send a 13-year-old to a country where she doesn’t know the alphabet, let alone the language, totally alone, in hopes of making money? Are we to blame Nadya herself for—spoiler alert—leaving and then returning to an industry that left her alone, in tears, in increasing financial debt, on a balcony overlooking a section of Tokyo she’s unable to even identify on a map? 

Perhaps I’m asking questions of blame because I want there to be someone to blame for creating the sentiment of a tweet she recently sent out to her 194 Twitter followers: #beforeidieiwanna be a professional model. I don’t think that someone is Nadya herself, who is now 17—a child, still, in many ways. But I don’t know who that someone is.

Available on DVD from First Run Features; premieres on PBS Sunday, March 24 (check local listings here). 

Edited 3/21 to add: Thanks to Meli to alerting me to The Model Alliance's petition asking New York State to extend to child models the same labor protections enjoyed by other child performers. Learn more and sign here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Hair Back There

Quelle horreur! (Yes, looking at this photograph I realize my initial reaction was ridic.
It was a bad day, what can I say?)

So updo season—known as "spring" to those of you who don't use their long hair as a built-in neck warmer during the winter—is coming, and in an effort to make sure my hairstyling skills wouldn't be too rusty when it's warm enough to wear my hair up, I had a little practice session the other day. (Side note: This updo tool is fantastic and will down my hair prep time to basically nothing. It pulls your hair really tightly, though, so be warned.) I took out a small mirror to check the back of my handiwork and was greeted by a tidy updo—and a neck that, even though I've looked at the back of my head in an updo a zillion times, suddenly seemed unseemly hairy. Like, not hairy in the way that just means I've got a lot of hair, but hair that goes outside of my hairline in these sparse little patches—long, fine strands of baby hair tufted away at the top of my neck, half-dollar-size patches just below the bottom edge of the skull.

It was horrifying, all of a sudden, made all the more horrifying by the thought that I've been probably walking around with this neck garden for years, walking around with my hair in an updo like I didn't even care that there was a neck garden there, or—possibly worse?—that I knew of my neck garden and was just fine with it. I took to Google, knowing that every beauty magazine and website and blog out there must have covered this—it was just that I'd somehow missed it, despite more than a decade spent reading ladymags for a living—so I'd find what to do to remove/tame/conceal/manage my neck fuzz. Instead, what I found was...a handful of women worried about their own neck fuzz, and legions of other women telling them to quit worrying about it already. A sampling of comments:

  • "I'm sorry your baby hairs bother you, but I'm sure nobody else notices them."
  • "I don't mind them...I think they're cute/pretty."
  • "Much of the sensation we get from being touched is from our little skin hairs being moved, and I don't care to lose any sensation on my neck, if you catch my drift :)"
  • "yeah, it's normal. don't worry and just leave it. you'll look like a freak if you try to mess with it."
  • "How did you even notice it?"
  • "Everyone gets hair on their neck. Don't worry!"

As expected, there were also a handful of people who had concrete advice—electrolysis, spraying them into the updo, waxing, bleach. But the ratio here was remarkable: For every bit of beauty advice, there were five responses along the lines of "don't sweat it." (And it's worth noting that I couldn't find even one ladymag/beauty blog service piece anywhere about how to manage neck hair. All the responses were from online forums of various sorts, beauty-related and general.)

Now, compare that with questions about hair on, let's see, every single other part of a woman's body except the scalp. Most of the comments above apply to other body hair—plenty of hair we depilate isn't visible to most people, hair increases sensation, and most important, we all have it. But if you start in with applying those sentiments to leg or armpit hair, you may as well have a life-size tattoo of Ani DiFranco. None of the comment threads I read were on body-image, body-acceptance, or  feminist forums (and feminist forums might well have depilation threads anyway, since "leg-shaving feminist" isn't the oxymoron some might make it out to be). Yet in these mainstream forums, a gentle acceptance—even a kind-hearted teasing of people who were overly concerned about their own neck hair—reigned supreme.

Naturally, I'm pleased by what I found, both on a technical level (let 'em grow!) and on a political-ish level. But I'm puzzled too. Why do queries about neck hair yield cries of acceptance, while queries about any other form of body hair yields advice, recommendations, tips, tricks, products? When I posed this question to a friend, she pointed out that even though neck hair falls below the full hairline, it's still on our heads, and women's locks are "supposed" to be long and luxurious—and what's more luxurious than abundance? Plus, some women's neck hair (like mine) is softer and downier than the stuff atop the head, lending a fine, wispy appearance—feminine, you might say.

This makes sense to me, but there's more here too. After all, onceuponatime pubic hair was widely considered sexy too—if only because it signaled, um, sex—and the popular idea now is that when it's seen as arousing, it's in a somewhat fetishistic sense. So what made Brazilian waxing—and armpit shaving, and leg shaving, and eyebrow threading, and tweezing everywhere—popular? Porn is often cited, and that is a good deal of it, but what made the Brazilian something that roughly half of women between 18 and 29 engage in? Availability. It wasn't like women were shaving themselves en masse before the Brazilian became available; they got the Brazilian in response to its availability. And there isn't yet a product or service available—available and marketed to women, that is—that does away with neck hair. (Which actually made me think twice about posting this, given that some entrepreneurial mind could stumble across it and come up with The Neckscaper™ but I'll take my chances.) Because our neck hair hasn't yet been capitalized upon and packaged back to us as something to "manage," it remains safe.

But! Complicating matters here is that while I'm grasping at nomenclature for my neck hair, black men and women have already devised one: the kitchen. The term is used specifically for textured hair at the nape of the neck (which is part of my own neck fuzz, but I was more concerned about the sides of my neck). I'm unable to find the origins of the term, but Linda Jones draws an astute connection here between the home kitchen—where many a black youth was once taken for searing hair treatments—and the "kitchen" of the hair. I'm guessing that the labor of straightening kinky hair also played a part in the kitchen's dual meaning, and other theories involve the kitchen being at the back of the house (as with the nape). In any case: The kitchen runs deep, as deep as the legacy and politics of African American hair in general. "If there was ever one part of our African past that resisted assimilation, it was the kitchen," wrote Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his memoir, Colored People. "No matter how hot the iron, no matter how powerful the chemical, no matter how stringent the mashed-potatoes-and-lye formula of a man’s 'process,' neither God nor woman nor Sammy Davis Jr., could straighten the kitchen. The kitchen was permanent, irredeemable, invincible kink. Unassimilably African. No matter what you did, no matter how hard you tried, nothing could de-kink a person’s kitchen.” The kitchen meant resistance. The kitchen saw the options available to make it "tame," and it refused them.

It would be foolish to equate my white-girl hair woes with those of people for whom hair has played an integral role in oppression, liberation, and identity, and I hope that's not what I'm doing. But the fact that all women's bodies—body hair in particular—are policed so heavily, yet neck hair somehow gets a pass, makes me look to my own neck hair as a place of resistance as well, albeit in a different context. (I'm unable to tell if the kitchen gets a similar "pass" among black women who relax their hair; there are a couple of advice pages out there on growing out the kitchen, presumably in order to be able to blend it more easily with the rest of the hair, but I'd love to hear from black readers on this one.) Neck hair was a place of resistance, even psychic survival, for African Americans—something that applies more broadly when you think of the phrase "It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up." This tender little spot can signal arousal, yes. It can also signal danger. Forgive me if this sounds dramatic, but: Perhaps we give neck hair a pass because it helps us survive.

There's something about the placement of the hair in question—near the head and its tresses but not a part of it, a zone that's both erogenous and instinctual, a part of the body that's incredibly fragile yet is able to handle the stresses we place upon it every day—that makes me wonder if we're somehow protective of this neck fuzz, these kitchens, these wisps or coils or curliques or baby patches or "peas" of hair. I wonder if it's the last holdout of hair that falls outside of our strict rules about where hair should and should not go—a holdout that lets us look at the women around us, and maybe at the back of our own necks with a little hand mirror, and say, Honey, you're fine.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Beauty Blogosphere, Ides of March

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

From Head...
The short story:
A tale of three haircuts shines a light on how our hair can feel like an extension of our agency.

In SATC III, Carrie has high arches, Charlotte gets a stress fracture,
Samantha is corny, and Miranda stays callus.

...To Toe...
Metatarsals in the city: We all knew that high heels can lead to permanent damage to your feet, but I'd never stopped to consider what that means when wearing high heels is literally a part of your job—as in, you play Carrie Bradshaw.

...And Everything In Between:
Vampirical evidence: The Kardashian sisters' Khroma cosmetics line is on the losing end of a trademark infringement case involving a line called Kroma, whose representative had met with the Kardashian team before the Khroma line became a reality in order to talk collaboration. In related news, Kim got a blood facial.

Ask and we shall receive: A couple of weeks ago, Baze Mpinja at Beautycism asked why Adele doesn't have a beauty industry endorsement deal. Answer seems to be she has actively shunned endorsements—until now

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Shiseido president is stepping down for health reasons, leaving the current chair to figure out what to do in the midst of a projected 52% cut in revenue.

Windy city: Chicago has the most stressed-out hair in the nation, according to Head & Shoulders, which has absolutely zero investment in the outcome of any such survey, yes'm.

Avon's calling: Avon emerged from their conclave with a refinancing plan, which should help get them out of their lingering debt.

Dosha do: If you're at all interested in the beauty market in India, this in-depth Q&A with Shahnaz Husain, founder of the eponymous beauty line, is a must-read.

Hair care: Plenty of black women have a legacy of connecting hair with identity. But what does that mean when you find out in mid-adulthood that up until then, you weren't exactly sure what kind of hair you really had?

Holy See: Not beauty-related per se but way too cool to not mention: Pink smoke released over the Vatican to protest exclusion of female priests.

Wonder workers: Loving these "butch heroes" cards: celebration of butch women through history done in the style of Catholic saint cards. (via Feminist Philosophers)

Breaking the box: This PSA from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault hits all the right notes. It's aimed at preventing sexual assault, and in doing so it weaves in broader gender stereotypes and the not-immediately-evident ways they show up in our lives—and the ways we can reject them.

Les Authentiques: Color me bowled over that Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway have inspired so much thoughtful ink on how we view women. From Christianity Today, this piece on "authenticity": "The more we mock and dissect the 'falseness' of women like Anne Hathaway, the more we force each other to downplay our actual, authentic selves in favor of an impression of a girl who's 'keeping it real.' We can't all be that person. In truth, most of us respond to the pressure and judgment of others more like Anne Hathaway than the perfectly 'real' Ms. Lawrence."

Quantity, not quality: I don't think it's random that the writer of this reflective post on self-quantification—that is, tracking activities and habits à la exercise journals—begins with an anecdote about calorie tracking. The point here is that as much as we believe we rely on the "just the facts" quality of self-qualification, in truth we bring our desired narratives to self-quantification and interpret the data accordingly. And we bring a lot of desired narratives to calorie tracking, eh?

Through the vine: Congratulations to Angela Washko, the first artist to sell a Vine-created video as art; Tits on Tits on Ikea sold for $200. It's a video of tits in front of tits of a woman sitting on Ikea. (Thanks to Lindsay for the link!)

Actress Chanel Preston, made over by Melissa Murphy

Money shots: It's one thing to stereotype porn performers as false-eyelashed, spray-tanned, and petunia-lipped (though we already know the average porn actress is a 5'5" B-cupped brunette), but it's quite another to see exactly how that look comes to life on smiling, just-washed faces. These fascinating before-and-after shots from makeup artist Melissa Murphy featuring adult actresses show exactly how manufactured the porn "look" is, and what goes into creating it. I wonder what the experience of being made up is like for the performers—does sitting in the makeup chair allow you to get into character? does looking in the mirror post-makeup? 

Miss takes: Excellent reporting from Katie J.M. Baker at Jezebel on sexual coercion in exchange for breaks in Miss USA pageants. It's easy for us—okay, me—to laugh at pageants because, well, do I really have to explain? But they remain a source of capital, status, pride, and identity for a good swath of women, and treating them like a circus doesn't help. What's galling here is that the perpetrators don't seem to understand how unethical their actions are: "She told me she would do whatever it takes, and now she's throwing my help in her face," says one of the men in the article (though he denies asking directly for sexual favors).

Tweeze me: The story behind Dal LaMagna, better known as "Tweezerman," the first entrepreneur to recognize that the true tweezer market lay in beauty, not health.

Glitter food?: For those of you who are intrigued by nail art but find the lingo on how-to blogs intimidating, check out this (hilarious) glossary of terms.

Natural beauty: I'm glad to see someone challenging the idea that "natural" beauty products are better because they just are, but I wish the writer had looked at other ways natural products influence how we could think about beauty. I remember interviewing Siobhan O'Connor, coauthor of natural beauty guide No More Dirty Looks, and digging what she had to say about the connection between feeling good about her products and feeling good about herself: "Something inside both of us transformed over the course of writing and constantly thinking about beauty and our relationship to it—every woman’s relationship to it. We’ve seen a lot of people fight their natural look. And it’s cheesy to say, but you know what it’s like when you see a really healthy woman, regardless of the shape of her nose or her body, and you’re like, whoa. There’s health and joy, smiles and truth—it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world. Natural beauty can go beyond products; it’s about stripping all that other stuff away and just taking joy in the natural curl of your hair or the natural glow of your skin. It’s about not hiding."

Objection: Laurie Penny for Jacobin disabuses us of the notion of the news reporter's "view from nowhere" by giving a sliver of how her sources interact with her, a young, attractive female journalist: "I was wearing my second-nicest tights and a bit of makeup and holding a recorder, and hence appeared old enough and professionally polished enough to be someone they felt the need to impress—but not so much older and more polished that they didn’t suspect there might be an outside chance of me shagging one of them in the hostel bathrooms later on."

Inspired: As someone with zero skill in putting together outfits (why do you think I wear dresses so frequently, skirts never?), I'm forever mystified by those "get this outfit inspired by_______" pages in magazines. So I love this piece from The Closet Feminist that shows exactly what "inspiration" can mean, from a variety of perspectives.

Pretty smart: Something that comes up in conversation a lot when I mention what I write about is the idea of not-beautiful people "compensating" for their lack of beauty by becoming smart or funny or talented or whatever—the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) equivalent being that gorgeous creatures don't develop those traits. But as Elisa points out: "Guess what, all the combinations are possible! It’s just that when you start selecting for rare traits (very beautiful, very funny, very intelligent, etc.) it starts to get unlikely that you’ll run across people with multiple 'gifts.' That’s not sociology or psychology, it’s statistics."

Hustle/bustle: Historic fashion blogger Cassidy takes an evidence-based look at the idea that fashion becomes hyperfeminized after periods of female liberation. This is held to be fact in feminist-minded women's studies—and certainly the idea of feminist backlash holds true, sadly. But when looking at the micro-changes in fashion through these periods of history, the story isn't quite so linear.

Under wraps: Maryam Monalisa Gharavi has us look at the effect a covered face has on its viewers, in a photo essay that asks larger questions of the veil than the same old oppressive-or-not-oppressive.

Sky high: Nothing insightful on my end on this, just holy cow these 3-D-printed high heels are amazing.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Invited Post: Work Appropriate

When I first found The Reluctant Femme, I felt like I'd discovered another kid in the sandbox (you think of feminist beauty blogging as a sandbox too, right? Right). Cassie Goodwin consistently brings a mix of social criticism and personal storytelling to her work, tempered with service pieces like her fantastic nail art posts (the glitz! the glitter! the mermaids!) and guides to thrift store shopping. Whether she's examining how brands have the power to create community or the intersections between visibility, cosmetics, and self-harm, Cassie's reflective, inquisitive voice is one I look forward to seeing pop up in my blog feed. She's also written for The Closet Feminist, Lacquerheads of Oz, and The Peach. When I learned that she'd worked in the sex industry in an administrative support role, I immediately wondered whether that leg of her career had affected how she viewed self-presentation—and I was thrilled when she agreed to write about it for The Beheld.

Pair it with pumps and you're brothel-ready.

It's Casual Friday at work today, but the process I go through deciding what to wear is anything but casual. I pick up a skirt, and put it down because it's too short for work. I pick up another and put it down because it's too long, it looks too casual and hippiesque even for Casual Friday. I pick out a shirt, then put it down because it doesn't have any sleeves. Despite it being stinking hot, I'm not sure if a singlet top is acceptable, because I have big tits and fat arms, and a girl got told off at work the other week for her shorts being too short. I put on bright eyeshadow, then smudge half of it off so it's not "too much." I pick up a lipstick, then decide against it because it draws too much attention to my mouth and that might make someone uncomfortable. The whole dance is a complex balancing act between what I want to wear, and what I think I can get away with, taking into account the weather, possible visitors to the office, my body type, and which colleagues are likely to be in. It's exhausting. 

Dressing for work used to be much more fun for me. I spent five years doing reception in the sex industry, at a variety of parlours and agencies and brothels. The rules everywhere I worked were simple—no jeans, no thongs, no boots, at least some makeup, and preferably feminine. That's it. There was no such thing as a shirt too low, even when you have as much cleavage as I do. There was no skirt too short, so long as you were still more covered up than the sex workers—not out of any sense of inappropriateness, but because you never want to take focus off the workers. I never worried about whether bright red lipstick made me “look like a whore” because, well, I was working at a brothel and the sex workers were the rock stars of my world. Open toe shoes, closed toe, no one cared so long as you could run up the stairs to collect towels and round up stray clients. No matter how over-the-top your nail polish, there would always be at least one worker in an outfit with more glitter. I had previously only worked in conventional offices where conventional rules applied, so I embraced my freedom with abandon and enthusiasm.

The attitude of management to how I presented myself was only half of the joyful equation though. It's a fact little known outside the industry that almost without exception, the administration staff in the sex industry are Untouchable. You want to touch some lady flesh, you pay your money and you touch one of the workers. The admin staff are always very firmly off the menu, no matter what. Any reception staff I ever saw deliberately violate this taboo were immediately dismissed. It's just Not Done. This is not to say I was never groped, or leered at, or had clients talk to my cleavage, or had clients offer absurd amounts of money they obviously didn’t have if I was to sleep with them. There was one guy I had to tell three times in ten minutes to put his cock away while I was talking to him. But it was always understood that the clients were only allowed to do any of these things at my discretion. The daily dance, the balancing act in that workplace was How Much Money Does The Client Have Vs How Annoyed Am I. I could kick clients out more or less at my discretion—well, that was what they thought anyway. In reality I would always consult with the workers first, before throwing out potential earnings. But the clients didn't know that, and in their eyes my word was Law.

A lot of women have never been in a position where they have so much direct, immediate power to control their environment, and it's almost impossible to convey the sense of freedom that comes with that power until you have experienced it. What we wear is so closely tied to how we are seen that it is almost impossible to think of another situation where I have felt free to wear anything I want. It’s such a deeply entrenched idea that what we wear influences how we are treated that if we are harassed, in the workplace, in public, what we are wearing or what we did to deserve it is always part of the conversation. Whenever I’ve complained about getting groped in a club, or catcalled on the street, the response is often, “Well, what were you wearing?” I’ve happily never been molested in a workplace, but the women I know who have been have never had their complaints taken seriously. The response is usually once again, “Well, what were you wearing?” or “They’re just being friendly!” While working in the sex industry, I knew that any problems I encountered would never be blamed on what I was wearing. If the clients did push my boundaries, it was always accepted to be their fault, not mine. Always. Can you even imagine a situation like that? A guy tries to put his hand up my skirt and no one says, "Well, look at what you're wearing!" or "Boys will be boys, you know what they’re like". The response was always, "Ugh, what an asshole.” The blame, the entire blame, was always very firmly on the attacker, and never on me, even tangentially.

I have never spent time in a venue where I felt so comfortable on an everyday basis, despite the occasional bursts of violence I encountered. I was part of a little bubble outside of “normal” society, but I have never felt more normal anywhere. In a normal office, in a club, on the street, I am always aware to varying degrees of what my physical presentation is saying to the people around me. If my makeup is too obvious, I wonder if people are looking down on me for it. If my skirt is too short, I'm acutely aware of hundreds of (largely imagined) eyes on my pasty, wobbly thighs. If my shirt is a millimetre too low, I will spend the day constantly adjusting it to try and avoid making other people uncomfortable with my excessive cleavage. If I wear a Rainbow Brite tshirt to work on Casual Friday, I fret that my work and my suggestions won't be taken seriously. There is a constant dialogue in the back of my head analysing the present and potential reactions of people around me to how I'm dressed. In the sex industry, these voices were silenced by the knowledge my word was law, and that all I had to do was make sure the place ran as smoothly as possible to get respect. So long as I made sure there were clean towels, and enough sorbolene cream (there was never enough sorbolene cream), the workers would take me seriously and give me respect. It didn't matter if the clients thought my shirt was childish—they had to take me seriously to get what they had come there for. They could think what they wanted, but they had to show me respect. All I had to do was raise an eyebrow to remind them of that.

After dancing around for way too long this morning, I ended up getting an outfit together for Casual Friday. I eventually decided on a Rainbow Brite t-shirt (fitted, but not too tight), a sensible black skirt (knee length, flatteringly flared), bright but not too glittery nail polish, and colourful but sparingly applied eyeshadow. I’m sitting here fussing with my eyeshadow still, fretting that the colours don’t match as well as I though they did. The CEO is here visiting, so I feel stupid for wearing a cartoon shirt, even though this is usually my favourite feel good item of clothing. I wore a bra which is uncomfortable and pinchy, but which tames my cleavage, and I kind of wish I hadn’t. It’s times like this I miss the freedom, and miss the power of working in the sex industry so much I can taste it. I would swap all the coked up assholes waving broken bottles at me in the world to be able to be feel normal again.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Beauty Blogosphere 3.8.13

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

From Head...
Makeup morality: Meli Pennington's work as a makeup artist means that she often hears makeup "confessionals"—and her skill as a writer means that she makes some fascinating connections in her post on makeup and virtue. It's particularly interesting when coupled with this post by Afia Fitriati, a Muslim blogger, asking why halal makeup line Wardah—which, being halal, has some connection with values of Islam—is using conventional advertising tropes that sharply diverge from the religion's central beliefs.

...To Toe...
Tiny toes: On behalf of my small-footed friends, I was delighted to learn of the existence of The Little Shoe Store, a boutique specializing in...little shoes. Consider this link my declaration of size-9 alliance.

...And Everything In Between:

Mad woman: Gita May Hall, the model in the 1950s Revlon ad featured in the opening sequence of Mad Men (above), is suing AMC for using her likeness without her permission.

Stealth MAC: Estee Lauder's clever strategy behind introducing trailblazing MAC to countries with little to no high-end competition (as with their new store in Lagos, Nigeria): MAC first, rest of the company follows. Sort of brilliant, both from a brand identity standpoint and as a test market strategy. In fact, as this piece on Procter & Gamble's recent slide in the beauty segment indicates, P&G's reluctance to venture into untested markets may be responsible for its slippage.

Hotshots: Procter & Gamble has instituted a "board" of three Latina women in order to "motivate and inspire Latina women coast to coast." Inspire them to greater, nobler shampoo purchases, no doubt, but at least Latina women are a part of the marketing efforts. It's a start. (But why does the headline identify them as "hotshots"? They're in prominent positions, but I can't help but wonder if the term would be used if we were talking about, say, Russian women.)

Pretty pretty princess: Not content with its various collaborations with MAC, Disney has launched its own cosmetics line, to be sold in Disney parks.

Animus: The ripple effect begins, this time a good one: Because of the European banning of cosmetics animal testing, international giants are forced to do the same. Shiseido is leading the pack, and will stop animal testing in April.

Fringe benefit: People keep stealing the display products at the Benefit offices. If only they knew how easy it was to butter up assistants!

False claims: I've seen ads for some skin treatments promising benefits from liposomes, but new research shows liposome is ancient Latin for bullshit.

Laughing matters: This piece at Teen Skepchick points out something I haven't read before about eating disorders: People around those with EDs sometimes react with...laughter. "I was too smart to be made fun of for being shallow, I rarely talked about my bad body image, they didn’t know the mental pain that I was going through and all they saw was my bizarre behavior around food. They didn’t know how to react except by laughing."

Thinspiration: Thoughtful piece by Abbey Stone about something I've wondered about but have rarely seen acknowledged in the media: When celebrities talk about recovering from an eating disorder, we tend to laud them for being "brave" and "inspirational"—but there's a really loaded mixed message there. Not only are these women generally thin and glamorous, many of them rose to fame during times of disordered eating. Add to that the breathy tell-all feel of some of these "confessions," and you're basically handing a teenager with ED tendencies a how-to guide, with a nice side of thinspo to boot.

Exquisite corpus: If surrealism and fashion are connected, and women and fashion are connected, what does that say about the triangulated relationship among all of them?

Moo: So I'll just quote this piece directly, emphasis mine: "The [FDA] is reopening the public comment period on a 2005 directive allowing certain previously prohibited cattle parts to be used in food, dietary supplements, and cosmetics, according to a notice to the published in Monday's Federal Register."

Sweet stuff: Heads-up: This beautifully curated exhibition at Makeup Musueum about the association between cosmetic and sweet treats will seriously make you crave a cupcake.

Avocado eyeliner: Raw foods, okay, fine, whatever, seems sorta disordery to me but hey I love green smoothies. But raw cosmetics? I mean, c'mon.

Turban braid!: How badly do I want these amazing vintage hairpieces? They even come in a variety of shades, including "drab"!

Hey baby won't you please just smile: Lots of interesting stuff on the smile mandate this week. Misty Harris reviews the Kristen Stewart backlash (and backlash to the backlash) after Stewart's non-smiley Oscar presentation, prompting a blogger at Feminist Philosophers to look at ways that she, as a woman, responds to women who do adhere to the mandate. And then there's the Etsy "Don't Tell Me to Smile" sweatshirt. (I also like the Jezebel commenter who, as a man, wants to support women against the smile mandate with his own shirt: "I Don't Give a Shit If You're Smiling." Which, ironically, would probably make me smile.)

Shiny happy people: Do we hate Anne Hathaway because she's happy? This piece raises some interesting points, except the part about...hating Anne Hathaway because she's happy. Frankly, I see a lot more hate directed at Kristen Stewart for not being happy, or rather, not performing happy (see above), since most of us probably have exactly zero idea of whether or not Kristen Stewart, or Anne Hathaway, or pretty much anyone including ourselves, is happy. (Am I happy? At this moment, not particularly! Twelve minutes ago I absolutely was! I'll probably be happy after I finish my coffee! What kind of question is that anyway, "Are you happy?") Because as The Atlantic points out, celebrities are not our friends.

Schnozz talk: When we identify certain races or ethnicities with nose jobs—as with Jewish women in the '80s and '90s and Iranian women today—we're saying as much about international status as we are about plastic surgery, and Phoebe looks at what that might mean.

Who are you today?: This related trio of posts make for a journey through the ways we play with personae: Rachel Rabbit White and Gala Darling hit the vampire ball and revisit their goth days, prompting Rachel Hills to look at her own former persona—Manic Pixie Dream Girl. (Confession time: I went through a brief persona phase of a variation of Female Chauvinist Pig, during which I talked about how much I "love whiskey" and shot pool because I thought it made me seem tough. Ten years later I do like whiskey, but I certainly didn't then. Lo the appletinis I didn't drink!)

We need your signature: Une Femme at Already Pretty meditates on what it means to have a signature style, and the merits of working to develop one even if it doesn't come naturally. It's funny: I never thought I'd have a signature style, but in the past couple of years my wardrobe of loud-print shift dresses has earned me a lot of "that's so you" comments. (And when I'm not wearing one of them, I'm inevitably in jeans and a hoodie, which I suppose is a signature non-style.) I've gotta say, it makes me feel good to have a "style"—like it's a statement. I can't claim that it's the "authentic me," whatever that is, but having a defined public face brings an assurance I didn't expect.

Fairy princess awareness day: If The Reluctant Femme—one of my favorite feminist beauty bloggers—gets enough donations for Australia's Dare to Wear day, a fundraising event for a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged women secure work in which participants raise donations by agreeing to wear a "dare" on March 15—she'll go to work dressed as a fairy princess. I'm in!

Undercover: I'm really loving How to Cover's interview series with other Jewish women who cover their hair after marriage—so many stylish ways to cover, so many perspectives and stories.

Snip and tuck: Love certain styles but too busty to wear 'em? Hourglassy's new series on altering fashions to look good on large-breasted women should help.