Friday, June 28, 2013

Beauty Blogosphere 6.28.13

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

From Head...
"Why go gray in my mid-50s? Because I can": There may be a "cure" for gray hair on the way, but Leah Rozen serves a reminder that there are plenty of reasons to let nature take its course.

I hope nobody from the TSA reads this blog.

...To Toe...
Pedi danger: The bad news is that not only do pedicure chairs start fires, but pedicure razors can be used as weapons too. The good news is that if a pedicurist gone wild attacks you with one, you won't even realize you've been stabbed, because the wounds are as tiny as your delicate little toenails, you gorgeous thing you.

...And Everything In Between:
Beauty labor:
Beauty workers are more in demand than ever: 90% of beauty industry freelancers expect to increase or maintain their rates this year, and 70% of industry executives report that hiring rates are equal to or better than the halcyon days of pre-Lehman Brothers. But stable numbers don't necessarily translate to workers feeling confident about the future of their careers.

Barely there: The woman whose face is on the boxes of all those Sally Hansen depilation products, Marina Asenova, is suing her former agency for nonpayment of funds, as she has yet to see any royalties from her face lining an aisle of every drugstore in America—a practice that may well be par for the course, given the exploitation in the modeling industry. (Thanks to Lindsay for the link!)

White House welcome: Estee Lauder's VP and corporate communications director, Maria Cristina González Noguera, is headed Washington-way to be Michelle Obama's communications director. Who wants a lipstick shade named FLOTUS? 

Price is right: Where wealth goes, beauty ain't far behind: One in 10 residents of the United Arab Emirates spends the equivalent of a one-bedroom apartment in Dubai on beauty products. 

Bad ad: Dove got a slap on the wrist from the National Advertising Division for implying false claims about body washes from rival brands. Misleading side-by-side product demos were cited—as was an image of a bottle of competing body wash encircled in barbed wire, which is apparently a no-no? I don't quite get why the barbed wire image is a problem, to be honest. (Maybe it's retroactively punishing Unilever for that it'll-turn-brown-people-white ad from a few years back.)

The personal is political: With massive nationwide protests going on in her country, a Brazil-based blogger questions the importance of running a bra blog—and comes away with the conclusion that bra fitting is a political issue.

"Halal celebrities": The uptick in hijab fashionistas (hijabistas? wait, I Googled it, and yes, it exists) has begun to shift the non-Muslim vision in the U.S. of Muslim women as being oppressed and hidden underneath shapeless, drab clothes—and more to the point, it's provided a visible outlet for women who wear hijab to explore fashion and beauty. But when does the advice of hijab tutorials turn into tsk-tsking for not meeting this standard of beauty? "[O]f course many Muslim women don’t feel they can emulate J. Lo or Beyoncé. But we can emulate YaztheSpaz and Amenakin. They are the new line of halal celebrities." (Thanks to Tasbeeh for the link!)

Pretty toxic: Just a little reminder that your makeup may contain asbestos. Note that this doesn't apply to European readers—asbestos is among the 1,372 cosmetics ingredients banned by the E.U., but isn't among the ten (ten!) outlawed in the States.

Sleeping beauty: You all know humans grow new skin, but scientists haven't agreed on exactly why. Procter & Gamble to the rescue! ("Sleeping" stem cells, apparently.)

Body talk: Were common sense not enough to convince you, now there's a study showing that body talk to teens is more likely to trigger eating disorders if it takes the form of weight or body size, as opposed to healthy choices.

Edible self-tanner: If you're waffling on the suntan/self-tanner/pale-and-brave-it question this time of year, here's another option to get a nice tan-like glow: Eat more vegetables.

Kitchen beauty: For all the watchdogging I do on here about various beauty companies, I'm not quite sure why I haven't just started making my own beauty products. Whenever that time comes, this comprehensive list of 30 recipes should come in handy! And this set of general guidelines will be helpful too.

Tom Ford Cosmetics focus group.

Dudely dude: Designer Tom Ford is entering the skin care market—but not in a girly way or anything. Says the Estee Lauder group president, "This is a serious, high-ticket men's grooming line with a couple of products with cosmetics benefits to be used in a very masculine way," like in caber tossing and jerking off.

Fashion tips from Mr. T: "Do Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, or Gloria Vanderbilt wear clothes with your name on it? No, of course not. So you tape up the label, and wear your own name."

Beautypalooza: I'm not endorsing these particular products, but I thought this beauty checklist for festivals was solid. (But as it happens, I do use Stila Convertible Color on my cheeks, and sure enough, it works hangover magic—and stays put even through sweaty summer days.)

Breast jokes ever: Awesome collection of mammary humor from Hourglassy—I love it when women can joke about their bodies without making their bodies the punch line or denigrating themselves, and these anecdotes fit the bill. (And for further proof that these stories aren't teeming with self-loathing, note that this list of favorite things about being busty came from the same crop of readers.)

Hey there, handsome: Cristen Conger of How Stuff Works asks where all the handsome women went (and I'm honored that my Thoughts on a Word post on handsome was referenced). The handsome woman is still there—even if you wouldn't know it by the chicks-with-moustaches that pop up on Google Images for the term.

The true cost per wear: "Cost per wear" seems like a sensible way to shop, and if you do it right, it really is. But surely more than a handful of women (ahem) have also used it to justify expensive purchases with fingers crossed, oui? This post looking at the flaws and pitfalls in cost-per-wear theory can help you figure out when it's worth it (versus when you really just wanna buy something expensive).

Body Détente: Once upon a time, bloggers who mentioned body image generally only did so in terms of Why You Should Love Your Body. And then other bloggers who wrote on body image came along and were like, Yo, All the Body Love Talk Is Sort of Oppressing (hi!). And then Sally, ever the wise one, nicely reconciles the mind-sets and stakes a post on body neutrality: "When I see essays, suggestions, and advice from the body love community the main message I hear is that hating your body is counterproductive, not that loving your body is required."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Miyoko Hikiji, Soldier, Author, and Model, Iowa

“I feel obligated to educate anyone that doesn’t wear a uniform about what military service is like,” says Miyoko Hikiji, a nine-year veteran of the U.S. Army whose career began when she joined the Iowa Army National Guard in college, eventually leading her to serve with the 2133rd Transportation Company during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Her recently published book, All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq (History Publishing Company, 2013), goes a good ways toward that obligation. And when I found out that the soldier-turned-author also began modeling upon retiring from the military, well, how could I not want to interview her? Beauty is hardly the most crucial aspect of a soldier’s life, but it’s an area unique to female soldiers, who make up 15.7% of active Army members—and who, in January, had all military occupational specialties opened to them, including combat units previously closed to women. Hikiji and I talked war paint, maintaining a sense of identity in extraordinary circumstances, and Hello Kitty pajamas. In her own words:

On-Duty Beauty
Military rules about appearance are pretty strict. Your hair has to be tied back in a way that doesn’t interfere with your headgear and that is above the collar of your jacket. That pretty much leaves it in a tight little bun at the nape of your neck. Once you get your two-minute shower and get out soaking wet, you just braid it together and it stays that way all day. After a mission or training, most of the women with longer hair wore their hair down, because having it in a bun under a helmet is really uncomfortable. In Iraq I might have had eyeshadow, from training and preparation before we actually got to Iraq. When we’d be in civilian clothes I’d have a little makeup for chilling out. But once I was actually in Iraq, I was more focused on sunscreen, moisturizer, vitamins. I just wanted to be healthy. And I had a stick of concealer. I wore that for some of my scars—there were a lot of sand fleas, and I had bites all over my body. I couldn’t really approach trying to cover them well and look nice when I was there; I just needed to be clean. When I came home I did microdermabrasion for months to get rid of the scars. And I couldn’t wait to get regular haircuts. I also got my teeth whitened—we took daily medicine to protect against infection and malaria and stuff like that, but it makes your teeth turn yellow. 

In Kuwait I think we got a shower once every three days. We took a lot of baby wipe baths. Those lists that say, Send this to the troops—baby wipes are always on there. I did try to get my hair washed as often as I could. A lot of women would put baby powder on their hair and brush it out, to absorb the oil and the dirt. I’d just dump canned water over my head if that was the best I could do. If I was up by the Euphrates I would shave in the river if I had a chance, but that was something you didn’t get to do very often.

On War Paint
The idea of makeup as war paint is interesting. Actual “war paint”—camouflage paint—is like a little eyeshadow pack, so in camouflage class or in the field, you’d have a woodland one that has brown, two shades of green, and a black. You’d put the darkest colors on the highlighted parts of your face so they’re subdued, and then you kind of stripe the rest across your face. It’s extremely thick, almost like clay; you wear it and you sweat in it and it’s just there. It’s kind of miserable! But if you look at yourself in the mirror after doing these exercises with the camouflage paint on, it’s hard to look at yourself the same way. There really is something to putting on the uniform or the camouflage, or just the effect you have when you’re holding a loaded weapon. All that contributes to your behavior. So I definitely feel different when I wake up and put my regular makeup on. I approach the world differently, and the world treats me differently. What is it that we’re fighting? That’s hard to say. On some levels, I feel like when I wear makeup I’m buying into the whole thing of what a man tells me looks pretty, or that I’m kind of giving up part of my natural self. But then I justify it by saying, Well, it works, or Well, I’m getting paid to do that right now, with modeling. There is a lot of conflict there. It’s sort of a war on self, sort of a war on womanhood.

On Modeling
There was a tactical gear company filming some commercials at Camp Dodge, where I trained. They were going to have the actors go through an obstacle course I’d been through, doing everything at the grounds that I’d been training at for years. At the audition they said, “We’d like for you to have weapons experience, because we’re gonna shoot some blanks out of M-16s.” I thought, There’s no way I’m not gonna get this part. And then I didn’t. They picked people who were bigger, probably a little gruffer. People who looked the stereotype of what you think a soldier looks like. To be fair, I don’t know all their criteria, so it’s easy for me to say they thought I was too pretty, too feminine. I don’t know that. But I do know that people who were picked for that modeling job didn’t have more experience than I did. Certainly none of them had weapons experience like I did. I think that they just didn’t believe that I fit the bill of looking like a soldier. 

My experience in the military couldn’t have been anything but a benefit to anything I did in the future. Whenever I have a modeling job I always show up on time or early. I always have everything I’m supposed to have—not only do I print it out, but I check it just like a battle checklist. I look at every project like a mission. When I get there, I always have enough of whatever is needed to take care of somebody else who’s not prepared, which would be a squad leader’s position. I’m used to all that, and the people I work for are usually kind of surprised. In the middle of a job, if something happens, I’m okay with cleaning it up, whereas maybe other models or actresses might feel like that isn’t what they’re being paid to do, or that it’s a little below them. But you do so many crappy jobs in the military. You burn human poop! You have a bar for what you’re willing to do, and mine is all the way at the bottom. Things just don’t bother me or gross me out.

My great-grandmother was born in Japan, and my grandmother and my father were born and raised in Kauai. Being part Japanese adds another element to modeling, especially in Iowa, where the population for minorities is so low. There’s a Colombian model and a Laotian model here, so it’s kind of a joke among us when the call goes out for these jobs—which minority are they going to pick? And for scenes with couples, there are people they’ll always pair together and people they never will. Last commercial I did, I was paired with a guy who was just Mexican enough. They’ll pair me with a black man, but they don’t pair a black man and a white woman together—I’ve never seen that for a commercial shoot. I’m half Czech also, but they use me for the Asian slot, and then they try to Asian me up. They’ll tell the makeup artist, Can you make her look just a little more Asian? It’s like, I know we’re filling the Asian slot, but we’ve got to make sure it actually looks like she is. 

All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq, Miyoko Hikiji,
History Publishing Company, 2013; available in Barnes & Noble bookstores and online

On Uniformity
One thing I thought was funny was pajamas. All the guys slept in their brown T-shirt or just their boxer shorts, because it’s not like guys wear pajamas; that wouldn’t be acceptable in that world. But all the women had pajamas! And it was always something funny, like Rainbow Brite or Hello Kitty or something. At that point in the night we just wanted to be girls.

On active duty, if it was a three-day weekend, you could wear civilian clothes to the final formation before being cut loose for the weekend. The guys looked basically the same—they’d wear jeans and a T-shirt, but they wouldn’t really look different. But if I showed up in a dress, they just couldn’t believe it! Women can have a lot more faces than men can have—men can’t change their appearance the same way women can, especially in a situation where they all have short hair. But a woman really does look a lot different in her civilian clothes, and I was one of only a few women in a unit that had just opened its ranks to women when I first joined in ’95. So the guys kind of looked at me like, Is that really the same person? I think it confronted them a bit about who exactly I was.

There was also a conflict around presenting a different face to myself. When I was wearing a uniform I felt a little tougher, like I was blending in better with the guys. I didn’t really look like them, but at least I looked more like them than when I was wearing civilian clothes. And when I’d be in a situation where I’d look nicer, sometimes I wouldn’t even tell people that I was in the army—sometimes I would, if I was in a mood to challenge stereotypes. But the two identities don’t seem to fit well because of the stereotypes we have—tough people are supposed to look gritty and dirty and cut-up with tattoos. And then people who are attractive—well, that’s not supposed to be tough at all. The movie G.I. Jane was a terrible depiction of that. Even though it tried to be a girl power movie, in order for Demi Moore to be one of the guys, she had to look like a guy. She had to shave her head because that was how she could reach that level. I think that’s a real issue in the military—and in our society—about beauty and gender stereotypes, that pretty can’t be tough. It became kind of a side mission of mine. Whenever anyone entered the room and said, “Hey guys,” I’d say, “Wait, what about me?” They’d say, “Oh, you know we mean you too.” Well, no, not really, because I’m not a guy. I wanted to point out that I’m doing the same job, but I’m not really one of you. That’s okay, we’re different—as far as the mission is concerned we’re basically equal, but we do do things differently. It’s not a bad thing! But let’s recognize who is it that the women are, because a lot of times I think we feel women have to be assimilated into manhood as a promotion into soldierhood, because we don’t think about soldiers as being women. We just think about them as being men.

In the beginning I was so eager to assimilate and be accepted. I was okay with losing a bit of identity because I was becoming this new and different and better person—I was going to be a soldier and that was more important to me at the time than preserving some sort of identity as a woman. But by the time it got to the end of my military career I looked at things differently. In Iraq, on laundry day there would be clothes hanging out on lines that people would just string up wherever you could find a space, and some women had Victoria’s Secret underwear and lacy bras. At first I thought, What in the world? I don’t need a wedgie in the middle of a mission. But by the end it made sense to me, because we lost everything while we were there. We lost our privacy; we lost a lot of our dignity. We were asked to do things that people probably shouldn’t be asked to do. So if you can hang onto something that is meaningful to you—whether that represents your femininity or your strength or your individuality, which we lost also—then what difference does it really make? It means something to them. Everybody has to find their thing to help get them through. You know, men don’t have to drop a lot of their stuff when they get deployed, but there’s a lot of pressure on women to change, to fill those soldiers’ shoes. The military uniform takes away women’s body shape; you don’t really have hips anymore, or a bust. It makes you realize how much just being a woman and being seen as a woman, let alone being attractive, plays into your life, because suddenly all that’s kind of gone.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Beauty Blogosphere Summer Solstice 2013

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

Swedish-American artist Annika Connor, looking all midsummer maiden.

From Head...

Midsummer night's dream: It's midsummer! Don't you want to make a wreath of fresh flowers and dance like a wood nymph? Yes, you do. Here's how.

...To Toe...
Bodily harm: [Unexpectedly heavy content ahead] I'm not sure what to think of this report of a domestic violence attack: After waking up to find that his girlfriend had painted his toenails in his sleep, 25-year-old Dominic Hodson proceeded to beat her for two hours. It's horrifying, and it goes without saying that nothing can "make" an abuser launch into an attack; abusers will find whatever reason they need. Her actions were not a provocation. That said: Isn't it a form of abuse to invade someone's sense of bodily ownership? To assert physical control for someone else—especially when the person is asleep and can't consent—is a form of control that sounds like it would be at home on a list of abusive behaviors. There's also a humiliation factor here—that's the whole point of a prank, after all—which is another form of abuse. To be clear, I'm not blaming the victim here or saying she "deserved" it, or anything of the sort. What this illustrates to me is the ways intimate partner violence often works: Not as a cut-and-dried case of a big bad abuser hulking over a woman, but as a breakdown of boundaries. Once the boundary of physical violence has been crossed—and it's important here that Hodson had a prior history of abusing his girlfriend, according to her statement—there are few boundaries left to violate. Even the person who is not the primary aggressor can wind up crossing boundaries in a way that falls under the umbrella of abuse.

...And Everything In Between:
Closer to fine: Revlon is paying an $850,000 fine for withholding information in a going-private transaction in 2009, an act that can have "coercive effects on minority shareholders," according to an associate director in the Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement division. This reputedly has nothing to do with why the company's CFO resigned this week to become CFO at media company Tribune.

MAC attack: Target offered to settle with MAC for accidentally selling fake products with their name; Lady Mac then snubbed the offer, and the legal catfight continues.

Yours truly: With customization being a boom business for everything from sneakers to eyeglasses, could cosmetics be next in line?

Sweet: Love that there's a beauty company featuring natural products targeted at teens—that was created by real! live! teens! Shouldn't every girl have the right to smell like Crazy Caramel Corn or Iced Lemon Cookie without loading up on parabens and the like?

Snow job: We've established that the media loves to focus on pretty ladies for no reason other than that they're pretty. But Naomi Wolf—whose work has been instrumental in people realizing things like how the media loves to focus on pretty ladies for no reason other than that they're pretty—suspects that the consistent mention of Ed Snowden's sexy pole-dancing girlfriend may actually indicate that Snowden is a plant from Big Brother.

Making amends: It would be pretty cool if the whole story about the Paul Frank collaboration with American Indian designers Louie Gong, Candace Halcro, Dustin Martin, and Autumn Dawn Gomez was that Paul Frank wanted to...collaborate with American Indian designers (instead of, say, just slapping the word Navajo on a product that had naught to do with actual Navajo people). But I think it's doubly cool that the whole story behind the new Paul Frank collection is more complicated: After being called out on their "Dream Catchin'" "Pow Wow" event by Native blogs Beyond Buckskin and Native Appropriations, the company went beyond the standard apology/fauxpology and genuinely engaged with the bloggers and the Native fashion community. Adrienne of Native Appropriations is pretty happy about this, but seeing as how critical examination of, um, native appropriations is literally the name of her game, she also brings up some points that could make things even better.

C'mon, baby, gimme a smile: Katy Waldman at Slate takes the hilarious Bitchy Resting Face video a step farther, connecting it to the "the laser grid of unspoken rules governing the arrangement of male and female faces—the gendered ways we police social performance." (Thanks to Joy for the link!)

Lighten up: You know how pretty much every beauty piece about "paring down" your products is usually just a list of products? With water heading this blissfully short list of genuinely low-fuss beauty "supplies," this one actually earns its claim to low maintenance.

Cop to it: The takeaway from recent findings that copper is more damaging to our hair than previously realized is that soon we're going to be seeing all sorts of "copper cleansing" shampoos on the market. Give it nine months, I predict.

Boy George: ahead of his time.

Generation Y: Okay, so it's not like 18% of young men are actually wearing foundation, but 18% of millennials say it would be acceptable for them to do so.

Bodily amendments: The case of a Minneapolis man who was arrested after getting a tattoo depicting a gun in the mouth of a pig, complete with a specific Minneapolis police officer's name and badge number, begs the question of whether tattoos are considered speech that incites a real and present threat to another person—or are simply forms of personal expression.

Modesty, boys!: You know, if men don't want women to ogle them, they shouldn't act the ways they do. Take some tips from June.

For shame: I plead guilty to mentally stereotyping women who get cosmetic surgery. Rather, I did so until I learned years ago that a close friend had gotten a nose job before we met, thus turning my entire world of "sellouts" vs. "non-sellouts" upside-down and I began to realize that the whole thing was a bit more complicated and that maybe I shouldn't be all Judge Judy. ("Beauty work can be fun! Unless it's something I don't approve of.") Kate lays out why getting surgery needn't be a shameful act.

Also, smoke them: Contrary to my previously held belief, I indeed have not read every beauty tip known to womankind. Exhibit A: Whiten your teeth with banana peels.

Ignorant beauties: Sure, there's something uniquely charming about people who appear to be genuinely unaware of their physical appeal. But why are all these boys singing about how not knowing you're beautiful is what makes you beautiful? (Don't they know that every woman has a doctorate in her own sex-powers?)

But I would like a lipstick shade called I Hate the Patriarchy #2: To be annoyed or amused by this "feminist makeup tutorial"? Funny quips (like about applying foundation with "equal representation") don't make up for the anti-man sentiments contained therein, which might be remotely amusing (though probably not) if feminists weren't already mistakenly stereotyped as man-haters. Survey says: annoyed. (Thanks to ModernSauce for the link!)

Budding beauties: An East Harlem garden whose beds are made out of recycled Garnier beauty packaging materials is estimated to yield 1,500 pounds of vegetables a year. Presumably all 1,500 pounds will be cucumbers, because puffy eyes.

Refashioning race: New York readers: Between the Threadbared ladies and Pricing Beauty author Ashley Mears, this panel discussion June 25 promises to be fascinating. It's practically just a bonus that the topic is meaty: exploring race, gender, and economy through the lens of the digital age and alternative fashion. Join me?

Nail it: Chicago readers, take note of the Nailed exhibit from artist Helen Maurene Cooper at Cith Gallery, featuring portraits of nail salon technicians and patrons as well as a collection of macro photos of truly fantastic nail art. (via Britt Julious, whose feature on Cooper is worth a read)

Hair history: This stop-motion depiction of European women's hairstyles (plus some early neolithic and Egyptian styles for good measure) is downright mesmerizing (via Stuff Mom Never Told You).

Loki's Lacquer: The blogger asks herself if she's bending her principles by pointing readers to a product she hasn't actually tried yet—nay, products in general!—but when the goodie in question is a nail polish named after one of her favorite beauty bloggers, The Reluctant Femme, it's totally principled, right? Or is she just yielding to the shimmery blackish purplish greenish pinkish siren song? Either way, it's gorgeous.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I'll Be Watching You: NSA Surveillance and the Male Gaze

I would give readers a quick 101 on the NSA surveillance scandal before I go on to make my point, but the fact is, I’ve got no facts. I saw the headlines, heard the occasional bits of cocktail party buzz, and saw a flurry of blog posts—which I skimmed at best, or skipped altogether—crop up in my RSS feed. And then, I shrugged.

Apathy doesn’t seem like the greatest reason to tune out of something that, intellectually and politically speaking, enrages me—or at least should enrage me, if rage were a rational response that arose upon provocation of our most deeply held beliefs. But there it is: In a country whose founding principles include freedom of expression, learning that the government is—what, reading our e-mails? listening to our phone conversations?—this citizen’s response is meh.

The longer this story has remained in the news, the more bizarre my apathy seemed to me. Until it didn’t. I began to wonder if the reason the NSA activities didn’t upset me more on a visceral level, as opposed to an intellectual one, was that my default assumption of day-to-day experience was that I was being watched. Watched by Big Brother? Not so much. But being watched, observed, surveyed, seen? Yes. Welcome to what it’s like to be a woman, gentlemen.

Consider the headline of this excellent piece by Laurie Penny in New Statesman, spurred by the NSA revelations: If you live in a surveillance state for long enough, you create a censor in your head. It’s an incisive, uncomfortable truth, and it’s made all the more uncomfortable when coupled with one of my favorite passages from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing:

A woman must continually watch herself. … Whilst she is walking across a room or weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. … Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.

To conflate Penny and Berger: If you spend a lifetime housing your internal surveyor, you might not be terribly surprised when you find that there are external surveyors you hadn’t considered. Not that women walk through our days consciously considering that men might be looking at us. In fact, that’s part of the point: Being seen becomes such a default part of the way you operate that it ceases to be something you need to be actively aware of.

Not that the cold slap of Hey, baby is ever so far away as to keep women truly unaware of the public dynamic surrounding gender. In urban areas (and plenty of non-urban areas too), we deal with street harassment so frequently that it begins to feel difficult to overestimate just how much we’re actually being observed by passersby. The triumphant joke of the tinfoil-hat crowd rings frightfully true in the light of the NSA activities—just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you—is yesterday’s news to women. Am I actually being looked at—specifically by men, and specifically as a woman—every time I leave my house? Probably not. But the expectation or possibility of being seen has been there as long as I can remember. And the minute I think I’ve slipped out of the observation zone—by wearing a dowdy outfit that conceals my body, or simply by being in my own world for a moment—there’s a catcall there to remind me that even if I’m not paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re...not after me (I hope!). But there, watching.

I’m trying to think of how I’d process the news that our “for the people, by the people” government can invade our privacy anytime it damn well pleases, if I hadn’t ever internalized the sensation of being observed. I imagine I’d be more surprised, for starters, but I also wonder if I’m asking the wrong question here. As humans, we love little more than to watch each other in a variety of ways (is TV anything other than controlled people-watching?). Men are observed too—differently than women are, but it’s not like men are entirely unaware that they’re being seen by others. Here I turn to Robin James, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy at UNC Charlotte: “I’m thinking that (properly masculine, i.e. white, etc.) men experience surveillance in profoundly enabling ways,” she wrote to me when I asked her to expand on a Twitter exchange we had. “[B]eing watched by someone who you know is your equal (that is, you watch them, they watch you in return) is what reaffirms both of your statuses as equals, as subjects, etc. If your gaze isn’t returned in kind, that means you’re not considered an equal, that you’re not seen as a real member of society.”
All emphasis there is mine, and for a reason: The point isn’t that women don’t observe men, or that men don’t observe one another, but that the quality of the gaze is different. I don’t walk down the street and feel like I have less cultural weight than my male peers. But when you’re 12—the age I was when I heard my first catcall from an adult man, and my young age here is hardly unusual—you do have less cultural weight, you do have less power. You learn early on to associate being observed for your femininity with powerlessness, and that's not an easy mind-set to shed. (Which is exactly why street harassment has long been an effective tool of oppression, but that’s another story.) Broad strokes here: Men don’t have that experience. Rather, they didn’t until it came out that the National Security Agency—a greater power than virtually every man in the country—could watch you whenever they pleased.

Here are a few of the things that may result for women from objectification, whether it comes from others or internally as a result of being objectified by others: Depression. Limiting one’s social presence. Temporarily lowered cognitive functioning. (Of course, there are also suggestions that self-objectification may boost some women’s well-being. Another day, another post.) When I look at these effects and compare them with where I’m at intellectually about the NSA privacy invasions—a shrinking of oneself versus righteous outward anger—I’m troubled. Would I feel more righteous anger if I hadn’t learned to absorb, possibly to my personal detriment, the effects of objectification and tacitly accepted surveillance as something that just happens? And more importantly: Has the collective energy of women been siphoned into this realm, leaving us less energy for, as they say, leaning in?

I’m not saying that just because women might be used to being watched by men means that we’re inherently blasé about being watched by governmental bodies; in fact, I’m guessing some women are more outraged than they would be if they were male, even if they’re not directly connecting that outrage with womanhood. (Also, I don’t believe the male gaze to be wholly responsible for my indifferent reaction here; it’s just the one that’s relevant.) Let's also not forget that 56% of Americans deem phone surveillance as an acceptable counterterrorism measure. And I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about the NSA revelations; we should. But not only are women more used to being watched, we also have a worldwide history of dealing with our governments jumping in where they don’t belong. It feels invasive whether that space is our phone line or our uterus. It just might not feel all that surprising.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Beauty Blogosphere 6.14.13

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

Together, we can find a cure for Bitchy Resting Face.

From Head...
It's an epidemic: Do you suffer from Bitchy Resting Face? (Actually, I suffer from Friendly Resting Face. Anyone else?)

...To Toe...
Foot fetish:
Shoes made out of romance novels.

...And Everything In Between:
Model citizens:
This is enormous news in the fashion world: New York state passed a bill that extends child labor protection to models under 18. Hard to believe they didn't enjoy the protections offered to other underage performers—thus, among other things, forcing girls to choose between their careers and finishing high school—but they didn't, until now. Congrats to the dedicated team at Model Alliance, the organization behind the bill.

Ladies first: The wardrobe of China's first lady is scrutinized just as carefully as we do for our own FLOTUS—but for different reasons. The incomes of public officials aren't publicly divulged, leading people to do their own calculations as to their leaders' capital—and Peng Liyuan's impeccable style is leaving her husband vulnerable to charges of corruption.

Big enough for the britches: The CEO of Lululemon stepped down this week, with a terribly un-Lululemon statement: "I am not the culture of Lululemon. Everyone is the culture of Lululemon." (Ayn Rand would be so disappointed!) Who will succeed her is anyone's guess; Forbes predicts Lululemon will make an Estee-Lauder-type move and hire someone with international experience, as the yogawear company has designs on Asia.

Bovine law: The creators of Cleopatra's Enzymatic Milk Lotion, aka raw milk illegally marketed as cosmetics to exploit a legal loophole that allows unpasteurized milk to be sold if it's "not for human consumption," were found guilty of civil contempt.

Click click: Could Amazon take a serious cut into department stores' market shares of high-end brands? It makes sense logically, but I'd be surprised if consumers are as eager to buy fancy makeup online as we are to buy, say, books. Part of what you're paying for with expensive products (actually, most of what you're buying) is the illusion of care and luxury that comes along with the product. Much as I hate being under the scrutiny of cosmetics salesfolk, I also can't see myself feeling as satisfied with an expensive lipstick that comes in a little cardboard box as opposed to when it comes drowning in tissue paper tucked into an elegant little bag.

"You Can Touch My Hair": From what I've read from black women writers, this question begins early in their lives...and never ends. (I'm guessing that even shaving it off doesn't bring relief.) Enter this performance art piece from hair site Un-Ruly in which three black women with varying hair textures held signs reading "You Can Touch My Hair" in public spaces. As Baze Mpinja at Beautycism puts it, "Although I’m sick of the never-ending politicization of black women’s hair...[t]he Un’ruly team has taken something offensive and turned it into a teaching moment."

Eating disorder prevention's newest advocate.

Metal health: At first I was almost amused by the person currently scouting subjects for a documentary on eating disorders: Shawn "Clown" Crahan, percussionist for metal band Slipknot. But the more I think about it, the more metal it really is: I'm constantly saying how we need to remember that EDs don't just haunt young white girls, but part of diversity is subcultural diversity too. You might expect eating disorders to dwell in sorority houses, not metal shows—but they do. Bonus points to Crahan for specifically seeking men to profile.

One word: Know what makes microbead skin care products beady? Plastics. Know what's bad for the environment? Plastics.

Feminist beauty: I'm-a just gonna cosign everything Refinery 29's beauty director Annie Tomlin—whom I first met as an intern at Ms. magazine—says here. It's funny: When each of us first realized that another of our fellow Ms.ers had gone on to work in beauty, we had a laugh at the irony. But as Annie shows, the more you think about it, the more it makes perfect sense.

Want my job?: In other me-me-me career-ish news, budding writers/bloggers who like what I do here should check out this Q&A with me at I Want Her Job, a fantastic site that does in-depth interviews with women in a variety of careers. A side note: I first crossed paths with the founder of I Want Her Job, Brianne Burrowes, when she was a teen contributor to the teen magazine I worked for at my first gig. Her drive stood out to me and I loved to share my burgeoning knowledge with her. We kept in touch over the years—I watched her go from journalism student to Seventeen intern to editor of her alma mater's alumni magazine (when she'd barely graduated herself!) to founder of the wonderfully inspirational I Want Her Job. To see someone I informally mentored make a name for herself in what amounts to a valuable mentorship tool is deeply satisfying. My point here: Mentor, mentor, mentor! And ask to be mentored! Something I began to trust around age 35 is that mentorship doesn't just have to be a matter of established-person-helping-younger-person, nor does it have to be a formal mentorship. I mourned not having had a formal mentor until I started to look around me and realized I had several mentors in various guises.

We're so vain: Yes, yes, the Abercrombie & Fitch dude is a jackass, what with their company's sizing policy. But as Kjerstin Gruys points out, when we respond approvingly to vanity sizing, we're a part of the problem. (Personally, I hate vanity sizing. I'm 5'7", medium-framed, and muscular; if company X sizes me at a "small" I'm just annoyed that I have to go grab another size that's supposed to make me feel all dainty and petite. And if I'm small what are my slender 5'1" friends? Extra-Lilliputian? Criminy.)

Summer breeze: The gentlemanly conductors of a Stockholm commuter train company that has a policy against male employees wearing shorts even in the summer have rebelled by wearing bottoms that are allowed: skirts. (via Shybiker) Related: Why aren't Utilikilts more popular? 

Skin food: As someone who once used a cocoa-cinnamon-cornstarch combo as dry shampoo, I salute XOVain's Lauren for her worthy endeavor of attempting to make a tinted moisturizer with Cetaphil and Ghirardelli.

Pixies plus: There's a hair catch-22 going on: How is a plus-size woman supposed to estimate whether a pixie cut would look good if nobody modeling a pixie cut is plus-sized? Sure, it's easy to say, "Just get the cut you want!" but the fact is, an ill-fitting haircut can sting. But another fact is, with modifications most haircuts work on most people. And that includes pixies and heavy ladies.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Beauty Blogosphere 6.7.13

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

From Head...
Photo op: "Requests for [cosmetic] surgery as a result of social media photo sharing rose 31% in 2012, reports the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery."

...To Toe...

Jeepers creepers: The word of the week is creepers, or shoes with thick, soft soles (which unfortunately turns out to be etymologically unrelated to the Teddy Boy subculture of the 1950s).

...And Everything In Between:
Please hold: 
Apparently UK beauty salons have a ways to go with their telephone protocol, leaving callers on hold for (gasp!) 33 seconds.

Eye spy: Procter & Gamble is hiring eye-tracking firm blah blah blah [at this point the actual story here—about P&G trying to figure out which of its ads are actually seen—becomes of secondary importance, so we can focus on the fact that there are eye-tracking firms that track people's eye movement].

Tipoff: Bloomberg Businessweek breaks down exactly what the Professional Beauty Association is lobbying for tax-wise: Basically, the same tax scheme that restaurants enjoy as far as employee tips.

Hellenic beauty: Greece's best-known cosmetics line, Korres, is continuing to thrive despite the ongoing severe problems with the country's economy.

Under the sea: Do your part to combat overfishing: Buy more beauty products containing jellyfish. It takes a village, people.

Concealer: A cosmetology school is demanding that a student who wears a niqab bring in written documentation from a religious leader that she indeed needs to cover her face for religious reasons (as opposed to, what, just for kicks?). This does beg the question of how students who prefer to be covered handle hair and makeup demos: Do they only participate as models when all students and teachers are women? Or simply observe? Plenty of women style their hair and wear makeup under the veil, but that's quite a different thing from participating in the learning process of achieving professional standards.

Sensitive skin: A new test developed at Newcastle University can predict people's sensitivity to cosmetics—good news for users, eschewing the need for a patch test, and great news for animals that are frequently tested upon.

Military dress: How does the biggest institution of The Man—the military—give rise to counterculture fashion? (Tidbit: The T-shirt itself is an example of military fashion.)

Numb (featuring DJ Herpes): Rihanna fan is suing MAC, claiming that she got a fever blister as a result of sampling the MAC shade RiRi Woo offered by a MAC representative at a Rihanna concert.

Just drawn that way: I'm not particularly sold on the idea that if we just have more diverse images, eating disorders will decrease. That said, I'm intrigued by this Brazilian PSA that shows what women would look like if they had the proportions of fashion illustrations—in other words, if they were created entirely for showcasing clothes instead of living. I asked fashion illustrator and blogger Danielle Meder for her thoughts, and she pointed out that like any ad, this PSA cherry-picks its data: "If it was a juxtaposition of an actual fashion illustration next to a supermodel, the PSA certainly wouldn't be so provocative." Meder addresses the topic of fashion versus reality more generally here, and points out that her fashion illustration how-to post is open to anyone. "My attitude towards the way I draw fashion figures is that if you don't like it, draw your own! ... [P]roportions are up to you, not reality."

Razor's edge: What it's like to strut your (newly shaved) stuff on the runway—courtesy Gillette. (Pretty sure this qualifies as undercover investigative journalism on Katie J.M. Baker's part, right?) If this marketing scheme is a clever misstep on Gillette's part, it's not like it's their only one: Their whole "How does [Superman] shave?" campaign is falling flat because true fans recall that he uses a mirror to blast heat rays from his eyes to his whiskers.

Where ladies fear to tread: So what is it about those dudes who biohack, à la Tim Ferriss's "binge one day a week but do air squats every time you go to the bathroom" or Dave Asprey's butter coffee? Virginia Heffernan takes a look. My two cents: I'm pretty convinced half this stuff is eating disorder territory, but since it's biohacking as opposed to, say, straight-up bulimic or anorexic behaviors, we're less likely to identify it as such. The fact that biohacking seems to be dominated by men only helps/hurts here. Speaking of which: What can women who love men with eating disorders do to support them? It can be difficult enough to support a person with an eating disorder even when they're not suffering from the double stigma of doing something so "unmanly" (do you say anything when you see them undereat? do you keep trigger foods around the house?).

Go figure: Feminist Figure Girl enumerates how her life changed after entering a figure show (i.e. bodybuilding): "I love and trust my body more than I did before."

Wedding gown, crepe de toilette, 2013.

Flushing bride: The Ninth Annual Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest has been adjudicated, and though I'm partial to the second-place winner (pictured above), the grand prize winner is no less stunning. 

Great Kate: Kate Middleton is the most influential celebrity when it comes to British consumers' beauty purchases. Apparently after the royal wedding, Kate's "natural brown" became the leading hair color shade? (And leave it to the Daily Mail to somehow frame this as a "Kate-off"—Middleton trumps Moss—because what good is a story without an imagined catfight?)

Turnabout's fair play: Remember that whole "best-looking attorney general in the country" comment Obama made about Kamala Harris? Fascinating to compare it to a similar incident in 1973, between Richard Nixon and White House reporter Helen Thomas, who was actually asked by the president to turn around so he could check out her butt. But as Miranda Weinberg's analysis shows, the way it was deftly handled reveals subtle, strategic uses of the reporter's power.

Sci-fi'd: I'd never had thunk it, but it seems Fast and Furious has a thing or two to teach Star Trek—or at least J.J. Abrams—about presenting women onscreen. (Thanks to reader Jame-Ane for the link!)

Shopping stigma: I still remember the relief I felt when thrifting became cool in the early '90s and I no longer had to worry about being seen going into Goodwill with my mother. But as Sally points out, shopping stigma continues to thrive. 

Neptune's Daughter: Let us bid farewell to Esther Williams, who entertained us as "America's mermaid" and who died yesterday at 91. Despite her fame, she considered her movie career a consolation prize for not reaching her true dream, the Olympic gold. 

Assemblé: It's not just fashion that's inspired by ballet—this year, it's perfume too.

Works if you work it: It's easy enough to raise your eyebrow at self-help—I've done it plenty of times, skeptic that I am—but as Gala Darling points out, "I still can’t believe that self-love is something we’re expected to somehow magically discover for ourselves." 

Mythbusting: Interesting counterpoint on the whole "all women are wearing the wrong bra size!" thing that every ladymag is required to report on annually. While I'm someone who really did need a bra fitting in order to learn that I was wearing the drastically wrong size, as Phoebe points out, the idea that women just don't know how bras fit is also mighty convenient when it comes to imbuing fitters, sellers, and manufacturers with a sort of magical power that isn't necessarily the most helpful stance for consumers. Bras really can be difficult to fit well (and as Phoebe discovers when her readers protested the idea that bra fittings are gimmicks, the flattering-yet-comfortable bra is not necessarily a gimmick) so of course that just makes us curious about manufacturer promises that no, no, their bras really do fit, à la Jockey's new sizing system (via Lindsay). What are the girls to do? Read awesome bra blogs, that's what.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

We Can Do It!: Rosie the Swiffer

Is it just me, or could this B-17 bomber use a good Swiffing?

This isn't beauty-related exactly (and I'm still figuring out how to balance blogging with book-writing, and am not doing a fantastic job of it thus far!), but I couldn't resist giving my quick two cents about the Swiffer/Rosie the Riveter thing. For those who haven't followed the story: Swiffer, a Procter & Gamble-produced line of disposable mopping and sweeping products, recently used a Rosie the Riveter-style image in one of their ads. People got riled up—using a feminist icon to promote traditional "women's work"? no, thanks—and P&G has apologized and is attempting to remove the ad from all placements.

But here's the thing: Rosie the Riveter...isn't feminist. The image has been appropriated by feminists, sure, myself included. (One of my prized possessions is my Rosie the Riveter dish towel. Irony much? She's also on my business-card case, so there.) But Rosie started as propaganda by the United States government, with the aim of telling women that they could "do it"—take over "men's work" while they were otherwise occupied in WWII—within the parameters of staying appealingly feminine. Sure, Rosie is wearing a work shirt and flexing her muscles. She's also wearing plenty of makeup, has her hair neatly coiffed underneath that kerchief, and appears to be wearing some sort of torturous device that gives her that terrifically feminine bust-to-waist line. Rosie wasn't created out of goodwill. She was created out of necessity, and I think at this point plenty of high school history classes are even teaching what happened once Johnny came marching home: Rosie was sent—forced—out of the workplace and back to the kitchen, with plenty of nifty new appliances to keep her busy, and oh hi Betty Freidan, is that a Problem With No Name you're carrying?

In other words: Rosie the Riveter was a bit of propaganda created to refashion the idea of conventional femininity. Which is exactly how Procter & Gamble was using it.

I'm not saying it was just dandy for P&G to appropriate Rosie (far be it from me to praise Satanists); it's irksome. But what's more bothersome than their using Rosie is that the ad just reinforces the idea that housework is women's work, which is what, oh, every single other ad for household products does. Using Rosie to do something entirely unrelated to actual progress for women? That's what Rosie was invented for. Chances are, she felt right at home holding that Swiffer, you know?

Now, I get that today feminists have reclaimed Rosie, and today she is a feminist icon. (And there's plenty to be said for even the propaganda of Rosie being crucial to feminism: A good part of what spurred the woman's movement was women's satisfaction at joining the workforce in non-traditional roles, and their recognition of the unfair mores at work when they were let go after the war ended.) But let's look at what I pointed out earlier about my own embrace of Rosie: I own products that feature her. That is, I've spent my capital on her. (Well, okay, the dishtowel was a gift. Thanks, Dad!) She's useful as a way of displaying one's politics, not necessarily living them. I love my Rosie products, but they're just that—products—and they exemplify my consumerist ways as much as they exemplify my feminist allegiance.

I'm glad Procter & Gamble is listening to its critics. That's huge, actually, and it makes me hopeful that a behemoth like P&G is actually checking itself once it's been challenged. And I'm not saying it was silly for people to speak up; the only way we can change our environment is to challenge it, and I'm always glad to see people doing so. But did it rile me up? No. And I don't know how much Rosie herself would be riled up either.