What’s going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.
Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Leon Trotsky), Frida Kahlo, 1937
Art brow’d: My first thought upon learning of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s publicity stunt—the museum circulated fake unibrows, which patrons could wear to receive reduced admission for the institution’s Frida Kahlo exhibit—was that it was essentially harmless. Like it or not, Kahlo’s unibrow is part of what distinguishes her in the contemporary mind, and if that’s a portal to people learning more about her work and the passionate radicalism behind it, so be it. This open letter convinced me otherwise, for people wearing the unibrow “[tell] us that they are wearing the unibrow not in an earnest tribute to the artist and her work, but with a cool and distant irony.” (via Feminist Philosophers)
Tootsies: Hurricane + power loss + communal men’s shower at YMCA + transgender blogger + bright red pedicure = delightful story of gratitude from ShyBiker.
Adidas altar: There are greater ideological points made in Pop Feminist’s short and elegant treatise on gender and shoe worship, but it may be neatly summed up in her last line, “Never be friends with people, only be friends with shoes.”
…And Everything In Between:
Khromadone: Khroma, the Kardashian sisters’ cosmetics line, may soon be facing not one but two trademark infringement lawsuits. First came Chroma, a high-end brand that took pains to distance itself from the “low budget cosmetic products that will be sold in mass retail outlets” from the Kardashians—and now another line, Kroma, is looking into legal action after the Khroma team essentially ignored their cease-and-desist letter.
Osiao growth: Estee Lauder marches forward with its wide-scale promotion of Osiao, the company’s newly developed line for Asian consumers. Since 70% of the company’s online sales in China are in cities without the brand’s physical presence, Lauder is planting the line in stores throughout mid-tier Chinese cities in an effort to keep brand recognition strong.
Java time: With all the talk about the growth of cosmetics in China, Indonesia—the world’s fourth most-populous country—has been overlooked. (Guilty.) But no more!
Baring it: Perhaps taking a cue from Movember, the BBC is asking women to go without makeup for a day to raise money for scholarships via sponsors.
Backlash: UK consumers are backtracking on organic products; a new survey shows that only 38% of those who use organic cosmetics think they’re actually healthier, and about 60% find them overpriced.
“No guys, really, it’s just for my skin”: It takes a nuanced, clear-eyed woman to be able to talk about the complexities surrounding food without lapsing into everything we’ve heard a million times, but Edith Zimmerman does it in this Into the Gloss interview about the diet she went on to clear up her skin, and Phoebe Maltz Bovy does it in her take on the interview. For as Maltz Bovy puts it, “Gluten intolerance, vegetarianism, mild food poisoning, stress- or busyness-related under-eating, and, evidently, a diet that’s about clearing up acne, none of these need be about weight, but—as Edith Zimmerman certainly conveys, and as a less seemingly self-contradictory post wouldn’t have managed—it’s never a value-neutral thing when a woman does. This is never not part of the equation, precisely because of the (internalized and usual) societal validation women get for losing weight.”
Culture clash: The press has gotten somewhat better about not painting eating disorders as strictly a “white girl problem”—but attention to eating disorders internationally, outside of Europe, has been pretty much nil. (That is, except for the odd report about how the arrival of television in, say, Fiji ushered in the disease—which always went back to being a statement about the west, of course.) So this report about eating disorders in the Middle East, specifically United Arab Emirates, is interesting. As with so many other areas, the relationship between the west and east is both definite and uncertain, with western imagery embracing the thin imperative being tagged as one reason for the disease’s rise—but with region-specific media concerns, like the glorification of hunger-strike protesters, adding to the pot. (Thanks to Rahel for the link.)
“Half of myself”: About Face gives a rundown on the work of photographer Julia Kozerski, who, through documenting a 160-pound weight loss, shows the untold side of immense physical change. “Interior pain is not eradicated by transforming ourselves physically, and often altering our bodies, even if it is in the name of health, can bring about confusion and questions of identity.”
Featuring one of my Simone favorites, “Turning Point”
Little Girl Blue: Zoe Saldana, a light-skinned actress of Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage, will play Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic, and writer Akiba Solomon (among others) questions the appropriateness of this, given the importance the singer placed on her own physicality. “At a time when ‘black is beautiful’ was a revolutionary concept rather than a marketing campaign, Simone adorned herself with African garb and intricate plaited updos. Sometimes she posed nude. As a songwriter and performer, she created a space for black women to grapple with ideas of beauty, privilege and sexual desirability.” Is Saldana’s casting an erasure of Simone’s blackness?
Brought to you by: This interview with an herb farmer in Uganda who produces essential oils for the cosmetics industry provides a glimpse into the lives of people who are literally on the ground making the products that boast of being “all natural.”
Uniformed: Janelle Monáe has an interesting story as to why she always wears her black-and-white “uniform” of sorts: “When I started my musical career I was a maid, I used to clean houses. My parents—my mother was a proud janitor, my step-father who raised me like his very own worked at the post office and my father was a trash man. They all wore uniforms. And that’s why I stand here today in my black and white and I wear my uniform to honor them.” Similarly interesting is how she links this to being a Covergirl model: “I want to be clear young girls, I didn’t have to change who I was to become a Covergirl.” Not sure what to make of that—she’s honoring her background with her fashion, but it’s a highly stylized look that isn’t actually, you know, a maid uniform, so didn’t she…change who she was? Am I being dense?
“Be a Man”: A group of Egyptian men are dealing out vigilante justice to street harassers, spraying them with spray paint to visibly “out” them. It’s an interesting tactic, and I like the idea of giving out a sort of retribution that lasts as long as a nasty comment might linger in a woman’s ears, but obviously there are potential complications here. I’d be interested to know what women of the region feel about this—any Egyptian readers out there?
Lindsayisms: A surprisingly complex collection of encounters with Lindsay Lohan, culled by Sarah Nicole Prickett, in the latest issue of The New Inquiry. (Which of course you’re all subscribed to, right? Right??)
Beauty ? health: Why the fresh hell do Groupon’s “Here’s to Your Health” packages include tanning and laser hair removal but nothing to do with, oh, health? Caitlin Constantine takes a look at the conflation of health and beauty.
Make mine a double: Baze at Beautycism muses on the implication of “makeup bars,” where women pay for pro makeup jobs outside of the usual context (weddings, photo sessions, etc.): “Social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr have convinced women that they too are brands—pseudo-celebrities who want to make sure that every photo that hits the internet is in line with their message.”
Gag me: Perfumes Without Pity’s take on the Eat, Pray, Love scent collection. Bwah!
Painted ladies: Filmmaker Liz Goldwyn gives a bit of history on extreme 19th-century beauty practices beyond the stuff we already know. Painting on veins with grease pencils to appear more translucently pale?! Also check out Goldwyn’s new short, The Painted Lady, “a poetic internal monologue of a young girl as she recalls a passing encounter on the street with a ‘painted lady’ (a slang term for a 19th century prostitute). She romanticizes an overt sexuality so foreign to her—while imagining her own transformation from adolescence into womanhood.” (Thanks to Sarah Nicole Prickett for the link.)
Ditto that: Beth Ditto talks skinny privilege, and how growing up in a fat-phobic world made her resilient and better able “to find ways to become useful to myself.” And I’m honored to be featured in the accompanying slideshow of “body image heroes” alongside Lady Gaga, Ashley Judd, Lena Dunham, and Kjerstin Gruys.
It’s got legs: Elizabeth Nolan Brown takes an appropriately tongue-in-cheek look at “the secret to shapely legs.” (Turns out being Barbie, a Greek statue, or a lamp is step #1.)
Let’s call it a tie: Not sure which bit of auto news is more disturbing: Honda has a new car “just for women!” replete with an A/C system designed to keep skin soft, or Nissan’s attempts to create an interior upholstery that feels like human flesh.
Ugliness, flow, and the creative process: Insight-filled interview with Heroines author Kate Zambreno: “To be a woman writer I think you have to partially overcome, or at least wrangle with, the desire to be the object. Zelda [Fitzgerald] came into writing when she got out of the first institution—that picture of her haglike & free in that sailor suit—Cured! she scrawled across the bottom. I like to imagine she’s being cured from being the muse-girl. I think ugliness or enforced isolation in a woman can be perceived of as depression—the antidepressant advertisement, and yet it’s also essential to the creative process, to burrow under, to work not thinking of one’s appearance. Think of Edna Pontellier painting every day drained and yet more alive than ever and not receiving callers in The Awakening. Her doctor and husband chose to pathologize it—only because that behavior was unacceptable. And today we still have behavior that is perceived of as unacceptable, that stands in the way of women being artists, like the fear of ugliness, in so many ways – and the fear of nakedness, which I think is a fear of judgment and reprisal.” And this woman writer whispers Yes.
If you see something, say something: Sally on visibility and visionaries: “Part of me rebels against, ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.’ I mean, there have been so many women throughout time who have plowed forward with ABSOLUTELY NO EXAMPLES AT ALL, and changed the face of history with their visionary bravery. And I struggle with the idea that we, as women, require others to go first before we can follow along… [But] we are communal creatures, and we are influenced by what we see.”
Strikeout: Female inmates at a South African prison have threatened to go on strike, stating that the new head warden was taking away, without explanation, privileges such as meals with families, exercise hours—and the right to as many cosmetics as inmates want. Prison spokespeople say nothing has changed since the change in regime.
Quadraboob Study #8: What the Louvre can teach us about body image. Finding well-tailored clothes isn’t just a 21st-century problem, it seems!