What’s going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.
Radio lab: Radioactive beauty products, for real, back in the day. Isn’t it fantastic that we now have laws and stringent federal regulations against putting poisonous crap in our cosmetics?
Made for walking: Virginia Postrel on our collective fascination with shoes (including a follow-up from the poll from a couple of weeks ago about how many pairs of shoes you own): “[The] distinction between media manipulation and personal meaning hints at the bigger issues at stake in all this talk about shoes: How do we understand life in a commercial, consumer-oriented society?”
…And Everything In Between:
Rock on: Procter & Gamble is partnering with the United Negro College Fund and Black Girls Rock! (you know they really rock because of the exclamation point) to “document the current state of black beauty with an in-depth look at the influences—people, fashion, music, education, pop culture—and provide tools and resources to foster a greater sense of self and confidence within the next generation of young black girls.” Undoubtedly at least some of the findings will include ways that Pantene, Head & Shoulders, and Olay can be integrated into the lives of black girls—but if this initiative actually listens to what young black women are saying about their lives, then I’ll try not to raise my eyebrows too high. Deal?
Global beauty: No matter how many times I see this kind of piece, I’m a sucker for it every time: makeup, beauty, and skin care trends across the world. Why are women in Japan concerned about the shape of their face? Why do women in Russia play matchy-matchy? Why do New Yorkers love their weirdo nail polish colors? (I thought this was everywhere, but of course we New Yorkers think New York is ur-everywhere, so.)
The specials: So tired of “lipstick index” blather. But this piece at Investor’s Business Daily manages to look at the business end of why specialty retailers—including specialty beauty retailers like Ulta and Sally Beauty—manage to thrive in a recession beyond the (likely erroneous) folk wisdom of “small pleasures in hard times,” which we have heard ad nauseam.
Il criminale: Italian cosmetics mogul charged with embezzling 19 million euros from his company, Limoni, and making fraudulent bankruptcy claims. Also, the Italian term for embezzle is appropriarsi indebitamente. We should all speak Italian only, forever.
The fashion system: Maryam Monalisa Gharavi follows up on her series about fashion and Occupy, splendidly intertwining Bill Cunningham, Kanye West’s Givenchy plaid, Roland Barthes, and, natch, Simon Doonan. (Fact: “In the wake of Occupy New York reinforced an anti-mask law on the books since 1845.”)
Grody grody gross-out, Part I: “There is nothing sexier than brains and power, unless it is brains and beauty. In that spirit that I have compiled a list of the Top 30 Hottest Political Women.” I don’t think we even need to say what’s wrong with this linkbait list from the Washington Times, now, do we? But if you’d like someone to spell it out, About-Face will oblige. (No direct link because I don’t want to give the Times the satisfaction of a single click-through.)
Grody grody gross-out, Part II: The CDC—as in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as in a federal agency, as in that’s my goddamned beer money—swoops in just in time to cure the nation’s severe shortage of wedding advice for nervous brides with its hi-lar-i-ous “Wedding Day Survival Guide” that successfully communicates how batty those bridezillas are, you know girls. Your tax dollars at work, folks! (Thanks to Lindsay for the link.)
“Because you’re worth it.”
Zoning restriction: Revlon chief Ron Perelman hosted a fundraiser for Mitt Romney. Also this week at Revlon: The company launched the Revlon Expression Experiment, designed to help women “step out of their comfort zone” with makeup by meeting monthly challenges like wearing a bold red lip. Certainly if Romney wins in November, women will step way out of their comfort zone, so hey! Corporate consistency.
Balk like an Egyptian: Hospital janitor let go from her job after refusing to tone down her dramatic Egyptian-style makeup.
Put on your face: Saudi Arabia leads the Gulf nations in cosmetics spending. I’d never thought about it, but why wouldn’t you wear makeup under a niqab? Not that every Saudi woman covers her face, but from what I understand many do. I wear makeup even when I don’t “need” to look good; it’s sort of my way of readying myself for public. I suppose some women who cover their faces might feel the same way.
Boycott update: The U.S. Presbyterian church votes to boycott Ahava for basing its factory in the West Bank, but narrowly decided not to divest funds from companies that manufacture equipment being used in questionable ways beyond the Green Line.
Magical mystery tour: Elizabeth Greenwood on Magic Mike: “Soderbergh uses the guys’ impulse to get naked for money as emblematic of the raw deal all Americans have been handed in the 21st century. But unlike with female strippers, the motivation for these men to shed their G-strings is assumed to be purely financial and not because of some Oedipal issue to replace mommy with a cougar, not because of some bad-boy moral depravity. Their performance actually enhances their masculinity rather than corrupting it, because when they are on stage writhing and strutting, the pressures of making ends meet seem to dissolve, and their chiseled Adonis-like bodies are worshipped like kings.” Meanwhile, Tits and Sass critiques the “stripping” part of the stripping movie.
Compliment complement: Hugo Schwyzer picks up where I left off on my compliment series: What about men receiving compliments from women? As he points out, with all the attention given in the press to the uptick in men’s beauty products, you’d think that men would be on the receiving end of compliments more frequently—but it hasn’t turned out that way. And are women secretly longing to compliment men more frequently? When I talked with Hugo for this piece, he brought up the phrasing of a compliment women often give men: “That [item of clothing] makes you look good.” And sure enough, that’s what I’m most likely to say to men in my life, whether romantic or platonic. It can feel like too much of a risk to say, “You look great” to a man—even when he does look great—because it feels too personal, too intimate, too forward. And maybe that’s okay (I don’t want to be the equivalent of the dude who thinks “hot” is a fine compliment to give to a coworker), but withholding isn’t really the answer either.
He is legend: I’m a sucker for an awesome-sounding abstract. From Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture: “I will argue that whilst [Will] Smith’s body initially appears to be fetishized, his representation is characterized by performance and fragmentation that renders the body and blackness a construction, rather than a naturalized/essentialist object of desire. Mythic phallic power and desire is displaced onto clothes and accessories that function to construct Smith’s on-screen personas as a new male hero with crossover appeal in order to maximize his celebrity commodity status.” Ten bucks says this started as a bet involving the impossibility of getting publishing cred out of Will-Smith-gazing.
Death of the metrosexual: The beauty industry giveth, and the beauty industry taketh away.
Talk therapy: Hamilton Nolan at Gawker asks if the streak of depressive beauty editors at
Lit up: A psychologist specializing in treating eating disorders says out loud something that plenty of teen girls already know: Reading eating disorder literature can be a symptom of an eating disorder. He acknowledges—as do I—that the slew of YA books focused on eating disorders can be helpful to some sufferers, but he also points out that
The case of the missing woman: That’s women over 40, in the media, who aren’t depicted as pathetic, evil, or asexual, or as the target of ridicule. As ever, Beauty Redefined lays out the issues here perfectly: “Wonder why you never see women with gray hair featured positively in any sort of mainstream media? Because gray hair doesn’t make anyone any money.”
Signs and signifiers: Feminist Figure Girl, playing off Daniel Hamermesh’s findings on the economy of beauty, gets into the signals we send with our beauty choices. (Snort: “Butt implants=’I will do anal.'”)
“Girl bathers let sun ‘King Tut’ their arms”: A history of the suntan, replete with vintage advertisements. (General heads-up: This blog is fantastic, if you’re interested at all in teenagers or mid-century history.)
The reluctant femme: When feminine appearance is so prescribed, what happens when a gay woman with a “butch” girlfriend is suddenly labeled “femme” despite not feeling like one? “When we walk down the street a stranger would easily label us ‘stud’ and ‘femme.’ While being called a ‘stud’ leads to unfair and often incorrect assumptions and connotations about who she is and how she acts, it does put her in a position that connotes dominance. I had never been submissive or aware I was seen as such until then. I wasn’t so much frustrated with being unable to pick a label; I was frustrated with having become a ‘femme’ by default.” (via Sally)
All that jazz: A photo exhibit of vajazzling. Now, at last, the art world can rest.
“You have to be a voice”: Remember that fashion spread with a plus-size and straight-size model embracing that got everyone talking a couple of months ago? Worn Journal has an interview with the editor.
“I wonder if dolphins think other dolphins are more beautiful than one another”: Edith Zimmerman, editrix of The Hairpin and one of my favorite Internet presences ever, is her usual hilarious self in this Into the Gloss interview about her erstwhile acne—but the vulnerability here is what makes this a winning read. “My reality had shifted: I wasn’t pretty, because I had this thing, and if anyone saw it, they would know that the reality was I was gross.” But don’t fret! There’s a happy ending! (via Jessica Stanley)
Bionic boobs: Leah at Hourglassy asks what’s up with the whole breasts-as-weapons thing. It seems like one of those things that masquerades as vaguely “empowering” but that, in truth, is anything but—and that caters more to a male fantasy of female power than women’s actual fantasies of their own power.
Wee bit of self-promotion: My Whole Living piece from the June issue is now online. I’m so pleased with how it turned out—a million thanks to the team at Whole Living, who made this essay the best it could be.
Something smells funny: Can you imagine an ad for a women’s fragrance using humor as its selling strategy? Yet Old Spice and Axe alike manage to do so time and time again.
Know your ABCs: With her painstaking (and amusing) tales from the fitting room, June at Braless in Brasil confirms every bra experience I’ve ever had at Victoria’s Secret: Their fitting is atrocious. (And for the record, I wear a very common size, and the few times I’ve tried to buy something there they never have it.)