“Dangerous” Indeed: Simon & Schuster Imprint Publishing Book by White Supremacist

When a major publishing company gives a lucrative book deal to a white supremacist, it legitimizes him, even when the topic is free speech.
Simon & Schuster announced that it will be publishing Dangerous, a book by Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor at Breitbart and a white supremacist, in March 2017 under its Threshold imprint, which is devoted to conservatism. As a Simon & Schuster author, I'm horrified that a company I've been proud to be associated with is giving a platform to Yiannopoulos. To be clear, the book isn't about white supremacy. The book is about free speech, and indeed Yiannopoulos is well-situated to write about free speech. White supremacy has a history of making people rethink their commitment to free speech (I'm thinking here of Skokie, Illinois, a heavily Jewish town where Nazis were allowed to march and display the swastika in 1977, thanks in part to the ACLU's efforts to support the Nazis' First Amendment rights). I don't want to stop Yiannopoulos… Read More...

The Sisterhood, If It Ever Existed and It Probably Didn’t, Shattered While I Wasn’t Looking and All I Got Was This Dumb Safety Pin

Summary: Show up.
I have always believed that beauty is political. But when we are dealing with fascism sweeping our nation, the way for those of us who believe that is to use beauty in ways that support the work we have ahead of us. Put on your lipstick if it makes you fierce, then go out and yell. But right now I don’t have my usual intellectual luxury of examining beauty in the ways I usually do in this space. I got an enormous shock in one of my core beliefs with this election. I have always believed, with the wide-eyed earnesty of a white woman for whom inclusion is usually taken for granted, in the sisterhood. I am horrified at how wrong I was about that. I’m shocked at my naive assumption that women would do better by one another; I’m… Read More...

Is There Such a Thing as the “Bipartisan Updo”?

It’s no accident that we think of Republican women's hairstyles as being...conservative.
  People magazine tweeted today about the “bipartisan updo” Ivanka Trump sported at the second presidential debate. I guffawed, assuming it was a comment about the party affiliation of the hairstyle—it's an updo, so it's conservative! but it has tendrils, so it's liberal! It turns out neither tweet nor hairstyle had anything to do with ideology; the article the tweet linked to mentioned how Trump’s hairstylist for the night was a Democrat. But it did get me thinking: Is there any connection between political ideology and hairstyle? In fact, is there such a thing as a “bipartisan updo”? Oddly, I couldn’t find any studies that looked at hairstyle and political leanings. Most of the studies on appearance and ideology are more focused on faces—a continuance of our fascination with physiognomy.That said, there's some evidence showing that some politicians, particularly Republicans, may… Read More...

Requiem for My Potential Hotness [Guest Post]

If you opt out of conventional hotness, how do you reconcile the desire to find out "what could have been"?
When I got an email with the subject line “Requiem for My Potential Hotness,” I was intrigued—and was hooked when its writer, Rachel McCarthy James, went on to detail how the false split between intelligence and beauty had led to another false split, this one of her own identity. I'm thrilled to host the results of that exchange here. McCarthy James has written for Broadly, Bitch Media, Lit Hub, and The Billfold, among others. You can follow her on Twitter @rmccarthyjames.    Since I saw Ariel and her purple bikini in The Little Mermaid at age three, I wanted to be hot. My parents were more interested in the development of my intellect than my looks, but I still nursed the secret desire to be desired, to be the thing that boys started calling Hot, sometime around the third grade. So… Read More...

The Well-Heeled Life: Shoes, Ability, and Fear [Guest Post]

We're led to believe that certain looks are incomplete without high heels, overlooking the ableist nature of the message.
Keah Brown's work first came to my attention with her nuanced critical view of disability and film in Catapult, and my appreciation of her work only deepened with "The Freedom of a Ponytail" , an essay about the triumph of learning to put her hair in a ponytail one-handed, as necessitated by the cerebral palsy that affects mobility on the right side of her body. In Lenny Letter, she writes: "[My ponytails] are a promise of more to come, a promise to keep working at them until they are the best that they can be. I find myself wondering back to that list of things I can't do and imagining a world in which I can. ... Being able to put my hair up didn't make me instantly love myself or my body, but it helped me see that I could… Read More...

Gymnastics, Ideal Girls, and the Signal of Makeup

Olympians' makeup reinforces expected feminine behavior—and contradicts it.
Photo: Agência Brasil Fotografias, via Wikimedia Commons   The Olympics are a helluva lot more thought-provoking in thinkpieceland, and in my corner of the internet, that means looking at gymnastics with a critical eye. There’s been fantastic commentary on gymnastics and femininity from Chloe Angyal, The Cut, and Stuff Mom Never Told You—all of whom take a more comprehensive view than I do here—but I’ve spent too much time watching the Olympics for me to not put my two cents in. (Otherwise I’ll have to admit that I am painfully basic when it comes to the Olympics, developing acute agita over sports I have given zero thought to for four years—steeplechase?!—and to form allegiances to athletes for no reason other than I want to visit their home nations. Dmitriy Balandin’s gold medal in the 200-meter breaststroke saw me leaping to my… Read More...

Nina Bhatti, Founder, Kokko Beauty, Los Altos, California

"I’m pitching this technology to largely men, and they don’t understand the beauty market. I’ll send an email stating, 'We’re solving this makeup problem' and they’re like, 'There’s a problem?'"
Thanks to Nina Bhatti, I found my perfect foundation. The founder of Kokko—an app that promises to find you a foundation that actually matches your skin—has the kind of background that makes her current project seem almost inevitable: She’s the former chief scientist of the mobile color research group at Hewlett-Packard, a former senior technologist for Nokia, and a woman who has wanted to have good makeup at her disposal without reading women’s magazines like a part-time job. Her creation is deceptively simple: You download the Kokko app, then take a selfie alongside Kokko’s color chart, which is the analog bit that makes this digital tool so excellent: By measuring your skin color alongside the known quantity of the color chart, Kokko has more to work with than less precise makeup matching apps, meaning you’ll wind up with one foundation… Read More...

Beautiful Music

A playlist about personal appearance, heavy on the RuPaul.
It's surprisingly hard to find music about personal appearance that isn't, like, gross (though never fear, there's plenty of objectification odes on here, see also Roy Orbison), but I did my best to create such a playlist for the Face Value launch party, and you never know when such a playlist might come in handy for others. All these songs are about appearance in some way—odes to beautiful people, admonitions to stay beautiful, paeans to the ways we prettify ourselves, an embrace of ugliness, a mantra of pride, you get the picture. (Apologies for the many covers of a few key songs, like "I Feel Pretty"—when a song was really perfect I didn't see a problem with playing its variations. Like this amazing punk version.) Two notes: 1) I do not necessarily endorse the messages in any of these songs—surprisingly, there were no songs titled… Read More...

Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives

On my 275-page attempt to dig deep into the contradictions of beauty.
  The day has come: My book, Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women's Lives, is out! You can see a list of retailers here at Simon & Schuster’s site, request it at your local bookstore, click through to the ubiquitous Amazon, etc. etc. you know the drill. (If you’re in New York, why don’t you swing by the launch party at Beauty Bar on Thursday and buy one there from Astoria Bookshop?) And you've shared your results from our 100% accurate, scientifically proven "What Color Lipstick Is Your Soul?" quiz on social media, right? I’ve been so pleased with the early response: The Boston Globe called Face Value “a fascinating look at a surprisingly broad topic,” Bustle named it one of their top summer nonfiction reads, and Elle and Huffington Post both allowed me to have great conversations with Elyssa Goodman… Read More...

What Color Lipstick Is Your SOUL?

When the beauty industry tries to get cute with its product naming, things can get ugly.
My fascination with beauty product names began with Havana. It was the early 2000s, I was copy editing at a teen magazine, and as I read the beauty pages I saw that a blush had the absurdly long name of Lancôme Blush Subtil Shimmer Shimmer Mocha Havana, and I thought, This name can't be right, because A) "Shimmer" was in there twice, and B) Havana has café au lait, not mocha, and as a young copy editor I was extraordinarily literal. I went to the beauty editor, who, quite rightly, looked at me like I was being a pedant, and assured me that Lancôme Blush Subtil Shimmer Shimmer Mocha Havana was an entirely reasonable name for a blush. The thing is, she's right. Beauty companies come up with these intensely long names for their products; you've got to get the… Read More...

Better Than Sex

Is mascara better than sex? Is cake better than sex? Is snow better than sex? Is kidnapping the son of a Cadillac dealer better than sex?
  A partial list of items reputedly better than sex, as inspired by Too Faced’s Better Than Sex Mascara. It is very good mascara. Whether it is better than sex, Gentle Reader, depends on you. Better Than Sex Rooibos Tea Better Than Sex BBQ Sauce Better Than Sex Amber Ale Homebrew Kit Better Than Sex Cake (the novel) Better Than Sex Cake (the 100% soy premium candle) Better Than Sex Cake (the cake) Better Than Sex: The Confessions of a Politics Junkie Sneezing In order: Haagen Dazs, hugging and kissing, Godiva chocolates, accumulating money, writing Pictionary My first bonafide vegetarian meal Smoking catnip Kidnapping the son of a Cadillac dealer 20 off-the-wall recipes A Mystery Featuring Anneke Hagen The abdominal orgasm that follows the “opiate flash” Salami and eggs (decision pending) Posing in front of 5,000 people and/or “the pump”… Read More...

We Have No Idea What Aging Looks Like

Our notions of age are changing, but the ways we talk about it aren’t.
  My friend Deborah from college loves to tell this story: One of the first times we hung out, we started talking about her solo travels to Burma and assorted other spots in Southeast Asia. I was 19 years old, and like most 19-year-olds, nearly all my friends were people I met through school in some fashion, meaning that virtually all my friends were people within a two-year age range of myself (four years max, though given the dynamics of high school and even collegiate hierarchies, anything more than two years was a stretch). But as she was regaling me with her thrilling tales, I realized she couldn’t have traveled so extensively if she were my age, and it dawned on me that I was talking to someone Older. I’d heard you weren’t supposed to ask people how old they… Read More...

Welcome to “Dietland”: Beauty and Subversion

People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because I’m into beauty, I must also be into fashion.
  People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because I’m into beauty, I must also be into fashion. I enjoy clothes that I find attractive, but fashion? Frankly, it bores me. My preference for the beauty world is partly practical (the price point is lower) and partly narcissistic (I can’t really see myself in clothes since I don’t have a full-length mirror, but I see my face a zillion times a day, so I’d rather just adorn that). But sometimes I think the real reason I’ve always been drawn to makeup is its subversive possibilities. There’s obvious subversion—goth-girl eyeliner and the like—but that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that makeup looks like it’s the stuff of soft, feminine compliancy, but if you want it to be, it can be steel. Someone might look at you with good-girl… Read More...

Guest Post: The Politics of Tibetan “Plateau Redness”

The debate surrounding "plateau redness" of Tibetan faces is part of the long history of situating women's bodies at the center of the struggle against colonialization.
"Plateau redness" of Tibetan faces is so notable that it's inspired songs—so what is the significance of its potential disappearance? Image © Bbbar | Dreamstime.com   “I remember when I was young, during my first trip to Chengdu, standing amid the hustle and bustle of crowds on Chunxi Road, where, no matter what clothes you were wearing or whether you opened your mouth to speak, from the wisps of natural rouge upon one’s face everyone could immediately identify a Tibetan girl.” So goes this piece, initially published on WeChat (a messaging platform popular in Tibet) by a young Tibetan student, which introduced me to “plateau redness,” the characteristic bright red cheeks of Tibetan people. It’s a feature I’d not known that I’d noticed, but when I stopped to think of iconic images of Tibetans, red cheeks were indeed an unmistakable… Read More...

The Worst Hair Dryer in the World

A quick dip into the history of hair-drying, pre-blow-dryers.
A quick dip into the history of hair-drying, pre-blow-dryers: My blow dryer stopped working a few weeks ago. I usually air-dry anyway, except for the front part, which I blow-dry because it's tricky to get it to air-dry just so. But in dawdling to replace my dryer—a process that will likely take at least six more weeks, because I'm lazy about the stupidest things—it got me thinking about how people might've tried to commodify hair before blow-dryers were around. (The first actual blow-dryer was invented the year before, though the device wasn't really wieldy for home use until the 1970s.) There was Parrish's design, above, as well as Anna Kellogg's design, also patented in 1899, both of which worked by lifting the hair off the back, which allowed for more air circulation and also protected clothes:   Then there were the… Read More...

Labor and Looking “Professional”

Looking "professional" means looking like you're not scrambling in the gig economy.
This is what a professional looks like (if you're Getty Images).     For my last haircut, I went to a fancier place than usual, a sleek joint where they bring you herbal tea. The reason for my upgrade was that I wanted to look more professional. Except for my decade of short hair, I’ve had exactly the same haircut since ninth grade: long, gentle layers, some tapering to frame the face, never bangs. It’s a fine, low-maintenance haircut that suits me, but as I approach age 40 I wanted something a little less collegiate. Professional was the exact word I used to the stylist. He proceeded to ask the most logical question possible in this scenario: What is your profession? In other words: What on earth do you mean by wanting to look professional? The thing is, I hadn’t taken it… Read More...