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Clean, Clear, Continuous Control
The Don't Buy List: Issue #51
Hello, dewy dust bunnies, and welcome to another edition of the The Don’t Buy List! Did anyone else watch Succession on Sunday? And did anyone else think that fascist-leaning presidential candidate Jeryd Mencken’s victory speech — full of white supremacist dog whistles — sounded a lot like a Neutrogena commercial??
“Don’t we long sometimes for something clean,” he asked, “something clean and true and refreshing?” I half-expected him to splash water on his face while giggling and delivering a tagline to camera: “REMOVE THE IMPURITIES!”
Or maybe Mencken’s face wash of choice would be Clean & Clear Continuous Control Cleanser? (Yes, that is an actual product.)
Start looking and you'll see quite a bit of overlap between white supremacist rhetoric and skincare rhetoric, since the “science” of cleansing is essentially a scam born of religious extremism, eugenics, racism, and classism. There's the whole “cleanliness is next to godliness” thing, of course (which is perpetuated through modern brands like Dieux Skin and Monastery and 100% Pure, and on the Dr. Bronner’s label, and in lingo like “skin savior” or “Holy Grail product”). Then during the Hygiene Revolution in the 1880s, being able to afford soap became a class marker, and the working class became known as “the great unwashed” (the idea of “rich people skin” is the current iteration). Also around this time, a German doctor published a book called Racial Hygiene, which later informed the eugenics movement, the Holocaust, and many of our modern ideas about morality and cleanliness and race (soap ads sometimes depicted effectiveness by illustrating a Black person as the “before” and a white person as the “after”; Dove just did this in 2017). For a more in-depth history here, I recommend reading Clean by Dr. James Hamblin and Beyond Soap by Dr. Sandy Skotnicki or watching this video essay.
Anyway! Onto the issue.
In this edition: Unregulated Juvéderm! Martha Stewart does Sports Illustrated! “Birthday makeup”! A silly new celebrity skincare line! The Goop cruise! Why the “wellness” girlies don’t feel good! E. Jean Carroll! Tucker Carlson! Undereye bags! Unibrows! And more!
Authorities in Cincinnati intercepted over $175,000 of unapproved injectable treatments, including Botox and Juvéderm. The unregulated substances were on their way to cosmetic injectors in “Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, New York and other US locations,” reports CNN. It’s not only sketchy spa owners buying non-FDA approved batches, either — a medical doctor in San Francisco pleaded guilty to using “misbranded and adulterated” injectables in November.
Re: 81-year-old Martha Stewart covering this month’s Sports Illustrated:
It’s not really “celebrating aging women” if you’re celebrating them for still looking young and fuckable.
I spoke to Phoebe Cotterell of BeautyMatter for “Misogyny and Makeup: What the Birthday Makeup Trend Taught Us.” Birthday makeup is “a more elaborate beauty look than the normal day-to-day one,” the reporter explains, and men on TikTok can’t shut up about it: “Videos on the social media platform see men complain about being seen with their girlfriends when they have ‘birthday makeup’ or feature podcasters making jokes about women’s appearances comparing their eye makeup to ‘raccoons.’” Why so bothered? As I told Cotterell:
Traditionally, the obvious, over-the-top use of beauty products and procedures violates the (false) code of ethics embedded in beauty culture. For example: When plastic surgery is subtle, we call it “good work.” When plastic surgery is obvious, we call it “bad work.” The message is, a “good woman” with “good work” conceals the labor they perform to make the entangled constructs of beauty and womanhood seem natural. A “bad woman” with “bad work” exposes the entangled constructs of beauty and womanhood as unnatural.
Maybe men don’t enjoy obvious aesthetic intervention because it exposes both beauty and womanhood as constructs. If “femininity” as defined by capitalist gender norms — naturally beautiful, good, pure, submissive, “the second sex” — isn’t inherent but imposed, then what does that say about “masculinity”? It forces men to reckon with the possibility that traditional masculinity is also a construct. It forces them to consider that their own identity as “a man” is imposed as well.
We go deeper into how the birthday makeup discourse relates to recent political moves to control women’s bodies — laws limiting access to abortion, the abortion pill, and trans healthcare — in the full article, which you can read here.
“I like my burgeoning unibrow,” Yasmin Gagné writes in “I Want My Unibrow Back” for the Cut. “It reminds me of the thick facial hair some relatives on my Indian side have and the strong unibrow my grandfather had in his youth.” I love this and I love that Gagné’s professional brow artist was the one who suggested she grow it out after years of shaving, plucking, and bleaching.
Model/actress Molly Sims announced a new beauty brand: YSE Beauty, “pronounced ‘wise’”, her team clarified in a press release. What I want to know is… YSE she think the world needs another celebrity skincare line??
It’s old news by now: Lauren Oyler’s essay on the Goop at Sea cruise for Harper’s (“I Really Didn’t Want To Go”) is a good read. Newer news: Her post-publishing interview on the Harper’s podcast is a good listen.
“Here's what I really think about the wellness thing,” Oyler says. “I think it does arise out of these real problems that you're talking about. I think that there is a mental health crisis in America, there is a women's health crisis in America — however, the people who are buying these products are not generally the people who are suffering those things, right? The women on the Goop At Sea experience are not suffering from a lack of health care; they are suffering from too much health care, right? They’re buying so much fucking health care. And they're like, Why do I still feel bad? … Everyone's like, Well, I'm meditating. I have my therapist, I do my acupuncture. I eat the right things. I don't eat gluten, I don't have caffeine. And it's just about like, desperately managing your day-to-day life so that you don't feel bad, ever, and it just doesn't work because you're just gonna feel bad sometimes, right? That's life. And if they would just read literature instead of going to Gwyneth Paltrow, they would understand that.”
I have to agree. Skip the skincare! Read a book! Feel bad! You’re alive!
E. Jean Carroll — a personal hero and friend of the newsletter — was awarded $5 million after a jury found Donald Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation. Prior to the trial, E. Jean was best known for her ELLE advice column, which ran in the magazine every month for 26 years. ELLE terminated her contract in 2019, just after E. Jean accused Trump of rape. Maybe because women’s magazines do not actually care about women or their wellbeing? But that’s just my guess.
(And proves “intellectuals” [or at least New Yorker writers and readers] aren’t above beauty culture.)
The other day Fashionista.com tweeted “See ya never, undereye puffiness” with a link to eye cream and honestly… undereye puffiness doesn’t deserve this hate! It’s proof of a long, cathartic cry! Of seasons changing, flowers blooming, pollen flying!! Of dancing, drinking, kissing all night and eating a salty pork roll egg and cheese sandwich the next morning!!! Embrace the puff, I say.
More recommended reading:
“Why Did Joyce Carol Vincent Die Alone?” by Hanna Phifer for Hazlitt
“L’Oréal urged to withdraw hair relaxers after studies find cancer risk” by Aamna Mohdin for the Guardian
“Our Way of Life Is Poisoning Us” by Mark O’Connell for the New York Times
“The Ivankification of Willa Ferreyra” by Ama Kwarteng for Coveteur
You’re Gonna Die Someday No Matter How Young You Look,