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The Don't Buy List: Ugly Feminists, Hot Moms, & Sunburn Blush
Plus, the Diapér.
Hello, dewy dust bunnies, and welcome to another edition of the The Don’t Buy List! I technically said I was going to pause DBL posts for May, but I can’t help it! There’s so much happening in and around the beauty industry right now it’s making me dizzy! I’m nauseous and I need to word-vomit!
The latest issue of Sports Illustrated features a model revealing her C-section scar. So many will see this and feel like it’s progress, like “MOMS ARE HOT” is some important step forward. Meanwhile, the government is saying “MOMS SHOULD DIE” and “THEIR BABIES SHOULD TOO.”
After I posted about this on social media someone replied with, “Anything expanding the definition of beauty is progress.” My question is: Progress toward what? Really — what is the end goal here? What does an “expanded definition of beauty” get us? It doesn’t get us closer to political equality, clearly. It doesn’t grant us bodily autonomy. It doesn’t even make us feel good!! At this point in history, we have more representation in the “beauty” industry and the media than ever before — and more accessible beauty products and procedures at our disposal — and appearance-related anxiety, depression, dysmorphia, disordered eating, and self-harm are all on the rise. Physical beauty is a false idol!!!
This is exactly what beauty culture is designed to do, by the way: It makes us believe beautiful is the most important thing we can be — that when we achieve beauty, we’ll be able to access power, money, love, success, whatever we want. And so we chase beauty while our power is systematically stripped away from us.
We often hear, “Beauty is political,” and it is. But its political power rarely benefits the people. Beauty is more often used as a weapon, a distraction, a consolation prize. In the midst of criminalized abortion and a nationwide baby formula shortage, that’s exactly what this Sports Illustrated moment is: a consolation prize. (Honestly, Goop’s strange little Diapér stunt got a lot of hate, but the end of the day it actually had a political point and made an impact! That’s more than we can say for most highly-praised “representation in beauty” PR moments.)
Why does beauty even matter right now? The other night someone told me “there are more important things happening in the world” — as if critiquing beauty culture in the midst of a white supremacist mass shooting and the overturning of Roe v. Wade was a waste of time. It’s not.
First of all: White supremacy — determining a human being’s worthiness based on the color of their skin — is literally a beauty standard. And it’s through beauty standards, beauty behaviors, and the beauty industry that white supremacy is constantly reinforced. (For instance: What message does it send when a cosmetic company stocks 20 shades of foundation for white skin and five for Brown and Black skin? What message does it send when Target puts foundations for dark skin tones in locked security boxes?)
Second of all: Beauty has been used as a weapon against women for centuries. The idea of “the ugly feminist” was invented to impede the feminist movement — suffragettes were dismissed as “masculine,” second-wave feminists were “ugly manhaters.” It’s still happening today! Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz tweeted this in response to the outrage over the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade:
When Gaetz implies that only undesirable women — unattractive, alone, unloved — care about bodily autonomy, he is once again weaponizing beauty. And like I said above, this is the whole point of beauty culture. It makes us believe “beautiful” is the most important thing we can be, defines “beauty” as a narrow physical ideal, and fills us with an obsessive desire to embody that ideal — only to later tell us that we must choose between beauty and autonomy, between beauty and personal power, between beauty and our own best interests. Anyway, this is why I won’t shut up about beauty, no matter what’s happening in the news: because I can almost guarantee you that what’s happening in the news has something to do with beauty.
On a lighter note… There’s a new “no-makeup makeup” trend in town: Gym Lips. If you think you have an idea of what “Gym Lips” might be based on the name alone… no, you don’t. Nothing can prepare you for the reality of Gym Lips. Gym Lips involves overlining your lips with a nude pencil, then covering the artificially-expanded surface area of your bloated pout with a high-shine lip treatment, then going to the gym. Excuse me while I stick two ultra-sharpened Charlotte Tilbury Pillow Talk Lip Liners into my eyeballs!
Another unhinged look the TikTokers are loving? “Sunburn blush.” This one is rich coming from a community that would happily burn you at the stake for flaunting an actual sunburn!! Let this be a reminder that 1) so many beauty trends are really just glamorized health issues and 2) common sense is incompatible with beauty culture.
Reading the Atlantic’s “What Do Female Incels Really Want?” was such a rollercoaster! The piece covers an online community of “femcels” — AKA, involuntarily celibate women who “complain about the superficiality of men and the privilege of pretty women, and to share their experiences moving through the world in an unattractive body, which therefore disadvantaged them romantically, socially, and economically,” writes reporter Kaitlyn Tiffany. One “femcel” describes the movement as the opposite of “girlboss” feminism:
“The liberal-feminist notion of like, supporting all women, feeling positive all the time … it’s disingenuous,” she told me. When she started identifying with the term femcel, it was partly because she felt a resentment toward a style of feminism that challenged traditional beauty standards mostly by asking those who fell short of them to feel beautiful anyway, regardless of their lived experiences. “I’d rather be able to talk about being ugly than just try to convince myself that I’m pretty,” she said.
I mean… Yes! I hate “everybody is beautiful” bullshit! I am into this! I am NOT, however, into the sentence that followed. In the words of the reporter:
In some ways, this logic is even more uncomfortable than the original incel logic.
Um… what? That is a WILD thing to say!!! What the above “femcel” described isn’t some fringe ideology or conspiracy theory; it’s a pretty accurate description of the realities of beauty culture. To declare it “more uncomfortable” than “incel logic” — a “logic” which inspires mass shootings, violence against women, and general misogyny — is categorically insane, I’m sorry. The truly uncomfortable part comes later, I think, when Tiffany writes that both incel and femcel ideology result in increased hatred toward women — for incels, the other; for femcels, the self. Feminist theorist Jilly Boyce Kay told the Atlantic, “These spaces do just kind of become inward-looking, very defensive, rather than about imagining radical new futures.” I’d invite any femcels who are interested in imagining radical new futures to subscribe to The Unpublishable :) There’s so much more to this article, though, and the full thing is worth a read.
If you haven’t yet, you can read my response to the New York Times “Generation Ageless” profile of Martha Stewart here. I also want to say: This Times piece came out in April, and although I started writing my response the same day, it took weeks for me to finish/publish it. Something that’s important to me with this newsletter is challenging the idea that writers need to churn out reaction articles immediately, that we need to catch the media wave ASAP or be forgotten. I think it makes for a lot of shitty, thoughtless, undercooked content and I think we need to slow the beauty news cycle!
Balance Me Natural Skincare launched a campaign “celebrating all ages, all life stages and all skin types” last week. It did not go over well on social media — eight of the nine models supposed to represent “all” were white or white-passing, and most of them were (seemingly) within the same age range. Lol. But that’s not the part I want to talk about. The part I want to talk about is the language. “You don’t need changing, editing or retouching,” the Balance Me announcement read. “It’s time to embrace your complexion, love those laughter lines and stop hating on those ‘flaws’.” It’s a fine sentiment until you click over to the website and see the products the brand sells: serum that “visibly smooths fine lines,” eye cream for “tightening the skin,” treatments for “a reduction in wrinkles.” If Balance Me really thinks women “don’t need changing” — if it truly wants women to “love those laughter lines” and “stop hating on those flaws” — PERHAPS IT SHOULD STOP SELLING PRODUCTS THAT SEND THE OPPOSITE MESSAGE?? Jesus. Why don’t brands get this. We don’t need you to launch a campaign celebrating fine lines! We need you stop fucking existing!
On that note… I loved “The philosophical case for not wearing make-up” from The New Statesman, a piece on Cambridge academic Clare Chambers and her book Intact: A Defence of the Unmodified Body. Everyone should read the whole thing and order the book!! Here are two particularly compelling passages to convince you:
“What I’m trying to capture with ‘the unmodified body’ is the idea that there is something valuable in allowing your body to be good enough, just as it is,” [Chambers] said. “And that seems like a really simple idea. But it’s actually incredibly difficult, and I think it’s also incredibly radical, because there are so many structures, norms, pressures, influences, constantly telling us that no matter what our bodies are like, they’re never going to be good enough.”
To demonstrate her point, Chambers noted that if she asked everyone in the audience what aspect of their bodies they’d most like to change, we would all be able to think of something instantly. More interestingly, if anyone refused and insisted their body was perfect as it was, the rest of us would likely find them arrogant and delusional. “So shame is built in; we’re supposed to feel shame all the time.”
And this, on “buying into the drive to ‘get your body back'‘ after pregnancy”:
“I did the sums, and I think in the UK the average life expectancy for a woman is 83,” she explained. “So if your real, authentic body is the one you have post-puberty and pre-pregnancy, that’s ten to 20 years of an average woman’s life. It’s under a quarter of your life. Why is that your authentic body? Why is the idea of getting it back so compelling and why is there so much shame attached to the idea that you haven’t got that body back?”
I mean… I’ve been sayin’!!!
A quick little rant: I saw a skincare brand post about sunscreen safety on Instagram last week, encouraging followers to learn more about the effects that various SPF ingredients have on the environment and the endocrine system by checking out three further “resources.” THE THREE RESOURCES WERE ALL BEAUTY INDUSTRY INFLUENCERS AND EXECUTIVES. Ahem. Beauty industry insiders are not reliable “resources” for unbiased information on the science of the environment or endocrine system! Reliable resources on these topics include environmental scientists and endocrinologists. I don’t know why this needs to be said. Would you recommend speaking to a fossil fuel executive to get accurate information on fossil fuels’ impact on the earth? No? Exactly. This is like that. Come on now.
As climate change demands a transition to renewable energy, “fossil fuel giants are looking towards petrochemicals … as their next major growth market,” CNBC reports, predicting that “every year through 2050, there will be 10 million metric tons of growth in the market for petrochemicals.” In other words: Fuel production may be ramping down, but petrochemical production is ramping up to compensate. The beauty industry, of course, is a huge supporter of the fossil fuel industry, specifically through petrochemicals and plastics. It’s almost impossible to find a single product (even a “clean” product) without petrochemical-derived ingredients inside, such as:
petrolatum / petroleum jelly
PEG-s (polyethylene glycol compounds)
Butyl-s (butyl alcohol, butylene glycol, etc.)
Propyl-s (isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, etc.)
As such, there is currently a huge disinformation movement happening within the beauty industry to downplay the environmental impact of petrochemicals. This CNBC report, and this similar report from Salon, should be required reading for all the skincare influencers and journalists who insist that petroleum jelly and the many, many other petrochemicals used in beauty products don’t really affect the environment since they’re fossil fuel “byproducts.” They do. Divesting from fossil fuels — which we have to do if we want the planet to be habitable in ten years, FYI! — has to include divesting from petrochemicals. Full stop. (If not for the sake of the planet, then at least for the sake of your skin.)
This just in: The US only recycles 5% of its plastic waste. Keep this statistic in mind every time a beauty brand promotes its “recycled” materials, brags about its “recyclable” packaging, or sends you an email on how to “recycle your empties” and think to yourself, This information is 95% meaningless. (What would be meaningful: Not mass-producing so much bullshit products — in post-consumer recycled plastic bottles or otherwise.)
The dissociated pout is the new duck face, says Rayne Fisher-Quann in i-D Magazine. The goal of the “lobotomy-chic stare” that’s taken over today’s selfies, she writes, is “the performance of detachment — to look as though you just happened to be photographed whilst contemplating your abject disaffection with the world around you.” This article has it all: dissociation! the death drive! the irony of “trying very hard to seem like they’re not trying hard at all”! Read the full thing here.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a tweet:
You’re Gonna Die Someday No Matter How Young You Look,
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