My favorite beauty tips inevitably involve something that makes the beauty ritual go a little bit faster, or a little bit cheaper: toilet seat covers as facial-oil absorbers; baking soda as a face, body, AND hair scrub; tinted moisturizer, etc. I’d always thought I liked these sorts of tips because they were simple, as the majority of beauty tips out there involve more work than I’m willing to do. (I tried Jane Feltes’ cat-eye tutorial, but after a week of just making my eyes water and, sadly, not resembling Julianne Moore's YouTutelage, I gave up.)
Lo and behold: It turns out I’m not a simple woman, but a lazy girl. Before 2003, the “lazy girl” most often turned up in folklore (where the girl in question would either be redeemed through marriage/motherhood, or would be punished for her lackadaisical ways) or erotic literature (“Kolina is a very lazy girl and needs strict discipline”). Enter Anita Naik, a British writer who, in 2003, released a trio of guides for the lazy girl: The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Good Health, The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Good Sex (?!)—and, of course, the Lazy Girl’s Guide to Beauty. (Thanks to Ms. Naik, lazy girls now also have personalized guides to living green, becoming successful, living the high life on a budget, and having both a party and a blissful pregnancy, preferably not at the same time, because everyone knows it ain't a party til there's mai tais.)
The line wasn’t actually for women who were lazy, of course: It was just a down-to-earth catchphrase that neatly capitalized upon the spate of guides for Idiots and Dummies, seeming downright solicitous compared to those titles. The main effect the series had was that it made the terminology caught on: Everywhere from Cosmo to Seventeen to Refinery 29 to Prevention (which is geared toward women over 35, though lazy women just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?) has run guides for the lazy girl, usually focusing on fitness or beauty.
The term “lazy girl” reveals less about the low-effort shortcuts that are promised and more about what it implies about all the rest of the beauty advice we’re given. While we sometimes use lazy to mean leisurely (a lazy Sunday afternoon), most of the time when we use lazy—especially in work-obsessed America—we’re using it as a slur. When we giddily tout the guide for the lazy girl, it may seem liberating, but in actuality it’s an admonishment: We’ll let you get away with it this time, the lazy girl’s guide tells its readers. But don’t think you can get used to this.
Sometimes the advice really can be applied to the lazy—sleep with your hair in a bun so you wake up with no-labor waves; wear bright colors to distract from your less-made-up face. But much of the time the advice is downright industrious. At best, it’s about skipping beauty labor that, under other conditions, we’re assumed to perform. “I don’t curl my eyelashes,” confesses the Refinery 29 writer; “Use an illuminating cream-colored shadow on your eyelids, inner corner of the eye and under the brow to make your eyes look wide awake," writes Daily Makeover—the presumption being that this is a shortcut from our normal eyeshadow routine. At worst, it’s about encouraging us to buy more products, with an accompanying convoluted justification of how it actually saves us labor: We can spray our feet with callous softening spray for when we give ourselves pedicures; we can buy an ionic hair dryer; we can do at-home highlights (the idea being that we’re “too lazy to hit the salon,” as though laziness is what's preventing most women from getting professional hair color).
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve got nothing against a good beauty tip, and I’ve definitely got nothing against laziness, of which I have a long, mighty history. (ase in point: At age eight I announced to my family that I was dropping the first letter of parenthetical clauses that began with the letter “C” in order to save myself the effort. AND I STAND BY IT.) In fact, the very reason the spate of lazy girl tips jumped out at me is because it's the type of beauty story I'm most likely to read—in theory, it's geared specifically toward women like me, whose beauty routines are performed with a sort of no-nonsense attitude, not a mind-set of fantasy and play, and who thus are probably looking for a break here and there. And I actually appreciate the irreverence of the lazy girl’s guide over the sacrosanct attitude some beauty copy has.
I just don’t like the idea that by being minimal, I’m being lazy, as though not applying eyeshadow is in the same category as playing dumb when it comes time to tally up the restaurant bill (I’ll always pay my share, but please for the love of God don’t make me do the math, too many mai tais!) or calling a coworker to pick up a file instead of delivering it myself. I’m actively choosing “lazy” tips because I’m the opposite of lazy—I’m busy. My beauty labor is indeed labor, and I treat it as such—but the mere act of performing it is a sign I’m not lazy about it at all.