Lisa Ferber, Artist, New York City

{For more long-form interviews from The Beheld, click here.} 

A highly productive bonne vivante, Lisa Ferber has shown her paintings and illustrations at National Arts Club, the Painting Center, and Village West gallery. She's also the creator, writer, and star of the feature film The Sisters Plotz (directed by Lisa Hammer, and starring Eve Plumb, Lisa Ferber and Lisa Hammer), which debuted at New York City's Anthology Film Archives in 2015, and launched as a Top Five Most-Watched video on FunnyorDie.com. Words like whimsy and satire are frequently applied to her work—but it’s her enchantment with beauty, expressed through vibrant color and markings of high glamour, that made me want to interview her. A featured speaker at New York University on independent arts marketing, her keen awareness of image extends beyond canvas and stage to her signature colorful wardrobe and polished presentation. We talked about makeup as a symbol of humility, the glamour of the absurd, and beauty as a marketing tool. In her own words:

Photo: Meryl Tihanyi

Photo: Meryl Tihanyi

On Apologies

There are ways people have to deal with physical beauty that they don’t have to with other assets. Beautiful people are supposed to act as though they don’t know they’re beautiful, even if it’s kind of a fact. Somebody might say, “I’m good at math” and not apologize for it, but for a woman to say, “Yeah, you know, I’m really pretty”—nobody does that. It’s weird that people are modest about being beautiful because it’s sort of an accident. But it can be a way of stepping away from being threatening, since beautiful women are seen as threats. I remember complimenting this woman who was working on a show with my then-boyfriend. I said she was really pretty and she said, “It’s amazing what a good lipstick and a great dress can do.” It made me like her more because I felt she was saying, “I know I’m in a show with your boyfriend, but I am not a threat to you.” I felt she understood that sometimes women can be insecure about having a pretty woman around their guy, and that she could handle that with humility and manners without insulting herself.

Part of it is the social power women wield with beauty. When we say, “Oh, that woman is so beautiful,” we give her power and mystery. Beauty simultaneously gains someone social respect and people’s suspicion. Are there certain types of beauty that don’t incur the wrath of other women? Or certain levels of beauty? If you work with someone who has that California-girl kind of beauty, everyone is going to want to think she’s dumb, because she’s pretty in that certain type of way. Whereas I think women are into someone like Angelina Jolie because she’s freaky-looking but also really beautiful.

I think people believe they’re supposed to apologize for beauty because it’s genetic. Nobody’s allowed to show that they know it, yet most of us are also raised to present ourselves confidently. If you don’t groom yourself and make the effort, it looks as if you don’t care—or even that you’re conceited. I go through phases of not wearing makeup, and someone said to me once, “I noticed you don’t wear any makeup—how come?” I remember thinking, Why do I need to explain this? Is she saying that I don’t have the right to think that I look good without it? Should I wear makeup just to show that I don’t think I’m okay without it?

I think as much as women are raised to believe in ourselves, we’re also taught that a woman who’s prettier or slimmer than the people around her will be hated—think of the whole idea of “You’re so skinny, I hate you!” That mind-set can prevent women from revealing their full bloom. It’s really only been in the past few years that I’ve been able to not just present myself comedically, in terms of the way I look. For many years I felt like my self-presentation had to have something ridiculous about it, sort of kooky—and sure, there’s always going to be an artsiness about my style. But for me to just put on a beautiful dress and feel comfortable looking elegant and serious and poised, and not have to have something ridiculous about it—I had to be ready to say, “I can handle this.”

 

Djuna’s Croissant Had Failed Her  

Djuna’s Croissant Had Failed Her 

On the Glamour and Humor of Her Work

People have always responded to my work as witty, both my writing and my visual art. Only recently have I thought: You know, I really love beauty. I want my visual work to be transportive—to be beautiful as well as witty. Wit has a glamour to it, which I hope comes through in my work. I also think absurdity is glamorous, if you think of glamour as something indulgent and transcendent. Glamour means there’s a sense of mystery that makes you want to get closer, but you suspect that you can’t. So I put my women in makeup and necklaces—I’m not going to draw schlubs! But for somebody who loves beauty so much, I’m not painting a picture of the prettiest girl in the room. People tell me that I create characters, almost like pop art or illustrative art—they’re not supposed to look like people we know. But something can be beautiful even if it’s not realistic. I want that feeling of “Aaah” that comes because something is gorgeous, with beautiful colors.

When I’ve gone through tough times in life, the things that help me survive are beauty and humor, and it bothers me when people try to make them separate. Beauty and humor are both transportive—they’re magical. When I was growing up two of the women I admired were Lucille Ball and Gilda Radner, because they were pretty and funny. And one of my current heroines is Fran Drescher. She created a hilarious show and strutted around that set without apologizing for being beautiful, funny, and powerful. I think that women in comedy often make themselves less pretty because they’re taught they have to choose between pretty and funny. But I don’t want to have to choose one or the other in the way I present myself as a woman, or in my artwork. I want my viewer to enjoy two of my favorite things: beauty and humor.

Lady Ferber Gave Her Sommelier the Afternoon Off  

Lady Ferber Gave Her Sommelier the Afternoon Off 

On the Myth of the Underdog

We give ourselves credit for thinking someone who’s jolie-laide is cool-looking because she’s not conventional. But when you look at these women, it’s not as though they’re ugly—when Anjelica Huston walks into a room, everyone notices her. It’s like sometimes we’re taught to hate conventionally pretty things because we’re more feminist if we think weird-looking people are pretty—but those people are still pretty. I mean, Christie Brinkley is super-duper pretty. She’s the definition of pretty. But it’s not cool to say so because she’s conventional-looking. I love pretty! Pretty is great! I’m kind of on both sides of it. It upsets me that women are taught it’s imperative that they keep themselves looking attractive, but if somebody tells me I’m pretty, I think that’s nice of them. It annoys me when people think you have to choose one side.

Nobody relates to the pretty, popular character in a movie, even people who are pretty and popular. We’re always supposed to relate to the underdog. There’s this movie Boomerang, with Eddie Murphy—Robin Givens is the hot woman, and she’s evil, and Halle Berry is sort of the sporty underdog best friend. Halle Berry is the underdog! You’re supposed to relate to her, even though nobody can relate to Halle Berry! But the movie standards for beauty set us up, and maybe that’s for our ego—we get to feel like the underdog, but then we can think, “Wow, look at that underdog, she’s really beautiful.” And it’s because we’re convinced that we’re never the top thing. Certainly things like beauty contests don’t help. Beauty contests? That’s crazy!

I remember being an editorial assistant, and there was this other girl who worked there. I started to pick up on this vibe that she resented me somehow. I didn’t know if I was imagining things so I talked to a friend who had worked there for a while. He said, “Well, before you came, she was the only attractive young editorial assistant.” I hadn’t taken away anything from her—we were both young, pleasant women, but there’s this idea that there can only be one woman who occupies that space at any given time, and it becomes a part of our mentality. Take the idea of the 50 most beautiful people in the world—why should there be a competition? Men don’t think this way, and women don’t think this way about men. Women might compete for men, but the emphasis is on competing with one other, not on competing for him. 

The Sisters Plotz  premiere, 2015 (photo: Lisa Lambert)

The Sisters Plotz premiere, 2015 (photo: Lisa Lambert)

On Beauty as a Marketing Tool

I think beauty is a fantastic marketing tool. By being beautiful, a person is saying that she has the things associated with beauty: health, wealth, success, all these things that we value. When you hear, “Oh, I ran into so-and-so, and she looked like hell,” boom—she’s leading an unhappy life. But when it’s “...and she looked great”—now, what that could mean is that she’s had a ton of Botox and has a personal trainer and is miserable. A beautiful woman can be miserable like anyone else. But we think she’s doing well.

Whenever we hear about the beautiful but tortured woman, we don’t really believe it, which is why we love it. We still think she’s cool in some way. The Jared Leto character on My So-Called Life was considered a heartthrob because he was beautiful and tortured. If he hadn’t been beautiful but was still tortured, his character would have just been some random guy, but to have a coating of beauty over an implied pain is perceived as intriguing.

As a visual artist, I am constantly expressing myself, so when I leave the house I’m going to be together. I’m going to have my lovely necklace, my lipstick, my pretty dress. There probably are industries where you have to play down any ornamentation in order to market yourself properly—but actually, when I’m presenting myself as a writer I try to be more glamorous. When you’re a writer people assume that you’re smart, and I don’t want to be seen as, Oh, she has brains, so she doesn’t have a body. I’m a body person as well as a mind person. When you’re a visual artist nobody necessarily assumes that you’re smart. So when an artist has something about them as a person that makes people want to keep looking at them, we’re intrigued by that and then want to know the artist’s work—which is part of marketing. Really, beauty is marketing: That’s the whole point, that you see somebody and they’re beautiful and you think, I want to get to know you. People are going to want to talk to a beautiful woman. Women are going to admire her, and men are going to want her, and she just seems happy and healthy and like she’s doing well. That’s what draws people in.

This works in other professions too: When I’m working in any job, I like to be valued as a part of the team, and part of it is showing up well-groomed, in nice colors, and just contributing to the overall atmosphere. I sang in choir when I was in Hebrew school—I wasn’t thinking about how my particular voice sounded, I just wanted to contribute to the beauty of the overall sound. It’s like that with my art, and my style. I want to be a pretty part of the world.

Henry Might Organize His Freezer This Evening  

Henry Might Organize His Freezer This Evening 

For sale inquiries, please contact Lisa Ferber at LadyFerber@gmail.com.

[This interview originally posted in March 2011.]

Permission to Flirt

Judgments, Rosea Lake


By now, you’ve probably seen art student Rosea Lake’s photo Judgments, which went viral earlier this month. Unlike, say, videos of children on laughing gas, this went viral for a very specific reason: It does what the strongest images do, namely that whole “worth a thousand words” bit. Judgments communicates the constant awareness of, well, judgments that women face every day we leave the house (and probably some when we don’t), and I won’t say much more about the actual image because it speaks well for itself.

That said, I’ve read commentary on the image that has also struck a chord, specifically Lisa Wade’s spot-on post at Sociological Images about how Judgments pinpoints the constantly shifting boundaries of acceptable womanhood, and then relates that to something women are mocked for: all those darn clothes (you know women!). “[W]omen constantly risk getting it wrong, or getting it wrong to someone. … . Indeed, this is why women have so many clothes! We need an all-purpose black skirt that does old fashioned, another one to do proper, and a third to do flirty....” Wade’s main point is an excellent one, as it neatly sums up not only what’s fantastic about the image but why women do generally tend to have more clothes than men.

But my personal conclusion regarding Lake’s piece was actually somewhat different: To me, it illustrates why my own wardrobe is actually fairly limited in range. The first time I saw it, I was struck by how effectively it communicates exactly what it communicates. The second time I saw it, though, I made it personal and mused for a moment about how save one ill-advised maxidress and one black sheath that hits just above the knee, literally every single one of my hemlines is within an inch of “flirty.” This is semi-purposeful: It’s a flattering length on me, and I’m a flattery-over-fashion dresser, so I’ve stuck strictly with what works. And isn’t it a funny coincidence that what happens to flatter my figure just happens to be labeled as “flirty” here, when in fact “flirty” is probably, for the average American urban thirtysomething woman, the most desirable word on this particular chart to be described as? (Depending on your social set you might veer more toward proper or cheeky, and of course I don’t actually know which of these words women in my demographic would be likely to “choose” if asked, but I have a hard time seeing most of my friends wanting to be seen as prudish—or, on the other end, as a slut.)

Of course, it’s not a coincidence, not at all. I may have believed I favored that hem length because it hits me at a spot that shows my legs’ curves (before getting to the part of my thighs that, on a particularly bad day, I might describe as “bulbous”). And that’s part of the reason, sure, but I can’t pretend it’s merely a visual preference of mine. As marked on Judgments, that particular sweet spot—far enough above the knee to be clear that it’s not a knee-length skirt, but low enough to be worn most places besides the Vatican—also marks a sweet spot for women’s comportment. Flirty shows you’re aware of your appeal but not taking advantage of it (mustn’t be cheeky!); flirty grants women the right to exercise what some might call “erotic capital” without being seen as, you know, a whore. Flirty lends its users a mantle of conventional femininity without most of femininity’s punishments; flirty marks a clear space of permission. Curtailed permission, yes, but sometimes a skirt’s gotta do what a skirt’s gotta do, right? So, no, it’s no accident that nearly all my dresses fall to this length. I wear “flirty” skirts in part because I play by the rules. I’ve never been good at operating in spaces where I don’t have permission to be.

Of course, that permission will change: The lines as shown on Judgments indicate not only hemlines and codes women are judged by, but where women are allowed to fall at any particular age. A “provocative” teenager might be slut-shamed, but she isn’t told to keep it to herself; a 58-year-old with the same hemline might well be told just that, if not in as many words. “Proper” isn’t necessarily a sly way of saying “frowsy” when spoken of a middle-aged woman, as it would be for a 22-year-old.

Given how widely this photo made the rounds, it’s clear it struck a nerve, and I’m wondering what that nerve is for other viewers, in relation to their personal lives—and personal wardrobes. Do you take this as commentary on rigid rules for women, or on the constant flux of expectations—or are those just two expressions of the same problem? Do you dress within “permission,” or do you take pleasure in disregarding permission altogether? Or...?

On Veterans Day

"Nicky," Here Are the Young Men, Claire Felicie, 2009–2010

When I write here of beauty, most of the time I’m actually writing of convention—of what we as a culture have given our stamp of approval in the realm of beauty. The point isn’t any person’s actual appeal; the point is the standards and parameters we create around beauty.

But the way I experience beauty in my day-to-day life is personal, not sociological. When I register someone as beautiful—that is, when a person shows up on my radar as you should continue to look—it’s because of a quality the person has. A flicker in the eyes, a smirk, the way the person moves. That sounds vague because it is vague, it has to be vague, because if it were charted and fully understood, it might lose its properties of fascination. Beauty’s ineffability is part of what makes it register to us as beauty.

It's that elusive transcendence—which may or may not be beauty—that comes to mind with Claire Felicie’s remarkable photographs of soldiers taken before, during, and after their tours of Afghanistan, titled Here Are the Young Men. If you saw these photographs absent of context, some of them might have that sort of unclassifiable but intriguing quality about them to you; others wouldn’t. But when you learn that these were taken before, during, and after a life-changing experience that most of us will thankfully never know for ourselves, other qualities leap forward. Aversion, deadening, patience, cynicism, hatred, weariness, reluctance: The photos reflect something more complex than a mere loss of innocence. The phrase “the fog of war” refers to the shrouding of facts, evidence, and ability to determine the best course of action that something as extraordinary as war brings. I think of it here because of these men’s faces: You can’t look at them and draw any sort of universal conclusion. Some men look like the grew into themselves during their tour, a sort of adultness settling across their face. Other men, afterward, are unable to look into the camera. There’s no one way to know how war will change any individual, or any nation.

These photos also call into focus the fluctuating gap between what we really see and what we expect to see, both 
overshadowed by our knowledge that predetermination will change what we see. As Heather Murphy writes on Slate’s photo blog, “[T]here is something else in that third picture; a dullness to the eyes, a stiffness to the jaw. Isn’t there? What’s interesting about this project is that you can convince yourself that someone changed dramatically from middle to right, only to compare right to left and talk yourself out of it. It must just be angle or lighting, you say.” Yet Murphy reaches the same conclusion I do: “But even after you’ve concluded that wrinkle isn't really any bigger, it's undeniable that there is a difference. … It's not about the obvious clues like a frown or matted hair, but something far more nuanced.”

This can be applied in a far broader context: How our assumptions regarding people’s experiences color how we visually perceive them. Those broader applications are worth looking at, but today, for once I’m not thinking of how to make these questions bigger. I’m thinking of the soldiers—the veterans—and their before, during, and after. Whatever any of us may think of the war in Afghanistan, these people were there fulfilling their duty—as many of our parents did in Vietnam, our grandparents in WWII, our great-grandparents in the Great War that made the eleventh day of the eleventh month a global call for peace, and a global remembrance of those who served. I don’t want to glorify war or its participants by commenting upon Veterans Day. But an honoring needn’t be one of glorification; it can be an honoring of experience. And today, we honor just that.

Recommended Reading

The initial inspiration for The Beheld was, unsurprisingly, The Beauty Myth. But when Rebekkah Dilts of Radar Productions interviewed me recently, I found myself articulating for the first time why I’m eager to look beyond The Beauty Myth. Wolf’s work is incredibly powerful and necessary—we’re hardly free of the “Iron Maiden” of beauty standards, but if it weren’t for The Beauty Myth giving a name and common language to those standards, we’d feel a lot more isolated in our internal struggle regarding our bodies/our selves (and possibly more passively accepting of the rules of beauty too).

But as I said, I’m eager to look beyond this polemic from 20 years ago. I bring up its age not to say it’s no longer relevant but rather to point out that it is relevant, perhaps more than ever—and that we’re still stuck in a lot of the same old ways of thinking. I bring plenty of thought here that sprang from The Beauty Myth, but I’d also like to offer a sort of parallel track alongside Wolf’s sharp cultural critiques: Without merely being dupes of the patriarchy, plenty of women still want to be beautiful (Wolf never says we shouldn’t want that, by the way). Let’s look at what we’re actually doing within the confines of the beauty myth; let’s look at the reasoning we offer ourselves and one another; let’s examine the agency we bring to the vanity table—and, sure, the passive beliefs we’ve absorbed—and go from there.

So, yes, any true primer on beauty for women today must include The Beauty Myth, absolutely. But there are plenty of other books out there that are informing what I’m doing here in trying to work alongside Wolf's book. Here are just five of them.






Ways of Seeing, John Berger
John Berger’s classic text on art and visual culture is a must-read in its entirety. But that goes double for the chapter on representation of women in art, and the ways art mirrors the cultural roles carved out for and inhabited by women. “A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. … And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. … Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” It was instrumental to my mirror project, and indeed instrumental to the way I think about being a woman in public. How much can equality matter when I am constantly under my own surveillance? 




Facing Beauty, Aileen Ribeiro

Facing Beauty takes the morsels that gave birth to the slim Ways of Seeing and expands them into a gorgeous color volume examining historical views of women as revealed through various art forms. Social mores, morality, artifice, and idealization all make their way to the canvas through how women are depicted, whether it’s the role of “common” sex workers and courtesans as muses or the strategic revealing of bared breasts. Even more engaging than the traditional art history is the treatment of cosmetics history as lived art on its wearers. From the always-beloved paintings of women at their vanities to the decorations on the actual bottles and pots of cosmetic creams, the painted self is worth as much examination as the canvas, and Facing Beauty treats it as such.



The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant
I’m forever thankful to Terri of Rags Against the Machine for recommending this book after I wrote about Anne Frank packing curlers. Linda Grant’s book may as well be a manifesto for every woman who has cared about fashion or beauty and felt the sting of dismissal when someone has called those pursuits trivial. They can be treated trivially, of course, but Grant masterfully shows us why we care so much even when we don’t think we should. With Holocaust survivor and fashion buyer Catherine Hill as our default protagonist, the book serves as a sort of psychic history of fashion—why consumerism, specifically fashion consumerism, was tied in with women’s liberation (and not just for women who could afford to buy new clothes), and why even those of us who don’t particularly care about trends wind up buying into them more than we realize. Read this and just try to resist the urge to put on something beautiful. I dare you.





The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
The ten pages that constitute the twenty-second chapter of this classic are some of the most important pages ever written if you’re interested in the relationship between women and vanity. Titled “The Narcissist,” instead of simply damning women who take pleasure in their own visage, the chapter shines a brutal light on why the mirror can provide such refuge: When one of our primary public roles is being gazed upon, is it any wonder we may wish to look at ourselves to see what all the fuss is about? “All love requires the duality of a subject and an object,” de Beauvoir writes. “The reality of man is in the houses he builds, the forests he clears, the maladies he cures; but woman, not being able to fufill herself through project and objectives, is forced to find her reality in the immanence of her person.” Much has changed since 1949; women—ta-da!—can clear forests and cure maladies. But the vestiges of the prefeminist era remain in vanity, and as much as vain is often used as an insult to women, we must examine it in a feminist context (instead of a moral one) before we can understand our relationship to our self-image.



The Managed Heart, Arlie Russell Hochschild
This sociological study of the emotional labor of flight attendants and bill collectors is a fascinating look into the ways many of us harness our feelings in the course of our jobs. Whether we’re managing our feelings about the chain of hierarchy or channeling our “authentic” personality to help us shine at our work (as with friendly, compliant flight attendants), it’s near-impossible to avoid having our emotions, to some degree, commodified in the workplace. What does this have to do with beauty? It wasn’t until I read Hochschild that I was able to pinpoint my own “emotional beauty labor”: The small and large ways in which I attempt to play the part of a nice-looking woman, in ways that go beyond styling my hair or putting on makeup. It’s these small acts of emotional beauty labor—say, walking the line between the gracious and obsequious in receiving compliments, using femininity to command attention but keep it in the realm of appropriacy--make up a greater drain on our personal resources than just makeup. This book is key to understanding our own emotional labor of all sorts, whether appearance-related or not.

Fictional Beauties: The Heads of Princess Langwidere



A bit of personal trivia: I adore Wizard of Oz. The movie, yes, of course, but specifically the books, all 16 of them, though the only ones I recall in detail are the first four. L. Frank Baum lived for a while in the town I grew up inAberdeen, South Dakotaand was briefly the editor of the local newspaper, where he penned terrifically racist editorials clamoring for the extermination of American Indians. But never mind that right now! He also provided oodles of entertainment for children worldwide! (He was an outspoken advocate of suffragism as well, and in fact when Susan B. Anthony visited Aberdeen she stayed with Baum, and Matilda Gage was his mother-in-law.)

Dorothy fascinated me, of course, with her sage youth quality. At age 4 I would purposefully get lost in K-Mart so that I could then wander to the customer service desk and ask them to announce over the loudspeaker that the mother of Dorothy Whitefield-Madrano should come retrieve her daughter, fully believing that if my name were Dorothy over the K-Mart loudspeaker it would somehow actually become Dorothy. But it’s not Dorothy I’d like to look at today, or Glinda the Good Witch, or the Wicked Witch, or even Ozma, the true ruler of Oz, whom you meet if you stick around the series long enough. They’re all fantastic characters, but as far as beauty goes, there’s one character whose existence cries for a shout-out here.

"By the aid of the mirror she put on her head."

Princess Langwidere, a supporting character in Ozma of Oz, had a collection of 30 heads that she could rotate at will, like the rest of us wore clothes. (Langwidere herself simply wore plain white gowns. The thrill of merely changing one’s clothes was lost on her, as it would be on you if you could change your head.) All of Princess Langwidere's heads were “in great variety, no two formed alike but all being of exceeding loveliness. There were heads with golden hair, brown hair, rich auburn hair and black hair; but none with gray hair. The heads had eyes of blue, of gray, of hazel, of brown and of black; but there were no red eyes among them, and all were bright and handsome. The noses were Grecian, Roman, retroussé and Oriental, representing all types of beauty; and the mouths were of assorted sizes and shapes, displaying pearly teeth when the heads smiled. As for dimples, they appeared in cheeks and chins, wherever they might be most charming, and one or two heads had freckles upon the faces to contrast the better with the brilliancy of their complexions.”

So, hey, even a genocidally inclined gentleman recognizes the whole "all types of beauty" thing, so, um, points there, right? But the first thing we know about Princess Langwidere is that she’s so vain that she refuses to seize power, even though the rest of the royal family has been imprisoned. “At present there are at least ten minutes every day that I must devote to affairs of state, and I would like to be able to spend my whole time in admiring my beautiful heads,” she declares. We’re not meant to like Langwidere; we’re meant to see her as a “horrid creature,” even though she gladly cedes power to people who know what they’re doing instead of trying to manage the land herself. (Contrast this to General Jinjur, the leader of the girl army who overtook Oz in a previous bookshe’s shown as selfish in her ambition, while Langwidere is selfish in her lack of it.)

I liked her anyway, or perhaps I just envied her. Having not just different hairstyles and outfits, but different heads?! It seemed logical somehow, for isn’t that an exaggerated version of what we’re doing sometimes when we play with makeup? Most of the time I’m trying to just be a more polished version of myself, and I think that’s true of most womenbut sometimes I do want to transform, out of sheer curiosity (which some, like Baum, may package as vanity). We dye our hair to see what it’s like to be a redhead; we cut our hair to see what life as a pixie-cut cutie might be like. Princess Langwidere, being fictional, and fictional in a magical land at that, just had advantages the rest of us don’t.

It’s also interesting that Langwidere is drawn as a Gibson girl, the “American girl to all the world,” according to her creator, Charles Gibson. The Oz illustrator was probably just going with the timesthe Gibson girl was immensely popular when the book was written, so drawing an image of a beautiful woman meant to draw a Gibson girl. But the Gibson girl was a Langwidere-ish figure herself: Gibson used many models, creating no single, specific icon but rather a multitude of Gibson girls who were understood to be Gibson girls because they fit specific criteria. They were ladylike, young, and spirited, and of course they had that iconic hairstyle, which Princess Langwidere’s preferred head sports in all illustrations of her. They were specific but interchangeable"logo girls," you might call themmaking them perfect both for advertising purposes and for Baum’s mocking of women’s vanity. Is he saying we’re all Langwideres if we preen in front of the mirror and fall prey to new hairstyles? Is he saying ladies with real powerOzma, for example, or the ever-plucky Dorothyare above such nonsense? 

That's Ozma on the left, Dorothy in the middle, and
Princess Langwidere doing an early 20th-century lady gang signal on the right..

I’m not sure, and I don’t want to read too much into a minor character in a turn-of-the-century children’s book. But I don’t want to dismiss her either. In fictional characterscartoons, icons, heroines, Muppetswe see women who are literally constructions, and when these characters catch on, it's an opportunity to see what constructions of femininity our culture responds to. What can we learn from the Langwideres, Dorothys, and Glindas about our ideas of femininity? What can we glean from the Betty Boops, the Miss Piggys, the Darias about what we see as ideal in any given era? What fictional charactersspecifically characters who haven’t been portrayed by live-action actresses, thus leaving their construction fully in the minds of their creatorshave you been fascinated with over time? Do you base your ideas of a character’s beauty on their actions, their wordsor, to borrow from Jessica Rabbitt, are they just drawn that way?

6 Artists Exploring Female Beauty

One of the unexpected upsides of the bind of the beauty myth is that it's spurred plenty of good art. I'm just about the most bourgeois art fan there is ("I like it!" is my special gallery catchphrase) but that doesn't stop me from recognizing the ways in which these photographers, illustrators, and conceptual and performance artists are attempting to wrangle our notions of appearance, both tweaking and clarifying how we view beauty. This is hardly an exhaustive list of artists who play with these ideas, just the ones who have repeatedly come to my attention over time. Enjoy!


Wall of Confidence, Texas Beauty Queen Cream detail, mixed media, Rachel Lee Novnanian

Rachel Lee Novnanian: In “Baby’s Nursery Wallpaper,” a porcelain-white pram is parked in front of a stark wall “papered” with beauty pageant tropics. Another wall, dubbed “Wall of Confidence,” shows row after row of the fictitious Texas Beauty Queen Cream, each tub carrying a message taken from actual advertising slogans. Her installation work provokes viewers, with “Fun House Dressing Room” giving us a deliberately distorted body image alongside prerecorded self-doubting admonishments too many of us know far too well (“You shouldn’t have eaten those Cheetos”). There’s both sadness and anger here, reflecting the artist’s background of having grown up in a family that insisted looks didn’t matter, while the contrary seemed all too true to her as a teen.


Eyelash Extensions, Zed Nelson

Zed Nelson: The Ugandan-British photographer began to notice during his globetrotting that people all across the world were beginning to look suspiciously alike, thanks to the global beauty industry and cross-exportation of appearance standards. “Love Me,” his 2010 exhibition on the pursuit of beauty, took a dual approach: Juxtaposing images of people undergoing various forms of appearance alteration (a 13-year-old in heavy makeup and Playboy bunny ears, a 46-year-old man marked up for a chin lift) with the physical tools of change (rows of breast implants, hair extensions), we see how alienated we’ve become from our own ideas of what beauty might be.


Poses, 2011, Yolanda Dominguez

Yolanda Dominguez: Using “real women” (you know, as opposed to fake ones) to re-create situations and stylings found in high-end fashion magazines, Dominguez reveals the divided between the fantasy of fashion and the realities of how women actually move through the world. A woman stands posed in front of a building as passersby steal furtive glances; a woman in flip-flops lies down next to what seems to be a municipal garden as a sanitation worker approaches her, presumably concerned for her safety. In other performance art events, which she calls “livings,” a well-dressed young woman holds up a cardboard sign begging for Chanel goods, and a bevy of fairy-tale “princesses” sell off their princess accoutrements--mirrors, glass slippers, frogs--to raise funds for a new life. 


Lady Problems, mechanical pencil on vellum, Alexandra Dal

Alexandra Dal: Emerging comic artist Alexandra Dal got more than she bargained for when her illustration of the makeup riddle went viral. “I just wanted to make a silly, observational comic that would make some women say, ‘Yup, I’ve experienced this,’” she writes on her Tumblr. “It sparked a slew of commentary about whether or not women 'should' wear makeup.... I’m totally baffled by the hate mail and negative comments I received accusing me of being misogynistic and sending the message that women aren’t beautiful without makeup. (Seriously, did they actually read it?)” Her other work includes a dead-on comic of Black Women In Advertising (There Can Only Be One)--and I’m eagerly waiting for more!


Recovery, Esther Sabetpour

Esther Sabetpour: The British photographer had always explored notions of identity through self-portraiture, so when she had an accident that required large skin grafts, marking much of her body with scars, she just continued as she had been. We’re used to seeing the bodies of attractive young women presented as blank slates upon which we project our cultural idea of, well, attractive young women’s bodies; with the scar tissue mottling much of her flesh, the portrait of Sabetpour reclined on her bed goes beyond sensual into startling, without feeling exploitative.


 Nobantu Mabusela, 76, Khayelitsha Township, Cape Town

Sarah Hughes: Playing with personae by purposefully shifting her public identity and capturing that of others, Hughes takes a hard look at the meaning behind sartorial choices women make. In portrait series “Safe & Sexy,” she documents women across the world wearing an outfit they’ve selected as “safe,” and one they’ve deemed “sexy,” highlighting both the range of what any individual might consider alluring and the ways in which women mentally divide the two groups. The project stemmed from performance art piece “Do You Have the Time?” in which Hughes dressed up as various “types” of women (businesswoman, slut, jogger) and asked strangers for the time, noting the difference in reactions to the very same person asking the very same question.

Beauty Blogsophere 11.11.11*

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.


From Head...
Thin Mint lips: Girl Scout Cookie Lip Smackers! But what's with this "Coconut Caramel Stripes" flavor? You already yanked the rug out from under me with that "Samoa" jazz. Caramel Delight 4-eva!

...To Toe...
This little piggy went to fashion week: Fashionista's slideshow of models' feet on the runway is a lightly grody reminder that fashion ain't always glamorous (and that you're not alone in having fit problems).

Pediprank: Indiana governor Mitch Daniels went in for surgery on a torn meniscus and wound up with a pink pedicure. Dr. Kunkel, you old dog you!


...And Everything In Between:
"It's angled, like a diamond baguette": The rise of the $60 lipstick in the midst of a recession. Not sure about the "pragmatic" part of the term "pragmatic luxury," but what do I know? I just drink red wine, smack my lips together, and hope for the best.

Dishy: The flap surrounding the Panera Bread district manager who told the Pittsburgh-area store manager to staff the counter with "pretty young girls" was reported as a racist incident, since the cashier he wanted replaced was an African American man. But as Partial Objects points out, it may have been more motivated by sexism. To that I'd add that it's not just sexism and racism, but the notion of the "pretty young girl" that's at the heart of the matter here.

Give 'em some lip: American Apparel is launching a lip gloss line, with colors that will be "evoking an array of facets of the American Apparel experience." Names include "Legalize L.A.," which references the company's dedication to immigration reform, and "Intimate," an echo of the company's racy advertising aesthetic. Other shades on tap include "Topless," "Pantytime," "In the Red," "Jackoff Frost" and "Sexual Harassment in Violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act Govt. Code 12940(k) Shimmer."

Music makers: Boots cosmetics line 17 commissions up-and-coming musicians to write and perform songs that align with the ethos of 17 products. As in, "You Might Get Stuck on Me" for their magnetic nail polish.

"Let women of sixty use 'beautifiers,' if they think they need them. But you, who are young, pretty, and have a complexion like a rose-leaf—you should avoid such things as you would a pestilence." 

99% marketing: For its 132nd birthday, Ivory soap is unrolling a new ad campaign, which hinges upon it being A) nongendered, and B) soap. Revolución!

Baby fangs: Intellectually I should be against about the practice of yaeba, in which dentists in Japan artificially enlarge their lady patients' incisors to create a childlike appearance. But as someone who is genetically blessed with noticeably sharp and semi-crooked incisors, I'm basically all, I am gonna be huge in Japan.

Vaniqua'd: The active ingredient in Vaniqua—you know, the drug you're supposed to take if you have an unladylike amount of facial hair—is also an effective treatment for African sleeping sickness. Of course, the places where African sleeping sickness strikes can't afford to buy it. But hey, our upper lip is so smooth! (via Fit and Feminist) 

La Giaconda: The Mona Lisa, retouched.

Beauty survey: Allure's massive beauty survey reveals that 93% of American women think the pressure to look young is greater than ever before. Am I a spoilsport by pointing out that every person who answered that question is also older than they ever were before? (Of course, the "hottest age" for women according to men surveyed is now 28, compared with 31 in 1991, so there may be something to it.) Other findings: Black women are three times as likely as white women to self-report as hot, and everyone hates their belly.

Gay old time: Jenelle Hutcherson will be the first openly lesbian contestant of Miss Long Beach—and she's going to wear a royal purple tux for the eveningwear competition. The director of the pageant encouraged her to sign up, and Hutcherson has been vocal about how she's reflecting the long tradition of diversity and acceptance in Long Beach. (Thanks to Caitlin for the tipoff!)

Miss World: In more urgent beauty pageant news, British women protest Miss World, and somehow the reporter neglects to make a crack about bra burning.

The freshman 2.5: Virginia debunks the "freshman 15," and then Jezebel reveals that the whole thing was an invention of Seventeen magazine, along with the notion that every single New Kid on the Block was supposed to be cute.

Ballerina body: Darlene at Hourglassy examines the push-pull between embracing and dressing large breasts (which she does beautifully with her button-front shirts designed for busty women) and her love of ballet. "By the end of the performance I wasn’t paying attention to anything but the movements. There was nothing to distract me from the dancers’ grace and athleticism. Would I have been distracted by large breasts on one of the dancers? Definitely."

(Still taken from SOMArts promotional video)

Subject/object: Prompted by this intriguing Man as Object exhibition in San Francisco, Hugo Schwyzer looks at the possibilities for desiring male imperfection. He's the expert here, both because of his research and his male-ness, but I can't help but wonder how much men have internalized the notion of male perfection. I have zero doubt that the focus on the body beautiful has impacted men, and certainly the tropes of masculinity are a reasonable parallel to the tropes of femininity. But there's always been more room—literal and metaphorical—for men of all varieties to be considered sex symbols. Everyone gawked when Julia Roberts paired up with Lyle Lovett, but even then there was talk of how he had "a certain quality." Save someone like Tilda Swinton—who, while odd-looking, isn't un-pretty either—when have we ever spoken of women in that way?

Am I the only one who thinks gigolo should be pronounced like it's spelled?: Tits and Sass has been looking for voices of male escorts, and lo and behold, Vin Armani to the rescue!

"Did my son inherit my eating disorder?": There's been some talk about how a mother with food issues can transfer that to her daughters—but Pauline wonders if she's passed down her eating disorder to her son. A potent reminder that boys internalize ED factors as well.

What you can't tell by looking: And along those same lines, Tori at Anytime Yoga reminds us shortly and sweetly that eating disorders of all forms come in a variety of sizes. This is enormously important: I'm certain that there are many women with eating disorders who don't recognize it because they don't think they fit the profile.

In/visible: Always glad to see celebrities acknowledge that looking they way they look actually takes work, à la Jessica Biel here: "My signature style is a 'no-make-up make-up' look, which is much harder than people think." Well, probably not most women who do no-makeup makeup, but whatevs.

Touchdown: This BellaSugar slideshow of creative makeup and hairstyle from NFL fans in homage to their favorite teams is a delight. I could care less about football itself (I finally understand "downs," I think) but I think it's awesome that these people are showing that there are plenty of ways to be a football fan, including girly-girl stuff like makeup. (IMHO, football fans could use a PR boost right about now. Seriously, Penn State? Rioting? You do realize your coach failed to protect multiple children from sexual assault, right?)

Face wash 101: Also from BellaSugar: There were college courses on grooming in the 1940s?! 

She walks in beauty like the night: A goth ode to black lipstick, from XOJane.com. 

Muppets take Sephora: Afrobella gives a rundown of the spate of Muppet makeup. Turns out Miss Piggy isn't the first Muppet to go glam.

Love handle: The usual story is that we gain weight when we're stressed or unhappy because we're eating junk food to smother our sorrows—but Sally asks about "happy body changes," like when you gain weight within a new relationship.

Locks of love: Courtney at Those Graces on how long hair can be just as self-defining as short.

_____________________________________

*Numerology field day! More significantly, Veterans' Day. Please take a moment to thank or at least think of the veterans in your life—you don't have to support the war to support soldiers. It's also a good time to remember that not all veterans who return alive return well: The Huffington Post collection "Beyond the Battlefield" is a reminder of this, particularly the story of Marine widow Karie Fugett, who also writes compellingly at Being the Wife of a Wounded Marine of caring for her husband after his return from Iraq; he later died from a drug overdose.

While most combat roles are still barred to women, there are plenty of female veterans—combat, support, and medical staff alike. Click here to listen to a collection of interviews from female veterans of recent wars, including Staff Sergeant Jamie Rogers, who, in When Janey Comes Marching Home, gives us this reminder of the healing potential of the beauty industry: "I went [to the bazaar near Camp Liberty in Baghdad] often to get my hair cut. They had a barber shop and then they had a beauty salon. It was nice to go in and it was a female atmosphere. It was all girls. You could put your hair down, instead of having it in a bun all the time, get it washed. It was just something to escape for a while, get away from everything. And it was nice to interact, and the girls were always dressed nice and always very complimentary: 'You have such beautiful...' and I don't know if it was BS, but it felt good that day. That was a good escape."

Beauty Blogosphere: 10.28.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

And yet I still can't cover a pockmark I got in 1979.

From Head...
Undercover: I've got to agree with BellaSugar: The best concealer commercial ever, starring Zombie Boy in the only time you'll ever see him not be Zombie Boy. 


...To Toe... 
Fish pedicures ruled safe! Big news this week from the UK's Health Protection Agency: “Provided that good standards of hygiene are followed by salons, members of the public are unlikely to get an infection from a fish spa pedicure," announced Dr. Hilary Kirkbride, consultant epidemiologist at the HPA. She then turned around, looked at the hundreds of small fish nibbling dead skin off the feet of people willing to pay for the privilege, and silently gagged. 


...And Everything In Between:
When in doubt, market out: The newly emerging urban middle class in Asia and Latin America is making L'Oreal want to play catch-up in those regions, as the company expects three-fourths of future growth to come from those markets. What's interesting here is that those markets are more resilient even in economic downturns than American, European, and Australian markets, as evidenced by the hand-wringing in this piece about L'Oreal Down Under. (Between this and the news that 88% of Australian online beauty spending goes overseas, the Aussie market seems rife for some bright entrepreneurs to swoop in, I'm just sayin'...)

Fakeout: L'Oreal has a wildly innovative campaign about "not faking it" linked to their Voluminous False Fiber Lashes Mascara! Gee, can't believe nobody's thought of that before. I can't help but wonder how this ties into the idea that authenticity is "getting old," as per the New York Times.

But you can recycle it, dahling: One of the Estee Lauder VPs on the intersection of luxury beauty goods and the cry for sustainability: "Are luxury consumers ready for a radical swing in the look of their packaging? No, it's an evolution, not a revolution. Luxury consumers don't necessary want the sustainability of the pack branded all over." But, he adds, "Just because sustainability is not branded all over the pack, it doens't mean the consumer is not interested in it, and it doesn't mean it's not part of the brand's message."

Speaking of brand messaging: Estee Lauder discovers the existence of Latinas.

"I want to stay behind the table": A profile of Ariel Sharon's appetite, or rather, his seemingly fraught relationship with food. While I agree with Regan Chastain that you can't tell much about a fat person by looking at them other than the fact that they're fat, as a journalist Matt Rees has spent enough time observing people to be able to tell us something potent about Sharon's inner life when he tells us about watching him devour a plate of cookies during the intifada.

Maybe they can compromise with this Army ponytail holder!

Be all that you can be: The Army is considering some dress code changes, and the thought of banning French manicures and ponytails has been bandied about, reports BellaSugar. Honestly, this sort of makes sense to me, not for reasons having to do with conformity but with practicality. Most French manicures are long, right? When my nails get long I can barely type, let alone do the far more manually dextrous things that soldiers need to do, and ponytails are easily caught in things. I have zero desire to quash feminine expression in the Army but I can't say this targets the ladies unfairly.

And to think I got a C in geometry: Finally! Math has shown us the perfect breast! This is supposed to reduce the number of poorly done breast augmentations, so therefore it falls under public service, right? Right! (via Feminaust)

Occupy Tropes: Having already decided that Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street is grody gross-gross, let's look at how it relates to Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Something I initially semi-appreciated about the Hot Chicks of OWS site was that it wasn't just stereotypically "hot" chicks: Diverse in not just race, but in age and "type," I begrudgingly had to admit that if nothing else, it could possiblymaybe reflect a broader portrait of "hotness" than mainstream media would have you believe. I knew it was shaky ground, and The Society Pages outlines why: Fetishizing protesters as Manic Pixie Dream Girls isn't true diversity in the least.

All the pretty ladies: And just in case you're occupying (or walking down the street, or hanging out at a bar, or breathing in the presence of others) and, whaddya know, there's a hot chick there? Read this guide to "Your Role as Observer" when a lady is strutting her stuff. 

I choose my choice!: Two nice pieces on "choice feminism" and "consumer feminism" this week. Laurie Penny at The New Significance writes about how as she advances in her career, she's expected to bring a new level of polish—that is, consumer goods—to her presentation. "As women, everything we wear is a statement, and we have no right to remain sartorially silent. We negotiate a field of signifiers every time we open our wardrobes, or, in my case, every time we rummage through the clothes-pile on the bedroom floor." Coupled with Jess's piece at XOJane—which I'd sort of thought was all about "choice feminism," but I guess that's why they have more than one writer?—do I sense a backlash? "Until the woman who doesn’t want to be seen as sexually available can go out with certainty that she won’t be harassed or ogled, your choice to turn heads and revel in attention is a privileged one."

Arresting images: Not sure what to make of this W fashion shoot from Ai Weiwei, a dissident Chinese artist, that features a model being faux-arrested. I normally get all humorless-lefty when I see fashion shoots co-opting social causes, but Weiwei has been held for his work, so there's a layer there that normally is absent. Hmm.

 
Kissyface: Capture the imprint of your kiss, then send it to this company and they'll make art out of it. It'll go nicely with the art of your own DNA they can also cook up for you. You always have to be different, don't you?

"Health class taught me how to have an eating disorder": Jessica at XOJane on how eating disorder education can actually trigger ED symptoms. This is a complicated topic—one that isn't fully explored here—but I'm glad to see it broached in this format. I proposed a similar story at a teen magazine years ago and my boss flat-out said, "There is no way in hell we can run that story," the idea being that fighting fire with fire just adds to the inferno. For the record, I don't think ED education causes EDs any more than skinny models do, but I do think that we need to treat "awareness" with caution in neither glamourizing ED symptoms (wow! you can count her ribs, how awful!) nor stopping short in making it clear that EDs are complex, messy, often lifelong, and not a quick fix for generalized teen pain.

Adios Barbie on the LGBT community and eating disorders: Gay and bisexual men are at increased risk for eating disorders, while lesbian and bisexual women suffer at the same rate as hetero women.

Fitspo vs. thinspo: Caitlin at Fit and Feminist on the sometimes-murky line between dedication to fitness and dedication to a disordered relationship with food and the body. "If you are prone to disordered eating, then the world of fitness must seem like a safe harbor, a place to indulge your obsessions without drawing criticism, because after all, you aren’t starving yourself completely and you’re spending a lot of time in the gym.  You’re just being health-conscious!" Cameo at Verging on Serious frequently gets into this too, most recently with her post on superstitions.

Wig out: A particularly delightful offering from Of Another Fashion, which posts vintage photos of fabulously dressed women of color, of Chicago "wig clinic" owner Minerva Turner modeling one of her truly fantastic creations.

Why we're already pretty: It's no secret I adore Already Pretty, and this entry, which sort of serves as a manifesto, explains exactly what it is about Sally's work that makes me take notice. "Whatever work you’ve chosen, whatever opus you’re creating, whatever battle you’re fighting, I want to arm you with confidence in your body and your style. Why? So you can stop worrying about your outward presentation and focus on what’s important."

The crossroads of self-care: Medicinal Marzipan touches on a delicate subject with her typical grace: weight loss in the Health at Every Size and self-acceptance communities. "Here’s the thing: ...I do love myself. It’s just that, for the first time in my life, I am understanding that sometimes loving yourself means wrangling yourself in when you’ve spiraled out of control.... You have to love yourself above everything else. But wanting to lose weight, or the act of weight loss when you’re feeding yourself the foods that make YOU feel good or moving in a way that YOU love, will not make you a body image warrior exile in my book."

Beauty Blogosphere 10.21.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

From Head...

Neck and neck: Flattery "rules" don't usually work for me, but this post on mathematically calculating flattering necklines explains a lot (namely, why I feel best in wide, deep necklines despite not generally showing a lot of skin). (via Already Pretty)

Smile!: Speaking of numbers as guidelines, the layperson can detect dental deviations of less than 3 millimeters, reports the Journal of the American Dental Association. But breathe easy! Says the dentist who alerted me to this, "A lot of people do more than they need to. Perfect Chiclet teeth look a little weird." I always thought that, but he's the one with the degree, so!

...To Toe...


Bootie Pies: "Pedicure-friendly" boots with removable toes. Between these and my new automated twirling spaghetti fork, my life is about to get a whole lot easier.


...And Everything In Between: 
Quiet riot: Are YOU on the lam for your participation in Vancouver during the Stanley Cup riot? Do YOU need a massage? We've got the spa for you! Just go to Vancouver's Eccotique Spa, detail your criminal activities and fingerprint yourself onto their $50 gift card, then turn yourself into the police and return to the spa with proof of arrest for your treatment of choice.

Occupy CoverGirl: Fortune magazine uses Procter & Gamble's fully legal ways of evading taxes (to the tune of billions of dollars) to illustrate the need for corporate reform.

Salon tragedy: Portrait of Salon Meritage, the California hair salon where eight people were killed when the ex-husband of one of the stylists took open gunfire on the floor. Salons are known for hosting a particularly high intimacy among workers, and to a degree between staff and clients, making the violence seem all the more shocking. It's also a hard-line reminder this month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, that not all partner violence takes place behind closed doors. (Speaking of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Tori at Anytime Yoga is hosting a blog carnival October 29. It's an important topic, so if you're a blogger with something to say, please participate—I will be.)

Willa won: Procter & Gamble settled its suit against startup hair- and skin-care line Willa. P&G had contended that "Willa" was a trademark infringement of their hair line "Wella," thus thoroughly annoying anyone paying attention to trademark law or good old-fashioned common sense. (Their recent Cosmo award for being a woman-friendly company doesn't seem to extend to its litigation targets.)

J&J's big move: The "sleeping giant" of Johnson & Johnson is peering into the higher-end market with its recent acquisition of Korres, a switch from its drugstore stalwarts of Neutrogena, Aveeno, Clean & Clear, and, of course, Johnson's. Considering that the company only got serious about mass facial care in 1991, it's not nutty to think that J&J could expand its offerings in luxury and masstige markets soon.

Uniclever: Unilever is quick to snap up Russian brand Koncern Koliva, noting that Russian beauty product spending is up 10% compared with Unilever's overall growth of 4%-6%.

One can never have too many reminders of our erstwhile presidents in their college years.

Rah rah: Via Sociological Images, a slideshow of how cheerleader uniforms have changed over time. I mean, obvs the bared midriff is because of global warming, but the uniforms have changed in other ways too.

"They did this to me":
Hair's symbolism, particularly within some religions, makes it an unsurprising—but still shocking—target of attack from a splinter Amish group headed by the unfortunately named Sam Mullet. He's been attacking families in more conventional Amish communities by cutting patches out of men's beards and women's hair.

Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street:
Gross. Gross? Gross! GROSS.

Taxed: England considers a "boob tax" on cosmetic surgery procedures, which brings in about £2.3 million annually. Fair method of supporting social programs, or an unfair way of punishing women for getting procedures that may help them level the playing field? (The U.S. rejected the similar "Bo-tax" in 2009.)

The Brazilian way: The Women's Secretariat of Brazil (a Cabinet position, appointed by President Dilma Rousseff) issued a statement against a recent lingerie ad featuring Gisele that suggested using one's erotic capital to manipulate one's husband was a jolly route to take. The complaint is somewhat plebian, but it's taking place at high levels of government, something we simply haven't seen in the U.S. Is this what happens when a country elects a female president? Women's issues get taken seriously? You don't say. (Of course, The Economist reports that women in the UK parliament are also making their thoughts heard about false advertising for beauty products, notably a bust cream claiming to increase a woman’s bra size from 32A/B to "a much fuller and firmer 32C," so it's not just the big cheese that matters.)


Betty Rubble's makeup kit unearthed.

Makeup artist, the world's oldest profession?: Anthropologists find a 100,000-year-old tool kit and workshop for making ochre paint, used as an early body adornment.

Side by side: Personal science blogger Seth Roberts on the newly coined "Willat Effect," in which we experience two or more similar items compared side-by-side as more or less desirable than we would if sampled on their own. I suspect this is the reason for popularity of "before" and "after" shots of beauty treatments. In other words: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair (somewhat depressingly, the #2 search term that lands people at this blog) basically doesn't work at all, and only appears to when compared with the other side of my face.

What forms our body image?: Turns out it's not your body; it's your beliefs about other people's thoughts on your body, reports Virginia Sole-Smith. That includes bodies in general, so enough with the body-bashing talk, okay? Forget your own body image—you could be hurting your friends' too.

H0tTie:
13% of IT professionals gave away their passwords when asked to by a...drawing of a pretty lady? The findings are bizarre but worth reading.

Body and Soul: Interview at Threadbared with Alondra Nelson on the images that came out of the Black Panthers in the 1970s, including their Free Clothing Program that induced "sartorial joy."

Stuck on you: Magnetic nail polish! I'm such a sucker for cool nail art.

Tweezed: XOJane asks if tweezing in public is okay, pinpointing something I hadn't been able to articulate about public grooming: It's interesting to see someone be self-conscious enough to "fix" something about their appearance (stomach hairs, in this case, at the gym) but not self-conscious enough to do it in private.


Beauty contest: If you're near New York, you may want to check out the Beauty Contest exhibit at the Austrian Cultural Forum. Austrian and international artists examine "contemporary global society’s obsession and fascination with physical appearance." I went to a performance art arm of the exhibit, and the following panel discussion, including French choreographer François Chaignaud and author of The Man in the Grey Flannel Skirt, Jon-Jon Goulian, was invigorating.

"This is basically uncharted territory": Style blogger Stacyverb guest posts at Already Pretty on style and disability. "For anyone with a disability who’s interested in experimenting with style, there aren’t exactly any rules or road maps to follow. It’s not like we see models and celebrities in wheelchairs rolling down the runway during fashion week or on the red carpet on Oscar night. This is basically uncharted territory, which means it can be disorienting—but also liberating!"

No-makeup week: Rachel Rabbit White revisits her no-makeup week, an experiment she tried on for size last year. Like much of her work, what's exciting here is the acceptance of ambiguity: "It’s not about taking a week off  because make-up is somehow bad or because not wearing it is better. It’s that by taking a week off, I should be able to understand my relationship to cosmetics more clearly."

I'm a Pepper, you're a Pepper: Caitlin at Fit and Feminist on how even if the Diet Dr. Pepper "It's not for women" ad is satire (I don't think it is), it still gets to have it both ways in wrangling the diet industry into man-size portions. (I also love her post about cheerleading as a sport, and her contribution to Love Your Body Day about the difference between respect and love. Seriously, if you're not already reading Fit and Feminist, you should be.)

Good old-fashioned erotic capital: Rachel Hills, writing on Erotic Capital, raises among her many excellent points one of my biggest annoyances with Catherine Hakim: "Hakim and her colleagues would have us think they’re intellectual renegades... But while the terminology may be new, the principles underlying 'erotic capital' and 'sexual economics' are decidedly old-fashioned."

Sunrise, sunset: Be sure to check out the Feminist Fashion Bloggers roundup of posts on youth and age. Franca writes, "God forbid [professional women] just go for the suit and shirt 'uniform' and actually look old... Professional clothes need to be constantly balanced out by elements that represent youth and health and fun, like accessories and hair and makeup"; Jean writes on bucking trends usually defined by age; and Fish Monkey and Tea and Feathers, like me, write on the happiness of no longer being young.

Beauty Blogosphere 10.7.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.


From Head...
Beauty shy: If you're among the women (or men) who feel intimidated by makeup but are curious to try it, keep an eye on BeautyShy, a new site from Courtney of Those Graces. I'm eager to see how this develops—Courtney was one of the first feminist beauty bloggers I found when I started The Beheld, and while BeautyShy isn't explicitly feminist, the idea of makeup as a democratic form of beauty is. And when I think back to my makeover with makeup artist Eden DiBianco—and how it made me think about the power of dictating one's own image through cosmetics—it's clear that makeup itself can be a tool to examine beauty through a distinctly feminist lens.


...To Toe...
"Surely corns are the least of your problems": Interesting to see when our culture turns the tables on men and shames them for their moments of vanity/relaxation. Much like the great haircut debate of "Breck Girl" John Edwards (remember when that was the most inflammatory thing about him?), Michael Jackson doctor Conrad Murray makes headlines simply by getting a pedicure. Not sure how we'd handle this if the doctor were a woman.


...And Everything In Between
Makeup medium:
Financial Times looks at artists using cosmetics as their medium, making me want to see the work of Karla Black, who sculpts with Lush bath bombs. 

Airborne: Charles Revson (founder of Revlon) was on the PanAm board of directors back in the day? No wonder flight attendants had to wear Revlon's Persian Melon lipstick as a part of their dress code, as some former stewardesses recall here.

Are women driving the luxury economy? This Motley Fool entry on thriving high-end markets makes me wonder: Lululemon, Estee Lauder, and Whole Foods are outvaluing their mid-market buddies (Nike, Revlon, Safeway). And don't even try to tell me that Whole Foods isn't squarely aimed at women.

Clean green fraud machine: The natural cosmetics market in Asia is plagued by fraudulent labeling, as it lacks even the private standards of North American and European markets. Not that we Americans are drowning in open information on what's in our cosmetics, as No More Dirty Looks' insight on the "Safe Cosmetics Alliance" shows.

A Map of the Open Country of a Woman's Heart, at American Antiquarian

Antique beauty: Investigate the history of women and appearance in America with this thoroughly fascinating online exhibit of women in 19th-century prints. Whether it's looking at the ways America's first women were depicted, examining how images formed early ideas of "erotic capital," proffering evidence of how women's bodies have pretty much always been used in advertising (sheet music!), or showing "A Map of the Open Country of a Woman's Heart," the collection is worth your time.

Tool kit: So it's official, per an evolutionary psychologist and a major cosmetics producer: Makeup makes you seem more likeable. I'm certain I'll have more to say on this study soon (thank you to everyone who sent it my way! I love it when people see something and think, That's Beheld material...) but for now I'll just point you to nice commentary on it over at The Gloss and The Look.

Pulchronomics: Harvard sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman reviews Beauty Pays by Daniel Hamermesh. In looking at the body of work surrounding academic study of beauty, I've found Hamermesh's work to be more solid than most—but I'm a writer, not an academic. To have Levey Friedman point out how dated the research Hamermesh is drawing on—and why that matters when talking about beauty in the labor market—illustrates the difficulty of "proving" the role of beauty. (Also, new word! Pulchronomics, from Latin pulcher, meaning beauty, and economics: the economics of beauty.)

Kooky but true: Why you shouldn't wear nail polish before surgery.

In scientia veritas: A take on a Burt's Bees ad that calls the scientific name of ingredients "ugly": "[The applied chemistry] system has a complex-sounding name for just about every component of milk and honey, too. But it’s impossible for anyone to know that without having a certain background in the naming system. Take glucose, one of the pieces of ordinary table sugar and something that can be found in both milk and honey. Its IUPAC name is something like (2R,3R,4S,5R,6R) -6- (hydroxymethyl)tetrahydro-2H-pyran-2,3,4,5-tetraol."

Eating disorders in Indian country: American Indian women report higher incidences of binge eating than white women but are no more likely to have ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder. But the real story is that eating disorders are virtually unmentioned in either tribal health care or urban Indian clinics. I'm saddened that eating disorders in Indian country have flown under the radar—but proud to play my small role in starting the conversation. Please read my piece in Indian Country Today about Native American women and eating disorders.

From Every Playboy Centerfold, the Decades (normalized), Jason Salavon, Digital C-prints

Heffed up: Composite images of Playboy centerfolds, by decade. Ladies got blonder!

Je ne sais quoi: I can deconstruct the French-girl mystique all I want—fact remains I'm still going to keep looking at them with les étoiles in my eyes, and Dead Fleurette does a nice job here of talking with les françaises on style and showing us exactly why that is. 

What exactly constitutes street harassment? Well, I'm not sure, and neither is Decoding Dress, but this searching post explores the duality of dressing to be looked at, the various consequences that can have, and why one comment can feel like a compliment and another like an attack. Tavi at Rookie touches on unwanted comments this week too, particularly interesting given that as a teenager, she's in the early stages of getting that sort of unasked-for attention. Of course, it's not so early after all: "I want these guys to know that they’re able to be so cavalier because they don’t hear unsolicited opinions on their bodies and alleged sex lives all the time."

I'll have what she's having: Elissa at Dress With Courage looks at a new study about how low body image might make us less likely to buy an outfit we see looking good on someone else. Particularly interesting in light of her post from the previous week about the intimacy of shopping—are we sometimes shooting ourselves in the foot by shopping with particularly attractive friends? I'd hate to think so!

He'll be her mirror: Congrats to Mirror Mirror Off the Wall's Kjerstin Gruys, who got married last weekend and had what seems like an incredible wedding. Click through to find out if she looked in the mirror on her wedding day!

Beardcake: Thanks to Rebekah at Jaunty Dame for pointing me toward the work of Rion Sabean, who does "men-ups" of men in traditional cheesecake poses. I'm digging 'em, aided along by what he has to say over at Jezebel. (Edited to add: Feministe pairs Sabean's work with that of Yolanda Dominguez, who has women re-create poses in public from fashion shoots.)

"Diversity isn’t just that one gorgeous silver-haired model": Why is the fashion industry not getting that the demand really is growing to see true diversity? I used to think it was a feminist thing, but I see complaints about this everywhere—and I'm pretty sure that fashion bloggers are showing the industry that "aspirational" isn't the only route to powerful imagery. Is that wishful thinking on my part? Maybe, but I'm with Sally that the industry is due for a strategic revamp.

"It wasn't a contradiction for me": Rachel Hills on being a feminist and writing for women's magazines. I haven't touched this question publicly yet but much of what she says here resonates with me as well (I think I have more inner conflict about it than she writes about here, as exemplified by the night I crumpled into the backseat of a cab and cried all the way home because I had to communicate to the art department that an editor wanted an actress who had been public with her anorexia battle slimmed, but let's not dwell!).

Beauty Blogosphere 9.30.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

(via Makezine)

From Head...
Totally rhombic: Math haircut!

But what about the log lady?: Portrait of Twin Peaks' Audrey Horne (née Sherilyn Fenn) done in cosmetics for the biweekly "Beauty Myth" feature in Toronto Standard, in which the newspaper commissions artists to do portraits using makeup as the medium.


...To Toe...
The littlest libertarians: The Hartford Courant profiles an unlikely champion to make a case for industry deregulation: fish pedicures.


...And Everything In Between: 
Pacifica discount: If you're still mourning the fact that you didn't win my August self-care giveaway, fret no more! Pacifica—a company I've loved for a while, both for their delightful lotions and transporting candles—is giving readers of The Beheld a special deal: Just use the code pacifica5r9 at checkout on www.pacificaperfume.com for 10% off any order. And you can get a taste of the other part of the giveaway, Beautiful You by Rosie Molinary, through her meditative blog. 

Pink think: Two interesting bits on the pinkification (word?) of breast cancer this week. First, an interview with "pinkwashing" activist Barbara Brenner, who takes on Avon's breast cancer research and questions not only its efficiency, but its possible hypocrisy. Second: New research indicates that heavily gendered breast cancer awareness ads might not be as effective as gender-neutral ads. When female study volunteers were shown pink-heavy ads with female faces, they rated their own personal risk as lower than volunteers who were shown non-pink ads with no photos of women. Obviously breast cancer is overwhelmingly a female disease, but I'm happy to see people looking at how pink kitsch might backfire. (Unless it means I have to give back my pink Kitchen-Aid "Cook for the Cure" mixer, which is adorbs.)

GenX beauty today: How GenXers are shaping the beauty industry—and indeed, fragmenting traditional markets on several levels. "Like baby boomers, [Allure editor Linda] Wells says, Gen-Xers have grown up not accepting the status quo. That can translate to wearing long hair even past a certain age, eschewing 'mom jeans' and participating in music, sports and other interests once reserved for 'younger women.'" Basically, we are still totally radical.

Digital beauty: L2, a think tank for digital innovation, rated beauty brands on their digital and social media savvy. Unsurprisingly, cool-girl club MAC tops the list—and with three other Estee Lauder brands not far behind, the brand is proving itself to be a digital leader. The report also shows that "digital IQ" correlates to heightened shareholder value.


Root for the little one: Procter & Gamble takes on a small soap company for trademark infringement. Willa, a soap company named for the 8-year-old daughter of an entrepreneur who created the suds after hearing her complaints of the "babyish" soap offerings available, is uncomfortably close to Wella, P&G's hair-care line that has nothing to do with soap, children, or the g.d. American way.

What's the buzz?: The making of a hot new brand in China: Burt's Bees.

Lighter shade of pale: Business-side look at skin-lightening creams, which make up 30% of the skin care market in China.

Ripoff down under: Australian retailers appear to be pocketing makeup profits; Aussie women are paying up to twice what U.S. women are for the same products, a disparity not explained away by duty taxes or currency differences.

Cosmopolitan's role in bulimia treatment: Bio of psychiatrist Chris Fairburn, who "discovered" bulimia after working with a patient who exhibited symptoms of anorexia but was curiously of normal weight. Fascinating bit of ED history: Because bulimics tend to be secretive, Fairburn couldn't find enough patients to allow his research to be comprehensive, so he rallied the editors of Cosmopolitan to write a short article about this "new eating pattern"--and got more than a thousand responses (most of whom thought they alone suffered from bingeing and purging), enough to begin treatment research.

Abercrombied: The "look policy" of Abercrombie & Fitch employees, and what that means for women with textured hair. (Thanks to re: thinking beauty for the link.)

"From where I come from, you holler at a girl": Nice look into what actually happens in the teen groups moderated by Men Can Stop Rape, beginning with a deconstruction of street harassment.

Fame game: Lady Gaga is suing Excite Worldwide for branding makeup under the Lady Gaga name. The buried lede: She did the same to a London sweets shop selling breast milk ice cream under the name Baby Gaga.

Hotel humanitarian:
Two of my favorite things, flight attendants and travel shampoo, come together here with Karen Duffy's story on Nancy Rivard, a flight attendant who started Airline Ambassadors after persuading her colleagues to donate their tiny hoarded hotel bottles to refugee camps.

 Cynthia!

Gaba girl: Thanks to Autodespair for turning me on to Lester Gaba's Cynthia, the first "realistic mannequin," who had her own radio show in the 1930s. It seemed pretty awesome à la Ruby until I actually saw Cynthia, and now it seems more like Real Doll territory, but maybe that's just my damage from this documentary talking.

Mais oui!: French feminists are rallying to get rid of mademoiselle, which denotes one's marital status à la miss. I'm all for this, but the fact is I get a kick out of using miss. I also like and use Ms., but sometimes Miss feels more appropriate because it allows me to simultaneously poke fun at and utilize its old-fashioned gentility for my own purposes. La hypocrite, c'est moi.

X-ray specs:
Which underwire bras work best for airport security? Chime in over at Hourglassy!

Ladies of the press: Anna Kendrick, Seth Rogen, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt briefly chat about the different ways men and women are treated by the press, with Kendrick reporting that she's always asked about her beauty routine. Besides the overarching idea that what a woman looks like is more important than she does, there's another thing at play here: You know all those beauty pages in magazines? Editors are desperate to fill those pages with something other than straight-up shilling, and so there's always a need to get celebrities to say what they like. Anytime a ladymag reporter goes to an event, she's armed with questions about facial care and exercise routines in the hopes that the celeb will throw off a quick answer. (There's an amusing bit in Laurie Sandell's wonderful graphic novel The Impostor's Daughter on this, from when she interviewed Ashley Judd for Glamour. Laurie: "So, what's your biggest beauty secret?" Ashley: "Serenity." Laurie: "OK, um, what's one beauty product you never leave the house without?" Ashley: "My higher power.")

Smells like cream spirits: Pastry chef who has made his name concocting desserts with notes of famous perfumes is reversing the equation. You know, another thing I did in the '90s was just wear vanilla extract behind my ears, but whatevs.

Fashion vs. beauty:
Feminaust—an excellent site geared toward Australian feminists but of great interest to us Yankee feminists too—on delineating fashion from beauty in ways that go beyond neck-down versus neck-up. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusion (I'd put "attraction" closer to the end of the beauty spectrum than the fashion end), but it resonates with me because while I'm somewhat interested in the ways we style ourselves, my true interest lies in what draws us to one another—the "animating spirit" as the writer here puts it.


"A new haircut is a butch accessory." —Kelli Dunham

"Why Is the Fat One Always Angry?": If you're new to The Beheld, you may have missed my interview this spring with boi comic Kelli Dunham, who had some fantastic insight into gender roles, butch privilege, and where to find a barber in this damn town. So check it out, and then if you're in New York join me this Saturday, 10/1, at The Stonewall Inn for her new show, "Why Is the Fat One Always Angry?" She's a great performer, and she's also promising cookies, I'm just sayin'.

Compliments, competition, and public living: From Nahida at The Fatal Feminist: "What do I care to impress strangers on the street, who couldn’t know? Who couldn’t possibly know that sometimes–sometimes–I’m still afraid of the dark?"

What's wrong with ugly?: Parisian Feline on being an "ugly girl": "When you’re conditioned to believe that ugliness is bad and prettiness is good, well, most people will do anything to show you how 'good' you really are. But here’s what I’m here to say: being ugly isn’t a death sentence, it doesn’t say anything about your character (any more than being pretty does) and it’s not mutually exclusive from being awesome." It's a point well-taken—as evidenced by me not being able to bring myself to remove the quotes around ugly girl. It's hard to use that word without judgment, for the very reasons Ms. Feline outlines.

The science of shopping: Elissa from Dress With Courage on shopping studies: "What so many studies on shopping seem to discount or even ignore is the intimacy this activity creates." I don't particularly like shopping, but I can't deny the powers it has to bond people—and much like the bonding of beauty, it's often dismissed, and that's a shame.

There's an app for that: Virginia—who, admittedly, is a body image blogger whose work resonates with me, whose work is sometimes categorized as body image blogging—on the iPhone body-image app: "I'm not sure we need any more websites, blogs, and apps about body image!" Hallelujah, someone said it! I'm grateful for the work that's out there but I worry that the intense focus on body image might drive us away from the point, which is to feel liberated from being preoccupied with our bodies.

Beauty Blogosphere 7.22.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

But what about two-tone villainesses?

From Head...
Killer blondes: A look at hair color and hairstyles of classic villainesses--entertaining, even if the premise (Murdoch phone-hacking ringleader Rebekah Brooks' shock of red waves) is a tad shaky. 

...To Toe...
Natural nail polish remover: One of the sticking points of a green beauty routine is nail polish for your pedicure. No More Dirty Looks has tackled this before, and The Daily Green rounds it out this week with highlighting a natural nail polish remover.


...And Everything In Between:
Man-made: Gee, how long did it take folks to go from celebrating men's cosmetics to looking askance when they look a little too made-up, as here about Elizabeth Hurley's new fellow? About a millisecond?


Nasty boys: The Sydney Morning Herald asks why men get their own product designed to allow them to not shower. Are men dirtier than women somehow, or is the idea that they like showering less, or...? 

Smell of success: Duane Reade/Walgreens Look boutique is paying off, at least for Demeter fragrances (I wonder if their Funeral Home scent could have a role in Illamasqua's postmortem cosmetics service?), which has gotten a serious boost from its prominent store placement.

Food-scented beauty products may stimulate your mental appetite: Study participants in the Netherlands applied one of three lotions: a chocolate-scented lotion labeled as a chocolate-scented lotion, a chocolate-scented lotion with no label, and an unscented lotion with no label. People who applied the labeled chocolate lotion then ate more chocolate than either of the other groups. I dislike the term "obesity epidemic" for a variety of reasons, but we do live in a society with a wildly disordered relationship to food, and examining issues like these seems worthwhile enough—not so we can all slim down, but so that we can begin to understand the mess of conflicting food messages we get every day.

Why we buy cosmetics: A study from the University of Basque Country proclaims that we buy cosmetics because they make us feel good, not because of their practical use. Gee, glad that's settled.

Big businesz: It's not just in the States that small cosmetics players get knocked off the markets; between 2006 and 2010, 1,200 cosmetics stores disappeared from the Polish market, to be replaced with chains, which now generate 80% of the country's cosmetics sales.

Military brats turned beauty queens: A surprising thread connecting several Indian beauty queens: They're daughters of India's armed forces members. “I guess it comes from the gift of adaptability from having to move from place to place," points out Gul Panag, Miss India 1999. "It makes us more open, broad-minded, inclusive, allows us to go with the flow, connect easily with people, places, environment and circumstances that lead us to be, at any point, both flexible and positive.”

Nexus Vomitus, Millie Brown. Canvas and vomit, 2010.

Puke me a rainbow: Conceptual artist Millie Brown produces colorful vomit as performance art, and About-Face questions whether this glamorizes bulimia. It's a question worth asking, but ultimately I disagree. (Surprise!) Bulimia is marked by an incredible sense of shame; I imagine a bulimic would have a different reaction to Brown's work than most viewers, but my educated guess is that she wouldn't perceive it as a green light. The Lady Gaga video that Brown is most known for is stratospherically weird, but actually glamorizing bulimia? I wish I could see it because it makes logical sense, but honestly I just don't. (Brown doesn't eat for two days before performances, which certainly isn't healthy, but if she doesn't have an eating disorder then it's also not something that needs an intervention. If she did have a history of EDs, I'd feel differently.)

Is makeup a daily must?: Sally McGraw on tumbling down the "cosmetics rabbit hole" and becoming a daily makeup wearer after a lifetime of occasional use. I'll testify to her struggle: I have to be careful about what makeup I experiment with, because if I know something looks good on me I'll probably start wearing it every day. (My special-occasion look barely differs from my day-to-day look for this reason.)

Hair color, depression, and being seen: Velvet Cerebellum's compelling essay on how dyeing her hair wild colors has helped her manage depression. "I'd go out and kids would stare and smile, they liked it. Could a world as terrible as the one I imagined also be a world with kids waving and smiling and loving my hair?"
(via Already Pretty)

But I'm a Gemini!: Hugo Schwyzer on flirting for validation of attractiveness: "When married or otherwise 'taken' folks flirt with people who aren’t their partners, they’re often not trying to start an affair. What they want is affirmation of their continued attractiveness, a reassurance that their own significant others can no longer give."

Tattoo you: The Tattooed Philosopher on how tattooed women may buck the beauty myth: "I have found in my conversations with other tattooed women a unity...rather than a competition with each other or a divide from within. This unity of tattooed sisters shows the lack of power the beauty myth has on those of us gals who freely define ourselves and have our own ideas of beauty."

The "M" ain't for marriage, people: Virginia at Never Say Diet on a study that "proves" that couples are happier when the ladypartner has a lower BMI than her manpartner. "Ours is a forbidden love," she writes of her marriage (which, despite obviously being a sham, seems like it might somehow be making both partners happy?). If I'm the Oedipus of cankles, she's the Thisbe of BMI.

What's feminism got to do, got to do with it?: Some excellent talk about feminism, self-love, and dieting from Beauty Schooled, Anytime Yoga, and Kjerstin of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall via her guest post at Sociological Images.


Magic underwear: Allyson at Decoding Dress on shapewear, or rather why we choose clothing that makes us look like we have something we don't. Confession time here: I love shapewear--rather, I wear it on occasion, and I like the effect it gives enough to deal with the discomfort. But, yeah, I do sort of feel like I'm "cheating"--like I'm telling the world that my waist is a bit more nipped-in than it is, my bosom a tad fuller. And besides the obvious self-esteem question of why I'd suffer discomfort in order to whittle my waist, every time I put on a waist cincher I wonder about its larger implications. I've written before about how artificial beauty can actually be a sort of democracy, so hell, let me look like I'm more of an hourglass than I actually am! Bring it! But I also know that's sort of a cop-out on my end, a conscious opting in of a certain beauty tyranny--we're not talking false eyelashes, we're talking false bodies. And the push-pull continues.

Sherry Mills, Artist, New York City

Artist Sherry Mills wants you to know that beauty is closer than you think. Creating large-scale abstract works from her close-up photographs of unlikely beauty—the peeling paste of abandoned posters, rusted oil drums, tarred rooftops—she prompts the viewer to take an alternate perspective on the city landscape. The perspective is flipped again with another branch of her work, box art: whimsical yet concentrated dollhouse-style miniatures evoking a vibrant Joseph Cornell. Her work has shown at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, on billboards as a part of Clear Channel Outdoor’s Local Spirit campaign, and Galapagos Art Space, and her solo show featuring her commissioned box art opens June 30 at the Rogue Gallery. You can read her blog here. We talked about walking the line between hiding and self-expression, being a woman in the art world, and ways to cry over spilled milk. In her own words:


On Beauty Being Closer Than You Think
I remember being on the subway after 9/11, and the tone was severe depression and fear. And suddenly this popped through: We have this common ground in the very streets of New York. We share this ground; we have these beautiful, normally overlooked abstract images on our streets, in this shared public space. I was so excited to be thinking in those terms, of this common ground. In a way it’s kind of like beauty being in the eye of the beholder, but it’s really more that we’re surrounded by beauty if you’re looking for it. A colleague of mine then said, “Beauty is closer than you think,” and I was like—that’s it! The idea is that perspective is everything. You can find magnificence in the simplest arrangement. Beauty is constantly available to us—the experience of beauty can always be there, because it’s just a matter of our perception.

At the same time, I feel guided to work where there’s grit or grim things that typically wouldn’t be considered beautiful. If you look at this bowl of pomegranates, it’s a still life you can imagine someone painting; it’s a little bit easier. But then—you know how sometimes you see straws on the sidewalk, where there’s a milkshake splatter? Of course you think, Eww, that’s gross, someone should clean that up. But you can also see it as a cylinder of green with this spray of white, and it becomes this beautiful arrangement. The composition sets you free, not the content. It might be more difficult to drive some sense of beauty toward that kind of thing, but that’s what I like to photograph. I have a great appreciation of classical beauty—it definitely guides us to find beauty in other territories. And that’s the beauty we need to find: Most of us are living with those other territories much more than we live with those classical forms of beauty. If you evaluate beauty differently, that way of seeing becomes more of a habit.

Green Straw

It can be the same way with people. I don’t really see the physical element of people as much as I see a compatibility, some kind of ability to connect with the world. People’s physicality is always changing for me—you know when you’re in love, that person looks different to you? You find that appreciation and the composition seems like it actually changes. Of course, when you apply it to people, the flip side is how are they looking at you, and that gets more challenging.

There’s also this odd perspective when we look at ourselves. There’s this funny thing with our bodies where we really only see it from this one close-up perspective, when we’re just looking down at our bodies so everything is out of proportion to how we actually appear. Even if we look in the mirror, we can’t really be sure of what we’re seeing. I’ll look at my body sometimes and not know how to look at it. Like, am I overweight? Am I not? Am I small? Am I average? I really don’t know.

On Hiding and Self-Expression
In seasons that require a coat, I feel more comfortable. It’s almost like I don’t want to be seen—I guess I’m like a bear! I feel kind of private. I want to be able to go out into the world and not really attract much attention. But then people say that’s a contradiction because of the clothes that I wear—tons of layers, lots of color, a lot of patterns worn together, flowing things. It does attract attention. It’s something that’s always going on in me: I don’t want a lot of attention, but I do want to express myself. So when the weather calls for a long coat, everything can go under cover. I can be totally self-expressive yet covered, and no one really knows what’s going on under there until I choose to show it to someone. It’s a private, sort of self-protective thing. I don’t want a lot of energy heading my way necessarily. Also, a coat contains me: I wear a lot of flowy weird things, and in the wind it’s annoying, so I like to be able to pull it in. I don’t want to be mentally distracted by my clothes. When I’m out in the world I want to be able to be open and present with things and people and landscapes. It’s the same reason I can’t wear heels: I can’t be present when I’m constantly focused on my physical self.

In some ways, getting myself dressed every day has been a way of keeping a muscle going, with collage and my art. If nothing else, I’ll get myself dressed so at least there is a practice with the relationship of pattern and texture and form. Some photographers take one picture a day no matter what, or a painter will at least touch the brush to the canvas every day, so getting dressed has been a way of keeping my eye going. When I’m making a collage and choosing certain things to go with other things, I might see this green fabric with this weird red-pink thing that wouldn’t normally go together. But there’s a sense in me that it does go, even if the next person might look at the combination and say it doesn’t. When something gets a little too perfect, I try to disturb it a bit. I like to challenge what it means for something to “go together.” After a while it’s become very simple—people sometimes say, “Oh, it must have taken you forever to get dressed.” I dress like this every day! It takes me just a few minutes. It’s my style. 

 

It’s a similar thing with my glasses. I got this pair of glasses for traveling during college—I’d worn contacts through high school—and I loved not having to worry about getting stuff in my eyes. They were a bold statement for me then, and getting these particular frames set an evolution of some kind for me and my style. I’ve tried many times to get rid of them. I felt like I needed to purge them, like I needed a free face, that I wanted my face to be forward to the world and not these distinctive glasses. I’m hiding behind these. I’ve gone out to try to find new frames, and at one point I did get these really crazy red frames with rhinestones. But I went back to my old black ones. Essentially it was like trading my face. These have been my face for so long, I could never feel comfortable with another pair. It’s got an emotional tie, like I’d be letting go of my image entirely. I don’t want to let them go.

On Feminine Branding in the Art World
I don’t necessarily think of myself as being in the art world; I’m finding my own way to navigate things, which I think everyone is doing now because a lot of the traditional systems aren’t working. But it does still feel a little bit like a man’s world. I don’t feel like a victim, but I do want to be taken seriously, and sometimes that doesn’t happen. I was happy to hear that people didn’t just see my box work as fluffy and whimsical without depth—I get concerned that I come off that way in every way, because I’m a playful person. I think people might see me as light, playful, emotional, non-intellectual—kind of dancing around but not focused enough. All these things are probably true in a way, but they’re also things that are associated with being a woman. It’s easy to get scattered with doing too many projects in order to sort of prove my seriousness.

Bear Face

It seems like women have a lot of hats going all the time. My partner is this competent, amazing, very focused man who I learn from and appreciate so much, and it’s almost like I want that, but I operate from a different place. It’s a different way of maneuvering in life. I think when I started dressing in my current style, I was looking to express something about myself—something more solid, even though the look I have might be seen as crazy sometimes! But I learned to be comfortable enough to break the rules and be okay with funny stares. It was like a strengthening technique, consciously or unconsciously. It was difficult to present myself like that with consistency in public, yet I felt it was true to myself. Over time it became easier, and the idea of self-expression stopped being so much of an effort—I was just being me, coming out of myself.

So now I have this look and people will say that they’re inspired by it, and I realize that in some ways, my brand is my presentation. It becomes important. It’s one of the elements of presenting myself—my photography, the video, a documentary, my blog, and the outfits. It’s kind of like giving a snippet of what my work is about. It’s all about alternate perspectives.

Beauty Blogosphere 6.24.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

Uncomfortably numb.

From Head...
Because every girl wants to be a vampire: Am I old-fashioned for being freaked out by lip balm with Benzocaine, designed to "leave your victims’ lips numb and their hearts racing"?

...To Toe...
This case has no legs: New York man sues SoHo pedicure outlet for not complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines. His disability? He lost both legs in a car accident. (Interesting piece on him in Blackbook a ways back.)

...And Everything In Between:

BUSINESS
Men in the cosmetics industry: Fast Company asks if LinkedIn is a gender equalizer: Men thrive in the cosmetics industry, according to LinkedIn's analysis of user data. Yawn, yawn, male CEOs, blargh. But! Women rule ranching and tobacco! (Go cowgirls!) My initial hunch would be that the novelty factor of women in those fields might give them an advantage, though I'm hesitant to say the same for men. If that world is anything like another female-focused industry I'm familiar with—women's magazines—the business side is likely run by men while the day-to-day operations and development is run by women.

More pink Cadillacs: Mary Kay still going strong, signing up 165,000 new representatives in April—the largest monthly amount in a decade. These are independent sellers, meaning these workers may still be underemployed, but Mary Kay's endurance is a testament to the ability of woman-driven businesses to attract a work force looking for flexibility. (Per the above item, though, it's worth nothing that the Mary Kay CEO is a dude with an MBA, not a lady with a dream.)

Dollar stacks on the left are ad dollars from 2009; on the right, from 2010. Each bill represents roughly $50 million in ad budgets. (Via Ad Age and Marketing Degree.)

Ad budgets: Interesting graphic from Ad Age detailing ad dollars for various beauty companies. The buried lede here is Axe's ad cuts, though I suppose given the onslaught of, what, 2006, you can only go down from there. (The entire cross-industry graphic is here. Of note: Weight-loss companies went up, quelle surprise, as did Proactiv and Yoplait. Good to see the latter company can afford to swallow the cost of their pulled eating-disorder-littered ad. While jogging in place.)

Those hormones paid for your yacht, lady: Evelyn Lauder makes a good point in an unfortunate way at the Elly Awards Luncheon: "Older women should be on boards." Agreed! "There's just less hormones, less crying." Oh! I'd really like to see a broader conversation about women and aging happening (Naomi Wolf's piece in the Washington Post was a start, but am I alone in finding it a little dismissive of younger women?), and I suppose these sorts of fits and starts are a beginning? Maybe?

Holy house: Estee Lauder's synagogue in Queens gets a makeover. (Why am I so obsessed with Estee Lauder real estate? Between the casino and the graveyard I'm a one-woman watch.)

INTERNATIONAL
Behind the veil: A young Saudi-Canadian woman on feeling liberated from the beauty myth by wearing the hijab. "When I cover myself, I make it virtually impossible for people to judge me according to the way I look.  I cannot be categorized because of my attractiveness or lack thereof."

Characteristics of the Chinese beauty market: Chinese women as demanding cosmetics consumers. Interesting bits about how even though China is rapidly becoming more westernized, there's still a very strong Chinese ethos to cosmetics--hair-dyeing, for example, is rare except to cover grays.

Faux cosmeceuticals: False claims in cosmetic advertising increased five-fold in Korea last quarter, with products fraudulently advertising use of "stem cells." (Ew!)

NATURAL BEAUTY
More false advertising: Center for Environmental Health sues Kiss My Face and Hain Celestial (Avalon Organics, Alba Botanical) for falsely labeling cosmetics as organic when they're not. Say it ain't so! I love Alba lotions!

BEAUTY BLOGOSPHERE

Still from Dark Girls, which, from the preview, looks to be startling and poignant.

Help kickstart Dark Girls: Via Ashe at Dramatis Personae comes an alert to help fund a documentary that sounds incredibly promising about women's skin tone in the black community.

Wax on, wax off: Sally at Already Pretty on feminism and body hair, which has been a sticking point for me personally. I shave my legs, etc., because I feel more comfortable that way; I tried challenging that, and just felt unappealing to myself. Ironically, the way I came to peace with this was to start shaving all the time, not just when my legs would be available for public viewing. I realized that I truly do take my own pleasure in having smooth legs. As Sally writes, "Does this mean I’m willingly bowing to the patriarchy on this issue? I guess you could see it that way.... Everything we do to change how our bodies look, feel, and smell is a nod to societal norms. And I’m willing to nod occasionally."

Hup!: Allyson at Decoding Dress questions the symbiosis of fashion and the military—it might not be just a one-way conversation.

Reflections: Y'all know I'm a sucker for mirror talk, and Kate at Eat the Damn Cake goes in for it: "People say, 'This mirror makes me look weird,' but they only half believe themselves. The other half is saying, 'I think I might actually look like that.'"

Socrates' sister: Feminist Philosophers questions whether philosophy itself is gendered, and of course the answer is a flaming YES, which points to why questions of personal beauty haven't received their philosophical due. "The self of feminist philosophy...often knows that Descartes was wrong...to hold that the human mind is whole and entire unto itself. She cannot be the whole respository for the normativity that is needed for a theory of concepts, for example. Her intellectual thriving is dependent on social inputs, corrections and co-constructions."

Mentoring: Not beauty-related, but enough young women have contacted me through here for this to be pertinent: Australian feminist writer and blogger Rachel Hills has some excellent posts on women and mentoring for her recent Mentoring Week (well, weeks) project. Here is but one of them, with links to more at the bottom. You read a lot about the importance of mentors but this series explores unexpected angles, like mentoring and media and male/female mentoring styles.

BEST OF THE REST

Yes, I'm exploiting this bunny for its sheer cuteness, but I'm not going to pinch its ass, so we're all cool, right?

Bunny hop: This story at The Good Men Project about being a Playboy Bunny in 1978 is revealing about the effects of being in a highly image-conscious environment: "I was getting a thorough training at work in just how much looks mattered if you were female." Aw, hell, it's really just an excuse for me to recommend Gloria Steinem's classic essay "I Was a Playboy Bunny." (I can't find it online, but here's an excerpt.) The Good Men Project piece isn't as insightful, but it's more personal, as the writer's reasons for being a Bunny weren't journalistic.

Sweet smell of success: Between Mercedes-Benz perfumes and The New York Times-scented candle, can't wait to catch a whiff of the bourgeoisie!

Portrait of a perfumer: Better fragrance chat here, with Bella Sugar's Annie Tomlin interviewing fragrance legend Frédéric Malle.

Beauty exhibit skin-deep?: Thoughtful Tom Teicholz review of the "Beauty Culture" exhibit in L.A., asking the pointed question: "Is this exhibit really a conversation?" So much beauty talk isn't talk at all, but presented images. I still want to see this exhibit, but am eager to keep the beauty conversation going.

Martina Molin, Painter, London

Swedish painter Martina Molin focuses her work on femininity, simultaneously expressing an aspiration toward beauty itself and the desire for a more profound sentiment and existential value. Her subjects—usually women appearing to consciously straddle the divide of solitude and being gazed upon—reflect and filter the inner experience of being seen. She studied fine art in Stockholm before moving to London (where she currently resides) in 2001 to study painting and drawing, receiving her master’s in drawing from Camberwell College of Art in 2008. During her visit to New York for a private exhibition, we talked about the experience of becoming an image, the importance of portraying feminine presence and absence, the Swedish beauty aesthetic, and Falcon Crest. In her own words:

On Beauty and Secrets 
I’m trying to capture what I’m absorbed by, which is in part this kind of beauty ideal, but really it’s a blend of different scenarios and impressions. A lot of it’s coming from family, history, things you see when you’re little—for me it was this admiration of my mother and her twin sister, being a child seeing this grown-up world.

I had access to French Vogue as a child, and just looking at that and seeing my mother and aunt go out to a party was this kind of magic, forbidden world. It was these glamorous, beautiful women—their scent, their experience. It was their sophistication and beauty, with strong charisma, that inspired me. They were like real-life fairy tale princesses.

There’s a secret power or knowledge of your own femininity and sex appeal for women, and I think that’s quite obvious for a child to see, because you look at the other children and none of you have that—and it’s good that way. But I couldn’t help being intrigued by the charms of their appearance. I see women almost doing magic with their looks, with makeup and how they present themselves. And thus I developed an interest in beauty, as a child.

The Awakening of Love

In The Awakening of Love, the girl is nude, but there is a sense of innocence about her. I like to portray the awareness of being seen, and the value of being seen as beautiful. She’s on display but she’s aware of her own worth. It’s about her inner experience and wish to be desired.

Happy Birthday Girls

To me, the mirroring element in Happy Birthday Girls is a reflection of the thrilling sensation of getting older. To be at ease with your own reflection is to realize the potential of each age and not get stuck in what was. They’re celebrating a birthday, but it’s with a certain melancholy as they gaze at the birthday cake, which has been left looking more like a fence. On the one hand it’s a celebration of being alive, about looking forward—yet another part of youth is in the past, so in a way it must be a bittersweet practice of letting go.

Sometimes I like to include in my paintings a feeling of absence, the lack of emotion that you can experience. There are times in life when things go too fast. When you don’t fully realize a moment, it leaves a sense of emptiness, a void. For a while I was almost erasing my paintings from the paintings. There was so much white space, because I felt isolated, living in a different country. It’s important to me to portray absence and presence of femininity. When painting in the studio the artist gets a distance from the self. It is this which is so important, so the art can have its own voice.

Spanish Skies

Though my work is not a direct form of self-portraiture, I am subconsciously included. In my painting there’s is an element of self I cannot erase. Perhaps a moderate degree of reflection is necessary to give an honest approach to a narrative. However, I am most interested in the possibility of a multiple persona, absorbing inspiration from fiction, film, photography, and history. People often comment that some of the women in my paintings look like me, and I can see how a part of me shines through. However, artists can be a little overly critical; for me it can be a bit destructive, to be overfocusing on myself.

On the Swedish Beauty Aesthetic 
I first moved to England when I was 20. I was thrilled to be going someplace new, but concerned I would be perceived as the Swedish-girl stereotype, this happy blond girl there on holiday. To avoid this I initially dyed my hair brown, but it turned kind of gray and it didn’t suit me at all, so I went back to being blond and I just carried on.

As a Swedish woman, sometimes I feel that I get put in a category. While this can be frustrating, this stereotype can also offer quite a nice escape. If I already have others’ ideas projected onto me, then I can relax and be. I can feel quite safe in my little illusion, knowing privately that I am confident and know that I am more than preconceived perceptions.

On Swedish Equality 
We’ve come quite far in Sweden, with equal opportunities for men and women. An interesting spin off of this is that men there have gotten more into their own appearance. Maybe Sweden's equality has allowed men to look into traditionally feminine areas, such as makeup and other parts of the beauty industry. But regardless of how equal society becomes, men and women will strive to have a certain appearances. That is universal and is not going to change. What has become more equal now is the sense that men and women both want to be beautiful. This is not particular to a place or country, just the human desire to be desired.

Perhaps the pressure to be “perfect” is more strong still in some parts of America than in Sweden, where the approach to appearance is a bit more relaxed. I grew up watching Dallas and Falcon Crest. It was magic to me. I remember being mesmerized by the perfectly groomed women—the power they projected onto the viewer was impressive! I’ve always been fascinated by constructed or artificial beauty. In Europe that’s more of a Mediterranean thing; the women in that region dress up more and they’re impeccably groomed. We don’t have that as much in Sweden. You’d feel a little bit overdressed if you wore a dress when you go out; it’s quite casual.

Sweden has a natural beauty ideal. With plastic surgery there is the ideal of eternal youth that you can achieve if you can afford it. But a majority of Swedes embrace aging and beauty—they keep it healthy, exercise a bit, take long walks. Sweden is an earth-bound society. Maybe the belief that a natural beauty is preferable over a more artificial aesthetic might just be in keeping with Scandinavian minimalism—who knows?

Ideally, in a modern society we should be allowed to embrace our femininity and our masculinity with playfulness—whatever makes one comfortable in their body shouldn’t collide with their equal value as an individual or professional.

Beauty Blogosphere 5.20.11

The latest beauty news, from head to toe and everything in between.

From Head... 
Who's buying color cosmetics? The buried lede on this piece about makeup purchases is that women ages 35 to 44 buy more color cosmetics than other groups. Still, the only product you see specifically targeted to that group is skin care, usually anti-aging skin care. 

Women, fear, and makeup: Courtney at Those Graces (a most excellent feminist beauty blog) has a knack for seamlessly integrating her love of the pretty with her love of the fuller self—and in this illustrative post on how you can subvert cosmetic companies' goals for you and your money, she shows how you can take private joy in the face of the beauty industry.

Not worth killing for, folks!

Lock 'em up: One of the hazards of the human hair industry is that it's a prime target for thievery. It's such a bizarre industry to begin with that this made me giggle when I saw that it was a new theft trend, but a beauty supply store owner was killed over $10,000 worth of dead skin cells, which is no trivial matter.


...To Toe...
Just in case leg makeup isn't enough for you: I try and try to remember what the ever-wise Virginia Sole-Smith says on beauty work: "You don’t have to buy into anything you don’t want—you can pick and choose. But we have to respect women who pick and choose differently." It changed my attitude toward plastic surgery and I no longer make assumptions about women who make that choice. But. Mud masks for your legs? WhohastheTIME, people? (Maybe if "Uh-Oh!" weren't in the headline I'd feel better.)  

Yes, it is a terrible idea, but that's not the point I'm making here.

...And Everything in Between: 
Jane, where's the sass? Listen, I think it's great when women can be frank about their beauty concerns. I also think it's great that Jane Pratt has a new project at XOJane.com. But there is ZERO self-examination in her heralding note of why an erroneous comment about how old she looks left her "shaking and crying," which is troubling. Teen girls don't always know that we all have appearance anxiety, so they need to hear it. XOJane's audience is presumably older and presumably past the shock of knowing that other women may be troubled by looking older and probably wants a little more introspection/insight as to why an overheard comment might send one into paroxysms. C'mon, Jane! We know you can do better!
   
The Benefit twins: Interesting profile on the twin sisters behind Benefit Cosmetics. Apparently they developed BeneTint for a stripper who wanted something to make her nipples appear pinker. 

If a tree falls in the forest but it can't look into the mirror...: My west coast no-mirror compatriot Kjerstin's blog is always a great read, and I particularly enjoyed this take on the existential issues that not seeing your own reflection brings. I'm sure I'll be referencing it later as well, but you should read it now!

The ghosts at Estee Lauder:
Not the grande dame's ghost, but rather the cemetery that the company agreed to care for when it acquired its operations base on Long Island. A bit of local cemetery lore.

 
Hey there, dollface! Apparently Revlon made (or at least lent its name to) dolls in the 1950s: "So beautiful her name just had to be Revlon." And...they're back! 

Beauty culture exhibit: So jealous of L.A. folk who get to go to this "Beauty Culture" exhibition. (via Beauty Schooled, another East Coaster who is going waah about its distance from us...)

Yet another reason to love Amy Poehler: Her "retouch" markings on this photo of herself for New York magazine.

Carolyn Turgeon, Novelist, Pennsylvania

Beauty is integral to novelist Carolyn Turgeon’s work: Mermaid, her most recent book, spotlights the relationship between the mermaid and the princess of the classic fairy tale. “You have these two beautiful protagonists who are competing for the love of the prince, but who are longing for what the other one represents,” she says. “They’re both beautiful, but they are literally different species, and I wanted to explore that complicated relationship.” Her second book, Godmother, features an old woman who had once been the fairy godmother to you-know-who. “She wasn’t just a beautiful woman; she was a beautiful fairy. And then she broke a taboo and ends up being banished to earth and having a human body and growing old. She’s grieving her loss of beauty through the whole story.” And the heroine of her first book, Rain Village, feels freakishly small—which turns out to be an asset when she discovers her skill as a trapeze artist. 

She also writes “a delicate, ladylike blog for mermaids and the humans who love them,” I Am A Mermaid, where she’s interviewed the likes of Tim Gunn, Alice Hoffman, and Rona Berg about mermaids. We talked about the role of beauty in classic fairy tales, the challenges of being an early bloomer, and the impossibility of an ugly mermaid. In her own words:
 

On Fairy Tales
Beauty is a central theme in fairy tales, especially your big classic ones. Physical beauty is correlated to how good and pure you are. Underneath all that dirt, Cinderella is beautiful, whereas her evil stepsisters are ugly and have big feet that can’t fit into those glass slippers. That’s why it’s tragic when you have a monster with a good heart, because nobody recognizes their goodness—but usually, it turns out that deep down the beast is actually a handsome prince. So if someone can recognize their goodness, they can turn back into what they really are—which is someone beautiful.

You’ve always got women who are hating other women for being beautiful. The evil stepsisters hate Cinderella because of her looks; in Snow White, everything revolves around the evil queen’s mirror telling her that this girl is more beautiful than she is, and for that she’s going to kill her and eat her heart. Sleeping Beauty too. They all center around women’s jealousy, and what lengths you’ll go to in order to stamp out beauty in other women or gain that beauty for yourself by eating her heart. You have women hating other women, and hurting themselves too—the evil stepsisters cut off their heels and toes to fit into shoes that are too small. These stories are really powerful—the classic tales, and then the Disney movies. They become a part of how you see the world when you’re a little kid. It can drive girls to all sorts of craziness. So taking these stories and somehow twisting that up a bit can be powerful.

There are definitely makeovers in fairy tales. You have that awesome Cinderella makeover, and in The Little Mermaid you get the makeover where she becomes human—she’s still beautiful, but in a whole new way. I loved describing the moment of a mermaid transforming into a human girl. It’s beautiful, but it’s painful; her skin crackles, her tail splits in half. I love powerful moments of transformation. I even have a tattoo of Daphne turning into the laurel tree. When people long to be something else, it speaks to this basic human condition of being earth-bound and longing for transcendence. There’s that Platonic sense: You were once whole, and now you are not whole anymore; you long for that wholeness you once had. You fell from the stars and you want to return there. Or just your plain old Catholic thing of wanting to return to God. Whatever name you put on it, there’s this longing to return to some sense of wholeness that you came from and that you’ll go back to someday. So my characters are longing for other worlds, places where they’ll be more complete. When Tessa flies through the air on the trapeze in Rain Village, she’s her most beautiful self that she couldn’t have been otherwise.


On Mermaid Beauty
There’s no such thing as an unattractive mermaid. What a ridiculous question! But you have manatees who have been called mermaids of the sea, because many sailors have mistaken manatees for mermaids—Christopher Columbus, for example. If you look at a manatee, they’re ungainly and ugly, in a semi-cute way, I guess, but nothing like a mermaid. Then you have P.T. Barnum, who tricked people into coming to see the “Feejee Mermaid,” and that’s an ugly-ass little thing! He had to sew a bunch of things together—a monkey and a fish, I think—and it would be really hard to make that beautiful. I don’t know why people weren’t like, “That’s not a mermaid, that’s ugly! It’s dead and weird and shriveled!”

Some people do like monstrous mermaids, but I like them to be pretty. My fairies were really pretty too. For human eyes to see something that’s magical and from another world, it would have to be stunning, even if in its own world it’s not. If you saw an angel, it would have to be beautiful; how could you register it as anything but beautiful? It’s from heaven. Whereas maybe in heaven that angel isn’t anything to look at!

I had an interview with an Icelandic artist who was talking about how beautiful and sexy mermaids were, but she was saying it was kind of weird: They’re half-fish, and they’re fish where it matters! They’re this weird combination of blatantly sexual—bared breasts, long hair—but at the same time, they have no genitals. They’re totally inaccessible. And they represent a world that’s unknown to us, a world that’s beautiful and terrifying at the same time. They see parts of the world that we can’t see; they live in the bottom of the ocean, and we don’t know what’s down there. So they represent birth and death and the unconscious—they’re mysterious and scary, but beautiful too.

That can translate to a certain type of beautiful woman. You’ve got Greta Garbo, who’s so distant and inaccessible and unobtainable; that’s a certain type of beautiful woman. It’s totally different from that naturally beautiful beach girl without makeup. And mermaids have that Greta Garbo kind of beauty. You can’t have her—or if you do, she might kill you.

On Glamour
Glamorous doesn’t have to be beautiful. Glamour is about adornment and style; it’s about knowingly adorning yourself in a way that hearkens back to certain images. I see Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Greta Garbo. I see sitting in a satin bed with bonbons. I see glittery, shiny things, everything in black-and-white. Taking what’s beautiful and chic and making it over-the-top. The first time I went to Dollywood—I love Dolly Parton—I went to the museum, and it’s full of all her crazy over-the-top rhinestoney shimmery stuff. I remember reading this quote of hers there, and it was something about how she knows people might think she’s ridiculous and laugh at her, but she was this girl from the mountains who grew up running around barefoot, so to her, this was beautiful. I think going over-the-top is a way of adding fabulousness to your everyday life. 

 Ms. Turgeon at possibly the most glamorous place on earth, Dollywood.

Glamour is something you can actually do. I mean, maybe some people are just naturally glamorous, but it seems to be something that by definition is unnatural. It’s a certain style, a certain kind of makeup, a certain kind of thing you do to yourself. It’s referencing something that’s cool and dreamy and otherworldly. I like that any woman can put on really red lips, get an old travel valise and a little muff, and wear sunglasses on top of her head. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how big or small you are, what color you are.

On Being Young, Gifted, and Stacked 
My first book, Rain Village, had a narrator who saw herself as freakish and weird. And then she meets this librarian, this beautiful, sexy, ex-circus-star who takes Tessa under her wing—and the librarian sees Tessa as beautiful. I wanted to raise the possibility that she has a beauty that only special people are able to see.

I wasn’t like Tessa, but I did feel freakish and weird. I developed really early, and I was tall; as an 11-year-old I was 5’7” and wore C cup bras and would have grown men hitting on me. I found it extremely shameful and horrible; I wish there had been someone around who would have helped me feel more comfortable and empowered. Any sense I had of being beautiful as a girl was always associated with shame and discomfort. I was shy and dreamy and bookish, yet I was tall and built and pretty, and I got a certain kind of attention that I didn’t know how to navigate. I remember being in high school and walking downtown with friends, and everything would be normal but I’d be cringing because I’d expect something to happen. We lived in a college town and there always seemed to be drunk frat boys around who at any given moment could yell something like “look at those tits!” and I’d feel singled out, reduced down, ashamed. I’m sorry that I couldn’t have been like, Oh, I’m dreamy and bookish and hot, too. I only read it as a negative thing; it was never something to be proud of.

I always wanted to write, and the idea that you could be writerly was at odds with looking a certain way. I wish that had not been the case. I wish I’d felt comfortable and realized there was a power there I could enjoy and even revel in, as opposed to just feeling really embarrassed by it. That’s something I actually like about Suicide Girls—I’m not saying they’re 1000% positive, but when they started it was like, Okay, here’s a bunch of punk girls who appear completely empowered by their own beauty and sexuality, and they’re proud to be smart and strong too. That was part of their thing. I’m not so sure they stayed in that same spirit, but when I first saw it I wished that had been around when I was younger. Not that I would have wanted to be one of them, but there might have at least been a context to be like, “I’m this empowered smart girl with a body.” When people are yelling about your “tits,” it doesn’t make you feel very smart. I kind of resent that I felt that way for so long.

I think I developed a certain detachment from my physical self. At a young age my identity seemed so separate from my physical being that I just became more detached from my body than your average person, I think, or maybe that’s a myth of my own making. I’m pretty comfortable now, or maybe too old to care, but it’s not totally resolved. I’d like to be more attached, to feel like your physical self is part of the essence of who you are—to feel like a more embodied, whole person, and then be comfortable with that physical self no matter what shape it is. I probably work this stuff out a bit writing about mermaids and fairies and tiny trapeze girls, I should probably take up yoga instead!

Why I'm Not Looking in a Mirror for a Month

As of 12:01 a.m. Sunday, May 1, 2011, I’ve embarked on a monthlong mirror fast. Thirty-one days of no mirrors, store windows, shiny pots, spoons, or the dark glass of the subway.

My personal bathroom mirror is shrouded; my windows will either be open at night or be covered with drawn blinds so that I can’t sneak a peek. At public places and the homes of others, I will avert my eyes where I know there’s a mirror, and will look away as quickly as possible if I run into an unexpected reflection. The only exception to this will be the use of a handheld mirror to apply makeup—I will apply my skin products (serum, tinted moisturizer) without looking, but will use a small mirror for the color products (eyebrow pencil, eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick). I am also allowing a small hand mirror to be used to spot-check for spinach in my teeth. Deal? I’m doing it this way because not wearing makeup for a month is another sort of challenge, and I don’t want this experiment to be about not wearing makeup for a month; I specifically want it to be about the dozens—perhaps hundreds—of times each day that I look in the mirror for no practical reason. 

 

*    *    *    *    *

Marilyn, Annika Connor


I purposefully say “no practical reason,” because there are plenty of reasons that I look in the mirror as frequently as I do, reasons that go beyond checking for lipstick smears or unreasonable hair. To be clear: I am not bound to my mirror. Some acquaintances reading this may be puzzled as to why I believe a mirror fast will be a challenge for me; I’m not prone to pulling out a hand mirror to check my makeup, and I don’t give off the vibe of someone who can’t be torn away from her own image. I don’t know how often the average woman looks in the mirror; I’m guessing I’m about on par, perhaps shying toward the more frequent end of the scale. So I’m not particularly concerned that the time I spend in front of the mirror is consuming me.

What I am concerned about is the uncomfortable recognition I had when reading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. He writes:

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. … And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. … Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.

Reading this was the first time I’d understood that objectification does not mean sexualization. Because I don’t usually present myself in a particularly sexualized manner, I thought I’d done what I could to safeguard against my own objectification. But I haven’t, because in many ways it’s near-impossible: Women are constantly being looked at. Even when we’re not, we’re so hyperaware of the possibility of being looked at that it can rule even our most private lives. Including in front of our mirrors, alone.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and see myself, or whatever I understand myself to be. Other times, I distinctly see an image of myself. When I see my image reflected on a mirror behind a bar I think, Oh good, I look like a woman who is having a good time out with friends. Or I’ll see my reflection in a darkened windowpane, hunched over my computer with a pencil twirled through my upswept hair, and I’ll think, My, don’t I look like a writer? Or I’ll walk to a fancy restaurant and see my high-heeled, pencil-skirted silhouette in the glass of the door and think: I pass as someone who belongs here. You’ll notice what these have in common: My thoughts upon seeing my reflection are both self-centered and distant. I’m seeing myself, but not really—I’m seeing a woman who looks like she’s having a good time, or a writer, or someone who belongs at Balthazar.

I may in truth be any of those, but I am relying upon a false reference point. It’s false because it is, by necessity, distorted—whether it’s distorted by the physics trick that shows us a reverse image of what our onlookers see, or by my own subjective opinion, or by my pucker-lipped “mirror face,” the fact remains the mirror will not only not be able to tell me whether I’m having a good time, it can’t ever really tell me whether I look like I’m having a good time. I know perfectly well what I look like; still, I use the mirror as a divination tool to repeatedly confirm both how I look and how I should feel about it.

One of the symptoms of an eating disorder is what’s known as “body checking”: excessively feeling, measuring, or monitoring aspects of one’s body. The idea isn’t necessarily that an ED patient is checking her or his body and finding it unsuitable (though it can be that); it’s more that the chronic observation signals a preoccupation that bespeaks the larger concern. The act of monitoring becomes one of the touchstones through which an ED patient marks her day. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m “face checking” myself, but most of the time when I’m looking in the mirror, I’m not merely looking for stray eyelashes. I’m looking for confirmation that I look good enough that I needn’t be anxious about my appearance—not at any given moment, but in perpetuity. In other words: I am asking the mirror to free me from being absorbed with my looks. It’s like having an AA meeting at Tequila Willie’s.

Please don’t mistake me: This experiment isn’t about improving my self-esteem, not exactly. I don’t stand in front of the mirror and pick myself apart, nor do I gaze tenderly upon this glorious visage. My response to my appearance fluctuates, as does everyone’s, I assume. Most of the time I like what I see just fine. Still, if one outcome of this project is emerging with a more consistent attitude toward my appearance, well, that’s just dandy.

Yet my core concern here isn’t whether I like or don’t like what I see in the mirror. It’s about the overriding self-consciousness that’s taken up residence in my psyche. Self-consciousness is often taken to mean some combination of shy, uncomfortable, awkward, and not feeling particularly good about one’s self; it can indeed result in that. But there’s another application of heightened self-consciousness, aptly described in a chapter of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex that's titled, of course, “The Narcissist”: 


I recall another young woman I saw one morning in a café powder room; she had a rose in her hand and she seemed a little intoxicated; she put her lips to the mirror as if to drink her reflection, and she murmured with a smile: “Adorable, I find myself adorable!” … “I love myself, I am my God!” said Mme Mejerowsky. To become God is to accomplish the impossible synthesis of the en-soi and the pour-soi [that is, to be at once the changeless Fact, the Essence, and the mutable, questioning Consciousness]... The young girl who in her mirror has seen beauty, desire, love, happiness, in her own features—animated, she believes, with her own consciousness—will try all her life to exhaust the promises of that dazzling revelation.

When I read that passage from The Second Sex, a trickle of dread ran through me—I felt like I’d been caught, as though Simone de Beauvoir had peered into my brain at my vainest and most delusional and written it down for posterity. But the real concern I have about self-consciousness—both the drunken-mirror-kissing kind and the painfully awkward kind—is that it is impossible to be in a state of flow when you are your own #1 concern.  

In a flow state, a person is so actively engaged with a task that there is simply no room for awareness of one’s self. That’s not because you’re outside of yourself as you might be when, say, watching an engrossing action film; rather, it’s because you are so wholly present in the moment that you and the moment merge so as to engulf your consciousness. Forgive the New Agey woo-woo, but: In a state of flow, there is no self-consciousness, only consciousness.


Mirror Me, Annika Connor

Times I have experienced a flow state: hiking the White Mountains, writing this blog, attending a figure drawing class, creating a magnificent dessert, moonlight swimming in the Gulf of Thailand. Times I have not experienced a flow state: necking with a man who murmured that my body was “amazing,” buying a great pair of jeans, seeing a candid photo of myself and thinking I looked quite pretty, being told by an appealing man that he’d been “spending the whole night trying to not stare at your beauty.” I felt good about my appearance in each of those latter moments, and I’m not diminishing the importance of being able to recognize one’s own beauty. But those moments had no transcendence. I emerged from each of those windows of time feeling beautiful, but the moments were myopic in their focus on my appearance.

When I look at the flow moments, though, beauty takes on a different tint. It’s not that beauty becomes secondary or unimportant; it’s more that I’m fulfulling the false craving I have for feeling beautiful with something more substantial. You can get vitamin C from a pill—hell, you can get it through enough Skittles—but there’s nothing like getting it from a perfectly ripe orange. In both cases, you get the vitamin C, but with the whole food you get things like fiber, folate, and potassium. It’s the same with flow states versus moments of appreciating my looks, or having them appreciated: With both, I still wind up pleased with my appearance. But one is the orange, and the other is a grab bag of candy.

There’s nothing wrong with looking in the mirror. There’s nothing wrong with sometimes looking to your reflection—even when it is impossibly subjective, and backward at that—for a breath of fortitude, centeredness, and assurance. I just want to see what life is like when I’m not using that image as my anchor; I want to see how it affects the way I move through the world, the way I regard myself and others. I want to know what it’s like to sever a primary tie to one of my greatest personal flaws—extraordinary self-consciousness—and I want to discover what will fill the space that the mirror has occupied until now.

I want to eat the orange. 

Beauty Blogsophere 4.15.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe.

Princess Arthchild Gourielle-Helena Rubinstein, Salvador Dalí, 1943

From Head...
Helena Rubenstein portraits: The lady sat for Dalí! (She commissioned him to design a compact for her collection as well.) Twenty portraits of her by various artists are on view at Sotheby's.

Mermaid beauty: Mermaid expert extraordinaire Carolyn Turgeon (author of the enchanting novel Mermaid) interviews makeup artist Rona Berg on mer-beauty. And now that your appetite for fishwomen is whetted, check out the second ad on BellaSugar's roundup of most bizarre beauty ads ever made.

A colorful history: Nice writeup of lipstick's history by Sam Correy. Cleopatra also engaged in mermaid beauty, it seems, adding fish scales for shine to her "lipstick" made of beeswax and crushed ants.

Oily skin win: I love a good beauty experiment! BellaSugar again, this time with an intrepid reporter trying the oil-cleaning method--that is, washing your face with oil.

Barbarella beauty: Die-cut false lashes, printed hair extensions, and nail stamps at this vaguely futuristic beauty show.

Blowout blowup: The Department of Labor has issued a hazard alert on Brazilian blowouts—you know, that hair treatment that dumps formaldehyde (which even some morticians won't use anymore) on your head. I'm pleased but baffled as to why this issue, of all issues, is what is making the government sit up and take notice of the complete lack of regulation in beauty treatments. Is it the scary f-word of formaldehyde? What about the lead, the parabens, the sulfates, the tar—not startling enough? Or is it, as indicated by the action being taken by the Department of Labor, not the Food & Drug Administration, because every time a woman gets formaldehyde poured on her head, there's a salon worker who's handling the stuff too?


...to Toe...
Fancy footballer: Between Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, comedian Tommy Davidson, and Josh Freese from last week's roundup, the pedicure is shucking its cloak of femininity. All the more reason for A Certain News Network and other reactionaries to tone down their freakout over this 7-year-old boy's cotton-candy-colored Essie pedicure.


...and Everything In Between
Johnson & Jobbery: The maker of Neutrogena and Clean & Clear, Johnson & Johnson, was fined for paying kickbacks for contracts under a UN relief program in Iraq. We're talking drug corruption, not an acne scrub scandal, but still, yikes. 

Criminal beauty: Between the teenager being fined $1 million for setting fire to hairspray at an Illinois Walmart, and a curious vandalism of a Florida anti-choice display involving boxes of unopened Mary Kay products, beauty products are playing accessory to crime this week.
 
Fair Pay Day: Virginia at Beauty Schooled examines the gender gap in beauty work, in honor of Fair Pay Day (April 12). It's particularly interesting in light of Inc.com's report on the fastest-growing industries for startups, which highlighted beauty salons and barber shops.

In the red: Also as a part of Fair Pay Day, Mrs. Bossa nicely runs down the symbolism of the color red in connection to women's labor--paid, unpaid, and paid-in-kind.

Sears & Your Bucks: Sears is ramping up its cosmetics department, in most cases creating a department where there was none. Why should you care? Because Sears is seriously struggling (when was the last time you went to one?), and we as women are a part of its revitalization plan. It's an illustration of our market power, and it's easy to forget that we really do have that market power when we think of the beauty industry as something that merely exploits women's insecurities. It does, to be sure--underarm beautification, anyone?--but let's not forget that the market is a two-way street, and that businesses rely on our dollars to do their work. (Another reminder: Spa-going ladies basically own Groupon.)

Plus-size yoga: The new, cleverly named Buddha Body Yoga studio caters to a heavy-set clientele. I'm all for an environment that allows all participants to honor their bodies...but isn't that what yoga is all about in the first place? Yay for Buddha Body, but boo on the "yoga lifestyle" that has created the need for it in the first place. We've lost the plot, folks, when yoga has become so much about cute Lululemon pants and adorable printed mats, and less about its focus as a mind-body practice that would naturally lend itself to a heavy person wishing to find peace, just like all yogis.

Frankenbarbie: College student creates life-size, correctly proportioned, utterly grotesque Barbie. (Thanks to sustainability blogger Fonda LaShay for the link, even if it'll give me nightmares.)

Beauty in one's Seoul: Japan has long been the Asian leader in the cosmetics market, but Korea is joining the game full-force. With the events in Japan leading to concerns about contamination of Japan-produced cosmetics (which the Japan Cosmetic Industry Association refutes), could Korea make giant leaps in the next year?

Six beauty procedures that qualify as torture: Interesting stuff at Cracked (face slimmers?), but there was a tone here that I found disturbing--there was zero examination or sympathy of why people might choose to do these torturous procedures. An Asian woman doesn't spend two hours a day gluing her eyelids to create a fold because she's vain or has nothing she'd rather be doing; she does it because of the class connotations (including increased job opportunities) it can confer upon her.

Cosmetic genital mutilation? Ghanaian human rights activist Nana Oye Lithur draws a connection between western cosmetic surgery on one's genitals and female genital mutilation. I don't equate the two—but FGM is an abstract reality for me, not a daily reality of my countrywomen, which isn't the case for Ms. Lithur.

The three graces of Hearst? Mediabistro points out WWD's somewhat sexist treatment of three powerful fashion EICs under one roof at Hearst, once the Elle acquisition goes through. How belittling is it to assume that there can only be one top dog at Hearst simply because there are three (very different) women's fashion mags? Nobody's doing a cutesy Condé Nast chart of Daniel Peres of Details versus GQ's Jim Nelson.

Beauty Blogsophere

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe. 

From Head...
Photoshop yourself...with makeup: I'm behind on this, but when I read about Make Up For Ever's ads with no airbrushing, I got excited. Then I saw that the ads were to promote their HD line of makeup, the idea being that you're basically airbrushed the minute you start wearing the stuff. Nevermind! (Also note the awesome oh-hi-armpit poses and fish-lip faces that nobody, ever, has looked like except when taking their own snapshot, probably after a couple of G&Ts, or am I alone here?)

"I feel like a queen": I'm just a hair skeptical of the Dove campaign, but still took delight in reading about their newest model: a 99-year-old Israeli great-grandmother.

Avon calling: In other senior beauty news: 82-year-old Texan man is recognized as Avon's oldest male rep.

Science sez: On the clean beauty front, a group of influential scientists have officially put forward a call for greater regulation in chemical testing. You know, chemicals like the stuff that goes on your lips, your skin, your eyelashes, your hair. (Thanks to No More Dirty Looks for the tipoff—and in general for their keen attention to this stuff.)

...to Toe 
Snakeskin pedicure?!?! I thought we were supposed to be getting away from scaly feet?


Is it worth the vegan beauty brigade's trouble? Girlie Girl Army, take it from here.

One false step: When I first saw this bit on toenail extensions, my eyes rolled back into my brains. But then with the pictures (not for the foot squeamish) and accompanying text that makes it clear this is sort of reconstructive surgery lite, it made me feel warm and fuzzy about the thought of fake toenails. (I'm of the "my feet need to breathe" camp, not the "feet are disgusting and should be covered at times" camp, and if I lost a toenail it would really bum me out aesthetically.)

...and the Things in Between 
"Skin balls" (ewww!): This happens to me all the time! Why some body butters "roll off" your skin.

My favorite coverline ever was "Erotic Sex!": Dense but worthy scholarly writeup on Cosmopolitan magazine. It's not that it tells you anything that the irregular reader of Cosmo doesn't know on some level, but it does a nice job of breaking down the data and examining the male gaze aspect of a magazine geared toward women.

Do we want models to look like us?: Glamour called out research that indicates that women say they're more likely to buy goods when the model looks like them. It sounds encouraging, but note that the scholar behind the research is also the CEO of an inclusive modeling agency (plus-size, older, even disabled). I'm eager to see what he does next, since he seems like he understands both the pull for non-alienating models and "aspirational" images. I'm just hesitant to hail this as a sea change quite yet.

Dads in the house: Nice essay on helping your daughter navigate making her way through the beauty myth. Step one: Don't ogle women in front of her, duuuuh.

The Good Girl's Drug: If there's a young woman in your life struggling with food issues, particularly binge eating, please go and buy a copy of this book now. Food: The Good Girl's Drug by Sunny Gold is a fantastic mix of personal story, hands-on advice, cheerleader, and sage. Binge eating can be overcome, and this book shows you how. 

I think I'm a Duchamp: Seems I'm not the only one who hates having her body referred to as a piece of fruit: An Australian underwear line is trying to rebrand women's body types to recall great artists—Rubens, Da Vinci, etc. A mild improvement, I suppose (less judgmental, to be sure), but the fact that the word "rebranding" was the most appropriate word I could find here says something.

Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? We American ladies are still after the Frenchwomen's je ne sais quoi? Apparently we're even taking product design cues from them. The airless pump? The mass brands designed to look like high-end, thus creating my mock-favorite word of the week, masstige? That was them.

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