Invited Post: Gone Swimmin'—African American Women and Hair

One of the best things about blogging is "meeting" readers via comments, particularly those who can illuminate aspects of beauty that I haven't dealt with firsthand. So when Mary Elizabeth left a lengthy comment on my post about neck hair and joked about how she was now basically guest contributing, I happily took her up on it! Mary is a portrait artist and maybe a little bit of a wannabe [ed. note—or not wannabe!] writer currently residing in Cleveland, Ohio. Check out her art blog at

Olympic bronze medalist Lia Neal might be surprised to learn that African Americans don't swim.

I grew up on an island in Florida but I didn't learn to swim until I was 12. According to USA Swimming this isn't unusual for African Americans. I first learned this tidbit while working as a summer camp counselor; it was part of our training, which also included watching security camera footage of a male African American camper nearly drowning at the bottom of a pool. Yes, for real. The video was intended to drive home the point that we as counselors shouldn't rely on the lifeguards while at the pool, but the other not-so-subtle message was that black children often cannot swim and therefore needed to be watched even closer. This is a great example of just how ingrained the idea that all African Americans don't and/or can't swim is. But why?

If you ask the internet, it will tell you it's African American women who are to blame because we don't want to mess up our hair. Apparently, this is explanation enough since real reasons are almost never given and are oversimplified when they are. I rarely see not living near a body of water cited, for example. For me it was because I never wanted to learn until I made a friend with a backyard pool that had a slide I desperately wanted to use and not drown. I personally know many black women who can swim. Not only that, but I've seen them with my own eyes at public beaches and dripping wet just like everyone else. And yet many other people present at those same public beaches and pools would rather dismiss what they've seen with their own eyes as some sort of anomaly rather than consider what they have come to understand as fact may in actuality be a stereotype.

So why don't some black women want to swim and mess up their hair? I think the answer is more complex than the simple vanity the stereotype implies, and has its roots in slavery. It's obvious that most slaves didn't have time or resources to care for their hair once enslaved, but in their homelands they would have had elaborate hair care rituals. Women (and men) styled their hair in elaborate and time-consuming ways. (In fact, in Africa during and before slavery a person wearing an Afro was uncommon and would have been considered mentally ill and ostracized.) Imagine how awful it must have felt to not be able to care for your hair while remembering the sense of pride you once took in it. As families and tribes were split up and sold, hair care practices were lost and possibly even replaced by the hair care practices of white slaveholders. Needless to say, these practices didn't work for the tightly curly hair that many slaves possessed. To add insult to injury, slaves who worked in their owners’ houses were often required to cover their hair, as it was considered unsightly, while slaves with less curly hair types weren't required to do so—and were often treated better. The divide this created amongst slaves is very likely the root of the modern “good hair” vs. “bad hair” debate. Once freed, many straightened their hair with heat or chemicals—not to look more white (although I am sure there were those who did) but to have one less thing to make them stand out as "other" in a society that just barely accepted them.

Today many African American women opt to keep their hair natural and only straighten their hair temporarily with heat. I don't think I have to explain to anyone reading what a little humidity, let alone a splash from the pool, can do to flatironed hair...and if it takes you 2+ hours to flatiron the curls out of your hair like it does in my case, you're probably not going to go near any water and make all that work for naught. So there's part of the answer, although it's a little simplified in the interest of not boring you to death with the details of curly hair types, heat straightening, and the inherent fragility of curly hair. There are also some who opt to relax their hair, which is a chemical treatment that breaks the disulfide bonds in the hair strand, making it less curly—but it can also make the hair "bone straight" if left to process long enough. Relaxing the hair makes it more susceptible to chlorine and salt water damage just like color treated hair. These two reasons are enough to dispel or at least explain how the stereotype started, but they're just the more obvious ones that I know of. Maybe some African American women just don't have any interest in swimming and their hair provides a convenient excuse...what with a stereotype already in place to support it and all. Seriously, though, these reasons could apply to a woman of any race who avoids swimming. Nowadays it's common for women of all races to use heat and chemicals to straighten (or curl) their hair, so it's pretty ridiculous to pretend it's only one racial group that’s concerned about their hair and what effect swimming might have on style or health.

Race, Recognition, and Exotica

This is not me. (It is, however, a Caddo headpiece.)

The central idea behind my examination of the word exotic was hardly difficult to pinpoint: Calling a woman exotic is calling her the Other. And putting women into that category—particularly when there’s eau de hypersexualization wafting about with the method—isn’t something nice people do, agreed? Agreed.

So here’s my dirty little secret: Whenever exotic been applied to me, I’ve...sort of liked it. For me, a white woman who has a not-terribly-distant-but-not-terribly-visible non-European background—American Indian, specifically Caddo and Cherokee—being set apart with exotic can feel like a acknowledgement of my heritage. My ethnicity doesn’t jump out at you, and because of my skin color most everyone would call me white, including myself. But it’s evident enough—my cheekbones, my hair, my yellow-tinged skin—that every so often an “exotic” floats my way.

I really don’t want to undermine the reasons that exotic can be insidious, divisive, and even hurtful; I want to see the microaggressions of exotic disappear far more than I ever want it actually applied to me. But the fact is, whenever it happens I smile, if only to myself. I’m sheepish about this reaction, but in some ways it’s actually in line with my thoughts on the Othering of exotic: It’s a way of identifying its subject as different. Brown women don’t have an option in this, and that’s exactly why it’s troublesome. I have the privilege—the white privilege—of being able to revel in the handful of occasions exotic is tossed my way, for the very reason that women who hear it far more frequently may be fed up with it: It calls out my heritage. In my case, it’s a piece of my heritage that often gets swept under the rug; my pale skin means that while I’m occasionally asked what I “am,” it's not immediately evident that my family tree has branches anywhere but Europe. When the topic comes up, there’s often a sort of post-hoc qualification: “I knew you were something,” or “So that’s it!”

In fact, one of the few times I’ve had confirmation someone has seen my ancestry without mentioning it was when I got a makeover from Eden DiBianco, who, when I mentioned it, just nodded and said she’d known at a glance. Now, as a makeup artist she’s an expert in faces so this isn’t too surprising, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she’s got experience with this herself—her Puerto Rican heritage is often overlooked because of her skin tone. But our similar experiences led her to the opposite conclusion about exotic: “It’s such a cop-out word. People are so disappointed to find out I’m Puerto Rican because I’m not ‘exotic’-looking enough for them to be able to spot me coming. Apologies for just looking like an ethnic white girl, but sheesh, should I have salsa-ed in with a fruit basket on my head? I hate that word. What am I, a bird?”

So I’m certainly not trying to make some sort of case for exotic; for every not-entirely-white woman like me who finds it a fleeting portal to a whitewashed lineage, there are probably dozens who pick up on its microaggressions and swath of sexualization and would prefer not to hear it at all. What I am saying, though, is that my covert eagerness to hear the word reflects both the shame and the pride I have about my ancestry: pride in being a tiny part of a culture that’s small but vibrant, and shame in feeling that whatever my tribal enrollment papers might say, I’m not “really” Indian.

Being any race is tricky, being Indian particularly so. Are you Indian because of your bloodline? Your culture? Visibility? Self-identification? Tribal enrollment? Skin color? Community? I’m one-quarter ethnically Indian, never lived on a reservation, have few Indian friends, usually check “white” on forms but may sometimes check “American Indian” for the hell of it, and can count on two hands the number of people who have asked me flat-out if I’m Native American. Short of going to powwows, owning a collection of Native treasures both handed down and purchased, and having tribal Caddo enrollment, I grew up about as non-Indian as Indians get.

But hey, I went to preschool—preschool!—on the reservation. The fact I feel compelled to share this illuminates the ways I try to “prove” my ethnicity. I want to distance myself from the “pretendians” with the “Cherokee princess” seven generations back (when will those types learn that Cherokees didn’t have princesses?), whose own lost ethnic identity leads them to cling to some sort of one-drop rule—while not being nearly as eager to claim African American blood, incidentally—for there's a part of me that's afraid my own one-quarter rule isn't much different. (Meanwhile, it’s not like I’m making a big effort to learn about my British heritage—which, while more of a hodgepodge than my Caddo heritage, makes up a far larger piece of my genetic pie than my American Indian blood. Being Indian is more “interesting,” it seems, even to me.) So I’ll tote out my “real” claims to my heritage: the preschool! the tribal enrollment! hey, my great-grandparents met at Carlisle Indian School! my father worked for Indian Health Service for 30 years! I write for an Indian magazine! one-quarter quantum blood! except not really because I’m only one-eighth Caddo and one-eighth Eastern Band of Cherokee except maybe not even that because who really knows who my biological great-great-grandfather was? hey, wanna see my shawl?

Underlying the balancing act of recognizing my heritage without staking a claim that simply isn’t mine is the fact that like indigenous people worldwide, American Indians have a long history of oppression. Meanwhile, I’ve never, not once, faced oppression based on my race (unless you count the occasional conversation with Sweat Lodge Dude who wants to quiz me about my spiritual beliefs). It’s hard for me as a mostly-white woman to write about my heritage because I’ve benefited from white privilege my entire life and don’t want to discount the role of oppression in Indian life, but I also don’t want to frame race solely as a story of oppression or need; fact is, plenty of “real” Indians (whatever that is, I suppose I’m thinking of someone more connected with the community than I am) live lives similar to mine. So you could argue that by being vocal about my heritage but not, like, doing rain dances, I’m demonstrating that oppression isn’t the entirety of the American Indian experience. But I never want to forget that in this country today, it's my British lineage, not my Indian blood, that allows me to walk through the world without bearing the burden of an increased risk of rape, suicide, maternal mortality, diabetes, domestic violence, or poverty. I don’t have to think about treaty and land rights, the legacy of compulsory sterilization, or the tribal or urban Indian health care system. I do think about these things, but it’s a conscious learning exercise when I do, not something thrust upon me without me having any say in the matter.

But what this also means is that in many ways I’m framing race as something others see me as, not as something I experience in my own personal manner. And even in that way, I’m not “Indian enough”: I know shamefully little about Caddo or Cherokee history (though I’m learning), and I’ve never spent significant time in Caddo lands. Whatever Indianness I feel beyond the mere fact of my blood is something I’ve largely conjured on my own, either through research or rumination.

In a way, though, that’s just the point: Thinking about and exploring my heritage is how I experience being Indian. It is an internal experience for me. And so, yes, whenever that experience is externalized—whenever I am called exotic, which, I should make clear, happens only rarely—it’s a brief moment of recognition. And even though I’m usually only called exotic by men, and usually when the context makes me think I’m being sexualized just the teensiest bit, there’s a part of me that takes pride in it; a part of me that usually lays silent is being seen.

The word can feel like a gift, even if it’s not the gift its giver intended. It can feel like a caress from my great-grandmother or a whisper from my great-grandfather, a founding member of the National Congress of American Indians whose internalized oppression bitterly shines through on the pages of his “humor” book, “Heap Big Laugh.” It can feel like a kiss from my grandfather, whose relationship with his ethnicity is a mystery to me but which I suspect is best expressed by the contents of a glass cage that stayed in his home for years: His father’s regalia stays in a frozen display, the intricate work of beads, feathers, and porcupine quills safely separated from the rest of his life.

That regalia is now in my parents’ home, where it is a point of familial pride and is surrounded by Indian art, including gifts my father was given during his long career with the Indian Health Service: sand paintings, beadwork, quilts. Hell, there’s a pipe, though not a peace pipe. I look at his regalia every time I visit, peering through the glass that still keeps it contained. Honoring those who came before us is a key part of traditional Native culture, and as I look at what my great-grandfather wore, I’ve wondered if he’d think I was a “bad Indian” for knowing so little about Caddo life—or whether he’d consider me Indian at all.

There is a postscript here that makes me wonder. I recently learned that my grandfather’s attempt to donate his father’s regalia to the Caddo Heritage Museum was thwarted: My great-grandfather, a freemason, had Masonic designs woven into the pattern. The regalia, from the museum’s point of view, was next to worthless. All this time, I'd been projecting a sort of ethnic purity onto my grandfather out of a need to heighten my own legitimacy, while in his day, he was shaping what it meant to be Native through his own lens. He was less interested in preserving an idea of the past than in bringing his life—not his “way of life,” but his life—into the present, reinterpreting pride both personal and collective and emerging with a Masonic breastplate made of porcupine quills. Heap big laugh indeed.

Thoughts on a Word: Exotic

Exotic is there, not here; them, not us; you, never me. Exotic is warm—hell, exotic is spicy. Exotic is Carmen Miranda, Lola Falana, Lieutenant Uhura. Exotic is Cleopatra, or is it Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra? Exotic is dark and mysterious, but the threat is contained. Exotic is Roxi DLite, Mimi LeMeaux, Jett Adore, and of course Miss Indigo Blue. Exotic is not diffeomorphic to the Euclidean space. Exotic is Early American, Sioux Native, and Ancient Sanskrit. Exotic is Salome and veils one through six. Exotic is one letter away from erotic. Exotic is Josephine Baker. Exotic is a rare fruit, but decidedly never a strange one.

Exotic, in its most basic form, means to belong from somewhere else, stemming from the Greek exotikos (“from the outside”). Only 30 or so years after its English coinage in the 1590s, it came to mean not literally foreign, but psychologically so: alien, unusual, unfamiliar. It was mostly applied to plants and objects for a couple hundred years, until the rapidity of trade gave common people the ability to look exotic through adornment. In the early 20th century, all one had to do to be exotic was dress the part, whether it’s a gown of rose-colored silk or an astrakhan cap, or simply wearing one’s hair in an unusual manner. One didn’t organically look exotic; one became exotic, either through affect, clothing—or, perhaps, sensualism. Exotic dancing to mean striptease has been used since the 1940s, presumably evolving from the term’s general use to mean any wild dance performed to an unfamiliar beat. Add in fanciful, “Oriental” costumes, and one has exotic dance: Mata Hari’s performances were labeled exotic dancing more than 20 years before it came into common use. Even as late as 1947, Life was duly defining the term: “Exotic dancer in the nightclub trade means a girl who goes through a few motions while wearing as few clothes as the cops will allow in the city where she is working.” But the magazine was prescient in its use, applying it seven years earlier to dancer Carmen d’Antonio, who was half-Italian, half-East Indian.

That usage of exotic was prescient in another way, for somewhere along the line, exotic went from describing a consciously cultivated look to describing something its bearer could hardly strip away: race. Exotic became code for dark-skinned women of various ethnicities: black women (Naomi Campbell, Beverly Peele, Sade), Latina women (Selena), Asian women (Tina Chow, Joan Chen). It’s no coincidence that this move happened in the 1960s and 1970s: The shift of exotic from describing costume to describing skin color and features runs roughly parallel to women’s shifting roles in America. If the beauty myth rose to make sure that newly liberated women didn’t get too much actual power and were left pecking around for crumbs, the use of exotic morphed to make sure that women of color didn’t tap into their share of the crumbs. Just as quickly as women of color began to rise in public visibility and power, they were quickly repackaged as sexualized versions of the real women who lay beneath; the same year Shirley Chisholm began planning her presidential bid, the world met Pam Grier. Between civil rights and feminism, someone had to find a way to neither deny the existence of women of color nor be permissive in their bid for power: enter exotic. In 1950, a white woman could don a turban to become exotic; it was harmlessly dashing, a way to pad one’s cage with ornate silk instead of cotton for the day. But once that cage opened up, we were left with a perfectly good word that could serve as a cursory nod to women of color—hell, it’s a compliment, right?—while simultaneously keeping the cage’s door wide open for any exotic lasses who might want to enter.

It’s not terribly hard to see why exotic is problematic: In the States, white women are still perceived as neutral; dark-skinned women are the Other. For something to be exotic, by definition it must be the Other. So with exotic—which is usually used in an ostensibly positive sense, to describe a woman with striking beauty—we’re also looking sideways at its target, the message bearing the subtext of “You’re not from around here, are you?” And encoded in not being from around here is, Your beauty will never match our values. As LaShaun Williams at MadameNoire puts it about the “otherness” of being exotic: “Other than what? The set of standards that define true beauty. She is somehow beautiful without being ‘beautiful.’”

Yet while exotic neatly performs its function of divide-and-conquer, it’s also used to express anxiety about race and categorization, particularly when applied to mixed-race women. And boy, has it ever been applied to mixed-race women: Raquel Welch (Bolivian and British), Salma Hayek (Lebanese and Spanish), Sade (Nigerian and British), Kimora Lee (Korean, Japanese, and African American), Jessica Alba (Mexican-Canadian-American) and Kim Kardashian (Armenian-American) have all been called out as looking exotic, as have multitudes of self-identified black women with mixed backgrounds whose skin may be dark but whose features look largely European (Tyra Banks, Halle Berry).

Certainly exotic is better than what so many ethnically ambiguous people hear: “What are you?” (As Kerry Ann King, a dance instructor whose ancestral tree ranges from Sicily to Africa to the Jewish diaspora, put it, “I’ve always wanted to say, ‘A Gemini.’”) And if the 2011 Allure beauty survey is to be believed, mixed-race women are now not just exotic but downright beautiful, with 64% of respondents saying that people of mixed backgrounds represent the epitome of beauty. This report would be encouraging if it weren’t for what’s encoded in the photo shoot that followed the survey results: an anemic rainbow of mixed-race women who, save for skin tones and full lips, represent the “new beauty.” Being exotic was never really about being different; it was about being different in the right way. Be the Other, but not too much so, 'kay? It’s a point emphasized in Hijas Americanas, an exploration of Latina women, beauty, and body image, in which author Rosie Molinary writes of a friend who once told her she would be “so exotic-looking” if she just had a different eye color. “I wasn’t exotic enough to be interesting,” Molinary writes. “Just different enough to not be interesting.” In fact, today’s poster child for exotic, Brazilian model Adriana Lima, hits exactly that note: tawny skin, a cascade of shiny dark hair, and sparkling aquamarine eyes.

It’s the designation of Lima—who fits the beauty imperative in every way—as exotic that makes me wonder what exactly we mean with the word, and a prolific listmaker who goes online by Kawaii has wondered the same thing. I’m uncomfortable with most discussions that parse out any individual women’s looks with a fine-tooth comb, but the discussion at her list of celebrities who are “Classic Looking, NOT Exotic” is intriguing at points: It brings to light that the definition of exotic could easily go beyond the Other to include what is perceived as truly rare—and that by the list-maker’s definition, Adriana Lima shouldn’t really cut it. Being Latina doesn’t make Lima exotic, Kawaii argues; she’s a classic beauty by Euro-American standards, but has been (mis)construed as exotic simply because of her ethnicity. “Your coloring doesn’t make you exotic, it makes your coloring exotic,” writes our curator. She asks why white women with unconventional features aren’t usually considered exotic—Lauren Bacall, Taylor Swift—supplying her own answer (race is still the defining factor of the Other) but still pressing for an objective determination of what makes someone exotic.

And in some ways, of course, that’s impossible: We define exoticness based on our own perspective, and there’s really no other way to do it, because the very definition of exotic relies upon being unusual. But when we use exotic, we’re making assumptions based not only on our own “usual” but on the “usual” of those around us. Most of us understand that we’re all going to read beauty differently from one another, leading us to deploy terms like hot or cute. But with exotic, there’s a shared understanding: If I don’t believe that your baseline of what constitutes the exotic will be the same as mine, using the word makes no sense. To use exotic is to assume dominance. Exotic says as much about the speaker as it does the subject. Actually, it says more.

For more Thoughts on a Word, click here.

Thoughts on a Word: Nappy

With a tagline like “Not your average beauty blog,” it’s hardly a surprise that I’m a fan of re: thinking beauty. Yassira L. Diggs’s experience as both a makeup artist and writer ensures her work has a candid, sharp, informed insight; in particular, her breadth of work on natural hair has heightened my understanding of the issue. After reading a piece in which she mentioned her thoughts on the word nappy, I asked her if she’d be willing to elaborate on her ideas surrounding this ever-potent word--and much to my delight, she agreed. Besides maintaining re: thinking beauty, Yassira also writes about thrifting at The Thrifted, and you can learn more about her skills as a makeup artist at carbonmade

Nappy is, at the very least, to be handled with caution. It may mean diaper in some parts of the world, but that’s not the case at all, in these our United States of America. Here, nappy is combustible. Not everyone can say it and come away unscathed. Say it to, or even just near, the wrong person and it might just blow up in your face. In 2007, shock jock Don Imus found that out, and reminded us all about it, when he called the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “some nappy-headed hoes.” The firestorm that ensued left him jobless in its wake. At the time, Lanita Jacobs-Huey, an associate professor of anthropology and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, expressed a view common among many African-Americans when she said, “When I hear it from someone who doesn’t understand the depth of pain, they just don’t have the right to say it.” See, nappy is a huge snag in the idea that we live in a post-racial society, because in large parts of the African-American community, nappy is a deep, deep wound rooted in slavery and Jim Crow.

To understand the sensitivity that nappy requires, one must understand how the word went from its original meaning to this explosive place. Nappy came from nap, a noun that refers to a fuzzy raised surface on fabric. In the beginning, nappy was a texture, and that was the whole truth. During slavery in the United States, however, nappy became a tool in dismantling self-esteem in the slave population. In a world where the feminine beauty ideal revolved around long straight hair, fine features, and fair skin, slave owners, supported by so-called “scientific” claims, pathologized African people’s dark skin, broad facial features, kinky hair textures—basically, everything about them. In order to oppress people you must believe that they are inferior, somehow less human than you, and you must convince them that their (supposed) inferiority is the truth. The message—that their woolly, nappy hair was proof that they were sub-human—was naturally and tragically internalized by black people during slavery. To understand the button that nappy pushes among many African-Americans today, one must consider the overwhelming force of cultural power, and how unconsciously it is passed down through generations.

Nappy’s trauma still lingers, even now in the midst of what seems like a natural hair renaissance in the African-American community. I still hear fellow African-Americans throw around the term “good hair” to reference, compliment, and/or envy straight or loosely curled hair, as in not nappy. I have an aunt who, during one of those family moments when my choice to wear my hair in long dreadlocks was being questioned, heartily defended me with “Leave her alone, one day she’ll decide to fix her hair!”

Nappy is easily misconstrued. People who don’t understand nappy often think it’s another word for unkempt. Hence, nappy has been accused of having an unprofessional appearance, and deemed inappropriate for many a workplace.

In 1998, all hell broke loose when a New York City parent found copies of pages from the book Nappy Hair, by Carolivia Herron, in her third-grader’s folder. Alarmed by what she saw, and without reading the whole book, she made copies of the pages and passed them out to her community, with a note about the white teacher who was supposedly teaching their black and Hispanic kids racist stereotypes. Parents who didn’t even have children in Ruth Sherman’s class protested and demanded she be fired. At a public meeting they shouted over her, threatened her, and cursed her, rather than let her speak. She had to be escorted out by security. When the dust settled, Sherman, who had been ousted, was offered her position back. The shouting died down. The book had always been a celebration of nappy hair. Nappy is that loaded.

My relationship with nappy is complicated in its own way. While I didn’t grow up hearing or using the word, I can’t say I didn’t know it. It was just not used to demean me. I did, however, grow up around relaxers. I came into the world surrounded by black women who straightened their hair. I idolized my mother and aunts as a child, and joined them in the practice as soon as I could. By the time I was 12, I could do my own touch-ups. Every 6-8 weeks, from childhood to my early twenties, my roots got “relaxed.” Maybe that’s why I busted out laughing when my aunt threw her arm around me and planted a kiss on my cheek after her passionate defense of my dreadlocks: I remember what it was like, before I got curious about my own hair texture and stopped using relaxers, when fixed and relaxed meant the same thing to me. So I know how deeply she meant no harm with her words.

I suppose my semi-neutral background with nappy is why my views on the word continue to be semi-moderate (I think). I am not offended by nappy per se. At the same time, I can’t unknow what a hot potato it is in our society, so it would give me pause if someone addressed me with nappy, in reference to my hair. My reaction would ultimately depend on who was addressing me and my perception of their intent in using the word, because with nappy, context is everything. I can’t foresee it happening, though. I mean after all, nappy is the elephant in our societal room, and we, the ones who circle it, go under it, and make our way around it every day, are well versed at leaving it out of the conversation. It’s so much easier to get through the day that way. We are far from being at a point with nappy where it can slide by whimsically in a sentence, unnoticed.

Most of the time, we tip-toe around nappy, leaving it out of conversations, especially in racially mixed circles. There are those who want to see the word gone from the dictionary. To some people, nappy is the other n-word, the utterance of which is at least cause to feel offended, or even bad about themselves. Others, like natural hair crusader Linda Jones, founder of A Nappy Hair Affair, celebrate nappy. Fighting word or reason to smile, nappy has a long ways to go to find peace among us. It can, however, be an opportunity to communicate, and to learn about each other, and ourselves. That’s my favorite way to think of nappy these days.

Modeling as Modern-Day Physiognomy

From Physiognomy Illustrated; Or, Nature's Revelations of Character, Joseph Simms,
pub. 1889, Crackpot Press

I’ve had my palm read and my astrological chart done, but what I really want to find is a physiognomist. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your purpose, physiognomythe art of decoding character and temperament through the way our facial features are formedhas been discredited, and except for the occasional parlor game piece, it’s not something we readily find anymore (though if you know of a good physiognomist in the New York City area, holler!). Our faces already communicate so much to the world: We share conscious and unconscious expressions, of course, but our faces also telegraph something to the world just by dint of how they’re formed, even thoughsorry, all readers who believe in physiognomythat telegraph is woefully inaccurate. I have a “friendly face,” meaning strangers always ask me for directions; a friend of mine who’s just as friendly as I am rarely gets asked for directions because her neutral facial expression appears, to the unknowing eye, a hint angry.

The features of my own that I suspect make my face appear friendly don’t necessarily correspond with how a physiognomist would classify me (the shape of my eyes indicates “tenderness,” but the placement of my irises reveals that I’m “timid and phlegmatic,” so it’s a draw). But the ease with which strangers approach meand the way I quickly deduce who I should ask for aid or directions when I need themmakes me think that plenty of us make our own amateur conclusions about what faces mean. Still, I’d love to zoom back to the 19th century and have my face read: The amateur scientist in me (okay, the kook in me) wants to “know” what my face means, even though I know full well it's more along the lines of astrology than even something as "scientific" as the Myers-Briggs personality test. (We ever-curious ENFP Geminis are always eager to learn.)

My chances of finding a physiognomist are slim: The art/science of face-reading fell out of favor after the turn of the 20th century, its detractors calling it a pseudoscience akin to palm-reading. Certainly today we wouldn’t take physiognomy seriously, if for no other reason than its outrageous racism: Typically African traits were signs of indolence, diminished intellect, and “sensualism”; American Indian features were compared more to those of animals than of humans; Asian characteristics indicated compliance and asexuality.

So physiognomy is dead, as well it should be. Except, well, it’s not. I kept thinking of physiognomy when reading certain parts of Ashley Mears’s sociological study of the modeling industry, Pricing Beauty. At the time I thought I was making the connection because I pictured photographers, stylists, and eventually photo retouchers slicing and dicing models’ bodies in order to create the perfect image, much as one might pluck a set of characteristics from a physiognomic guide to imagine the perfectly tempered, intelligent, generous, and wise person (that is, the person with a rounded forehead, eyelids situated perfectly horizontal above irises, arched brows, and angular chins). Modeling and physiognomy alike depend upon elevating certain characteristics above others. But when I delved into the practice’s most influential tome, Physiognomy by Johann Caspar Lavater (published 1826), I realized the connection was deeper than that. Consider these two passages:

“He only is an accurate physiognomist, and has the true spirit of physiognomy, who possesses sense, feeling, and sympathetic proportion of the congeniality and harmony of nature; and who hath a similar sense and feeling for all emendations and additions of art and constraint.” [Lavater, Chapter IV] 
“When asked how long it takes her to decide on a model in a casting, one major stylist in London summed it up: ‘An instant! You know, you know, you just know!’ Most clients...claimed to know the moment a model walks through the door...Yet despite their professed certitude, they could not articulate what it was that they saw. They said that they may not be able to explain what it is about a model that makes her ‘really good’ or ‘right’; simply, they are able to feel it.” [Mears, Chapter 4]

That is, physiognomy claimed to be a science but still relied on “sense and feeling”; similarly, players in the modeling industry claim to be prizing what’s inherently stunning, beautiful, or intriguing, but they rely upon a gut sense that’s cultivated through careful calibration of taste. Just as physiognomy was a reflection of social and scientific standards at the time instead of an actual science of character, the “It” girl is as much a reflection of tastemakers’ collective sense as she is an owner of her own talent. As Mears puts it, “The very fact that clients cannot articulate the quality of a ‘really good model’ suggests that it lies in their own roles and actions rather than in the masses of looks they see before them.” Physiognomy, with its mix of absurd detail (23 types of foreheads) and general pronouncements (“a lipless mouth...denotes housewifery”) about what features signify, overarticulates its own standards. Modeling, with its buzz about “It” girls and the sense that a good agent “just knows,” underarticulates them. But both overarticulation and underarticulation serve to cloud what lies behind the determination of those standards: a reinforcement of existing power structures.

The tastemakers Mears interviews have a set of guidelines just as strict as the ersatz science of physiognomy. The overwhelming majority of models are tall, slender, young, white or “high-end ethnic,” and symmetrically featured. But a recurring question in Pricing Beauty is what makes one 5’9”, size 2, fair-skinned, hard-working brunette a successful model while another 5’9”, size 2, fair-skinned, hard-working brunettewho, to your eye or mine, is just as likely to succeed as her counterpartexits the industry in debt. The answer lies in a complex web of tastemakers’ reflexive social distinctions; codification and reinforcement of ideas surrounding class, race, and gender; skilled exhibition and concealment of forms of cultural capital; and, above all, the mystification and glamorization of all of the above. Similarly, though proponents of physiognomy purported it to be both an art and science, there’s a near-mystical approach to physiognomy that meant only certain people would be able to divine what various features really meantthe one-on-one tastemakers of the 19th century, those who grasped the “true spirit” of physiognomy. Forget that the “true spirit” of it was largely based on Lavater’s own personal observations: “Eyebones with defined, marking, easily delineated, firm arches, I never saw but in noble and in great men.” In defining the meaning of features so literally and subjectively, Lavater only articulated what tastemakers 200 years later would attribute to vague notions of “It.”

To be clear, as alike as they are, the pseudoscience/pseudoart of physiognomists and modeling tastemakers don’t assess the same thingand neither of them defines beauty per se. While face-reading certainly favored characteristics found attractive at the height of its popularity, the point wasn’t so much to determine beauty as it was to determine character. (Cosmetics mogul Max Factor would make the logical leap between the two by using the sort of highly specific dictates of physiognomy to create the “perfect face” with his creepy-as-hell “Beauty Micrometer,” designed to help makeup artists tell women what features they needed to enhance or detract from to create the perfect face.) For that matter, much of the modeling industry isn’t about beauty, but rather fitting a set of criteria for a specific purposelike keeping the power of fashion in the hands of designers, not consumers, by displaying clothes on whippet-thin bodies that don’t interfere with the garments’ “line.” But both of them rely upon specific notions of what looks denotewhether it be the glamour of high cheekbones or the “fortitude and prudence” of heavy eyebrowsusing codes decided upon by a select group of people. As sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wrote, “Taste classifies.” We understand modeling to be a codified set of tastes, but physiognomy was no different. 

And, you know, so what? Today we laugh at physiognomy and see it as antiquated, quaint, or even dangerous; its transparency is laughable. And certainly we’ve become skeptical of the modeling industry as well, or at least of what it signifies: We critique its narrowness and exclusion, and more recently we’ve begun to pay attention to its questionable labor practices. But just as we can look at physiognomy today and cringe at its racist, classist constructions, we need to keep looking at what drives the defined aesthetic of modeling if we’re able to understand our own relationship with imagery and beauty. I don’t think most women strive to look like models; I think most who are dissatisfied with their appearance just want to look like better versions of themselves. But it’s hardly a controversial point to say that the specific ways in which we want to look “better” are often influenced by the aesthetics of the modeling industry. What I’d have us do is try to be specific where “the modeling industry”that is, tastemakers, not the models themselvesis unable to be articulate. That’s not easy to do, given how easily we stumble over “It” girls without ever being able to define “It”; that’s why we came up with the term “It” girl in the first place. But I’d like to see us consciously keep the drum beat of the social construction of beauty behind us as we straighten our hair and totter in heels: That we are not mimicking the looks of Gisele Bundchen or Karlie Kloss if we attempt to appropriate their looks onto our own bodies. Rather, we’re attempting to channel and redirect what tastemakers tell us they signify: luxury, exclusivity, embodied cultural capital. We’re responding to tastemakers, not ourselves.

Beauty Blogosphere 12.2.11

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

Indian Woman With Red Bindi, Ginette Fine Art (no word as to whether model was great with child)

From Head...
O Calcutta!:
The Indian Institute of Technology is proposing distribution of nutrient-rich cosmetics to pregnant women in hopes of reducing infant mortality rates. And here I thought bindis just looked cool!

...To Toe...
Because the "lipstick index" still isn't good enough, now we're wearing the economy on our feet. "Examining the trends alongside economic patterns led researchers to theorize that a shakier economic situation correlates with the popularity of similarly shaky high heels." The reporter sort of calls BS, though, thus giving me a girl crush on her. (Which doesn't take away from my girl crush on you, m'dear.)

...And Everything In Between:
They are the 1%: Step-by-step read on how the Lauder family has sheltered hundreds of millions of dollars over the years through skilled use of tax breaks. We're hearing so much about the 1% but it remains a vague idea to the 99% of us; this piece illustrates exactly how the 1% stays the 1%, and shows how it has nothing to do with our favorite bootstraps stories—like, say, a plucky daughter of Hungarian immigrants who cajoled her chemist uncle into helping her make a face cream to sell to her friends and eventually becoming one of the world's most influential cosmetics magnates. Sounds a lot more romantic than short sells on the stock market in order to maintain a neutral position under IRS rules and savings $95 million in capital gains taxes, eh?

I get so emotional: More insight into the emotions-cosmetics link, from a cosmetics marketing report being pimped out to companies. Manalive, I always like to think I'm one step ahead of companies, but that's foolish: "Beauty Attachment shows that for certain consumers, beauty is extremely important and they’d rather skip breakfast than skip their morning routine; while for others, it’s simply a utility that meets a need, like a front door key.... Simply put, some women see the aisles at Sephora and their head spins with anticipation; while others see these same aisles and become incredibly anxious." Girl, they have got your number.

Hungry lies: Lionsgate, the studio putting out Hunger Games, is being sued by a cosmetics company for breach of contract surrounding an exclusive Hunger Games nail polish line.

Not so kawaii: I didn't realize until reading this piece about Shiseido vice president Kimie Iwata that Japanese professionals were even more imbalanced than Americans: Women account for less than 1% of top-level Japanese business executives.

Everyone I Have Ever Bathed With: Unfortunately late on this, but Tracey Emin soap!

Playing dirty: Beauty/body product chain Lush is taking action against a UK politician whose environmental policies have been deemed lacking. In the States it's relatively rare to see a company so specifically target one politician, much less a "softball" company like a cosmetics purveyor. I've got to hand it to Lush—this doesn't really seem like a publicity stunt to me (or is that the point?).

Political wrinkle:
Australian prime minister Julia Gillard under fire for accepting anti-wrinkle creams as gifts, even as she refused other designer wares. (Really, the buried lede here is that the prime minister has a partner, and has never been married. As an American, to me this seems like some future-world sci-fi Ursula Leguin utopia. A woman is leading the country and we all know she has sex without the legal bond of marriage?!)

Reached a compromise: Historic depictions of ugly muscular babies. Vermeyen, Holy Family

Can't decide which is more awesome:
Collection of historic depiction of muscular women, or collection of Ugly babies in Renaissance art. ("I love you both, just in different ways!") (Thanks to Lindsay for the tip) 

Photoshopped: With a new tool that allows us to tell how much a photo has been digitally altered, is it possible that we'll someday have "retouch ratings" like we do movie ratings? "Rated three points for rib removal and jawline trimming."

Framed: Bitch magazine has two particularly interesting "In the Frame" entries this week: A photo of noted photographer Nan Goldin one month after being battered, in which her makeup contradicts the idea of the hidden, cowering victim, and then the art of Ingrid Berthon-Moine, showing women wearing their menstrual blood as lipstick. (And here I thought I was a hippie for trying out beets as lipstick, as per No More Dirty Looks.)

The importance of being intact: Oscar Wilde's restored tomb makes its debut in Paris, covered by a glass partition to protect it from "being eaten away by lipstick," as is tradition.
Paging Don Draper: South African fragrance line Alibi is designed for cheating spouses to wear to literally put suspicious partners off their scent trail. "I Was Working Late" smells of cigarettes, coffee, ink, and wool suits; "We Were Out Sailing" features sea salt and cotton rope. I am not making this up. (But they might be; I can't find anything about the company elsewhere. Hmm.)

Sweet smell of success: The odiferous history of "perfume" versus "cologne" in regards to becoming a comment on a man's sexual orientation, and what the headily scented Liberace had to say about it.

Neat and clean: Half of the men in Britain don't think it's necessary to be clean-shaven to look well-groomed. (I heartily agree, as a fan of a bit of scruff on a feller.)
Inventor Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler
This week in dead movie stars: Why Marilyn Monroe is still a beauty icon, and did you know that Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler—aka Hedy Lamarr—invented a telecommunications process that's still used today in much of our wireless communication?

Newly inquired: If you enjoy my more academic-ish posts on here, you should definitely check out The New Inquiry. I'm proud to be associated with them, and prouder still of their profile in this week's New York Times! (Quibble: I wouldn't call any of these minds those of "literary cubs"; all parties involved are far too insightful and thought-provoking for that.)

Attention Sassy lovers: Former Sassy editor Jane Larkworthy, now beauty director at W, is featured on Into the Gloss this week. "I do think [beauty products] should be done in an accessible way, though—I don’t ever want beauty to be intimidating."

Hair mayonnaise: Hysterical beauty bit from comic Sue Funke, courtesy Virginia.

Fight for the right: This piece at Rookie about cultural stereotyping is worth reading in its own right, but of particular interest to me is the collection of vintage photos of "black and brown and yellow girl gangs in American history" on the second page, all from Of Another Fashion. The photos of beaming, well-dressed Japanese women heading off to internment camps during one of the most shameful episodes of U.S. history raises questions about expectations of femininity, and of fashion's true role in our lives: "Even during internment, these girls were determined to look cute. And though that may sound like the height of triviality, it’s not. As the late, great civil-rights activist Dorothy Height once said, 'Too many people in my generation fought for the right for us to be dressed up and not put down.'"
Honored: I love Sally's concept of "honoring your beauty," and I'll throw in that once I learned that the way to accept a compliment was to look the person in the eye, smile, and say, "Thank you," I felt like I'd learned something small but important. It also made it easier to give a compliment too; I stopped worrying that every compliment I gave was loaded somehow. There's no hidden motive. I really just like your hair.

Push it good: This post from Fit and Feminist on the myth of the noncompetitive female made me (and her, as evidenced by her Mean Girls reference) wonder why we embrace totally contradictory views of women and competition. C'mon, patriarchy: Are we all cooperative sweethearts who aren't so great at team sports because we just want to hold hands and make daisy chains, or are we vindictive bitches who love to tear one another apart? Just tell us already, my best bitches and I are getting tired of this sewing circle-Fight Club jazz.

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 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 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.


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 9.16.11

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

From Head...
Earth face!: If body typing is appealing on the level of being an ersatz personality test, physiognomy like this new face-reading book being touted in The Daily Mail is even more oddly appealing, even though I think it's utter bullshit. Always fun to play, though!

 ...To Toe... 
If the shoe doesn't fit: Decoding Dress on why capitalism made her hunt for a month for black pumps. With her size 11 fitting, "There aren’t enough women like me to make it commercially worthwhile for manufacturers to cater to us." (Solutions, or at least ways to ameliorate the problem, here.) The shoe size question is interesting to me, as when applied to clothes we can't help but integrate the discussion with body image (as Already Pretty did this week by reminding us that "Clothes should fit you, you needn’t fit them," and as an oldie but goodie at Inkdot does with this post on tailoring). Shoes have less of an impact on our body image than clothes, so looking at the lack of diverse size options in footwear is a nice way to examine the sizing problem from a numbers-based perspective—and, yep, the man ain't giving Decoding Dress a new pair of shoes easily anytime soon. 

...And Everything In Between:
Ask a Dude: Hairpin's Dude answers two questions this week about appearance: How to accept a compliment when you're all hot and heavy with someone, and what to do when you find out your gross boyfriend has been making gross comparisons between your body and another woman's. Gross!

I'll have what he's having: We're more likely to consider someone beautiful if we think our friends think the person is beautiful. Science sez!

Fashion weak: Ashley Mears, sociologist, model, and author of Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model, on modeling as precarious labor, with few rights for the people wearing the clothes that make Fashion Week so damned glamorous.

Southern belles: A look inside the world of Venezuelan beauty pageants, and what it means for all Venezuelan women. (Banks there give loans for plastic surgery with slogans like "Have your plastic on our plastic"?!) Venezuelan models tend to be in high demand in the U.S.--very young women who can earn far more from their families while living abroad than they can from working at home--so I'm wondering about the economic implications of the beauty imperative there.

"If you could change one of your physical characteristics, which one would it be and why?":
This was asked at the Miss Universe pageant, which is, as a reminder, a pageant in which contestants are selected for their physical beauty—but, of course, still need to be prodded to put down their appearance. Aiaiai! (Thanks to Caitlin at Fit and Feminist for the link.)

Vote for "The Illusionists": Filmmaker Elena Rossini (you've met her here before) is up for a nice publicity boost from IndieWire; won't you take a second and vote for "The Illusionists," a promising documentary about the exploitation of women's bodies for profit? UPDATE: "The Illusionists" won! (And had won before I posted this roundup, which I hadn't realized.) Nice work, all!

She's a winner!:
Guinness world record holder for world's longest fingernails tops in with a combined 19.2 feet in length. Vacuuming, of all things, is what she claims is the hardest thing to do. (Clearly she does not wear contact lenses.)

Survivor: Cosmetics salesman is lone survivor of plane crash in Bolivia. No word as to whether skin cream played a role in his survival in the Amazon jungle.

Fly this: I've seen plenty of "travel-friendly" beauty products but had never thought about what it meant for the industry: Sales of products under three ounces have grown 10% a year since liquid restrictions were placed on U.S. flights.

Mirror Abuse Resistance Education: A high school in the UK has not only banned makeup, but has removed mirrors from the bathrooms. I think this is pretty awesome--I hear the idea that makeup allows you to express your individuality, but if the idea is to focus on learning (à la school uniforms), this certainly removes a distraction. Attention, Shelley College students: I had a great month with no mirrors, and Kjerstin Gruys is having a great year without 'em--you'll thrive during your on-school hours if you let yourselves, okay? 

Everybody loves Tavi: Nice piece in Slate about the advantages Tavi Gevinson's Rookie has over traditional teen mags (plus an acknowledgement that feminists in teen magazines aren't unicorns! we exist!). 

Smart eye for the racist guy: Remember that Crystal Renn shoot in which her eyes were taped back but of course the idea wasn't at all to look Asian? Minh-ha T. Pham at Threadbared takes it on: "Renn’s explanation is an example of a post-racial narrative in which race is simultaneously articulated through and disavowed by discourses of class, culture, patriotism, national security, talent, and, in the case of fashion, creative license."

It's called "lift and separate," Captain.

Cartoon boobs: Hourglassy on breasts in comics. Hint for aspiring comics artists: "When fabric is stretched across boobs, no matter how tight the spandex, it does not suction cup itself to each individual breast."

The Evolution of Ape-Face Johnson: Speaking of comics, cartoonist Carolita Johnson has a stunning piece in The Hairpin about her journey from supposedly funny-looking child, to high fashion model, to supposedly funny-looking model.

Army of two:
Fantastic talk between Cristen Conger at Bitch and Hugo Schwyzer on the male beauty myth. "It’s self-centered in terms of meeting your own ideal, becoming the man you want to be. This all started with the Army...when they went with the most brilliant advertising slogan ever: 'Be All You Can Be.' ...They decided to stop selling patriotism because that was old school and start selling personal transformation, and that was absolute genius." (Or take it from the horse's mouth: Men's cosmetics marketers on their thoughts on the difference between marketing to men and women.)

"As much as I love feminism, I don’t believe it’s the only concept you will ever need": Nothing to do with beauty! But everything to do with feminism, and this Sady Doyle piece is one of the best I've read recently.

New No More Dirty Looks challenge: Meditation sort of kills me—it's one of those things I know I would really benefit from, but it feels impossible to do. So I'm eagerly jumping on the next No More Dirty Looks challenge: five minutes of meditation every day for sever consecutive days. (There's a prize too, but what prize could be better than EVERLASTING CONTENTMENT?) Guidelines for the challenge here, plus a nice how-to guide that shows you there's no "trick"; you've just got to do it.

Paging Amelie:
A take on what it's like to be the "manic pixie dream girl" trope that plenty of smart feminists have deconstructed, and that this smart feminist has embodied. (I've played MPDG and have experienced a hint of self-loathing for it over the years, and this helped me ease up on that front.)

Apology not accepted: Virginia of Beauty Schooled guest posting at The Daily Glow about why beauty makes us happy. "I noticed that a lot of women tend to apologize for how happy beauty makes them.... Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that it’s shallow to get too excited about beauty." But no more!

What do women look at first on a man?: Warning: This is sort of creepy and uncomfortable, but interesting as well—a man strapped tiny cameras to his biceps and crotch, then asked women for directions and let the cameras witness what body parts they looked at first. It's also interesting to see how various women respond to being approached; we only really know our own experiences, so it's a nifty insight into how others handle stranger interactions. (Basically, we're really really nice.)

How to be bold:
Ashe at Dramatic Personae on fashion and self-consciousness—and here I thought I was the only one who owned amazing pieces she never wore because she felt self-conscious in them!

"The point of all this" fitness jazz: A group of bystanders to a car/motorcycle crash lifted the burning car to free the motorcyclist underneath, and (naturally!) it's caught on video. That's not what impressed Caitlin of Fit and Feminist, though: "What struck me was the presence of a young woman in the crowd. She didn’t hang back and watch.... Instead, she jumped right in. I’m not a betting woman, but I’d be willing to wager that woman is physically active... Maybe she plays sports or she does a bootcamp or she takes a Pilates class. I don’t know. All I know is that confidence in her body and her physical abilities is tightly woven into the tapestry of her self-image.... She doesn’t recite it as a mantra in hopes of one day actually believing it."

Beauty Blogosphere 9.9.11

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

From Head...
No product no problem: Awesome roundup of 130+ women with absolutely no hair products from green beauty site No More Dirty Looks. (Bonus points if you can spot me without cheating! I also see a couple of Beheld readers...)

...To Toe...
Pedi for the cause:
Men in Jonesboro, Arkansas, are getting their toenails painted for ovarian cancer awareness. Okay, now, truly I am glad that these men are making it clear that women's health issues are actually people's health issues, and I should probably just shut up. But doesn't the whole idea here hinge upon ha-ha-women's-concerns-are-so-hilarious? Or am I just looking for a self-righteous feminist reason to not endorse slacktivism?

...And Everything In Between:

And the award for the MOST OBVIOUSLY IRONIC headline of the year goes to: Me, with "I Was Bad at Sex!" in this month's American Glamour (the one with Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, and Alicia Keys on the cover). My mini-essay about being a lousy lover is on page 250 (but isn't online), and is waiting for you to peruse whilst on line at the grocery store. (In Glamour's defense, they did run the headline by me. And to my relief, they did not fact-check it.)

Isn't he lovely: Super-excited for the upcoming Cristen Conger eight-part series at Bitch about the male beauty myth!

Crystaleyes: Vogue Japan tapes Crystal Renn's eyes to make her look...Japanese. This seemed both racist and ridiculous before I learned it was Vogue Japan (the stylist who did the taping was Italian), and now it just seems absurd.

Where are all the male Asian models?: Forbes asks. (And we answer, well, they certainly aren't working at Vogue Japan.)

Oshkosh B'Gosh: I'm oddly fascinated by the shoplifting of cosmetics, despite not having done it myself for 20+ years, and this story has the brilliant twist of the culprit being the reigning beauty queen of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Uncanny!: A Boston federal judged ruled that The Manly Man Cans, a bundle of men's grooming products, must cease distribution under that name, as it comes too close to a competitor, The Man Can.
Not like teen spirit.

When the judge cries: Prince is to pay nearly $4 million to Revelations Perfume and Cosmetics after he backed out of a deal to promote a perfume in conjunction with his new album.

Mercury poisoning from cosmetics: A good reminder of why the Safe Cosmetics Act is important: 18 people in south Texas have reported elevated mercury levels as a result of a Mexican skin cream. And that's just what's being brought across the border--I shudder to think of the mercury levels in the blood of users whose governments might not be as vigilant.

"Why do you walk like you're all that?": Nahida at The Fatal Feminist has a fantastic essay about slut-shaming, modesty, and the male gaze: "Don't lecture me about modesty when you've clearly lost yours, arrogantly believing you have any right to tell me these things or command me to stop or interpret my behavior..."

News flash: Okay, I am officially over the whole "Did you know women can legally go topless in New York City?" publicity stunts with the arrival of the Outdoor Topless Co-Ed Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, which in an interview with Jen Doll of the Village Voice claims to want women going topless in public "something of social inconsequence" yet has the tagline "making reading sexy." I mean, seriously, am I missing something here?

Extreme confessions: Interesting read from one of the "extreme plastic surgeons" on Extreme Makeover. Seems that the show was somewhat nonrepresentative of how plastic surgery usually goes. Shocking, I know, I know.

"That's not funny": Speaking up about sexism makes men nicer, according to a recent study. My personal experience correlates with this, and I always thought it was because I'm a bit of a wuss and while I will call out men on their sexist remarks I do so with tons of apologies and nice-making and blushing and stammering. But maybe I'm not giving either myself or the men enough credit?

Self-care Rx: Rosie Molinary's prescription for wellness comes at a handy time for me as I attempt to up my self-care. Being specific and deliberate helps here—and I can attest to the power of actually having a prescriptions. (An old therapist once actually wrote out a prescription for a monthly massage.)

Wearing confidence: Already Pretty on how to broadcast your body confidence. My favorite (and most unexpected) is about giving compliments, which, when spoken from a place of truth, brings rewards to both giver and receiver. (Here, though, I'm reminded of the double-edged sword compliments can become.)

Midge Brasuhn of the Brooklynites

Roller derby and spectacle: Fit and Feminist looks at roller derby—usually played by women in suggestive uniform/costumes who go by oft-racy pseudonyms—as a sport by the way we currently define sports. I'm not the biggest roller derby fan, but after reading this intriguing post I'm ready to declare it not only a sport, but the sport.

Scent strip: Strippers test pheromone perfumes at Tits and Sass to see if they increase their earnings. The grand result: eh. But an amusing "eh"!

There she is, Miss America:
The history of the American beauty pageant. Is it any surprise that one of the first brains behind these events was circus impresario P.T. Barnum?

Un/covered: Photographs of women in public and private life in the Middle East. Most interesting to me are the photos of the fashion designers who are fully covered. It seems like a juxtaposition—and it is, given the flashy designs they're creating—but it makes me wonder about what traits we assign to designers, assuming that their work is an extension of them...and about what traits we assign to women in hijab.

She's my cherry pie?: Jill hits the nail on the head as to why the self-submitted photographs for the plus-size American Apparel modeling contest are disturbing. Intellectually I guess I should be all yay subversion! but my genuine reaction is quite different.

Beauty Blogosphere: 7.8.11

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

From Head...
I'll tweeze when I'm dead: Postmortem makeup service allows you to choose your own cosmetics for your final performance. I actually think this is sort of brilliant, and if I'm buried in a casket I'd like some assurance that people's last visions of me won't be with, say, eyeshadow. Not that I'll be buried in a casket, for I plan on being cryogenically frozen.

Ginseng-fed snails on yer face: I suppose once you're slapping snail slime on your face it's all the same, but I'm somehow more bothered by the fact that these snails destined for face creams are fed a diet of red ginseng than the fact that they're being used at all. How did that meeting go? "Gee, Bob, how can we maximize the benefits of putting snail slime on our wives' and daughters' faces?" "Well, Bill, we can feed the snails ginseng first." "Bob, old boy, that's damned brilliant. Golf?"

...To Toe...
Trend investigation: Interesting collection at the NYTimes of mini-essays from a variety of thinkers on why wild nail polish (I prefer mine on my feet, staying classic with the manicure) has strayed from its alternative/punk roots into the mainstream.

...And Everything In Between:
Motivations behind the increase of diversity among models: Surprise—it's money, not a global handshake! Also some fascinating tidbits about global beauty habits, like urban Mexican women mixing crushed birth control pills into their shampoo to combat pollution-related hair loss. 

"You can't learn how to be elegant; you can only learn how to avoid mistakes": Great Q&A with Carine Roitfeld (former French Vogue editrix); she refers to her reign there as a "gilded cage" and has some choice bits on the globalization of fashion. (Thanks to the new spiritual geography blog Deep Map for the heads-up.)

Look chic without dead animal skin!: Makeup artist Eden DiBianco for GirlieGirl Army on a "vegan" version of the snakeskin manicure that is inexplicably popular now.

Is your shampoo making you gain weight?: You'll rarely see me contributing to any OMGZFAT! brouhaha, but the idea of endocrine disruptors in shampoo contributing to weight gain freaks me out for reasons that have nothing to do with my thighs. If a chemical is making me gain weight...what else is it doing?

This is what a feminist looks like?

Man makeup: Feminist-minded piece on men exploring fanciful dress and makeup. The piece's thesis is that it's allowing men to be more playful than in recent history; not sure how that jibes with Hugh Laurie's recent endorsement for L'Oréal, which pretty much relies on his masculinity for its success. Like most aspects of high fashion I don't see men cross-dressing in the mainstream yet, but since men's cosmetics sales are on the uptick it's not like the worlds are entirely separate either.

Shave it for cancer: Ladies, do you feel left out of Movember, the moustache growing month that somehow magically raises funds for kids with cancer? Good news: The Canadian Cancer Society has come up with Julyna, during which we're to groom our pubic hair in interesting shapes to raise money for cervical cancer. Can't I just have a bake sale instead? (I'm with About-Face in thinking this is a terrible idea, but got a kick out of their "example designs" page. The "side part"?)

I bleed red: Always dares to show a red dot in a maxipad ad. Egads! Also in menstrual news, my gym has started giving out coupons for Playtex Sport tampons, which is a good thing, because I didn't realize that I needed a special menstrual product for playing sports. All this time I've been using office-worker tampons! Watch it, Venus, I'm onto your wily ways.

Real women on "real women": Great two-part collection of thoughts from fashion and beauty bloggers (yours truly included) on the term "real woman," put together by the fantastically community-minded Beautifully Invisible. (She's also recently launched Full-Time Ford, a blog devoted to exploring the work of designer Tom Ford. I know exactly zero about Tom Ford but those of you who are fans should check it out!)

The conflicted self in body image blogging: Demoiselle's meta-examination of body image blogging and the traps it can lay for its explorers: "Many of these methods and paths that self-acceptance movements are taking are very exclusive and comparison-based."

"On Makeup": Britt Julious of Britticisms, with quiet devastation, delivers as usual in her personal history of makeup.

 From I Want to Be the One to Walk in the Sun, video, 2006

"You know you're the prettiest girl": Rob Horning at The New Inquiry on the Laurel Nakadate exhibit at P.S. 1: "...we be pushed into acknowledging the place Nakadate seems to want to reach, where the integrity of how you feel about yourself, the possibility of recognizing the sincerity of your own emotions, is sacrificed to the need to be looked at."

Race, class, and street harassment: Excellent post (that I'm late to discover) on the role of class in street harassment. "We're fond of saying that the victim's perception is the key element in determining whether or not a person has been harassed, and while I mostly agree with that sentiment, how does that square with the knowledge that some of our perceptions are a product of the values and norms we subscribe to that are determined by economic class?"

Makeover (and over and over): Hypnotic video in which a year's worth of makeup is applied to a woman's face. Some Jezebel commenters see this as a critique of the beauty industry; I just thought it was sorta nifty?

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:

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.)

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!)

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!


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 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.


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.

Thoughts on a Word: Fair

Fair meant beautiful before it meant light-complected, not the other way around. Fair derives from Old English faeger (beautiful, lovely, pleasant), which came from the Germanic and Norse fagar and fagr for beautiful. Until the 1550s, fair was used to describe a beautiful or attractive person with no regard to the color spectrum, and indeed with not much regard to sex. "The men of this province are of a fair and comely personage, but somewhat pale," wrote the narrator of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (circa 1357-1371).

This changed with the Elizabethan era, and with that great language alchemist, Shakespeare. The bulk of his sonnets were addressed to whom his scholars call the "Fair Youth"—and his uses of fair in these sonnets sticks with the original meaning. But the youth in question is described as having a "gold complexion"—after all, we're comparing him to a summer's day—and during this time the meaning of fair broadened to include skin tone. Just in time, too; with the arrival of Africans in England in 1551, Britons suddenly needed a term to distinguish their pale-skinned beauties from the new arrivals. (Certainly it's no coincidence that this era saw an uptick with the usage of fair to mean "morally good." That usage dates back to the 12th century, but the late 16th century introduced the phrases fair play and fair and square, setting the race status quo early on. It worked on the other side too: The 1580s saw the first use of black to mean "dark purposes," alongside its prexisting adjective use to describe dark-skinned people.)

This is also the same period during which the term "the fair sex" originated as a designation for women of a certain class. Erasmus in 1533 queried "the Artifices us'd by such of the Fair Sex as aim more at the Purses than at the Hearts of their Admirers," already using the term ironically even though it had only just then been introduced. And even jumping the pond, fair soon became a catch-all reference to American women—well, the white ones, at least—as beautiful, light-skinned, and morally virtuous. "Strategic deployment and ordinary usage of the term 'fair sex' produced white women as a special category: a racialized sex group that lost consciousness of itself as bounded by race and class, retaining the memory of its identity as one based on gender alone," write Pauline E. Schloesser in The Fair Sex: White Women and Racial Patriarchy in the Early American Republic. "Once the discourse was deployed, one understood universals like 'females,' 'ladies,' and 'the sex' to mean white and middle-class without having to make these specific references." Fair, in America, became a way of determining how western European one was. An 1850 genealogical compendium from Harvard delineated pale skin from fair skin, the former indicating an Eastern European heritage instead of the British-Germanic pink undertones of fair skin. Fair skin was also thin and soft, as opposed to the thick, hard, dry—that is, working-class—complexion of pale-skinned folk.

But all this is in the past, right? The olden days? Have you ever heard someone describe a woman as fair without referring to her complexion? Even in today's most popular use of fair outside of skin tone, My Fair Lady, we understand the term to be quaint, archaic, charming, much like the class system it mocks. (Plus, it's unlikely that Lerner and Loewe would have come across this title organically; My Fair Lady took its title from Pygmalion: Fair Eliza, one of the considered subtitles for the 1912 play that inspired the latter production. And even that was borrowed from Robert Burns's 1791 poem "Thou Fair Eliza.")

It's not in the past, though. I'd argue fair-as-beautiful continues to be relevant, even as that direct use of fair has ceased. (It's worth noting that the first-listed definition in Merriam-Webster is still "pleasing to the eye or mind," however.) Its history is encoded in its complexion reference: Fair is a less racially charged way of saying white. I've argued before that the skin-whitening creams found throughout Asia reflect a desire for class status, not whiteness per se; just as having a tan in America signifies you have the time and resources to take long beach vacations from our indoor jobs, having pale skin in Asia signifies that you've risen above menial outdoor labor. But the use of that particular word—fair—crops up time and time again with these products. Fair and White, Fair and Lovely, Fair and Flawless, Fair Lady (one of the few products recalled) are but a few of the products that use the word. So even without evoking Caucasian skin, fair conjures a particular kind of woman: not only one who is whiter-skinned than most Asians, but one who is delicate, refined, and working indoors (or not at all). Fair is aspirational.

There's another archaic use of fair that I'm seeing cropping up more and more. While most of Shakespeare's sonnets were written for the Fair Youth, a handful were penned for the Dark Lady. These were passionate, sexual sonnets, in contrast to the tenderness of the poems for the Fair Youth. We've continued this dichotomy, hypersexualizing today's "dark ladies" even if American beauty standards are finally becoming more inclusive (well, somewhat). We've got the spicy Latina; sultry, exotic women of the Middle East (surely they belly dance!); sexy squaws; and, of course, the ubiquitous bootylicious black women that populate hip-hop videos. It's not an issue of dark-skinned women being seen as less beautiful; it's an issue of them being seen as beautiful in a particular way. A way, not incidentally, that precludes them from being a part of "the fair sex," which preserves the term's original connotations of class and delicacy. Dare I go for the obvious here? It's not fair.