That title is really not quite accurate. Because this journey I’ve decided to go on (and share with all you lovely people) isn’t so much about beauty as it is about consumerism.
Everyday, we see ads everything that convince us that we need something. That we just won’t be complete until we make that next purchase. Advertisers are trying to attract everyone’s money, and indeed there is a product and accompanying ad for each and every demographic combination that exists. But women, in particular, face a lot of ad pressure, particularly from the beauty industry. We must have the right shampoo for our hair type, the right cleanser and moisturizer, the right foundation and of course the right shade of lipstick (which also must be moisturizing but not too glossy, and no smudging!) And of course our teeth must be super duper white from using that whitening toothpaste and mouth wash. And deodorant, because lord knows we mustn’t stink or have stubbly pits, and then there is lotion because our pores must be invisible and our skin smooth and hairless on every freakin’ inch of our bodies.
But Alex, you are thinking, some of that is just hygienic. Everyone should be clean, right? And you’re right, I am not anti shower. I am anti stuff.
100 years ago, there wasn’t volumizing conditioner or scented face wash. Women weren’t worrying that their pores were too big, or how even their skin tone was across their entire body. This stuff they are selling, it all comes with one very clear message: You need this to be beautiful enough. You are not beautiful enough as you are.
And I have news guys! The history of how this shit came into existence isn’t hard to find. In the beginning of the 20th century, American life changed drastically and all of the sudden women were living in cities, and working. From his very informative and entertaining book Flapper, Joshua Zeitz:
As late as the 1890’s, there had scarcely been such a thing as urban nightlife. Young romance had been captive to the sun, and once it set, towns and cities could rely only on gas lamps, which cast a short and dim glow… By 1900, all of that changed.
He’s talking about electricity. The advent of electric street lamps created a new public space: the night. And women were moving to the city, and working, and taking part in this space.
When young women moved to the city alone, they were able to elude the familiar scrutiny of their parents and neighbors. Even when young women still lived at home, towns and cities afforded them a greater measure of anonymity and social freedom…
Add that to fewer hours at work and increasing wages, and suddenly women were more independent, and had money and time to spare.
Advertisers took note. Suddenly, one’s life wasn’t wrapped up in their family reputation and forced introductions. Suddenly, how you looked walking to work could have a real impact on your life. And so a slew of new consumer products was born.
Listerine was one of many products re-branded for a new fake problem: halitosis. A completely made up disease, halitosis, or bad breath, could be cured by swishing with Listerine, which had previously been used to clean out cuts and scrapes. Before long other problems were created: dandruff, body odor, wrinkles and acne, dry or oily hair. And all of these problems had a solution: buy a product. Advertisements made grand promises of turning ugly ducklings into beautiful brides and the like, and
[t]he accompanying pictures… gave the subtle impression that everywhere one turned there was always a keen eye trained on the most infinitesimal aspects of one’s appearance.
Wow. Sounds familiar, huh? Reminds me of an old feminist favorite: the male gaze. If you are always being watched, then even when stepping out to run a quick errand or do laundry, you must look your best. In case you bump into Mr Right, who obviously won’t recognize you without dynamite lashes and perfect skin (duh.) The idea that women should look perfect at all times is ubiquitous in our culture, in some ways it’s the price we pay for admission. Now that we can have the jobs we want and fuck who we want and have ever greater control in our life choices, doesn’t it seem odd that almost every single woman you know gets up everyday and takes great pains to tame, alter, or outright change her appearance? Why is Beyonce’s ***Flawless such an anthem? Because it’s an inside joke. She may not have woken up with that fierce eye make up on, wearing those ass less shorts, but she sure as shit woke up flawless. And the message, if you’re listening, is that we all did. Each of us is flawless just the way we are, before we put on our armor of deodorant and lipstick and hairspray and high heels and venture out into a world where we are implicitly and explicitly judged by our appearance, valuable only if we are flawless in the eyes of men, the designated beholders.
Alright, enough already! On to the real life component of this rant. It started innocently: I stumbled across some homemade lotion recipes. They seemed easy enough, and I thought it’d be a fun girls night in. So I went to a friends house, and we drank wine and ordered take out and watched SMASH and made lotion. Easy breezy, fun, and the lotion was lovely. And so I started doing some more research into homemade body care. The oil cleansing method, oil pulling, homemade toothpaste and deodorant, and even the No [sham]Poo movement! And I thought: man, all of that sounds amazing. No more buying all this crap, in these bad for the environment non-resuable containers. And honestly, do we as consumers even know what is in all this crap? Is it good for our bodies to come in contact with all these formulas daily? I have no idea, not really, no real knowledge of the science. But something deep within me intuits that it’s be smart to limit how many of these potions come into contact with my body. I already limit what I ingest as food (go veg!), so this is totes in line with my overall vibe. I’m doing it all, starting with oil cleansing and ending with a drastic hair cut and no ‘poo. And I’m gonna let you know how it all goes. How it affects my body, how it makes me feel, how easy it is, and how it compares to the stuff they sell in the shiny and well lit aisles of Duane Reade.
Here are my two favorite lotion recipes, if you’d like to start with the easy stuff: