Tag Archives: flawless

Turning my Back on Duane Reade: My Homemade Beauty Experiment

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.

give-it-to-me

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.

realface

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.

perfectiondisease

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.

nevergoodenough

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.

peggycountingcash

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.

mouthwash

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.

wokeup
be(y) your own beholder!

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.

wish me luck!
wish me luck!

Here are my two favorite lotion recipes, if you’d like to start with the easy stuff:

Whipped Body Butter

Homemade Lotion, 3 Ingredients 

 

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Bill O’Reilly on Beyonce: He’s an idiot

I usually try to ignore the comments of folks who troll for a living. Especially if those folks are also narcissistic ego-maniacal assholes on Fox.

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Be forewarned, his own sense of self importance will induce vomiting.  Any how, he is taking a shot at Beyonce and I can’t just stand by because his whole viewpoint is one that silences female sexuality and locates the source of a problem he claims to be concerned about in the wrong place.

bey-partition

Bill takes particular issue with the song Partition, which describes a consensual sex romp in a limo. With her husband. It’s hot. But Bill thinks that this grown woman expressing her sexual self in the context of a monogamous relationship is part of the problem young black women face. He even got into an argument with Russel Simmons about it (seriously?) He thinks she is to blame for the teen pregnancy epidemic, and he’s at it again claiming that she doesn’t care about young black women.

She knows, this woman knows that young girls getting pregnant in the African-American community now, it’s about 70% out of wedlock. She knows, and doesn’t seem to care… that’s my problem with her.

Hm, I wonder if Bill has considered actually asking her about how she feels about this issue… nah, making assumptions is better for rating. FYI, teen pregnancy rates are actually on the decline, although racial disparity does still exist. He also mentions that young people with out parents are particularly at risk when exposed to the content of her music and videos.

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Let me start with the obvious: artists do not have a responsibility to raise anyone’s kids. Absent parents cause their kids to be vulnerable to outside influences, not pop stars. She made an album that was true to herself and where she is in her life: she is a WOMAN, over 30, married and a mother. Many have pointed out that she is pop cultures biggest advertisement for marriage, and that is certainly true. But the fact that she is married and still criticized for being too sexual is extremely telling. Because what it really means it that no woman, anywhere, at any time in her life, is allowed to be in control of and vocal about her sexuality. The virgin/whore dichotomy is in full effect. Bill claims there is nothing empowering happening here, but he is both ignorant and not listening. First of all, how the fuck would he know what is empowering to young women? He’s so personally involved in the lives of young black girls that he can speak for them?

doubt it.
doubt it.

But his focus on this one song/video, the most sexual on the album arguably, are very telling. He is reducing her work as an artist to this one aspect of her expression, when in fact there are other less sexualized elements that are also deeply empowering for her fans. Like featuring a prominent Nigerian/author feminist on her track (***Flawless). Or writing songs that laud female empowerment outright(Grown Woman/Who Run the World).

grown-woman

All of this nonsense is meant to distract us from one important fact: the teen pregnancy epidemic actually has nothing to do with Beyonce. It’s about access, to education and health care. And young black girls don’t have a lot of access to either. In fact, if Bill and his friends had their way, no young women would. Beyonce and her hubby just announced a summer tour, and $1 from every ticket sold is going to his foundation to help underprivileged kids access higher education. What is Bill doing for the youth? Particularly the young black females he is claiming to care so much about?

haterz

Yonce hasn’t responded to Bill. And why would she? She is aware of the reach and impact that she has. She is aware that as a black woman this kind of criticism is going to be leveled at her. She went ahead and made her record anyway, on her own terms and with her own take no prisoners release plan. She explored her personal, intimate relationships, knowing that women will always be criticized when their sexuality is deemed as threatening. Bill’s comments show a fundamental denial to acknowledge how culture is actually working, and at it’s heart it’s misogynist and mean. Which isn’t surprising. I just can’t stand by and let people hate on Bey! This album is, still, everything.

 

What the Spice Girls Taught Me About Feminism (How #girlpower leads to #flawless)

I woke up from some pretty vivid dreams last night with a Spice Girls lyric in my head. And so, naturally, I used my precious iPod Nano to plug into some nostalgia on my commute. As always, once those 90’s pop tunes started playing in my ears, I wondered to myself Why the fuck did you ever stop listening to this glorious music?

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You know guys, I know the 90’s were a frivolous time. And it would be easy to dismiss this group as frivolous. But that’s a huge mistake. These ladies were a global phenomenon, and for an elementary age kid like me they were PERFECTION. They were true role models in my formative years, with delicious pop tunes and a huge campy movie and one very simple message/catch phrase: Girl Power! And you know what, it doesn’t take much to plant the seed of an idea in a child’s head. That phrase stuck with me, as did their message of fun and friendship. They may not have been perfect feminist icons (cause really, who is?) but they felt so fresh and free.

spicegirlsmakeup

First of all, they had those probably completely contrived personalities, which meant you could definitely relate to one of them. I loved Ginger. She was sassy, sparkly, and loud. Emma was for the cutesy girls, Posh for the fashion obsessed, and then Mel B for the black girls and Mel C for the budding athletes and/or lesbians. Something for everyone! Maybe they weren’t super dynamic, but whatever. We were 8. Their image was campy, over the top, tongue in cheek and timely.  Once you knew which Spice Girl you were going to idolize forever, of course the only logical thing to do was bond with 4 other girls to round out your group of singing, dancing, globe trotting future pop stars.

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what i really really want

Which reminds me. The most important lesson these ladies taught me was about female friendship. Their first hit Wannabe is an assertive but not too aggressive list of demands. You have got to give. If you want my future, forget my past. Now you know how I feel. Say you can handle my love. The message was basically take me on my terms or leave. It was a breezy, silly, slumber party anthem. And the most iconic lyric, the crux of it all: If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends. How revolutionary is that idea!! It sets up a hierarchy in your life, where your friends come first and your lovers second. And sure, maybe that isn’t and shouldn’t be true at all times in your life, but shouldn’t it be true for us all as young-ins? Before shit gets real? After all, your friends are the ones who will accept and love you for who you really are (whichever Spice personality that is), through all the years when you’re confused and stumbling and naive and not-yet-formed. They’re your core, your support, your stage mates. They’re the ones you harmonize with.

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When I was listening to or pretending to be the Spice Girls, I was in a girl only zone. It felt amazing to have something that was just for me and my girlfriends. And sure, they dressed pretty sexy and mostly feminine, but you just didn’t feel like it was for boys. I know there is a lot of exposed midriffs, but damnit this was the 90’s! They  mostly dressed to fit into the very marketable boxes they’d created, and blah blah blah I know that’s phony & feigned & faked but WHO CARES! They made me feel like I should dress to express myself and dance because I wanted to. Boys just didn’t enter into it.

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seeing them on tour in my 20’s was a life affirming nostalgia fest

I’m not saying the whole world should be this way, or that girls rule and boys drool (although, yea, kind of.) But for young girls, so much of the world seems off limits. I think it’s super important to have spaces that are special for them, where  they feel safe and free. And I think the message that you can be who you are without worrying about boy friends/lovers/whatever is super empowering. You know, you don’t have to make it perfect or complicated for kids. They absorb a lot without us even knowing, and what they hear at a young age sticks and matures along with them. Girl Power, as basic as it is, is enough. Sure it’s not nuanced, but it’s a good place to start!

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Oh, and one last thing. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the Spice Girls opened up some space in the pop universe for girl super groups. Their success, I believe, was a direct pre-curser to Destiny’s Child. Which means that without the Spice Girls, we wouldn’t have Beyonce. And if anyone is pushing some mature and nuanced feminism right now, it is Queen Bey herself. So Viva Girl Power Forever, never give up on the good times with your surfburt, and if you can’t dance you can’t do nothing for me cause friendships never ends and we all woke up like this.

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JGL: Comes Out as Feminist ! (GASP!)

We all remember Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Yes.
Yes.

Child Star treasure. Teenage heartthrob.

This movie stands the test of time.
This movie stands the test of time.
Precious.
Precious.

We remember collectively experiencing shock and awe while watching Inception, thinking ‘When did Joseph Gordon Levitt turn into such a MAN?! And is this real or in a dream???!!!’

That hair. That vest. That jawline. Em. Yes.
That hair. That vest. That jawline. Em. Yes.

Well, he’s officially blown my mind again by going on Ellen and boldly claiming the title feminist.

If lip synching on Jimmy Fallon didn’t already have me swooning, this sure did. I mean, it shouldn’t be such a huge deal, but we still live in a world where celebrities are avoiding the title feminist like it’s a fucking plague. And to have JGL in our camp, we’ll that’s just unreal. He is handsome, smart, majorly talented, funny and cool. People think he is a cool guy, a nice guy, a guys guy. It’s still the case that many people align with feminist goals and values but don’t use the word. Maybe even some of you. But let’s use the simple and wonderful definition from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (that Beyonce features in her song ***Flawless!) “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” When you break it down like that, it’s hard to understand why more people don’t come aboard. Or, is it?

He gets it.
He gets it.

The media has done a lot of work to paint feminists as angry, man-hating, fun-sucking, ever so serious and ever so hairy ladies. This is basically false, other than sometimes being angry (because some aspects of our culture should make us all angry) and hairy (because everyone has body hair… duh.) One day, I envision young pop starts and box office busting actors saying ‘Yea, of course I’m feminist! [insert charming joke here.]’ Because it’s not really radical to want a world where people are treated like people first, and where women and men don’t treat each other like separate species.

Tie. Vest. Tousled hair.
Tie. Vest. Tousled hair.

A few years ago there was this article in the New York Times Magazine about how women’s issues were the moral issue of this century. I still believe that, and I think we are going to need more brave folks like JGL to step up and speak out about their feelings, and to wear the feminist badge proudly. If JGL, all charm and coiffed hair and vests, can claim the badge and retain his like-ability and cool factor, there is hope yet.

One more. Because I can.
One more. Because I can.

‘Yonce All On His Mouth Like Liquor ;

First post back and I’m about to go hard about what has already been well tread territory for a few weeks now: the goddess Beyonce and her surprise new album. Lots of people, especially the feminist media, have weighed in, and now it’s my turn to add to the convo.

Here’s the thing about this album. We could talk about how brilliant it is to drop it with no notice (because she is BEYONCE and needs no introduction), to create a visual for each song because she understands how visual the current technology driven culture is, how those videos further give her control over her image and brand (a control which she is often criticized for, but which I think is incredible and empowering), and how generally savvy this move was.

But that’s not why I’m so hype.

We could argue about how enraged I become at some of the criticism leveled her way. That she is too cold and controlling, when a woman so completely in control of her public image is actually quite a slap in the face to patriarchy and the male-controlled music industry at large. That she doesn’t write her own songs, and so she is an ‘entertainer’ not an ‘artist’. First of all, she does write. Second of all, writing songs vs performing as the marker of true artistry is a completely arbitrary distinction. It is not the case that one is more authentic or difficult than the other, and to say so reeks of all kinds of weird prejudices.

But I’m not here to argue. I’m here to talk about why we should all be amped about this release.

I’m hype because she continues to be a dominant female force in a world where many females, even if they seem dominant, and largely puppet-ed and exploited. I’m hype because she is a black woman creating a cultural moment that is undeniable, demanding of our attention, a show of total strength, control, and confidence.

And I’m hype most of all because this album is dripping with sex. But its not the kind of sex we usually see. When you look at other sex kittens of our time, from Brit Brit to Katy and even Tay Tay (though her whole appeal and genre are in a different category), the sexuality that is created and consumed is strikingly adolescent. These are images of young girls, who even when they are no longer teenagers cling to that aesthetic. Katy prances around amongst candy, with huge innocent eyes and lyrics about ‘teenage dreams.’ Brit came to rise in a school girl outfit and continues to wear skimpy clothes without convincing anyone that she is enthused about it (or about making music in general.) The music is about flirting, about boys and first love mistakes. And I like it. But this is the only kind of sexuality we are shown in pop culture, and it is stunted. Even Taylor, who I would argue pulls no punches and speaks truthfully about her experiences (which she is criticized needlessly for) is still talking about young love. She doesn’t really come off as in control. And there is never real talk about what women want, sexually, from men. It’s all batting our eyelashes and wondering what he’s thinking and does he like me and am I good enough and I’m totally the best girl for you look at how shiny and fun I am! To be fair, the portrayals of male sexuality are not any better (BLURRED LINES UGH) but that’s another topic for another day. This body of work that Beyonce has created is a different kind of sexy. She is a woman. A woman over 30. A mother. A wife, to a black rap icon/mogul. And she is at the peak of her sexiness. And she is owning it. This is nothing less than completely revolutionary. Sure, you may say, she is still trying to be beautiful and fits mostly within the confining and un-diverse beauty standards we force on women. But this isn’t entirely true. Her body isn’t typical, the variety of looks she can pull off isn’t typical, and the use of feminist voice overs and unapologetic strength while still being almost painfully sexy is not typical. Unlike the other ladies I’ve mentioned, there is nothing girlish about her. Her demands, and her ass(ets) are undeniable, forceful, and unapologetic. Complaining because she still looks amazing is to ignore the fact that she is still trying to sell a product in an industry whose main currency is image. But she is EXPLOITING this. She controls her image in a way that artists like Miley only claim to do. I don’t believe for a second that Miley feels totally in control of her career, her body, or her image. She is a kid making mistakes and trying to find herself, and that’s fine. But when the feminists come to her rescue against the slut-shamers while ignoring the ways that taking your clothes off is still problematic and so is appropriating black culture, they are missing the point. Beyonce lets you hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie define feminist in the song Flawless. Are you listening? (Ok I can only find the preview which doesn’t have the voice over cause she HANDLES HER CONTENT so enjoy)

 

 

That voice, over the image of her dancing fiercely and declaring herself flawless from the moment she wakes, is a fucking powerful statement. Moreover, her sexuality in the context of her marriage is extremely powerful. White feminists aren’t seeing the whole picture when she deride her for using the ‘Mrs Carter’ name. Black woman are statistically less likely to get married, and live in a world that portrays them as animalistically/dangerously sexy, single mothers, or as raising other people’s kids. You can’t separate her identity as a woman from her identity as a black woman, and in this context her marriage and motherhood are powerful cultural symbols. They don’t symbolize settling or limiting herself, which is crazy to even say BECAUSE FUCKING LOOK AT HER. She is at the top of her game. This is not a case of internalized misogyny or a lack of self awareness. She knows exactly who she is, and to come out with this album as a married women demanding to be idolized, fantasized about, and satisfied by her man, is so amazing and sex positive that I can hardly watch the videos without exploding from joy. This is truly a woman claiming and in control of her sexuality and sex life. Watching other artists prance around scantily clad and claiming to feel empowered looks silly after seeing this album. Hearing stunted claims like ‘Oh I got what you want, I got what you need’ is laughable after watching her expose herself, and be vulnerable, while demanding satisfaction. This is the kind of sexuality I want to see more of, and it should be celebrated. It is bold, and brave. It’s  fierce. She is setting a new standard for black female sexual empowerment, and we should all take note, listen, and admire. After all, she demands it.