I think the article linked here is an excellent read. Why?
Well, in the interests of full disclosure I should mention that I’m a total Sali Hughes devotee to begin with. She managed to finally teach me how to apply eyeliner after years of cackhanded attempts, and for that alone she is Elvis to me, but the thing I particularly appreciate about her approach to beauty writing is how inclusive it is. She’s not trying to make women look good for anyone but themselves or prescribe some narrow ideal of how they ought to look. She’s just recommending cool stuff so we can go play and express ourselves via the medium of looking pretty darn lovely (she also knows where all the cheap dupes are, bonus!). To me that’s important because while I have a lot of love for beauty products and I like to feel confident in my appearance, I have very little time for any homogenised standard of what we ought to be looking like or doing with our faces and bodies. For me the body image expectations placed on women are very damaging; it’s a major feminist point for me. Sali’s advice is all about enjoying beauty as self-expression without being a slave to any expectations of it, so I’m a frequent visitor to her site.
She wrote this article after taking a lot of pretty ridiculous online flack for, of all things, a column about sensitive skin. Apparently some people think it’s terrible to recommend products for somebody with painful and winter thrashed skin? There was a lot of incredibly patronising commentary. It was accompanied by some very sanctimonious guff about the alleged vacuousness and selfishness of anybody who would spend their money on face cream rather than donating it to charity… and that was the stuff that hadn’t been moderated for being outright abusive. I can only hope that the people making such remarks do not spend a single bit of money on anything that isn’t food, shelter or charity donations, otherwise hypocrisy abounds.
The reason I’m posting this link is that I think Sali gets right to the heart of why these criticisms of women who enjoy beauty products bug me. We live in a world which judges women very harshly on their appearances, aggressively sells us the notion that we need to do various things to mould ourselves into a particular image, and yet chastises us as shallow and stupid for investing any time and money into the self same. In one breath it pushes those ideals on us, in the next it tuts at us and assumes being into lip gloss means we’re simple-minded sheep blindly following the advertising and ignoring the truly important stuff. The idea that we can be intelligent, well-rounded individuals who simply happen to like playing about with their look and expressing themselves that way has seemingly not occurred to a lot of people. We just don’t know what’s good for us – never mind our own experiences that this tub of cream is the only thing which seems to help the stubborn and uncomfortable skin problem that’s plagued, we’re suckers wasting our money on nothing when a bar of Imperial Leather and some E45 would do it. I have no problem with it if somebody prefers not to wear make-up, doesn’t really like it or thinks that 40 quid is too much to spend** on a tube of face gunk. I have a huge problem when they start imposing those ideas on others or judging them for not sharing that view.
It’s all part of that bigger narrative that says that we don’t know our own experience or what’s good for us, other people know better. That’s what makes it a rage-inducer for me; that’s the misogyny underlying it all. That’s why I read this piece of Sali’s and went “fuck yes.”
** Sidebar: This is too much for me personally but that’s because I’m broke. I have no objection to it in principle and in the unlikely event I strike it rich I’ll have no problem emptying the Chanel counter… though you’d never prise me away from my lovely £5.99 pot of Simple night cream which is the dog’s dangly bits. Cost and worth and all that!