Damned if You Do, Damned If You Don’t: In 2019, Let’s Be Done With With The Beauty Prejudice Already



Elizabeth I‘s make-up killed her. At least according to some historians. In her attempt to look youthful and blemish-free, the queen used a toxic white powder, Ceruse, containing high doses of lead. As you can imagine, lead isn’t something you want to put on your face every single day for years. No wonder the prosthetics and cosmetics to turn Margot Robbie into Queen Elizabeth I in the much-anticipated film, Mary Queen of Scots, gets so much attention. There’s an almost macabre fascination with it.  Margot looks freaky and that “look” actually ends up killing her.

But my fascination with her appearance is for a different reason. The queen went to great lengths to look like this (and suffer for it in multiple ways) for much of the same reasons we “kill” ourselves to look beautiful. According to Rebecca Onion‘s detailed story in Slate, The Real Story Behind Margot Robbie’s Wild Queen Elizabeth Makeup, Elizabeth was stuck. She was expected to look youthful and beautiful, as Onion explains: ‘People perceived a queen’s beauty as a sign of her divine right to rule.” In other words, she had to look good for her job. Sound familiar? Being the Queen, and a virgin at that, she became a worshipped, a cult-like figure that MUST remain youthful. Her appearance was one key aspect of that worship. “Living inside it all, Elizabeth clearly seemed to realize her presentation of a mask that didn’t slip was critical to her survival.” writes Onion.

At the same time, however, there was a strong anti-face-painting movement brewing. It’s questionable how much her subjects actually criticized her for it, but historians point to jokes made about her and published criticisms of the use of cosmetics in general stating that painted women are foolish, foul and abominable. Elizabeth just couldn’t win this game. Either she loses for looking old and ugly or she loses for masking her changing skin. And no question, she loses to her make-up’s poisonous effects.

Times have changed. Make-up won’t kill you (though some plastic surgery, like botched butt enhancements for example, can). Women can lead without having to be worshipped. And adorning ourselves with cosmetics is second nature. But we, women, aren’t fully immune from the high, and often complex, beauty expectations demanded of us in society. We have to look youthful, so as not to be deemed as frumpy and, thus, old-fashioned or not on the cutting edge of our fields.  And, at the same time, we can’t look too beautiful, so as not to appear too provocative or frivolous, and therefore, not smart or competent. Let’s be honest, how many of you — women and men — comment on what your female corporate or political leaders wear vs your male leaders wear? I remember these very discussions when my division was led by a woman.  I willingly took part in these conversations too! I’m not blameless. We didn’t want our female leaders to appear unstylish. Now that it’s being led by a man, not a word is raised. I’m not saying male leaders aren’t expected appear a certain way. It’s that it doesn’t become water cooler conversation, ever.

I love beauty. I love to play with make-up, wear fun outfits and get my hair blown out. I undoubtedly feel more confident and energized. And, yes, I want to be admired for it too. But why does it need to go beyond that? Why do women have to be caught between all of these tensions? Why can’t we look frumpy or dolled up without any of the negative associations? Why can’t we look beautiful without being accused of being flirty and flighty? My only hope is that as men invest in their beauty more (according to the American Association of Plastic Surgery, in 2017, nearly 100,000 men had filler injections, a 99 percent increase since 2000), we will level the playing field, and the conversations will turn from what women and men look like to whether they have something worthy to say and give to society.


Stand Beautiful on Feminism — For More Reasons Than You Think


Lots of wonderful buzz this week about female empowerment, especially amongst us nasty women ;).  The election has certainly heightened our awareness, emotions and convictions around this topic.

But there was another piece of news on this topic that had nothing to do with elections.  Instead it had to do with an unlikely new “face” for a beauty brand: Nigerian author and feminist speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie .  She is the new spokesperson for Boots No.7.  According a statement emailed to Mashable, Adichi feels “women use cosmetics to be ready for something: to show up, speak up, and make an impact in their world in their own way.”  For her make-up isn’t a tool to hide women’s power and turn them into sexual objects.  Rather it is a wonderful source of transformation, confidence and power.  What’s better, she gets to the heart of the matter and addresses the seeming conflict of being a feminist who loves make-up.  She reveals that she shied away from make-up at one point so as not to be deemed frivolous.  But this wasn’t her true self.  It was only when she gained a greater sense of confidence that she chose to go back to wearing make-up again. Check it out in this great new video.

While we may have heard similar statements in the past about the powerful role of cosmetics, to have such a powerful voice speak about her appreciation for cosmetics is new.  And then to take such a strong stance by associating herself with a brand in such a way is even more surprising.  I applaud her for fighting against the typical rhetoric that claims enhancing our beauty is wasteful at best or degrading at worst.

But I would interpret the empowering nature of cosmetics and skin care in another important way too.  Beyond how skin care or make-up make us look, think about what the actual process of engaging with it does to ourselves.  Sure, there are the usual mini frustrations of a wobbly eyeliner lid or a spilled nail polish bottle.  But most of time, the ritual of applying these lotions and potions or colors and creams, is deep.  I wrote about this a few years back in a few different posts: Another Powerful Role for Cosmetics & One More Minute Please I explained that the very act of pampering or applying skin care and make-up allows us to gift ourselves a form of, in what my good friend and Anthropologist, Tom Maschio calls, “self-care.”

Here’s how I described it in then:

When we touch, caress, adorn and pamper our bodies, we are connecting with them and, eventually, our spirits too. Caring for our bodies is soothing and uplifting at the same time.

Our bodies aren’t detached objects just to be prepared for public appearance but, rather, are inextricably linked to the self.  And every part of the body — appendage, organ, secretion, etc., function together harmoniously. Beautification, i.e., the act of massaging, applying, fixing, plucking, whatever the actual activity, isn’t just a means to an end but an act of health care and self-love.

So, for all of us women –and men included –who enjoy adding some scent, sparkle, color or plumpness to our appearances, remember that it not only boosts our confidence but it gives us a spiritual high too.  It helps us connect to our bodies — to admire them, care for them, energize or calm them and, ultimately, connect with them.    And if loving and caring for our bodies doesn’t lead to feeling empowered, I don’t know what does!

Weekend Observations: A New Look for a New Me

Ok, I know it’s not the clearest picture I could have taken (blame that on the iPad) but as you can see I got some make-up on.  I splurged and bought a whole new make-up kit at Barneys.  I spent a luscious hour getting my face made-up by the Beauty Guru, Jason Ascher, and then went all out.

And I didn’t feel one drop of trepidation doing it!

This much-needed, overdue make-over wasn’t just a gift for myself, but a sign of a make-over in my life.  Soon I will be departing, not only my company, but the world of advertising and entering a whole new industry.  So of course I need to refresh my look as a result.  But even more than that, I need to refresh my attitude, my brain and my soul too.  I’ve written about the powerful, transformative effects of make-overs in the past, i.e., that they not only shift our attitudes, but can also propel us to make actual physical/mental changes in our lives (Weekend Observations: Changing Your Lipstick Can Be Pretty Deep), so I decided to see if its true for me too!

What better way to start than my face?  Oh, and my hair is next….

As I strutted along the streets of New York this weekend with my new make-up (though I confess I couldn’t quite replicate the brilliance of the Beauty Guru) I did feel like a new woman.  I can’t wait to see where my next adventure takes me (new look and all!)

Bobbi Brown and I Think Alike

Last year I commended Bobbi Brown on her Pretty Powerful campaign (When Fashion and Beauty Brands Reflect Their True Role).  I expressed my admiration for her understanding the true role of beauty in our lives.  It, among other things, gives us the confidence to be creative, seduce your man, or kick some ass in the business world.

A year later I have to reference her again, as I whole-heartedly agree with her philosophy.  In a post entitled: Being Pretty Powerful is Much Bigger Than Beauty, she writes: “All women are pretty, and the key to bringing out their beauty is confidence.  While makeup shouldn’t be considered a prescription for self-confidence (that has to come from within and be developed over time), I believe that with the right tools and knowledge, makeup can help all women achieve that little ‘boost’ to help look and feel their best … instead of fighting the body you have, accept it and make the most out of it.  Focus on being healthy, strong and fit.  Commit to making smart food choices and exercise regularly.  This requires work and it’s not a quick fix, but you’ll look and feel better over the long-term.”

When I first launched Beautyskew, my mother asked, “Not everyone is beautiful, you know.”  I answered, “Maybe some think they aren’t beautiful, but everybody has beauty within them and with the right tools that can be seen on the outside too.”

It’s great to know others, like Bobbi Brown, agree!

Comment or tweet me your thoughts @beautyskew

Another Powerful Role of Cosmetics

So a big “duh” study was published about how emotions, more than rational choice, drive our purchases in the cosmetics category.  As someone who works with cosmetics brands, that’s truly a no brainer.  And as someone who has been purchasing and playing with cosmetics for decades, that’s OLD news.  Sure, cosmetics have a very purposeful role – hiding dark circles, enhancing the sex appeal of our lips, or highlighting our eyes, to name a few, but more than anything, they appeal to our aspirations.

What was interesting, and particularly relevant to me from this study, however, was that it was proven that “consumer satisfaction is greatest when the cosmetics brand helps strengthen positive emotions through the perception of ‘caring for oneself.’”  In other words, use of cosmetics isn’t only to project an image but to enhance our rituals of self-care.

I’ve discussed the notion of self-care in other posts (One More Minute Please), but I can’t emphasize how important I think it is that we physically care for bodies and our beauty (I’m actually writing an article about it!).  When we touch, caress, adorn and pamper our bodies, we are connecting with them and, eventually, our spirits too.  Caring for our bodies is soothing and uplifting at the same time.

No need to put on a full face of make-up.  If we just spend a few minutes admiring, touching and enhancing our faces and bodies, I believe we will all feel happier as a result.

Tom Ford, You Get Advertising

For the launch of his cosmetics line, fashion designer Tom Ford‘s mug is present along side super model Lara Stone’s in his print ads.  He explains that his reason for joining Stone in the ad is not vanity.  He realized that not enough people know who he is and so he wanted to put a face to his brand.

This is a brilliant move on Ford’s part.  Not only is he publicizing his own image, but he’s tapping into a fundamental principle of luxury brand advertising.  Most of us realize that mass products come from some from big, faceless manufacturer.  And we’re ok with that.  But when it comes to shelling out big bucks for luxury goods, we care not just about the craftsmanship and materials of the goods we’re buying, but we also want to know the item’s provenance and that there’s a degree of humanity behind it — that is, the craftsman/woman who actually create the piece.  We want to know the story of the product’s origin and creation process, and we want to understand the vision of the originator of the product and brand.

What Ford is doing by putting his face out there in his ads is adding depth, story and humanity to his brand.

Smart move Tom.

Oh, yeah, the 70’s inspired line is pretty cool too!

Hotties Get More For Free

Bright Hand Pictures created a documentary, Sexy Girls Have It Easy, about a girl that scores all types of freebies thanks to her sexy good looks (check it out on Vimeo).  Donning high heels and make-up, she’s able to get things like taxi rides, cake and champagne for free just by asking.
You could argue this is another case of looks discrimination.  And this theory is reinforced by the fact that this same hot woman is video-taped going out wearing a blah outfit, sans make-up and her hair in a pony-tail.  And like the first version, she asks for the same things for free but this time around she isn’t nearly as successful.
But instead of seeing this video as a statement of what’s wrong in our society, see it for the positive points it reveals.  Yes, she is discriminated against as a Plain Jane.  But all she needed to do to benefit from our culture’s (or human nature’s) biases is put a bit of lipstick and heels on!  In other words, beauty and the benefits reaped from it aren’t out of reach.  They just may require a bit more effort to obtain.
Oh, yeah, and you may even be able to make up the costs of the fancy duds and blow-outs thanks to all the freebies you’d get!
Watch the video and see for yourself:
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/12030156]

Weekend Observations: Behind the Scenes of MY Photo Shoot

“Get those nuts out of your mouth,” said Stephen Sullivan, photographer to the stars.
No, it’s not what you, with the dirty minds, are thinking.
Stephen was merely advising me to stop eating the various nuts from the “crafts table” (aka my friend’s spread on her kitchen counter) during my photo shoot.  They kept getting stuck in my teeth, forcing me to unconsciously pick at my teeth with my tongue during shots.
Why am I the subject of a photo shoot?  Sure, I’m in the advertising world, so I’m no virgin to the concept of a shoot, but as a strategist I’m rarely a participant in them.  And I’m certainly not the focus of them.  So what makes this photo shoot different from all other ones? (OK, definitely been to one too many Passover seders lately…)  Given that I publish a bit, my shot gets bandied about in company presentations, and I write this blog all about beauty, I figured it’s time for me to have a professional head shot.  Not something stuffy or corporate, but a pic that I wouldn’t cringe looking at.
Like many people I know, I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to pictures of myself.  You know when you hear the sound of your recorded voice and you can’t believe you sound like this to others?  Well, that’s how I feel about how I look in pics.  So, imagine the luck I had when I met Stephen at a party.  We struck up a conversation and he offered to take a few shots.  And to add to my luck, my friend who was having the party loves to do his make-up for photo shoots!
I was set.
Sunday was the day.
I have to admit, I was nervous.  I went to the gym to let out some steam and drank a glass of wine at 11 am to relax.  To make matters worse, during the shoot I was asked to position my hands, face and body into weird positions.
But then I started getting into it and even began to enjoy the whole experience.  I realized I could be super concerned about how “good” I looked in each shot or I could let go and be fully expressive (Ok, maybe not FULLY expressive, but you get the idea).
No coincidence, once I loosened up a bit everyone started having a better time and the pictures began to get better and better.
I left the shoot in a high state.  I felt liberated and empowered.  In letting myself go and be vulnerable, I truly believe I looked more beautiful, more interesting, more, well, like me.  And then it dawned on me what a great lesson this is for life in general.
As soon as I get the photos, I’ll publish them here…the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Just Because We Love Our Make-Up Doesn't Mean We Don't Love Ourselves!

It really pisses me off when the desire to look our best is regarded, at best, as superficial or, at worst, as a sign of lack of self-love.
Oh pleeeeze!
Why do I say this now?
British news site, MailOnline, recently reported that 6 out of 10 women wouldn’t consider going to work without their make-up (“My make-up’s a must!”.)
Makes sense to me.  I certainly put on at least mascara and blush before heading out.
But then the article uses language like: “8 million women don’t feel confident enough in their appearance to venture out barefaced” and quotes a life coach saying, “If the reason for wearing make-up lies in the woman feeling worried that people will judge her for the ways she looks rather than who she is, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”
Whoa there.
First of all, wearing make-up for most women is not about being unconfident.  Quite the opposite.  We want to address the world with all of our assets optimized, including our social skills, acumen, and yes, even our appearance!
Second of all, the notion of being judged for what we look like versus what we are doesn’t make perfect sense to me.  In other words, it’s not an “either/or” situation.  What we look like says a lot about who we are.  I’m not saying that our clothes, skin or hair tell the WHOLE story, but we shouldn’t devalue the role our appearance plays either.  How we look can often indicate whether we respect our bodies, what kind of industry we work in, or our sense of creativity.
Enough with putting down women (or men, for that matter) who want to look their best.  Harrumph!