Beauty Tales

Sunday, 11 March 2012

beauty tales

I was going to leave the blog alone this weekend to concentrate on other things, but I’ve stopped questioning when I feel like posting. I guess that explains why I’ll never be able to implement a planned blogging schedule, most of my posts tend to be spontaneous. Last night, I dreamt of long delicious baths, with heather and violets floating in the water, creating a haze of perfume. This morning, I woke up and bought some beauty products from Rose and Co. Apothecary online. There’s a story behind this dream and these purchases, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share it.

But first, there’s a context for why I’m even bothering to share this. You may have noticed this post by Grace from Design*Sponge. Who would have thought that a simple post on nail polish would create such an in-depth discussion about attitudes towards women bloggers? I sat there reading Grace’s comment, nodding my head in agreement. I’ve often encountered passive-aggressive comments on various women’s blogs when they decide to post items that may be expensive, or when they decide to do beauty posts.

Besides the fact that a lot of women work damn hard for their little luxuries, this is also a form of misogyny. Women are inflicting self-hate upon other women. Many of my male friends buy expensive after-shaves and suits. Do I judge them for that? Does anyone else judge them for that? Not very often. It’s assumed they worked hard for these things, and therefore, they have nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve been thinking about why female bloggers are treated differently when they talk about their own wares, and I suppose you could cite many reasons: it’s a tough economy, many people are struggling, there are people in the world who can’t even afford food, it’s ‘superficial’ to concentrate on these things when compared to other issues. These are all valid points. But when I see snarky comments on female bloggers’ posts, I can’t help feeling the response is primarily based on gender.

There’s another thing that bothers me though with these comments: they assume that women blogging about these things are compiling their posts like a shopping list, borrowed from the pages of a magazine trying to sell you stuff. That’s not always what these posts are about. As Jane pointed out in her comments here, these posts are also about abstract enjoyment. And for me, some products are not just wares with a price tag, they also carry stories with them. I’ll tell you one.

the moors

the moors

When I was doing research at The Brontë Parsonage Museum, it was a cold time of year. After I hiked up on the moors with a local guide, I could feel myself starting to get sick. I knew I wouldn’t have time to be sick, and I was staying in a cottage room by myself with no one to take care of me. I figured the only way to beat the sickness was to let myself relax, to trust what my body is telling me and let it calm down for a while. So I walked into the village’s Apothecary shop to buy some bath salts and sweet-smelling soap in preparation for a long, hot bath that evening. Not only did I buy the salts and soap, but I also walked away with a satchel filled with dried heather from the moors and an array of salves and lotions by Rose and Co. Apothecary. I felt like I was carrying a bag full of the moors in my hands.

That evening was heaven: a long and slow process of enjoying being swallowed by warm water, smelling the various delicious scents in the room, and feeling as if an open meadow was clinging to my skin. I’ve had a sentimental fondness for Rose and Co. Apothecary products ever since, and I use them regularly. I notice that I tend to use them when my body seems to be screaming: enough, you’ve stressed me out too much, stop your abstract thinking and actually enjoy me.

That’s just it. I can’t call posts on cosmetics and perfumes ‘superficial’, because I can’t ignore the fact that I’m not simply an abstract mind, but also a physical body. I do terrible things to myself that aren’t healthy. I stay up late working, I don’t get enough sleep, I forget to eat when I’m writing. There’s only so much you can ignore your body though before it rebels.

Of course, I do realise there’s a bevy of superficiality out there on the internet, and I’ve often voiced my opinion against it. But I resent the idea that women’s beauty products have been co-opted into slick consumerism and superficiality. Because for me, they are part of my enjoyment of life and my senses. I also think people make fun of these things because they’re associated primarily with women: it’s ‘fluffy’ women’s stuff. That’s just insulting and demeaning.

So as a feminist, this is what I think: if anyone makes you feel guilty for posting about these things and enjoying beauty products, the superficiality is on their end, not yours. Yes, these products are a luxury and I do have perspective about the world. But it’s reasonable to balance this perspective with an enjoyment of things that extends beyond their price tags. We are different beings with different buying habits: a lip balm can represent a product that one person buys because of its label and marketing, while another person will buy it because it’s a symbol of a personal memory. Let’s not generalise and place everyone within simplistic categories. And please, let’s not be misogynistic to each other.

Image credits: All images are my own. The faux-painterly top one is courtesy of some Photoshop fun with a photo of my cosmetics. I’ve often thought how nice it would be to sit and paint all the different colours and shapes of my beauty products, but alas, I lack both the time and skill for that.


yelena bryksenkova said...

beautiful post, hila! your story made me long for a reclusive english getaway

i couldn't stop reading all the comments on grace's post that day; so many (valid) opinions and bit of drama, too! i agree that, as you said, "many women work damn hard for their little luxuries" and also that it's simply nobody's business how others spend their money and choose to treat themselves.

doing something for your soul now and then is just as important as taking care of your body. i read a chinese proverb once that stuck with me as a kind of personal philosophy:

"when you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and an orchid with the other."

have a lovely sunday,


hayden said...

I find this an interesting counterpoint to your post of a couple of days ago. Without context, an image, a product or a photo can have a completely different meaning. Because of this, products that bloggers post to convey a sense of time, of place, or of mood can have a completely different interpretation for me if that mood is not clear to me, as a reader.
I think Jane's blog is an incredibly good example of conveying this meaning: she intersperses the kind of fantasy or exploration post you linked to with posts with minimal visual stimulus, or with thoughtful notes (her "Sunday Best" posts are an excellent example of the evocative and daydream-like).
With respect to blogs that I do read more as a simple shopping list, I don't think there is anything wrong with them, but it can make my consumerist tendencies itchy (meaning I start wanting to spend money), and I tend to decrease my consumption of the blog if I notice this reaction.

Hila said...

Yelena: fantastic proverb, it rings true. I read through the comments on Grace's post too and felt the same as you. At the end of the day, we don't really know who is behind the posts and what their personal situation may be like.

Hayden: Good point! The context does change the meaning and tone of a post. I do know what you mean: I'm not a huge fan of 'shopping list' types of posts either (which seem to emulate popular magazines). There's nothing wrong with them, it's just not for me. But I've seen different types of posts being clumped together under the 'shopping list' tag, and that seems unfair. Jane's blog is a good example of mixing an appreciation of certain products with a decided personal context and intellectual thought.

Hotly Spiced said...

I love the sound of your visit to the apothecary shop. What a wonderful place to spend some time. I'm sure all those things you bought helped you to recover more quickly. I think I'm guilty of having a rather superficial blog!

Sundari said...

Women often get a bad rap for enjoying nice things and creating aesthetically pleasing things. It's interesting to show the story behind the material things we like though.
I don't like the anti-feminist tendency I witness in other women such as putting down 'femininity' or 'girliness'.

Mariella said...

Hila I love that first picture!! And I agree with all you said about this issue.As I said also commenting for another similar post, many times, when we share things we love no matter if cosmetics or clothes or whatever doesn't necessarily mean that we can afford them or we will actually buy them, sometimes even the mere thing of sharing on the blog is satisfying enough, at least for me. However, even if we could, nobody should feel or worse make other people feel guilty about it. I also noticed though that very often this is a women to women thing which makes it even more sad.

Tracey said...

This is a beautifully written post Hila, and I very much enjoyed the story you shared.

I've noticed this passive-aggressive meanness starting to creep in more and more into the blog world. Perhaps it's another turn in the evolutionary cycle of the blogging community ... I just don't understand the kind of people that could be bothered leaving a comment with a nasty edge.

Your words are wonderful as ever Hila, and I agree with you completely (especially your final paragraph).

PS. I love your images in this post. xx

Jen said...

Now I want a bath full of heather from the moors. SIGH.

I used to feel a little ashamed to admit to how much I'm willing to spend on some things--now I don't care if I seem ridiculous to anyone. Compared to some of my friends I spend a mountain of money on perfume, fresh flowers, housewares, etc. every year. Then on the other hand a lot of those friends spend that same amount of money or more on going to pubs regularly, computers, outdoor equipment, etc. It's all just personal choice and it isn't anyone's place to stick their nose in and make assumptions about the finances of someone else. So obnoxious!

I also get my hackles up in the same way when women generalize and say condescending, sideways or disapproving things about blogs/bloggers who take on sponsors. This felt unsupportive to me even before I had any on my own site! Absurd and narrow-minded.

I'm just rambling peeves now when I just meant to agree with you. I really do want to smell dried heather from the moors in my bath though. Also, I owe you an email. xo

Sarah said...

Just like you were nodding along to Grace's post, i find my head bobbing up and down at an almost alrming rate at your own post! You;ve said so many valid points here and I want to agree and add, but right now (at a fairly late hour), I am just going to bathe in what you've said, in all it's well written glory.
Ironically, when people post about "superficial things" without an agenda, but purely to share a love, that's when i find myself the most compelled to investigate more about the product itself.
Anyway, well done on another intriguing and honest post. I don't care if they are spontaneous, they are delightful surprises! x

Tana said...

Yelena found a great proverb to quote here. some comments on Grace`s post are interesting though provokes some debates :)all we have our little guilty pleasures And I completely agree with you, let`s not generalize this issue on our beauty-habits, that`s the personal choice and the story behind (hard work is included)!
Have a wonderful Sunday,

Chuck said...

Yes, enough girl hate. It is so destructive and unnecessary. We can't let ourselves be divided (and conquered). And, yes, the conspicuous and constant consumption on some blogs does make me uneasy but who am I to judge their choices? If you don't like it then go elsewhere, you don't have to look at it and there are plenty of people on the Internet doing the polar opposite. I'm going to go check out Rose & Co. now. X

just jen said...

hmmm. Interesting. Because I do not relate to girly things, I do not frequent "girly" blogs. I've tried. But I get bored easily w/shopping-type lists. Even visuals.

(as an aside I took one of those goofy online polls on "what percentage of man/woman are you?" only to find I was 80% "other". that's about right. ;)

I am however not new to snarky comments. One of the downsides of words only vs words+body language is lack of ...there's that word again!... context. In F2F conversation, one might laugh heartily at the "snark". In print. Online. It becomes hurtful.

I've found, often, a responding comment saying, "Hey! Ya know what? That hurt! Did you mean it to?" solicits profuse apology. With context.

Just like putting images, artwork out here? You put yourself 'on the line' when writing one's POV. Sometimes. Someone. Will not agree with you(one). After all, as my 'about' says, "I am not here to make you feel comfortable."

And I'm okay with that. :)

Accidentalwriter said...

Spontaneous is good...illumination and passion so often flow out of the more the merrier.

Amelia said...

Honestly, I love seeing what cosmetics women use. The same way I love some fashion blogs(that please my aesthetic) even if they use 2000$ bags, but I have seen comments about how ridiculous/frivolous these things are. I personally would never buy a 2000$ bag even if I had the money if it's utility would not be justified . However hating someone's monetary success because they can buy that expensive bag seems ridiculous. And it's not just on the internet, this happens in real life too.

I mean I spend a lot of money on books and food - yet no one has made a derogatory comment. A few years back I received as a present a Jimmy Choo bag and a few friends of mine felt the need to grill me about it and in all honesty I felt ashamed for having it. It's a horrible feeling (even now they sometimes make out of place comments, but I just brush them aside since I've learned this people don't really deserve my time).

I have completely derailed from the main point. (sorry)

Sage said...

this is such a thoughtful post. of course girls aren't posting pictures of their beauty products to market them or make anyone who can't afford them jealous--they're simply sharing something that makes them feel good about themselves. there's nothing wrong with that.
hope you have a lovely sunday :)

Jane Flanagan said...

Thank you for this post Hila (and for ponting to my blog). Those kinds of comments have been really bothering me of late. They betray such a strange sense of entitlement on the one hand, and resentful loathing on the other.

I agree with you - beauty products are part of our sensual world. Like you, I can tend to be too much in my own head, at times, and neglectful of my body. Beauty and fashion offers a way to reconnect with my physical self, to feel more in-the-world than in-my-head. We're not brains in jars!

I've spoken before about how I felt growing up like I couldn't be BOTH smart and love fashion & beauty. My blog is definitely a way of reconciling all that. I get to express it all there. And that has nothing to do with price or consumption.

Fen said...

couldn't agree more with everything you say here - I love certain cosmetics/scents/products because they remind me of certain times or people. 4711 perfume for example was the first perfume I ever owned, bought for me by my grandmother :) I've loved it ever since!

I really love the story about your trip on the moors and the Rose & Co products, so lovely. The paint effect photo at the top looks great as well btw!!

rooth said...

Thumbs up for this entire post. Love the photo/painting at the top and I appreciate how you patiently explain the different meanings of physical things and pleasures to different people.

Kate said...

I think you know that I relate to this post a lot already, but a new thought sprang to mind while reading these great comments from everyone. We all have such different priorities for our money. For instance I will splurge on good beauty products and nice shoes, but I've had the same underwear for like, five years, completely falling apart and won't spend more than $30 on a shirt. Because besides being weird (ha), it's just not my priority to spend money on things like that. And my dad for instance, who is the opposite of rich, spends all of his money on fancy electronics and that is ALL. My step mom and him live in a studio apartment and never buy new clothes but their priority is technology. So someone who doesn't know them could look at a slice of their life and assume they are frivolous with their money, but that's not the case at all without looking at the bigger picture. That happens so often in the blog world - you are not getting the whole picture of someone's life so judging them is ridiculous. Anyway, maybe that's obvious, but it never really thought about it so much before this. Great discussion as always, Hila. Also, I owe you an email and I am getting to it! Taking a work break this weekend:)

Sarah Rooftops said...

Lovely post! I absolutely agree - I don't think moments of pleasure are any less important than the tough times; what brings us happiness is far from trivial.

Hila said...

Hotly Spiced: I don't think you have a superficial blog at all! And yes, they did make me feel a whole lot better.

Sundari: I don't like it either, and it doesn't represent feminism to me. And also, when male artists create aesthetically pleasing things, no one makes light of their work and calls it 'fluffy'.

Mariella: It makes me sad too. Women have so many other hurdles to get over in terms of equality, we shouldn't be making it harder for ourselves.

Tarcey: Thanks Tracey :) I don't understand the impulse to post those types of comments either. Even if I don't like a particular post, I don't go out of my way to write a negative comment.

Jen: Oh that's okay Jen, email me whenever you can :) I shall send you some virtual heather - not as aromatic as the real deal, I'm afraid. I completely agree with your comment: it's pointless to judge other people based on what they choose to spend their money on. It's even more pointless to judge bloggers for having sponsorship on their blog. I'm not for the 'art not ads' and 'ad free blog' meme. I think it stands for some admirable principles, and I also echo their concerns about the increasing rampant nature of consumer culture. BUT, I don't think this neatly translates into making individual bloggers feel guilty for having sponsorship. It's rather naive line of thought, in my opinion, as consumerism operates in a far more complex manner and placing all the responsibility on individuals who are mainly trying to get ahead in life is problematic for me.

Sarah: That's such a good point - it's easy to forget that bloggers don't control how readers interpret their posts, so what may seem like a superficial post could lead to a thoughtful response from someone. And thanks!

Tana: I completely agree, and that proverb is so true.

Chuck: Yep, you've summed it up really well. I couldn't agree more!

just jen: That's a good way to respond to such comments. I think the moment you remind someone that a human being with feelings is behind a post, they tend to re-evaluate their comments.

accidentalwriter: I'm learning to live with my spontaneous thoughts :)

Amelia: No, you haven't derailed. You've pointed out a thing I don't like: making women feel bad for their enjoyment of certain things and products. Anyone who tries to guilt-trip me with that is not my friend, and doesn't really know me.

Sage: Exactly :)

Jane Flanagan: I got a bit angry that some people were hurting your feelings. Of all the people to attack! You are thoughtful, intelligent, and kind, and I hope you know that Jane. I love that you pointed out that people consume content from your blog for FREE, and yet think they have the right to complain so thoughtlessly about what you choose to share.

I'm the same as you, I live in my head too much. Which is why things like perfume and body lotions are a form of stress relief for me that bring me back to my body. I don't think that's superficial at all, anymore than a good meal is.

Fen: Thank you! I have a similar story behind my favourite Chanel perfume: it was my first ever perfume, bought for me by my grandmother. I remain loyal to things :)

Rooth: Thank you :)

Kate: Enjoy your break, and no rush on that email :) I so agree with you on every level: it's the big picture that counts, and what we choose to share on blogs is only a slice of our lives. It's easy for someone else to take that slice and turn it into our entire personality. But life doesn't work that way. It makes me angry to see great women get attacked, so I will stick up for them. Also, I haven't bought new underwear in a few years either - I thought I was the only one!

Sarah: Exactly, it's now that I'm feeling particularly stressed that I appreciate things like beauty products even more. That doesn't mean I've lost perspective about what's important in life, it just means it's one of my coping skills.

Ana said...

Well said Hila, I totally agree with you. And btw, I've been procrastinating a warm salty bath for a long time now. I think is time I pay my dues! Have a happy week.

Jamie said...

SUPER blog, something about your writing always gets me, Hila x

Blaze said...

Great post! Blog haters just need to take a bath! Sheesh. :)

I am off to check out the link you provided! I love taking baths and pampering myself. It is so good for stress and I think it prevents me from getting sick more often!

Ballad of Seasons said...

I love this post Hila! Your words are so inspiring that I'm definitely taking a long, relaxing bath when I get back home (still at the office, enjoying your post before leaving :)) and that I'm definitely making a beauty products post soon:)

Personally, I cannot buy clothes and beauty products at the same time in a month (i'm not there yet), but I love indulging myself with a nice, new hair shampoo, or different lip balm. It's not 'fluffy' at all, but as you've said, we work hard and we deserve to enjoy our physical body!

have a lovely week,

Nit said...

Well said!
Something about all that, that I'm not sure if anybody has said before me but that I always find interesting, is the simple fact that living in society, how you present yourself to others can be quite important too. Not in the sense of being always prettied up, or having a certain (or another) style in your sartorial choices, but in the general sense of showing you take good care of yourself. Is not only self respect, your self respect can also be respect to the people you encounter everyday.
But maybe that's just me.

Rambling Tart said...

Hila, sometimes your posts make me want to hug you so tight. :-) This is one of them. :-) Thank you. I love it so much when I see people celebrate each other, rejoice when good things happen to them, when they are able to invest in little things that make this crazy life bearable. I LOVE that you have such good memories tied in with these products. You've inspired me today, truly, to value both my own happiness and the happiness of others. :-)

Hila said...

Ana: That's wonderful :)

Jamie: Thank you! You're always so sweet.

Blaze: haha, that should be a saying: 'take a bath, why don't you?'

Betül: I know what you mean, sometimes I derive such sheer pleasure from something as simple as a new shampoo.

Nit: I also think people who enjoy and value their bodies (and I'm not talking about the superficial side of looks here) respect themselves.

Rambling Tart: sometimes your posts make me want to hug you right back :)

Sally said...

Great post, and what I take away from it is on a slightly different topic - that yes, it is okay to indulge the senses (i.e. doing so shouldn't induce guilt!). I've always been a very sense-oriented person, and am becoming confident in my belief that we should celebrate how amazing it is that simple things like good smells, soft blankets, etc. can be so pleasurable and salutary, physically and emotionally.

Hila said...

Sally: Oh I know, it's like that feeling of freshly washed sheets against your skin.

Megan Champion said...

I love my precious 'girly things' and as you said, Ive worked damn hard for them :)

Hila said...

Megan: amen, me too!