This reviewer says skincare culture is just diet culture: NPR
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From Rihanna to Brad Pitt, celebrities around the world seem to be launching their own skincare lines. And they all seem to promise to help us achieve healthy, glowing, youthful skin just like theirs. And yet, most of these stars weren’t using their own products to get their clear, Hollywood-smooth complexions. So what are they really selling? And why can’t we seem to stop buying? In this episode of It’s been a minutecultural criticism Jessica DeFino join the host Brittany Luse by explaining why skincare may seem morally superior to makeup — all while the body-positive movement has yet to extend above the neck.
Why skincare seems to be having a moment
Jessica DeFino: Oh, there are so many reasons why skin is having a great time. Color cosmetics are sometimes considered superficial or a tasteless pursuit. Skincare has all of these health and wellness claims, so it’s easier for people to feel like they’re taking care of themselves than it’s for their health, wellness , even their sanity, and not feeling like they’re channeling time into perpetuating beauty standards, even though that’s also, for the most part, what skincare is all about.
The Changing Meaning of “Good Skin”
Defino: Personally, I despise the term “good skin”. I think good skin is a great example of how beauty has been wrapped up in morality. Beauty functions in society as an ethical ideal. And we received messages from the minute we came out of the womb: to be a good person is to be a beautiful person.
The idea of beautiful skin [does] evolve over time as beauty standards and beauty trends do. Currently, the ideal of beautiful skin is very smooth, extremely shiny and moist. There is no tolerance for changes in tone or texture. It is very flat and glass-like. It reflects the state of our largely virtual digital lives. We expect our faces to look like a screen. …And it’s so interesting because when you look at the history of beauty standards, it’s not a new phenomenon. When the movies first came out and we could see actresses on screen, the lighting wasn’t so good, the camera quality wasn’t so good, and that led to this kind of of blurry and ethereal look. And all of a sudden people were like, ‘This is what someone famous and dignified looks like. I want to look like this too.’ Every advance on screens – in cinema, in digital – has had this moment. And we try to adapt our real human faces to a virtual and hyperreal standard of beauty.
On Kim Kardashian saying she would eat poo to look young
Defino: I think that says a lot about the state of modern beauty marketing and modern skincare marketing, because in that same New York Times interview, The Times noted that its skincare line [does not] use the term “anti-aging” to market any of its products. They don’t want to use that negative anti-aging connotation. However, when you come out in that same article and say you would eat feces to look younger, you are perpetuating the anti-aging ideology. This is a very important thing to note, because in the beauty industry in general, we are seeing a backlash against negative sounding terms like anti-aging. But the underlying ideology has not changed. Our society and our beauty industry are more obsessed with young people than ever before. It’s just that these messages are told more in the underlying marketing stories, in the models used, in the products introduced, injectables being standardized. We live in a culture glorifying youth. Even if we [don’t] let’s say anti-aging.
Brittany Luse: To stress this point a bit more, why don’t we want to use the term “anti-aging” and still don’t want to age?
Defino: Anti-aging is ageism, pure and simple. We live in a profoundly ageist society. We value society members largely for their productivity. Your productivity and your value to the economy decline with age. We don’t have equity for seniors. We don’t have enough medical care for the elderly. We don’t have many resources that would make aging an attractive proposition. We also live in a very superficial society. So if we can eliminate some of our age-related anxiety by temporarily erasing our wrinkles with a shot of Botox, we’re gonna go for it because we’ve been trained to want a quick and easy solution to sweep under the rug to which is actually a societal problem.
The shortcomings of the body positive movement
Defino: Body positivity has rarely extended above the neck in popular culture, which always worries me. The beauty standard is a set of parameters. There’s room for change – I think people can relate to the idea of, “Well, maybe I’m fat, but I have such a pretty face.” And so those parameters still exist, and the body positivity movement hasn’t addressed those parameters at all. So we see a lot of body acceptance influencers like Katie Sturino now preaching about accepting your body and loving it, and channeling the brain space they’ve freed up to care about their face.
Something I always like to say is that skincare culture is just dew food culture. And you can make these very easy swaps to see if a piece of content is right for you. So, for example, I think in Katie Sturino’s Botox article, she was talking about erasing her frown lines. But if you swap the words “frown lines” for “stretch marks” – [does it] would you still feel good if he told you that you had to get rid of your stretch marks? There really is no difference between these. And I really hope we can see how we’ve been collectively bamboozled by the food culture, the beauty culture, and the skincare culture.
On the pressure to adhere to beauty standards
Defino: Beauty is an inherent human desire. When I criticize the beauty industry, I criticize its industrialized and standardized parts. And I never want to diminish the power and importance of beauty in our lives. I think of beauty as being up there with freedom, truth and love. These are inherent human aspirations. … We can appreciate the beauty of nature. We can appreciate the beauty of a work of art. We need this kind of beauty in our lives. Part of what makes the beauty industry so powerful is that it co-opts this instinctual need, this instinctual need for this free, beautiful, energetic, three-dimensional version of beauty, and it flattens it into a one dimension and says that beauty is only physical, and beauty can only be achieved through these products and procedures with this money.
And that really led us to believe, “OK, this is the beauty my mind craves.” And that’s also why it’s so unsatisfying. We keep buying and trying to make ourselves look different because this inherent human desire for beauty is not satisfied by physical, standardized, industrialized things. I don’t have an answer to that. I don’t know how we connect with that kind of beauty. But that’s what keeps me going. That’s what interests me.
This episode of “It’s Been a Minute” was produced by Jessica Mendoza, Liam McBain and Barton Girdwood. It was edited by Jessica Placzek and Jessica Mendoza. Technical support came from Ko Takasugi-Czernowin and Carleigh Strange. You can follow us on Twitter @NPRItsBeenAMin and email us at email@example.com.