Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Skincare overanalysis overanalyzed

A writer questioned the skincare craze, and Twitter - OK, a good % of the women writers I follow on Twitter, plus a couple of early, quick-take articles backlashing the backlash - let this writer know that she'd been way off. Easy for a young woman (the writer is, apparently, young) to write something like that! And it's sexist to dismiss pursuits just because women enjoy them! And dismissing skincare as evil toxic chemicals is anti-science! Can't anyone have fun?

There were problems with the original piece, most notably the choice to snark at the skin quality of skin-routine-havers. That said, the response - or, rather, the skewed version of it my 34-year-old self was getting - struck me as overshooting the mark. Or maybe not that exactly - more like, the flaws of that specific article segued a bit too easily into a defense of skincare itself. Which... maybe doesn't need defending? Or maybe does? Gah!

To write about skincare (which I've been doing, here and there, for... long enough that my age is showing), you sort of have to situate yourself. If I say I'm meh about skincare, but don't say who I am, I'm a clear-skinned 20-year-old with no stressful life events to speak of. So allow me to gaze in the mirror and offer you a glimpse of My Skin, as of January 30th, 2018:

Now that I'm ancient and live in the arctic, I use a facial moisturizer. It's this one. For soap, this one. I also own, but never remember to use, a foaming face wash from Japan via Markham. I do not - should, but I don't - wear sunscreen in winter, in Toronto, under my giant hat-and-hood combination. In summer, yes - it's a Vichy stick. Because I wear makeup - eyeliner, sometimes mascara, concealer, sometimes that Glossier eyebrow mascara because who am I to judge - I also use eye makeup remover. Which is... it, I think? Where this puts me on the maintenance-ness spectrum isn't so clear.

Why I don't have (much of) a skincare routine is less about having good skin (more on that in a moment) than about having complicated hair. There's only so much time and $$ I'm willing-and-able to throw at looking like the best-looking 34-year-old 5'2" woman I possibly can. I chose hair, or maybe hair chose me. Between a natural hair texture described in countless essays by my fellow Ashkenazi ladies (who rarely mention their ethnicity in these pieces, lest that lead down the sinkhole of discussing what "Jewish" hair can mean, when not all Jewish women have it, I know, I know) and an immature devotion to dyeing my hair all different ways, there's just sort of a lot going on, hair-product-and-equipment-wise, at any given time. That means various conditioners and hair products in rotation, plus a recent trip to a salon to (this is embarrassing) fix the ombré I thought I could do myself but as it turned out, no. (My hair, for the record, isn't orange-tipped anymore.) Plus a hair dryer, hair iron, plus a somewhat-coveted hair-iron brush thingy.

Point being: I'm in zero position to tell other women a) that I'm sure their skin looks just fine, what are they worrying about, or b) that skincare, because I don't personally get much out of it, couldn't possibly be fun. I don't like how I look with unstyled hair. I also enjoy doing my hair! Both! Self-hatred? Self-care? Self-something; I'm quite certain no one else is losing sleep over what my hair is up to.

So it's partly a hair thing, but also... I suppose I do think skincare is - for me - fairly pointless. Not pointless because I have no complaints in that area - other stuff too, but most saliently, I'm 34! and I look 34! and our society demands women look under 25! I do not lead a stress-free existence! - but because I'm not convinced any intervention I could afford, and feel OK with, would do anything other than cause breakouts. I don't doubt that there are interventions that would remove every enumerable feature that makes me look 10 years older than I did 10 years ago - how could I doubt this when half the storefronts in my part of Toronto sell just that service? It's that I'm cynical and am convinced the women whose public personas have them looking flawless from $10 serums may well use those serums but look the way they do for other, more expensive (injectable) reasons.

(If I find I'm looking a bit pale and are-you-feeling-ok, I'm so easy-breezy that I don't use glow-inflecting skincare products... but instead go with the obviously much nobler option of a Charlotte Gainsbourg for NARS Multiple stick. Obviously. And - need this be stated? - if in ten years my home resembles a Shoppers Drug Mart parapharmacie aisle, never mind any of what I just said...)

What gets to me about skincare, then, isn't skincare routines themselves (which, again, I get it, even if I don't get it), but the increasing conflation of this one thing with conventional femininity, and more specifically, with a sort of humility. There's this odd shame in not going in for this, in not treating your skin as an ever-perfectable part of yourself. It's as if, if you're not really into skincare these days, it's because you think you're all that, or, conversely, because you don't value yourself enough to establish once and for all, and on your own face, what exactly is a retinoid.

To which one might say, skincare fans aren't asking others to care if they don't! Which, argh, it's tricky. Yes, it's annoying when non-hobbyists, in any area, make a bit thing about their indifference. But it's also the case that baseline expectations on what normal self-presentation requires can ramp up, and that there's this whole industry demanding that women, well, ramp up. And if the only thing that can be said about skincare routines is that it's rude to insult those who have them - which it is - where does that ramping-up stop?

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