Saturday, August 20, 2011


-"When I tossed my self-tanners and reverted to the bluish complexion of my Scottish ancestors, I was free. It was the same liberation I imagine curly-haired women have when they finally reject the straightening iron."

Meh. Try having ancestry that gives you must-wear-sunscreen-constantly pallor and unmanageable hair.

Re: the former, given that any darker than golden and you may find yourself subject to a good bit of racism in the States, the idea that accepting white skin constitutes "liberation" is a bit YPIS. I get that some women and some subcultures go in for tanning, but the idea that if someone doesn't, they're majorly penalized, seems a stretch. I wouldn't mind if I'd gotten the darker-skinned genes from my father's side of the family, not the pale-and-skin-cancer-prone ones from my mother's, but this is less an aesthetic issue and more because there's no such thing as a non-gross sunscreen, and who wants to see a dermatologist?

As for the latter, it's kind of a plus - in this hair-extension era, those of us who've been hearing from hairdressers and more for our entire lives that our naturally-wavy hair's too thick and too voluminous can now think of ourselves as having, for free and with no extra effort, that extra under-layer fine-haired women get at the salon.

-In more hipsters-make-your-food news, are pop-up restaurants the ultimate HMYF phenomenon?

Says Felix Salmon: "Projects like [some pop-up restaurant] feel more like a membership, with overtones of philanthropy. Customers are asked to pay for food and service, but they're also asked to cover many of the business's start-up costs — sometimes literally."

HMYF is always about the diner feeling like the check is actually some kind of charitable donation. Helping young artists! Supporting local agriculture! The diner should if anything feel kinda guilty that the server is serving him food, that the kitchen has made him food, like this was all a really big favor. Mere civility and a decent tip on the part of the diner would be offensive.

And: "[T]he semiotics of pop-up restaurants all scream, This is a great deal. Haphazard service, cheap chairs, liquor-license issues: Diners see these things and think they must be getting a bargain price."

This has been the hot new thing in how expensive clothes are sold since WWPD diligently reported on the matter in 2005. Set a casual atmosphere, and all the angst that normally accompanies treating one's self vanishes, even if the prices remain the same. While it would be a stretch to call Scoop or Intermix hipster, there's something hipsterish about this phenomenon. (Think the trustafarian in haute rags). The vibe has to be such that all diners who could possibly afford it are made to feel too old and square for the experience.

And: "Pop-ups are manufactured scarcity, a perfect draw for New Yorkers' constant desire to find the new new thing."

If that's not HMYF, what is?

-How flattering! Also! While I actually like the fact that my commenters challenge or disagree with me 90% of the time (but could do without the 2% who comment as an outlet for crankiness and a chance to yell, "WRONG"), and find the (food and fashion) blogs where every comment thanks the blogger for being awesome and calls him a genius, a little straightforward I-like-what-you-write-on-the-Internet-for-free-on-breaks-between-organizing-footnotes-on-what-is-at-least-a-solid-rough-draft-of-an-academic-article-to-be-submitted-somewhere-soon is always appreciated.


Katie said...

Feeling bad about being paler-than-pale is all about the culture you're in. White privilege hardly comforts the pasty Nordic teenage soul when you're on a family beach vacation and all of your cousins are tan blonde surfer girls from SoCal. Not a problem the other 99% of the time that you're living in northern climes and reading books instead of surfing, but I can't imagine having to fit into the Jersey Shore at 16.

Whether the pains of being pale growing up on the Jersey Shore are worthy of the NYT is another question, I guess.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


The writer is discussing a "liberation" she experienced as a grown woman, indeed, with motherhood. I can't imagine she was feeling massively pressured by her cohort into using self-tanner. Even she admits that it's basically about a tan being slimming.

But among teens, you're right, "white privilege" is probably of little comfort if you're being told your natural appearance is incredibly unattractive, if everyone around is ethnically-white but golden-brown. I guess that this, much like the teen who's mocked for being too skinny, is one of those problems that seems absurd when you look at it big-picture-wise, but the individual still suffers in the moment.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Also, the more obvious reason for YPIS in this context - she's equating her problems stemming from looking too Scottish with those of women who look too "ethnic" or, well, black, that is, with women who straighten their hair. Not quite the same thing, however much she preferred herself a few shades darker.

Britta said...

Her article reminded me of those women, whenever a conversation on colorism comes up in the black/Indian/East Asian community, who always pipes up that white people have the same thin in reverse over tanning. It's the epitome of Not Getting It. As someone also in the extremely melanin-ly challenged bracket, I suppose I should be someone who empathizes with feeling pasty and exposed on the beach, but these articles just irritate me. I want to shake the author and say "get over yourself." I see your and Katie's point, maybe as a 13 year old this might bring up legitimate angst, but by the time you're 45, you should have learned enough about the world to know that even some white lady problems don't need to take up space in the NY Times.

Also, on the classiness of tanning...I think a good comparison is breast size. Small chested women often feel inadequate, but, there's a golden mean of breast size (which really isn't that large) and much larger than that is considered declasse or tacky. I think tanning is the same. At a high end country club many women will be lightly tanned, but it's better to be paper white than look like you stepped out of Jersey Shore (or Jessica Simpson), just like, if you're hanging out among the social elites, it's better to be ironing-board flat than a 55EE bra size.

Also, on the fitting in with immediate social circle vs. social ideals, I agree that, again, as a kid or teenager, you might not see past your local circle, but even then you might (through advertising) have SOME idea about social norms. This isn't a 100% matching analogy, but I attended an elementary school where ebonics was the prevalent language of the playground, and I got teased a bit (mostly lighthearted) for speaking standard English. Yet even though speaking ebonics might have made recess slightly easier, even as a kid I could recognize that outside my immediate social circle I had a big advantage over my classmates when it came to the rest of the world, and I didn't sweat it too much when I was teased.

I think skinniness is also a factor. I think it is true that being tan makes you look 5 lbs thinner, but if you are very thin, I think there is almost no stigma to being pale, as the pallor of runway models and certain A-list actresses (see: Nicole Kidman) attest to.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I totally agree re: the difference between teen and adult, and I think mentioned that in my first response to Katie. What struck me was the grown-up author's "liberation" when abandoning self-tanner, not her teenaged self acting like, well, a teenager. For a grown woman to write this in the NYT is silly-bordering-on-offensive. The problems of women whose straight hair is too flat, and who are too pale, these are issues to bring up with someone at Sephora.

In terms of having a sense re: the broader world, though, I'm not sure I agree kids have this. Adults, to some extent, depending how cosmopolitan/curious they are, but kids, not really. I mean, if your parents also spoke ebonics, if their friends did, do you think you'd have had the same approach? You probably would have known there were other forms of English out there, from hearing them outside and on TV, but it probably wouldn't have occurred to you to adopt one of those forms for yourself.

Along the same lines, while it's absolutely true that with tanning, as with cup size, at a certain threshold, if "classy" is your goal, you've overshot the mark, that wasn't the goal of this particular NJ teen, because that wasn't what was in among her friends. And I think that's something very typical for kids/teens - if X is considered disgusting in the world of one's parents (that is, same milieu, just older), X is to be embraced. Whether this manifests itself as wearing filthy and worn-out clothes, dyeing one's hair an odd color, or indeed girls coveting a look that screams Glamorous Woman but that would read as tacky on an adult woman, that's just kind of how it goes.

And... as with cup size, there are some settings in which even adult women think a dark tan looks best. These settings are if anything increasing, alongside the newfound idea that what used to be called stripper shoes are, if affixed with the Louboutin red sole indicating a high price, the height of class. The obvious reference here would be the recent British royal wedding, where the shoes and tans alike went standard.

None of this, however, means that someone writing for the NYT is allowed to be that clueless, to write about her own skin color issues without that broader context (i.e. discrimination against blacks) in mind. The remark about this being like accepting one's curly hair really emphasized what was off. So I suppose what I'm getting at is, I sympathize with the author-as-teen, but don't see why this was put in the NYT.

Oh, and re: tans as slimming - I think the idea is also that they hide flaws. Not such an issue for 16-year-old runway models, but for anyone older, veins, cellulite, and the general tendency of thighs to look like thighs, these are things even thin women often wish to disguise. As the Daily Mail never lets us forget, even very slim women, past a certain age (say, 19), might not want to be photographed by paparazzi from behind in a bathing suit.