Monthly Archives: April 2013

Beauty and Power: Girls With Slingshots

There are three webcomics in my RSS feed, and my favorite is Girls With Slingshots (the other two are Dinosaur Comics, which you’ve probably heard of, and Nimona, which you should drop everything and read from the beginning right now). It has an ensemble cast and is fairly humorously self-aware. This post may be coming a little late, because it has a lot of Peiss to it and not so much Morrison, but I just started reading GWS recently, and it has a lot to say about beauty and power. GWS’ main character is named Hazel, and she has (who doesn’t?) an extremely beautiful best friend with extremely substantial breasts. Jamie gets a lot of positive attention for her appearance – in particular, lots of free drinks. (The strip where she goes to a gay bar and finds her “forces…weakening” is unsurprising.) She is definitely aware of it, and in this comic, she even talks about her boobs as something of a resource – a substitute, here, for more income:

We can talk about how this is and/or is not problematic, but I get really interested when Jamie encounters unexpected consequences. In particular, these three strips come after a married man has been sending her flowers:

I came across a link to this particular storyline recently, and I was all about Kathy Peiss and Susan Bordo. The middle strip definitely calls to mind the perceived relationship, which we discussed around Hope in a Jar, of beauty and overall worthiness (see 10-12, for example, for the assumption that outer beauty should reflect inner beauty); it contains the assumption that beauty could not be powerful enough on its own to cause trouble. But the comic immediately following rejects that notion: Jamie’s display of her body automatically draws attention.

Here we get into Bordo: “When female bodies do not efface their femaleness, they may be seen as inviting, ‘flaunting'” (6). Comics are a really great format to exaggerate this: the second Jamie is not wearing a parka, she draws just the attention she has been complaining about.

But it is not that obvious. In the last panel of the last strip, after all, Jamie is drinking a free drink. And this is something that I think ends up being really complicated in Peiss and elsewhere: if beauty is an arbitrarily conferred power, is she supposed to simply reject it? I certainly think she may as well take advantage. Somewhere there is a line, and for me I think it’s between the dependence on physical attractiveness of the winter/coffee comic above and the cynical willingness to take advantage of it in the last strip. To quote Peiss:

“Women who are beautiful or who achieve beauty according to the imposed standards are rewarded; those who cannot or choose not to be beautiful are punished, economically and socially.” (269)

I think I am willing to accept the first clause of that sentence but have a problem with the second. But I’m curious about your perspectives: what is an acceptable leveraging of beauty?

PS This comic has a lot more in it that’s pertinent to this class/blog, though definitely more heavily in the beauty than race category.


Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998).

Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1959).


Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Homemade Natural Beauty

The idealization of natural beauty is very widespread, as we’ve extensively read and discussed in class. A popular phenomenon in the natural beauty realm involves achieving natural beauty using natural products, or things you can find in your kitchen.

The website “Kitchen Beautician” advertises “natural, skin-nourishing body care” that is “paraben-free and formaldehyde-free.” Pinterest is full of DIY homemade beauty products, from a teeth-whitening paste containing baking soda to a liquid containing lemon juice used to soften the legs.


These homemade beauty products call to mind Kathy Peiss’s discussion of them as the first kind of products women used to achieve beauty. Women have used homemade, natural products for centuries, but once beauty products began to be manufactured and were so easy to obtain and use, this trend was expected to decrease. It did not; Peiss writes, “even in the 1920s many women continued to make their own beauty preparations…vinegar, cream, lemon juice and bay rum, or rosewater and white Vaseline went into popular homemade face lotions” (172). More uses of household products included “peroxide and buttermilk to bleach the skin, Vaseline or castor oil to lengthen eyelashes, and witch hazel as an astringent” (172). Instead of using professionally made products that contain chemicals to help improve skin problems, such as salicylic acid to improve acne or alpha hydroxy acids to give anti-aging benefits, many women are turning to their kitchens to care for their skin.

I am wondering why. Every so often, a celebrity will come out and tell a magazine that they use drugstore products or kitchen products to achieve their beauty. This insight into a celebrity’s beauty regime is intended to make the celebrity seem like an average woman, and to make the average woman think that she can achieve the same look.


Recently, Scarlett Johansson told Elle magazine that her secret to luminous skin is splashing apple cider vinegar on her face. According to her, it helps heal skin that is prone to breakouts. She also mentions her use of lemon juice for “lightening,” although it “can be a little bit stinging.” She likes it because “it’s a good trick and it’s natural.” You can read the full interview here:

I do not believe that Scarlett Johansson relies on vinegar and lemon juice as a regular part of her beauty regimen to make herself look the way she does. Sure enough, in an interview with Marie Claire in 2011, she said that she uses Jurlique products on her face, including the face mask and the day cream, one of which costs $70.00 for 50 ml. She also mentioned using Clarin’s HydraQuench Cream Mask, which costs $35.00 for 2.5 ounces.


I think she made the claim about lemon juice and vinegar in an effort to align herself with the natural beauty movement when in fact she, like a lot of other women with disposable income, rely heavily on the chemistry of skin care.

Still, today many women prefer to use homemade remedies to solve beauty problems than to use manufactured products that can contain worrisome chemicals. I think women are still idealizing the natural and are under the illusion that to be completely natural is somehow better.

Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.


Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


“Designed by a redhead, just for redheads”

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 10.06.51 PM

All the makeup that I use comes from a company called Just For Redheads. It’s a small, relatively new company whose products are aimed at a niche market, so I decided to assess its standing as a “modern” cosmetics company through a Peissian lens.

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Peiss writes that “claiming authority through shared experience created a powerful link between producers and customers”[1] and that is certainly part of the marketing strategy of JFR, who slogan is “Finally! Beauty products designed by a redhead, just for redheads!”[2]. Like many of the female entrepreneurs who started cosmetics companies in the early 1900s and “often cited their own bodily trials and tribulations as the reason they had become manufacturers”[3], JFR uses its origin story to establish legitimacy with its customers: after losing a mayoral race in the early 1990s, a redheaded woman named Paula Pennypacker realized that she hated how she looked wearing makeup made for the mass market of blondes and brunettes. She then began to develop her own line of cosmetics to suit redheads like herself.[4] I know this story well, as do many other consumers, and our shared frustration with mass-market makeup products makes us eager to turn to this company that seems to understand our problems.

Once that initial connection has been established, JFR relies on word-of-mouth advertising for new customers, as it’s a mail-order company without a presence in any brick-and-mortar stores. It also doesn’t run any prominent ad campaigns, and unlike with most contemporary cosmetics companies, JFR’s corporate awards and (outdated) celebrity endorsements are tucked away. Many of the newly modern cosmetics companies of the 1920s and 1930s featured celebrities and upper-class women in their advertisements, but Peiss notes that most women relied on the recommendations of friends, neighbors, and saleswomen more than anything else. One Pond’s customer expressed the prevalent sentiment when she said that is was all fine and dandy for a queen to endorse the product, but that she “would be more interested if my next-door neighbor told me what good results she had had.[5]  Decades later, JFR seems to be taking that consumer perspective to heart: all of its “models” are actually just regular customers who submitted photos, and a series of customer testimonials is visible on every page of the website.

Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 12.03.44 PM     Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 12.04.40 PM     Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 12.03.30 PM

Like practically everyone else, JFR emphasizes “natural” beauty through natural ingredients (the sub-slogan is even “Inspired by the natural beauty of Sedona, AZ”), yet they downplay any difference between redheads “by birth” and redheads “by bottle” (or “by choice”, depending on who’s talking). Further showing how “natural” beauty is based on natural-looking cosmetics as least as much as on natural features, JFR’s henna (i.e. hair dye) is marketed as a product that will “Safely Restore, Color and Condition Your Beautiful Hair”.[6] This description doesn’t line up with the early stance that there is a distinction between paints, which “[mask] Nature’s handiwork”, and cosmetics, which “assist Nature, and make amends for her defects”.[7] Instead, the same product is used for both purposes here: some blondes and brunettes use the henna to become new redheads, and some redheads use it to bring back their “natural” color as it fades—one customer wrote “I came into this world a redhead and vow to go out as one!”[8] Although the women themselves will always know what products they use, there is the sense, also prevalent in Peiss, that no one else needs to know how she gives herself that “natural” look (if that’s what she chooses to do).

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Even though JFR doesn’t match all the qualities Peiss identified in successful, early modern cosmetics companies (hello, internet age), a closer look at this contemporary company shows that customers still appreciate certain traits, like the idea of “natural” beauty, a sense that the company understands its customers, and the advice of their peers. When I was younger, I didn’t pay much attention to makeup and neither did my mom, but we are discovering it together through this sense of a JFR community; I wonder if people who use makeup from larger, mass-market brands feel any connection to others who use that same makeup.

[1] Peiss, Hope in a Jar, 78.

[2] Just For Redheads Beauty Products, Inc.

[3] Peiss, Hope in a Jar, 78.

[5] Peiss, Hope in a Jar, 175.

[7] Peiss, Hope in a Jar, 12.

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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Beauty Pageants: We have so much more to say…

Hey Beauty & Race,

As we were preparing to frame and lead tomorrow’s class on beauty pageants with readings from The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity by Sarah Benet-Weiser and Ain’t I a Beauty Queen? by Maxine Leeds Craig, we wanted to provide you guys with some outside media that sprang from our thoughts and research. The readings are complex and we know that there is so much to say, so here are some extras we’d like to share with you all here. Have a look and let us know what you think!

-Lilly, Olivia, Katherine, Elena, Mo


The Miss America Beauty Pageant


Biracial Lesbian Contestant a Trailblazer in Miss South Carolina Beauty Pageant We were particularly interested in the undercurrent of heteronormativity within these beauty pageants. A quick Google search made clear that sexuality is still a touchy subject when it comes to beauty pageants. This article above is on a biracial, lesbian contestant currently running for Miss South Carolina, hoping to head to the Miss America Pageant if all goes well. The article was posted on the 11th of this month.

The Miss America Beauty Pageant For anyone interested in learning more about Miss America, this is the official website for Miss America since 1921. Detailed information can be found here including the year women were crowned, their names, the city and state they were from, as well as their pictures.

Pop Culture & Beauty Pageants

Miss Congeniality Who has not seen this comedy? (We love it.) This film stars Sandra Bullock as an undercover agent who undergoes a beauty makeover in order to compete in the Miss Congeniality beauty pageant. The audience views the shift in attractiveness that radiates from Bullock’s character, as her mentor becomes impressed with her rather than repulsed by her before, and even her colleague becomes romantically engaged. But also, the movie touches comically on the standard beauty pageant format with the swimsuit portion, talent show, questionnaire, hand wave, smile, the “Oh my God, thank you so much!” reaction, etc.

Ain’t I a Beauty Queen touched on some of the ways in which contestants were, in a sense, screened for their answers to particular questions, especially since white women were considered to be apolitical. During the questionnaire scene in this movie, the question asked to each contestant was, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?” to which ALL of the women answered, “World peace.” Bullock’s character goes, “That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan.” Silence. But then, she realizes she has to conform and says, “And, world peace.” Applause.


Children & Beauty Pageants

Little Miss Sunshine An entertaining, bittersweet story about a young girl named Olive who receives a call telling her that she is eligible to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. When seeing the character of Olive, there is a silent understanding between her family members that she is not pretty enough or cut out to be in a beauty pageant, but no one tells her. Her punchy father does not want her to give up on what she wants, so the entire family takes a road trip to the event. But, once they reach the beauty pageant location, they realize that the other contestants are… crazy… and Olive’s family does not want her to be a part of this culture.

Olive is also challenged with the idea of “what is beautiful,” especially in a poignant diner scene where she and her family stop on the road to eat breakfast. She orders a meal that comes with ice cream, and though she is very excited about her treat, her father doesn’t fail to tell her, “So, if you have ice cream, you might become fat, and if you don’t, you’re going to stay nice and skinny, sweetie… Those women in Miss America, are they skinny or are they fat?… I guess they don’t eat a lot of ice cream.” All to which makes Olive sad and want to give up her ice cream.


Toddlers & Tiaras One of the most infamous and controversial reality shows on television. Have you heard of Honey Boo Boo? This show draws much attention and publicity to itself as mothers are seen turning their children into beauty pageant queens at such a young age. The girls are extremely primped, pampered, and competitive while also possessing high amounts of energy. If one is to Google search the title of this show, the first thing to come up is not their advertisements, but of the several photos of contestants who look as though they are real-life ceramic dolls. (But, is that more the work of airbrushing and photoshopping?) What is beauty in their eyes? How far can we take beauty when it comes to girls at such a young age?


Men & Beauty Pageants

The following two grabbed our attention the most. We finally see men!

A Brief History of Mister Universe Whilst not as common as female beauty pageants, men also have their own pageants, the most well-known being Mister World and Mister Universe. Mister Universe was created in 1947 and is a competition for men to show off their muscles. Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most famous title holders, winning Mister Universe four times. Interestingly, the female equivalent is Miss Physique and Ms. Figure, stating that the winner should have a “feminine shape and proportion while retaining a ‘trained look’ and low body-fat levels, but not carrying development nor definition to an extreme.”

Mister Universe

Mr. World Mr. World on the other hand markets itself as “The Search for the World’s Most Desirable Man,” focusing more on the all-around character of the man rather than just on his physical appearance. Contestants are judged and compete in four areas: Talent, Sports, Multimedia, and Fashion & Style. Mr. World is part of the Miss World contest. However, what is so interesting is that the United States does not have a contestant for 2013, yet always has a contestant in Mister Universe.

Comparing the male pageants with female pageants, we see polarized views of masculinity and femininity, highlighting men as masculine and females as feminine. The two pageants also leave little room for deviation away from heterosexuality.

Therefore, as our readings have shown pageants can be both empowering and hurtful for women, in what ways do you think men are subjected to similar feelings? How do these pageants shape men’s views of beauty and manliness?

Mister World


Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Beach Bodies

Relevant to the discussion of advertising and body image:Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 11.49.56 PM

Also this:

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Posted by on April 29, 2013 in Uncategorized


How Grave is the Gaze?



“I embarked on a social experiment: to set up my camera in plain sight and document how the world reacted to me.”

A few days ago a friend posted this link to Facebook. Immediately intrigued by the title- “Pictures of people who mock me”—I took the bait. Without skipping a beat, the subtitle’s phrase “I got my power back” brought a flood of questions to my brain: What power? Whose power? Where did it go? How did she get it back?


Haley Morris-Cafiero describes the premise of her photography project “Wait Watchers” as an attempt to capture the disdainful reactions that her appearance invokes in the general public. She sets up her tripod or cues her assistant and waits in crowded spaces until she captures the images she deems indicative of her social standing—the smirks, the sneers, the mocking gestures.


Upon reading the article, I began to understand what she might mean by this “power.” It was in the gaze. As she explained, “I feel like I am reversing the gaze back on them to reveal their gaze,” I thought of what Foucault had to say about this genre of gaze, as relayed by Susan Bordo: “There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorizing to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over, and against himself.” Morris-Cafiero was trying to capture these social weapons—though she insisted that she was in no way “interiorizing”—writing, “self-criticism is a waste of time.”

Rather, she was in fact gaining power from the incidents. By this empowerment, I inferred, she meant the intellectual power she gained by drawing attention to the phenomenon and creating her art. This brought me to a further class connection: how would she see the relation between beauty’s power and intellectual power? Would she see the greater presence of one indicative of the lack of the other? This reminded me of our discussions of interview attire.

This was not the only question I had. Did the presence of the camera affect the strangers’ behavior? When she wrote, “Self-criticism is a waste of time. I look worse with tons of make up and products in my hair” was she not contradicting herself by criticizing her appearance after the use of beauty tools? Where does she really stand in relation to societal beauty norms, as a white woman of considerable economic class (as a college professor)? And most troubling to me, how could she draw conclusions from pieces of evidence as highly subjective as facial expressions and gestures? Perhaps she interpreted the passing glances, the distracted stares or looks that weren’t even directed at her with much more societal gravity than they really had.

What do you think of her project?


Haley Morris-Cafiero, “Pictures of people who mock me,” Salon, April 23, 2013.

Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1959), 27.


Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


Hmmm… the modeling industry…

CNN Clip: “White Model Made ‘African Queen'”

Being that I am African, I found this CNN News clip particularly interesting. If the media pushes for whiteness as beautiful, why is this model “trying” to exemplify African beauty? I am a bit confused. If blackness is not beautiful, modified blackness in the modeling industry is acceptable?

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Uncategorized