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Beauty Secrets

Beauty Secrets
Article by Jacqueline Houton, Illustrated by Taryn Egan, appeared in issue Loud; published in 2008; filed under Consumer culture; tagged advertising, beauty, beauty products, corporate ickiness, Cosmetic Ingrediet Review, cosmetics, FDA, health, women's magazines.
The New Cosmetic Cover-up

From the pages of every mainstream women's magazine—between the list of 43 things every confident woman knows and the six-week ab-blasting plan—the ads beckon. Conditioners enriched with vitamins vow to make each strand 10 times stronger. Undereye concealers containing white-tea antioxidants claim to combat the cellular damage that deepens those oh-so-unsightly dark circles. Pricey foundations promise to rejuvenate the face at the molecular level with the new Pro-Xylane compound, carefully extracted from Eastern European beech trees. These days, more and more personal care products are promising to harness the power of nature to beautify us from the inside out. Makeup doesn't merely make us look good, we're told—now it's good for us, too.

There's more to the trend than just a general increase in health consciousness and green chic. These marketing maneuvers are, in part, calculated responses to consumers' growing desire to soap up and make up both safely and ethically. And who can blame them, when news outlets buzz with scary facts and figures? Consider the headlines from last fall, when the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics—a coalition of environmental, health, and women's advocacy groups—had 33 name-brand lipsticks tested at an independent laboratory. The results were unsettling enough to wipe the glossy grin off anyone's face: Fully one-third contained lead at levels exceeding the FDA's o.1 ppm (parts per million) limit for candy. The Personal Care Products Council, the trade group representing more than 600 of the beauty biz's biggest names, responded by insisting that any suspect substances in their products occur at quantities too small to cause harm—even if the medical community agrees that there's no such thing as a "safe" blood level for the highly toxic metal. But the widely reported lipstick story may be one of the milder manifestations of products that mix beauty with danger. When it comes to cosmetics, women's health is getting the kiss-off.


Makeup menaces are nothing new: Some Elizabethan enchantresses died for their love of white lead–laced face powder, and Victorian vamps used deadly nightshade to lend their eyes an alluring glow. But today, when a $50-billion cosmetics industry has replaced apothecaries and home brewers, we expect the FDA to protect the public from dangerous beauty aids. Yet while its name might lead us to think otherwise, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act gives the FDA far more regulatory power over food additives and drugs than over cosmetics; the agency isn't authorized to approve cosmetic products or ingredients before they hit the shelves. Manufacturers are under no legal obligation to register with the FDA, file data on ingredient safety, or report injuries caused by their products. The European Union has banned 1,132 known or suspected carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins from use in cosmetics, but only 10 such chemicals are banned in the United States, leaving us with mercury in mascara, petrochemicals in perfumes, and parabens in antiperspirants. And just as none of the offending lipsticks' labels indicated the presence of lead, the FDA allows potentially hazardous chemicals like phthalates—industrial solvents linked to birth defects in boys' reproductive systems and premature puberty in girls—to slip into ingredient lists under the umbrella term "fragrance." 


This lack of oversight allows the cosmetics industry to create its own definitions of safety. The prevailing standard is to test new products for short-term reactions—that means your foundation is deemed safe if it doesn't turn your skin green when applied as directed. But the trials reveal nothing about the long-term effects of daily exposure or the combined interaction of multiple products. 


It gets worse. Only 11 percent of the 10,000-plus ingredients used in personal care products have been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, the safety panel established and funded by the Personal Care Products Council that—conflict of interest be damned—is the primary source of information for the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors. The industry touts the CIR as a scrupulous safeguard that renders outside oversight unnecessary, but in the more than three decades since it was founded, the panel has deemed a scant nine ingredients unsafe. And manufacturers aren't even under any obligation to follow the CIR's recommendations—one of the nasty nine, the likely carcinogen hydroxyanisole, is still found in Porcelana skin cream, for instance. 


Our worries about such chemicals have actually become a boon to corporations. Sales in the natural and organic sector have seen double-digit growth annually for at least the past five years, far outpacing the industry as a whole. The last two years alone have seen L'Oréal, Colgate, and Clorox pay hundreds of millions to acquire such natural-beauty stalwarts as The Body Shop, Tom's of Maine, and Burt's Bees, respectively. But more than a few cosmetics manufacturers are playing fast and loose with terms like "organic," a word that can legally appear on personal care products containing only 1 percent certified organic contents. Some companies even use the chemical definition of the word rather than the agricultural one, so any ingredient containing carbon-based molecules gets the label. Other benign-sounding buzzwords, like the ubiquitous "natural," can be slapped on anything, since the FDA doesn't regulate their use in beauty marketing. 


Cosmetics ads that co-opt such language seek to assuage safety concerns while capitalizing on them, convincing buyers that the two concepts aren't just compatible, but codependent—thus commercials for phenol- and paraben-filled ChapStick croon, "Healthy lips should never go naked." Elsewhere, a burgeoning number of "cosmeceuticals" promise to deliver that therapeutic vitamin E deeper via nanoparticles, but their health claims are similarly skin-deep. The FDA says nanoparticles exhibit "increased chemical and biological activity," and preliminary research in this largely uncharted field suggests that, when nanoized, even ordinarily benign ingredients might catalyze dna and organ damage. Yet companies like L'Oréal—which ranks sixth among U.S. nanotechnology patent holders—are filling their products with nanoparticles before the safety data comes in, often without giving notice on the label. 


Such marketing moves have been fueled by intensifying scrutiny of the cosmetics industry by mainstream media. A LexisNexis search reveals fewer than 10 stories about potential health hazards posed by cosmetics in U.S. newspapers in 1997; in 2007, there were more than 100, with feature stories running in the New York Times, the L.A. Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post, not to mention television, public radio, and online coverage. But while magazines like Ms. and Pink have run in-depth reports on cosmetics-safety issues, the mass-market women's glossies have largely sidestepped such discussions. And when they do address safety, they usually forgo systemic issues such as regulation and marketing for a strictly are-they-or-aren't-they-dangerous approach. One can guess what verdict is most often delivered. 


Consider "If Looks Could Kill," an article from the March 2007 issue of O magazine that describes the CIR as "a group of scientists and physicians responsible for assessing the safety of cosmetic ingredients in the United States"—failing to mention that the panel reviews only a small fraction of ingredients, conducts no testing itself, focuses almost exclusively on short-term reactions, and is funded by an industry trade group with a vested financial interest in dispelling safety concerns. The piece quotes the panel's chair, who states, "Any and all potential carcinogenic ingredients in hair dyes were removed from the market years ago," and reinforces his words by noting that "manufacturers voluntarily removed" coal tar derivatives from hair dye decades ago. In fact, coal tar derivatives are still used in hundreds of hair colorants—especially in darker dyes aimed at women of color—and multiple recent studies have shown a significantly increased risk of bladder cancer among women who use the dyes frequently, as well as the stylists who work with them. 


In other words, not much has changed since the late 19th century, when Ladies' Home Journal publisher Cyrus Curtis made it clear that readers were not the magazine's real customers, querying an audience of advertisers, "Do you know why we publish the Ladies' Home Journal? The editor thinks it is for the benefit of the American woman… The real reason, the publisher's reason, is to give you people who manufacture things that American women want and buy a chance to tell them about your products." With some of the industry's lowest subscription prices and highest production costs, today's women's magazines are still totally dependent on advertising revenue. But devoting two-thirds of their pages to ads isn't enough when it comes to courting cosmetics companies. Magazines like Allure and Essence actually conduct market research for them, and the expectation that such glossies will provide complementary copy is a given—if they don't want to suffer the same punishment Ms. did when its brief report about congressional hearings on hair-dye safety in the late 1980s prompted Clairol to withdraw all its ads. In this context, even vaguely critical articles may be considered a threat to such ad-heavy publications' survival, especially since cosmetics represent the top magazine-ad category in the United States.


Though women's magazines may be giving cosmetics companies a free pass, there is evidence that the special status enjoyed by the industry is being challenged. On January 1, 2007, the California Safe Cosmetic Act of 2005 went into effect, forcing cosmetics companies to disclose when products contain any ingredient on governmental lists of harmful chemicals. This landmark legislation also authorizes the state to launch its own investigations into ingredient safety and requires manufacturers to supply their health effects data. Other states are following California's lead: In December, Minnesota became the first state to ban mercury from cosmetics, and similar legislation is currently in committee in Washington. 


Such developments put the Personal Care Products Council on the defensive. As a 2005 Breast Cancer Fund report revealed, the trade group spent $600,000 lobbying against the California bill's passage. Hoping to divert web surfers from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website (safecosmetics.org), the trade group even launched the similar-sounding cosmeticsaresafe.org to claim that California's cosmetics were already "the safest in the world." The Council has also expanded its pr team, hosted "Fragrance Days" on Capitol Hill to ply legislators with Armani and Dior perfumes, and last November jettisoned its old name, the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association. With the name change came a new slogan ("Committed to safety, quality, and innovation") and a new neutral-sounding website geared to consumers (cosmeticsinfo.org) that touts the safety of cosmetics—even as the lengthy disclaimer disavows any claim to the completeness or accuracy of the site's assertions. Safety comes first in the Council's new catchphrase, but the group's resistance to all nonvoluntary regulation makes it hard to believe it has nothing to hide. 


Ironically, the charitable cause of choice for the major cosmetics companies, from Avon to Mary Kay to Revlon, just happens to be breast cancer—the now-famed pink-ribbon campaign was first popularized by an Estée Lauder insert in Self magazine. It's a state of affairs that leads to some mighty mixed messages. For almost two decades, the Personal Care Products Council has sponsored the American Cancer Society's Look Good…Feel Better campaign, which offers free cosmetics kits and beauty workshops to patients who've undergone chemotherapy and radiation. This program has inspired many a feel-good story in mags like Women's Wear Daily and takes an empowering mantra as its tagline: "For women in cancer treatment. And in charge of their lives." But being in charge of our lives should also mean being able to make informed decisions about the products we buy. While many women surely appreciate the program, they might also "feel better" knowing that their free makeup bag doesn't contain ingredients known to be carcinogenic—and knowing that the American Cancer Society's near-silence on environmental causes of cancer doesn't have anything to do with the financial support it receives from cosmetics companies and chemical corporations. 


The cosmetics industry may be trying its best to avoid transparency, but concerned women now have more tools to help them slice through the spin. Thanks to the Internet, it's easier than ever to find information on the polysyllables in tiny print on the backs of bottles and tubes. The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database compares the ingredients in more than 30,000 products against 50 toxicity and regulatory databases, and even Wikipedia offers links to peer-reviewed studies on ingredient safety. Watchdog groups like the Organic Consumers Association out products that are natural in name only, and grassroots organizations like Teens for Safe Cosmetics are lobbying legislators for tougher laws. And there are heartening moves from within the industry as well. Six hundred companies have signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics compact, pledging to remove toxic chemicals from their products, and in May the consumer-advocacy nonprofit Natural Products Association announced that a new seal will soon start appearing on products that are made from at least 95 percent natural ingredients and that are free from ingredients suspected of carrying human health risks. Such developments offer hope that the cosmetics industry can one day be forced to recognize that women's health merits more than just lip service. 


Jacqueline Houton is a writer and editor who lives in Cambridge, Mass. She recently earned her Master's in Writing & Publishing from Emerson College.

Comments

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Thank you. I had absolutley

Thank you. I had absolutley no idea that there could be so many crappy things in my makeup. I think it's time to chuck some chemical laden crap out the window.

Not just cosmetics

Thanks for this article. It raises some great questions. I began my own research on cosmetic ingredients after a friend became a Mary Kay consultant and I wanted to give her a solid answer on why I didn't want to buy cosmetics from her. (In addition to explaining that I rarely use them.) She suggested the skin care line instead. I came home and found that many of these ingredients that haven't been sufficiently tested are in nearly everything I use: sunblock, face wash, mouthwash, and more, for many brands, including those that meet my other criteria (such as being cruelty-free). So, my search for safe products continues, even the ones that aren't intended to change the way I look. Does anyone have any insights into that question?

safe product resources

Thanks, Bitch for this wonderful article. I work for the Breast Cancer Fund, a founding member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and I am also a long time Bitch reader. It's great not only to see the place where I work mentioned in my favorite 'zine, but also to see that you realize that the safety of women's products can be and is a feminist issue.

Celeste, in response to your question, I wanted to direct you to the Skin Deep cosmetics safety database. Here you can look up iover 25,000 products and see a report on their safety and the toxicity of each of their ingredients. All items are scored 0-10 (0 is safest) and you can look for safer alternatives to all of your personal care products from makeup to toothpaste to shampoo to sunscreen. Just Google "Skin Deep" to find it.

I would also recommend Stacy Malkan's book "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry" for more info and for the history of the incredible movement that has been safe cosmetics.

Not Just Cosmetics

Celeste Grace, I suggest you take a look at pinktruth.com, and try to have your friend take a look at it as well. It's a cold hard look at the Mary Kay empire, and it's not pretty. Essentially, the Mary Kay empire is a pyramid scheme, and it preys on the women who are its "consultants". Your friend is going to spend much more money on products and on going to mandatory meetings than she will ever, ever make as a consultant. As a company, Mary Kay is utterly unethical; as far as their products go, they are expensive for what they are: cheap, grainy, gritty, and much more likely than not to cause a painful reaction in the consumer.

As far as information on safe products is concerned, I recommend "Don't Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me," by Paula Begoun. She has been updating this extremely useful guide for years, and I have personally found it very handy. There is also “A Consumer's Dictionary Of Cosmetic Ingredients: Complete Information About The Harmful And Desirable Ingredients Found In Cosmetics And Cosmeceuticals,” by Ruth Winter, which I have not yet had a chance to read.

Homecures

I've found the best way to go as far as daily needs is somewhat holistic. Making your own make-up, mouth wash, ect. That way you always know exactly what you are putting on and in yourself. It may seem like the process is time consuming and costly, but sometimes more will eventually be less. Cancer treatments aren't exactly inexpensive, and they are even more time consuming. Just a few things to consider.

There are companies that

There are companies that have ethics, you just have to know where to look.

>.>

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safe product companies

I have been using safe and healthy products from Neways Int, for over 12 years, with no problems except great looking skin and cosmetics, without harmful ingedients. They have been manfacturing green products for over 23 years. Endorsed by Dr. Samuel Epstein, Cancer Prevention Coalition. Dr. Epstein's newest book "Toxic Beauty", about the beauty industry, 2009. To see the Neways products http://positivehealthyliving.ineways.com

A valuable resource for makeup-lovin' gals

Thank you, Bitch, for highlighting an industry that makes billions off of women, while feeding us lies and potentially hurting our health. I'd like to add my two cents and hopefully spread some information that vastly changed my relationship with the products I put on my skin and hair.

As a feminist and makeup enthusiast, my consumption of beauty products has never been easy. I want to be an informed consumer, even of eye shadow. A year ago I learned of Paula Begouin, a makeup artist and independent reviewer of the industry and its claims. I hopped to the library and devoured her book The Beauty Bible, then ran to the bookstore and bought Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me. My mascara'd eyes were opened and shocked.

As the article says, nothing in cosmetics/skin-care claims is quantifiable or qualifiable. If it says "dermatologist tested," that could mean as little as the company paying its on-staff dermatolgist to put the product on someone's skin and to watch the effects. If you're trying to thwart acne or blackheads, don't get sucked in by "noncomedogenic." The company might have put the product on someone who has never had acne, washed it off, and found "It didn't clog pores!" Phrases like "for sensitive skin" and "hypoallergenic" also mean nothing. Again, the on-staff dermatologist might have left the product on someone with hardy skin for 2 minutes and remarked, "No rash!", thus deeming the product "hypoallergenic."

If Bitch's article has made you want to learn more about what you put near your eyes and mouth, check out your library for Paula Begouin's books. Even easier - check out the free dictionary of skin- and hair-product ingredients on her website http://www.cosmeticscop.com/cosmetic-ingredient-dictionary.aspx. Get out your magnifying glass and enjoy the read. Oh, and have a garbage bin handy.

A women's magazine that cares

At Natural Solutions magazine, we actually take quite a bit of pride in taking on the big cosmetic companies, while also offering safe alternative products. In fact, we just released our Beauty With a Conscience Awards (www.naturalsolutionsmag.com/go/beauty) in October in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But unlike many cosmetic companies, we take that association seriously and refuse to promote products that actually might PROMOTE cancer.

I'm glad Bitch has taking this up as a women's health issue as well, and hopefully we can expect to see more regulation on what counts as natural and organic.

Burt's Bees

Clorox bought Burt's Bees? Nothing is sacred anymore! Truthfully, I did not know that and find it really scary that the one cosmetic I thought was safe was bought by an industrial conglomerate. Back to step one, to look around again after so many years.

Seriously.

I was majorly bummed when I read that...it seems like all my favorite small companies are selling out :(

On a different note, great article. Even though I don't wear makeup, I realize now it's important for me to acknowledge the potential dangers from other products I use, such as lotion or deodorant.

Also upset about Burt's Bees

And Tom's of Maine! These are two brands that I've trusted and thought would be at least LESS toxic than mainstream brands. Now Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate? And I find it a bit frightening that BB is owned by a *cleaning supply* company. Ugh... what now? I'm certainly bookmarking the EWG Skin Deep database...

well done

far out finally woman can be educated about all this stuff! i dont think people realise how harmful this stuff is, anything u put on ur skin or hair is absorbed into ur blood stream and its not like u can get rid of heavy metals they build up in cells causing SEROIUS dmage. we need to stop putting chemicals into our bodies, this includes our food. start reading lables people!!!!!

Hair Dyes Are Scary!

This article clearly illustrates why every consumer must take charge of her/his safety as nobody else will! Reading labels and articles like this one is vital to educating oneself on so many levels

Regarding hair dyes, there are many unpleasant and potentially very harmful chemicals in these products, even the products you find in natural products stores.

There is a company that produces a line of permanent hair colors that is completely free of harmful chemicals like PPD, ammonia, resorcinol, pthalates, coal tar dyes, amines, etc. The company is called Advanced Cosmetic Technologies and you can find them at www.actnaturals.com

They are not currently available in places like Whole Foods Market, but do ask them to look into it!

They are salon quality and actually leave your hair beautifully conditioned! They are the only company in the world with this innovative and revolutionary technology!

Take a look and color away!!

This is an important issue,

This is an important issue, but unfortunately the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is pushing for federal legislation that would require all cosmetics to be tested on animals. As a vegan and animal lover, I work hard to find products that are not tested on animals and that don't include animal products. Forcing companies to test on animals will not only cause suffering to millions of animals, it will take away options for consumers like me who want products that are not produced through cruelty to animals. Cosmetics are not food and they are not medications or drugs, they are purely superficial and optional. Although companies need to be held responsible for what they manufacture, animals do not deserve to suffer and die and a result of human superficiality.

I work for a small cosmetics

I work for a small cosmetics company called Cuberry (sorry for the self-promotion) that uses absolutely no chemicals, talc, additives .. etc. We are one of the only ones in the industry - as there are no big-name cosmetic companies that will ever do this. I can personally profess on how bitchy magazines are - they will only feature you if you pay for advertising.

On top of that - no one - and I mean NO ONE talks about how talc can be carcinogenic in certain women, about how formaldehyde is the single most retarded thing to put in eye makeup (I wouldn't even recommend the cancer for high school disections, but that's just me!) The list goes on and on and on.

The worst part is - women don't believe us. They feel like these big companies are their friend or something. They won't believe that they're really put that junk in their makeup. OH, that's just in the dollar store Makeup.

Sorry about the rant.

I've just discovered this site a couple weeks ago and I think I'm in love with it.

Working in the fashion/cosmetics industry has made me have to turn my brain on "sleep" mode.

I am really devoted to the company I work at, and I hope it and others like it will rise up and be exposed for their good practices.

In the mean time, we're up against Carmen Electra and her sexy poses in carcinogenic eyeshadow - yum.

Chemicals in makeup

So... If you're selling chemical-free makeup, does that mean you're selling empty boxes? :P

Seriously... Everything is chemicals. Water is a chemical. The air you breathe is a mix of them. Learn the difference and advertise more truthfully. If your makeup is chemical-free that simply means you're selling boxes and bottles with nothing in them. Maybe the reason noone else in the industry does this is because they are more interested in selling a product than a non-product? Dishonest advertising serves noone.

Also, on talc... http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12383717 Check out this one ^^

Yours,
a science crusader, hooked on chemistry.

Safe Cosmetics

This is a very timely topic. Consumers have phenomenal power. Technology, knowledge and communication makes it so. Brands that fail to read what consumers want and need fail big time. Look at what happened to the cigarette industry.
There is a company in Ireland called Creme ( cremesoftware.com) that created a software solution that actually can determine the impact of chemicals on consumers.
Regardless of age, gender, location, ethnicity, diet, this technology can not only shed light on the impact of chemicals, but can also be deployed to highlight nutritional deficiencies within population sub-groups, helping to remove disease, obesity and under-nutrition.

There is absolutely no reason why any ingredient within the food or cosmetic industry should be harmful when this type of facility is available in 2009.

Why add more?

Yes water is a chemical, salt is a chemical, everything does consist of chemicals. However water is actually good for people. It’s a good chemical. Too much salt is bad, but people need a certain level of it so it is good to keep that level. There are harsh chemicals in the air we breathe so tell me one thing. Why would we as women ingest all these chemicals, some good, some bad- and some unavoidable, use even more harsh chemicals when we don’t have to. There is nothing wrong with complaining about chemicals in make up because if we complain and there are newscasts and articles about how there are bad chemicals in makeup, then the industry will make sure that they try to compensate lost sales by giving people what they want- healthier makeup. If the people buying and wearing the makeup won’t care, then the people making it won’t either. This is a great article.

Are you KIDDING??? You're

Are you KIDDING??? You're SO missing the point. It's this culture of working so hard to please men and society that needs to go - we don't need to be promoting "safe" cosmetics.

A guy wakes up, brushes his teeth, jumps in the shower, throws on some clothes and off he goes.

A woman on the other hand isn't enough the way she is. She has to primp and torture herself from head to toe because society has programmed us (and the men around her) to believe that our main purpose is to be eye candy. We shampoo and condition and blow dry and straighten and curl and pomade and mousse and style and layer and highlight our hair. We pluck our brows and bleach and wax and moisturize and smooth firm and tighten skin and reduce pores and even tone and reduce puffiness under eyes and dark circles under eyes and I haven't even gotten to makeup yet. We pore over matching makeup complexion and day looks and evening looks and the hottest color of the season and mascara clumping and lengthening and adding volume and fake lashes and eyeliners and eye shadow and concealers and lipsticks and lipliners and lip glosses and shiny and longlasting and blushes and bronzes and powder and liquid and foundations and caking and oily and shiny and fading and overdoing. And that's just the face up. Then we wax and shave everything from our legs and underarms to our crotches and upperlips. Add on the carefully done manicures and pedicures and that just takes care of the naked body. Of course, none of us wants to commit the heinous crime of wearing clothes that are from last season or god forbid don't go together, gasp! Or you already wore last month, double gasp!! The clothes better be tight enough so as to put our bodies on display but just enough under the line so that we aren't called that favorite double standard word of mine - slut. Now the accessories - the right earrings for the outfit, the perfect necklace, and rings, bracelets, whatever - we all know accessories make the woman! Don't forget those 4 inch heels that will not only slow you down, be painful and cause health issues because commercial america has hammered into us that for one to be a woman, she MUST collect (and of course wear) shoes.

Notice I didn't even touch botox and plastic surgery!

We teach our young girls (and boys) that this is what it is to be a woman and the best part? We've brainwashed them into thinking that this is liberation. And go BitchMag for feeding right into it! Kudos to you!!

Here's a challenge,

Here's a challenge, ladies:

All I'm asking is for you to do what BILLIONS of guys AROUND THE WORLD do EVERYDAY without SECOND THOUGHT - just for one day, wake up, brush your teeth, quickly jump in the shower, throw your hair up in a pony, grab some clothes and head out wearing shorts and not shaving your legs and a shirt that shows your unshaved underarm hair. Are you confident enough to do this? Are you worthy just the way you are?

Worthy

More often than not, I roll out of bed, brush my wild hair into submission in a ponytail, put on clothes, and leave the house. That's all I need to do if I'm in a hurry. The other days, I ENJOY getting ready for my day, and wearing make-up, curling my hair, doing something different. Expressing myself with my clothes and make-up. I wear bright colors, I consider how they look, if I like them, if some one else might like them. I shave my legs because it feels nice on my sheets, and I shave my cunt because it feels better when I'm having sex.
I am so sick of women like you who decide, that because you want to live your life without participating in main stream beauty habits you are better than us. I don't use make-up becuase I doubt my worth. I don't shave becasue a man told me to. I do it because I LIKE IT!!!!! I am just as empowered as you, I just do it in heels now and again. In case you're doubting my feminist credentials, I work in an all women social service agency, I volunteer for this mag, and I have a master's in women's studies. Quit telling people how to live their lives, it is beyond hypocritical. I don't care what you wear, what you shave, what skin care you use. Why do you care so much about what other women choose to do? We are not all simpletons being prayed on by the massive beauty industry.
Thank you Bitch, for publishing an article that helps those of us who want to wear a little blush no and again, know what products they are using.

Bravo!

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Ugh, thank you!

Ugh, thank you!

Worthy

More often than not, I roll out of bed, brush my wild hair into submission in a ponytail, put on clothes, and leave the house. That's all I need to do if I'm in a hurry. The other days, I ENJOY getting ready for my day, and wearing make-up, curling my hair, doing something different. Expressing myself with my clothes and make-up. I wear bright colors, I consider how they look, if I like them, if some one else might like them. I shave my legs because it feels nice on my sheets, and I shave my cunt because it feels better when I'm having sex.
I am so sick of women like you who decide, that because you want to live your life without participating in main stream beauty habits you are better than us. I don't use make-up becuase I doubt my worth. I don't shave becasue a man told me to. I do it because I LIKE IT!!!!! I am just as empowered as you, I just do it in heels now and again. In case you're doubting my feminist credentials, I work in an all women social service agency, I volunteer for this mag, and I have a master's in women's studies. Quit telling people how to live their lives, it is beyond hypocritical. I don't care what you wear, what you shave, what skin care you use. Why do you care so much about what other women choose to do? We are not all simpletons being prayed on by the massive beauty industry.
Thank you Bitch, for publishing an article that helps those of us who want to wear a little blush no and again, know what products they are using.

You prove my point well.

You prove my point well. Our parents and the society that feed you and clothe you and educate you bombard you with millions and millions and millions of messages throughout your life - some aimed at you and some we model based on what we see. Kids imitate what they see; what they come to define as normal is what they've seen authority figures look like, behave, and do. As babies and kids, we're sponges unconsciously soaking up every bit of information that comes from our periphery. It's almost impossible to fathom that the subtly harmful could ever emanate from this environment that we so cherish. I'm sure you're aware of the astounding behavioral differences of children who were locked up for a majority of their lives, of how various communities fight till death of what they've been taught as being right, and simply how cultures differ all around the world based on how that society has enculturated its members. Simply put, you're a product of your society. As animals, there are only a core set of things we inherently like; most things we think we like are actually conditioned thoughts, attitudes and behaviors signaled to us by society. Our brains are unfathomably intricate and indescribably impressive. That's why no robot comes anywhere near what humans can do. We react instantaneously to every nuanced situation based on an arsenal of social cues and historical memory we've accumulated throughout our lives (and so many things I can't explain or understand) - but most miraculously, we respond without ever being aware of how or why we reacted the way we did or made the decisions we made.

Around the world and over the ages, beauty standards are not only varied widely but are at odds with each other. I can go into a bit of detail here but for now I won't. My point isn't that a you shave because a guy told you to - if you notice, I blame society in general, not boys and men alone. My point is that the only reason you even THINK to shave your legs is because society told you to and most rituals in society (some directly and some indirectly) are set up to benefit men and disadvantage women. And I don't think you're being honest with either yourself or anyone else when you say that you shave your legs because it feels nice on your sheets. In fact, after repeated shaving, hair looks and feels different - the hair becomes more stubbled, grows away from its natural grain and gets coarser - at which point shaving is like a drug: you have to keep shaving in order for it to feel ok and look ok. Whatever "benefit" you end up "feeling" at that point is no better than the benefit you would have gotten if you'd never shaved at all. And if it were true that shaving legs "feels good" then believe you me, guys would be shaving up the wazoo - certainly society would have jumped at availing guys all the benefits. And this goes for every other beauty ritual you've mentioned you do because it makes you feel good. Just because some women decide to follow traditions and perpetuate myths does not make them any less manipulated by society (please note here that I don't argue that everything done by society is done intentionally to harm. Many, like yourself, perpetuate harm thinking that they're enlightened). Many things we, in western society, claim to be human rights violations of women are carried out by women of that society who've been conditioned to believe what they do is perfectly fine.

Again, I say, if you feel truly worthy of yourself as you are, and the only reason you shave your legs is because it feels good on your sheets, and you're truly liberated, then you should have no problems going out in your shorts and unshaven legs.

Check out these two links in Newsweek:

http://www.newsweek.com/id/188663

http://www.newsweek.com/id/191247

But

But some men, even straight ones, shave more than just the hair on their faces. Not to mention getting waxed.

You may have a point.

You may have a point. Cultural programing is a powerful thing. Centuries ago I imagine there were plenty of women who claimed to enjoy foot binding or tooth filing. That said, I'm not throwing out my lip gloss.

Right idea, wrong target

I agree with you re: our culture of women's "beauty", but I don't think berating women who buy into it is going to be an effective way of changing anything. The problem is with the culture, not with the behavior of individual women. There are noticeable rewards for meeting certain standards, and punishments for deviating too far from them. You can't blame women for noticing this (consciously or not) and considering it when they choose how to present themselves. That ignores the real root of the problem and alienates the women you're trying to free.

It's not "professional" for a woman in most offices to put an equal amount of effort into her appearance as her male colleagues. Women who don't shave, wear makeup/pretty clothes, diet, et al are deemed ugly, and have a much smaller chance at finding a mate than women who do.* Women who aren't up to snuff are consistently belittled for it. As a result, you'd be hard-pressed to find a woman who doesn't perform at least some aspects of femininity, if not in her appearance then in her behavior. Sometimes it's nicer to pretend that those choices are made in a vacuum... thinking about the alternative is depressing. But if we removed the incentives for performing femininity, dollars to donuts, the number of women who did it because they enjoyed it would decrease dramatically. And we'd do it without shaming women for making less-than-perfect choices in a society where all we have to choose from are less-than-perfect options.

* Although I have to wonder whether the mates they're missing out on are worth having, considering their attitudes towards women. I think I'd rather stay single but YMMV.

You prove your own point well.

We are each a product of our environment - of the particualar experiences we have had, of the culture we grew up in, of what behaviors were reinforced and the genetics our parents passed down to us. You are no different. One side is not "right". YOU are not the way you are because of some superior knowledge or heightened awareness. You are the way you are because of the conditions of reinforcement and punishment in your life. So, don't shave your legs if it is not pleasing to you. Don't wash your hair if you find it "empowering" to not spend the time. But don't pretend your particular tendencies are a symbol of your strength or enlightenment. The "truth" of all of it is that each of us does what we find gratifying and repeat behaviors that are reinforced. In different cultures and in different social circles, these behaviors can vary widely, but it is done all for the same reasons and you and your behaviors are no exception.

Agree and Disagree

I agree with you about this for most women the reason they do all these things to their appearance is because they have been conditioned by society but I also agree with the other side of the argument. The reason I shave my cunt is really because the hair rubs against my clit and I am sensitive so it hurts. I wear make-up and do my hair sometimes when I feel like it and I also enjoy shopping for beautiful clothing and accessories.
I am of the position that it is not bad to shave, wear makeup, do your hair, and enjoy shopping for clothes and accessories as long as it is truly for your own comfort or enjoyment. I enjoy wearing make-up and beautiful clothing because it allows me to express myself as I have a very artistic and creative personality. I like to enhance my beauty and show the world my personality from the inside out.
If you look at this argument from the other way you could feel sorry for men and feel empowered in being a woman by being able to alter your appearance however you deem fit and not be labeled "girly, fag, ect". We have so many more choices when it comes to enhancing our beauty (this should not be confused with creating our beauty) and to me this seems like a great creative and personal outlet to express ourselves.

However like I said its sad how a lot of women don't view cosmetics and fashion this way and that is how we should promote their use instead of simply persecuting them and telling them to completely eliminate them altogether.

Challenge

It's easy enough to not use huge amounts of make-up. I wear eyeliner maybe once a month, no foundation or blush or lip colour. I tend to not bother shaving my legs. I wash with soap, shower when I need to shampoo and condition my hair, and then put my hair in a bun to keep it out of the way and tidy. Simple.

Great article, very thought provoking.

Worthy

Uhh, yeah. I am. Really? Is it that hard? I do it more often than not. And Shave only rarely. basically 60% of my "life" is based on, am I clean and my hair not tangled? I own makeup, I shave occassionally. But its more for me than anything else. Yes I know women say that all the time, but really, I shave my legs when the dry skin get out of control. I shave my pits when it starts to tangle. I wear make up when I want to, and then its only because its fun. If I have abig meeting or a date or whatever, I shower, brush teeth, brush hair, make sure my clothes are tidy. Anything more than that happens only if I have the time and want to.

Now, I am not a pretty girl. Im fat. Maybe its just because of that.. But srsly? Is it really so hard to leave the house at the "guy level"?

Your fabulous article all put together with all the right words

I commend you for writing the the best article on the subject of dangerous and carcinogenic chemicals in everyday used products. I have been researching this area for over 25 years (even before computers came into play), and have gathered a lot of this information on my website www.publicsright2know.org.
I became Director of the Cancer Prevention Coalition over 12 years ago to be able to share this information with the public, as a Public Health and Cancer Prevention Educator.
Your article contains mostly all of the information that has been uploaded into our information highway. I totally applaud you for this. I am going to put your article up on my website, even though its from 2008.
The readers have to understand one thing though. The Environmental Working Group and their basis for carcinogenic activity with each ingredient, is based on "full strength dosage" of the chemical in question. This is out of balance with what manufacturers actually use in their formulations, sometimes as low as 1%, 2%, as in preservatives. This information has to be taken with a grain of salt (so to speak), because even "aloe vera"
is flagged as dangerous on their website, and many "organic companies" products are also flagged, even though they are not using any dangerous chemicals. Again basing their readings on perhaps just one study of full strength usage.

sorry gave wrong url to Toxic Beauty Dr. Samuel Epstein

Dr. Samuel Epstein, Founder of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, author of Safe Shoppers Bible, Politics of Cancer, Unreasonable Risk, Whats in Your Milk, newest book "Toxic Beauty, 2009". Read and order it here
www.healthy-communications.com/epstein-toxicbeauty.htm

Dangerous Skin Care

Today I was writing about Elizabethan era beauty secrets that involved the use of mercury, lead, and urine to achieve a certain skin tone or hair color. Here I am thinking that things are so much better today, but it's not. It's disturbing that the entire cosmetics industry is unregulated. I have heard that the ingredients in a lot of skin care products actually contain similar ingredients to the oil we use in our cars. Particularly concerning since the things we put on our skin is absorbed into the blood stream.

misinformation

this article does nothing but spread scientific misinformation. saying that cosmetics cause breast cancer is a form of victim blaming. "well if she didnt use cosmetics she wouldnt have gotten cancer" attitude thats so prevalent. "organic/natural" cosmetics are much more expensive therefore i find it elitist that a feminist magazine is recommending CFSC when every single product they recommend is extremely expensive. the ingredients in the big beauty brands like P&G are much more thoroughly tested for safety that anything the small "natural" companies promote. no cosmetic can be without chemicals as a previous commenter said. writing articles like this and your more recent one called fertile ground is discriminatory and cites no resources. organic cosmetics are more dangerous and allergenic than synthetics. articles like this are as damaging as the obesity "epidemic" that pervades the mainstream media to distract from the injustices that take place everyday. this is a good blog for research because its run by real cosmetic chemists. http://thebeautybrains.com/

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