Friday, November 30, 2012

She's My Heroine

I've been reading a lot of blogs, which is largely why I finally got up the guts to start doing this myself. There are so many lovely, talented, hilarious and brilliant women on the internet at the moment that they inspired me to pipe up with my own contribution. I'm adding a blog roll to the side of my layout today, but I thought before I did that I might do a more long winded explanation of why I think these ladies rock. 

(I should probably point out that none of these recommendations are by request, or some sort of link-back arrangement. I just think these are awesome ladies doing awesome things, and I would like more people to know how awesome they are.)

Stuff I Put On Myself
I first became aware of Natalie Dee through her comics - simple, mostly silly, but often deeply dry and funny as hell. So when she started a makeup blog I was naturally happy to follow. Her makeup blog is actually more or less the inspiration for mine - her ballsy way of not mincing words in her reviews convinced me there might be a place for my sort of analysis in between the fluffier, "nicer" bloggers. It's called simply Stuff I Put On Myself, and I think it's a wonderfully refreshing take on beauty. 

Fashion Moriarty

This is an example of the other type of fashion blogging that is informing my goals right now - the kind that jams thinky stuff in between the pretty clothes. To be honest, a lot of the clothes she covers aren't really my thing (mostly because none of it would ever fit me), but I really dig the way she manages to cram some history or philosophy into almost every post. For example, this post is all about the way certain images recur in fashion over the decades, which is the kind of thing I find fascinating. Her blogging has a strong undercurrent of nerd to it, and I just love that.

Lab Muffin

I don't know how many of you read the whole thing, but I actually quoted Michelle quite extensively in my big long post yesterday about toxins in nail polish. Her science posts were what drew me to her blog in the first place - I have a lot of chemistry type questions about beauty products that I just don't have the learnings to answer. She manages to explain relatively complex concepts in such a straightforward way even someone like me, who failed chemistry in high school, can follow it. Quite apart from her delightful brain though, she is also super good at doing nails, and has done some wonderfully creative things with her designs like the ninja stars pictured above.

The Beheld

This blog is super thinky, and very wordy, but absolutely worth reading. Each post is more or less an essay on an aspect of the philosophy of beauty, and I find it endlessly interesting. If you're interested in the deeper meanings behind our interest in beauty, this is the best blog I have come across.

I probably shouldn't be unashamedly fangirlish on the internet where there is a chance they will see it, but I have the most ridiculous crush on garçonnière, the author of this blog right now. She's gorgeous, with style oozing out all over, and looks better in a vintage day suit than anyone I've seen since 1930. She's also passionate, well-read, and very clever, and that is just a KILLER combination for me. She's read all the books I wish I had time to read, and moreover, has actually understood them. Anyway, if you've always had a thing for Dorothy Parker, you should check this lovely lady out. 

Work It, Own It, Use It!

When you read as much serious, overly thinky stuff as I do, it's important to keep in mind this blogging/fashion/femme/life thing is supposed to be FUN. And no-one does fun like Miss Evie! All her pictures convey the sense of a woman having the time of her life, and her posts always make me smile. My only complaint is that I wish she posted more often, but I am going to go ahead and assume that unlike me, she actually has a life outside the internet.

So that's my recommendation list for the moment, although I'm sure there will be more to come!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Poison? On MY Nails? - Show Your Working

Being the second post of my (hopefully) ongoing series Show Your Working, where I apply the lens of science and common sense to beauty products.

As a geeky, pedantic sort of girl, it really annoys me when I see things that aren't quite accurate. Honestly, it actually annoys me more than the totally, obviously untrue things that are sometimes said. For example, as someone who studied a great deal of ancient history, I literally twitch every time I see the Roman habit of deciding the life of a gladiator with the motion of a thumb either up or down portrayed the wrong way around. They can have modern fabrics on, and totally inaccurate hairstyles, and I'm fine. But if they do that one little thing that's not quite right....ugh, my jaw is tensing just thinking about it.

Bearing this is mind, I have been reading a lot of posts that reference the Big 3 - chemicals that were previously used in nail polishes and nail hardeners, and that are being more or less phased out currently. The Big 3 are formaldehyde, toulene, and dibutyl phthylate (DBP), which are all generally acknowleded to be "quite killy" as a friend of mine put it. A lot of retailers have declared themselves proudly 3 Free, meaning they don't use any of these ingredients.
I was curious as to whether this really mattered or not, so I went and buried my head in overly complicated diagnostic manuals, and toxicology reports as I am wont to do. Very quickly I came across several inaccuracies in the information being touted in the posts I had read that just made me twitch, so I've pulled all the information together here for you, dear reader, that I might get it out of my system, and also maybe help you make a more informed decision about this issue.


I don't know about you, but when I think formaldehyde, I think school science classes. Memories of dead, pale eyes floating in a jar of yellow liquid swim to the front of my mind, and suddenly I'm 12 again, freaking the hell out because I could swear that frog just blinked at me and oh god oh GOD it's leg just fell off!!

...I'm okay.
The point is that the formaldehyde in your nail polish isn't the same as the stuff those poor frogs were floating in. Technically, chemically speaking, it's not really formaldehyde at all. The lovely and brilliant Lab Muffin has a wonderfully succinct explanation of the difference between formaldehyde and the liquid or resin compounds made from it that are used in nail hardeners. 
"When you dissolve formaldehyde in water, it's not just formaldehyde in water (unlike how sugar + water is just sugary water). It actually reacts to form methylene glycol, a different chemical:

The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI), which tells cosmetic manufacturers what to write on their ingredient lists, used to require formalin was listed as formaldehyde, as it's made using formaldehyde. However, In 2008, the naming error was corrected.

HOWEVER: the reaction between formaldehyde and water to form methylene glycol is like the reaction between carbon dioxide and water to give carbonic acid. It's a special type of reaction known as a reversible reaction (you can tell from the double arrow). When a carbonated drink is in a bottle, it's not fizzy yet... but when you release the pressure by opening the lid, you get heaps of carbon dioxide gas bubbles. Just like that reverse reaction, under the right conditions, the methylene glycol will turn back into formaldehyde and water. So even if formaldehyde itself isn't in your nail hardening product, it's possible that chemicals which release formaldehyde are!"

So the long and short of it is that there IS something LIKE formaldehyde in your nail hardeners - but not nail polishes. (Also, Michelle from Lab Muffin writes a ton of fascinating posts like this, and you should really read her stuff.) These are the little inaccuracies that annoy the crap out of me, so let's get those sorted out right now. I also couldn't find any evidence that it's possible to absorb formaldehyde or any related substances through your nails, although it is fairly well absorbed when applied to your skin. So
maybe painting yourself all over with nail hardener is not a good plan.
HOWEVER, there does seem to be a pretty good indication that opening a bottle of nail hardener could release formaldehyde gas for you to suck into your pink, absorbent lung tissue. And that's probably bad.
But let's take a look at just HOW bad. Like zinc, formaldehyde does occur naturally in human bodies. But zinc is also extremely toxic in large doses. So how much formaldehyde is needed to take it from harmless to toxic?

According to the U.S based Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry the 15 minute short term exposure limit (STEL) for formaldehyde is 2 parts per million (ppm) The STEL is the maximum recommended amount to which workers can be exposed continuously for a short period of time without suffering from irritation and/or chronic tissue damage. 
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any concrete information about how much formaldehyde gas is actually released from nail hardeners when you use them. I imagine it also varies pretty wildly depending on the actual product in question, because it would depend on how much formalin was used in the first place, and with what other chemicals. However, since I can smell the formalin in the average nail hardener, it seems safe to assume there is at least 0.5-1 part per million, since this is apparently the concentration at which you can start to smell it. In order to determine the upper estimated limit of how much toxic gas is released, it's useful to look at the effects of damaging levels of exposure to formaldehyde. seem to bring on headaches, dizziness, and difficulty breathing pretty quickly, and at relatively low levels. If you don't get any of these symptoms using a product (and why on earth are you using it if you do), then it seems pretty sensible to me to assume you're not being exposed to toxic levels.


While formaldehyde makes me think of dissolving frogs legs, toluene just makes me think of Toulouse Lautrec - so much so I had to proof read this section a couple of extra times just to take out the typos where I put in Toulouse instead of toluene. Yeah, I am an ENORMOUS nerd.
Maybe she's grumpy because decent nail polish hasn't been invented yet

Toluene is a solvent, which means it's used to make sure all the ingredients in a nail polish don't clump up into chunky bits and instead make a nice smooth liquid. When it's not in your nail polish making sure all the pigment particles sit smoothly on your nail, it can also be found in fuel acting as an octane booster for Formula 1 racing teams. When looking for a bit less excitement, it can be used in model making instead of glue because if you brush it on carefully enough and place the pieces together quickly, it will dissolve the two edges so they reform as one piece. Sounds like pretty heavy duty stuff, and not exactly something you would want to put on your body. I mean, if it dissolves polystyrene, what the hell is it going to do to my nails?

But is it as bad as it sounds? While you certainly wouldn't want to be putting racing fuel on yourself, the amount of toluene in nail polish is a fraction of the amount used for that sort of purpose. While toluene can be absorbed through skin contact, like formaldehyde, the amount of skin that comes into contact with nail polish is pretty small, no matter how clumsy you are. The vapour released when it dries is however, like just about everything, can be really easily absorbed by the soft squishy parts in your lungs and nose.
So how much can you breathe in before you start bleeding from the nose? The STEL for toluene is 150 parts per million, but as with formaldehyde, I found information on just how much you are likely to ingest from using polish pretty hard to come by. This article features some concrete numbers, but as with almost all studies done by groups with an agenda one way or the other, the results vary enormously. The industry group that was seeking to prove toluene wasn't dangerous came up with quite acceptable numbers, but the group arguing that toluene should be banned came up with a figure nearly five times that of the other study. It's a perfect example actually of how questionable a lot of these "studies" can be. In this case, the two groups weren't even measuring the same action, let alone measuring exposure over the same period of time, so the results are totally incomparable, and their relevance to the debate pretty dubious.
However, the official EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) found, as recently as October 2006, that toluene, as used in nail polish products, does not pose a risk to health. The California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65) requires the Governor of California to maintain a list of chemicals "known to the state" to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity, and Toluene is among the ingredients identified by this list. But it also currently categorised as No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) when used in nail products.
In this instance, I'm happy to defer to the organisations with more time and more brains on hand to tease out the details, and go with their suggestion that toulene is nothing to worry about unless you're huffing or drinking your polish. (in which case I think that maybe you have bigger problems)


While formaldehyde and toluene aren't used that many places, and are being progressively used less and less, DBP on the other hand is absolutely EVERYWHERE. As the Australian Government National Pollutant Inventory points out, "Dibutyl phthalate is used extensively throughout society, it is now widespread in the environment. Most people are exposed to low levels in air, water, and food. In many cases the largest source of exposure is from food containing dibutyl phthalate. Some of the dibutyl phthalate in food is from plastics used to wrap and store the food and certain types of food (especially fish and shellfish) may absorb larger quantities of dibutyl phthalate (from 50 to 500 parts per billion). Air and water also contains small levels of dibutyl phthalate. Levels in city air are found to be 0.03 to 0.06 parts per billion. In drinking supplies it is found at 0.1 to 0.2 parts per billion."
Yikes, right? BUT the NPI also goes on to point out "At these low levels dibutyl phthalate is not expected to cause any harmful effects." In fact, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission have "determined a tolerable daily intake value of 66 μg/kg body weight per day". That means that as someone who weighs 95kg, I could ingest 6270 micrograms of toluene per day without serious side effects.
These probably have DBP in them too
But that's just measuring how much of it we can eat - how much can we breathe in? Quite a bit apparently. Green Facts says "Repeated oral exposure to DBP mainly affects the blood, liver and kidney. No effects were seen at a dose of 152 mg/kg body weight/day" 152 mg, per kilo of body weight, per day. So doing some fast and loose maths again, I could breathe in 14,440mg a day. That seems like an awful lot.
But hey, we all know studies can be biased. Maybe these numbers are all made up by the big pharma companies to sell us nail polish. Putting that aside, the fact is that DBP IS in the air we breathe, the food we eat, in relatively large quantities. Considering we haven't all dropped dead yet, I'm going to go ahead and conclude this stuff isn't nearly as toxic as the other two.  Besides, unless you're going to put yourself in a little bubble and roll around, it seems a little...pedantic to insist on avoiding it in your nail polish. (Although putting yourself in a little bubble and rolling around DOES sound like enormous fun)

I will add though that there is some more recent research which has suggested that DBP might act as an endocrine disruptor - meaning it might stop your endocrine system working as well as it should. Preventing your endocrine system from doing it's thing can "cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Specifically, they are known to cause learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems, deformations of the body (including limbs); sexual development problems, feminizing of males or masculine effects on females." However, I couldn't find any information to specifically link the amount of DBP in nail polish to anything like side effects this serious - not from pages that didn't also advocate homeopathy* anyway.  After the hoo-ha over aluminium and alzheimers that was later completely disproven, call me Scully when it comes to "suspected links."

None of these things are great. I wouldn't put them in my children's birthday cakes. You shouldn't drink them. You shouldn't hold a bottle of polish containing them to your nose and huff it. But are they worth specifically avoiding? I don't think so.

However, if you're still stressed and want to avoid them anyway, you can chill out, because most major brands are Big 3 free these days anyway. butter London, Calvin Klein, China Glaze, Color Club, Essie, Finger Paints, Hard Candy, Illamasqua, Maybelline Express Finish, Maybelline Salon Expert, Nicole, (some) OPI, MAC, Chanel, Dior, Estee Lauder, Givenchy, Lancome, Lippmann, L’oreal, Revlon, Rimmel London 60 Seconds, Sally Hansen Insta-Dri, Sante, Shades by Barielle, Shu Uemura, Sinful Colors and Zoya.....etc etc etc.

Personally, I really couldn't be bothered checking everything I like. From my reading I've come to the conclusion that a lot of the fear around the use of these chemicals is a hurricane in a handbasket. There is very little conclusive evidence it's going to do you any significant harm. By all means, support companies that are making the switch to less toxic formulas - less toxic is always nice. But if you find something you love, and you really really want to wear it, and it's NOT Big 3 free - just listen to Ben Folds and The Muppets, and do it anyway. 

*Just a little side note here - I know some people really believe in homeopathy, and I think that's lovely in the same way that I think religious faith is lovely. I don't have it, but if it makes you happy, knock yourself out. I just think it's appalling when people are conned into paying enormous amounts of money for what is essentially slightly impure water.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The 4 Best Gifts I've Ever Given

This might be a bit out of the blue, but I love giving presents.

No, seriously, I really, really love it, to an abnormal extent. I'm currently working as an Office Manager, and I'm not kidding when I say my favourite part of the job is without a doubt organising birthday presents for our employees. I'm known among my circle of friends as the absolute Queen of Creative Gifts, and nothing gives me greater delight than working on something in secret for months only to reveal it in a blaze of glitter and surprise. 

So when I saw that IFB - Independent Fashion Bloggers was doing a project to create the best gift guide ever, I was all over that.

Around this time of year, we all start thinking about the great Present Bonanza that is Christmas, and the anxiety that comes with it. We all want to get the people we love something awesome, brilliant, and memorable. That's probably why you're reading this post right now - you're looking for a list somewhere that will be perfect, that will tell you exactly what you need to get, and where from.
This isn't going to be this kind of list. It's not that kind of blog. But while I can't tell you exactly what to get, I would like to share what I've learned about what makes a gift not just good, but memorable, awesome, and spectacular.

While I'm pretty good at writing down words, spoken words have almost always failed me. I get flustered, and awkward, and never seem to be able to get out what I really mean. But a well chosen gift can express how much someone means to me much better than I ever could verbally, and a poorly thought out gift can say just as clearly that I don't give a damn about them. So this is always where I start, when trying to decide on what present to give. What do I want to say to the giftee in question?
Choosing a gift from a list of templates like "Geek chic" or "Bookish Femme" says absolutely nothing about your relationship with this particular person. If you're looking at them, looking at a template that mostly fits, and choosing a gift from the appropriate list, there is every chance everyone else they know will do exactly the same thing, and the poor giftee will end up with fifteen copies of "How To Be A Woman".
Take a little time to think about your relationship with them instead. Don't think about what thing they might want. Think about what's going on with them right now. Or maybe you don't know anything about what's going on with them, and you would like to. Maybe they're having a shitty year. Maybe all their dreams have come true. What does pondering all this make you want to say to them? Once you've worked that out, the present almost always chooses itself.

In consultation with my friends and partner, I have come up with my Greatest Hits of Present Giving, and the thought process behind them. Feel free to steal any of these ideas, or launch off them to your own spectacular heights of gifting fame. Here we go, in no particular order;

Monteverde Invincia Stealth, photo courtesy of Office Supply Geek
 1. My partner is currently trying to finish his first novel. It's an incredibly draining process on the ol' self esteem, and I know that sometimes he struggles to believe he will ever really "make it" as a writer. For his last birthday, after turning this over in my head, I decided what I really wanted to say to him was, "I believe in you."
I did some research and found an incredibly sexy fountain pen (it has a freaking black nib!!) for a relatively reasonable price, and put a note in the box that read, "For the signing of contracts, autographs, and other important documents. From Your Biggest Fan." He loved it, and it said clearly in a way he couldn't brush aside, that I sincerely believe he will need it one day, because one day he will be signing hundreds of autographs at a time. Because he's going to finish his book, and it's going to be awesome.

2.  A good friend had recently finished up her university degree, finished up her Honours, and moved out of home for the first time. Things had changed quite a lot for her over the previous year, and she was dealing with a lot of things she hadn't come up against before - and amazingly well, I might add. certainly a hell of a lot better than I did when I moved out of home! What I wanted to say to her ended up being a little long - I wanted to tell her that I was proud of her for adapting so well to huge changes, but also assure her that being a real grown up wasn't all bills and laundry.
So for her birthday, I put together a Grown Up Kit, complete with Certificate of Adultivity. I found a nice, professional looking (faux) leather bag, and filled it with a nice bottle of wine, a naughty book, a beautiful box of bon bons, a bath bomb from Lush, and a bottle of perfume. These were all things that it was highly unlikely she would buy herself. But to my mind, one of the most awesome things about being a grown up is being able to take a long bath, and stuff your face with chocolates while reading and not giving a damn what anyone thinks because it's YOUR bathroom and you'll do what you want. So I put together a kit to allow her to experience this joy for herself.

 3. Another dear friend got married, what seems like recently, but it was actually years ago now. We've known each other since she was far too young to be hanging out with a bad example like me, and we've had some wild times together. But then she settled down, stopped clubbing, and got married. It took me a long time to really get used to this, since her husband also used to be a worse party animal than I was. It seemed like it couldn't possibly be making her happy - how could it? She'd spent her adolescence on one wild adventure after another, and now she wanted to stay home and have dinner parties? What the hell was with that?
Eventually, I pulled my head out of my arse and realised the change of pace WAS making her happy. A happy, safe, settled life was what she wanted, and she wasn't any less fun because of it. But as I said, I tend to suck with words in person, no matter how long I've known them. Christmas rolled around, and despite being Jewish she gleefully organised a big dinner party for her friends, where I knew she was going to totally overcook and insist we eat until we burst, so I wanted to get a really good Christmas present for her.
I decided what I wanted to say to her was, "I respect your domestic kick, and I know you're still an awesome, bad-ass chick" . I think these cookie cutters say that all pretty succinctly!
(as an added bonus, she also bakes like a demon, and I knew getting her cookie cutters would lead to cookies in my future)

4. Way back in the way back times, when my partner and I were a new couple, his birthday came around for the first time after he had moved to a whole new city to (more or less) be with me. I knew that he was still feeling unsettled here in Sydney, and was self concious about all of his friends really being "my" friends. I decided the thing I wanted to say to him was, "People other than me think you're awesome." Of course, how to say it so he believed it?
Thus began a month long project where I contacted all our friends and all his family, many of whom I hadn't actually met in person yet, and asked them to contribute LOLCat style pictures for a Birthday LOL Book. At his birthday dinner, I proudly pulled out a photo album with all the pictures printed out, and to my delight, he was completely taken by surprise. I've reproduced a selection of the best pictures here;

While not all his family members entirely understood the kind of pictures I was trying to get, nonetheless the sentiment was clear - he was, and is loved by all sorts of people, who happily also have a sense of humour.

So that's my Greatest Hits, as I see them. An interesting point to note is that the most expensive thing in this article was $140, and the cheapest present cost me $6.75 - but when I asked my partner what his favourite present from me ever was, he chose the cheaper one. This is pretty compelling evidence to me that it really is the thought that counts, if you put the right sort of thought into gift giving. The way the economy is everywhere at the moment, I'm sure there are relatively few of us who have money to throw around this Christmas - so this year, try something different and start with the thought, not the gift. I guarantee your loved ones will thank me!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Women's Fashion isn't for men after all!

I have a confession to make - in the past, I was kind of a pain in the ass. If you didn't agree with me, you were wrong WRONG WRONGITY WRONG, and it was my job, clearly, to make you see how wrong you were. This was particuarly true about feminism.

As you can imagine, this didn't make me terribly popular in the Women's Room during my first year of university. I actually eventually got banned for a brief period, for being an unstoppable pain in the ass and starting arguments with people who were much more well read than I was, and in my youthful hubris, decided I was never going back because they were obviously all jerks.
One of the things I used to argue with people about all the time was the question of who fashion is for, specifically women's fashion. I was absolutely convinced that the only reason to wear something uncomfortable was to appeal to the male gaze, and anyone who did so was trying to get male attention. End of story. 
I know feminism better than you, so shut up!
Let's pause for a moment in this narrative, just so I can be clear about what I mean when I talk about the male gaze. As I've spoken about previously, there are a certain set of visual indicators that are considered to be What Straight Men Want by western society at large, which may or may not have anything at all to do with what any particular given man might or might not want to see on the women he finds attractive. There is every possibility you've never had them listed out specifically - but if you've grown up in the same culture I have, the knowledge is there, drilled in deep by media and personal interactions. Tight short skirts, black or red lingerie, high heels, long hair - these are things that we all somehow "know" appeal to straight men, and if, as a woman, you don't wear them, straight men will not be interested in you.

(a secondary sidebar - while I identify as queer, I don't feel nearly qualified enough to comment on how the femme stereotype, the straight male gaze, and queer relationships interact, so in order to avoid running my mouth I will be exclusively addressing heterosexual interactions here)

Men like this sort of thing.
Of course, this idea of What Straight Men Want is often totally different to what any particular man might find attractive. If reception in the sex industry taught me anything, it's that ANY feature you have will be absolute ambrosia to someone. Seriously, ANYTHING. My personal relationships have only reinforced this knowledge - what my various male partners have preferred in terms of visual appearance has varied ENORMOUSLY. I've had partners who hated me wearing underwear at all, and another who loved huge, floral grannie panties so much he would buy them for me to encourage me to wear them more often.
...but also this sort of thing
However, as with so much societal conditioning, so amount of personal experience can really completely erase the lessons learned by absorption from the society around you - I KNOW that cutting my hair off won't result in me magically becoming drastically less attractive to men, but I'm still too nervous to do it.

But back to my story. There I was, tiny and uneducated and full of fire, hurling disdain at anyone who dared disagree with my opinion that fashion was clearly all about men, and women who gave into this pressure were stupid.
It was all very well for me, as a tempestuous young feminist, to insist that I would never wear anything uncomfortable in order to gain male attention, and pander to the male gaze - but considering I was attracting precisely zero male attention anyway, it was a little like someone in a country without animals insisting they are vegetarian for ethical reasons.
Eventually, I DID start getting some male attention. And suddenly, magically, I wasn't nearly so judgmental about other women wearing uncomfortable shoes etc. in order to appeal to men. Fancy that! I get some attention from a pretty boy, and suddenly out come the heels and lipstick. However, because I assumed that all women only wore "girly" things because they wanted to appeal to men, I was endlessly baffled by a lot of women's fashion that I knew from consultation with the men wasn't actually that appealing to them. I just couldn't wrap my head around why, if your boyfriend said he really didn't find wedge heels that attractive, anyone would continue to wear them.

It turns out that perhaps if I had had more female friends, I might have come across this big secret of women's fashion a lot sooner - it's often nothing to do with men, or the male gaze. Don't get me wrong - sometimes it absolutely is. Especially if you're reading Cleo or Cosmo or one of those dreadful magazines that are designed to make you self conscious even in the throes of orgasm. THAT part of fashion is absolutely about pandering to the male gaze. But I have discovered that is far from all there is to fashion, "girly" things, or femme in general.

Like what, you might ask. Well, let's start with a really obvious example - Lady Gaga.
Was this dress a blatant grab for attention? ABSOLUTELY. Was it a grab for male attention? No. This outfit is well outside the confines of What Straight Men Want. It's short, and tight, for sure. But it's also made of meat - it's grotesque, disturbing, vaguely threatening, and personally I think it's pretty awesome. BUT it's clearly not aimed at the male gaze. It is a very certain set of straight men who go home and think about Lady Gaga dripping meat juices all over them while she jerks them off in this outfit. It's a high fashion outfit that is clearly (to my mind) not for straight men, or the male gaze. She's not afraid to be a little bit frightening, or challenging. It's all about what SHE wants. On a less spectacular scale, this kind of self directed experimentation with fashion can be seen all over the blogosphere. My favourite mad scientist at the moment is the lovely lady behind Self Constructed Freak, who manages to meld together punk aesthetics, fluffy glittery femme, and a fistful of the most kawaii accessories I've ever seen in my life. It's bloggers like this that have convinced me that there IS more to fashion than just pandering to the male gaze, and what lies beyond the glossy "What's Hot Now" nonsense is just as fascinating and rich as any other art scene.

Knowing all this though, I am still human. I like to feel pretty. I like to feel...normal. I like to feel like I fit in, in some small way. There are so many ways I don't fit in anywhere without enormous compromise that I feel like if I just dress the way I'm "supposed" to, at least that's one place I'm not rubbing myself raw.
But ultimately, it's bloody dull dressing "nicely" every day. I am constrained by what is and isn't accepted in my workplace, even considering how lenient my work is. There is, however, Casual Friday, and I've been making an effort the last couple of weeks to at least try and incorporate an aspect of self expression to my outfit. Something that's not for anyone but me. Mostly it's been in the form of t-shirts, like this;
No-one at work gets them, but I love them all the same
But really, in the end, that's not so challenging. Wearing funny shirts is something I've always done. I'd like to push the boundaries of what I feel like I can and can't do, so in the future I have more choices. I've discounted fashion and femme for so long as stupid, or anti-feminist, or whatever fucking bullshit excuse I had that week, that it's time for me to start experiencing it, trying it on, before I try and tell people what it is and is not.
Besides, check this shit out;
This? This is fantastic. I can't believe I denied myself the pure, childish glee of making parts of my body uber shiny for so long, let alone having accessories like this;

 These aren't for my boyfriend - he's pretty baffled by my current holographic nail obsession. But little things like these make me so disproportionately happy, it seems like a shame to keep them out of my life because of childish misconceptions.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Stop talking to us like we're idiots

Welcome to the inaugural post of a series I'm starting called Show Your Working, in which I apply scientific rigour and common sense to various aspects of cosmetics.

One of the things that has kept me away from beauty products and the entire beauty industry for so long is the widespread habit of marketing to their consumers like they're blithering idiots. Instead of just telling us what the product does, they make outrageous, totally unverifiable claims, and then try and make us feel like it's our fault if the product doesn't do what they promised.

Here is the example that is annoying the piss out of me right now - The Clairsonic.

There are many annoyances like it, but this one is my annoyance
It's basically a very fine brush that whizzes around very, very fast, to clean your skin. If they just SAID that, I wouldn't have as much of a problem. But it's all the nonsense they add on that makes me so angry.
Let's start with the liberal usage of "sonic".  Reading this, and knowing what "sonic" actually means (involving, or producing sound OR having a speed equal to that of sound in air), I would expect that this product would claim to be beaming some sort of sonic signal into your skin to make it prettier. So I had a read through the marketing material, expecting a good chuckle at the outrageous claims.

There's lots about how it's really good at cleaning stuff off your skin - which is fair enough. I imagine a rapidly spinning brush WOULD be very good for cleaning your skin, much as an electric toothbrush is better than a normal hand powered one. But all the marketing material reads to me like they expect their audience to be so stupid as to not notice that they plaster "sonic" all over it, without any sort of explanation as to what is "sonic" about it, or why that's good. Even the section on the site entitled "Sonic Benefits" has no mention of any effect that could be attributed to anything other than a rapidly spinning brush. There is ONE mention of "sonic" in relation to the actual function of the device, here;
"Clarisonic Sonic Skin Cleansing Systems use a patented sonic frequency of more than 300 movements per second."
So it doesn't claim to make any sound. Which means it must be sonic because it moves 300 times per second? That's...that's not sonic either. It's SUBSONIC, but I suppose that doesn't sound as good.
(edit: I have been informed this speed of movement DOES in fact qualify this as moving at "sonic" speed. I still don't see what benefit that is supposed to offer though, unless skin cells are running away from it so fast it needs to move faster than sound)
This all means it's really just a rapidly spinning brush for polishing off the dead skin on your face. 


One of the reasons I am happy to give Lush all of my money is because they DON'T engage in this kind of nonsense. I go in there, ask what a cream does, and the staff say "It makes your skin feel soft, and smell good." And I'm all, "Hell yes, give me some of that." I don't feel ripped off because I know what I'm paying for - the products they have are expensive because certain ingredients are hella expensive. They don't tell me it will do something it won't. They don't fuck me around, and I appreciate that with my wallet.

As I said before, I imagine a rapidly spinning brush WOULD be pretty good at cleaning your skin. But why do they not even bother to provide any sort of practical claim on this front? They compare cleansing with the product to cleansing with "your hands alone" - I don't know about you, but I tend to use soap and water, and maybe even a washcloth if I'm feeling fancy. I've never tried to clean my face with "hands alone." But semantics aside, it seems like a perfectly sellable product. So why talk to us like we're stupid?

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about beauty products and makeup advice etc, in preparation for being able to write something of worth in this blog. And I've noticed that there is a certain pattern of language that goes across all the advertising, and even leaks into the blogs that cover this sort of thing. There is an assumption created by the advertising, and accepted by a lot of the consumers, that if the product doesn't work, it's your fault. You're not putting it on right. You didn't use the right moisturiser. It's not for your skin type. You've got too many blemishes. You didn't brush your skin with a two hundred dollar nailbrush first. Your skin is too "impure". It's your fault.

Take this from the Clairsonic website;
"Typical manual cleansing can leave behind dirt and oil trapped in pores. This build-up can damage the appearance and health of your skin and keep your skin care products from working like they should."

"They're eating my beauty!"
I love that with one sentence, they manage to acknowledge that skin products DON'T work, but still manages to place the blame for this squarely on the consumer.  If only I had known this before - I'm not cleaning my face right, and THAT'S why my stupidly expensive face cream isn't erasing my wrinkles like I was promised it would. It's not because erasing my wrinkles with a cream is a physical impossibility. It's because I don't have this thing! *facepalm* How could I have been so silly? 

It sounds ridiculous when I put it like this, but you read enough of this kind of babble and it starts to make sense. You see it enough places, and it feels like YOU'RE the crazy one. It reminds me of the disorientation I felt after being in Paris for a day or so when I spoke very little French. The signs are in french, the movies are all in French, everyone around me is speaking French...I began to have this weird paranoia in the back of my head that English was just a delusion. That's how I feel when reading these beauty product writeups. There are so many wildly spurious claims, (my favourite is "It really made a difference!" without specifying what KIND of difference) padded out with pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo that you feel like you must be the one who is stupid. We, as consumers, are not as stupid as they treat us. If they just SAY "it cleans your skin really well," we can follow that. If they put in a little diagram comparing it to an electric toothbrush, even better. All perfectly rational, straightforward explanation. But why claim it's "sonic"? JUST TELL ME WHAT IT DOES!!
So much of this material is a conversation that spirals inwards like a fractal, until it makes no sense whatsoever to an outside observer, but the blame is still on you for not following them down the rabbit hole.

And it drives me mad.

Reading these marketing spiels to my boy is my favourite way to see them from an entirely outside light for the complete jibberish they are. He's not interested in makeup in the slightest - he notices if I wear it, but doesn't give a damn if I don't. He doesn't read the magazines, or the advertising, or the blogs. He comes from a delightfully straightforward point of view on these things.
Here's a transcript of me reading the Clairsonic site out loud, and his helpful commentary.

Me: Used and recommended by spas and dermatologists...
The Boy: Which ones?
Me: It doesn't say.
The Boy: Is this like the "many doctors" who told the Republicans you couldn't get pregnant from rape, when it was actually just one total nutcase?
Me:...ANYWAY, apparently Clarisonic Sonic Skin Cleansing Systems use a patented sonic frequency of more than 300 movements per second...
The Boy: That's not sonic. I mean, I'm not a physicist, but I'm pretty sure that's not sonic.
Me: gently, yet thoroughly remove 6X more makeup and 2X more dirt and oil than cleansing with your hands alone.
The Boy: With your hands? LIKE A HEATHEN!!
Me: Cleaner skin is the first step toward healthier skin. And healthier skin is smoother, more radiant and more beautiful.
The Boy: So it's a fancy cleaner then.
The Boy: So why does it cost $200?
Me: polishes your skin?
The Boy: Like a table?
Me: Ah...sort of?
The Boy: Let me read the testimonials....*grabs the laptop*
The Boy: ''I don't feel clean unless I brush my face!?" What the hell?! Are you a horse? "My skin actually feels like it can breathe, something ordinary cleansing missed the mark on." Maybe if you didn't trowel on a layer of spak filler to try and hide your hideous pores, you wouldn't need to take the top layer of your skin off to feel clean! And this one, " I've already received several comments in the last 2 weeks since the purchase about how great my skin looks". Correlation is not causation, LADY.
Me: *At this point laughing too hard to continue the conversation*

So that's how I deal with an overload of this kind of nonsense, when I feel like the whole world is speaking French and my desire for clear, straightforward explanation of what something actually DOES makes me the only English speaker.

I just wish I didn't have to. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

OPI, Revlon, Rimmel Review - The Dissapointing Date Manicure

After the last post, I felt like it was time for something a little more lighthearted. And so, I bring you my own creation, the Disappointing Date Manicure!
This manicure is made up of three different polishes - Revlon Top Speed Nail Enamel in Ocean, OPI Austin-tatious Turquoise, and Rimmel I Love Lasting Finish in Azure.

So why is this called the Disappointing Date Manicure? The thing about these polishes, is that only one of them really comes out on the nail the way the bottle promises. The others are....well, I'll show you pictures.

This is the Revlon Top Speed. You'll have to forgive the slight blurriness of the photos - I'm still getting the hand of taking pictures of my hands. Revlon was the first company to sell modern nail polish, and they have the whole thing down pat at this point. They're not amazing, but they're good, reliable (as in every colour, of every range, goes on exactly the same), and you can get them anywhere for a reasonable amount of money. Plus, what you get when you use it is actually what you expect from how the bottle looks - a rarity with nail polish, as I am sadly learning.

This is the Rimmel I "heart" Long Lasting blah blah good LORD is that a bad name for a product. I specifically bought this one to go with the Revlon, because I wanted to be able to make it a bit bluer without covering the shiny. From my terrible experiences with Rimmel eyeshadows (that had so little pigment in them I had to virtually grind them into my eyesockets to get any colour to show up) I figured this would probably be pretty short on actual colour pigment, but that would work just fine for my purposes. It's actually a little more colourful than I expected, but you can still see through it at two coats. It's also CRAZY runny, so you have to put it on really carefully if you want the colour to come out in any way even, and not like you've taken a marker to your nails.
BUT it's stupid cheap, and available at virtually any chemist. So there's that.

This one was the real let-down of the trio - I picked up this bad boy because it looked SO damn pretty on the shelf, but once it got on my nail...bleh. It's totally see through, it's not nearly as shiny as I thought it would be, and there is none of the tantalising blue-purple sheen you see in the bottle. In summary, it brought very little to the table.

Let me describe for you how I came up with the idea for this layering by telling you a story.

Let's imagine, that the Revlon polish a girl. A girl who's not too flashy, but gets things done, and what you see is what you get. (Plus, it's cheap and easy to get - har har). Feel free to go ahead and imagine me dancing the bottles around like a kid with action figures, because that is totally what I am doing in my head.
Let's imagine Revlon goes out to a bar one night, and across the crowd she sees OPI. She wanders over and starts talking to him, because DAMN he is pretty. He's dressed nicely, and his friends are eager to tell her what a great guy he is. Revlon isn't really sure there's anything inside that shiny exterior, but he's so pretty, and he's right there, and the cab would be like, ten bucks, so she takes him home.
Once she gets him home though, she opens his lid and looks down and...has to shut her mouth very, very quickly lest she let the thought, "But you're so tall!" slip out and ruin everything. It's not...bad. It's just not exactly what she was expecting. I mean, it'll do. But she was hoping for...more.

So what does Revlon do? Does she kick OPI out? But she's already spent all this time talking to him, not to mention the ten bucks on the cab. Revlon is clever - Revlon knows how to make the best of this situation.
"I have a friend, Rimmel" she says. "A cab here would only cost maybe five bucks, and he's always available. I think he would really help make this a night to remember. Do you mind if I call him over to join us?"
"Of course!" says OPI, because he's an adventurous, open minded guy.
You see, there are some nail polishes that you wouldn't want to put with others - it would just ruin the whole experience. Some are totally satisfying all on their own. But sometimes you can get one good polish, and two polishes that are only okay together, and suddenly BAM!!

Awwwwww yeah. That's the stuff. There's variety, there's depth, there's sparks, and if you take it outside it's even better.

Just remember, when playing with new nail polishes always use protection - a good base coat will make sure you can have your fun without any nasty surprises hanging around once you're done.