"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 2 April 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Cosmetic Depth


[Pencil, Eyeshadow, Lipstick]

Browsing a beauty magazine is a

visceral experience. Between the

competing fumes of scent-strips

and the


sucking in of your stomach,

between the significant heft of

the average Vogue and the

absurdist eye-candy of Elle, few

senses aren't overwhelmed.

Common sense may have it that

women aren't into skin mags, but

even the pseudo-Faludis have

trouble resisting the allure of



[Lipstick of the Stars]

Lacking the odorous,

page-flipping flippancy of glam

mags, beauty on the Web might

seem but skin deep. How could

point-and-click have the

palpable draw of point-and-flip?

Yet crafty cosmetics companies

are learning to use the

Information Interstate to

"inform" consumers, lest their

raison d'être seem too



[What Is Beauty?]

Thus, in the wake of the

debunking of The Beauty

Myth-ology, it's no surprise to

find beauty companies paying lip

service to the triviality of

chasing glamour. Like a

politician decrying politics,

they tell us that beauty differs

between cultures, that we're

starting to "redefine the aging

process," but, rest assured, dry

skin and unkempt eyebrows are




And, after years of being

convinced otherwise, we're now

reminded that beauty products

aren't actually about beauty

anymore - they're all about a

process, by which consumers

"inspire the senses," in order

to "smooth the edges of

stressful lives." We're not

primping, no, we're "pampering

ourselves." No need to go to

nature to relax, it can come to

us - in bottle, pump, or aerosol



[The Body Shop]

And, of course, many beauty

companies scoop up the requisite

lonely "causes" in order to

avoid seeming hopelessly

frivolous. The Body Shop crosses

the high-minded finish line

first, with a slew of relatively

sincere and well-aimed efforts

at change, from rain forest

conservation to ozone

protection. Unfortunately, most

amount to lists of signatures

and vague allusions to "raising

public awareness," which sets

them about on par with email

petitions to bring back the

McRib sandwich.



More common attempts at appearing

socially-conscious range from

laughable to disconcerting -

Aveda's gracious move to give

the poor and homeless "beauty

tips" is like sticking a

Smurf band-aid on a

massively-hemorrhaging victim

while the camera rolls. But good

PR reps know that while homeless

shelters and blood transfusions

go back to when AIDS (well, AYDS)

was a chocolate-flavored diet "food,"

nothing beats a few close-ups of

bag ladies learning the art of

achieving perfectly separated

lashes. Besides, if you give a

woman a fish, she only eats for

a day, but if you teach her to

slough off scaly dry

skin...well, she could probably

stand to lose the weight anyway,

right? The title for

Aveda's new cause could use a

little punching up, though -

we suggest replacing

"Project Daymaker" with

"Rouge, Not Jobs."


[Animal Test]

The easiest flag to fly, of

course, is the one that says

your company is "Against Animal

Testing." There's no greater

call to arms than images of bunny

wabbits in pain. The disclaimer's

presence on a product

is akin to seeing a

Web page with a blue ribbon GIF.

It's a nice thought, but the

main reason it's there is

truly cosmetic.


[Not Tested On Animals]

In the end, the pursuit of beauty

amounts to just another

diversion to get our minds off

the horrible truth: you can give

your '76 Pinto a paint job, but

it's still just a Pinto. So why

are companies like The Body Shop

pretending to be more than just

body shops? They may be selling

us beauty with a side of

socially conscious identity, but

all we really want is for them

to pull out the paint guns and

start spraying, while we inhale

the fumes.

courtesy of Polly Esther