Politicizing Pretty: Everything is a political statement these days, even your lipstick
Election Day 2016 brought about the demise of a treasured, long-term friendship.
We had had our differences over the course of the election season; she was all in for Hillary, while I was largely uncommitted to any of the “conservative” candidates. Make no mistake, however; I was strongly in the #NeverHillary camp. But maintaining a relationship oftentimes means overlooking your differences and concentrating instead on those things you have in common.
And I tried to overlook the differences, I really did. I ignored the Hillary t-shirts and stickers that started making appearances; I smiled indulgently when she quoted the “adorable” things her young daughter would say in support of Hillary. I tried not to roll my eyes too hard when she and her hippy-dippy husband gave up meat and started making their own kombucha.
I knew going in that she lived in the bluest part of the state we locals somewhat affectionately call the People’s Republic of Maryland. Our politics rarely aligned, but that was okay by me because there were so many other good things I was getting out of the relationship.
Then November 8th happened.
There were tears. There was wailing. The teeth, of course, were gnashing. (Oh, and that was her, by the way, not me.) Lamentations … oh, the lamentations!
Just when all seemed lost, a bright spot appeared on the horizon. All those angry, tear-streaked XX chromosomes were going to gather in Washington, D.C., and glory together in their shared angst.
From that point on, everything was political. The required “pussyhat” was bought, and handy-dandy guides on how to dress for the Women’s March were written for her “sisters” who would be joining her to march for … whatever it was they were marching for. And you simply just HAD to accessorize with the official lipstick of the march, courtesy a new cosmetics company that – oh, joy! – was donating 20% of their sales to Planned Parenthood and other ultra liberal causes.
That’s when I knew I had to break up with my favorite beauty blogger.
In some ways, the break-up was sad. I’d been with her through her pregnancy, the birth of her daughter, the ups-and-downs of motherhood, and the challenges of remaining stylish as you age. I’m pretty sure she made a nice profit off all the affiliate links that took me from her site to the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Without her, I would have never known I was supposed to be dry-brushing my skin (bought the brush, still have no clue what to do with it).
In some ways, the break-up was cathartic. I’d been frequenting women-centric sites for 20 years, since becoming pregnant with my first child in 1997 and finding an online home on the now-defunct ParentsPlace.com, and I knew well that these sites often skewed left politically. Being a conservative woman online means having to overlook a lot liberal dreck on fashion and beauty sites, and I was, frankly, sick of it.
It felt good to say “no more.”
[Point of pride: I was actually kicked off ParentsPlace in 2004 for tangling with liberal women after the presidential election – there had been much gloating on my part. And, in one of those delicious turns that occasionally happen in life, ParentsPlace was eventually folded into iVillage, and I ended up writing – very conservatively, I might add – about the 2012 election for iVillage. iVillage was owned by NBC at the time, so I was treated somewhat like an abomination, a role I relished considering my history with the site.]
Feeling unwelcome in the worlds of beauty and fashion isn’t new ground for conservative women. The beauty bibles – publications like Cosmopolitan and Vogue – have long pandered to women who were liberal enough to buy into the nonsense published within their pages (or affluent enough to afford it). A recent Cosmo article declared, “Trump’s “Pro-Life” Policies Will Cause Women to Die” (see: wailing; gnashing of teeth). Not to be outdone, Teen Vogue produced the ultimate gift guide for your friend who’s having an abortion. Because let’s celebrate two lives being ruined!
It hasn’t always been like this. I’m old enough to remember when, come the end of the year, we’d clamber to the magazine stand to get the January issue of Cosmo, which had a special tear-out section detailing what the new year would bring based on your astrological sign. Being a fickle Aries, my horoscope would inevitably foretell months of missed connections and professional highs and lows, with the year concluding by meeting a possible Mr. Right. Just in time to pick up the next year’s horoscope. It was great fun, and in no way political.
Back then, Cosmo was chock full of amazing fashions and outlandish makeup advice. There was, of course, a risqué article or two in every issue, which made you feel just a little bit naughty for having bought it.
These days, it seems that the beauty bibles are a kind of anti-It’s a Wonderful Life mechanism; every time they publish a tawdry piece of political-activism-disguised-as-sisterly-advice, another woman is condemned to leading a miserable life of not measuring up. No fun, and way too political. It’s pretty damaging to women, too.
As is often the case in modern-day media, bloggers can be the great equalizers. Many publications are beholden to the editorial biases of their parent companies, but most bloggers are independent and protective of their brand. This can result in amazing and valuable content; sometimes the content is overtly political, sometimes it’s not political at all, but mostly it’s somewhere in between. And that makes it easy to take the useful bits with you and leave the other stuff behind.
At least, that’s how it used to be on fashion and beauty blogs. Now, you’ll find them harping endlessly on the alleged pay gap between men and women, sounding warning alarms that Republicans are going to steal your birth control, and providing endless coverage of Kendall Jenner’s attempts to “free the nipple.” The worst part is, they seem to assume all women are liberal and believe in the same things. It’s galling how most assumed that every woman was – or should’ve been – for Hillary.
And, oh, how they hate Donald Trump. They hate him so much that they’ve made it their mission not just to destroy him, but to destroy his daughter, Ivanka, as well. My formerly favorite beauty blogger loathed Ivanka and urged all her readers to boycott Ivanka’s fashion line. Ivanka’s sin, of course, was that she supported her father. To hell with her being a successful businesswoman and positive role model, her perceived politics put a target on her back. Ain’t feminism grand?
And, now, even lipstick is political.
In writing her handy-dandy guide on how to dress for the Women’s March (it can be challenging, apparently, to find the right shade of lipstick to complement your vagina costume), my formerly favorite beauty blogger sang the praises of a new cosmetics company, Beautiful Rights, which was born in the aftermath of Trump’s victory and donates 20% of their sales to left-wing causes like Planned Parenthood. Beautiful Rights offers a line of lipsticks with names like Pantsuit Pink, Politically Pout, and Gloss Ceiling. Founder Kristen Leonard explained to beauty blog Couveteur, “I decided on 20 percent because that’s, percentagewise, how much less women are paid than men.”
She continued, “So I did a bunch of research and we have six different organizations we donate to: Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Lambda Legal, Legal Momentum, Emily’s List, and MomsRising. So these organizations all touch on different aspects of women’s rights and I added MomsRising because, for me, it’s really important that women get paid maternity leave.”
See what we’re dealing with? If you’re not a government-loving Julia, you don’t belong.
Corporations’ engaging in political activism is not a new phenomenon, but it does seem more pronounced in the digital age. And Trump was just the right spark to make evident the biases. We conservatives must educate ourselves about the lifecycle of our consumerism. Fortunately, women-centered sites like Refinery29 often do the heavy lifting for us by publishing articles gushing about things like cosmetics companies that support Planned Parenthood. That right there is a sweet little guide of products and companies to avoid.
2ndVote, too, is a great resource for keeping tabs on how companies are spending their profits. It might come as a surprise to some women that Avon, that legendary direct selling cosmetics behemoth, supports same sex marriage, Planned Parenthood, and a host of radical environmental initiatives. Maybe they’ve always been radical, but it sure doesn’t seem like it’s our moms’ Avon anymore.
Luckily, I can end this tale of woe on a positive note. Make way for a “causemetic” company that all women can support.
Thrive Causemetics was started by makeup artist and cosmetic industry veteran Karissa Bodnar after she lost a friend to cancer. Thrive uses all natural – and, occasionally, vegan – ingredients and runs on a “buy one, donate one” model similar to that of TOMS footwear. For every product purchased, one is donated to empower a woman affected by cancer or domestic violence.
Thrive describes itself as “a movement that anyone can join” and which empowers “women of all walks of life through the gift of beauty.” Their list of associated charities includes Make-a-Wish Foundation and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and they seem intent on being a business that all kinds of women can support. No politics, just pure, joyful support of women by other women. What a concept!
Perhaps there is hope after all.
A version of this article was first published at The Federalist.