Category Archives: Capitalism

In Praise of Unguents

Great word, unguents.

unguents

Peter Thoeny (flickr.com

I have been thinking about how make-up and beauty products are not purely visual – we are not only concerned with how they make us look. Two things reminded me of this: the Mink 3D printer that will apparently print makeup; and my discovery that sweet almond oil is the best body moisturiser ever, and my subsequent disappointment at this discovery.

Disappointment? Yes. It turns out that all my very dry skin needs is a bottle of pure sweet almond oil, something easily affordable from a health food shop. I have been searching for this holy grail for 15 years. Why would I be disappointed?

I enjoyed the search, of course. Because there is nothing like browsing a shelf of lotions and potions, selecting one and then trying it out at home. That first experimental sniff at the product’s perfume, and a little dab on the back of the hand… slathering it on post-shower and enjoying the halo of a brand-new scent… assessing how soft the skin is a few hours later. Now that I have found the perfect moisturiser I will never need to experience all that again. And the almond oil isn’t even scented, goddamn it (I know, that’s a good thing for perfume-wearers. I know).

This tells me something interesting about my engagement with the capitalist monster that is the beauty industry. It is not that we are simply convinced of all the things that are wrong with the way we look, and then sold products that will ‘fix’ these faults. That is part of it, but actually we are not purely visual creatures, and we are not only buying beauty products to feed our obsession with looking better. It is also that we cannot resist the unguents.

Beauty products create a space of sensual luxury in our lives, little moments in which we can forget about the washing machine that’s broken again, and what we can make for dinner when there’s nothing in the fridge. In that moment of trying out a new body butter we are reminded of our bodies, and how to enjoy them. A raspberry scent that takes you back to childhood summers; smoothing cream over your skin to remind yourself of less innocent pleasures – we need that. And my almond oil, although it is nice, works so very well that it sort of becomes functional. Just another essential.

robot woman

PVBroadz (flickr.com)

Which brings me to Grace Choi’s ‘disruptive technology’, the Mink printer, touted as the invention that will challenge the whole beauty industry. Although many are questioning whether it will actually do what it says (see Mali Pennington at Wild Beauty), my first thought was that I wouldn’t want one anyway.

Choi’s argument for the Mink printer is that makeup is all about colour. We buy makeup to get the latest colours, in order to look good and be fashionable. Therefore, if you can print an eyeshadow, blusher or lipstick in any colour using your Mink printer, you will never need – or want – to spend £30 on an eyeshadow again.

I think Choi is missing something. The unguents. When I choose a lipstick, it is not only colour I’m looking for – the lipstick also has to be moisturising, long-lasting and preferably with SPF, and has to feel good on my lips. I enjoy trying out all the different lipsticks at the fragrant, glowing beauty counters, my head clear of other thoughts until I find the lipstick that looks and feels right on me. Unless Choi also offers a wide range of bases – uncoloured lipsticks or eyeshadow blocks in every conceivable formulation – she is not disrupting the beauty industry or replacing what it offers. If her standard eyeshadow powder makes my eyes itch or the colour creases after an hour, then I won’t be interested.

We often forget that beauty is not only visual: something can be beautiful to each of our senses, or (even better) to several at once, and we often forget that makeup and beauty products offer this broader beauty too. At least, we might forget, but our bodies don’t.

Hand me the body butter.

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Covering Up to Reveal? Makeup and Your True Self

“I’m inviting you to blend in to stand out.”

Dermablend-2

Cheri Lindsay for Dermablend (www.adweek.com)

This is what Cheri Lindsay says in her testimonial for Dermablend camouflage makeup, whose adverts have been getting a lot of attention for their visually surprising and emotional accounts of using camouflage makeup to cover skin conditions. Lindsay’s statement is obviously a pun, on blending in makeup rather than – or as well as? – blending in socially, but I still take issue with it. **Not with Dermablend or their camouflage makeup, but with the wider idea as it works in cosmetics advertising.** I mean, really: blending in to stand out? And I’m going to get academic on its ass.

medieval

(Pulp Fiction http://www.ugo.com)

The key idea behind this advertising campaign is that of the True Self. Buy this product and reveal your True Self – to yourself and the rest of the world. In Dermablend’s other advert, model Cassandra Bankson, who has acne, says, “I used to use makeup to cover up, and to hide who I was. Now I use it to express myself, and to show the world who I truly am”. I sense a contradiction here: covering up to reveal your True Self?

The same logic as in Lindsay’s statement is at work here – buy this product and find your True Self – or as Michelle M. Lazar puts it, advertisers “link the normative practice of beautification with an emancipated identity” (“The Right to be Beautiful” p.37). Normative = telling us what to do, which the beauty industry certainly does. And cosmetics adverts link this pressure to do beauty work with the idea that the product will set us free from skin imperfections and self-consciousness, to be who we really are: that’s the “emancipated identity”, or the True Self.

The logic of the True Self has been used throughout the growth of consumer culture, since to make people buy something you have to make them feel that they’re “worth it”. Or that they need it. So we have been persuaded that the things we choose to buy define and express who we are: adverts then tap into who we want to be. That’s the logic of capitalism all over: it’s everyone for themselves, and if you can construct the most attractive, skilled and likeable Self then you will be successful.

And we definitely need perfect skin to do that, right?

Apparently so. Cassandra Bankson says in her testimonial, “We think that to be successful we have to be a certain way, when in reality, in order to be successful and happy, all we have to do is be ourselves.” But is that the Self who has acne, or the Self who appears not to have acne because she’s wearing a really great foundation? And is that really what defines Bankson’s True Self – her skin?

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Cassandra Bankson for Dermablend (www.adweek.com)

Don’t get me wrong, I would never take issue with camouflage makeup to cover up skin conditions. I am concerned with the extension of this idea to all skin ‘imperfections’, because Dermablend’s adverts imply that the only way to reveal your True Self is to have unrealistically perfect skin. It makes sense when Cheri Lindsay says that her makeup helps “people to look through the initial shock” of her skin condition “and see who I was as a person”, so that she can go through life being asked about her work or her interests rather than being asked what’s wrong with her face. Absolutely. But does that extend to everyone who has a couple of spots and slightly uneven skin tone (something I suspect was just invented by cosmetics advertisers)? No: in that case it suggests that you aren’t a proper person unless you have PhotoShop-perfect skin. I don’t feel that is helpful to my True Self. Or any of my other Selves, who are feeling a bit inadequate now.

Lazar writes that “the freedom to be beautiful is implicitly set against the ‘tyranny of ugliness’” (p.40) and I think we can all understand how it is possible to feel trapped in an unattractive body. I think the emotional power of Dermablend’s ads draws on this. Cosmetics give us the freedom to change the way we look, to express rebellion or sweetness, softness or power, and this is no bad thing. As Geoffrey Jones says in Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry, “the mass production of beauty has been a force for the democratization of personal aesthetics … it granted to every man and woman new powers of self-reinvention” (p.275). I agree that this is a liberty, and a good one.

It becomes less good, though, when beauty is no longer a choice: Marlis Schweitzer writes that since around 1911, advertisers have “preached that it was not only possible for all women to be beautiful, but it was also every woman’s responsibility to be beautiful” (“The Mad Search for Beauty” p.136). Spreading this attitude is, of course, a very good way of selling cosmetics – creating a need and then supplying the solution, another basic principle of capitalist economics. And it is no coincidence that the rise of this “responsibility to be beautiful” happened at the same time as the rise of consumer culture and also of testimonial advertising, of which the cosmetics industry has always been “one of the most active and innovative exponents” (Schweitzer p.135). Now we’re under the tyranny of beauty.

dominatrix

(Les Dolgatsjov, http://www.viscoimages.com)

What all this means is that Dermablend’s claim to liberate us from unattractive skin in order to reveal our True Selves is not the answer to a natural human problem. It’s the result of a hundred years of capitalism in which beauty has been constructed as the only way for women to become successful and happy, and the idea of a True Self has been created as a way of selling us stuff. What is a True Self anyway?

Or am I taking that too far?

After all, Dermablend’s camouflage makeup is intended for skin conditions like Bankson’s and Lindsay’s, so that they can go about their business without being mocked or stared at, which is great.

But. They’re still “inviting” us to “blend in to stand out”. To be normal, to be indistinguishable from others, so that we can, er, “stand out” in some unspecified way. We’re all under the tyranny of the normal, and are mocked and rejected if we stray too far from the standard. That’s what Dermablend is offering: to make you normal. In this case, to judge by Bankson and Lindsay, ‘normal’ is beautiful, so we seem to have come back round to the same old problem, that women are just not allowed to be anything other than beautiful – and this is one narrow definition of beauty.

My True Self has gone to plan a revolution. She isn’t wearing foundation.

 

References:

Jones, Geoffrey. Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Lazar, Michelle M. “The Right to be Beautiful: Postfeminist Identity and Consumer Beauty Advertising”. In New Femininities: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity. Rosalind Gill and Christina Scharff, eds. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Schweitzer, Marlis. “‘The Mad Search for Beauty’: Actresses, Cosmetics, and the Middle-Class Market”. In Testimonial Advertising in the American Marketplace: Emulation, Identity, Community. Marlis Schweitzer and Marina Moskowitz, eds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.


Cleopatra was a Redhead: A History of Hair

Thanks to a conversation with fellow blogger Vivienne of Bluestocking Blue (on this post), I have been doing some research. Vivienne asked about the beauty politics of hair: what is it about long hair that makes it central to our ideas of beauty, and what roles do gender and economics play in this? Good question.

Rapunzel

Artwork by Jamie Fales (noosed-kitty.blogspot.co.uk)

To start with, we could ask the Bible. I admit that I’m reluctant to do so, but I Corinthians says this:

“I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying with anything down over his head dishonours his head, 5 but every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonours her head – it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a woman will not be covered, then let her be shorn! But since it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7 For indeed a man ought not to cover his head, being the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.”

So there’s that. Interestingly, the Quran does not say that women should cover their heads, only that they should dress modestly (7:26) and covers their chests (24:31). The Muslim veil was adopted from Christianity. In both religions we see the idea that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, and that it is related to her sexuality and should therefore be covered. It’s astonishing how squeamish we still are – two thousand years later – about female hair, and how it is policed from head to toe.

So hair is related to sex. But what about money?

Vivienne raised the possibility that long hair is prized as beautiful partly because it is a status symbol: long hair is impractical, so having it implies that you are rich enough not to do physical work. Could this also be why is has been gendered feminine, since women have historically been kept in the house?

My first thought is that while there must be truth in this, it’s also true that women have always worked physically – just not all of them. Women of the forgotten working classes worked physically inside the house and outside, and just tied their hair up. It may not have been practical, but long hair was too tightly bound up with the idea of femininity to be given up: cropping a woman’s hair was a used as a punishment (albeit under the veil of practicality) in prisons and asylums, and also charity schools if Charlotte Brontë is to be believed in Jane Eyre.

Long hair was, however, very much a status symbol when it came to the trend for long powdered wigs (a.k.a. the peruke) in the mid-1600s. Wigs had not been fashionable, but at this time a syphilis epidemic swept Europe (those naughty Europeans!) and an awful lot of people were losing their hair to the disease. When the young French King Louis XIV started wearing a wig to cover his thinning hair, shortly followed by his cousin Charles II, King of England, wigs became a bit of a craze. They got bigger and more elaborate, and could cost more than the annual salary of most workers. And this, Vivienne, is where the term ‘bigwig’ came from. But the peruke was killed off along with the aristocrats in the French Revolution of 1789: the final blow in England came when Prime Minister William Pitt introduced a tax on hair powder in 1795. Trés amusant.

louis xiv

Louis XIV (www.newworldencyclopedia.org)

The relation of hair, sex and economics only got more complex as the centuries wore on, and hair colour became far more important than it deserved to be. Victorian novelists such as George Eliot and Charles Dickens used hair to symbolise their characters’ qualities: blonde hair was given to a “sweet, gentle and submissive” woman (Galia Ofek, p.103), while “dark hair signified fallen or dangerous female sexuality”. The golden hair of a virtuous woman is placed centre stage in Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem ‘Goblin Market’ (read it here), a surreal and sensual fairy tale in which sisters Laura and Lizzie are tempted with fruit by strange “goblin men”. For fruit read sex, obviously (the poem was later published in Playboy, that well-known bastion of poetry). Laura buys some fruit with a lock of her golden hair, but it doesn’t go well – only Lizzie’s strong virginal resistance can save her sister. Both blonde, the sexual and economic power of their golden curls is ambivalent: it can damn them or save them. I’m reminded of Rapunzel.

goblin market

Artwork by Arthur Rackham (rainbowresource.com)

However, in the 1860s sensation fiction – melodramatic, gothic tales of murder and sexual deviance (I know, brilliant. Start with Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White) – challenged this norm by introducing the character of the “fair-haired demon” (Margaret Oliphant, quoted in Ofek p.103). She may look like the sweetest golden-haired angel, but this character is a ruthless manipulator with no morals at all. The public loved her.

Writing in Victorian Sensations: Essays on a Scandalous Genre (2006), Galia Ofek analyses the association of blonde hair with “gold and sexuality” (p.106) further, arguing that it connects to the “Woman Question” which was in constant public discussion at the time. In 1857 two important legal battles were being fought: the Divorce Act was passed, which made divorce quicker and easier; and the Petition for Married Woman’s Property Bill took place. This petition was part of the process by which married women were eventually given the right, quite simply, to own anything. Before that, once a woman married everything she owned became her husband’s property, as did she. Married women had the same legal status as children, criminals and the insane. Once this began to change, women became more threatening to the social status quo as their economic and legal power increased.

Since a woman’s beauty was one of her only marketable assets, her seductive golden hair really could be the gateway to wealth and power, through marriage. And once her legal rights as a married woman allowed her to wield wealth and power herself, it suddenly felt more dangerous for a man to be tempted by that hair.

Then there were the redheads, like Cleopatra. Cleopatra? Yes, according to historian Joann Fletcher in Cleopatra the Great (2011). The evidence is not conclusive, but one particular portrait in the Herculaneum seems to show Cleopatra, identified by her royal diadem, with red hair. There were fair-haired Greeks in her family line, and red hair does show up in that part of the world, so it is possible. Maybe this explains her fiery and seductive disposition – oh wait, another cliché. Aren’t we humans simple-minded?

rita

Rita Hayworth (fansshare.com)

Although the association of blonde hair with virtue, dark hair with vice, and red hair with sex was constantly questioned throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, classic Hollywood was happy to make use of the old images. Mary Pickford and Doris Day were the blonde sweethearts, while Theda Bara and Hedy Lamarr turned things dark and Rita Hayworth tossed her flaming tresses. Then again, Mae West, Jean Harlow and later Marilyn Monroe shook things up as peroxide vamps – and just like the “fair-haired demon” of Victorian sensation fiction, the public liked it.

But Hollywood doesn’t stand still, and hair has a new starring role nowadays, in How to Win an Oscar. Just ask Anne Hathaway, and Natalie Portman (OK, she didn’t win an Oscar for V for Vendetta but it’s much more memorable than her winning role in Black Swan). A woman shaving her head is still seen as an incredible sacrifice of her crowning glory (oh hello, Bible). Hathaway and Portman are celebrated for shaving their heads because they managed the astonishing achievement of still being beautiful even without hair. Non-beautiful lady skinheads do not receive such adulation, unless I am much mistaken.

anne hathaway

(digitalspy.com)

Now, there is something notable about this whole history of hair – which of course is not exhaustive, but these points are the ones my library and internet research led me towards. Where’s the black hair? Sure, we’ve had dark hair and that had a bad enough rep, but we’re still missing a lot. The politics of the afro, hair relaxing and braids are weighty issues that are still in play – stories crop up about kids with cornrows being kicked out of school, and black models told that they won’t get work if they don’t have their hair relaxed. The best thing for me to do is direct you to bell hooks, and her famous 1988 essay “Straightening Our Hair” (scroll down a bit for the essay). There are also responses to hooks from Hannah Pool and Glenor Roberts in The Guardian, just for a start.

We each navigate our own personal hair politics all the time – should I go blonde, dare to get a fringe? – but the politics of hair are interwoven throughout social, sexual and economic history. Hair matters, far more than I’ve been able to describe here. How much do you think it should really matter – and have I missed any important hair stories?


Guest Post at The Beheld

guest-blogging-relationships

(www.searchdecoder.com)

Having followed Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s blog The Beheld for a long time – and having been inspired by her writing in starting this blog – I’m very excited that she is hosting a guest post from me today. Here’s a taster:

Recently I got into an argument with a male friend who couldn’t see the difference between makeup, clothes, and jewelery when it came to beauty work and feminism. I thought the difference was obvious, but being forced to explain it properly I settled on the argument that it came down to adornment vs alteration. Makeup sits right on your skin and changes the way you look, and it isn’t always easy to see that it’s there. Clothes can alter your shape and general appearance, but they are more separate from you than makeup; jewelery is more separate still, not actually changing the way you look but merely adorning you with sparkles.
At the time I was quite pleased with this argument, but now I wonder. When does adornment become alteration? I’m not sure that the boundary is as clear as I had assumed—after all, do we then have to draw a distinction between BB creams and bright red lipstick, on the grounds that lipstick is obvious and artificial, and therefore falls more into the adornment camp, whereas BB cream is a deceptive alteration of your skin (or at least its appearance)?
I’ve certainly never heard anyone argue that wearing jewelery is part of the patriarchal oppression of women by pressuring them to be beautiful. But it is something that women do, with the purpose of enhancing their beauty. Does that mean a feminist should rethink her earrings, giving them the same weight of consideration many might give makeup?

Read the rest here… and read everything else on The Beheld too!

 


The Beautiful Author over at FWSA

Zadie Smith

(www.inspirational-black-literature.com)

The kind folk over at the FWSA blog (Feminist and Women’s Studies Association) have published my piece on The Beautiful Author here. Whatever would the publishing industry have done without Zadie Smith?


It’s all about the money in Glamour: A History by Stephen Gundle

I’m not sure what I expected when I checked Glamour: A History by Stephen Gundle (Oxford University Press, 2008) out of the library. Hollywood, the magazine and beauty industries, fashion history – yes, but money? Well, yes. We know nothing sells like glamour. But I didn’t expect money to be the driving force throughout glamour’s whole history.

1009_lras_09_o+woman+on_money

(www.lowriderarte.com)

Because that’s exactly it: nothing sells like glamour. And this is the key to the argument Gundle develops throughout the book, in which he traces the glamour of the Napoleonic courtesans through to the Hollywood stars and all the way to Paris Hilton (I’m sure he was disappointed to end with her too).

I guess it’s not that surprising, since women (who are most often associated with glamour) have been bought and sold in one way or another for centuries, as the examples above make clear. However, glamour itself – which is not quite beauty, not exactly sex, and not really status either – doesn’t appear to be directly linked to money.

And that’s because it isn’t – at least, it doesn’t have to be, but that’s what happens to glamour in a capitalist society. As Autumn Whitefield-Madrano at The Beheld wrote of Virginia Postrel’s book on glamour, “Something glamorous must give form to an otherwise formless longing or desire”. And what happens when formless desires are shaped into glamorous images in a capitalist society? Yeah. We buy stuff.

So eventually glamour becomes pretty much synonymous with advertising, as we see all around us now. But how did this happen? Professor Gundle will explain.

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Caroline Otero, one of the most famous courtesans of late 19th-century Paris (tipegozombi.blogspot.com)

After the American Revolution (1765-1783) and the French Revolution (1789), the structure of society changed in Europe and the US. The aristocracy declined, the middle classes emerged and grew richer, and industrialization gave birth to commodity culture. More people had more money (though still unequally) and there was more stuff for them to buy. Selling became an art form.

And that’s where glamour came in. Sounds obvious when put like that, doesn’t it? But when it comes to courtesans like La Belle Otero, for example, it was not as simple as using glamour to sell sex. Gundle explains that what made the top courtesans so desirable was not the promise of sex, but something broader: they were a lifestyle brand (that’s your heritage, Gwyneth) and association with them gave the customer an image of reckless wealth, style and luxury. That sounds familiar… Oh, hi Lindsay Lohan and Closer magazine.

This formula, product + glamour + aspiration = $$$ was used and intensified throughout the 20th century, selling everything from Hollywood films to vacuum cleaners – not to mention clothes and magazines. Gundle spends a lot of time analysing the history of these two, charting the rise of the fashion designer (as I discussed recently) from being purely a clothes-maker to the rich elite to, erm, a clothes-maker to the rich elite who also sells ready-to-wear clothes and perfume to those who can’t really afford it but wish they could. The magazines, of course, feed off this in celebrating the glamorous designer (Gundle picks Gianni Versace as the best example) and their celebrity friends, all of whom conveniently sponsor said magazines.

Nowadays, glamour is most often embodied in lifestyle aspiration which, Gundle says, is at the heart of celebrity culture. As role models in the shallowest sense, our desire to live like the celebrities shifts product like nothing else. In the Hollywood star system a young actor would be contracted to one studio for a set fee and number of films, and then moulded ruthlessly into the image selected for them. This image was then sold as an aspiration, which helped sell all manner of products designed to help the public achieve their dreams.

Greta Garbo "Torrent" 1925

Young Greta Garbo (www.gretasrecords.tumblr.com)

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And after the studio got hold of her (nenaghsilentfilmfestival.wordpress.com)

Gundle writes that when Greta Garbo – then Greta Gustaffson – arrived in Hollywood in 1925, she “looked like what she was, an unsophisticated girl from the backwaters of Sweden. Her front teeth were crooked, her hair was frizzy, and there was a hint of a double chin” (p. 173). Initially she didn’t photograph well, but then MGM cinematographer Henrik Sartov put her face in a particular pool of light, and the magic of Garbo was revealed. Of course, this magic then had to be plucked, preened and painted, but there it was. The studio built an image for Garbo of the mysterious, erotic European, and the building part is key: glamour is so enticing because it is something constructed, and therefore easier to achieve than beauty.

One is made, not born, glamorous. The constructed nature of glamour is clear in the word itself, which comes from an old Scots word meaning something close to trickery, and was introduced into modern English by novelist Walter Scott in 1805: it meant, to quote Gundle, “a magical power capable of making ordinary people, dwellings, and places seem like magnificent versions of themselves” (p. 7).

Which, to come back to the present, is precisely what Glamour magazine sells us. I’m not sure I needed more cynicism regarding popular culture and all its glamorous images, but that’s what Gundle’s book has given me – albeit a much better informed and impressive cynicism. It is a shame though, that glamour is all about the money, because it is also about aspiration – someone ordinary becoming a “magnificent version of themselves”, and this could be put to much better uses. If we glamorised something other than wealth and buying stuff we could really improve things, although I think it will take more than TV doctors in lipstick to get there.


New Year, New Blah

I know. It’s the 4th of January and you’ve already read hundreds of features called ‘New Year, New You’. We’re told to ask ourselves all kinds of big questions: is my life going in the right direction? Am I the best person I can be? Can I lose 20 pounds? What isn’t questioned is the assumption that we all need to improve ourselves.

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Whatever, Gisele (bbb-news.com)

And that’s fair enough. After all, it’s nice to be motivated to improve ourselves and our lives. But I suspect it is no coincidence that so many of the self-improvements suggested to us involve buying things. A gym membership. A self-help book for the career/relationship/diet/self-confidence. A new wardrobe. A new lipstick. A new hairstyle.

Well, hang on now, this looks familiar. Why, it’s all about being hot and sexy! Of course, if I can just transmogrify myself into Gisele Bündchen by following Cosmo’s 10 easy steps, then everything in my life will be wildly successful and fabulous.

So by buying things to make me hot and sexy, I will become an amazing gorgeous person living in bliss. Strangely, this sounds like a recipe for success not for me, but for the lady magazines, the lady products and the corporations that sell them all. When did that happen?

I’m going to say the 1950s. At least, I have learned from Stephen Gundle’s excellent book, Glamour: A History (2008) that the 50s was when mass production brought luxury to the middle and working classes. Suddenly cars, jewellery, cosmetics and the clothes worn by models could actually be bought by the woman in the street. For the first time, everyone could genuinely aspire to be like the models and celebrities in the magazines, could wear the same lipstick as a film star.

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The aspirational Rita Hayworth (fansshare.com)

It seems odd now to think of such availability as a novelty, but it was. For instance, fashion designers originally dealt only in couture, making bespoke clothes for the few who could afford them. Sometimes they would sell the rights to their patterns, so that other companies could make cheap quick versions, but this was not the same as the new breed of designers who emerged in the 1960s – Calvin Klein is probably the most famous – who pioneered the market in designer ready-to-wear. This market, in which original designer dresses, shirts and underwear were on sale to the masses at almost accessible prices, was brand new.

And since these desirable, aspirational products were now readily available, they needed publicity. And we know how that ended up – fashion and lifestyle magazines who have become so dependent on advertising income that all their content raves about the products advertised in their pages with little room for anything else. And the aspirations that we absorb from the magazines are all about what you look like and what you own.

So of course ‘New Year, New You’ comes to be less about being kinder to people and saving more money over the coming year, but rather to identify new (or perennial) problems with our appearances and purchase lots of stuff to fix them.

Need I ask about the success rate of such resolutions, or how they make us all feel?

How’s about a nice, obvious New Year’s resolution, in which we attempt to Not Buy Stuff and Do Important Things Instead. Pour moi? My resolution is to (not buy stuff) and blog more regularly. You see? Selfless.