On Beauty: A Reading List About Makeup

My makeup routine is nonexistent. I wore mascara to a presentation on my birthday last week, and before that, I had my friend apply my red lipstick in an Au Bon Pain in New York City. I’m uncoordinated, anxious and fidgety—my idea of hell is eyeliner application. But I appreciate the artistry that goes into the creation and execution of gorgeous makeup. I’ve watched tutorials, and I’ve watched my friends draw wings on their faces. They enjoy it, and I am glad for them. Beauty criticism analyzes the ways we can subvert a society that would have us subsumed by self-loathing. We use the tools we’ve been given. Makeup, then, can be a weapon. And it can be damn fun.

1. “The Birth of a Beauty Criticism.” (Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, The New Inquiry, March 2016)

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano is the author of Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives and the founder of the blog The Beheld. Her essay for TNI is a solid starting point for this list as a whole:

The new beauty criticism sites are for women, but they don’t let that constrain their attention. They’ve learned that a female audience means an audience that has absorbed “the personal is political” and can handle a little intellectual roughhousing mixed in with the best nude lipsticks of winter. It’s not an either-or proposition, which the women at the top of new(ish) media outlets intuitively understand…The more I read about beauty, the more I learn—but without a strong critical tradition that I can take refuge in, the more my thinking becomes fractured, my mission unclear.

2. “Making Split Ends Meet: The Hustle of Being a Beauty Vlogger.” (Gaby Dunn, Broadly, February 2016)

Gaby Dunn has written candidly about the comedy vlogosphere–particularly how fame and wealth aren’t necessarily congruous for Millennial creators, including Dunn and her writing partner, Allison Raskin. Here, Dunn interviews several beauty vloggers facing down financial issues of their own, like branding, sponsorship, advertising and transparency.

3. “How Glossier Harnessed the Myth of Cool Girl Makeup.” (Haley Mlotek, Fader, August 2016)

In a previous incarnation of my life, I wanted to work in fashion–specifically, for THE fashion magazine of my teenage dreams: Teen Vogue. Emily Weiss, founder of Into The Gloss and Glossier, was one of the impossibly glamorous interns haunting the photos and bylines of Teen Vogue (and yes, I knew of Weiss pre-“The Hills,” because I was Really Serious about my favorite magazine). But then, I left for college and I was too busy trying not to fail my required logic course to follow Weiss’ trajectory. Obviously, I have a lot to catch up on. One thing hasn’t changed, however: Weiss still embodies that effortless elegance. Now it’s on her own empire’s terms, not Teen Vogue’s.

4. “Girl.” (Alexander Chee, Guernica, March 2015)

Novelist Alexander Chee has written a stunning essay about freedom, femininity, and queerness, eschewing traditional tropes for something lyrical and profound. I hope Chee releases an nonfiction collection someday, and I hope this essay is the first listed in the table of contents.

5. “Why Lime Crime is the Most Hated Beauty Company on the Internet.” (Arabelle Sicardi, Racked, September 2015)

Preeminent beauty writer/critic Arabelle Sicardi brings their reporting chops to investigate the strange case of Lime Crime, an infamous makeup company known for its bold palettes and shady practices. You can’t have too much Sicardi in your life, so don’t miss “A Bridge Between Love and Lipstick.” And if you, like me, are eagerly awaiting the demise of summer, get your spooky on with “Spell Book of Beauty.”

6. “Here’s What Happens When ‘Beauty’ Becomes ‘Duty.'” (Hailey Siracky, BuzzFeed Books, July 2014)

In World War II-era Britain, Winston Churchill & co. implemented “Beauty as Duty,” a propaganda campaign intent on a) raising morale, and b) encouraging sustained femininity as women took on traditionally male roles in the workplace. Hailey Siracky does an excellent job illuminating the bizarre double standards of the collusion between patriarchy and patriotism.