December 20, 2015 4 min read
You've probably heard a million times that beauty products are only for superficial people, for those without a sense of what's real, important and valuable.
I used to think like this myself, especially because I was a professor. Many academics like to believe that we live lives of the mind where we are "above" beauty.
I've since changed my mind, especially as I've gotten deeper into reading the works of some amazing feminist women of color. I've started to view beauty as a form of self-care, instead of a patriarchal trap. One of my deepest inspirations, the writer and activist Audre Lorde, famously declared that "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." For many women, especially women of color, we're often told that we are only useful, only valuable when we devote ourselves to others; that caring for ourselves in the last thing that we should consider. Often we perform the invisible work of emotional labor for others: emotional labor being the work we do when we calm and soothe others, listen to their wounds and help to care and heal them. Caring for our own selves is, however, painted as excessive and self-indulgent.
Intersectional feminism--which to my mind can be one of the most important philosophical and political forces against systematic injustice--is a tiring thing to perform. It's tiring because common wisdom doesn't want to hear about female empowerment. It doesn't want to hear about racial injustice. It doesn't want to think about how many categories are too simplistic and don't work to understand the world around us. Fighting against this common wisdom is very, very tiring, and taking the time to care for the self as an act of self preservation is a feminist act.
IAs Salli Hughes says, appearance is a crucial part of our identities; grooming is a form of self-care that allows us to feel like ourselves when our worlds become unrecognisable." Beauty is not an artificial, fake "layer" which we use to lie and hide from the world; beauty facilitates the way we think of ourselves, how we present ourselves to others, how we interact with one another. While Beauty isn't extrinsic to our humanness, it is integral to it.
I started making Sabbatical Beauty products with this sort of empowerment ethos. I want people to use Sabbatical Beauty products to make people feel happier about themselves, to make them more attractive versions of themselves. Sabbatical Beauty is about smart people who want products that actually, that they will enjoy using. Sabbatical Beauty is about people who don't see skincare as a form of self-indulgence but about a radical care of the self. And as historian Kathy Peiss has noted in her careful study of the history of the American beauty industry, far from only being a patriarchal tool wielded by big corporations, the history of the beauty industry has often been the story of women seizing their chances to becoming entrepreneurs, inventors, manufacturers and promoters, who built their brands through building community, or: : the "web of intimate rituals, social relationships and female institutions that gave rise to American beauty culture."
So the next time you pick up a cream, a serum, a lotion, consider what you're doing as an act of self-restoration, rather than an act of superficial indulgence. Consider sharing what you are using with your friends and family; ask for advice and recommendations from others.
-- Adeline Koh, Sabbatical Beauty