“So Tired Lately” Beauty as Artifice, Intimacy, and Power
Aiden Arata, Amanda Choo Quan, and Leah Clancy on the intimacy of cosmetic rituals, mall temporality, and the absence of beauty culture from academia.
When people ask what it’s like to write for beauty websites, I tell them it’s like cosplaying a hot girl. I love working myself into a palimpsest of moisture and powder; I love a violent smudge of lipstick on the edge of a glass. The femme body can be an intersection of magic, capital, politics, and performance.
But I also sometimes feel disembodied, or like, when I modify myself into desirability, I lose grasp on what I’m hiding. I feel slightly haunted by the sensation that legislature, ethics, and identity play out across my flesh whenever I moisturize. I have questions: Is it ethical to want to be hot? To be “well”? Where does my body fit into the self-erasing practice of beauty?
These are important and complicated questions that deserve to be teased out, challenged, and explored in ways that are neither pat nor convenient. So I enlisted the help of a few articulate, artistic, sick, and beauty-obsessed writers – Amanda Choo QuanandLeah Clancy – to hash out the ways that young femme artists make art about, against, and on the ever-inflating and -collapsing economy of the body. We took to my preferred platform for discourse, the internet; what follows is our conversation (edited for length and clarity) about adaptogens, forgiveness, face gloss, and more.
Aiden Arata Hello, here’s a self-care meme I made because I Photoshop when I’m sad. Honestly, I just want to know off the bat about your skincare routines.
Leah Clancy My routine is always impacted by the fact that I am running behind. Sometimes I’m so tired and can’t get myself to wash my face, so then I break out. Then I get mad at myself and try to belatedly make up for it with like a mud mask or something, but the damage is already done.
Amanda Choo Quan Me too, I definitely have an ideal versus reality. Recently I’ve been so tired. I’ve just been skipping makeup completely so I don’t have to take it off when I get home. Before bed I use either this argan or evening primrose sea buckthorn stick I got from this Etsy store, and the Ordinary’s squalane and hyaluronic acid.
AA I love the idea of buying these things and never using them. Like we’re old enough to need the shit, but not old enough to stay in all night and roll on serums.
LC That is 90 percent of my habits as a consumer.
ACQ I sometimes wonder if the high of buying something trumps the high of actually using it... and whether it’s the act of buying that causes “wellness.”
AA Yes –I love the idea of looking hot later.
ACQIt took me a long time to admit to my friends how much being in a mall soothes me and is completely a part of my identity. Huge malls were my first American cultural touchpoint.
They’re weirdly nostalgic. My mall was pretty much me and my mother’s sanctuary.
LC I feel very judged when I admit that pleasure! That space is so important to relationships, especially for mothers and daughters. Shopping can become such an important way of connecting ... or clashing. Specifically outside the dressing rooms in Hollister.
AA We don’t really have or use malls the same way anymore. I feel like I don’t even really see hordes of teens there when I go.
ACQ Yes, thinking about the place they hold in the US’ cultural imagination is weird.
AA They’re these geographical non-places.
LC Completely atemporal! It’s so hard to discern how much time you are spending there. There is no set amount of time to be in or out of there, you can really indulge all of your senses.
AA They are so anonymous and everything in them that would define them is transient, because everything in malls is a product – it’s designed to move.
ACQ That’s why I love them, they’re pockets of time.
AA But then suddenly there’s a switch and I get super stressed.
LC Similar to museum fatigue! That wall you hit when you’ve gone to like three out of four wings of a place and suddenly cannot fathom seeing another goddamn Madonna and Child.
ACQ I feel like spending time in malls can be a really good mental exercise, in this way of trying to be an academic that thinks a lot and has all the ideas all the time but still needs to navigate the world.