Tag Archives: cosmetics



Debbie says:

K-Pop is not my thing, but I am more and more aware of friends who follow it, talk about it, think about it, and care about it. So Joanna Fuertes’ essay on “K-Beauty” at Medium, which turns out to be a few months old, caught my eye this week.

Playing a starring role [in the all-things-Korean culture explosion] is a glorious onslaught of Korean beauty products, with the K-Beauty market now valued at over $13 billion, and $7.2 billion of which is from facial skin care alone. Serums, acids, oils, cushion compacts, CC creams, BB creams, masks that bubble on your face, masks to sleep in, volcanic clay, and snail slime are seeing improbably explosive popularity, and they’ve done so with accessible pricing and cute packaging that has grown women reaching for panda face masks.

Fuertes is interested both in the consumer appeal of the K-Beauty products …

So how is the Korean beauty industry seemingly light years ahead of us in the first place? One explanation is they’ve just been doing it longer. “The philosophical and cultural underpinnings have been in place for centuries, long before it was ever commercialized, and Koreans valuing their skin is not a new phenomenon” [Jude] Chao [whom Fuertes describes as “somewhat of an oracle on K-Beauty”] explains.

There is also an inadvertent appeal to a Western audience that is becoming more interested in natural ingredients. Most recently, K-Beauty has had snail mucin fever, using slime collected from garden snails crawling around on a mesh net in a dark, humid room. Once beautifully packaged in a glossy jar, it’s easier to overlook the ick factor and aspire to dermatologists’ claims that it encourages effervescent, aging-resistant skin.

… and the commercial factors driving their success:

“What people don’t see is the amount of government support and PR that drives interest around everything from Korean food to Hollywood buying the rights to Korean dramas,” says Chao. “Skin care is another form of popular culture that’s proved to be a powerful export. So, if you go to beauty trade shows, it’s not unusual to have a Korean government presence supporting at least some of the homegrown brands.”

The involvement of the Korean government is no surprise to anyone who has lived in New York City, where the “Korean deli” — a mom-and-pop convenience store with little or no Korean products — is found everywhere. Korean delis thrive in part  because the Korean embassies help immigrants through every step of the process, including advising them on what to stock and how to display — which is why they all look so familiar and are so easy to navigate.

In her analysis of the appeal of the products, Fuertes digs into Korean history, western Orientalism, and the deep-seated conviction in so many cultures around the world that fair skin is better and more desirable. In her analysis of the commerce aspects, she exposes Western appropriation, and readiness to repackage inexpensive products in costly trappings.

In sharp contrast to Fenty Beauty,  Rihanna’s cosmetics line, which I wrote about early this year, the K-Beauty craze is less about people of color finding and promoting their own style for people with skin like theirs, and more about the monetary value of everything from snail mucin to skin lightening, with (of course) the money flowing towards the oligarchs of the white western world.

At the same time, the music and drama explosion of K-artists does seem (to the extent I understand it) to be a genuine import of Korean aesthetics and preferences; here’s hoping that the less expensive, more genuine products Chao is promoting make their way into Western hands, and the money flows to the people who make them, not the Westerners who repackage them.

And I am always happier when there’s less skin lightening and more encouragement of satisfaction with your own skin of any color.

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Aging is (Not) Unnatural

Laurie and Debbie say:

Cross-posted to Feministe. All photographs by Laurie Toby Edison.

Some photos below may not be okay for office viewing.

After our introductory post on Feministe last week, Daisy Deadhead asked if we wrote about age as a body image issue, since we hadn’t happened to mention it in that post. Great question!


We think age is a crucial body image issue, especially in this culture. On the one hand, we have the multi-million dollar “beauty” industry and ad agencies all striving to squeeze every dollar they can out of making us hate our bodies. On the other hand, we have the medical establishment frantically trying to make every human variation into a medical condition. Aging is just about the most fruitful area either of these groups can pick on. Contrary to all of this noise, aging is normal.


Used to be, “aging” started somewhere around the 40s. Now, especially for women, “aging” starts before you’re 30. Since the only definition of “hot” is 25-or-under (and often younger than that), you’re out of the race. (Some of us don’t think we need to run, but for millions of women, it’s terrifying.) Is anything sagging? Is your skin starting to change texture? Toning equipment and skin creams are there to solve your problems.


Not too much later, the doctors get into the act. “Perimenopause” has been completely medicalized, and is basically treated as a chronic condition. Once you’re past it and into menopause, then the complicated question of hormones has to be addressed. Some doctors are starting to recommend that men replace their (naturally decreasing) testosterone as an anti-aging supplement.

It’s not like the corporations take a vacation while the doctors get busy: natural changes in your aging body are subject to both commercial and medical attention. The Botox providers need money, as do the labiaplasty doctors who will make women’s pubes look young again. Cosmetics and plastic surgery for men are becoming more and more popular all the time. Executive face-lifts for both men and women are common. The exercise machine manufacturers and the gyms don’t just talk about health and fitness: they also talk, constantly, about youthfulness. (By the way, this keeps people out of gyms in droves. Many people would exercise more if they didn’t feel like failures because it never makes them look younger.)


Whether or not you follow all these rules, buy all these products, work at looking young, inevitably (unless you are seriously unlucky) you’re going to get to a point where you’re not looking young any more. Then what you’re really supposed to do is disappear (although active versions of people your age will show up on TV all the time, buying Depends, and energy products, and other commodities). A few years ago, we were at a BlogHer session, and one of the presenters asked people to name the identity you felt most uncomfortable revealing. Women were talking about everything from being Jewish to being queer, and everyone was nodding. Laurie raised her hand and said, “I always talk about my age, which is 62, even though it sometimes makes other people uncomfortable.” For the rest of the weekend, women kept coming up to her, thanking her, and telling her how brave she was. Announcing her age in public was clearly a much more transgressive act than talking about sexual orientation.


Everyone who lives long enough ages. Everyone’s body changes as they age. While there’s a certain amount of general predictability to the course of aging, the specific changes are very variable from person to person. Some of them are difficult to cope with; others are not. Some people stay healthy and active into their 90s; others don’t. Youth does not have a monopoly on beauty.

Like so many other body image issues facing us today, it isn’t aging that’s the issue, it’s how we treat aging.