Politics of Cosmetics

By the mid-1960s, the counterculture and a nascent feminist movement attacked these trends in advertising, the commercialization of beauty, and women's sexual objec-tification in the media. Embracing a "natural" look, some women gave up makeup entirely, while others began to compound their own creams and lotions using herbs, berries, and other organic ingredients. Major cosmetics firms were slow to respond to this challenge. Estee Lauder introduced Clinique in 1968, emphasizing a scientific and hygienic appeal. A number of cosmetics lines appeared that contained natural ingredients and were not tested on animals; these often sold in food coops or other alternative outlets. The Body Shop, founded by Anita Roddick, became highly successful marketing to women sensitive to the environment and influenced by the counterculture.

In the 1960s and 1970s, women of color also protested the narrow images of beauty that appeared in fashion magazines and limited cosmetics lines available to them. African American businesses like Fashion Fair and entrepreneurs from the post-1965 immigrant groups have created niche makeup lines for black, Latina, Asian-American, and other women. Increasingly attuned to American ethnic diversity and the global economy, corporations like Maybelline began to manufacture foundation and other cosmetics for the full range of human skin tones.

The feminist critique of cosmetics continued to be heard in the last decades of the twentieth century, notably in the 1991 best-seller The Beauty Myth. That critique, in turn, was challenged in the 1980s and 1990s by postfeminists, postmodernists, lipstick lesbians, and devotees of such subcultural styles as punk. They rejected the "natural" as a measure of authenticity, and held instead to the view that cosmetics use could be a source of play, pleasure, and self-expression. Again, cosmetics companies have picked up on that attitude, marketing lipstick, eye makeup, and nail polish in unusual and extreme colors and such provocative names as Vamp and Juicy.

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