It used to be called "primping." Now it's called "radical feminist self-care."
So if you're spending $46 for a tiny jar of face-moisturizer–hey, you're doing it for the sisterhood!
It's always fun to watch feminists twist themselves into pretzels trying to come up with a "feminist" explanation for indulging in the girly-girl things that are supposedly foisted on them against their will by the evil male patriarchy. And so we have Rebecca Schuman, holder of a Ph.D. in German and education columnist for Slate, breathlessly enthusing about her discovery of "K-Beauty," a Korean skin-care regimen that involves slathering your face with at least ten different oils and cleansers and enclosing it inside a rubber "sheet mask" that's something like the mud-packs your mom used to apply in her pursuit of "A-(for "American") Beauty:
So, whenever I happen to find 15 luxurious minutes to myself, I slapped one on. The change to my skin was instantaneous: My face felt more elastic, firmer, smoother, like it could breathe. It was as if I’d been a Korean beauty—or K-beauty—devotee my entire life but just hadn’t realized it until I was properly moisturized….
In the next box of baby stuff came a dozen different vials of goop, all of which had to be applied (and sometimes un-applied) in a precise order. Not one, but two cleansers—and the first, an oil “cleanser,” felt so wrong to someone raised on the tingle of Noxzema—followed by a “toner” that felt nothing like Sea Breeze; then an “essence,” a thin goop of something that I still haven’t figured out; thereinafter, a serum that is basically an even gloppier essence; then the serial-killer mask; followed by an eye cream—and, at long last, multiple “emulsions,” or moisturizers. (Read a legitimate rundown of the routine here. It’s not always 10 steps. Sometimes it’s more.)
Wait–isn't this supposed to be an education column?
Well, Schuman reports that she got turned onto K-Beauty by a Korean lady-friend who's a professor of medieval literature–so that gives the story an academic angle, right?:
"What I didn’t realize until recently, however, is that K-beauty is also popular with self-identified feminist academics and scholars, several of whom told me that they view the elaborate routine not as vanity but rather as an act of radical feminist self-care.*
Indeed, Stockton University English and digital humanities professor and Web designer Adeline Koh published an entire blog post on the subject. She wrote:
"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."
"At the moment, Koh is on sabbatical, and she’s moved on from research to praxis. She started formulating her own Korean-inspired skin care products because she found that commercial products sometimes irritated her skin, and she found the actual presence of much-touted active ingredients (like the decidedly not-vegan snail mucin or donkey milk) to be too small. She treated the formulation of her own products like another research project, studying cosmetic science textbooks and testing all products on herself (!)."
Ha ha–"praxis"! Hey, parents of students at Stockton University (and also New Jersey taxpayers, as Stockton is part of the New Jersey public-college system): Your tuition and tax dollars are paying for a professor to take a paid year off to figure out how to put more donkey milk into Korean night cream.
And the stuff ain't cheap. Check out Sephora's K-Beauty page, where a jar of "Pate au Ginseng Black Concentrated Mask" goes for $61, and a bottle of "Moisture-Bound Rejuvenating Creme" goes for $150.
Schuman got so carried away by the anti-patriarchal implications of K-Beauty–or maybe her sheet mask got stuck to her eyes–that Slate felled compelled to append this correction to her column shortly afterwards:
This article originally misidentified the bloggers Tracy of fanserviced-b and Cat Cactus of Snow White and the Asian Pear as “self-identified feminist academics and scholars.” Neither blogger self-identifies as a feminist, and Cat Cactus is not an academic. The piece also stated that Tracy and Cat Cactus are among women who “view the elaborate [K-beauty] routine not as vanity but rather as an act of radical feminist self-care.” Both bloggers disavow this view, and neither of them were contacted for the piece.
Oooops! Rebecca, Rebecca, you're not supposed to drink the magic Korean "rejuvenating creme"! You're supposed to put it on your face!
(For a full rundown on Schuman's gaffe, including a reported screen-grab of the original version of Schuman's column in which Schuman allegedly reported that both Tracy and Cat Cactus had told her personally that they were doing K-Beauty as "radical feminist self-care," see Cheryl Wischhover's Fashionista blog.)