Jessica DeFino shares her 2020 journey with the beauty industry


If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that everything sucks, including the beauty industry. I wish I could say it more eloquently, but I can’t. I am sorry. I am tired.

I started to suspect that 2020 would be a total party in February. That’s when I crammed all my silly little things – clothes and coffee mugs, half-empty moisturizers – into my Chevy Malibu and left my husband. He had thought a lot about what to do with my face; thoughts like “already taking meds” to clear my acne, or “putting on makeup”, damn.

The constant comments seemed normal, for the most part. Familiar. You are not pretty enough, you are not skinny enough, your skin is not fair enough, young enough or without pores. These products can help you! It turns out that beauty marketing and psychological abuse have a lot in common. Who knew?

Anyway, after two years of feeling generally ugly / worthless / water cries, I got angry. Angry with him, yes, but also with the patriarchy. Gender norms. The shitty beauty standards that brainwashed both of us, all of us—employers, judges, juries, the government– by equating a woman’s appearance with her intrinsic value. The beauty industry that sells us these standards. The go-girl feminism brand (Now compatible with capitalism! ™) that insists they buy into it is empowerment. I was so angry, sick and tired of it all. I was ready to rage against the media marketing machine.

Then the world ended.

Or rather, These unprecedented times started, marked by the coronavirus pandemic and its quarantines. To be clear, there is nothing good about these unprecedented times. But back then, if I could see a little one wick with a silver lining, it was that surely the pressure to keep up appearances would ease in isolation. Maybe we would learn to love our naked faces and without Botox. Social distancing from the expectations of society. Use less, need less, want less.

Alas, this did not happen. In a frenzied flurry of articles and posts on Instagram, the pressure to do beauty is just… maintained…future. Brazilian DIY and bang trims. Everything you need to know to extend the life of your lip fillers. Why putting on makeup every morning, even in confinement, can boost your self-confidence. Is that what I’m supposed to do with all this alone time? I was thinking. Digging into an eyeshadow palette until I hit the pan, like it’s a perfectly acceptable place to find confidence?

Then I understood – dystopian, absurd, obvious: it wasn’t about boosting confidence. It was about stimulating the economy. And as 2020 has clearly shown, the industry, like the government, put wealth before well-being.

Women are worth more, economically, when we adhere to beauty standards. Just look at the things we are chasing! Permanent, pore-free skin – unachievable goals, goals that require endless maintenance, goals that ensure that we are constant consumers. Finding beauty in our skin, our faces, our bodies like they or they threaten this system.

Of course, in a cosmetic catch-22, threatening the capitalist economy means threatening the livelihoods of the individuals who make up the economy, a risk we all must have weighed at some point in the past year: Dine out and save local businesses, or stay home and save lives? I don’t see any satisfactory way for individuals to simultaneously support everyone working in the beauty industry and hammer home the capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist foundation it’s built on it.

This foundation of white supremacy – the centuries of positioning beauty as goodness and beauty as whiteness, the appropriation of Black lines on white bodies, the proliferation of lightening products, Promotion diet culture– helped create the conditions that made possible some of the most gruesome tragedies of the entire gruesome year: the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and at least 164 black lives in the hands of the police. Clearly, Eurocentric beauty standards and systemic racism are inextricably and inexcusably linked.

But wait, there is more!

As xenophobia raged in the United States, makeup enthusiasts fueled racism with the ‘fox eye’ trend, an appropriation of East Asian eyes (‘another example of mainstream Eurocentric culture that selects ethnic characteristics to look ‘cool’, while treating and considering the ethnicity in question as their inferiors’, such as reported by The Daily Targum).

While Amazon vulnerable workers exploited during the coronavirus pandemic and CEO Jeff Bezos almost single-handedly widened the wealth gap, beauty media published summaries of Amazon Prime Day.

As the climate crisis intensified, personal care companies dominated the 2020 list of the world’s best plastic polluters, despite the fact that many conglomerates have met almost all sustainability goals they or they set up over the last decade. (They’ve set new sustainability goals for 2030, which you can check out here and here.)

My takeaway? When the beauty industry continues to operate as usual, the world continues to operate as usual, and unless you’re billionaire Jeff Bezos, I think we can agree that the world cannot and must not go on as usual. Business as usual is literally murder we.

The brightest spots in beauty this year there have been rebellions against the status quo.

Sharon Chuter, Founder of UOMA Beauty, launched Pull to change, a nonprofit organization that advocates for “economic opportunity for blacks around the world”. Aurore James, founder of Brother Vellies, created the 15% commitment, an organization that holds businesses accountable for fighting racism by asking them to pledge “15% of their storage space to black-owned businesses.” Glossier has injected $ 500,000 into its grant initiative for black-owned beauty businesses. A number of beauty brands have partnered with I Am A Voter to encourage voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election.

These initiatives are amazing and inspiring, but they are not enough. The world of beauty in general: businesses and consumers, publishers and influencers, independent brands and boards of directors, everyone– must engage in work.

If we want a better beauty industry in 2021, it has to go beyond inclusive marketing campaigns and diverse foundation shades. He must push beyond consumption as activism and performative self-care. It must include community care and climate activism, racial and social justice, policy reform and protests. Above all, it must advocate for the abolition of the obsolete and oppressive systems it supports.

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