Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Guest Post from Savannah Scorpion: Faux-Liberation Bullshit, or how cosmetics companies use Faux Empowerment to convince you to buy more shit


It's fall! Which means salted caramel mochas at Starbucks! And crunchy leaves! And gallivanting around in stolen hoodies!

And it also means it's October, a.k.a. Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a.k.a. BUY ALL THE PINK SHIT MONTH.

When I had my new employee orientation at The Cosmetics Company That Shall Not Be Named, my boss told us that the slogan for our company was: "Be A Force of Beauty". She then asked us what we thought being a "force of beauty" meant.

The answers were pretty standard: Empowering women by making them feel better about themselves. Using beauty for good. Making women feel great about themselves. Etc. When I mentioned chemotherapy patients wearing lipstick to their treatments, the room got really quiet. My manager then went on and explained that if we were all "forces of beauty" for our store, our sales would increase, and we'd get more hours. She went on to talk about "plus-one selling" and different tactics in order to convince people to increase sales. 

Being a "force of beauty" roughly translated to "convincing women to buy more beauty shit". Which are not the same things.

Loads of cosmetics companies are involved with different supposedly woman-empowering charities. A LUSH employee started an anti-bullying campaign. Both Revlon and Avon sponsor breast cancer walks. If you ever go to a Mary Kay party, you'll hear the speaker talk about how Mary Kay Ash was devoted to ending domestic violence. Urban Decay, along with not shutting the fuck up about how they don't test on animals, sponsors the Global Women's Rights Awards. MAC has their famous Viva Glam campaign, to raise money for groups fighting to prevent HIV/AIDS.

When cosmetics companies run a campaign for a charitable cause, that charity is the secondary concern. The primary goal is for you to spend your money with the brand. Cosmetics companies and retailers do charitable things because: a) it helps at tax time, b) it creates brand loyalty, and c) it benefits the charity. 

I'm not saying "don't buy makeup ever". I'm not even saying that wearing makeup can't be a revolutionary act (hell, it's not like I wrote a piece about lipstick being a radical act of self-care for an independent radical zine or anything...). What I am saying is that buying a lipstick because it has a pink ribbon on it is the makeup version of buying a Che Guevara t-shirt from The Gap.
If you are passionate about finding a cure for cancer, make a donation to your neighborhood teaching hospital or medical school. Research whatever charity you're thinking about donating to (Charitynavigator and Guidestar are two great resources), and read the fine print whenever you see a product claiming to donate proceeds to a charity. Many times, it's a really minuscule amount, or there's a fundraising limit. Think Before You Pink is another great site that delves further into "pinkwashing", i.e. companies using breast cancer awareness (among other causes) in order to sell products. 

Charitywashing is just one facet of Faux Liberation Corporate Bullshit. I am all for making people look and feel their best. I am not all for convincing them to buy 5 million products to achieve that goal--even if that would mean making a killer sale.

If you ever wind up watching the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, or any televised beauty pageant, like Miss America or Miss USA, you'll hear the contestants talk about how walking around in a skimpy bikini makes them feel so confident and liberated and how lingerie modeling/winning a pageant has always been their childhood dream yadda fucking yadda. Never mind that models go on extremely strict diet and exercise regimens before such a high-profile fashion show. Never mind how a woman participating in a pageant can easily spend more in preparation (hair/makeup/dental veneers/eyelash extensions/fake tanning/coaching fees/etc.) than she will earn in any prize/scholarship money. Never mind how Nina Davaluri lost 70 pounds in order to compete in (and win) the Miss America pageant and still has to deal with racist assholes on Twitter complaining about how she isn't worthy of the title. Never mind how one pageant competition, Miss USA, is basically run by Donald Trump, one of the most misogynistic ass-cheese-stains to exist on the planet.

There is a lot of manipulative bullshit that goes on in the beauty industry. Don't let a cosmetics company piss on your leg and tell you that it will cure breast cancer.

I'll leave y'all with an amazing TED Talk by Cameron Russell, a Victoria's Secret model. Cameron admits how fucked up the modeling industry can be and has used her privilege and earnings to establish several grassroots organizations that use performance and art to create social change.

Now, THAT'S how you use the beauty industry to empower others.

ETA: I just got the ULTA mailer, and it's all pink, all the time, about everything. They are offering a promotion where a portion of sales of certain products (many of which are special edition OMGPINKRIBBON) will be donated to the Breast cancer Research Foundation. Now, the BCRF is a wonderful organization and a much better cancer charity than Susan G. Komen Race for the Copyright Infringement Lawsuit. However, it's still a better idea to write out a damn check to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation rather than buying some pink shit you'll get bored with in a month. 


  1. Great post. "buying a lipstick because it has a pink ribbon on it is the makeup version of buying a Che Guevara t-shirt from The Gap" - hahaha. So true.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    [heart expands 3 sizes too large]


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