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How Do I Just Go Back to Being A Beauty Editor Now?

How can I return to writing about skin care when so many people — myself included — now feel so unsafe in their skin?
What a week. Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

What a week. Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, I cried myself awake — something I'd been fortunate enough not to realize was even possible until that moment (I'd only ever heard of crying oneself to sleep). It took me a second to orient myself and remember why, exactly, I was so distraught. I called my mom and cried some more. Once I finally managed to get myself out of bed, I turned on the Today show, like I do most mornings. Tamron Hall and Al Roker were standing by good-naturedly as Dr. Oz walked them through some anti-aging skin-care tips. It made me feel even more physically ill than I already did. I, a beauty editor and self-professed skin-care obsessive, had never cared less about skin-care tips in my entire life. (The hosts, I should mention, were clearly just trying to get through it. They were both, no doubt, feeling lots of the same things I was — but they're pros. As their mouths said "Oh, interesting," their eyes were saying "Today is a rough day.")

I remember feeling much the same way on September 11, 2001, when I was an 11-year-old sixth grader. I'd left my suburban Cleveland, Ohio middle school early, and after watching the news for a while with my mom, I decided to take a break from the repeated imagery of crashing planes, burning buildings and falling people by turning on the Disney Channel, my network of choice at the time. As I grappled with a new reality and a world forever altered for the worse, a commercial came on mentioning someone's "cool clothes!" — and I was disgusted. Why waste even a moment thinking about a subject so vapid and shallow as fashion in a time of all-consuming tragedy and fear? It all seemed so pointless and so doomed. Let me repeat: These were thoughts I experienced as an 11-year-old.

Fast-forward to November 9, 2016, and those feelings flooded back as I watched the Today anchors pretend to give a shit about how to ward off wrinkles, despite the fact that the world seemed to be crumbling around them. But I'm a beauty editor. It's my job to give a shit about how to ward off wrinkles. The question now is: How the fuck do I go back to writing about skin care when so many people — myself included — now feel so unsafe in their skin? 

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I'm still trying to navigate that. But I'm also trying to remind myself why it's important that I do. To just give up and give in, to lie in bed all day and refuse to face this new reality would be selfish. To stop writing about a uniquely female-targeted subject would be conceding to Trump and his supporters that I am, in fact, as powerless and weak as they'd like to think I am. But it goes beyond that; it's especially in times of turmoil that we need to find the beauty in the world. And as women, we need to devote time to self-care — perhaps now more than ever. Using a face mask or getting a manicure can become its own small act of feminism. Spritzing on some fragrance can be a means of fortifying our confidence; swiping on a deep, moody lipstick can help us express that we're here and we're not backing down. Continuing with our usual routines allows us to claim the power of our femininity and validate our right to exist in our bodies and in the world around us.

My interest in the beauty industry has always been inextricably linked to my belief that women's rights are human rights. First off, it's a place where female leadership flourishes. Beauty CEOs, cosmetic chemists, researchers, editors, makeup artists, photographers — so many are women who have inspired me and driven me. In addition, I'm firmly against the reductive (yet still pervasive) stereotype that women wear makeup or beautify themselves as a means of catering to the male gaze. As women, it's often thrust upon us to be caretakers, to make sure that everyone else's needs around us are met before our own. But to stand up and say, "I am a woman, and I deserve to carve out some time when I can to care for myself, to do something that makes me feel confident and relaxed and cared for," is itself a feminist action. We don't do it for other women, and we sure as hell don't do it for men. We do it for ourselves. Zendaya has articulated this notion well: "I don't think that some guy is going to notice how popping my highlight is. I know my highlight is popping." 

This is not a right that women have always had access to. A 2008 Morning Edition radio story, which was recently repurposed into an episode of StoryCorps, one of my favorite podcasts, reminded me of that fact. Mary Ellen Noone, a 65-year-old black woman, recounted a story her great-grandmother Pinky Powell had told her: Around 1910, Powell was living in a plantation in Alabama and worked for a white woman. "One day the lady had thrown away some of her old perfume and nail polish that had dried up. So [Powell] took it home and added some ingredients to the nail polish that made it pliable... Well, when Sunday came, she got all dressed up and painted her nails and put on that perfume and went to church. On Monday, she went to the general store, and when she was ready to check out, the white owner asked her, 'What are you doing with your nails painted up like a white woman?' He proceeded to pick up a pair of pliers and he pulled out my grandmama's nails out of its bed one by one," Noone said, proving that simply wearing nail polish can be an act of bravery. Wearing perfume can be a form of rebellion.

On Thursday, I got up, I reached for my under-eye concealer and I went to work, where I'm lucky to be surrounded by a cohort of strong, intelligent, inspiring women. I took a meeting with a female business owner who champions other women. And I'll continue to publish stories showcasing other strong women and people of color and anyone who is out there, doing anything good in this industry and in this world. Because one thing I'm certain about: We're going to need it over these next four years.

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