Is it a con?

By now we’ve all read that piece on “the skincare con” on The Outline. Thankfully, Racked has focused on debunking many of the false claims of the piece , like the idea that evolution has fine-tuned our bodies to perfection and thus we don’t need skincare. And I can agree – we don’t need skincare, but that doesn’t mean we can’t prefer it.

As Racked pointed out, there’s plenty of scientific evidence of the efficacy of skincare products. I was surprised to see such alarmist claims that “nobody knows what moisturizer does” and describing acid toners as “chemical violence”. We can agree that this comes off as baseless sensationalizing. We can probably also agree that it’s odd to see the author make snide remarks about her skincare-fanatical friends’ bad skin only to later complain that acne has become a “referendum on who you are as a person”.

Overall, what rubs me the wrong way with this piece is this – the higher-than-thou attitude that, to me, reads as cruel. Women who enjoy skincare are described as foolish, shallow and obsessive – a tale as old as time. There’s a point made in passing that I actually agree with – that the industry uses the language of empowerment against women – but it gets lost in the maelstrom of nonchalance and superiority that makes up most of the article. It pains me because this could have been a good piece.

Criticism is a crucial component of culture, but it needs to be well-formulated and based in fact. The Skincare Con does stir the pot, which I appreciate, but it’s also weakly researched and full of nonsensical claims. Any good point made is compensated for by something bizarre, like a misplaced Foucault quote or a tangent about soap. Any legitimate claim is paired with belittling comments about skincare consumers, which makes the overall message of the piece come off as bitter and petty.

The beauty community is in desperate need of critical voices, and we do have them – this piece by Jia Tolentino was wonderful, as is this by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano. Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth dissects our cultural obsession with female beauty without hyperbole or snide digs at female consumers, and Andi Zeisler’s analysis of how advertising appropriates feminist language is both entertaining and educational. So you see, it can be done. It just needs to be done without using skincare horror stories lifted from reddit as evidence that we’ve all been sold snake oil.

Header Image:
Vogue India August 2015, Shot by Owen Silverwood.

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