Monday, September 23, 2019

The End of Auxiliary Beauty

Around this time last year, I was talking to one of my doctoral advisers about a short story I was struggling to finish writing. "I hate finishing things," I said, "because then they're done." It was one of the more ridiculous statements I've made in a lifetime of making ridiculous statements, and my adviser found it hilarious, but it summed up an essential part of my personality. By definition, finishing a project means abandoning it before it's perfect, because no project can ever be perfect. I've put off writing this farewell post because I kept thinking I'd squeeze in a couple more posts before it, posts that I'd always wanted to write but that had themselves been put off because I didn't feel that I could do justice to my ideas. But sometimes you just have to end things. So here it is: the end of Auxiliary Beauty.

I started this blog in early 2014, when I was a twenty-six-year-old doctoral candidate in need of an outlet for my non-academic writing. Five and a half years and 333 posts later, I'm a thirty-one-year-old visiting assistant professor at a small liberal arts college. The world of blogging has changed, too. The beauty blog was already a dying genre in 2014, but it's even less of a presence in 2019 than it was five years ago. Websites that once offered high-quality longform content are losing money, folding en masse, and being replaced by soulless content aggregators and listicle generators: Stylecaster, Hypebae, Bustle, Revelist. Influencer culture dominates beauty discourse. People keep saying the influencer bubble will burst soon, or is bursting, or has already burst, but I don't see much evidence of the dissipation of the cultural forces keeping the bubble afloat. And it's dispiriting to write longform pieces about beauty when the entire Internet seems to be working against your desire for nuance and context.

However, that's not the main reason I'm shutting down my blog; the main reason is that my relationship with beauty has shifted. I haven't lost interest in makeup: I still love researching the history of cosmetics (I'm currently reading this book), admiring editorial looks, using blush and eyeshadow to fine-tune my persona for the day, and, yes, buying new stuff. But my material circumstances have changed. I'm living in a rural Ohio town where Amish buggies are a more common sight than red lipstick (this is not hyperbole). I have a full-time job now, and adjusting to my new duties has left me feeling exhausted almost all the time. During the week, I don't have the time or energy to experiment with makeup, and I feel pressured to maintain a professional appearance (being mistaken for an undergrad is flattering only the first couple of times). And on the weekend, I'm not doing much more than preparing lessons for the next week, buying groceries, and working out at the local YMCA. Neon eyeshadow and '80s-style blush would just make me stand out, and standing out feels less safe in a largely conservative area than it did when I was teaching in Jersey City last year. I'm on a temporary contract, so I might well be living in more urban (or, at least, more liberal) environs next year. For now, though, I feel that I can get only so creative with my appearance.


When I was a grad student, this blog was an appealing outlet because there was no barrier to entry. I cared about the quality of my writing, of course, but blogging was free of the constant judgment from on high that characterized life in academia. I didn't have to put my blog posts through the peer-review process, read snarky reader reports, or subject my writing to repeated revisions. I didn't have to show drafts to a dissertation committee, or to a "friendly" working group of my grad-student peers. I didn't have to make advantageous connections through aggressive networking (a skill that continues to elude me). My years in grad school had taught me to associate writing with status anxiety, and beauty blogging allowed me a reprieve from that mentality, as I explained in this early post.

However, beauty blogging also took up time that I might have spent on other kinds of non-academic writing. Over the last year or so, I've realized that I want to get serious about writing fiction and essays; I want to participate in the kind of literary culture that does have barriers to entry. And blogging is a distraction from more labor-intensive writing. In her own farewell post, Renee of Bad Outfit, Great Lipstick reflects that "blogging has made [her] creatively lazy," and I can say the same for myself. I'm sure there are some brilliant people who can produce academic articles and short stories and blog posts without missing a beat, but I'm a slow, meticulous writer who can't multitask. For me, focusing on one kind of writing always means neglecting another kind of writing.

I'd also like to devote more time to my non-writing hobbies without feeling guilty about not posting on my blog. I'm not sure there's much point in maintaining a blog that I update once or twice a month. Honestly, I still have ideas for posts, but let's face it: if I haven't written them by now, I don't really want to. I'm looking forward to having more brainspace for embroidery, cooking, defining my personal aesthetic (my working description is "New Wave meets Charles II"), and being an annoying k-pop stan.

I'm going to copy this look for my Halloween costume! I have the perfect '80s dress for it.

Finally, I no longer feel comfortable maintaining a blog that promotes consumerism. None of us can afford to ignore that our planet is literally fucking dying, like right now. And while I've written several posts about low-buys and no-buys and sneaky marketing tactics, the fact remains that most people find my blog while searching for reviews of individual products. As Lena wrote in her Instagram stories recently, the beauty community has always justified its consumerism by emphasizing that we think critically about beauty, we reflect on it in articulately written posts, we use it as a creative outlet. But let's face it: we also buy shit. And while I'm not going to stop buying shit entirely (hell, I just ordered three Cirque Colors polishes over the weekend), I have to acknowledge that my beauty blogging encourages others' consumerism and celebrates my own. I used to feel proud when someone told me that I'd influenced them to buy a product; now I just feel guilty. If most of my posts were of the creative, introspective, critical type, I'd feel less guilty. But most of my posts are product reviews. I made some fun creative posts, especially in the early days of my blog; but those were time-consuming to write, and it was always easier to dash off a quick review.

However, I think I have more to be proud of than not. I never let blogging become anything but a hobby. I never set up ads. I never accepted PR (not that many brands were banging down my door to offer me PR, but I turned down a couple of offers). I called out bullshit marketing tactics where I saw them. I selected post topics based on my own whims and interests, not on what I thought would earn me clicks. I chronicled my late twenties and early thirties, creating an archive to which I can return in the future when I want to relive this period of my life. And in the process, I had some great times, connected with some great people, and bought some great makeup. No (well, few) regrets.

To end on a positive note, here are some of my favorite blog posts from the past five and a half years, in chronological order:

Back to 1996 with Cindy Crawford's Basic Face (Oct. 28, 2014)

A Discourse of Auxiliary Beauty, or Artificial Handsomeness (Nov. 19, 2014)

Toward an Ethnography of the Edwardian Cyborg (Nov. 30, 2014)

On Being an "Old-Fashioned" Blogger (Jan. 10, 2015)

I Have a Plum Problem: MAC x Giambattista Valli Lipstick in Eugenie (Jul. 15, 2015)

Unholy Grails (Sep. 25, 2015)

AB Insists on Antique Velvet (Jan. 24, 2016)

Beauty Abroad, Part 18: Ancient and Modern Beauty in London (Jun. 26, 2016)

Marc Jacobs Rei of Light and Bonus Super-Fun Class Anxiety (Sep. 10, 2016)

How Renaissance Is the ABH Modern Renaissance Palette? (Feb. 14, 2017)

Glossier Birthday Balm Dotcom (Plus Another Rant) (Jun. 25, 2017)

Pat McGrath Labs LuxeTrance Lipstick in Madame Greige (Dec. 20, 2017)

7 Days of Glossier, Day 1: Glossier You (Jan. 30, 2018)

A Visit to the Glossier Showroom (Jun. 10, 2018)

My Best No-Buy Tips (Aug. 15, 2018)

In Pursuit of '70s Peach: MAC Amplified Creme Lipstick in Smoked Almond (Apr. 14, 2019)

I'm too egotistical to make my blog private, so it will remain accessible for the foreseeable future, and I'll keep posting FOTDs and writing mini-reviews on my Instagram. A million thanks to everyone who has read my ramblings and left thoughtful comments over the years; you truly made it all worthwhile. Goodbye, au revoir, adios!

-Zoe

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