- The News From the World of BeautyA Close Reading of a Snapchat Scandal
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In late summer of 2017 I was at an artists’ colony in rural Virginia. A hot topic of conversation among the artists there was how we were reading the news, and how often. Some of the artists at the colony were reading the news obsessively every morning, either because they were addicted to it or because they felt it was their social responsibility to stay informed about the invariably breathtaking choices of our current president and those who surround and respond to him. Some artists were ignoring the news altogether—every headline, every scandal, every tweet—choosing to entirely suppress the outside world during the span of the residency. The rest of the artists stayed lightly informed, but consciously attempted to prevent the news of the world from gaining much purchase on their inner lives.
This third camp is the one into which I usually fall, whether I’m at an artists’ colony or not. I don’t want to be ignorant, but I also don’t want to emerge from this administration with a spirit so battered, so fractured, that I’m helpless to participate in the rebuilding that I hope will follow. At the colony, I read the news in what has become my habitual way: a glance at the New York Times website every two or three days. At breakfast one morning in early September, I was the only one who knew that John Ashbery had died the day before.
But every night, as I tried to fall asleep in the unfamiliar bed, in order to compartmentalize my anxieties about global warming, about white supremacists, about nuclear war, about Donald Trump, and about the probable futility of my nearly finished manuscript of poems, here is what I did: I clicked around on YouTube and watched short videos produced by people who have achieved major and minor fame in the online beauty community. In uploads with titles like “$90 LIPSTICK?? WTF?” and “Chit Chat Get Ready With Me – Fall Vibes,” I watched makeup artists, lifestyle bloggers, and “beauty gurus” review new beauty products, talk about their favorite beauty products, demonstrate various ways to apply those products, and mull over which products they should buy next. Sequestered in the blessedly quiet countryside, surrounded by singing cicadas and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I watched it all.
If something happened in the beauty community, not only did I know it right away, but I knew everything about it. I knew more about Kat Von D’s new release (Everlasting Glimmer Veil Liquid Lipsticks) than I did about Hurricane Harvey. Which is to say, I knew that Hurricane Harvey was flooding Texas, I knew that it was serious, and I knew that Melania Trump had been photographed wearing five-inch stiletto heels as she boarded the plane to Corpus Christi; but I knew that the Everlasting Glimmer Veil was a long-wearing liquid lipstick infused with glitter, that it had been released in nine colors, and that the colors were named Wizard, Rocker, Dazzle, Razzle, Shockful, Televator, Thunderstruck, Reverb, and Satellite. I [End Page 17] knew what each color looked like (Televator, for example, was grape-purple with purple glitter, and Dazzle was a cool red with pink and gold glitter). I knew that the formula was sheer but buildable, that it could be layered or worn on its own, and that early assessments, just coming in, reported that the darker colors would leave a stain. I knew that the first review on Sephora. com called the formula “tenacious” (a wonderful word for a cosmetic, in my opinion), and that the second review was memorably titled “Dazzle is the lipstick of the year.” I knew that it was already available online, and that it would be in stores on September 8.
Each night, when I finally began to doze and my mind’s eye drifted inevitably to the spectacle of Melania teetering, runway-ready, on the wet tarmac; or to the phrase “fire and fury”—which is...