I feel ambivalent about skin care being rebranded as self care. Don’t get me wrong, I love any excuse to look inward — but I’m literally stopping at my epidermis. On the one hand, I know I shouldn’t care about upholding unrealistic standards of beauty. On the other, there’s something so soothing about the illusion of control I have when I'm tending to a sheet mask. I spend my entire paycheck on serums and solutions preparing my skin for the future. But if I’m so concerned about aging, shouldn’t I be saving that money for retirement? I’m pretty sure I’m being exploited by the beauty industry, but I'm also really enjoying myself.
What are we really talking about when we discuss skin care as self care? And why is the subject of how women spend their time and money so contentious? I asked Jia Tolentino, the New Yorker staff writer who wrote The Year That Skin Care Became a Coping Mechanism, for her take. "For women, the body has always been a locus of control, where so much else about women’s lives is uncontrollable," she says. "The importance that is placed on beauty is informed by a long history of women being seen as decorative objects… and that is political. Everything we do exists within power structures that are worth analyzing.”
Tolentino's piece had me questioning if my quest for great skin was just personal reassurance that I had a future in an uncontrollable world. After all, Google searches for self care reached a five-year high after the election. But Jia explained to me that it goes beyond even that. “The pressure upon women to look as good as possible, and look better all the time, has never been more strenuous. At the same time, it has never been more taboo to talk about," she says. "Women have always been attacked for being superficial when, in actuality, attractive people make more money at work. It’s a real tangible benefit, but that’s an ugly thing to talk about."
Check out the video above for my conversation with Jia about how skin care became self care and why we should all, well, care.