Do I need a bathroom cabinet full of sh*t to feel good ?

Day cream, night cream, concealer, serum, lotions, moisturiser, you name it. The offer is as vast as extravagant, and the promotion techniques employed in the realm of the beauty industry could be easily criticized. For many, the consumption of these products is a key to personal satisfaction and a sensation of accomplishment. Overwhelmed by this industry, its injunctions and promises, Dickel decided to take a step back. Today, she reflects on why she tried to grow over her former habits.

Illustration by Ana Hard ( her website )

Illustration by Ana Hard (her website)

In 2018, I made a resolution to reduce to a minimum my consumption of industrial cosmetics and hygienic products. For a few years I had been willing to do so, as I was also curious to try and make my own products and opinion on homemade and natural beauty treatments. The reasons that lead me to do so were multiple...

A health matter

I would often hear words about the so-called “endocrine-disruptors” without really knowing what it’d refer to or what it meant. I used to feel a little scared about the idea, but more as something blur and distant, some kind of a popular tale that was overrated for its danger. When I started looking for a bit more information on those, and through some projects like “Génération Cobayes” (“Guinea pig generation”)   or “La vérité sur les cosmétiques” (“The truth about cosmetics”), I understood what it was all really about, and that the large amount of products, creams and substances that I applied religiously everyday were most certainly packed up with those disruptors.

I started to look carefully at the composition of my products and by looking up for more details I would realize that many of them were largely made of obscure chemicals, that could represent a real danger. Many of those had established or suspected effects on health. As a consequence, I started to question the idea and habits of using them on an everyday basis. I started to look up for alternative solutions to replace them, and realised that there was a very large panel of possibilities in the field of natural beauty. I decided to test as many of those alternatives in order to make my own mind.

Questioning received ideas about femininity

At the same time, I was questioning the necessity to accumulate all my beloved products and the reasons why I came to adopt those daily routines in the first place. When comparing with my peers’ behaviour, I would realize what I understood as an outstanding double standard.

The other girls and women of my acquaintances were, just as I was, “addicted” to the use of some products. They couldn’t, just as I couldn’t, start the day without the intervention of a myriad of creams, gels, powders, oils or filters. On the contrary, I would not find that addiction in the habits of many of the men I knew, except for some deodorant, sometimes a tiny bit of hair wax or shaving foam. The injunction to prime oneself through the use of industrial products appeared to me as less heavily applied on men than on women. By looking at advertising on TV or magazines, it becomes even more flagrant. Many ads for products for which the use does not imply essentially to be one gender or another (such as moisturising cream, shower gel, shampoo…) show predominantly women using them.

Why would self care be a femininity prerogative ? There is a proverb that says you have to suffer to be pretty. But it seems that this phrase applies differently from one gender to another. What do we mean by “suffer” in the first place ? I think today, we understand it as “spend loads of money on products which promise you more and more miracles”, or as “spend a lot of time preparing yourself, grooming yourself”. And by grooming yourself, it seems that we mean “make yourself presentable”, or even “ make yourself feminine enough to exist as a person”.

Why would my femininity be so tightly dependent of the softness of my skin, the freshness of my complexion, the cleanness of my hair or the delicacy of my perfume? Why would I be so eager to try and erase any dark circle, cellulite or stretch marks? Why would I feel so ashamed if one day, when running late or preparing in a rush, I would forget to apply my day cream? Or to put on some deodorant? Oh dear, people would think I was a neglected person, or worst, a woman with dry skin and sweat issues ! I decided to try and challenge myself, to take some distance from the image of femininity that had been forced and deeply rooted in me, on which I had come to build myself and my identity as a female and desirable individual. I didn’t want to radically and definitely abandon the care I would grant myself with, but it felt important to me to rethink the way I did so. I wanted to try and act in a more conscious and reasonable way, and not in a blind and submitted manner anymore towards the standards that were imposed to me. Neither did I wanted to disregard my health and to refuse indulgence on the way I looked at my own body.

Deconstructing the myth of the miracle product

As I reduced my use of cosmetics, I also gained awareness on a more general scale on our lifestyles and societies. As individuals and a part of the capitalist economy we live in, which is largely leaned on mass consumption, we are  constantly confronted to more or less subtil incentives to buy. We are fed with the dream of a better life, supposedly reached through the acquisition of some objects, products, services or anything that can be monetised. In addition, we are being persuaded of the impossibility to reproduce by ourselves something that we could buy. I actually feel like we are moving towards other ways of consumption since recently, but for a long time, and still now for many people, home-made, thrifted, or natural, anything that doesn’t imply a standardised and brand new product was considered as less reliable or of less quality. A product that wasn’t bought from a mall, with the “right” shape, colour, flavour or smell would not be trustworthy enough. And for that way of perceiving what is worth or not worth our attention and consumption, we can thank the advertising industry that has helped us identify since childhood the only true products we need. That miracle product, highly “technological”, created and recommended by “experts”, and which acquisition would transform our life and appearance...

A whole economy is built on this myth, a whole market that largely borrows the vocabulary of sorcelery to better charm the ladies. We are encouraged to buy elixirs, serums, fragrances, antidotes, and we keep doing so because we imagine it as a very real way of taking care of ourselves. But in reality, couldn’t we re-take possession of that vocabulary, of that capacity to take good care that the cosmetics industries and laboratories have plunder from the healers, caregivers and witches of ancient times ? To sum up, my decision to reduce the use of industrial cosmetics was meant for me to try and adopt a more reasonable and respectful lifestyle, for my body, my health and the environment. Still, I don’t condemn indiscriminately all the products that you can buy. More and more manufacturers try to democratise more respectful and soft products and ways of making them. For some of my daily routine products, I am not radically opposed to use cosmetics that I’d buy. I am also aware that it would be unrealistic to expect every person to change their habits overnight. That is why it seems important to me to foster artisanal initiatives that propose handmade products, on the one hand, and on the other hand to encourage consumers to pay attention to the way their products are made of and their composition. Today, many platforms, apps and initiatives exist to enable anyone to be informed on the signification of the composition of the products you can find in the market. Keep looking then !

by Dickel Bokoum