Oh Yeah, Fall


Wow. I haven’t posted since I returned from France. (Can you blame me for finding home a  little less photogenic?) The past couple months call for a recap via photoessay. Find more fashion photos on my Instagram, which you can follow @aesthetic_etiquette.

McKinney Falls: Its natural beauty is not even diminished by people sitting on rocks with their pool noodles.

I captured and was captivated by snails. Did you know that when two snails mate, both snails get pregnant and become each other’s baby snail daddy?

I moved to a new apartment with my more conventional pets.

I attended the Austin Film Festival for the first time, and my only record of it is this photo of me juxtaposed with a stranger’s artfully decorated truck. The fest was a lot of fun. But, like SXSW, I’d only recommend shelling out for passes if you’re luxurious and have the whole week off work.


Moonrise Kingdom, 60s movie extra, Beetlejuice. I had additional silly costumes. This is how much I did Halloween.


New cosmetic dependencies: Organix Moroccan Argan Oil haircare and Clinique lipstick in Red-y to Wear.

Trends move in cycles. Every four years, it becomes really popular to participate in government.

As an avid thrifter, I was almost angry that I didn’t know about Austin Antique Mall until this month. The place is enormous and crammed full of amazing furniture and home decor. I refrained from buying anything but a pair of elbow-length brown leather gloves, but I’m destined to return for one of the reasonably priced fur stoles. Raise your pinkie to that!

I’m trying out a subscription with Greenling, a local produce delivery service. They drop off a mystery box of veggies at your door weekly or biweekly. I like the element of surprise, and I like knowing where I stand on specialty radishes.


On Pins and Needles

Is acupuncture just a series of really pointy placebos?


Photo by Deborah Leigh


Well, I did it. I got my first acupuncture treatment almost entirely for kicks.

An alternative medicine specialist once gave a lecture on the topic during a class I took on the drug industry. She admitted that the main demographic for therapeutic pin-pricking was “bougie chicks.” I decided to give it a try, since I like to self-identify as bourgeoisie whenever I’m not busy purchasing Ramen noodles or stealing hotel soap.

What better way to medicate beyond my means than with a Groupon? For $30, I bought myself and hour and a half long appointment.

The office’s secretary asked me to fill out a 10-page packet beforehand that consisted of humorously personal questions and about 34,523 little boxes I could check off if their corresponding ailments applied to me. Turns out acupuncture can be the answer to just about anything. And who doesn’t “feel tired” or “sneeze occasionally” (only a minor exaggeration…)?

I suffer subtly from what I’m  going to call the Trifecta of Ugh: stress, allergies, and fatigue. The doctor, who unfortunately wasn’t an ancient Chinese man, addressed this.

He incompletely explained that allergies result from problems with “the gut” (I thought it was mold and pollen this whole time…), but since putting tablets of Zyrtec in my gut seems to control them effectively if not naturally, I moved on to the other Ughs.

As far as stress goes, my hopes were limited. If someone wants to hand me a diploma and a few thousand dollars, I’ll be golden. The doctor was formerly a UT student, too, but referred to my “college life” in a way that I registered as patronizing. He warned that life will only get much harder when I get a real job instead of working at my current job AND full-time load of disparate studies.

He had a real suggestion for my fatigue, though: quit the sugar and carbohydrates. This is good advice, except he really did mean quit them just short of my body going into ketosis. I love cereal too much to die of avoiding it. I’ll stick to my reduced sugar and whole grains goal, thanks. He kind of scoffed when I told him I studied nutritional science and that maaaybe my iron deficiency was to blame, too.

He said he doesn’t trust dieticians.

Awkward consultation complete. It was time to lay on the massage table and trade prodding questions for… prodding.

He tried to distract me with  a story about how much he loves the band U2 while inserting the thin needles in a quick, precise tapping motion. I had several pins in my cushioning: 2 in my biceps, forearms, the webbing of my hands, a couple in my shins and feet, one in the top of my head, and one right between my eyes. It was a good look.

Then I laid there for an hour, staring at the ceiling, listening to New Age flute music from a boombox and trying not to move. My limbs felt achy and I was so bored that it felt more like punishment than therapy.

Next time I’ll try recreational chiropractics for more excitement.

I left feeling just as one does upon quickly rejoining the world after a nap: hazy, slightly self-conscious, and probably unfit to turn left  onto a busy multi-lane street. For the rest of the afternoon I tried to perceive an improvement in my mind or body. But I didn’t feel any different. In fact, I had an awful headache. A week has passed, and I’ve noted no long-term benefits, either.

A couple friends have reminded me that believing wholeheartedly in the procedure probably helps it yield better results. Yet I was quite open to seeing it work some magic.

The list of people who shouldn’t get poked grows:

1. The squeamish

2. The broke

3. The skeptics

4. The reasonably healthy who just want to try things for the hell of it and then blog about it later.

Lipstick and Other Ways to Die

A history of toxic cosmetics

Although  the royal beauties of ancient times bathed in some of the grossest substances to ever fill a bathtub (warm blood, veal stock with egg yolks), it is the more common, widespread beauty practices that have had women making up to meet their maker throughout history. At times, we’ve been endangered by a lack of education or insufficient product regulation. Other times, we read the warning labels and chose to open the bottle anyway. Cosmetics have gotten more sophisticated over the centuries, but many are still considered toxic. Technology has phased out some dangerous formulas but helped invent new ones. Now makeup history is coming full circle as proponents of natural and organic formulas are back to pampering themselves with milk and honey, not imidazolidinyl and oxybenzoate.

Makeup is ancient. It most likely got its start in Egypt, where both women and men swathed their eyes in kohl. This proto-eye shadow was often made with antimony, a highly toxic element which can cause headaches and depression in small doses, or dermatitis with prolonged skin contact. Ruins of Babylon and Greece suggest that people painted their faces with naturally occurring white lead, a common practice destined to continue until the 19th century. The best smiles of the Roman empire came from scrubbing teeth with merciless pumice stones. Sometimes the most dangerous thing about ancient beauty products was obtaining them: a recipe for hair growth ointment found on a papyrus manuscript calls for the fat of a lion, hippo, crocodile, cat, and serpent mixed together. Rinse and repeat.
King Henry II’s mistress, however, had very thin hair. It was a symptom of gold poisoning, which eventually killed Diane de Poitiers, according to a study published in a British medical journal after her body was dug up and studied in France. She had sipped a solution of gold chloride and diethyl ether to prevent aging.

At least she didn’t use the Greek hair dye of yore: leeches soaked in a lead vessel full of vinegar. Another beautifying technique of this period was popular with European women. They dropped extracts of belladonna, a hallucinogenic plant, into the eyes to create that dreamy look of dilated pupils and mild delirium.

Looking fair-skinned and fragile, connoting a luxurious indoor life and femininity, respectively, was the dominant aesthetic in developed parts of the world for a long time. Even when Christianity declared makeup the mark of a loose woman, God-fearing ladies bled themselves regularly to reduce the pesky flush of good health. In the 18th century, tuberculosis was so common that historians suspect it became chic to appear afflicted. Consumed by consumption, women brightened their eyes with a splash of citrus juice and consumed iodine, chalk, or small doses of arsenic to get pale. It sounds unfathomable until you fast forward to modern times, when women continue to pay for their own cancer by spending hours in tanning beds.
Of course, faking pallor externally was always an option, though hardly less dangerous. Lead, sulphur, and mercury (prescribed for blemishes) graced the skin. In late 18th century Italy, a woman called Signora Toffana formulated and sold a lead-and-arsenic face powder to wealthy socialites. She was executed after an estimated 600 men allegedly died from the habit of kissing their wives’ poison-dusted cheeks. The gentlemen of the English Parliament were getting fed up with artificial beautifiers, too. In 1770, a bill passed that said a woman using cosmetics could be penalized for witchcraft and her husband was free to nullify the marriage upon finding out his bride was not a natural beauty. This is either male chauvinism or just a good public health policy.
The 1800s brought some women reprieve from toxic makeup in the name of Victorian purity. Living in a culture that considered rosy faces beautiful but a pot of rouge scandalous, girls had to strategically bite their lips and pinch their cheeks before greeting a handsome suitor.

Get subtle color sans self harm with this sheer lipstick meant to mimic the look of lemon-scrubbed lips:

Lipstick Queen Medieval lipstick, $20. Seriously, harlots, it’s good stuff.

Those who did use makeup back then imported it from France, which was producing “natural, light” cosmetics to suit the style. An 1888 newspaper article warned women of using American makeup, which was more likely to contain bismuth, a substance the writer claimed would cause insanity similar to that of lead-poisoning. The story also advised ladies to remove their makeup with Vaseline as not to ruin their complexions like the actress Lillian Russell, who was reportedly lazy and slept in her stage makeup. This beauty tip still holds true, although few modern women would also add a mask made of raw beef to their evening skin care routines.
Fortunately, the 20th century brought some reforms to the cosmetic industry. Safety became one more selling point that advertisers could use to lure women. The 1920s flappers rebelled against standards of beauty (tan skin was finally fashionable, though still a sign of the wealthy who now spent their leisure time outdoors). Lead poisoning waned, but chemists were busy cooking up parabens, a class of preservatives that are still widely used despite evidence that they can cause cancer. Phthalates, which studies have linked to birth defects, obesity, and autism, were also making their debut as a fragrance stabilizer. In 1921, Chanel No. 5 was the first perfume made with phthalates and synthetics. They were instant classics.

The early 30s brought in some killer looks. Consumers could pick up a skin cream called Koremlu that contained a rodent poison, thallium acetate. The lotion was pulled from department stores once it was obvious enough that it was causing paralysis, abdominal pain, and blindness. Another trendy way to go blind was Lash Lure, an eyelash colorant that claimed the vision of dozens of women. It stayed on the market a good five years after the FDA made the connection but didn’t have the regulatory authority to act on it. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 was passed, but did little more than allow the government to classify what was a cosmetic and proceed to not regulate it.

Consumer demand for personal care products continued to increase mid-century as celebrity endorsements abounded and industry advancements, particularly in the area of petroleum, provided more variety. It was a market boom with enough preservatives to stand the test of time. By the 70s, nearly everything one could apply to her body contained synthetic fragrance. The FDA flexed its muscles in 1977, though, by banning six carcinogenic color additives commonly used in lipstick. The beauty industry felt so bad about giving women cancer that it stopped using the colors…once the existent supplies were depleted after a few more years. Similar apathy was revealed in 1986, when the National Academy of Sciences reported that many perfumes included toxins that act directly on the nervous system. Fragrance companies –and the government– shrugged it off.
While America persisted in banning products only once women started dropping like (beautiful) flies, reform took shape in Europe in the 90s. Policymakers adopted a guiding belief that cosmetics should be proven safe by manufacturers before they were sold. And in the year 2000, phthalates DBP and DEHP were banned in European Union countries. Willing to be passed up in regulatory measures but not research, U.S. scientists developed a way to test for these controversial chemicals. They were found in the body fluids of all 289 average Americans tested. Exposure is as easy as walking past an Abercrombie and Fitch, where one Californian teen led a protest last year against the phthalate-ridden cologne that the clothing store is regularly sprayed down with. Ads for the scent depicted buff, shirtless personifications of virility. The irony is that the cologne’s phthalates are shown to reduce sperm count and stunt development of the genitals in boys.

Phthalates remain in about three-quarters of our personal care products but are listed on hardly any labels, according to a lab analysis by the Environmental Working Group. If you were born in the U.S.A., your umbilical cord probably supplied you with 287 synthetic chemicals (180 of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals) long before your first spritz of hairspray. This is the “original sin” of chemical beautification before we can decide if a golden tan is worth melanoma or a trendy keratin hair treatment is worth sitting in a cloud of formaldehyde.
Perhaps the next generation will be better off now that all-natural makeup is catching on, despite the commercial advantages of chemical preservatives.
“The longer something can stay on the shelf, the more money there is to be made,” said Shirley Pinkson, co-owner of Austin-based chemical-free cosmetics line W3LL PEOPLE. Still, the growing success of her brand shows that demand is high for those daily products that won’t help accumulate stores of toxins that could cause disease.
Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, is also confident that the future holds safer ways to primp.
“We know a ton more than we did five years ago about what’s in our cosmetics,” Malkan said, referencing online databases full of ingredient lists that don’t get printed on bottles. Pressure from organizations like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has convinced companies, most notably the nail polish giant OPI, to bring their safer European formulas stateside.
“I see this as a women’s movement,” Malkan said. “We make 85 percent of consumer product purchases. We have the power to decide which companies we allow into our homes.”
Of course, it is up to each woman to decide what price she will pay for beauty. But in the year 2011, at least we can say the information and alternatives make it easier for us all to choose wisely.

Do-gooders can join the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Pale chicks can read my guide to fake baking: Snow White and the 7 Tanning Suggestions