Cute ‘N’ Dewy (sponsored by Ulta Beauty)

Published October 11, 2018.

 Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend. Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere. Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow. Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. Aminatou: Well today's show is all about beauty and skincare and it's brought to you by our friends at Ulta. [Theme Song] Ann: Oh my god, this is one of those I'm going to call it a low-stakes episode and I mean it as like the highest compliment ever in the sense of no one is losing a life or losing rights. No one is being fundamentally harmed in the making of this episode. Like we are going to kind of relax and talk about some things that give us great pleasure. Aminatou: We love talking about this stuff. Ann: Yeah, so here's like a bonus pleasurable episode. all about beauty. Aminatou: Tell me. [Laughs] Yes. Ann: Okay, so you might be aware that I stay in your house frequently. Aminatou: [Laughs] I was like are you here right now? Ann: I'm not in the other room currently but I am frequently in your home and I think of you as like a discerning products person. You are a person whose recommendations I always trust implicitly and who I trust to kind of be up-to-date on what is new and excellent. And so I wonder if you could tell me about how you make choices, like how do you decide what is a good thing that you want to put on your bod? (1:45) Aminatou: Wow, so . . . [Laughs] Thank you for the very high compliment because I clearly don't feel the same way but I'm going to tell you why. I have two modes when it comes to things that I want to put on my body. One is that I like good hygiene overall. It's a core value to me for reasons probably that we've expanded on over the last four years of doing this show. And I think of taking care of your skin as a part of that. Ann: It's a big organ. It is a big-ass organ. Aminatou: It's your largest organ. That's what I hear. You know, and I think a lot of it too for me is really learned rituals. My mom was a very beautiful woman who took meticulous care of myself and I don't think I will ever feel as beautiful or as graceful as her and so I think that a lot of it is just trying to mimic that and reclaim that. Ann: Aww. And what were her go-tos? I'm curious. Aminatou: Oh, my mom . . . so we crew up definitely not very rich but she was really adamant about if you had something it had to be good quality and it had to also be a workhorse. So like for makeup she was definitely -- like she was into Chanel and [0:03:02]. Those were her go-to makeup lines. But now I also realize that it's because nobody made good makeup for women of color and so it was definitely it was a status marker for her. But I remember like the brands I would always see on her ledge, she believed in moisturizing like I did but she also had a ton of stuff that was very . . . you know, it's like your workhorses had to be cheap. It's like my mom was using shea butter before shea butter had a revolution but also we're African people so it's part of what we do. Ann: Right. Aminatou: So I like to think about that stuff as part of it is like being clean and taking care of yourself. Some of it is about taking time out to feel good about yourself. So for as much as people are into makeup I am super not into makeup. I'm into skincare. I want my skin to look good and to feel good. And I think some of it too is really this place where you're assigning a value on your own worth to yourself, you know? Like I don't do it for any kind of external kind of gratification but I'm like this is part of self-care for me. And to be clear self-care as outlined by Audre Lorde has nothing to do with spending money. But I think that, you know, it is about creating rituals that make you feel saner and skincare is part of that for me. (4:20) Ann: Yeah, so it's a really funny thing to think about especially as people who identify as women, raised by mothers with really different ideas about beauty and beauty products and skincare and what you put on your body basically. So my mom is to this day one of the only women I know -- like definitely the only woman I knew growing up who did not wear makeup at all, like not a lick of it. She did not own a lipstick, a mascara, anything. I think she probably had some hand lotion and that was it. I actually should ask my mother if there was anything that she put on her face other than Ivory soap when I was growing up so we're talking that basic. So makeup was a thing that I fetishized as a kid. When I would go sleep over at a friend's house or when I would see a commercial or see an ad for makeup it was almost like sex or something where I was like what is this forbidden object? What is this forbidden thing? Aminatou: [Laughs] Ann: For real. And I think I still have a little bit of -- I mean I would agree with you that skincare, makeup, two different things. But I think I still have a little bit of oh, I don't really know what I'm doing. I'm still learning. That's inherent even though lots of people who grew up watching parents put on makeup can have those feelings too. But I feel like I tread tentatively in this world and maybe that's why I'm like oh, I trust your opinions or I trust friend of the podcast Amanda Matos' opinions or, you know, there's like I have a council. I have a beauty council I consult. [Laughs] (6:00) Aminatou: Yeah. You know, I think also it is all about what your goals are. Like for me my goal is always to feel like my face is moisturized and part of that is because I have eczema. I have a lot of dry skin issues and so dermatology is a real science actually and so part of doing skincare well, it's also about the health of your skin and so that's something that's really front-of-mind for me. And, you know, it's like a blemish here, a blemish there, an eczema flare here or there. It's definitely very visible for me and so I think about that a lot. And so in terms of makeup -- when it comes to makeup, again the distinction with skincare, I don't know what I'm doing with makeup. I'm like there are two things that I like to do. I like to have a lot of eyeliner but that's literally because eyeliner is the only thing I know how to do and every once in a while a bold lip but that's also because those two things are very easy to navigate. I love watching makeup YouTube videos because I'm just like this is a science I will never understand how to do. [Laughs] And there is something really performative about it that I also greatly enjoy. And I also like that I guess now the idea of who gets to wear makeup and what makeup does is so much more subversive than it was when I was a kid. And so I love watching women of color change the makeup industry. Ann: Right, and pushing other brands to level up as well. Aminatou: Right, right. Or watching really amazing queer YouTubers doing incredible things with makeup, and also having a conversation about how does makeup make you feel? I have never been to BeautyCon but so many pals have been. Ann: Wait, what is BeautyCon? Aminatou: Oh my god, so BeautyCon is basically this festival for makeup and I love that their tagline is you don't need lipstick, lipstick needs you. [Laughs] And their whole mission is challenging traditional beauty standards and redefining what beauty means. And so any time I see pictures of pals that are at BeautyCon everybody looks so extra but in the best way possible. And it is not my idea of who would traditionally be at a conference about makeup I would say and it's really challenged me to re-think about the value that we ascribe to makeup and actually the transformation that is possible there. And so it's this place where now I feel like oh, with makeup you can celebrate your individuality. You can build up a lot of self-esteem. You can champion kindness. And these are all things that would've never occurred to me because I'm not a sophisticated thinker enough about this stuff. (8:42) Ann: Stop. You are the most sophisticated thinker ever. Aminatou: But it's just been like cool -- it's just cool to watch something that is so easily relegated to a bad thing that women do and if you're a feminist you shouldn't use it and really think about how can you have a more expansive mind about what beauty is and what are the tools that you can use to work on that? Because a huge part of people wearing makeup is about self-confidence. Ann: Oh, completely. And I think about this a lot when, you know, I almost always wear a bold lip when I do some kind of public speaking or if I have something to do where I'm like people will be or should be listening to the words coming out of my face I'm going to paint my mouth to be like this is where the important things are happening. It's like the words coming out of mouth. And I can't explain it. You know, obviously it is fun, like a bright color lipstick is a fun thing for me as well, but it is almost a confidence thing on a level of eyes for an intimate -- this is like my own personal psychology. Eyes are like an intimate moment. I am having a small dinner with a few close friends. Aminatou: Wow, I love this. [Laughs] (9:52) Ann: And a bold lip is like yeah, I am here to tell you what I am thinking or for my words to be front and center of what I'm about. And it's weird, I noticed recently that when I do things like interview a friend who has written a book -- like this is a thing you and I both do I think fairly often -- I am way less likely to be in bold lip mode. It's like psychological where I'm asking questions. Aminatou: Oh yeah, that's work. Ann: Well it's not that it's work; it's more that I'm here to kind of facilitate you talking about this work that you've made. I'm not the center of this scene. Whereas if I'm giving some kind of talk somewhere, or anywhere where I'm supposed to be a little bit more in charge, I am bold lip central. It was something I just did without thinking about it and it took me a while to be like how am I making these choices? Aminatou: Yeah, you know, it's funny too hearing you talk about this. I realize that my parents were actually very strict about makeup. My sister and I were not allowed to wear makeup, couldn't shave. Even wearing jewelry was a thing for patriarchy reasons I realize now. And I feel conflicted about being raised that way but I do appreciate the fact that it also means I'm not over-stimulated by a lot of that stuff as an adult, you know? And so that feels good. But at the same time it feels good to experiment and so whenever I think about the last two years I've definitely been in the skincare and makeup very exploratory zone. And I think that a lot of that is just very, very, very delayed adolescence/I have my own money now. [Laughs] I don't have to ask my mom. Ann: Cannot be understated. Yeah. Aminatou: I do not have to ask my mom for lipstick money and so I think that, you know, psychologically that is a huge part of that also, really thinking about why is it fun to explore this and why does it feel subversive to me specifically even though I'm a cis person who presents very femme? And it's not a . . . there is nothing revolutionary about me wearing makeup. But within my own story of self it does feel like a huge shift. (12:03) Ann: Yeah, and it's an interesting thing too to think about that. Like our friend of the podcast and our music composer Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs has this thing where she wears bright red lipstick but on her eyebrows, not on her lip. And the idea that you can be like okay, I know the trope of a pretty femme-presenting woman wearing red lipstick and I'm going to subvert that in a way that feels really true to who I am and how I want to present is very, very fun. And it's one of those things that I'm like it made so much sense. When I saw it I wasn't like why are you wearing lipstick on your eyebrows? I was just like yes. [Laughs] You know what I mean? It is the kind of thing where there's a lot of room for self-expression. Aminatou: Right, you know? The other thing too is when I was at UT -- hook 'em horns -- I studied under this professor who was actually great, Daniel Hamermesh. He taught my Economics 101 class and a bunch of other classes I took. One of the main reasons I love him is that in the Economics 101 class the extra credit -- first of all there was extra credit in a college class. Ann: Wow. Aminatou: That's how you know it's literally for dummies. But the extra credit was always Law & Order: SVU related and I was like I know I at least have five points in this class no matter what happens. [Laughs] Ann: You're like how did I get so lucky? Aminatou: But so anyway Daniel Hamermesh, he's a labor economist and he writes a lot about beauty and women's beauty specifically. I think his area of knowledge, they call it pulchronomics now, the economic study of beauty. Ann: Oh wow, I did not know that word. Aminatou: And he is great. The thing that I loved about taking all these classes with him is he really talked about beauty as a commodity, you know? And it made me think a lot about the value that we ascribe to beauty and he always says, he's like women feel that beauty is inherently important and usually women will feel bad if they're ugly. That's because society makes you feel that way. And he tracks a lot the effect of appearance on earnings potential. Ann: Oh, it's so real. (14:05) Aminatou: And really thinking about, you know, beauty is scarce and scarcity demands a price. Because the beauty industry also is just capitalism; let's be real. Also it makes me think so much about who do we say is attractive? Or when I hear especially white feminists rail about how wearing makeup is very bad I think about the fact that for a lot of women of color wearing makeup is part of the uniform of respectability at work. Like you can't get away with not doing it, right? And what do you get a way with for wherever you are on the track, you know? Ann: Right, like it can be so satisfying because on one level there is a lot of control in terms of making decisions about your self-presentation. On another level it's like yeah, there are these bigger social forces at work and we are all aware of ingrained what is at least western American modern culture's definition of beauty and the price for not conforming to that or the price of not conforming to anyone's idea of what you should be gender-wise and what does beauty look like for everyone else? Aminatou: Yeah. Ann: As being a separate and competing and very real factor that you can't really divorce yourself from because you live in the world. Aminatou: Yeah. I will link to Professor Hamermesh's book Beauty Pays because some of it is really fascinating because there's actual numbers on this, how handsome men make something around 13% more during their career than a looks-challenged peer. Looks-challenged, LOL. That's the language. Ann: Wow. Aminatou: You know, the net benefit is different for women who are "comely." Is that how you say that word? Ann: Comely? Aminatou: Yes, comely. That word. Because, you know, also a lot of times women can marry men with higher earnings potential. That stuff is just fascinating to me. My favorite thing from studies and from the book is how attractive people are more likely to be hired in a recession. And so when you think about these kinds of economics it really . . . it's eye-opening. It's just we judge people on their looks all of the time and so if you think about makeup and skincare as a tool this is one way to level up. And it's obviously very complicated so it's not as much if you buy this expensive cream you can fix that, or even saying people who are really beautiful get everything. There are a ton of studies about the beauty penalty. Like it is hard to win if you are a woman. So I guess that like my rambling point is that if makeup brings a level of self-esteem to you and also helps you participate in society in a way that is acceptable then why not? Ann: Yeah. I know. And it is also one of those things too which friend-of-the-podcast Virgie Tovar is always talking about this with regard to body shapes and weights and what is sort of considered a physique worth culturally rewarding and not. She's always like this is completely culturally subjective, right? It is not like throughout time one body or one definition of beauty has persisted. Like these are things that do change. They just change at a rate that our beloved Gina would call geologic time as opposed to real time. Aminatou: [Laughs] Ann: And I think that's why the choices that you make day-to-day or that we all make day-to-day, at a certain level you're like yeah, if you are a woman or a gender non-conforming person in this world you are going to be punished no matter what you do so you might as well enjoy yourself and try to find what feels like true self-expression for you. Aminatou: 100%. [Ads] (18:25) Ann: Okay, can we talk about brows for a hot second? Aminatou: Yes. Brows? Man, the style evolution of brows. I'm really glad I clung onto my brows because my parents wouldn't let me do anything to them when you were supposed to have no brows in the '90s and so now it means that I can achieve maximum brow look. That's the one area of my body that I am currently obsessed with. Ann: I have to tell you that I told someone recently -- I don't think it was you, but I told a friend that I trimmed my eyebrows with scissors because that's how prolific my eyebrow growth is. Aminatou: Oh no, it was me. [Laughs] Ann: Yeah, and you were like "Ann, oh my god!" Aminatou: I mean it seems dangerous for one. Ann: Well I have to say they're very thick, they are very course, and they grow back very quickly. Aminatou: Yeah. Ann: So even the times I have done a self brow trim while stoned I'm like a little bit of pencil filler and those babies are back in action. I have a lot of physical challenges but prolific brow growth is not one of them. Aminatou: Listen, all I want is prolific brow growth. Please give it to me. I care a lot but I pretend I don't care but I'm definitely like I'm tracking it. Ann: [Laughs] Aminatou: But yeah, it's also like fun to watch. You know, I don't know how those . . . this is why I say that beauty is a scam. It's like ten years ago you were supposed to have pencil-thin eyebrows and now you're supposed to have the bushiest, most gorgeous -- like we cannot keep up. Ann: Yeah. I brush my eyebrows like some people brush their hair. Yeah. Uh-huh. [Laughs] Aminatou: Man. Man, man, man, I want that. (19:55) Ann: What is the name of that product that I feel was . . . not like recently, recently but within the past few years was like an eyebrow -- essentially Rogaine for eyebrows. I don't know. Aminatou: I mean I guess you can put Rogaine on your eyebrows. I put just regular castor oil on my eyebrows because castor oil . . . Ann: Wait, is that a growth thing? Aminatou: Yes, castor oil helps with growth for everything so I put a little bit in my hair and I put some on my eyebrows. Ann: Oh my god, I had no idea. Aminatou: Listen, literally the bathroom is where racism is solved. You know what I mean? It's where women of all colors come to exchange real tips on what's going on. Ann: It is true. Sometimes I think about what my exfoliation routine would be like if I were not friends with black women and I shudder. I really feel that I have gained so much beauty knowledge from friends who have a different background and history with products and needs. I can't even tell you. Aminatou: I'm telling you it is truly my favorite thing. But at the same time all of this stuff is fascinating to talk about, like the things . . . the body parts that change that you covet; the way that the trend cycle works. You can never win so you might as well be yourself and feel awesome about yourself. [Music] Ann: Okay, so we have obviously rambled about beauty long enough but we asked a couple of different people who we love and respect to tell us about a beauty hack, an item, a process, a ritual, something they are obsessed with right now in the world of beauty. Jenna: Hey, it's your girl Jenna Wortham, staff writer at the New York Times magazine and co-host of friend of CYG pod Still Processing. I have two beauty tips. One is practical and one is spiritual. The first one is rose hip oil, your new best friend. It will raise your credit score, pay off that credit card, find you a boo. I put it on just a little bit at night before I go to bed. It has completely changed the game for me. That's the first thing. The second thing is more existential, psychological, spiritual, which is just sleep. Sleep as much as you can right now. We're all coping with so much and we need to be well-rested. Sleep is hard to come by. Listen to ocean sounds or rain noises on Spotify, whatever. Get that sleep. Our dreams are also really important data points. There's so much to glean from being really present even while we sleep and just seeing what comes up from the subconscious but on a practical level I mean you just really need to be well-rested to deal with the world today. So hope those help. Love you guys. Love the show. Fariha: Hi, this is Fariha Roisin. I have a couple of beauty tips actually. About three years ago I got really into cleansing my face twice a day. I know, who am I? That's something that I feel really revolutionized the ecosystem of my face because I'm sort of in that combination skin sub-sect and it can be kind of confusing because you don't really know what your face needs all the time. But cleansing it and then Vitamin Cing it has really changed some of the hyper-pigmentation that I used to have from scarring and just scars in general have faded and my face looks clearer. Virgie: Hello Call Your Girlfriend, it's me, Virgie Tovar. I've had an unprecedented year of body acceptance and coming into my own as a fat brown babe and when I was thinking about one beauty tip or hack I had to kind of look back in the archive of my mind and figure out what led to this year of like extraordinary beauty and awareness of my own beauty and coming into it. (24:15) And I realized there were a number of things. I am not a woman of few words, however I narrowed it down to the one I'm going to share. I spent a lot of 2018 taking photographs of my double chin. Now my goal for 2019 is to eradicate the high angle photo forever. Now this is an ambitious goal, and for those of you who might not know what this is the high-angle photo is kind of a cultural phenomenon where in selfies or in group photos you're encouraged to take the image from above. There is perhaps many reasons why there's the impetus for this but I've kind of narrowed it down to one big reason which is to hide or minimize the double chin. Now I was reading an article recently that said that for people who were born after 1980 they will take selfies -- they will take a selfie 25,000 times in their lifetime. Now I was born after 1980 and I'm pretty sure that I will be quadrupling that number if not quintupling or more. I take a lot of pictures of myself and I'm in a lot of photos. And I came to this realization earlier this year that I was tired of sort of doing all this extra labor to fit in with this high-angle norm. I decided that whatever my face happened to look like, either in a selfie or in another person's photo, I was just going to radically accept it and not fight back and I was just going to allow myself to be documented however my face looked at that moment. (25:55) Now a little bit of background, I have always had a double chin. I have chubby cheeks; I have a double chin. And what this angle sort of paradigm really does is it encourages fat phobia in tiny moments spread out over a very long period of time. Now I decided to stop doing it like I said and I had these wild realizations and these wild shifts that were happening inside of me. They were small but undeniable. So first of all I found that it reduced anxiety, right? I photograph myself all the time as I mentioned so it took a little bit of anxiety out of my everyday life, out of all those moments I photographed. Number two, it allowed me to create a rich sort of body of imagery around my face and my double chin and all of its various moments, right? When I'm happy, when I'm sad, when I'm excited, when I'm laughing. This is like the multiplicity of human expression; our face does that. And I was like I don't want to censor that anymore. And the third thing -- the third unexpected thing -- was that I found that I grew this fondness for my double chin. It was like me and her had a newfound best friendship and it was just really special and I found that in my non-photograph life I was able to accept and love and celebrate my double chin all the more, right? More than I ever had before. And so I'm a big fan of abandoning the high-angle photo. That's my hack. That's my tip. Stop practicing fat-phobic camera techniques and celebrate your face, and obviously your body, in all of its complexity all the time. Over and out. Dodai: Hi Ann, hi Amina, it's Dodai. I don't wear a lot of makeup. I don't have any of the skills associated with it. I cannot contour. I feel that I am bad at putting on eye shadow. I'm okay at putting on blush and lip color. But I think of myself as fairly low-maintenance. (28:05) I do like taking care of my skin. I like exfoliating and moisturizing. I like my hyaluronic acid. I like to come home after a long day and lie on my couch and do a sheet mask. Very, very wonderful feeling. But I do have one ritual that I really enjoy that I've been doing on and off for a couple years and that is eyelash extensions. It's very indulgent and decadent and just to be able to lie down for an hour in the middle of the day with your eyes closed is such a treat and it's one of the few times besides when I'm sleeping that I'm not looking at a screen. And then there's the result which is beautiful lashes and I feel like when I have lashes and then just do a little bit of blush and a little bit of lip color I'm ready to go. And even when I just wake up in the morning and I don't have any makeup on and I look in the mirror and I have the lashes I feel pretty. I feel like a Disney princess. But even though I don't wear a lot of makeup I do think we're living in interesting times regarding the politics of beauty. When I was growing up I didn't see a lot of women of color in mainstream magazines and now you have so many different skin tones and ethnicities in advertising and doing their own beauty influencer work on social media. I'm happy that beauty has become more inclusive and it's so inspiring, there's so many different kinds of people enjoying makeup, having fun with it, experimenting, playing, and it's not about the male gaze; it's about self-expression and I love that. And I think it's really interesting that there are women like Winnie Harlow and there are male makeup artists and non-binary people experimenting with makeup and expressing themselves with makeup and using it as an art form and I think that's really cool. (30:22) I really do think that sometimes taking care of yourself and indulging in these purely self-satisfying acts can be really powerful especially if you're the kind of person who's more likely to give time and attention to others. There are moments when giving yourself permissions to think about beauty on your own terms, not as a Euro-centric mandate coming from some external authority, some beauty editor somewhere or just society at large or your high school, but just to do what you like, I feel sometimes can be kind of a radical act. Humans have gone through so many phases and fads and ideas of what is beautiful. I mean scarification, foot binding, ritual tattooing, powdering your hair white, powdering your face white, skin lightening, tanning beds, super-straight hair. You know, Brazilian blowout. Teased hair and lip plumping, etc., etc., etc. It just feels to me like we might be heading in a direction where people are more likely to work with what they have and embrace what they have and it's less about conforming to some standard but just doing what you feel. I don't know if that's actually true but I hope so. Hope you guys are having a great day. Bye! (31:58) Aminatou: I need to go put on a face mask now. I feel like you're going to get the full Amina when we're on tour because I am very dedicated to doing face mask on the plane now. Ann: Oh. Aminatou: And people look at me like I'm wild, and every time we land I'm like who does not look amazing? I look amazing because I believe in moisturizing in this tin can in the sky. Ann: Do you do a sheet mask? Or do you do like a cream mask or something? Aminatou: I do both. So it just depends on how long the flight is and what I've carried but usually if it's super easy I'll do a sheet mask. Shout-out to friend of the podcast Mandy Simon who made me the most amazing like a go-bag basically for when I was going to Australia because I'm like I'm going to be on this plane for two days. What do I do? And it had everything from Tums to this amazing lavender face mask that heats up on your eyes. Thank you Mandy Simon. You have brought a lot of good things to my life. Yeah, I need to moisturize my whole face so I will do a sheet mask and I will also do like a cream pack and just leave that on depending on how many hours we're on the plane. Ann: Oh my god. Aminatou: But it has really helped. Like I said I have eczema. I need -- like my skin is always on fire. Ann: Extreme moisture. Aminatou: Yeah, extreme moisture at all times. But yeah, also, you know, I'm like reclaim my space. [Laughs] Ann: Oh completely. Aminatou: I'm like this is my space. I'm happy to do this. Ann: Well thank you so much to all of our voicemail-leaving experts and thank you to Ulta for underwriting this special episode of Call Your Girlfriend. Aminatou: See on your, boo-boo. Ann: Ugh, see you in a face mask on an airplane. [Laughter] Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website, you can download the show anywhere you listen to your favs, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at We're on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at @callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn, original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. Our logos are by Kenesha Sneed Our associate producer is Destry Maria Sibley. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.