I’ve Always Loved Two Things: The Written Word and Beauty

As a teenager I would look through the magazine section at our local grocery store on a regular basis – I’d hold the glossy pages in my hands and take it all in. Her outfits, her makeup, her hairstyles, the ads. As I thumbed through Vogue and Vanity Fair I realized I was less interested in the words, something that was unusual for me, but the beauty was something to sit in awe of. Looking back on it now, I’m sometimes surprised to think that the poor, small, rural town I’m from even had these little creative windows available for us to buy. Sometimes I’d even spend the five dollars to own one – an escape from reality, 1,000 suggestions on how you (a woman) should look, props to collect dust in the salon, someone telling you what to buy to be her. For some reason, I didn’t care about any of that. It was just art to me. That lifestyle was so inaccessible in my world that I couldn’t even focus on what I didn’t have – the thought never even crossed my mind to want what they had. Because creating art is free.

As a young adult, getting a degree in news / editorial journalism, waiting to graduate to start my career in beauty, I thought I might “grow up” to get that job everyone in movies seems to want: beauty editor of some major magazine. I knew I wanted to be a writer and I knew I wanted to be a makeup artist, so logically the simplest choice of career path would be to become the makeup artist version of Carrie Bradshaw. No problem. Grow up to be The Devil Wears Prada version of Meryl Streep; again no problem.

Step one: go to journalism school. As a journalism student I was required to pick up three newspapers a day before classes began to review them for major news. The two local daily papers (yes this is unusual, and since then one has folded) and the San Francisco Chronicle. We’d have to show up to class ready to talk about anything and everything that was in those three papers – we’d almost always be quizzed on something too. This is before smart phones. Last minute googling of who died this morning or what weather event was printed above the fold on the Chronicle wasn’t an option. You had to know it. You had the physical copy in your backpack. You spent at least thirty minutes prior to that first class skimming and picking out anything that seemed to be important news, just in case. Then we’d write about it, and we’d be timed. I loved it.

In my “free time” I’d see my less serious woman on the side: magazines. I worked in the mall, and on my breaks I’d walk over to Borders, a now defunct bookstore chain, to spend an entire hour’s wages on a caramel latte and a Vogue. Back then I never subscribed to anything – I loved going in person, drinking my coffee and touching the pages. It’s amazing how nostalgic that feels writing this now, in a world where we can’t touch anything, where bookstores are a dying breed. You’d open it and smell the perfume samples; ads would fall out; back then Keira Knightley would be staring back at you wearing something that engulfed her, her giant smokey eyes vacant but beautiful. That signature pouty lip, her boney shoulders. And all I could think about was going home to recreate that makeup look with whatever products I could scrape together.

Somewhere along the line I lost interest in that type of art because reality set in and it became harder and harder for me to see those photos as isolated innocent projects. They became small pieces of a bigger system. A beauty politic problem. A body politic problem. A capitalist, racist problem.

However, I was a resourceful person – I worked at Victoria’s Secret so I could “afford” the glamorous fashion, and I got myself my first makeup job at an Estee Lauder counter where I made decent enough commissions to earn almost all the makeup I could ever want or use. Step two: become a beauty professional. I’ve worked in beauty ever since. Up the chain. Practicing. Now for myself. Now more clearly understanding the framework we all participate in to maintain these systems of power. Understanding it’s evils while participating in them to survive. The reality of needing to work selling makeup for several hours to buy one mascara from the brand I worked for wasn’t lost on me. Now I work one hour and can buy at least ten mascaras. The reality that if I were to graduate and actually become a writer at our local newspaper I would be paying off my student loans into my forties, was also not lost on me. Instead, I could become a makeup artist and pay them off a decade sooner. I feel like I’ve spent my life trying to play the system, positioning myself in a world I was priced out of, until someday I could afford it. Sometimes I feel like that’s business, sometimes I feel like there’s more to it than that.

So I graduated from journalism school, and beauty school and took a decade-long detour away from magazines and newspapers, toward entrepreneurship and learning. But I miss it. The art part. The simplicity. The ease and joy of turning the pages and just looking.

A year ago I started a “digital declutter” experiment and as part of my efforts to minimize online time, I subscribed to print publications. Beauty magazines weren’t even on my list of options. The stories about “how to please your man” are just as disappointing as the half-hearted articles on “how to please yourself.” The “You go girl!” and “Girl power!” undertones are just different sides of the same misogynistic, patriarchal coin. Sometimes a decent story is thrown in but mostly, it’s all just what you should buy, simple content, abysmal representation. Perpetuation of stereotypes, norms and capitalist “culture.” So instead I decided to subscribe to The New York Times, Veg News Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Esquire. I feel like the stories and interviews in Esquire are extremely well written and the ads are almost entirely for men, so I can enjoy them without thinking too much about it. The others are obviously for news, some pop culture, and food. But I still missed makeup, and hairstyling, fashion and stories about women. Where women are the center.

Then I found CRWNMAG on instagram, and their feed was everything I love about beauty without the over simplification and lack of representation. I ordered every issue they have available on their website and could not be more thrilled to finally be bringing editorial-style print beauty back into my life and regular rotation. The about section on their website explains that CRWNMAG

“exists to create a progressive dialogue around natural hair and the women who wear it. We’re reaching beyond trendy clickbait and #BlackGirlMagic to address the whole Black woman; a woman who is more educated, well-traveled and sophisticated than ever before – largely because generations before her have fought to ensure her seat at the table. Through beautiful content, thoughtful commentary, hair inspiration and resources; we’re telling the world the truth about Black women by showcasing a new standard of beauty – and documenting our story in tangible, premium print form.”

The magazines themselves are amazing quality, thick and durable like a book. The pages are matte and have that library book smell – that good paper smell. But inside, the content is more than I expected. Because I respect the creators, writers, and artists featured, I will not share specific examples of articles or projects but I will say that although I am not a Black woman, I have an appreciation for a print magazine that centers women and issues that mainstream beauty magazines ignore or barely include. The ads are different, the art is different, and the stories and interviews take a more analytical and intersectional approach to reporting. I feel like I can actually enjoy the magazine because it isn’t ignoring the things mainstream beauty ignores, if that makes sense. It’s like opening my VegNews and realizing every ad is for vegan food. I don’t have to look at ads for meat or dairy, I can just enjoy the content and it actually applies to me. Not that every article or editorial piece in CRWNMAG applies to me, but I appreciate the beauty and the perspectives and feel like I can actually learn something. It’s time to bring that beauty magazine ritual back.

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@crwnmag

https://shop.crwnmag.com

The First Monthly Resource Collection! July 2020

Hello Readers!

As promised, my plan moving forward is to dedicate the last Saturday of every month to rounding up many of the useful resources I consumed each month. I will include a brief description of what to expect from each, a photo, and a link when applicable, but my intention is not to summarize them for you. Rather, I hope these posts can be a spring board that sends you on your own unlearning journey and encourages you to do your own research.

Enjoy! I can’t wait to hear your feedback.

PS: I read A LOT of articles. If something you’re interested in is pictured but not listed, please comment below and I’ll send you a link.

-Liz, The Real Life Vegan Wife

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Books:

  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein

The Color of Law explains how the United States federal government, and individual state governments used (and continue to use) housing policy to create racial segregation. Many of us assume that the racial makeup of neighborhoods and cities are a product of “de facto” segregation when in fact it is a result of “de jure” or direct and lawful housing policy.

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow argues that since its founding, America has gone through several institutional forms of racial control, one simply evolving into the next to reflect society in that present moment. Beginning with chattel slavery, evolving into Jim Crow segregation, and currently resulting in mass incarceration, Alexander explains that each institution accomplishes the same end: the disenfranchisement and criminalization of Black people and Non-Black People of Color, resulting in a racial “underclass.”

  • Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot, Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism is an excellent and accessible analysis of systems of privilege and oppression through the lens of intersectional feminism. Kendall explains that issues such as housing access, food security, and gun violence (among many others) disproportionately affect Black Women and Women of Color and have therefore been ignored by mainstream white feminism. She argues that these issues are feminist issues and that without addressing them collectively, patriarchy will continue to subjugate all women.

Bookstores to Support:

https://keybookstore.com

https://www.semicolonchi.com

https://eurekabookshop.com

https://bookshop.org/shop/Elizabeths

Notable Podcast Episodes:

  • Code Switch, “Why Now White People?” 6/16/20

https://www.npr.org/2020/06/16/878963732/why-now-white-people

This episode talks about the sudden surge of support from white people for the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd.

  • The Rich Roll Podcast, Episode 529, “John Lewis & John Salley Are Black In America.” 6/29/20

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-rich-roll-podcast/id582272991?i=1000480111209

In this podcast episode, Rich Roll interviews John Salley, a long-time vegan and the first basketball player in history to win four NBA championships with three different teams, and John Lewis, aka The Badass Vegan, a vegan activist, athlete, and co-director of the new documentary They’re Trying to Kill Us.

  • American History Tellers, Season 13, Episodes 1-5, “Tulsa Race Massacre.”

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/tulsa-race-massacre-the-promised-land/id1313596069?i=1000440022243

In this five-episode series, learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 and the destruction of the Greenwood neighborhood, also known as “Black Wall Street,” by a racist white mob and a complicit police force.

Movies:

  • 13th

This documentary is available on Netflix and focuses on the meaning of the 13th Amendment, racial inequality in the United States, and why Black and Non Black People of Color make up a disproportionately high number of incarcerated individuals in this country.

  • The Hate U Give

This film tells the story of Starr Carter, a Black teenage girl learning to find her voice while constantly switching worlds and personalities between the Black community she calls home and the predominantly wealthy white prep school she attends.

Based on the novel by Angie Thomas

  • Dark Waters

Dark Waters tells the true story of how the DuPont corporation knowingly poisoned waterways, soil, animals and people in West Virginia with PFOA, a chemical commonly found in Teflon products.

Based on the New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich.

Hey White People, How Do We Do Something?

White people, it’s time to stop letting our uncertainty, confusion, and spineless good intentions trump action. For the sake of this conversation, I am including non-Black people of color in this group. In regards to the Black Lives Matter Movement, we seem to be easily paralyzed into silence or frozen when it comes to doing something meaningful outside of posting to social media, even when we believe racism is a problem that takes action to fix.

I get it. It’s confusing. Should we strive to be allies or accomplices? Should we use our platform to amplify marginalized voices? Or should we use it to speak out with our own voice? Should we publicly share the actions we’re taking to encourage others to do the same, or is this considered to be “performative” or reeking of “white savior” complex? Should we donate to Black organizations and shop Black business? Or is that just an easy way to relieve our own conscience by throwing money at a complex problem? Is self-education enough?

This post isn’t going to address white fragility and the many reasons why, as a group, we are seemingly incapable of talking about race without either becoming defensive, silent, or fumbling over ourselves like embarrassed children, looking for approval. Surely this isn’t every person. But I do think that if you’re engaged in a conversation about race in any meaningful way, especially as a white person, you will misstep. Which is okay. The point is to educate yourself, learn from that misstep and continue to act. Do the work. Rather, this particular post is meant to share with you the “aha” moment I had regarding my own anti racist activism, and how I realized the answer to all those confusing questions is more simple than you think.

I think the first step to unfreezing yourself is understanding why you’ve done little to nothing in the past to change the injustices you see – even if you were previously aware there was a problem. In Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness she explores an interesting phenomenon in human behavior that criminologist Stanley Cohen describes in great detail in his book States of Denial.

“The book examines how individuals and institutions – victims, perpetrators, and bystanders- know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts. They only see what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest. This has been true about slavery, genocide, torture, and every form of systemic oppression… Cohen emphasizes that denial, though deplorable, is complicated. It is not simply a matter of refusing to acknowledge an obvious, though uncomfortable, truth. Many people ‘know” and “not know” the truth about human suffering at the same time.”

She goes on to say that “the widespread and mistaken belief that racial animus is necessary for the creation and maintenance of racialized systems of social control is the most important reason that we, as a nation, have remained in deep denial.”

These points resonated with me because I see similar actions taking place in regards to animal rights and veganism. Many people recognize that animal abuse is wrong – in some states it is even considered a felony to abuse your pet. I encounter many people I would consider completely rational in other circumstances be made “sick” by the overt and obvious abuse of an animal on television, go on to eat an animal that same day, sometimes more than once. We know and not know the truth. We remain in denial because on the surface level we believe outright abuse is wrong, but somehow our daily actions to pay for and support a system which abuses and kills animals on our behalf is not.

As a group, we misunderstand racism as obvious individual acts of outright bigotry – without these in our sights we can remain in denial. We can know racism is a problem and not know it’s a problem. We are unwilling to see the part we all play in racist systems through our complicit or outright purposeful actions maintaining systems that are racist because “we aren’t racist” people. I would like to emphasize that the parallels I am drawing here are simply to help you think about your own rationale and actions, not to in any way suggest that racism and animal exploitation are the same.

I think the other key to moving out of inaction is to move past your fear of being wrong. You may be afraid to act because there are so many mixed messages and differing opinions on what white people should do, and you may wonder why Black people can’t just tell you what’s right. Recognize that this thinking is problematic for many reasons, but for two big ones. One: Black people are not one homogenous entity with one cohesive thought. To expect all Black people to agree on one methodology or theory for activism (or anything) is absurd. To read the thoughts of one, two, or even a handful of Black people and expect their ideas to represent all Black people’s ideas is racist, and not something we would ever expect of a white person. Two: It is not the job of Black people to educate you on your own racism and teach you how to fix it. If this is literally their actual job then by all means pay them for their content and let them help educate you. There are many Black educators and authors out there doing just that. But expecting every Black person to lead you through your unlearning journey, take on your white guilt and emotions, and help guide you to the mythical land of the “woke” white person is a not so subtle form of manipulation and exploitation. Black people have no obligation to work for free, and it is simply not their job to fix our problems for us. It’s our job to do the work inside ourselves and within our institutions.

Okay, so now that we’ve examined our thought patterns critically and read some books about how to be an anti racist, how do we do that?

Once these big conversations about race started happening on such a widespread scale I was fortunate enough to have had a lot of the theory and education pieces at least somewhat in place to prepare myself for what comes next. In other words, I was confident enough to have these conversations and share my thoughts on racism publicly because I had been doing the inner work for a long time. I had settled into that uncomfortable feeling of being wrong a lot. However, I felt that beyond reading books, sharing resources on Instagram and talking with my circle of family, friends, and clients (many of which share similar opinions), I was at a loss on how to be effective – how to take action. Then something just clicked.

Activism is activism.

The parallels I’m about to make aren’t meant to be exacting, so just take a moment to let me explain. I decided that the best way to be an anti racist advocate are much of the same actions that I take on a daily basis to be an effective animal rights advocate. Am I saying the movements are the same? No. Am I comparing people to animals? No. Do I understand that there are many reasons why comparing the two movements is problematic? Yes. BUT what I understand even more clearly is that I am not comparing the movements themselves, I am simply identifying that the few principles of activism that I use in my vegan life can easily be translated into actions that support anti racism in my everyday life as well. So let’s break those down.

Over the last sixteen years, I’ve come to the conclusion that when working within a capitalist framework, the most effective way to enact change is to pay for it. When enough people make consistent small changes in their routine spending this will alter what products companies offer, what advertisements we see, who gets hired and makes more money, and the list goes on. When I first became vegetarian, tofu was the only “protein” option anywhere. It’s amazing what over a decade of plant based buying did to change our options, help small business, the planet, animals, and our own health. I find that once you change your spending habits, discussing your choices with everyone (and anyone) gets easier. Until you’re comfortable simply engaging in conversation about veganism or anti racism, you now have a simple way to show support, and lead by example. Your choices matter. Every single one.

Because being anti racist or plant based aren’t things you can win at, or “finish” then it can be logically concluded that participating in these movements should constitute a lifestyle – a way of living. A journey that will evolve forever. Once we’ve decided to know, instead of claiming to know, then it is our duty to intentionally allow these frameworks to guide us as we move through the world. It should influence our moral compass, our daily purchases, and our daily actions.

Here is the example I sketched out to help you visualize how easy these changes are, and how much of an impact they can have. This may seem repetitive, but that is my intention.

As a vegan (or a non-vegan) what can I do in my routine life that is sustainable to enact long term change in regards to animal rights, my health, and/or the health of the planet?

Shop at grocery stores that carry vegan options and tell people about it.

Buy cruelty free cosmetics and talk about them.

Shop from vegan specific brands and share them.

Follow vegan creators.

Subscribe to vegan publications and tell people about them.

Watch vegan documentaries and talk about them.

Read books about veganism and share them.

Cook vegan food and tell people about it.

Share it.

Talk about it.

Do you see a pattern forming here?

When I was having a difficult time understanding my role in anti racism, I sat down and wrote out all the ways I think we can enact positive long term change as regular citizens, other than voting on a ballad and keeping ourselves informed.

Shop at Black owned businesses and tell people about them.

Buy cosmetics created by Black makeup artists and talk about them.

Shop from Black brands and share them.

Follow Black creators.

Subscribe to Black publications and tell people about them.

Watch documentaries about anti racism and talk about them.

Read books written by Black authors and share them.

Weave these choices into your daily lifestyle.

Share them.

Talk about them.

This may seem like an overwhelming amount of work in the beginning, however, if you are truly committed to producing real change, you’ll do it. Over time your small actions will add up and just translate into you living your life. It will become routine and normal. I also want to make it clear that by sharing and talking about your new discoveries and purchases, I mean in whatever way big or small you feel is natural to you. Though, I will say that this may feel uncomfortable in the beginning. I remember the first time I distributed PETA pamphlets and stickers at my high school it felt scary, like I would be judged or ostracized. And while some people may have made fun of me or talked behind my back, I instantly stopped caring because I knew in my heart that what I was doing was right. That feeling has guided me through every awkward situation or challenging conversation during the last sixteen years. That is what I love about making real, tangible changes in your daily lifestyle. Just by leading by example, you will change those around you in some way.

Sometimes I wear a vegan t shirt to work just to get someone to think; sometimes I write entire blog posts about a topic. Some days I speak out on social media – but most days I just live my life normalizing veganism, which in turn normalizes it for others. I think that the most effective way to live an anti racist life is similar – change your daily habits to truly reflect your values, believe the world you see is possible to create, and normalize that behavior so others will feel empowered to follow.