The introduction to my newsletter sent out on March 25th!
As I write this, I’m sitting at a cafe drinking an oat milk flat white for which I paid $5.33. If I were to tally up all of the skincare products I currently have in rotation, I could buy about 94 more oat milk flat whites.
Objectively, that is a lot of coffee. Subjectively, that could be revealing of an excessive amount of skincare products for someone with just one face; to which I say, “yep.”
My preference for an oat milk flat white on days when I’m in the mood to treat myself isn’t entirely unlike my bias towards the skincare products I choose to buy, and ergo use. But at what point does an indulgence stop being an indulgence and instead, just part of your routine? Of the things that are necessary for you to keep the ship that is your wellness afloat? The simple logic being the more you have of something, the more you become accustomed to it and the more you want it. So what do I want? I want my skin to be glowing and I never want to see another zit again.
When I was going through bouts of adult acne last year and the year before that, all I wanted was for it to go away. But apparently begging your hormones to “stop being so dramatic” isn’t that effective. So I did what any 24 year old woman with an occasionally useful college degree would do and proceeded to spend about 70% of my free time on the internet researching all of the things I could do — oral and topical medications, birth control, chemical peels, changes in diet — to stop the acne.
Eventually, after spending many a Saturday mornings at the dermatologist’s office to the avail of a failed trial of a medication that did more harm than good, my skin started to level out. Now I have shifted my attention to all of the ways I can erase the remnants of my acned past. I burn through bottles of P50, I bought a micro needler, I am religious about retinol, vitamin C, and SPF. I hydrate with layers of an essence, a hyaluronic acid serum, antioxidant serum, and a light moisturizer.
I sometimes question the degree to which I do this for myself, out of my own volition, or if has to do with a desire to try and fulfill what had become a norm in online and social media spaces: a skincare Olympics where the gold medalists have good genes and the means to maintain a fully stocked skincare cabinet and access to frequent hi-tech facials. Like my peers, I sometimes feel as though I’ve gotten sucked into trying to fulfill some subconscious need to rack up my lifestyle currency. While most manifestations of peak millennial lifestyle currency seem to be literal — the Outdoor Voices, the Glossier, the Away, the CareOf vitamins, the Moon Juice powders — there are also ideological counterparts that sustain them.
Got acne? Here’s skin positivity: a social media birthed movement that has sparked a new conversation around accepting your skin. Flaws are being rebranded and it’s a great thing. Still, an idea that is being legitimized only because there is a manifestation of it on social media doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist before; it’s just creating a space for the idea to thrive.
It’s an underlying theme in Jia Tolentino’s recent New Yorker piece about Outdoor Voices, where she unpacks all of the ways in which OV is at the helm of a cultural shift of what it means to be a lifestyle brand.
“Am I taking care of myself, doing sun salutations in my motivational crop top, or am I running survival drills for life under an advanced capitalist economy?” Tolentino ponders after she has spent a week consistently working out in OV gear, “The answer, I’m sure, is both.”
Very much like how you can’t go out in New York City without spotting an Outdoor Voices tote bag, you can’t scroll through a lifestyle/beauty/fashion influencer’s Instagram feed without encountering the brand in some way. Whether or not the brand will ever reach over-saturation is not for one person to decide, but the DNA of Outdoor Voices definitely represents how a series of personal observations through a specific POV can culminate into a genius idea for a company. Whether that’s OV founder Tyler Haney or Glossier founder Emily Weiss.
Tolentino tells Haney that “[her] take away from the success of her cohort was more about what we expect and want from young women. Advantages for women tend to harden into requirements. The careers of very successful millennial women, from Haney to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are often inseparable from their ability to engage large online audiences in a personal way. All of the women whom we were talking about, I ventured, are beautiful. All of them give perfect interviews.”
While the women Tolentino and Haney refer to are public figures, that’s not to say that the sentiment of “what we expect and want from young women” is limited to female entrepreneurs and senators making historic achievements. There’s something powerful and comforting in taking care of yourself -- whether that be embracing the Outdoor Voices ethos of “doing things” or committing to feeling comfortable in your bare skin -- that drives us to embrace wellness and the encompassing meaning of it. But to understand that you aren't required to be one thing, to fit into a specific category of what the end game should be, is a source of strength more than anything.