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The witchy beauty trend’s ancient, sexist roots — Quartzy

The witchy beauty trend’s ancient, sexist roots — Quartzy

Witches are having a serious second. In addition to this weekend’s launch of the witchy horror film Suspiria, a slew of witch-themed TV reboots are within the works (see: Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Bewitched). Starbuck’s unveiled its “Witch’s Brew” Halloween frappucino this Halloweeen week. The inhabitants of working towards witches and Wiccans within the US has seen an astronomical rise. And social media has conjured up a sort of Instagrammable witchiness that has been recognized by market trend-spotters as “mysticore” or “chaos magic.”

The trendy incarnation of witch tradition within the #MeToo period has a sort of feminist, liberal sheen to it—with millennial ladies gravitating to witchcraft’s give attention to ladies’s energy and sisterhood, inclusivity, and adjacency to broader pursuits like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. Followers of Wiccan or Pagan traditions collect in covens, follow moon ceremonies, and infrequently forged hexes on individuals corresponding to US president Donald Trump and Supreme Courtroom justice Brett Kavanaugh.

And it makes some sense that a tradition targeted on potions and spells, natural essences, serums, and elixirs has discovered a manifestation within the ballooning wellness and beauty industries. From Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop to the beauty big Sephora, new age mysticism has been a worthwhile mainstay for the wellness business for a while now, peddling the accouterments of recent witchcraft, from tarot playing cards to anointing oils to crystals for therapeutic. There are even self-care-focused subscription packing containers for aspiring witches.

Hashtag communities like #witchesofinstagram have led to the rise of witch way of life influencers like the Hoodwitch—full with sponsorship offers and an internet retailer promoting smudge sticks, “Slutist Tarot” playing cards, and chunks of rose quartz.

However because the wellness and beauty business dabbles in witchiness, it’s value taking note of which a part of witches’ lengthy and sophisticated historical past it attracts upon. Witchcraft has for hundreds of years been related within the fashionable creativeness with beauty and sexuality, nevertheless it hasn’t all the time been fairly: The time period “witch,” has been used as a multipurpose misogynist slur, whereas witches or these suspected of witchcraft have been persecuted—typically violently and sexually—throughout historical past and cultures.

The international mythology of witches attracts on the notion that ladies use sorcery to trick or “bewitch” males with their beauty—and the beauty business has all the time used this similar language to promote its merchandise, advertising them as magical elixirs that confer beauty, youth, and sexual attractiveness.

So it’s value asking, is the beauty business’s present witchy vibe actually tapping into witchcraft’s concentrate on ladies’s empowerment? Or is it pandering—because it all the time has—to a male gaze, by digging up the well-worn tropes of an historic misogyny?

Magic your self younger

“Natural” and “clean” beauty are on the rise, and so the business has begun to undertake the wellness mantra that one should attend to “inner and outer beauty.” Delving into mysticism and empowering witchiness has confirmed to be an efficient approach to interact clients and promote merchandise for the “inner” a part of that equation.

The beauty business is pivoting to self-care—and an enormous a part of that’s an emphasis on skincare, as an alternative of lipstick, mascara, or rouge. An business forecast launched by the market analysis agency Euromonitor (PDF) in August famous that skincare (lotions and moisturizers, serums, cleansers, toners, masks, and so forth.) skilled the strongest progress globally towards all different cosmetics classes within the third quarter, a spot beforehand dominated by shade cosmetics (make-up). 

It seems like excellent news that ladies are extra involved about having wholesome pores and skin than smearing it with coloured pastes and powders. And it’s equally encouraging that the language round skincare has begun to desert militant directions to “tackle” and “beat” blemishes or “defy” the pure getting old course of, and substitute them with campaigns that promote merchandise promising to “renew” or “revitalize.”

However a look contained in the beauty business’s obsession with skincare tells a much less empowering story about its priorities. In terms of retail worth gross sales, skincare is dominated by one class: Anti-aging. 

In truth it’s no exaggeration to say that “skincare” has turn out to be a euphemism for merchandise that promise to sluggish, pause, or reverse growing older(paywall). It’s a behavior the business can’t appear to give up: The beauty journal Attract, for instance, declared nobly that it will put the time period “anti-aging” to mattress as soon as and for all, however it continues to promote merchandise that promise to fight the consequences of age and deal with youth as a proxy for beauty.

Moon Juice’s magical-sounding Beauty Mud doesn’t explicitly point out ageing, however guarantees it “helps the body to preserve collagen protein,” and “helps enhance elasticity of the skin,” phrases that any skincare obsessive will perceive as references to youthful pores and skin. Its Beauty Shroom Plumping Jelly Serum, in the meantime, says it should “visibly reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” Buried within the high-quality print of almost all the merchandise from Goop’s skincare line is the language of anti-aging: it’s “revitalizing” day moisturizer doubles as a superb line reducer, as does its cleanser, face oil, night time and eye lotions. The truth is, the favored wellness website’s prime six skincare merchandise all point out anti-aging indirectly. It’s second-bestselling product (following a Goop exfoliating masque billed as “gateway to younger looking skin”) is an almost $200 serum by Vintner’s Daughter, which guarantees a laundry listing of pores and skin enhancements, however finally reduces high quality strains and wrinkles.

“No matter how low you turn the volume, the specter of aging wails, open-mouthed and horrified, at the core of skincare,” Chelsea Summers wrote in a perceptive essay on this matter for Medium, “Aging Ghosts in the Skincare Machine.” She argued that at its core, the skincare industrial complicated has all the time been about anti-aging, and cops to her personal susceptibility, describing her pricey pores and skin routine as “an army of products I’ve marshaled with a single intent: to keep aging at bay.”

The beauty business, briefly, has changed a revenue machine preying on ladies’s worry of not being fairly sufficient with one exploiting their worry of not being younger sufficient. Beauty is a enterprise that has all the time thrived by fostering ladies’s insecurities, so it’s not tremendous shocking that it’s refurbishing this trusty mannequin for 2018, slightly than changing it. 

Seen by way of this lens, the business’s slender tackle mysticism doesn’t really feel notably empowering or feminist, however as an alternative zeroes in on the identical aspect of witchcraft the beauty business has all the time referenced in its promoting language—the thought that you could “magic yourself beautiful” or “magic yourself young.”

Examples of this trope exist in fairytale and movie: from Sleeping Beauty to Snow White to Recreation of Thrones, witchy older ladies are depicted as unbeautiful, resentful, and spiteful. The queen in Snow White appears at her magic mirror for an evaluation of her beauty relative to younger Snow White’s (maybe an early manifestation of Instagram angst), whereas Recreation of Thrones’ seductress Melisandre is a crone who’s centuries previous, however makes use of sorcery to disguise her age and intercourse to bend males to her will. The aged witches in Neil Gaiman’s 1999 novel Stardust can reverse the ageing course of by consuming the guts of a “Star,” who takes the type of a younger lady, and Japan’s decrepit Yama Uba poses as a younger lady to lure misplaced vacationers, who she then consumes, Hansel and Gretel type.

The concept of girls utilizing sorcery to steal youth is way from innocent, as Naomi Wolf prompt in her 1991 ebook, The Beauty Fable: “Competition between women has been made part of the myth so that women will be divided from one another,” she wrote. “Older women fear young ones, young women fear old, and the beauty myth truncates for all the female lifespan.”

Cosmetics have all the time been seen as black magic

Some current merchandise, reminiscent of Eternal Love, a “romance mist” bought by Goop, or Moon Juice’s Intercourse Mud, for $38, fragrance recommend a sort of love potion. In the meantime, many manufacturers nonetheless use the suggestion of intercourse to promote merchandise (take Tarte’s “Sex Kitten” eyeliner, Nars’ “Orgasm” blush, and Pat McGrath’s “Bronze Seduction” eyeshadow palette), and in doing so implicate the male gaze in a product meant for ladies. Whereas this stuff might definitely be bought and utilized in an empowering and self-loving approach, additionally they recall the thought of girls as sorceresses, bent on seduction.

It’s a well-worn trope. In 1985, make-up doyenne Estée Lauder wrote of the cosmetics empire she created, “this is the story of a bewitchment. I was irrevocably bewitched by the power to create beauty.” 

Artistic Commons

Maybelline’s witchy 70s lipgloss.

And certainly, if ladies are out to bewitch males, then make-up is the software for this deception, and has lengthy held a connotation of black magic and mysticism. The phrase “glamour” itself has roots in a Scottish time period referring to magic, enchantment, and spells.


One among Maybelline’s first merchandise, Magic Mascara (1958).

In Alexander Pope’s 1712 poem “The Rape of the Lock,” Belinda’s Instagram-worthy beauty regime is described as a spiritual ritual:

And now, unveil’d, the Rest room stands show’d,
Every Silver Vase in mystic Order laid.
First, rob’d in White, the Nymph intent adores
With Head uncover’d, the Beauty Pow’rs.
A heav’nly Picture within the Glass seems,
To that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears

Youthful ladies of Pope’s period have been usually frowned upon for utilizing make-up, and though it was extra acceptable for older ladies to take action, society was predictably cruel in the direction of them for it (not in contrast to the condemnation of 21st-century ladies who dare to get cosmetic surgery).

Artistic Commons

Cosmetics have been thought to offer ladies the facility to dupe males with false beauty, a notion explored gleefully in Jonathan Swift’s graphic 17th century poem “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed,” which tells the story of “Corinna, pride of Drury-Lane,” a horny prostitute, as she removes all her cosmetics earlier than sleep

Takes off her synthetic hair:
Now, choosing out a crystal eye,
She wipes it clear, and lays it by.
Her eye-brows from a mouse’s disguise,
Caught on with artwork on both aspect

The course of reveals Corinna to be a hideous, ageing lady, pocked by festering wounds from sexually transmitted illnesses and wracked by malnutrition. The 18th-century socialite Woman Archer was cruelly caricatured in comparable phrases: 

Thomas Rowlandson/TheMetMuseum

Woman Archer’s beauty routine was made right into a imply 18th-century meme.

Corinna, Belinda, and Woman Archer, with their beauty deceptions, recall the succubus, a varietal of the witch in Western medieval legend, who seems in nearly each tradition. The succubus depends on male fears of feminine sexuality—usually, she has exaggerated sexual options or devil-like deformities disguised by magic—and appears to exist purely as a temptation and menace to males.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti/TheMetropolitanMuseumofArt

Lilith, dangerous spouse, demon, legendary femme fatale (1867)

She first seems in Mesopotamian demonology because the Lilin, an evening spirit that copulated with males of their sleep, and once more in Arabian mythology because the qarînah. She reappears because the sexually wanton Lilith in Jewish mythology and makes her Biblical debut as Adam’s crappy first spouse.

In Japanese folklore, Yuki-onna is a vampiric succubus, who feeds on mens’ blood after luring them in with intercourse or a kiss. 

Sawaki Suushi/Wikimedia Commons

Bon-appétit. Yuki-onna, a vampiric Japanese succubus (1737)

Greek and Roman mythology additionally loves its man-devouring witches. Circe and Calypso famously bewitched Odysseus in Homer’s The Odyssey, imprisoning him on their respective islands for years. (Whereas Homer’s model of their histories are fairly two dimensional, Madeline Miller’s retelling of Circe’s story envisions her because the OG witch who invents witchcraft by way of using magical and herbs and therapeutic spells). Odysseus later encounters the sirens, the witch’s aquatic sister, who lure males to their watery graves with their beauty and voices. The Siren additionally exists in Slavic folklore because the lake-dwelling rusalka or dziwożona, in addition to the unfriendly mermaid in Western lore.

All through historical past, and even immediately, ladies have been demonized for suspected affiliation with witchcraft. In Europe, hundreds have been sexually abused, tortured, and actually burned on the stake in a church-sponsored hysteria. The Salem witch trials noticed 20 ladies equally executed in America.

Make-up’s witchy powers have been briefly prohibited within the UK by way of black letter regulation in 1770, when the British Parliament handed a ruling that condemned cosmetics resulting from their affiliation with witchcraft. It said that ladies who “seduced” males into marriage by means of using cosmetics like “scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes or bolstered hips,” might be discovered responsible of sorcery and face witchcraft expenses.

Unsurprisingly, some fringe-y modern-day actions take an identical angle to using cosmetics, most disturbingly within the incel motion, a violent political ideology created by males that facilities on the injustice of younger, lovely ladies refusing to sleep with them.

As with these hyper-sexualized, mythological she-demons of the previous, incels “tend to direct hatred at things they think they desire,” Jia Tolentino explains within the New Yorker. On this case, incels are preoccupied with feminine beauty however consider that make-up is a type of fraud. Many an incel Reddit-thread sees males evaluating photographs of the identical ladies with and with out make-up, or whining that cosmetics are a lie and must be made unlawful. 

Even in much less darkish corners of the web, the trope of witchy ladies utilizing sorcery to bewitch males thrives: A much less excessive instance is the 2016 makeup-shaming meme, “Take a girl swimming on your first date,” which espouses the concept one ought to dunk one’s date in water (witch-trial-style) to scrub her make-up off and keep away from being duped into courting somebody they assume is unattractive.

And, working example, we’ve got the lengthy and various misfortunes of the rapper and entrepreneur Kanye West, whose baffling conduct has been blamed on his spouse, Kim Kardashian, and the remainder of the Kardashian coven. Many have pointed to the so-called “Kardashian Curse” (a hex placed on males that date a Kardashian sister) because the supply of his misery, whereas others have joked that the household witched West into the “sunken place,” a metaphoric hell that represents the structural oppression of black individuals from Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

Witchy advertising isn’t endorsed by witches

The commercialization of witch tradition doesn’t all the time work out. Goop, which is reputed to be value $250 million, is usually criticized for its white-washed number of business spirituality, which it payments as “cosmic health” and accessorizes with $85 therapeutic crystals. In the meantime, the commodification of witch tradition just lately backfired on Sephora when it tried to promote a “Starter Witch Kit,” to dabblers. This managed to piss off a bunch of precise witches, and finally pressured the package’s producer to apologize and pull the product.

Heather Greene, writer of Bell, E-book, and Digital camera, A Crucial Historical past of Witches in American Movie and Tv, notes over e mail that ”(up till lately), the witch was an instance, allegorically talking, of what a great lady shouldn’t be. Extra just lately the character has grow to be an expression of girls’s empowerment.”

It’s truthful to imagine that practitioners of Wiccan, Pagan, or different religious faiths will not be busy cooking up love potions in cauldrons or utilizing darkish arts to make themselves youthful. The progress of the motion had begun earlier than #MeToo and earlier than Trump’s election, however has gathered steam in a local weather the place many ladies are confronting the methods they’ve been undermined and attacked.

“The witch as an icon is resonating right now because we’ve entered a fourth wave of feminism,” Pam Grossman, writer of What Is a Witch and co-founder of the Occult Humanities Convention at New York College, informed Salon in 2016. “We are redefining what power, leadership, beauty and value look like on our own terms. And the witch is the ultimate symbol of female power. Doing witchcraft is a way to connect to that energy, which is so needed right now, as we’re beginning to collectively course correct thousands of years of sexism and oppression.”

The determine of the witch, in her numerous iterations, is a cultural manifestation of male fears about feminine energy, and her historical past does as a lot to show the insecurity of males because it does the resilience of girls. Arguably, the healers, midwives, and ladies’s well being advocates who have been persecuted as witches in medieval Europe have been early practitioners of wellness.

However at a time when the beauty and wellness industries are making some extent of shifting their focus away from the male gaze, the witchy advertising of youth and beauty appears to be about performing for that gaze, as a lot as ever.