The Pitfalls of Beauty Blogging

carrie-bradshaw-writing

I’m not a beauty blogger. Yes, I write about products that I have used and share my experiences but I don’t consider myself a beauty blogger. I don’t fit into any of the parameters that define beauty bloggers- I’m not obsessed with makeup or other beauty related things and neither do I claim to know a lot about them. I write because I love to write- about anything. Like most women, I have quite a stock of products on my dress and in my bathroom and am constantly trying out new ones. Since I enjoy writing, I though why not about these too?

As I spend more time on the net, surfing through various sites, including beauty sites, I’ve come to realise that beauty bloggers are a clique unto themselves, and sadly, very often misusing the apparent “power” they wield, defying not only all rules of the English language and grammar with impunity but also failing to give an objective review of a product. No one is expecting a Jane Austen masterpiece in a beauty blog, but if you are conveying yourself in a language, at least do so without defiling the language. At times, the meaning is also lost because of bad and incorrect language. But dare a reader point this out and in no time she’ll be told to go read a site on English language than a beauty blog! What am I missing here? Why this uncalled for haughtiness? And this is the attitude not only towards the reader but towards the beauty brands/companies as well. Not too long ago I came across a comment by some blogger on Kiehl’s Fb page saying something to the following effect – “Don’t take us bloggers for a ride”. Seems the company had not delivered some samples, they had promised. I’m sure Kiehl’s is quivering in their boots!!

And this brings me to the most important area that is, in fact, the sole reason for beauty blogs to exist- product/service review. Now I may not know much about makeup and beauty but I have studied English Literature long enough to know the “do’s and don’t do’s” of a good critical review. Does a good review mean that you have to praise the object of review? Definitely not. But what it does demand is a certain objectivity, a critical distance and should definitely not be a means to settle a personal vendetta or start a mutual admiration society. Extremes of emotion or sentiment do not make for a good review. I have mentioned this incident earlier also( read here) and I mention it again- I read a review of Forest Essentials Jasmine and Aloe Vera Toner that the reviewer said smelt like cow dung! If the use of such strong words isn’t a total lapse of good, objective judgement, I wonder what is.

However just yesterday I came across a review of handmade soaps that seems to have rolled all these potential pitfalls into one to become an explosive combination. While most have lauded it as “brutally honest”, all that I could find in that review was brutality sans the objective honesty, which should, in fact be the hallmark of any review. With a title like “One of the worst purchases of my life” I was expecting to find a product worth a couple of thousands gone wrong and giving the lady an irreparable rash or something similar in the process. But that a hapless soap worth around Rs 200/- that caused some dryness can evoke such strong emotions, I was surprised to find. May be the soap is as bad as the blogger says it is, may be the maker of this god forsaken soap needs to replace her supplier, mend her attitude as her soap, but what/who is the object of the review- the soap or the maker? And when this maker offers some clarification, everyone jumps on her for not taking the criticism in the “right, positive” spirit. Was the review in such a spirit, if I may dare ask? If one was to see the whole trail of comments, it’s a veritable fish market out there. And I thought we were all educated, balanced, reasonable women! If this was an Estee Lauder product gone wrong, would the reviewer still be as vicious in her review and in imputing motives? I don’t think so. Why the maker instead of the soap became the object of review, I failed to see. The funniest thing was when some FB group “banned” this soap maker for failing to take the review in right spirit! My response, as a reader, and not a blogger? ROFL !! I would love to see this “soap that launched a 1000 vicious attacks” ( A take on the famous quote – “Face that launched a thousand ships” for those who don’t get the context) What a pity that the soap has long ago melted and since gone down the drain !

I’m not here to defend the maker or the soap or criticise the reviewer but to highlight what seems to be the biggest pitfall of beauty industry as a whole and of beauty blogging- vanity. Pride of any kind has been the downfall of the high and mighty. Let us not delude ourselves that it will not be the same for us lesser mortals. None of us are going to make it to the annals of history- let us at least be a part of the current day with humility and objectivity.

 

Mad Woman in The Attic in Hindustan Times “Brunch”

     Hindustan Times e-Paper - Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - 28 Jul 2013 - Page #64

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

So said the famous Bard. I could borrow from him and say- “some are born beauty bloggers, some become beauty bloggers and some, like me, have beauty blogging thrust upon them”. So it was, that out of all the things that I write about, it was my beauty related posts that caught the attention of HT and here I am featured in HT Brunch!  In a manner of speaking, the tag of a “beauty blogger” has been thrust upon me.( http://www.hindustantimes.com/Punjab/Chunk-HT-UI-PunjabSectionPage-Brunch/Cosmetic-connect/SP-Article1-1098635.aspx)

Honestly, I never did think of myself as a beauty blogger. I write about whatever catches my fancy- books, movies, Chandigarh, Grey’s Anatomy (;-0) , women’s issues, Chetan Bhagat (my pet peeve….aaargh!) and yes, beauty related products. These beauty posts are not “reviews” in the narrow sense of the word- I do not pick up something (and am not given anything by a company) thinking that I will write about it. On the contrary, I write only about things that I picked up for personal use and found them helping me in my perennial battles with bad skin/ hair etc etc- problems that plague every woman. The reason you will not find bad reviews of a product is simply that if a product did not work for me, I will not waste more time on it by writing about it. Unless of course it is a product with a lot of hype, in which case, I will voice my opinion. I am not obsessed with make up as most beauty bloggers say they are, I do not try something for a week-10 days and review it and today, after years of dabbling with various chemical laden products, I veer more towards natural and Ayurvedic products.

Will I write only about beauty products hereafter? Nah. As before, I’ll write about whatever catches my fancy – be it Chetan Bhagat and his inane uttering or a book I’ve read or a movie I’ve seen or some peculiarity of City Beautiful or something that ails women today ( section called “Last of the Bra Burners”) or Grey’s Anatomy. However, I will try to write more about beauty products and hope that my newfound wisdom does help someone, somewhere. If any woman is happier with her recalcitrant hair or irksome skin because of one of my posts, I’ll be so very glad. If, reading my blog, any woman can say, “Damn everyone. I’m happy with my imperfections and my life. I have made my peace with everything” I will be delirious. And if one of those women is me (yes, I still am struggling), all this effort would have been so worth it.

So let me add the first line of this famous quote from Shakespeare, “Be not afraid of greatness” and thank all and sundry who have made me what I am and move ahead with a spring in my step and song on my lips and embrace all that life has in store, including beauty blogging!      

Why do beauty bloggers do what they do?

No. It’s not a rhetorical or sarcastic question. Neither is it meant to rub anyone the wrong way. I know what beauty bloggers do and why they do it- reviewing products, giving their opinion on it, giving product launch previews and alerts. And the past few years have seen a plethora of them helping consumers making informed choices which is great. But as I surf through these blogs, a few questions keep bugging me. So here I am shooting them off to all and sundry – anyone who would deign to read and reply.

First of all, WHY this overriding emphasis on “pictures” of the products? Yes I know the reader needs a visual but will anyone pick up a product solely based on the look of the product? If so, why bother reviewing it? Can anyone make out, say, the consistency of the cream or oil, the smell of a toner or a shampoo, or how well a foundation will blend or if an eye liner will not bleed just by looking at the pictures? I don’t think so. A general sort of an idea about the product is what even the best of pictures can give. The reader  has to take the writer’s word for it and use her own discretion. So , pray, what is the point of  so many pictures? Putting a picture to show that you actually used the product and are not putting up a fake review, that I understand and appreciate. But beyond that, it beats me. And horror of all horrors when a stray hair on the arm that one has swatched the lipstick on stands out, magnified manifold by the lovely DSLR camera .

While on the subject of pictures, lipstick swatches to show the colour range of a particular product line or give a comparison between two shades or variety thereof, I understand. However, I still have some doubts. The picture of the swatches on the arm may look very different than the real colours, depending where the picture was taken- indoors or outdoors, with flash, without flash. And why a picture of the writer wearing the lipstick on her? To take an example, I’m NC 40 in MAC. Reading a great review of MAC So Chaud and seeing pictures of the lady, also NC 40, wearing MAC So Chaud, I decided to give it a try. But imagine my horror when I tried it at the MAC store and it totally washed me out. My point, for the readers, simply is that pictures can do only so much. They are no substitute for actually trying the product out yourself.

Another thing that surprises me is when some strong words are used to describe a product, specially the fragrance. As a case point, I can recall a blogger talking of Forest Essentials Jasmine and Aloe Vera Facial Mist (toner) smelling like cow dung! I mean really now. I almost didn’t pick the product up reading this. Who wants cow dung on their face for god’s sake! But when I did try it out at the FE store, it was nothing remotely near cow dung- not to me in any case. Which is precisely my point- why use such strong words? Some may find the smell you drool over repulsive or vice versa. A simple “strong/ strange smelling, may not agree with everyone” would be more apt, no? And I say this not because it can adversely affect the product sale or something but because you are not being fair as a reviewer with such strong judgements.

And last of all, why does no Indian beauty blogger mention if the product is “cruelty free” or not? I know that in a country where human life is cheap, animal rights don’t matter but why not at least inform your reader? Why not provide her with the facts and then let her decide whether her gorgeous tresses are worth subjecting a few bunnies to cruelty or not? After all informed choices is what beauty blogging is all about, isn’t it?

I’m not a beauty blogger, not in the conventional, limited sense anyways. I do talk about products that I have tried and tested and mostly sans the pictures, except for one or two. And, as before I once again urge all the gorgeous women out there, aged 18 or 60, to not join the mad rush for beauty, fashion and makeup blindly- just read about something- a launch or trend or call it what you will and pick it up. Let us all use our own discretion and, more importantly, sense of perspective- do you “need” it or just “want” it. Nothing wrong with the latter either as long you make that choice consciously. And while it is all very well to look great but isn’t it as important walk out in payjamas and flip flops with the same confidence as you would in a Chanel dress? And while you are at it, how about being at peace with yourself – with your life, your body, your skin, the choices you’ve made, the buses you’ve missed and the jackpots you’ve won? I, for one, am trying.