I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Emily Weiss’s 2016 wedding prep post is one of the most superlative accounts of beauty-related futility the world has ever seen. Fifty feminist academics working for fifty years could not have concocted such a concise depiction of what is involved when one strives for conventional feminine perfection, not even if they were helmed by The Beauty Myth author Naomi Wolf herself. The expense, the time, the waste, the myopia — it’s all there, in fewer than a thousand words, with lots of hyperlinks so readers can construct an identical psychic iron maiden if they so choose.
Sharing such recommendations is, of course, what helped Weiss build a business that raised almost $100 million worth of funding in five years. I do not mean to condescend to you, because I am far from an Emily Weiss scholar. (Did you know she was on The Hills? I didn’t, until I Googled her a minute ago; I barely know anything about her except how she prepared for her wedding, information that occupies a place in my brain right next to my Social Security number and names of ex-boyfriends.) But in case you need a primer: She founded her cosmetics company Glossier after creating a colossal lake of goodwill with her beauty blog, Into the Gloss. That’s where she published her “Little Wedding Black Book,” a.k.a. “Sisyphus and the Makeover Montage,” and made her true mark on history.
Much of the post’s impact can be traced to an early admission of lingering dissatisfaction, if not outright deficiency — one casual sentence that plows a deep groove into the memory banks of every woman who encounters it. “I was 8/10 happy with how I looked,” writes Weiss, a millionaire and former model, having already confided in us that she invested “Months of prep! So much prep” and nearly an entire season (the fall) on her back (skin and muscle tone, I presume). There were also colonics involved, for reasons undisclosed beyond the fact that they’re “recommended” with the dietary cleanse she undertook. I don’t know if they’re supposed to support weight loss or further “detoxing” in the name of clear pores, or what, and my hunch is that she doesn’t quite know what they were supposed to do, either. Cumulatively, Weiss’s approach to pre-matrimony body management resembles one of those old TV competitions where contestants tore around a grocery store sweeping indiscriminate armloads of products into their cart. In my very conservative estimate, and I can show my math, it took at least $30,000 and probably around 100 waking hours to reach this modest pinnacle, all in the service of being displayed to 37 guests, one groom, and a camera on a certain special day. She deems the eight out of ten “pretty good!” You can see now that the question is not, Why do I, Charlotte, think about Emily Weiss’s wedding prep a lot? but How could anyone who reads it do otherwise?
What’s most fascinating to me about Weiss’s account of her semi-successful, multi-month struggle is that it in no way bruises the bloom of hope growing in our hearts about the aesthetic heights we might achieve under the correct circumstances. Her confession that — in spite of her money, connections, knowledge, and time — she was able to only (barely!) earn a B minus degree of peace when it comes to her physicality clearly had no impact on the fans, readers, and customers who keep buying her products and awaiting more endorsements. And, look, I feel the mania, too. I want to do the cleanse she suggests. I want to be instructed by the guy who made his name training models. I’d bet my every worldly possession that the microcurrent skin treatments she mentions have no lasting effect, and probably no immediate ones either, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try them.
There is nothing as intoxicating as possibility, and the promise latent in every beauty consumable, no matter how tackily packaged or how ludicrous its claims, is matched only by the near guarantee of equivalent disappointment. (8/10. 8/10! My god, do we dare ask where she would have ranked herself before she shoveled tens of thousands of dollars into the corporeal void?) I’m not casting stones and then hightailing it back to my glass shack — I know everything I put on or in my body is destined for the compost heap, and is likely to have an imperceptible effect on how I look while I’m headed there, but I keep moisturizing and eating expensive probiotics like I think I’m some sort of god.
The obvious truth — a truth so obvious we usually avoid saying it — is that these behaviors are hopeless. From an excruciatingly pious, willfully petty point of view, every penny a woman spends on makeup, or a gym membership, or a Vampire Nanolaser Blah Blah facial is a dime she doesn’t save for retirement or place in the tip jar at the coffee shop. And it’s time that won’t be spent with her children, or studying for the bar exam, or leaving a flaming bag of poop on the doorstep of the colleague who keeps staring down her shirt. But the worst part of this rhetoric is that — in addition to assuming most women are fucking morons who can’t notice the glaringly unfair bargains we’re pressed to make every day — it burdens us with an equally nefarious, and sexist, set of expectations. Instead of Botoxing wrinkles for our own peace of mind, we’re supposed to practice routine selflessness and politically motivated restraint for the imagined greater good.
So, yeah: A lot of the time, maybe even most of the time, indulging in beauty rituals can barely scrape the surface of our anxieties. But abstaining from them entirely can make our lives as cramped, joyless, bitter, and self-flagellating as obsessing about our looks does. Yes, Emily Weiss’s wedding guide is depressing, but so is being in a body. When it comes to feeling like it’s kind of nice for other people to look at you, maybe an 8/10 amount of confidence isn’t so bad.