Earlier this year one of my best friends moved to Cambodia. Before she left, I stopped by to see her London office to say goodbye. We talked about a lot of things but what dominated the conversation was our current skincare routines. It wasn’t a shallow conversation; we weren’t avoiding talking about our feelings, we don’t struggle with that – it’s simply one of the ways we show each other we care. So many traditionally feminine interests are made out to be frivolous, but these conversations carry a subtle power. When I recommend a facemask or a night cream what I’m saying is “I love you and I want you to have something nice.” Skincare has nothing to do with your career or your boyfriend; it’s something private and something that makes you feel nourished and special.
When I think about the time I spent as a young girl with my friends having sleepovers, self-care always played a role. It did so because that’s what we saw in movies, that’s what was sold to us in the pages of American Girl Magazine, and we accepted that without question. We built a bond braiding each other’s hair and making facemasks from ingredients in the fridge. Maybe we were playing directly into a patriarchal idea of what it meant to be a girl, but that’s how we formed a sisterhood. Anyone who is raised or socialized as a woman will know what I’m talking about. Sisterhood is something that might have been exclusive to our gender at the time, but it is a concept we put into practice across genders as adults. We learned that we could trust our sisters with anything. As we grew up those bonds strengthened and some of our sisters became our brothers and our non-binary siblings. We pass along these rituals, knowing that skincare and self-care are not gendered. Yes, we can all be soft, and care for each other.
I love skincare because it feels divorced from the baggage of makeup that must be applied just so and announces itself to the world. It feels removed from the pain of exercise and health consciousness. No workouts. No calories. Just creams. Yes, there is an expectation that we must keep looking young and the skincare industry is also rife with misogyny, but that’s exactly what makes these conversations between friends so precious. I don’t recommend skincare products because I saw an ad, but because they have served me in some way. Talking about skincare feels intimate, maybe because our routines take place in the privacy of our bathrooms and bedside tables, early in the morning and late at night. Somehow, these rituals are about more than beauty or products.
This is exemplified in the success of the Forever 35 podcast. Two friends, Doree Shafrir and Kate Spencer, who “love to talk a lot about serums” host a podcast that somehow manages to sooth, enlighten and get to the heart of what matters.
At its core, it’s just two women who love each other talking about their dreams, struggles and, of course, their serums. Two women who work hard, who are no less intellectual for their love of skincare. The way they talk about moisturizers and facemasks seems to encompass everything that it means to be friends. This is an entry point into so many other important topics, including some life-changing education about hemorrhoids which people often suffer from in silence. Shafrir and Spencer have created a space in which self-care is neither stigmatized nor glamorized and the results are incredible. A glance at the Forever 35 Facebook community or its dozens of spinoffs reveals just how deeply it resonates.
This communal focus on skincare feels generational. So many millennial and generation X women watched our mothers and grandmothers stress over wrinkles and skin cancer. They used straightening combs or laid in the sun for months without protection. Now we are wearing our hair natural and religiously wearing SPF 50.
We grew up with television shows about extreme plastic surgery. I remember one horrible horrible show called The Swan in which “ugly ducklings” competed each week as they received more and more surgery and treatments to become the most beautiful of all. I watched every episode when I was 13. The 90s and the early 00s were a time of painful, violent beauty. Magazine covers featured heroin-chic models, it seemed the thinner you were and the more plastic surgery you had, the better. Skincare in the way that myself and my friends talk about it in 2019 is decidedly not. The focus is on simplicity, on natural remedies and moving away from the toxic. Popular beauty podcasts like Forever 35 and Natch Beaut take a relaxed, funny approach. Today’s beauty culture is far from perfect, but there’s a gentleness to it that was not afforded to our mothers.
The world is not a gentle place, but the space between friends discussing their favorite facial oils is, and that is sacred. We talk about skincare because we want to remind each other that in the reckless whirl of life, news and social media, we must make space to protect and care for ourselves. When I ask a friend what their favorite moisturizer is, it is because I want to be sure they are taking the time to put it on at night, setting down their phone and their worries and caressing their skin. I want to know they are treating themselves well because I love them.