Race and bodies are married concepts that have endured complicated relationships at the hands of history. Often, they have been placed and used to stratify the value of particular groups of people. In trying to overcome this historical obstacle, artists like Tschbalala Self have reclaimed and put forward expressions of blackness that genuinely capture the identity in a way that has evaded history. In doing so, Self’s paintings and sculptures consciously display the politics surrounding African Americans’ bodies. 

Hailed from the storied Harlem neighborhood of New York City, Tschabalala Self’s early life was shaped by her mother’s artistry as a seamstress and her observations of her older sisters. By the time she graduated from Bard College in 2012, Self had observed: “different ways in which black and white women were sexualized by society and the media” In turn, “she began to challenge the objectification of black women in pop culture.” After obtaining her MFA from Yale School of Art in 2015, Self began creating art that reflected the problems she saw in depicting black women’s bodies. To highlight this issue, “She started to exaggerate the physical characteristics of the black female body in her artworks” to challenge and analyze how African American women were scrutinized under an unfair, sexually driven standard. With this mantra as her artistic focus, Self gained prominence at the 2016 Art Basel Miami. Three of her pieces were selected in the Desire exhibition by former MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch. That same year, Self’s exhibition Bodega Run at the Los Angeles Hammer Museum was praised and highlighted some of Self’s primary themes of women’s bodies and the political vibrance that Bodegas (Small Stores in Spanish) themselves radiated.

When looking at Tschabalala’s Self art, there is often an eclectic sense of shape and form that fusion together as women’s bodies. The variety of textures in these pieces mix in a unique manner, which conveys Self’s multifaceted understanding of black women’s’ bodies, which she points out “have a variety of hair textures, tones, and forms.” Furthering this line of thought, looking at pieces like “Bayo” (2017) and “Out of Body” (2020), the way that the shape of black women is emphasized highlights the conscious focus that they have received from various points of views outside of themselves. The pieces use multiple colors and exaggerate features to criticize how black women are displayed in the media. The portrayal of these women in the paintings is meant to celebrate the differences between them while giving way to understand the inner beauty that lies for them. The pieces go beyond just understanding the immediate physical aspect but also “Within the American context, the black woman’s body is married to trauma and the horrors that relate to the black experience.”

 Dealing with the contra current of history is never easy, but optimism can be rightly maintained when work is being done to combat it. For Self, there is hope that black women will be liberated from the compatibilization they have received from all history corners. Moreover, as she exclaims, “the black female body for me also is generous and full of abundance. If the black woman’s body were a physical place, I would see it as Eden. That’s how I would like to imagine it”. And having put such an image forward, there is a direction to proceed with.

We are all familiar with fad diets, superfoods, and weight loss miracle trends as they are everywhere in our society. American culture is obsessed with body shape, type, fitness, and in theory, all aspects of physical health. While it has gotten better, especially over the course of the last two decades, this obsession often leads to some unfortunate and harmful body image issues and ideals. Fashion has a huge contributory role in this process, with supermodels often all looking very similar in their body proportions, clothing marketed to specific body shapes, and actively participating in an established social hierarchy pertaining to how an individual looks, also known as pretty privilege or skinny privilege. 

Much of how we address body shape and weight in America is targeted. Instead of looking at the self holistically, we tend to look at problem areas that we wish we could change such as our stomach, upper arms, or thighs being common causes of complaint. Women especially are at high risk for these insecurities, with many comparing themselves to popular beauty icons when asked (as stated in a medical study conducted by experts in the field in 2012). Enter the fad diets and miracle workouts. Juice cleanses, and restrictive diets are just two of the misinformed ways that people try to lose weight. Juice cleanses, for example, can cause an individual to drop 8 or 10 pounds in a week and a half. However, most of that weight loss is water weight and the toll it takes on the body is not worth it. Juice cleanses cause blood sugar levels to change rapidly as well as a number of other health issues leading to breakouts, exhaustion, and irritability. 

Restrictive diets are often very similar. Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, keto, Atkins, and paleo diets (and that’s just to name a few) for nonmedical reasons, especially short term, send your body into various states of “survival modes” like ketosis. While these diets do cause weight loss they also tend to lead to severe deficiencies and health issues if not well researched and conducted properly. Often these diets have to be accompanied by a litany of supplements to provide the body with the sustenance it needs if an individual wants to participate in them safely. Not to mention, a lot of restrictive diets are hard. Even outside the plethora of issues they can cause, the thought of not eating carbs just sounds exhausting to me. So, this begs the question, why are they so popular?

Photo credit: Michael Paniccia- L’Officiel Singapore

Anecdotally speaking, I have seen people in my life participate in these diets intermittently with the sole purpose of losing weight and looking a certain way. To be fair, living in Los Angeles does impact the sample population dramatically, but these dietary choices are not just haunting big cities, they are transcontinental (and international) and all are marketed the same way, as an easy way designed to lose weight. With constant exposure to airbrushed beauty icons in fashion who have a team working to make them as attractive as possible, the number of women who feel inferior is astounding. In adult women, a study published by the US National Library of Medicine found that 69-84% of women between ages 25 and 89 were dissatisfied with their body, preferring a slighter frame than their own. The study further goes on to explain the documented links between this dissatisfaction and a high risk for depression, low self-worth, and eating disorders. 

Socially speaking, clothing is also becoming more revealing, and regardless of personal feelings on those trends, less clothing means more of the body is on display and under scrutiny. Fashion trends are encouraging exhibiting more and more of the body, namely, with skin-tight “athleisure” wear, that was leading sales in 2019 according to Forbes. High fashion on the runway is also known to be racy at times, pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable to display, often doing so with tall, thin individuals with very low body fat percentage.  Fashion, whether in Milan or a mall detrimentally conflates beauty with exhibitionism of a certain body type. 

Body positivity movements have done a huge amount to change problematic and hurtful mindsets that can lead to bullying and crippling self-doubt. However, these ideals are instilled in us as a society from a young age, with a limited representation of varying body shapes and sizes in mainstream media and ways to make those who don’t look like the physical ideal feel “othered” or not beautiful. The body positivity movement is rapidly gaining attention on social media and has been picking up steam in the last few years, spreading awareness and demanding visibility for these issues. Unfortunately, until this is the societal norm instead of just a movement, these troubling trends will continue to be prevalent.

Versatility in design is a high valued but rare trait. After all, it takes countless practice to develop a single skill within an area towards the highest excellence levels. Moreover, being able to possess multiple skills in various facets at a high level is extraordinary. If one were to form a cohesive unit of two individuals with such a caliber of design, the result would be unimaginable. That is just what the Dutch clothing brand founders represent, the jack-of-trades fashion design duo of the Botter label, Rushemy Botter, and Lisi Herrebrugh. Creating pieces that offer a unique blend of floating, elegance, yet hip boldness, the duo, provides a candid and elastic approach to fashion, welcoming enthusiasts of all kinds.

Originally born in Curacao but mainly residing in the Netherlands, Rushemy Botter started fashion school at Arnhem before getting accepted at the Royal Academy of the Hague and later furthered his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. His collection won IFF awards and won the VFiles Runway 7 prize and part of New York Fashion Week. The second half of Botter, Lisi Herrebrugh is an Amsterdam-born designer who met Rushemy while still in school. A fashion student herself, Herrebrugh attended the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, where she interned at Viktor & Rolf and worked on the first haute couture from the company in 13 years.

In 2018, the duo was named the new artistic directors at Nina Ricci, replacing Guillaume Henry. A unique opportunity for the pair to exhibit new ideas to the brand: “We feel very inspired by the fresh and subtle codes that make Nina Ricci such a beautiful ode to femininity. We aim to create a new spirit, a spirit of our times: effortless, sophisticated, and strong.” Indeed, the two did not disappoint their artistic vision when they made their debut with the brand for the Fall/Winter 19-20 collection. The clothing displayed played homage to 50s and 60s clothing with big hats and draped dresses. They were able to add a twist to the designs by adjusting the size of the fabrics and Caribbean details within the design form. The pieces’ stretching to create the function and fit shifted the ubiquitous form of blazers and replaced the slacks with a more flexible set of trousers. Of course, these types of collections are only part of what makes Botter special. On the flip side, their core designs for Botter demonstrate the duo’s versatility for developing unique outfits for various demographics.

Their don’t bother collection features colorful bathrobe-like coats, a chameleon-esque mixture of towel skirt, sleek blouses, and turtleneck. Without question, the versatility between their runway shows and more street-focus designs offered a dynamic artistic canvas on display. Still, Botter continues their conscious efforts to be different by opting for a more  eco-friendly design  in their latest collection, which refuses material to reduce waste. Not only in production but the duo mix in poetic justice to their art as explained by their manifesto: “With our color palette we reflect the bleaching problem of the corals in the ocean. Due to the world’s climate crisis, the corals are losing their color faster than ever before, the clothing is beautiful, but in a floundering state to the waste that humans create.” However, as art has previously shown, it brings greater consciousness when words cannot do so. As it stands, Botter and Herrebrugh demonstrate they can accomplish that very feat with intellectual curiosity and moral courage.

Self-care is quite the worthwhile cause, benefitting ourselves so that we can be all over happier and healthier people. These last few months alone, I’m sure many of us have learned to take time for ourselves. There are many ways people do this, some with skincare and bubble baths, others with meditation, or self-help books. Brands that have expanded (or been created) to provide these products have made a bundle off of our obsession with self-care. The skincare industry specifically, has enjoyed a rapidly growing demand in the last few years, particularly for progressive and forward-thinking brands.

Photo credit: Fenty Beauty

With the growing demand for such products, it didn’t take long for a microscope to be pointed at the ingredients list and (un)ethical practices by which they are produced. Due to this push for sustainable, inclusive, and ethical products, brands like Fenty Beauty and Curology were born. Fenty Beauty, created by well-known performer Rihanna, touts “clean formulas that are also vegan and gluten-free” and “earth-conscious packaging” on their website. The primary marketing appeal of this brand, however, is its complexion inclusivity. Previous to this, many brands were selling makeup primarily directed at pale complexion individuals, leaving many different ethnicities and skin tones out. Rihanna herself is mixed-race. Her mother is African and Guyanese, her father is Irish and Barbadian, and she was born in Barbados. She was surrounded by diversity growing up and that is what inspired her to build a makeup empire based on inclusivity according to an interview she did with the NY Times. She has two brands based around this idea (gender and size-inclusive lingerie brand Fenty x Savage in addition to Fenty Beauty). Fenty Beauty alone made $570 million in 2018 and was estimated to be worth over 3 billion dollars as of the last numbers she provided this time last year to Forbes. Promoting inclusivity and diversity within makeup brands has proven to be an incredibly lucrative pursuit for the world’s richest female musician.

Photo credit: Curology

Curology is another brand that has had a quick rise to fame and wealth due to its personalization. Curology’s main appeal is its personal touches. They provide quizzes for their consumers to complete in order to customize their needs in the form of a bottle. After taking the quiz, individuals are matched with a provider to discuss their needs and wants, and finally, they are sent a skin care regiment, all for the (starting) price of $25/month. They boast that their process works for 88% of people, based on a survey they conducted on 432 existing customers over the course of a month in 2018. These customers said they had seen a notable difference in that time span, but the website does not elaborate on any other details of the survey. Curology began as a brand that targeted acne control but has expanded to other skin blemishes since its founding in 2014, and with great success, I might add. It’s current estimated annual revenue is $85.1 million dollars. Clearly, brands that fill their niche are incredibly successful. 

With the rising interest in inclusivity, personalization, and sustainability, the “face” of the skincare industry is changing. Not only have makeup trends shifted towards more natural looks, but skincare is no longer just for beauty, it’s a way to protect your skin and take care of yourself. It’s become more about personal benefit than a societal expectation. As the scene continues to evolve, we are also beginning to see a lot more men using skincare products. This rise of metrosexual beauty habits is beneficial to all involved, well-maintained skin all around is never a bad thing. This industry is incredibly advantageous both for those who know what their selling and those who are excited about what they are buying. This interest isn’t going anywhere. In fact, what we are beginning to see is the incorporation of other social trends within the beauty world. CBD, for example, can be found in many up and coming brands like Milk Makeup. There is also a dramatic shift, especially with the pandemic and growing concerns about sanitation, towards online shopping for this industry. Skincare is slowly but surely integrating itself into the very fabric of day to day life for much of America’s younger demographics. This steady process will likely only continue, and the normalization of these practices across all people regardless of gender identification, complexion, or special skin needs is something we can expect to see more and more of. A word of caution, however:  while self-improvement like this is far from a bad thing, we just have to be careful that it’s our lives we are improving, not the state of other’s wallets.