Oh! You Pretty Things

How much do you think beauty matters, and why? —Violet, 14, Los Angeles

Do you mean aesthetic beauty in general? Like, the beauty of art, or music, or lovahs? That kind of beauty matters A LOT to me, because when I see, hear, or smell something that I consider beautiful, it makes me feel good—a little happier at the very least, like when someone posts really pretty nail art on Instagram, and nearly orgasmic at most, like when I take myself out to a gorgeous, heartbreaking movie (something like Moon or Melancholia) and I don’t have to share the amazing highs and lows of the experience with anyone—it’s all mine to revel in.

There’s a big reason these beautiful pleasures are so vital to me: I’m super afraid of death. Always have been. I don’t fear the actual moment of dying, or the pain—that part might be a breeze, for all I know!—but the everlasting nothingness. The going to sleep and never dreaming but also never waking up, for all of time, infinitely. I panic about death whenever it pops into my head, which is often—at least daily, in fact.

But from time to time, just by being alive and not doing anything special, I get to experience beautiful things, and they make me less afraid. I’m thinking of a beach I love in Michigan, or hearing this song for the first time, or lying in bed with a nice naked person. In those beautiful moments, I have actually caught myself thinking, Kill me now! I want to go out with this smile on my face!—which is as close as I’ve ever gotten to being at peace with the inevitable. In that regard, beauty is very important. That’s why there are museums where you can just stare at paintings or arboretums where wild peacocks walk around among the people like, “NBD.”

But you may have meant “beauty” in the beauty-industry sense of the word. I’m not speaking for anyone else when I say that this kind of beauty also really matters a lot, to me, because it is my hobby. I also enjoy pottery and dance, but hair, makeup, and nail stuff take up the majority of my craft space, and I have the most fun with this particular art form.

This is partially the result of growing up in an extremely isolated rural area where I had some great familial influences when it came to makeup, like my uncle Patrick, who did Cyndi Lauper’s hair and makeup in the ’80s, and my aunt Amy, who lived next door and was only a few years older than me (country folk!). She and I gave each other makeovers with my great-grandma Maxine’s Avon samples. My mom, meanwhile, let me mess around with her makeup as much as I wanted, because she didn’t use it that much. (To her, cosmetic beauty is not that important.)

All of that added up to hours and hours of play with a particular set of materials. I pored over beauty magazines and attempted to re-create what I saw. I don’t remember specifically thinking I was making anything more beautiful, but I tried to copy everything the model Linda Evangelista did (to no avail). At 13, my short haircut didn’t evoke the gleam in Linda’s eye, but it was fun to try.

Which brings me to the best part about beauty: It’s subjective. Some people don’t care for Linda Evangelista, and though this baffles the shit out of me, it’s also comforting, in a way. What’s beautiful to me might not be to you, and that just means there gets to be a lot more beauty in the world. Like, what is the most beautiful painting you’ve ever seen? Well, I disagree. The most beautiful painting, to me, is this one:

"Chief" by Franz Kline, 1950. Image via The Museum of Modern Art.
“Chief” by Franz Kline, 1950. Image via the Museum of Modern Art.

Isn’t it nice to know that you don’t need anyone else to corroborate your ideas of beauty? If it’s beautiful to you, it’s beautiful, end of story. That subjectivity is kind of what appreciating beauty is all about.

The trick is to avoid pushing your own ideas onto others. That’s one thing I worry about with my daughter—that my interest in “beauty” might screw her up. Like, I hope I never say or do anything to imply that she has to share my interest in that stuff, or if she does, that I make room for us to have different opinions about it. (Fingers crossed.) Unfortunately, there’s a whole huge machine out there that is pumped full of money to spit out advertising campaigns—plus movies and television shows, which can also just be vehicles for selling things—to convince you that a certain mascara will change your life, or that if you don’t look like the “It girl” of the moment, you’re doomed.

Doomed to what? To not be in makeup commercials, I guess? Womp-womp. Because, for real, all of those ad people and casting agents can go fuck themselves. It’s really hard to ignore that asshole-machine, but if mascara is not appealing to you, there is nothing wrong or weird about that. It’s not the least bit important to wear makeup or like it or even like when other people wear it.

So, in summary, BEAUTY in the world matters a lot. Beauty in the form of how you make yourself look on the day-to-day matters only insofar as you’re doing things the way you want to do them. And anything that makes you a little less freaked out about death, and/or more inclined to enjoy the full pleasures of life, matters the most. What those things are is totally up to you. Basically: Find beauty wherevs! —Jane Marie

When I wear my long, straight hair down, it looks flat, but I don’t know any other ways to wear it besides a ponytail. I’m super bored with it. Please help! —Grace, 16, Sydney

I’ve always had really straight, fine hair that falls flat around my face no matter what I do to it. I’ve had hair stylists say, “Trust me—when I’m done with you, you’ll have curls for DAYS!” only to watch those curls fall out in 30 minutes flat (and that, my friends, is a pun that fell flat). Here are a few suggestions for you, ranging from “too frickin’ easy” to “I’m gonna need two mirrors and maybe 20 minutes of extra primp time.”:

1. Put yer hair in braids!

Two simple pigtails are cute as frick, but if that’s a little too cutesy-goosey-girly for you, put a baseball cap on it. Guaranteed fineness.

2. Put yer hair in fancy braids!

Fishtail braids can be a little tough to keep in place if you have fine, stick-straight hair. But if you don’t wash it for a day so it’s a little dirty, or spritz some beachy salt spray in it for texture (I like this one from Bumble & Bumble), then it will hold up a lot better. Here’s a pretty straightforward tutorial:

Infographic by Victoria Stanell for Beautylish.
Infographic by Victoria Stanell for Beautylish.

3. Now that you’re a braidmaster, try a braided updo.

I’ve heard this hairstyle referred to as “Heidi braids” or milkmaid braids, but no matter what you call it, the premise is the same: You make two braids and wrap them around your head, and voilà! You look angelic and pretty, and it keeps the hair off your neck on hot summer nights. There are a million tutorials on this, but this is the one I used to figure it out:

4. Test out some rag curls.

If you’re really ambitious and have some time to get prettified before bed, I suggest trying rag curls, which you can literally do in your sleep. Basically, you make strips of whatever expendable cloth you have handy, twist and tie them into your hair, keep them in overnight to set them, and wake up looking fly.

This is the only curling method that has ever worked on me, short of getting a full-blown chemical perm at a hair salon. It’s also cool because you don’t have to use any heat or styling products on your hair (although a spritz of hairspray helps the style keep longer), so it doesn’t damage your hair at all! Here’s a minute-long tutorial:

5. Accessorize!

Put a scarf, a crown, or ANY kind of hair accessory on your dome. I like parting my hair in the middle and placing a baby barrette on either side.

Or you can just go the Margot Tenenbaum route by parting your hair just slightly to one side, clipping that shit back, and being like:


Whatever you do, I’m sure you’ll look fiiiine, my straight-haired bunny! —Jenny