This week I had a long-overdue catchup with a lovely friend who works in the beauty industry. I’m a make-up and product junkie, so tales of her work are catnip to me. I love the creative, celebratory, feelgood side of beauty. The judgy, feelbad side? Not so much. I think that was how we came to discuss contouring. I was relaying another mate’s make-up counter makeover trauma, which had involved the overenthusiastic use of a contouring crayon. It left her looking like a sewage worker who’d just come up from a long shift underground.
“Where’s the fun in make-up if you’re just drawing Kim Kardashian’s face on top of your actual face?” I asked. “Oh, God,” my friend replied, “contouring’s just the beginning! Have you heard of strobing?” As a child of the 90s, I replied that I had, via an extremely hedonistic Glaswegian who was into intense techno and always wore an extra pair of pants to nightclubs “just in case”. My friend shuddered. “No. This kind of strobing is showing off your shiny skin on the internet.” Oh. “What about vontouring?” Now, all sensible women know that portmanteaus beginning with a V are rarely good. A silence followed and (for me, at least) a small, nervous Kegel. “Is that what I think it is?” She nodded. “Vaginal contouring. People in beauty seem to think anything you do to your face, you should also do… down there.”
A woman’s beauty regime should make her feel fantastic as she is, not act as a kind of aesthetic assault course, where the best you can hope is to scrape by with your dignity (and, God willing, your labia) intact
For the uninitiated, vontouring changes the look of one’s nethers using “thermal energy” to stimulate collagen production, and “cooling technology” which, we’re told by the Daily Mail, was thoughtfully included to ensure “the delicate skin on and around the labia remains intact” (thanks, guys. Thanks so much). Now, generally speaking, I’m a follow-your-bliss type person regarding others’ activities. If it brings you joy and isn’t hurting anyone else, my general attitude is to tip my cap and let a playa play. If a lady wants to spend £200 of her own money heating and cooling her fanny like a ready meal, why not? This is a niche treatment, which comes hot on the heels/crotch of Gwyneth Paltrow’s much-vaunted “V-Steam”. That created approximately 1,000 per cent more column inches than actual, real-life salon appointments. Vontouring is similarly niche, so does it really matter?
The answer is yes, a bit, because it points to the dubious practice by the beauty industry of “addressing” women’s insecurities in general. This is always quite chicken/egg. To return as briefly as possible to contouring, it wasn’t until it became mainstream that teenage girls all over the country thought it necessary to spend upwards of half an hour attempting to change the shape of their entire heads by trompe l’oeil before they left the house in the morning, as millions of them do now. You might have noticed the shape of your face a decade ago, but it wasn’t something you were encouraged to “correct” beyond getting a flattering haircut. I’m not debating their right to wear whatever make-up they please, just arguing that beauty trends can create and exacerbate far more insecurity than they solve. And, of course, once a new “problem” has been identified, further attempts to capitalise upon it are inevitable. There is – an unfortunate phrase in this context – a gap in the market. It’s an unhealthy way to do business.
Vontouring (front-) bums me out because it runs contrary to everything I love about beauty. A woman’s beauty regime is an opportunity for self-care and relaxation, a chance to be playful and have fun. It should make her feel fantastic as she is, not act as a kind of aesthetic assault course, where the best you can hope is to scrape by with your dignity (and, God willing, your labia) intact. Smart women already know this, but I’d like to invite some of the beauty brands to catch up. It’s 2015 – time to start selling us stuff that makes us feel good, not by inventing new ways to make us feel bad.