Friday, July 06, 2007

Beauty Investment in Cities: Part II

Every week is exciting at UCLA. The director of UCLA's Institute of the Environment, Mary Nichols, has been appointed by Gov. Arnold to a key position in implementing the state's AB32 law on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. This is a very important job and the Gov. made a great appointment.

I've been spending part of my summer watching LA real estate prices. While I'm not a time series expert, I see a downward trend. My extrapolations tell me that I will be able to afford a $10 million dollar Beverly Hills house in the year 2040!

I've been begging the Anderson Forecast team to predict a real "house price" correction to help a renting family like mine get a "toehold" on the L.A American Dream!

In more exciting news, I see that the San Francisco Chronicle has beauty in cities on the brain. This dude seems to think its all a "keeping up with the Jonses" rat race. Is he right? Journalists get to have a lot of fun stating hypotheses without offering a formal test.

$4,000 a month just to get poor old body to 'normal'

Mark Morford

Friday, July 6, 2007

Manicure-pedicure when I remember it or when I'm feeling particularly grungy or when I'm with a lovely female friend or after I just had lunch and happen to be right next door to the friendly pedi place and I remember that my toes look like small sausages with overgrown teeth: 40 bucks.

Monthly haircut: 60 bucks. Disposable razor for intimate undercarriage grooming in shower: $1. Small pile of high-end skin lotions and eye creams and hair wax stick and whatnot: about 40 bucks. Daily vigorous yoga practice: free. (I teach the stuff, after all. Call it a perk.)

Occasional tanning sessions from world-famous salon known as random erratic San Francisco sunshine: free. Occasional amazing deep-tissue massages from strong gay masseuse who really works my shoulders and goes way up my thighs into God's country and back down again and is actually strong enough to rearrange my kidneys from the back: 80 bucks.

Total estimated monthly tab for my general bodily upkeep, not including accessories like boots and designer jeans and jewelry and food and sake and scotch and sex toys and books and music and love because that's a different point entirely: about 200 bucks, give or take. And, somehow, I look pretty OK. I think.

Apparently, this is a stupendous bargain. Apparently I should be enormously grateful I am not, say, female, or living in L.A. or New York or Miami, or in the fashion industry or the movie industry or the real estate industry or in PR or marketing or nearly any other professional high-end image-oriented industry, which means I do not have to get completely drunk every single week on the brutal vagaries of, say, InStyle magazine's Get This Look Now! section, nor must I have a dermatologist and a waxer and a personal trainer and a plastic surgeon and a Mexican pimple popper on speed dial. Which seems like a fairly good thing.

In other words, I should be thankful I'm not someone like Ginger Grace, the sweet, 40-year-old blond real estate agent from L.A. who was just profiled in the New York Times (along with a few others) regarding her astonishing and elaborate monthly beauty regimen, her general tuning and maintenance, what it takes for her just to get through the week.

Grace is, evidently, rather typical, just your average aging professional L.A. babe who calculates that she, like tens of thousands of reasonably successful youth-crazed professionals like her coast to coast, spends upward of $3,000 or $4,000 per month for general beauty treatments, "just for the basics."

Nope, not a typo. Three or 4 thousand. Not including clothes. Or food. Or rent. Or recreational drugs. Basics, which apparently include things like a hiking trainer (?) and Botox and semiweekly hair blowouts, pro makeup applications and tanning salons and weekly manicures and thigh tighteners, Zone Diet food deliveries and brow waxes and all manner of peel and tuck and slap and spank. And, indeed, Ginger looks pretty good overall, at least in the picture, which I gotta say for a grand a week you'd damn well better look good or something is deeply amiss.

Which of course, something very much is. I mean, isn't it?

Here's what I find fascinating and somewhat sad about the phenom of women (and increasingly, men) spending larger and larger piles of money -- a great deal more than 4 grand a month, BTW, if you're truly wealthy -- on expensive high-tech spa treatments just to look as if someone could walk up and eat raw sushi off your perfectly spotless, expressionless, wrinkle-free, inhumanly porcelain face: It isn't about sex.

Which is to say, you'd think it would be about sex, at least a little, that most people who spend more than their mortgage payment on grooming and put that much effort into zipping from spa appointment to cuticle scraping to hyperbaric chamber are trying to look, consciously or unconsciously, at least somewhat hot, are trying to really enjoy their bodies and maybe attract a mate, or just get laid, with the added bonus of making others of their sex totally jealous of their overall, you know, staggering hotness.

Yes, you might think that. But you'd be wrong.

The beauty mega-industries have apparently evolved well beyond the trifling ideas of sex appeal and mate hunting and now function in some odd neverland realm where status meets success meets some bizarre idealized exterior sheen, with the ultimate goal, as far as I can tell, of reassuring clients that they will not be quietly mocked. For looking old. Or tired. Or hairy. Or pale. Or untight. Or human. Or happy.

In other words, excessive and silly grooming regimens like Grace's now merely reflect the bare minimum of success, status, normalcy. Her monthly lubes and oils are just the baseline. Hey, everyone does it. Some do it a lot more. You don't actually have to be sexy, or smart or well put together or healthy, attuned, desirous, spiritual, likable. You just have to look as if you are. It's like some bizarre cocktail of alcoholism and Prozac and Zoloft and a hit of Adderall and maybe a few whippets; you gotta have a big fistful of it all when you get out of bed just to get to normal.

Clearly, the drive for beauty and youth is a topic both wildly complicated and culturally warped. Still, you could argue, as I like to do, that it's all about balance, about lightness, that it is absolutely possible to remain true to some sort of healthy spiritual path, full of divine integrity and sex and humor and intelligence and lust for life, and yet still happily enjoy a good pair of True Religions and a pedicure and a couple of massages a month along with a steam and an eyebrow wax and a tight Brazilian. I'm all for it.

But something appears to be getting lost in this new, weirdly overblown mutation. Maybe it's just another example of that fantastic inverse relationship our popular culture is adept at perpetuating: The more we spend on externals, the more we scrape and inject and try to enhance every body part, the further away we get from, you know, true attractiveness.

From the Self. From the heart. From deep beauty. From understanding what it really feels like to be in your own skin, which becomes rather impossible when that skin is so plucked and torqued and tanned it might as well be a shiny synthetic pork casing for an old hot dog.

It's a simple enough equation: The more superfluous work you do on the outside, the less you intuitively think you need to do on the inside, on the personality and the touch and the feel (which, by the way, explains the absolute sexual deadness of most fashion models -- which, if you've never had the displeasure, is much like having sex with a wall).

The great truism remains: By far the sexiest and most desirable (and yes, also the most successful, at least spiritually and emotionally) people I know actually do very little beauty work overall to get that way. They know the mix. They intuit the right balance. They seem to understand the biggest secret of all: Sure, enjoy the potions and regimens and silly luxurious exterior fluff. Just don't actually live there.

Mark Morford's column appears Wednesdays and Fridays in Datebook and on E-mail him at

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle