Sunbed Barbie Exists! And other Being Human stories

Across two Saturdays in November, the Body, Self and Family team put on a series of health and beauty-themed events as part of the Being Human Festival 2019.

Made Up: Health and Beauty Secrets Past and Present consisted of three events:

  • Beauty School Drop In – A historical beauty salon with talks and activities
  • Faces – An exhibition of changing Essex style showcasing photographs and stories collected at Beauty School Drop In.
  • Glow Up – A zine-making workshop with Grrrl Zine Fair artist Lu Williams

You can find out more about each event’s programme here.

We had a fantastic time collecting photographs and hearing people’s stories of favourite jumpers, sharing going out tops with university housemates, and changing feelings around body image and self-confidence.

At Beauty School Drop In, Mark Anderson and Fabiola Creed gave wonderful talks about men’s changing hair styles and tanning respectively. In Mark’s talk we heard how salons changed to incorporate men who wanted more than a short back and sides, providing screens to protect their privacy. We also learnt how men seeking the expertise of female hairdressers disrupted the homosocial spaces of hairdressing as they went to salons and barbers hired women. Fabiola told us about the changing perception of sunbed users and tanning, and brought along a Sunbed Sindy doll from c.1980 to highlight her point about the mainstreaming of sunbeds. This prompted some in the room to share their own sunbed experiences, laughing about the rush to use sunbeds with the freshest bulbs!

Mark and Fabiola speaking about their work at Beauty School Drop In
Daisy learnt that her mum and aunt had used sunbeds, just like Sunbed Sindy!

The following Saturday we exhibited the photographs and recordings we collected at Beauty School Drop In at Firstsite Gallery. We had a great turn out – including four women who met at school aged 11 who were reminiscing about what each of them taught the group about make-up!

The exhibition played host to a zine-making workshop by the fantastic Lu Williams of Grrrl Zine Fair, who helped us make zines reflecting what beauty and style meant to us.

Making zines with Lu Williams from Grrrl Zine Fair in the exhibition space
Our zines

At each of the events we asked people to fill out short questionnaires asking them:

  • What hygiene item could you not live without?
  • What is your favourite beauty product, past and/or present?
  • What does beauty mean to you?
  • What have you learnt about the history of beauty and make-up?

The questionnaires were inspired by Mass Observation’s 1992 Personal Hygiene Directive which asked some similar questions, and also inspired by The Museum of Transology’s use of everyday objects such as lipstick to challenge the idea that gender is fixed, binary and biologically determined (on at Brighton Museum until 5 January 2020). The questionnaires made up part of the exhibition- with people adding to it throughout the day.

I tallied up the responses and can reveal that deodorant and soap proved the most vital hygiene items of our visitors, and face cream was the favourite beauty product!

The questionnaires elicited some fascinating responses regarding what beauty means, from ‘Being happy in yourself’ to ‘Maximising my perceived reproductive potential’!

Thanks again to everyone who participated and to the Being Human Festival, without whom these events could not have taken place. For more on make-up see Kate’s brilliant blog on fashion and make-up in the Women’s Liberation Movement, and Daisy’s on 1990s transgender beauty.

If you’re looking for something to listen to while reading or doing your own make-up – check out our Spotify playlist!

Daisy, Tracey, Kate and Hannah – the BSF team.

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