Location: Brooklyn, NY
Astrological Sign: Capricorn
Book that changed your life: Style Deficit Disorder, by my mentor Tiffany Godoy. It introduced me to avant garde fashion at a very young age.
Beauty product or treatment that changed your skin: NuFACE Mini Facial Toning Device
Podcast you can’t stop listening to: Hey, Cool Life! by my pal Mary HK Choi
Instagram account you love to follow: @dewydudes, for the memes
Arabelle Sicardi is inarguably cool as hell, and I’m not just saying that because I followed them on Tumbler for years (although that may have something to do with it). Once called “The Thinking Woman’s Beauty Writer” by The Cut, they’ve always written about beauty in a way that’s authentic and unique. And with the upcoming release of their book “The House Of Beauty,” a non-fiction work about the beauty industry, it’s safe to say that they’ve solidified their status as the internet’s foremost authority on the relationship between beauty, power, and terror. I chatted with Arabelle about their creative career, their skincare routine, and the product they think is the most overrated.
How did you begin writing about beauty?
I think I started writing about beauty in college, so probably around 19 or so. I wrote initially for my blogs at the time — I had a fashion blog and then some Tumblrs, one called Powder Doom that I ran with online friends. I was drawn to beauty because it was a more accessible space to enter than fashion — as in, someone can more easily afford a $15 lipstick rather than a $1500 skirt to stay en vogue, and I grew up poor, and knew that wasn’t going to be changing overnight. I wrote for ROOKIE, and teenVOGUE, and then other publications, so I had a few years of editorial experience and managing other people under my belt by the time I graduated college. BuzzFeed offered me a Beauty Editor gig right out of college and I did that for a very short amount of time, left, and have stayed freelance since. I’ve written a children’s book and a few TV pilots since then while I write the book I left that staff job to pursue.
Your writing regularly explores the concept of beauty as terror, as well as the relationship between beauty and power. Can you tell me more about how you became interested in these ideas?
I kept a pretty faithful Tumblr archive tag called “beauty is terror” that goes back probably years and at least 70 pages if I didn’t privatize it all. It became my axiom in college, I believe, when I was exploring the idea of intentional ugliness as protection in a time of trauma and grief. I’m a queer Asian American person living in Trump’s America; I cannot afford to be disinterested in the idea of what desirability means to people, because other people’s perceptions follow me home and online and everywhere I could possibly go. The history of the Asian body – the immigrant body – the body of a person perceived as a woman – has always been codified into either a plague or a hussy. I think I just got morbidly fascinated by the details of that a little early.
I’m excited for your upcoming book, The House of Beauty! Can you tell me a little about what we can expect from it?
Thank you! I’m not sure how much I can say so early on — you can’t even pre-order it right now, I’m still writing it, so the subjects may change as we edit it. But there’s a lot on crisis capitalism and the way the beauty industry is implicated within it. There’s a lot of what we sacrifice for a power that is fleeting and temporary. There’s a lot about devil’s bargains and history repeating. It covers a lot of history but in unconventional ways; it is not a manifesto in a series of essays, or a traditional non-fiction book. While I may be focusing on beauty, I also write about it through the history of immigration, of industrialization, of war, of temporary peace. You’re as likely to get a quote from a perfumer in it as you are, say, the captain of an anti-piracy ship at sea, or a club kid, or a dead philosopher. In the end it’s just going to be the book I needed to write, and less the book people may be expecting. A lot of the work so far has been unlearning people’s expectations, especially my own.
How do you hope to see the beauty industry change and evolve in the future?
More equity, less lip service. I’d like to see Black-owned beauty brands elevated and given as much shelf space as their competitors, given as many invitations to VC meetings as their competitors, more minority-owned businesses given long term support and press coverage as their competition. It would be cool to see the top CEOs of beauty brands be less old white men, and it would be cool to see more brands critically and transparently engage in improving their “sustainability” efforts. Honestly there were a lot of good changes that happened in the beauty industry in 2020, but the impetus is that those changes need to be kept up and sustained in 2021 and onwards. I would like to see more deep-rooted change that isn’t reactionary.