“Look, you stupid bastard, you’ve got no arms left!”
If you frequent the company of middle-aged male professors who specialize in Renaissance history or literature, chances are good you’ll hear a lot of Monty Python references. A few years ago, after too much time spent laughing politely at allusions that went over my head, I got around to watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I found it mildly amusing but not uproariously funny (except for the Black Knight scene, above), so maybe you need to have been a British teenager in the 1970s to truly understand its hilarity.
This is a very roundabout way of introducing something I’ve been pondering: the concept of beauty “holy grails.” In recent procrastinatory moments, I’ve been searching for better versions of a few things I already own: a cherry-red lipstick, a black liquid liner, a lightweight facial sunscreen, and a yoga mat. I began this post intending to ask your opinion on some candidates I’ve found online (and I’ll get there in my next post, don’t worry), but right now I’m more interested in how and why we talk about holy-grail products. I don’t mean to suggest it isn’t natural to look for the best possible version of everything we buy, because of course it is. Who doesn’t go to Sephora with platonic ideals of The Fuchsia Lipstick and The Emerald Eyeliner floating somewhere in her consciousness? My problem is with the assumption that the holy-grail idea comes entirely from a place of virtuous minimalism. The desire for minimalism is part of it, but it’s not the whole story.
It’s easy to believe that once you find the perfect matte lipstick formula or the perfect moisturizer, you’ll never need to look for another one. You’ll live a streamlined, downsized, KonMari-approved life, take just five minutes to put on your makeup each morning, achieve a healthy work-life balance, and stop dipping candy corn in peanut butter whenever you’re stressed (or maybe that’s just me). But whenever I’ve set out to find the perfect X or Y, I’ve ended up buying a series of products that disappointed me. They disappointed me not because they were necessarily bad, but because I put the pressure of perfection on them. The products that have achieved holy-grail status for me—Topshop Get Me Bodied, for example—were almost inevitably not the results of a grail quest. They were chance discoveries, impulse buys, happy accidents. Nor has my appreciation of these products eliminated my desire for more of the same: I’ve bought at least four other plum lipsticks since I wrote my review of Get Me Bodied.
|Some of my HG colors and formulas. Clockwise from top left: Zoya Neve, Topshop Matte Lip Bullets in Plastique and Get Me Bodied, Zoya Normani, Illamasqua Zygomatic, NARS Lhasa, NARS Mata Hari.|
The ideal of the holy grail fosters consumerism as much as it fosters minimalism. If you’re determined to get your hands on ~*~the best~*~ peach blush, you’ll probably go through quite a few inferior peach blushes in the process. Inferior to what? Well, to the Platonic peach blush in your head. One of the blushes you try will be too yellow; another will be too pink. One will fade too quickly; another will be too pigmented, or too shimmery, or too coarsely milled. Instead of focusing on the virtues of the products you’ve already bought, you’ll find yourself focusing on their shortcomings in order to justify the purchase of yet another peach blush. And you’ll lose quite a bit of time and money in the process, even if you don’t lose any limbs.
Again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with knowing what you want and looking for products that match your criteria. If a sunscreen makes me break out, I won’t force myself to keep using it. If a warm-toned red lipstick doesn’t suit me, I’ll exchange it for a cooler-toned one. I just wish that the beauty blogosphere would stop fetishizing HG products (and that YouTubers would stop announcing a different, inevitably sponsored, “holy grail” every week). Not everything has to be an HG to be functional and delightful. As proof of which, here are some products that are flawed but still bring me joy—unholy grails, let’s call them:
Tony Moly Milky Violet is less pigmented than I’d like, the plum half of NARS Habanera is a bit patchy, and NARS Angela is as drying as every other opaque NARS lipstick I’ve tried (that is: very). But I still use all of them semi-regularly and don’t feel compelled to search for a superior lavender blush or magenta lipstick, at least not now. (I’ve bought a few more plum eyeshadows, but only because I really like plum, guys.) Amid the stress of this semester, I’m trying to appreciate what I have, even if it could be better. Everything could be better. Except, perhaps, the vanilla ice cream I made last week with my new ice cream maker and this recipe:
Holy grail achieved.