As part of our New Year, New Me series Ghouls are talking about the intense pressures of society and the beauty industry. Episode 4 of Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities, The Outside, is a bizarre film about how completely undone we can become while pursuing a more perfect outside. Gabe discusses the film's messaging, peculiar approach, and the webcomic it was inspired by. Kat explores the many contributing factors to our problematic beauty industry and why it's incredibly harmful to femme bodies. They also discuss some of the neurodivergent coding of the main character in The Outside.
Sources in this Episode: "The Outside" Director Explains the Meaning Behind the 'Cabinet of Curiosities' Episode Some Other Animal's Meat 4 Ways Our Socially Accepted Beauty Ideals Are Racist Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings
Media from this week's episode:
Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities: The Outside S1.E4 (2022):
Longing to fit in at work, awkward Stacey begins to use a popular lotion that causes an alarming reaction, while an unnerving transformation takes shape.
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)
Some Other Animal's Meat: Horrors of the Beauty Industry by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
The Outside, as part of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiousities, tells the story of Stacey undergoing an extreme transformation to fit into what society deems a worthy outside.
del Toro’s anthology contains eclectic stories that I found interesting but not especially impactful, that is until I stumbled onto The Outside. Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), approaches this complicated relationship with our bodies and society’s desires in a peculiar and unsettling way.
Director, Ana Lily Amirpour explained the concept of the outside in an interview with Distractify, "The Outside" Director Explains the Meaning Behind the 'Cabinet of Curiosities' Episode, “the whole thing is about [how] the outside is what we judge everything by, and how much importance we give to the outside, the surface. You know, what’s inside is so different, no matter who you are, it’s so different from the outside. And that’s true for everybody. And I think that a madness can happen in being too obsessed with just the outside.”
Stacey is a bank teller with a fine-enough husband who cares and a perplexing hobby of taxidermy. Stacey’s co-workers are obsessed with perfection, they swarm around their lead femme, Gina, a woman with glowing skin, flawless make-up and the sharpest of shoulder pads. Stacey seems content in her life but curious about the lives of her co-workers. She wonders at their fascination with a new skin cream and feels the first twinge of FOMO as they marvel at their flawless skin. Stacey is, surprisingly, invited to Gina’s holiday party and gift exchange. She carefully packs away her best taxidermy project, a mallard duck and finds herself amidst the marble, stale and glistening home of Gina. As a viewer, you can’t help but worry this may turn into Carrie-situation, with the others bullying our sweet heroine. But the girls are pleasant enough, uncomfortable and acknowledging of their differences but not in any malicious way. The women’s gifts from Gina are special packages of her “miracle” cream, Alo Glo. In a haunting and disturbingly sexual scene, the women begin lathering each other up with it before beckoning Stacey to participate. Stacey finds herself allergic and needs to go home.
Late at night, as Stacey fights against the growing rashand terribly itchy skin, she sees a peculiar commercial for Alo Glo. A man beckons her from the screen. He seems so intent on Stacey, its spooky until he literally addresses her. The episode spirals from there with Stacey falling deeper into the toxic gaze of the Alo Glo man, reminiscent of a televangelist and the heavy pressures and expectations of society. Despite the rash and alarm of her husband, Stacey continues to lather herself up with the lotion. More sinister events are taking place in the basement where Stacey has shamefully stored her box-load of Alo Glo. (We’ve all been there, honey - hiding our online purchases from a loved one lol). The box’s contents begin to leak out and eventually take the shape of a human.
Director Amirpour explains her thoughts on the Alo-Being saying it is “the seduction of this ideal you that you believe might exist somewhere, you know if a genie in the bottle could just give you the answer. It’s like it has to be something that’s somehow seductive before you realize that it has some doom and it has something ominous about it.”
The Alo-Being is alluring, it presents a possibility that Stacey need only suffer slightly as she sheds this skin for a better, more socially-acceptable one. Despite her husband’s consistent reassurance that she is beautiful, inside and out, Stacey continues to fall victim to her own internalized misogyny. Society has made it clear that she should look a specific way, failing to that is failing to be beautiful. After some unsettling images, Stacey and the Alo-being merge, making her new. Her last obstacle, holding her back from her new self is her loving and supportive husband. This man who wears a look of concern for her well-being, urging her to find the beauty within herself; the beauty he himself loves, is holding her back. In her last metamorphic act, Stacey kills her husband and transform him into something more tolerable…and quiet. She taxidermies him.
When she returns to work, she’s transformed. She is the IT girl now. The other women flock to her, her skin glowing and her shoulderpads, beautifully pointy. As the women adore her and smother her with appreciation and awe, she begins to ascend. Floating upon the admiration.
I found Stacey’s character very interesting. She is a peculiar but sweet woman who, in the beginning, seemed rather comfortable with herself. I loved Kate Micucci’s performance and am always amazed at how easily she can move between “conventionally” unattractive to beautiful. I can’t name a single thing she’s in that I don’t love. It was entertaining to think that Kate actually looks a bit like Director, Ana Lily as well. In that, it felt like I was watching something personal.
Stacey had so much in life going for her already and yet, it wasn’t enough. The way the commercials and the peer-pressure from the other women seeped so deep into her was terrifying. The Alo-Being was entertaining, an interesting villain but ultimately only a tool. The real villain was society and the pressures of perfection on this unique woman.
Some Other Animal’s Meat
The Outside is based on a web comic titled, Some Other Animal’s Meat by Emily Carroll. (I actually own one of her graphic novels, Through the Woods and it’s one of my favorites). This story is a quick read and I recommend it.. The comic has many similarities to the episode, Alo Glo plays a similar role. And though they both feature a woman confronting her own doubts about her body and being, the comic felt heavier, deeper. Stacey in the comic is an Alo Glo saleswoman. Similar to the Mary Kay women of ol’, she holds parties to encourage women to try the product and eventually buy them. She herself does not use it due to her own allergic reaction to it. Once she’s done entertaining, the women leaving her alone with her thoughts, we see her analyzing her body. Patting and pinching it, clearly puzzled by its age and reluctance to firm. Her disappointment in her body goes beyond the physical appearance. Later, while talking with a friend they spot a onesie and she inquires about the gender of the baby. There is a longing, disappointment in her as she lingers by the baby clothes as she feels her own failure at womanhood. She asks herself, “What if inside, it’s somehow the wrong stuff? What if my meat is some other animal’s meat and the human part of me is just the skin like the smooth layer of dough you drape over an uncooked pie.” What is so wrong with her, a woman who can’t even bask in the glow that Alo-Glo provides? Her body is so against expectations that it cannot even handle the simplest of luxuries. Later, as she explains to a friend how she is losing the thread a bit, her reality blurring, confusing itself with a dream that, “It’s so easy for your body to lie to you. I sometimes don’t know what I’m seeing? In a mirror? When I look at my hands? I don’t know what it’s all for. I don’t know what it wants.” The woman in the mirror is aged, has changed, is unrecognizable to her in the way that our aging bodies can be, slipping away from our lifetime of imagined existence. Eventually, similarly to Amirpour’s Stacey, Carroll’s Stacey also begins to lather up with Alo Glo, ignoring her own body’s protests in the pursuit of beauty. If she pretends it’s okay long enough, imagines herself another woman, then wouldn’t she simply become her one day?
Toxic Traits and Oppressive Systems of the The Beauty Industry by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.