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The Outside: Horrors of the Beauty Industry



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.


 

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.


What better way to start off the New Year, New Me series than to talk about an industry that profits off of our yearly transformations and endless desire to change ourselves. While we at the ghouls are all about growing, learning and changing, there is something to be said about the predatory way the patriarchy, racism and capitalism all work together to commodify, objectify and critique our bodies. The industry itself profits by actively pushing feelings of unworthiness, incompleteness and a sense of being wrong on all its consumers, but especially femme bodies, which is the focus of the webtoon and episode we watched.


There was so much more at play in the cabinet of curiosities episode because of how much more of the main character we were able to see, and it gave a more complex picture. It stayed true to the original source material for its overall theme, but the approach was different. It highlighted a multitude of issues with the pressure femme bodies face at the hands of a patriarchal system and how that impacts mental health, to the way in which detachment from our bodies has become an essential part of survival. In the show these themes are told from a seemingly neurodivergent perspective (at least that is how I interpreted it) whereas the webtoon covers the same themes from a seemingly neurotypical perspective. Both characters experience this detachment from their bodies, and the impact of harmful beauty standards, with one fundamental difference. In the neurotypical story there is no murder. I thought the show did a really amazing job showcasing this until the murder. This won’t be the focus of my section but it did bother me so I wanna say a little bit about it.


The episode we watched was a dramaticized portrayal of societal pressures and toxic beauty standards, and it did a great job in certain areas and lost me in others. It was physically uncomfortable to watch at many parts, and from a body horror standpoint it was creative and stressful. It activated a lot of thoughts for me, in that I really resonated at times with the main character in the anxiety they felt in interacting with her neurotypical colleagues. Not understanding social conventions like secret Santa, or what is and isn’t appropriate party conversations. Wanting to share a special interest with people who you hope to be friends with, and them really just not vibing with who you are authentically. Talking to colleagues and not having any mutual interests, or even just having very different lifestyles is really stressful, so those specific interactions really resonated with me. Wanting so desperately to fit in, that they were willing to dramatically alter themselves even if that meant putting themselves in harms way. That was enough of a story for me, but it bothered me that they made her murder the husband. I don’t think it added anything to the story other than maybe portraying that this need to fit in can be life and death when it comes to living in a capitalistic society that prioritizes external appearance over internal health. Unfortunately, it’s another example of media positioning individuals with mental health issues as well as neuro differences as dangerous, when statistically they are more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator of. That’s a whole different conversation though, and not the focus of my section, I just wanted to get that out.


Beauty Industry Horrors

We can’t talk about the horrors of the beauty industry without mentioning its deep roots in patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism. Much of the beauty industry is centered around a concept that is extremely subjective, beauty, and forcing it to be considered objective by societal pressure and influence. Many of the standards of beauty we see in the industry are rooted in whiteness and are dependent upon the nuclear family structure. Since we live in a white supremacist and patriarchal society, the standard for beauty reinforces those Pillars. 4 Ways Our Socially Accepted Beauty Ideals Are Racist


There are some books that I still need to read but have heard good things about that unpack this in greater detail. Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings goes into the racial origins of fat phobia and how “the contemporary ideal of slenderness is, at its very core, racialized and racist”.


A way that the patriarchy influences beauty standards that is inherently damaging is It looks at the system that exists in and says “Our society does not view femme bodies as human, so we will treat them like objects”. The result is that the majority of human bodies are viewed as wrong, and in need of constant changes. Get thinner but not too thin, be taller but not too tall, wear makeup but not too much, stay young but not cutesy, be sexy but not a slut, etc. etc. The list goes on and on, and the result is to make as many humans as possible feel that they are wrong, feel that they need to be different, and feel that the solution is x, y or z but always with a price. This cabinet of curiosities episode is not the first to call out the beauty industry, and the perception of beauty in western society. The twilight zone did it too, [think of other examples]. What we see a lot of times because beauty itself is subjective, is that there are constantly critiques from all angles, often in conflict with one another. Shifting your outward appearance to fit an ever changing structure of what “society” wants is hard to keep up with. It will also lead you further from self acceptance because it is rooted in detachment from self.


The beauty industry and capitalism itself profits off of our detachment from our own bodies, our self commodification and working within the wants of the patriarchy. In many ways to survive in a capitalistic society, detachment from the body is essential. In the simplest way, we are taught to ignore signals from our bodies, its needs, to fit what is happening externally. Thinking of ignoring the need for food or rest to work, go to school etc. We are trained to detach ourselves from the signals that tell us what we need in order to get money and find “success”. Additionally, we are trained to treat our bodies like machines, as objects that need to be altered in order to fit these external influences. The reason for this is because of capitalism our outward appearance impacts our survival because external perception matters as a gateway to money and stability and with that our connection to our bodies is no longer the priority. Our survival becomes contingent on fitting a mold that has nothing to do with our own personal wants or needs, and everything to do with being accepted by a group. This extends to every facet of our lives, in that unconscious biases held by those in power influence their decision-making in distributing resources, opportunities, and consequences. When beauty standards influence all of those factors, they become essential to survival - and that’s why it’s a problem.


I am all for changing your body to fit how you feel internally, as that is more about personal identity and less about outside opinions. If the change is done to help you feel more connected to your body than that it is a positive change. If the change is done for external factors like a judgemental partner, or to fit in with strangers who don’t even like you then that’s where it can become toxic because it will further detach you from your body. This is easier said than done however because of the way capitalism intersects with our concept of self. When the world around you treats your body like an object it does impact your own perception of self, as well as your connection with self.


The Commodification of Appearance in a Patriarchal Society Resources:


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