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The cosmology of cosmetics( to be read with tongue firmly planted in cheek)

I have a friend who took tests in college to determine what career choice would best suit her interest, abilities and temperament. Upon completion of this extensive battery of tests she was told that she should be a cosmologist. Every time she tells me that story I say, “You mean a cosmetologist?”. She sometimes gets my joke and on other occasions she corrects me and says, “no, no, a cosmologist.” Most recently she reminded me of her gifts for cosmology as we walked through the makeup section of CVS pharmacy.

According to Wikipedia a cosmologist partakes in the study of the physical universe considered as a totality of phenomena in time and space and they try to find answers to questions regarding the origins and fate of the universe. That said I am still not sure what cosmologists really do and my friend isn’t sure either.  When I think of my friend as a cosmologist, I get this image of a cosmologist’s office, it’s right next door to the metaphor store and just down the street from the philosophy shack. It is a place that people come to visit when their cosmology is broken, damaged or otherwise in need of re-alignment. People come in and drop off their old cosmology and come back in two weeks and find that their cosmology has disappeared into a black hole or was re-made into an unrecognizable string theory that is far too big to get into their minivan.

As a person who is fascinated by words and as a person who loves cosmetics, I am a bit baffled that I never before realized that one of the mains root words of cosmetics is cosmos. According to  Dictionary.com the origin of “cosmetic” is the Greek word “kosmētikos”which derived from the word “kosmos” or κόσμος which means an “ordered world”. Cosmos is the antithesis of chaos. Today the word is generally used as a synonym of the word ‘Universe’ or an orderly or harmonious system.
Therefore cosmetics are a means of making order and arrangement to one’s appearance, perhaps as a means of controlling the impact of time and space—and one’s personal universe in the form of their face or body. Cosmetology may be a system of fighting against the chaos of time, attempting to arrange oneself, remain well-ordered and study black holes(i.e. age spots).

When I talk about having a cosmology what I mean is how I make sense of the world, what I believe about how the world works and not in the way Stephen Hawkings talks about cosmology, i.e. black holes, space and other things that make my headache. To me cosmology is more of a philosophical or even mythological understanding of the world and how it works and not so much about big bangs.

In my personal cosmology I believe that life has two impulses: eros (growth/expansion/love) and thanatos(destruction/death/chaos). We don’t just grow, evolve and expand—we decay and we die. And truth be told we spend only from birth to 25 growing and then we spend the rest of our life degenerating and decaying. I know this isn’t cheerful or happy or anything those in the New Age movement would agree with me on—but this is my cosmology and sadly it affects my cosmetology. Because life has both eros and thanatos we require both makeup(which would be the eros aspect of my cosmetic cosmology) and anti-aging products( which deal with the reality of thanatos and my desire not to face the truth of my decays and ultimate death).

I have lots of friends who have a cosmology in which the world is all good, all positive and which everything is always growing, expanding and where everything works our for the best( I don’t live in that world). If one was to extrapolate this kind of cosmology into a cosmetic-cosmology, this kind of person might not believe in the need for any anti-aging products as lines are just illusions and if you think positively they might even go away. It is my hunch that this kind of eros cosmos-cosmetologist would use only organic and vegan products that one can buy at Whole Foods and they would stay far away from my friends Mr. Botox and Mrs. Retin-A.

My personal cosmetic-cosmology allows me to understand that because of the big shiny ball in the sky and my Irish skin and the teen years in which I tried to be tan with the help of a toxic cocktail of one part cocoa butter, one part baby oil and one part Hawaiian Tropic oil—that radiation, decay and dermal erosion have all occurred on the surface of my personal universe. Hence I require all the science of skincare that my dermatologist can provide as a means of protecting my skin from looking like the surface of the moon. I also require the assistance of sales associates, makeup artists and whoever else can help keep my skin looking more Milky Way and less Rings of Saturn.

I feel sure that if any student of physics were to read this post that their head might explode into gazillions of tiny particles at my attempting to connect these seemingly unrelated sciences—or, if they were feeling more intellectually generous( or just pitying me) they might explain how there are only particles and how their head was never made of solid matter anyways so it really doesn’t matter.

In response to a physicist whose face is falling apart, a cosmetologist might suggest a good firming cream that might allow the physicist’s face to reconstruct—if only they would use this amazing five step La Mer skin-care system that was in fact created by a NASA aerospace physicist.  You see my point. If there is no mass then there is no place that cosmology stops and cosmetics start.  So the next time I am reading reviews on Makeupalley.com or considering the merits of a given cosmetic, I am going to call myself a cosmetic cosmologist and not merely a cosmetic junkie.  Please, I implore you, do not suggest I am rationalizing. Rationalizing belongs to the science of psychology—today we are focusing on cosmology.

*There is no bibliography or quoting of academics in the making of this highly scientific blog post—although some may be harmed in the reading of this blog post.
**I am available to give this speech to science clubs and/or cosmetology schools.
***My 8th grade science teacher was right, science can be fun.

34 Responses to “The cosmology of cosmetics( to be read with tongue firmly planted in cheek)”


  • This is an adorable, mind-boggling, fun-fetching, star-brilliant essay. I really think you are onto something here! I never thought of the derivation of the word cosmetics, either. Until now, that is. Excuse me, I must now go define my own cosmology (that seems a lot like yours, actually).

    I must direct you to a prior post of mine in which I describe my first marriage ceremony at the Atmospherium-Planetarium in Reno. :)

  • I'm in your cosmos when it comes to cosmetics and I am off to define my cosmology xx

  • Well I think I will join you in being a cosmologist. I have enough cosmetics to classify me as an expert. One are I can't contain is the time and space orientation of my face and neck. Do you have any suggestions?

    They look as if time is marching on and some of the areas are definitely changing the spatial orientation. Maybe that Clarisonic would help?

    Great post!

  • You're right, science CAN be fun. I'm going to go do my makeup now.

  • Brilliant! Yet another essay by La Belette Rouge that should be in The New Yorker (Shouts and Murmers for this fun piece, I think).

  • Aaah, Hawaiian Tropic. Those were the bronze tan days. Now I'm scary pale and non-smelling white SPF150 and a large hat.

  • Bel: Sometimes I'm blown away by your genius! I LOVE this post. You should have called it "A Wrinkle in Time".

  • Brilliant, my dear. Had I world enough and time I'd follow your advice and explore the deeper space time continuum of cosmos-cosmetology. Unfortunately, my funds and natural tendencies leave me no choice but to purchase cosmetics at the cut-rate drug store so I can afford the art supplies.

  • Love the way your mind links subjects La Belle…xv

  • I'm with K-Line! Have you read that book by Madeline l'Engle? I'm sure you'd love it, particle physics and metaphysics and all — cosmology indeed.
    I love this post, which reminds me of a friend who once insisted, to the bemusement of her similarly-aged listeners, that she "didn't believe in ageing." My mirror tells me daily this is a reality demanding knowledge, not a possibility requiring faith, but hers was a different cosmology . . .

  • Lydia:I look forward to hearing about your own cosmology and your wedding at the Planetarium.

    Make Do Style: If only they offered a class on the cosmology of cosmetics instead of physics. I would have aced that class!;-)

    Julianne: Botox, Restylane, and Clarisonic Mia are my physics fighters.

    Thanks! Glad you liked it!:-)

    Gillian: Enjoy your science experiment.;-)

    Deja Pseu: THANK YOU!!!Do you think I should submit it?

  • You know what, I never think about the word cosmetic until today. Thought provoking!!!

  • Daria: Even with Hawaiian tropic I NEVER got tan. I just burnt and turned red and then I peeled and then the whiteness returned.

    K.Line: You are too kind. And I LOVE that title. When I submit it to the New Yorker can I use your title?

    susan: If I was an artist and not a writer(my passion costs me nothing but time) I would likely be shopping for my cosmetics at the drug store too. I do get my mascara there. And I hear you can get some great makeup brushes at the art supply store.

    vicki: Thank you!:-)

    materfamilias: Oooh! Thanks for the book suggestion.
    And, I am delighted that you enjoyed this post. I have to say that cosmologies that don't take into count decay, destruction, and death are ones that I can't buy into—no matter how much I'd like to.

  • Savvy Gal: It is extraordinary how we use these words all the time and yet can miss the meaning. Glad you found it thought provoking.:-)

  • Oh, you should definitely submit this around; what a great read.

    I know TNY is highbrow, but since your piece has a pro-cosmetics and procedures I bet Elle, Vogue, and HB would consider it as well. They are the Playboy of fashion magazines, after all!

  • Brilliant!

    I partook of that particular cocktail during my teen years as well in futile attempt to be like all the blond bronzed girls who surrounded me. My dark hair refused to lighten and my pale skin refused to tan and now I am always hoping that decades of sun avoidance will help undo the damage.

    I'm always suspicious of those who feel things always get better, decay is all around us, and sometimes I feel like a successful life is the one that makes the most of this exquisite balancing act. After all the pinnacle of ripeness, in a peach lets say, occurs just moments before the transition to decay.

    And read the book. It is fabulous.

  • Flattop NASA mission controllers worried about their foundation?

    That's one small step for man, one giant leap for Loreal.

    Only you could make an essay featuring such a topic interesting. Well, to a dude, anyway.

  • Hee hee…I am way too entertained this tired morning and I don't know if I deserve it! I love your joking with your friend…Why are not these pieces submitted to some magazine is what i want to know? Thank you for the etymology lesson…I like to be a cosmotic person, in and out, and neither dimension is easy. Yes, yes, decay is a natural part of life…perhaps to make it sound better we should say transformation! : ) I better run and think of something cute for my blog because I am having a chaotic May, not a cosmotic one!

    Love and hugs….xoxoxo

  • Vix: I think I am going to submit it. I would be delighted to be in any of those magazines. I thought Allure might be another good home for it as they are the cosmetic magazine.

    Mardel: Thank you!

    Did you use Sun-in too? That stuff was vile. But I bought bottles of it hoping that maybe I too could be a California blonde. It NEVER worked. I always looked like I was from Seattle no matter what products I used to attempt to fit in.
    I will admit that I get a bit maddened by the endless growth, endless positivity and blindness to death and decay. I always end up quoting Becker and his "Denial of death"( one of my favorite books).

    I will definitely read the book.

    WendyB: Thank you!

  • Randal: Actually NASA started in skin care and once they had that down then they moved into rocket science. It was a natural progression.

    "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for Loreal." That is the kind of line that could make you a very rich man. Have you considered a career in advertising?

    I am delighted that I could make this topic interesting to a dude, such as yourself.

    MrsLittleJeans: When I wrote this you were in the back of my head. I wondered what you might make of my bad science. Because of that I am soooo delighted to hear that you think this piece is magazine worthy. Thank you!!!! Hope your May becomes more well ordered and less chaotic.:-)

  • OK now I have to read "Denial of Death.

  • Loved reading this, and your other posts! What a refreshing blog. Thank you!

  • This is one of your alltime best Miss LBR, truly brilliant. And good heavens, does it bring back memories of the baby oil and Hawaiian Tropic slathered everywhere. Unbelievable.

    Thanks for making me smile,
    tp

  • Mardel: I can't wait to hear what you think of it.

    Hannah Sadie: Thank you! So lovely to meet you. I am so happy you found my blog. It was wonderful to discover your beautiful blog. Please stop by again.:-)

    thepreppyprincess: thank you soooooo much. I am so glad you like it.
    I used to lay on a tanning pad that looked like it was covered in aluminum foil. And my parents had a tanning lamp. Horrors!!!
    Happy to have made you smile.:-))))

    Zombie Mom: You are very kind!!! Thank you. I hope you come back to visit again. :-)

  • I have a friend who is a cosmologist – he got a scholarship to Oxford University to become one – his nickname is Drunk Paul – what does this say about cosmologists?

  • Imogen: I am guessing the more you understand how unknowable the universe is the more a stiff drink sounds like a really great idea.;-)

  • What a brilliantly written post, you are a clever girl .. with edgey hair :)
    I too am of Irish heritage and my mother would put me out in her own sun oil consisting of olive oil and vinegar.. yes I think she somehow got confused with the salad dressing .. but never mind I am still here.. and use every cosmetic aid available to me … thank god for the cosmos and the cosmotologists and vanity xxx

  • I think I need to drink a cosmo and reread your post. It was brilliant the first time but I feel there is something deeper in there. Just below the surface. Perhaps a little La Mer anti-aging cream or botox can fill it in.

    Seriously though, I love this post! Well done.

  • Ah, dear friend. YOU make science fun!

  • Wow, if this growing/decaying theory is true, I really should have thrown it all away when I was 25! Why do I keep working out?

  • I'll never forget when I was told, "I'm going to radio-ology school!" (eye is still twitching on that one)

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About Me

My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny. For more information, click here .
These blog posts are informational only and not meant to replace individual psychotherapy, counseling or medical advice. If you are in need of help, reaching out to a professional may help you decide how to proceed or how to find the care you need. For a referral, contact

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