HBO’s “Not So Pretty” reveals how the trillion dollar beauty industry could kill you

Documentaries exploring the intersection of capitalism, branding, social media and identity are about a dozen these days, each regurgitating information you read into a New York magazine article from a few years ago and insisting that we, as a society, are all victims, or at least targets, of some kind of scam. Likewise, the rhythms, characters and devices within these films and shows have become extremely predictable. And you can expect little or no experimentation with the form. No matter who the subject or who is doing the scam, these complaints usually culminate in the general and clichéd message that nothing being sold to you is exactly what it seems.

Thus, a new four-part docuseries arriving today on HBO Max, by Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick (Allen versus Farrow), call Not that cute is built on this precise premise. Presenting itself as the “first full-scale investigative exposure of the trillion-dollar beauty industry,” the series aims to uncover the “hidden” dark side of the beauty industry in just over two hours, spending approximately 30 minutes. each to a broad facet of beauty, including hair, nails, skincare and makeup.

Given the time allotted, the completeness of the project automatically seems impossible. There are many directions in which to go with this particular assignment. And for the most part, Not that cute focuses on illuminating the toxic chemicals commonly found in some beauty products and their potential medical consequences. However, the pared-down nature (no pun intended) of the series makes it hard to believe we’re getting a full, properly contextualised portrait of the health risks the documentary seeks to shed light on, despite the scientific legitimacy of the claims presented. It seems more designed to arouse curiosity and skepticism among people who had never Googleed ingredients on a bottle of nail polish or weren’t aware of how unregulated the hair care industry is or that baby powder contains talc.

Narrated by the beautifully animated Keke Palmer, who saves much of the series from being a nap, the episodes expand on previously uncovered information in pending lawsuits filed against large companies like Johnson & Johnson and DevaCurl, and coincidental searches for dangerous and sometimes dangerous ingredients. amazing as formaldehyde, endocrine disrupting chemicals and asbestos. The first two episodes, which explore hair and nail products respectively, are the most well executed, linking these introductory science lessons to more accessible and emotionally compelling social issues and illuminating the ways in which some underrepresented groups are targeted by the agency.

“Hair,” for example, captures the growing backlash against the major hair care line DevaCurl, which is primarily marketed to women, often minorities, with curly hair. Influencers and hair stylists began to notice a range of symptoms including significant hair loss, rashes, scalp irritation, tinnitus, cycle complications, and migraines after using the company’s products regularly and started to create online forums to discuss their experiences, ultimately leading to collective action against the company that led to a $ 5.2 million deal last year. The most compelling parts of the episodes are the emotional interviews with DevaCurl consumers and influencers, mostly black and brown women, who detail their complicated relationship with their textured locks, their treatment in the workplace and how the brand has repeatedly ignored their cries for help.

“Nails” similarly explores how the convergence of race, gender and class informs how the health concerns of Asian women working in beauty salons have historically been overlooked. For example, the doctor cites a recent University of Colorado study that found that salon workers who spend eight hours a day or more around nail polishes and similar products experience the same (or more) exposure to volatile organic compounds. , which increases the risks for respiratory problems and cancer, such as people who work in oil refineries and auto workshops. However, research into this particular work environment is relatively sparse compared to, for example, coal mines and factories.

There is a lot of talk about the possibility of certain medical conditions and the testimonies of people who have experienced them without mentioning how likely it is to happen to the viewer.

At times, the wide range of diseases and complications discussed in the docuseries without revealing any numbers to put these risks into perspective can appear as another case of gotcha journalism commonly found in health documentaries with a broader agenda. There is a lot of talk about the possibility of certain medical conditions and the testimonies of people who have experienced them without mentioning how likely it is to happen to the viewer.

Other “eye opening” moments read as if the producers were simply creating a panic lure. For example, there is a scene in the episode “Makeup” where a woman named Corrin Ortillo, who tells a story about how she was diagnosed with mesothelioma due to the asbestos found in her makeup, films herself in a shop. of cosmetics looking at ingredient labels on a hidden secret. marks and revealing that all contain talc, which can be contaminated with asbestos. Another episode focuses on a man who lost all of his sperm due to endocrine disruptors found in skin care products. The last five minutes of each episode, with the do’s and don’ts when shopping for beauty products and ads for some beauty apps, attempts to ward off accumulated fears in 25 minutes and assures you that there are still plenty of safe ways. consume beauty products. However, what you should take away from the series as a consumer can sometimes be confusing and overwhelming.

A scene from HBO Max Not that cute


Overall, Not that cute it’s neither a groundbreaking piece of journalism or art, and it really only excels when it emphasizes the beauty industry’s predatory nature on women of color or how their health has been systematically ignored. The rest looks like an entry-level chemistry course that could only be fully understood or properly contextualized with further research. Ultimately, where you stand in your beauty education and how skeptical you are about how information is generally presented in documentaries will determine your viewing experience.

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