An Interview with Arabelle Sicardi

by Safy-Hallan Farah

Geniuses is a series in which we interview geniuses from all walks of life. For the third installment of Geniuses, we’re talking to beauty writer and editor @ArabelleSicardi.

Do you think you’re a genius?

No, I just think I’m clever. I don’t know the connotations of genius, or who I would consider one and if I could compare myself to them. I have a good sense of timing and I’m observant, I know I’m smart, but I also know when I’m not the smartest person in the room. And I try to not be the smartest person in the room. It’s boring being the smartest in the room. I’ve always liked hanging out with people who intimidate me so I can learn from them

Who intimidates you and why do they intimidate you?

Well, actually I haven’t met anyone who intimidates me lately because I’ve eaten the intimidation and made it into just admiration. Doreen St. Felix is a genius, Hannah, Durga are geniuses. They intimidate me and inspire me in equal measure. Being in a room with the women I love makes me feel very electric and makes my brain feel more connected. They make me feel more clever.

How did you turn intimidation into admiration?

Well I learned a long time ago that I’m not actually in a competition with people who aren’t men. Like, it’s pointless to me. When my friends started getting more successful I first felt initially really put out — why not me, you know — but someone I love reminded me women aren’t the enemy. So much about intimidation stems from fear of your power being taken from you, you know, being questioned. I don’t make space for that anymore. It’s a waste of time and energy and love. Actually there’s what, that Lil Kim quote? When you see a bad bitch don’t throw shade get her a Chanel bag? Something like that. We work better together. We have so much to learn from each other and give to each other if we let that happen.

What kind of men do you compete with?

I don’t think men occupy significant space in beauty writing or whatever so I don’t really compete with them on that level. I suppose I am currently competing with white male artists who colonize my work for their own capital, but I have also stopped making visual art at the moment to focus on writing, so it’s kind of a wonky battle. I am a very competitive person but mostly I’m in competition with myself. I get caught up in my own ego and in my own expectations and dreams for what I want to do a lot more than I do against others. My editors and friends always have to remind me it’s okay to fail and not change the world the way I want to in a piece. I always have to relearn. But I don’t look at so and so’s writing and be like, “I MUST BE BETTER THAN THEM.” Though sometimes I do get frustrated that I didn’t come up with it first. Which is I suppose the highest compliment. In the long run I’m always in competition with men who take up space that I want or that my friends want or need. Or men that have the money and intellectual capital that gets them stories or bylines that I’ve never been offered. But I also think those spaces will open up to me if I get aggressive and take them? I’m going to take them eventually. But to be fair, I read like, two male writers. It’s not even a protest thing, I just have only ever really enjoyed women writers.

Where do you want to be in a year or two from now?

Finishing up edits on a book, doing more travel-required writing on beauty. Writing less, but longer, and working on things outside of writing, too — I want to go to perfume school, I want to learn everything about the chemistry and production of beauty and also how it is marketed. I want to know every mundane aspect of beauty from the idea of a color of a lipstick to an auntie picking up the color in a wholesale store for a dollar once it’s been taken off the shelves at a big box retailer and sold for a loss. I’m less interested in trend pieces and more interested in pursuing stories that are ambitious and time consuming and terrifying in ways beauty journalism has rarely ever been before. I only want to do those stories for now and for the near future. That’s it — easier said than done, of course, but also pretty simple.

Mostly I wanna write a book though. Like please fight me if I haven’t written a book, Safy.

What do you think about the fact that beauty isn’t seen as an intellectual endeavor the way it SO is?

I think it’s beginning to be seen as an intellectual endeavor now, though — like, right now.

The past few months, very slowly people are beginning to understand more thoroughly that the concept of beauty is at the nexus of body politics and everything else it the world. it’s funny because when you research beauty theory, you only get white art theory about statues and whatever, in academia — in formal intellectual spaces, beauty is seen very narrowly and it misses the entire very literal conversation about labor and beauty and identity. the whole concept of “beauty theory” is so hard to find?

People talk about pop culture theory in terms of celebrity and the labor of them being visible in such and such ways but less about you know, labor and lipstick, how beauty products have always been a tool for imperialist propaganda, how the fact you can’t buy specific products in drugstores isn’t a coincidence or anything but a decision based on race, money, class, and power our conversations about beauty products often touch upon accessibility because our conversations are often complaints about these things — but few people inside the industry have ever spoken truth to power. because why would they when things have been going so well the way they have, for ages, for ever, really. The economics of beauty are terrible and terrifying and exploitative the same way fashion often/always is. but it’s not something to be spoken about because actually beauty companies are the ones that make a lot of publications possible. there is too much/a lot of risk exploring the connections between the beauty and fashion industries and well, every other industry in the world. particularly media. Beauty is obviously intellectual because it’s a matter of opinion and that opinion is and always has been shaped by the culture it is produced by and now people are finally catching on to the fact beauty and bodies don’t exist without context, history, or harm.

Do you see yourself going to graduate school?

Hell nah. College itself was torture. I don’t think I’d want to go back. I’d like to go to perfume school or learn trade things — but not school.

How was college torture for you?

I just wanted to get started as a writer. And the journalism program I was in was pretty misogynistic, so many of the professors there made me feel like nothing was worth anything at all. I actually loved and cherish my gender studies classes of course but I pretty much considered college a very expensive library visit. I lived in the library. I loved the library! And I don’t regret going to college, I just also wish I could have graduated even sooner. It was much worse for so many others, of course. I did the really practical thing and went to state school so my debt isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. In the scheme of things it was the right choice, that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it though. Academia was really frustrating and obtuse about lived experiences. I felt really jaded. And people take things really seriously in such a dry way and focus their entire life on proving a dead old white dude wrong for something he said like 200 years ago. I do not find that kind of work rewarding, personally. And to get accolades in academic work you have to play the game of language to get people to listen to you. I have no time for that. I do love theory, and I’m always stalking academia, but I don’t trust or love it or want the approval of those in it. I think it should be playful. It’s a tool but not the answer.

Tell me about your book now!

It’s a secret! I have many books in my head I have to choose from. I decided after I found out about that Yale dude that I have to get started on one RIGHT NOW. AS IN TODAY. I’ll tell you about it soon, though.

Would you say you’re good at keeping secrets?

Mine? Terrible at it. Others? Crypt keeper.