Arabelle Sicardi: Beauty is Power and Growing up on the Internet

The Girl Trip community is growing! We’re transitioning our interview format into artists interviewing artists in a sort of telephone game conversation. We’re excited see how conversations unfold, as each interview is followed up with the featured artist interviewing another artist, across mediums.

This week, our previous featured artist, writer Fariha Róisín interviews Arabelle Sicardi. Arabelle is a genderqueer beauty writer whose work focuses on beauty, politics, and power. They’ve written for Rookie, Teen VOGUE, Hazlitt, i-D, ELLE, ALLURE, and more.

An Interview with Arabelle Sicardi:

Fariha: You kind of grew up on the internet—your blog (back in the day of the late aughts, kind of?) Fashion Pirate gave you this anonymity of being this cool kid, but what does it really feel like to be in the public eye, to a certain degree? 

Arabelle: I have mixed feelings about it! I love my life and the circumstances its given to bless me with the people I love, like you, of course. And my home is filled with stuff people have given me through the years; I have this Junya Watanabe floor length jacket a reader once sent me in the fashion pirate days and it was my life jacket in high school and still the thing I put on when I’m sad and feel alone. It was such a generous thing to give to a stranger and not many people get to experience that kind of generosity. But at the same time; sometimes I have to push back on the entitlement people can have about knowing me and expecting certain things of me. I have had people leave letters under my dorm room door when I didn’t tell anyone where i lived, but they recognized me on campus or found me out. And that happens to me everywhere. Being vulnerable on the internet doesn’t mean I expected to or want to permanently surrender my privacy or humanity to strangers. Growing up online means I have a long list of ghosts anyone could use to weigh against anything I will ever do. And I have to continually draw a line between when I can give and what I refuse to because the internet kind of asks for everything and if you don’t give it it trains you to feel some kind of loss.

Fariha: How would you define yourself? I tried to explain you once to a friend who didn’t know you and I was lost for words… I started with, “Arabelle is like…” and then I just trailed off in smiles. So you tell me! 

Arabelle: Wow it’s so funny I do the same thing about you. I dunno. I usually just say I’m a beauty writer. It doesn’t matter to me if people assume that means something different than what I actually do. I sometimes do write recommendations on beauty brands; it’s just not all that I do. Beauty is the lens thru which I see the world, and being a writer just lets me record the stuff I notice. It’s a capitalist bummer so much of how I define myself is by my job – but it’s most of me, what I wake up thinking about and go to sleep summarizing. I have a nickname for being a tender cyborg; I eat every bit of knowledge and keep it with me and upgrade my brain all the time, but all I want is like, Love. Feelings are the oldest philosophers.

Fariha: Queerness—both of gender and sexuality—are important aspects of both your work as your praxis as a human being. When did you start realizing that about yourself? How has it evolved?

Arabelle: I always knew I was queer but I didn’t have the language for that until high school and even then it took awhile to give up specific labels surrounding gender and desire to sit in the feeling of complexity that queerness entails for me. But I’ve kind of always wanted everything. I think queerness to me is a practice of critical intimacy; it’s just a name for me wanting to know and cherish the heartbeat of things. Whenever someone misgenders me i feel a loss; whenever someone assumes I’m straight I feel a loss; whenever someone doesn’t see I’m Asian i feel a loss too. Queerness let’s me hold space for all that loss. It’s the exact opposite of that grief. A great deal of my rage and fire from childhood and being a young teen feminist or whatever came from realizing how much grief I had to contend with every day, and not being able to process it or see a way out. I am still full of rage but I’m better at processing it and know how to find spaces I can thrive in.

Fariha: Tell me about your daily survival practices. 

Arabelle: I write in a journal every morning for twenty minutes, just repetitive trash really that I never reread ever. To get it out of the way. I take baths every other day or at least regularly. I use books like divination and pull a page from a book in my collection or wherever I’m studying to answer a question or guide me through the day. And I go outside no matter how shitty it is. Sometimes this just means sitting on my roof or fire escape. I just need to feel small and being in my own head all day in a room can delude you into feeling like the grand god of your surroundings.  I don’t have twitter or Facebook on my phone either.

Fariha: What are things that make you feel worth living—things that makes you feel alive with a sense of wonder and excitement? 

Arabelle: Oof. Everything I do is in pursuit of preserving my curiosity and figuring out how ordinary things can be beautiful and exciting and surprising.  I like sitting in twenty four hour diners and watching life unfurl around me, I like camping out a bookstores wherever I go and seeing what books people fall in love with and I like sitting in parks watching people take pictures and laugh and fall in love and break up. Having conversations with anyone very good at what they do is my favorite eroticism! A rocket scientist or a lawyer or a cook or a makeup artist. My favorite thing is an intimate dinner that takes hours and several seat changes. Anyone excited about anything makes me excited too. So people make me feel wonder, mostly. And I feel spiritual about highlighter and wandering around on a sunny or foggy day.

Fariha: Tell me about your ideal world that you want to live in. 

Arabelle: The first line in my journal is a line by zadie Smith: “in my dream we were all elegant and none of us knew pain.” I guess that’s kind of the world I wish for but I’m also of the belief pain can be useful, and it keeps us human. I would like a world in which we were all tender with each other though. I don’t want us to feel pain but when we do i want it to change us for the better not numb us to the experience of suffering. I rather like the idea of utopia and am always trying to get closer to it but I have no idea what it looks like and am generally suspicious of any literal proposal for it. Nothing would be enough anyway. It’s not up to me to see the end, I just want to do what I can to make better and see where it leads. I’d like to be surprised. Jesus, can you imagine if you were right about everything and the limit to the world was your own imagination? How devastating.

Fariha: If someone who doesn’t know anything about beauty, were to ask you about it what would you tell them? Why is it/Is it not important?

Arabelle: It would depend on what they’re looking for actually. I don’t go in to a random conversation about beauty trying to explain casually my fundamental praxis about it; that beauty is power. It would mean redefining and explaining power. Or rather biopower. It’s something I just weave into things and try to nudge people towards. I do get annoyed when people get dismissive of beauty and call it a scam but I know that’s mostly because they’re bitter and overwhelmed by their personal experience of it failing them. Beauty is important for what it can do but only because of it; because it can secure you rewards and position and power that in a perfect world of equal power we wouldn’t have to need. If we weren’t moved by beauty we wouldn’t give a fuck about it. But we are, and we do. And so it matters. You can’t opt out. You dismissing something personally doesn’t make it less real or true.

Fariha: Also, if someone wanted tips on beauty brands to support and not support, what would you tell them?

Arabelle: I feel a bit resigned on this front; I can sit and tell you fucked up things about most brands but that doesn’t actually move most people into not buying them. It’s like, yeah, I can tell you the owner of this company is a fascist who dresses up in a Nazi uniform or like was in a fascist organization and spent their beauty money on that organization that like helped blow up places of worship or like they take ideas from their queer workers and market it as their own and then fire them and are also in denial about their own sexuality as if it has to matter that much to their bottom line – all of these are real – and different – brands I’m not even naming, and I’ve written or talked informally about all of them, been blackballed from reporting on them from one venue or another, and people still buy them and they are probably in your beauty bag as we speak. So if you were asking me about what brands to support and not support I’d have to ask you what you want out of the experience. What are you okay with buying into? You can have good, and cheap, and ethical, but rarely can you have all at once. That isn’t to say spending more gets you out of exploitation either. What impact do you want to make, and what level of commitment are you willing to put in to something you could very easily not give a fuck about? I don’t want to make people feel bad about wanting to be  beautiful but I also think maybe we have to be more honest about how complicated it is to be anything, actually.

Fariha: What/Who are you currently reading?

Arabelle: I’m reading Buddhist theology and histories of war. Right now I’m fascinated with the history of political uprisings, so into William Volmann’s volumes on violence – his knowledge, and his ego are both truly stunning to me and i mean that as a compliment. I wish I had that kind of freedom as a writer. He refuses to be edited! It’s crazy! What luxury! His work is kind of a memorial to all the horrible things we’ve done to each other, and the sheer expanse of it is beautiful to me but also horrifying because it has no bottom. It’s just voracious curiosity. It’s such an act of devotion. And I’m reading these books called Radical Dharma and Emergent Strategies too. They’re really good and weaving intersectionality into concepts around resilience and community organizing.

Fariha: Tell me three things you really like about yourself. 

Arabelle: I stay open to everything, even the ugly parts. I like how much I can smell things and keep memories about every smell, though constantly smelling is also very anxiety inducing it’s a very honest diary. And I love how somehow I’ve gotten really amazing friends around the world, like you, for example. That’s something I cherish every day. 

About Fariha Róisín:

Fariha describes herself simply as “a writer living on Earth”. Her writing is featured in Al JazeeraThe GuardianVice and Hazlitt. Vogue calls her the “writer whose standout voice and style can’t be ignored”.

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