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REBECCA BAIRD: Euphoria’s Cassie reminds me skincare is the closest I’ll get to God

Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) does her skincare in Euphoria.
Cassie (Syndey Sweeney) studies her reflection in hit drama Euphoria.

First, a confession. I haven’t actually watched Euphoria since episode three this year.

But what I can glean from the influx of memes on my various timelines is that everyone’s favourite bombshell Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) has become Public Enemy No1.

See, I knew that was going to happen.

Because the last episode I saw contained one of my favourite media tropes: the Manic Girl Skincare Montage.

A staple of the romance and female-led drama genres, the MGSM and its slightly-older, much crazier sister, the Manic Girl Haircut Scene, have featured in thrillers like Empire Records, sitcoms like Scrubs (who can forget that Elliot ‘Barbie’ Reid glow-up?) and, most recently, Cassie’s boy-obsessed breakdown in drug-addled teen drama Euphoria.

It’s usually the scene where the nice girl snaps.

“She loved the ritual,” Zendaya’s character Rue narrates, as we watch Cassie mercilessly scrub her already-smooth legs, apply an apothecary of products to her face and arms, and pretzel her Disney-princess hair into different shapes day after day after day.

And god, did I relate.

I rejected religion – but forgot to keep ritual

I was raised Catholic, but I dropped my faith like an anvil through the deck of a cartoon ship at 17 and never looked back.

One thing that I hadn’t realised I’d missed until recently was just that – ritual; the arbitrary but revered processes religion depends upon.

The sanctifying, genuflecting, stained-glass, rosary-rattle drama of it all. The peace-be-with-yous, the creepily automatic responses, intoned like lowing cattle, about lambs and Eucharists, body and blood.

Something about knowing exactly what to do, and when, used to give me the freedom to let my mind wander.

I missed that.

Skincare is a family affair

Like religion, I inherited my attention to my skin from my mum, and her mum before her – very Gilmore Girls.

My earliest memories on this planet include the smell of my gran’s cold cream, the floral, pink lotions and potions which delicately decorated her dressing table.

And later, mum’s diligent parroting each morning of cleanser, toner, moisturiser. As a teen with acne, I hated hearing it. It was a chore, rather than a treat.

But when, at the beginning of the pandemic, my once-banished adolescent acne came back with adult teeth, I found the ritual of treating it not only necessary – it was joyful.

Divine, even.

Turns out you can bottle self-love

When the world went mad, I did too, a little bit.

And true to manic-girl precedent, I cut off all my hair and began worshipping at the altar of my own face, approaching it with a devout fervour I never had before.

I anointed myself in all sorts of oils and cleansers, did soaks and masks, studied the results daily.

I literally watched scars on my face heal, due to nothing but my own care and attention. It was miraculous. Biblical.

How’s that for a self-love metaphor?

Rebecca’s dressing table has become something of an shrine to the self-care gods, featuring serums, circulation boosters, lotions and lip balms galore.

But something else happened too. As the movements became muscle memory, and the ritual rooted into my days, I found my mind clearing too.

Ten minutes each day staring at one’s own face, cleaning and scrubbing, spritzing and soothing… it’s like falling in love.

I found myself rehearsing conversations I didn’t even know I wanted to have, or writing poems right off my tongue.

And I wondered if there were people for whom religion was just this. A ritual, more than a belief system.

And that made it all make a bit more sense to me.

Joining the church of ‘that girl’

I’m not original in my newfound devotion.

In fact, the past year has seen the rise of an entire movement on TikTok, known as the ‘that girl’ trend, where routine is elevated to sacramental importance and aestheticized beyond belief.

@sydneybernhardt

perfect skin recipe ☁️ #nonnegotiable #toiletrybag #skincare #skincareroutine #hotgirl #thatgirl #motivation #MyAncestryStory #DealGuesser #foryou

♬ original sound – ebonyloren

It’s a trend with a lot of issues, including but not limited to a weird obsession with productivity and a reductive vision of health, as well as some seriously exclusionary rich-bitch energy (this stuff isn’t cheap!).

But despite all that, for me, the fact that it is trending symbolises the death of my generation’s favourite romanticism – the manic pixie dream girl.

Good riddance to her, I say.

The new dream is peace, and the way to get it is, according to TikTok, prettified consistency.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is always effortlessly beautiful, and FAR too cool and  interesting to spend time on herself – much like Zooey Deschanel’s character Summer in cult noughties rom-com 500 Days of Summer.

In the last month, my entire world has changed.

I’ve moved home, my job is different, and everything is still so new, every day.

I’ve not got all my routes home in my feet yet, and I still have to consciously think about which tabs I open when I log into work in the morning.

I keep misjudging distances in my flat and walking into doorframes.

In a lot of ways, I feel like a stranger in my own life.

But for ten minutes each day, I don’t have to think about what to do with my hands.

I can watch my mother’s movements as I rub little circles of cleanser into my cheeks; see my gran’s frown as I squint to see the details of each pore.

And for those ten minutes, like Cassie exorcising her demons in the bathroom mirror, I feel a bit less crazy.

REBECCA BAIRD: About face(s) – Party politics should focus on policies, not personalities

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