It’s easy to imagine how Ms. Maxwell could have beguiled those teenage girls of mostly modest backgrounds — appearing to them (initially) like a beneficent role model and arbiter of their potential to join the elite world she inhabited. You can hear this in the testimony of her accusers. Annie Farmer, the only witness to reveal her identity at trial, described Ms. Maxwell as a “trim, attractive woman” who gave her gifts, such as beauty products and cowboy boots. Ms. Farmer noted, too, that she “had a British accent and … was well spoken and articulate.”

The accuser known as “Jane” recounts Ms. Maxwell treating her at first like a younger sister, taking her to the movies and buying her clothes, including a cashmere sweater and underwear from Victoria’s Secret. And the accuser known as “Kate” testified that when she met Ms. Maxwell in London, she “was quite excited to be friends with her. She seemed to be everything that I wanted to be.”

The admiration Ms. Maxwell inspired in these girls would have made them all the more susceptible to the nefarious tactic known as “grooming” — the slow process of eroding a potential victim’s defenses, desensitizing them to increasingly inappropriate or abusive behavior.

But, of course, grooming has another, more common meaning, referring to the everyday habits we perform to be socially presentable. While men practice grooming, the process for women is far more complicated, involving myriad products and learned techniques — from hair styling to skin care, makeup to manicures. Grooming is part of beauty culture, and despite feminism’s strides, the importance of beauty has not materially diminished in women’s lives.

The message of beauty’s urgent importance

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