Self-defense probably isn’t normally at the forefront of your mind when packing your beauty bag, but after reading this, it very well may be. I’m completely obsessed with this video of a badass little girl using her shoelaces to escape from those freaky-looking plastic zip-ties that I hope I never have to contend with in real life. (Note to self: Wear Stan Smiths always.)
Her genius technique got me thinking: What do we beauty junkies carry around every day that could help defend us against an attacker, whether we’re in a dark alley or inside our home?
I called up some premier self-defense experts and found out that beauty items can function as something the self-defense community calls “improvised weapons”: They’re not as effective as a dedicated keychain weapon (this one happens to look like a kitty-cat) or a lipstick-sized can of maximum-strength mace, but beauty products are a whole lot better than nothing when it comes to safety — even if your weapon is a hairbrush.
“I say: Use what you’ve got, and the more tools on you, the better,” says self-defense expert Jennifer Cassetta. “There are probably lots of male self-defense instructors who are going to see this article and be like, ‘Oh, that won’t work,’ but that’s just what I deal with on a day-to-day basis from the self-defense world.”
The beauty tools below work especially well when you have a mental “battle cry,” whether in your head or out loud. For example, a woman in Seattle who was attacked during a run and successfully fought off her assailant thought to herself, “Not today, motherfucker!” — a phrase Cassetta now teaches in her self-defense classes.
“I have these 17-year-old girls screaming, ‘Not today, motherfucker!’ I just love that,” Cassetta says. “For me, when I was grabbed on the street in New York when I was living there, I said ‘I released my inner She-Beast’ that night. We all have this power within, like animals in the wild, protecting their young. It’s a primal, primal thing to be able to protect yourself, but we’re just not used to it.
“So if we can think, ‘Now I’m the attacker, I’m the tiger, and that’s my dinner,’ and almost become the attacker, that’s what I try to teach women in my classes, instead of, ‘Oh, my God, I’m the victim, I need to defend myself.’ That’s not the attitude that’s going to win.”
Also, be ready to hit. To prepare, take a four-week self-defense class from an organization like IMPACT, call your local dojo/martial arts studio to see if it offers a self-defense course (they usually will), or download one of Cassetta’s Stilettos and Self-Defense videos online. Then, practice punching a weight bag in the gym or buy an inflatable punching bag like Everlast’s freestanding model or this $13 pad you can mount on your wall, and start wailing on it.
Finally, no matter what you use in the moment, act fast, get to safety, and call 911.
“Speed equals life,” says Tsahi Shemesh, of Krav Maga Experts in New York City, which offers a workshop on using personal items for self-defense. “Grab the first thing you find and hit your attacker in the face with it. The second they let go or back away, run for cover or help.”
1. A metal can of dry shampoo or hairspray
How to use it: Turn it over and use the bottom as a blunt object.
“Go straight for the eye socket if you can,” Cassetta says. “If the eye socket isn’t available or if he has glasses on, I would go then for the temples. If he was coming from behind me, I’d punch down to the groin. When you’re talking about a hard weapon, you want to go for soft targets — those are the most effective places to hit: eyes, throat, and groin.”
How to use it: Think of it as a pen, then “stab and rake.”
Stab the eyeliner into an attacker’s eyeballs or jab it up into their armpit to loosen their grip. “Also, if someone’s choking you, you can stab the forearm to, again, hopefully loosen the grip up — and not just stab, but rake all the way down the forearm,” Cassetta says. “I show that with keys.”
3. Liquid spray: insect repellent, body spray, liquid sunscreen, etc.
How to use it: Spray it directly into an attacker’s eyes, nose, or mouth to buy yourself time.
Sprays are “easily accessible and can be used to create distance between you and the attacker,” says Shemesh. “Your attacker will be unfocused for a few seconds. Use these precious few seconds of disorientation to run away and call for help.”
4. Loose powder or strong perfume
How to use it: Aim for the face. Then run like hell.
“Slowing, stunning, or stopping an attacker long enough to get away is the primary goal,” says Jennie Trower, self-defense expert and cofounder of Jarrett and Jennie Customized Self-Defense. “Use these products to distract and disturb vision and breathing by spraying or throwing in the eyes and mouth.”
5. Paddle brush
How to use it: Hit to the side of the temple, across the face.
“Brushes are blunt objects,” Cassetta says. “It depends on how heavy it is, but a nice heavy brush could do some damage.”
How to use it: Strike an attacker with the corners (but only if you’re already holding it — you need to protect your phone so you can call for help afterward).
“If it’s in your hand and you’re attacked, as long as you don’t have a rubbery case, you can use the corners of your cellphone to hit into the temple, down onto the collarbone — there are pressure points there — or into the eye sockets,” Cassetta says. “But just hold on to your phone because you’re going to need it to call 911.”
Most importantly, resist the temptation to zone out while looking at your phone as you’re walking home — even if the taxi, car service, or a friend drops you off only a few feet from your place. (That’s when Cassetta was attacked in New York.) Stay aware and observe your surroundings until you get safely indoors. “That’s when you can relax,” she says.
7. Curling iron
How to use it: If it’s already hot and it’s handy, go straight for the neck.
“If that curling iron was hot and on, and you just happened to be doing your hair, you could use that as a hot weapon to burn somebody with,” Cassetta says. “Burn it against the neck — or try and choke somebody with the cord.”
8. Small scissors or metal nail file
How to use it: Jam it into eyeballs, or into the neck, with the goal of puncturing the skin.
Consider yourself blessed if you’ve got one of these objects within easy reach, like an open pocket inside your purse. “You can punch a hole in someone’s neck or, again, punch into the groin,” Cassetta says. “A pair of small scissors is the same: That’s a small metal object that you can poke and do some damage with.”
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Watch this woman talk about reclaiming her “stolen face”: