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20 Amazon products we loved in September

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Curious about what your fellow CNN Underscored readers are buying? Every month we’ll round up our readers’ favorite products — those products readers like you scooped up the most over the past 30 days.

The arrival of sweater weather saw Underscored readers nesting — shopping for products to help cook better meals, work more comfortably from home and look great on Zoom even after the summer tan fades. From luxurious shower heads to portable soap paper (yes, it’s a thing), here are the 20 products Underscored readers loved most in September.

Apple Airpods Pro ($219, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple Airpods Pro
Apple Airpods Pro
PHOTO: Amazon

Active noise cancellation, sweat-resistant design and more than 24 hours of battery life make the AirPods Pro our pick for the best wireless earbuds on the market. And with nearly 50,000 5-star reviews, we’re clearly not the only ones who think so!

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($34.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
PHOTO: Amazon

Our pick for the best ring light of 2020 goes to this model from Emart, which comes with a tripod mount for your phone, three light modes and 11 brightness levels — ensuring you get the perfect glow in every selfie and video chat.

CRZ Yoga Women’s Naked Feeling High-Waist Yoga Pants (starting at $24; amazon.com)

CRZ Yoga Women
CRZ Yoga Women’s Naked Feeling High-Waist Yoga Pants
PHOTO: Amazon

A perennial Underscored reader favorite and some of the best, most affordable leggings around, thanks to their buttery soft yet supportive fabric and wide range of color options.

Assacalynn Disposable Face Masks, 50-Pack ($9.98; amazon.com)

Assacalynn Disposable Face Masks, 50-Pack
Assacalynn Disposable Face Masks, 50-Pack
PHOTO: Amazon

Have plenty of face coverings on hand this fall with this well-priced 50-pack of disposable, three-ply masks. (Be sure to check out our roundup of some excellent reusable cloth masks too.)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Set ($119.17; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Set
PHOTO: Amazon

Quality kitchen knives aren’t just more fun to cook with — their sharper edges are actually safer to use too! Our choice for the best kitchen knife set of 2020 features top-notch construction and tons of useful extras, all at an affordable price point.

Bedsure Satin Pillowcase, 2-Pack ($9.99; amazon.com)

Bedsure Satin Pillowcase, 2-Pack
Bedsure Satin Pillowcase, 2-Pack
PHOTO: Amazon

Treat yourself to a better night’s sleep with these silky smooth pillowcases, which come in 24 elegant colors and are a total steal at just $9.99. One of our favorite cheap Amazon buys, these are made from 100% polyester satin, and they’re gentler on hair and skin than standard cotton pillowcases.

Whellen Selfie Ring Light ($16.99; amazon.com)

Whellen Selfie Ring Light
Whellen Selfie Ring Light
PHOTO: Amazon

We love Whellen’s ring light for its portability — just toss it in your purse or pocket, then clip it to your phone whenever you want to snap a perfectly lit selfie.

Wassa High-Pressure Shower Head ($19.97; amazon.com)

Wassa High-Pressure Shower Head
Wassa High-Pressure Shower Head
PHOTO: Amazon

Showering’s something we do every day (well, maybe every couple of days during quarantine), so why not make it as enjoyable as possible? Wassa’s shower head has an average of 4.7 stars from nearly 12,000 reviews and is our pick for the best budget shower head around, thanks to its ultra-powerful rain spray.

Swedish Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge ($19.95, originally $24.99; amazon.com)

Swedish Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge
Swedish Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge
PHOTO: Amazon

Swedish dishcloths are an eco-friendly alternative to wasteful paper towels, given that you can reuse them multiple times and simply toss them in the washing machine when they need a refresh.

Coleman SkinSmart DEET-Free Insect Repellent Spray ($4.87, originally $7.99; amazon.com)

Coleman SkinSmart DEET-Free Insect Repellent Spray
Coleman SkinSmart DEET-Free Insect Repellent Spray
PHOTO: Amazon

One of our favorite bug sprays of 2020, Coleman’s DEET-free spray is quick-drying, nongreasy and, most importantly, very effective at keeping away pests.

Slice Ceramic Blade Safety Cutter ($8.31; amazon.com)

Slice Ceramic Blade Safety Cutter
Slice Ceramic Blade Safety Cutter
PHOTO: Amazon

File this one under tiny products that may have a big impact on your life. With its itty bitty yet ultra-sharp ceramic blade, Slice’s safety cutter is perfect for everything from craft projects to opening packages.

Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Sunscreen Spray SPF 30 ($10.45; amazon.com)

Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Sunscreen Spray SPF 30
Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Sunscreen Spray SPF 30
PHOTO: Amazon

Hawaiian Tropic earned the top spot in our search for the best sunscreen of 2020, thanks to its nongreasy feel and delightful coconut scent — probably the closest any of us will get to a tropical vacation this year!

TubShroom Ultra Edition ($13.88, originally $15.99; amazon.com)

TubShroom Ultra Edition
TubShroom Ultra Edition
PHOTO: Amazon

Underscored editor Chelsea Stone loves her easy-to-clean stainless steel TubShroom, which handily prevents hair and other other gunk from clogging your drain.

Kohler Forte Shower Head ($74.44, originally $103.95; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head
PHOTO: Amazon

After months of testing in our search for the best shower head, the Kohler Forte reigned supreme. The Forte features three spray settings, ranging from a gentle misting to a drenching downpour, and despite its fantastic water pressure, it uses just 1.75 gallons per minute.

Nyx Professional Epic Ink Liner ($8.97; amazon.com)

Nyx Professional Epic Ink Liner
Nyx Professional Epic Ink Liner
PHOTO: Amazon

With masks covering half our faces every time we step outside, it’s all about the eyes these days. Make yours pop with this bestselling waterproof liner from the cruelty-free makeup brand Nyx, which won our title of the best budget liquid eyeliner of 2020 and boasts nearly 13,000 5-star reviews.

Kiseer Mini Portable Travel Soap Paper Sheets ($9.99; amazon.com)

Kiseer Mini Portable Travel Soap Paper Sheets
Kiseer Mini Portable Travel Soap Paper Sheets
PHOTO: Amazon

We know by now how important hand-washing is to stopping the spread of Covid-19. Since you can’t exactly toss a bar of soap in your purse, grab some ultra-portable, biodegradable soap sheets instead. All you need is a little water, and voila! Suds away. (Traveling soon? We’ve got more tips to stay safe on the go here.)

Coppertone Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 ($4.50, originally $11.99; amazon.com)

Coppertone Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
Coppertone Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
PHOTO: Amazon

Mineral sunscreens have a reputation for being difficult to rub in and leaving a white cast on skin, but in our testing, Coppertone’s Pure and Simple Lotion applied easily and blended well. It earned our praise as the best mineral sunscreen around, and it’s a great choice for anyone with sensitive skin or who just wants to avoid chemical sunscreen.

Steelcase Series 1 Office Chair (starting at $398; amazon.com)

Steelcase Series 1 Office Chair
Steelcase Series 1 Office Chair
PHOTO: Amazon

Give your back a break by investing in a quality chair for your home office. The Steelcase Series 1 is our favorite office chair for a reason (well, many reasons!): It’s highly customizable, looks great and is very, very comfortable.

Baby Foot Original Exfoliant Foot Peel ($25; amazon.com)

Baby Foot Original Exfoliant Foot Peel
Baby Foot Original Exfoliant Foot Peel
PHOTO: Amazon

Underscored readers continue to love this intensely satisfying at-home peel, which painlessly sloughs off layers of dead skin to reveal the baby-soft feet beneath — no salon visit required. You can read our review of it here.

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The War Over Mexico’s Beaches Is Over, For Now

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PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Maria Chuc celebrated her twelfth birthday with her family by eating Burger King on the beach in the famed Mexican getaway of Playa del Carmen. Until recently, the local family usually only went to beaches that were farther away and not laced with hotels and restaurants, even though they lived in the seaside city.

But that changed last week when the Mexican federal government passed a law that guaranteed public access to beaches that landowners have long dubiously claimed are private.

“I think (the law) is good. Before you couldn’t walk around here and you couldn’t even get in,” said Maria’s father, Henry. “You definitely couldn’t come and spend time.”

Under the new law, the family was able to enjoy their burgers and fries while hiring a man with a guitar to sing a birthday ballad for Maria’s special day, without worrying that beachside businesses would run them off the sand.

Prior to the recent change, it was common for hotels and restaurants across the country to hire guards and set up barriers to keep people off the beaches, which they wanted to reserve for their paying guests, much to the dismay of local residents.

The long-simmering issue of beach access rights boiled over in Playa del Carmen in February when two Mexican tourists were arrested and detained for allegedly sitting in a part of the beach that a restaurant claimed was private property.

But after a video of police forcibly removing the young couple went viral across Mexico, the incident reignited the long-standing national debate about general access to the country’s many beaches. Days later, the local government publicly apologized to the two lovers, and the federal secretary of tourism, Miguel Torruco Marqués, took to Twitter to clearly state that “in Mexico, the beaches are public.”

In the months that followed, the issue took on extra importance during the coronavirus pandemic because public beaches were closed in much of the country and the only people able to enjoy them without risk of penalty were tourists – usually foreign – who were staying at resorts with direct access.

In an effort to finally solve the issue, lawmakers began drafting the new law that officially passed on October 21. The legislation establishes large fines for hotels, restaurants, and other property owners who don’t comply with allowing public access to all stretches of the beach.

While Playa del Carmen and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula became the public face of the issue in 2020, the new law is now in effect across the nation.

Victor Sanchez, who sells ceviche along the Playa del Carmen beach, said he’s happy about the change. In his opinion, it’s better that the beaches aren’t perceived as private because it made them only accessible for tourists staying at the hotels, and not local residents.

“I see people enjoying (the beach) more,” said Sanchez since the law has passed. In his opinion, the beaches belong to “el mexicano, it’s for the people.”

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The best (or worst) $20,000 I ever spent: The money to start a small business

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When people tell me they’re thinking about opening a small business, particularly in a goods-based industry like fashion, my first question is, “Do you have money?” I don’t mean having savings or good credit or the knowledge of how to take out a loan, although those things certainly help. I’m talking family money, access to friends who will think nothing of loaning you six figures interest-free: that kind of money.

People at parties — or, these days, in my inbox — don’t expect this question. They tend to not appreciate this question. It is, in fact, one of the more abrasive questions I am comfortable asking total strangers.

But people tend to only approach me, seeking advice, after learning that I once owned a lingerie boutique for a number of years. They want to know the trick, the secret sauce, how I opened a well-known business with no money and no experience when I was in my late 20s and how I did it for four years. They want affirmation that their idea is a good one, the one that will land them on 30 Under 30 lists, that will definitely make them money. They aren’t too interested in why my own business closed — they just see that I am relatively young, queer, and that I did it, and so, obviously, they can, too.

Still, if there’s one thing owning a small business taught me, it’s that just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

I started a business for the reason so many people do: I had an idea that I thought could make a difference. I wanted my work to have meaning — and, on the cusp of having to write my dissertation prospectus, I was no longer finding that meaning in my English PhD program. Committing an unknown number of years to the pursuit of a degree almost guaranteed to not result in a tenure-track position seemed untenable. I started to look elsewhere.

Bluestockings, my e-commerce lingerie boutique geared to the LGBTQ+ community, was an outlier. The store, solely focused on stocking ethically made goods from indie designers, including kink-friendly and gender-affirming underthings, was one of those late-night, drunk-on-the-porch ideas that, by all accounts, should have been forgotten the next morning, lost to the heady summer nights of Boston. That I ran with an idea I was not qualified for and had no resources for speaks to my desperation to get out of grad school by any means necessary, but it also speaks to the extent to which I, still very entrenched in academia, had bought into the idea that I should do what I loved.

In Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, Anne Helen Petersen articulates how the longstanding desire for “a well-paying job” has morphed into the cultural prestige of “a cool job,” which she calls a distinctly modern and bourgeois phenomenon. The cool job is “a means of elevating a certain type of labor to the point of desirability that workers will tolerate all forms of exploitation for the ‘honor’ of performing it.” The cool job is one that can be defined by that famous, and at this point excoriated, axiom: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

When you “love” what you “do,” there is a slippage between the work and the self. When do you turn off? When do you stop working, if your work is your hobby, what you always want to be doing? Academia is the kind of industry that Petersen, herself an ex-academic, cites as thriving on this slippage. But so, too, is entrepreneurship — MLMs, for one, but also retail businesses, such as Bluestockings, that require an extraordinary amount of time, money, and effort, all with the reward of LinkedIn titles like “small business owner,” one of those great American archetypes that politicians of all stripes so love to cite on the campaign trail.

Personally, I had no money, and with my working-class background, I came from a family with no money. I was deeply in debt, already divorced, and financially illiterate, having made no attempts to learn how to manage my finances in my mid-20s. Like my other millennial grad student friends, all from various class backgrounds, I had the attitude of, “I’m already in so deep — what’s more debt?” But I was also part of that peripatetic but highly educated “creative class,” and I wanted to do work that aligned with my values, whatever that meant. While I would have been better off looking for temp work or even simply taking on more hours as a nanny, which had supplemented my income throughout graduate school, I instead took on more than $20,000 in debt through credit cards and loans to start a retail business, not fully understanding what I was committing to.

I spent a lot of money to start Bluestockings, ostensibly to do something I loved, to make a difference. In this, I’m not alone: How many millennials have driven ourselves deeper into debt in the pursuit of work that was our “passion”? How many folks have gone back to graduate school or taken out loans to move to a big city for job opportunities? Gone into credit card debt trying to keep up with the lifestyle the industry they worked in required of them? In some ways, my story is unique; in others, it is profoundly similar to many of my peers.

These days, my relationship to Bluestockings yo-yos between ambivalence and shock at my naivete and hardheadedness. I ran the store on the leanest budget possible for four years, never once taking a paycheck. I ultimately closed the store in 2018, unwilling to drive myself deeper into debt and also wanting to focus more on my writing.

But then, it would be dishonest to discuss the hardships without also naming the blessings: I met some of the best, most enduring friends of my life through the lingerie industry. Bluestockings is what got me onto Twitter, a platform that would become integral to meeting still more queers, writers, and creatives over the years. I learned more about running a business (mostly through mistakes) than I ever thought possible, lessons that would translate to every kind of work I would do in the future. It was ultimately Bluestockings — not academia — that opened up the doors for me to work at tech startups in New York, leading to marketing work that would pay my bills for years.

And then there is, of course, the people who Bluestockings did reach, the folks I’ve met in gay bars and at queer camp who told me they bought their first binder from my store, that the photo shoots and blog posts helped them learn to appreciate their bodies and aesthetics in a world saturated by the Victoria’s Secret cis-hetero norms. There is that.

As with so many things in life, it’s a mixed bag. I don’t know that I would recommend going into a significant amount of debt for the sake of doing what you love if you don’t also have a plan to get yourself out. It is debt that, thanks to a very recent, very generous book deal, I am going to be able to pay off very soon. The business debt and the accompanying credit card debt that paid for my living expenses during that time will be wiped out, a clean slate, clearing up a significant chunk of my monthly budget that I won’t have to spend on credit card interest masked as a “minimum.” Luck is what that is, sheer fucking luck, and I am dearly aware of it.

It’s hard to put a price tag on one of the most formative experiences of my life. Couching it in binary terms of “good” or “bad,” “best” or “worst” feels simplistic and disingenuous, both. The store, and my experience of small business ownership, is like an old relationship that started with the highest of hopes and ended with a mortgage for a house I don’t live in anymore but am still paying off. There are good memories, to be sure, but would I do it again?

What an impossible question.

Jeanna Kadlec is the author of the forthcoming memoir Heretic.


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Kazakhstan embraces Borat catchphrase to woo tourists

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‘Very Nice!’ used by the tourism board in a light-hearted manner, but the foreign ministry says Borat sequel is racist.

Ridiculed once again in a film featuring fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev, the ex-Soviet state of Kazakhstan has embraced the joke this time around and adopted Borat’s catchphrase to try to attract tourists.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, a follow-up to a 2006 film featuring the same sexist and racist character, was released on Amazon Prime last week.

Like the first film, the movie has Borat on the rampage in the United States where he tries to trick US politicians and others into letting their guard down and compromising themselves.

Borat’s first outing caused anger in Kazakhstan where authorities discouraged its screening and threatened legal action over what they saw as an insult to their national character.

This time around, they have taken a different approach and adopted Borat’s catchphrase “Very Nice!” to try to promote tourism in the vast Central Asian country.

[embedded content]

In a slick video released by the tourism board featuring spectacular mountains and lakes, exotic food market, and futuristic-looking cityscapes, a series of foreign tourists use the catchphrase to signal their appreciation for what they are seeing.

The idea to use Borat’s catchphrase belongs to Dennis Keen, a US citizen living in Kazakhstan, who is married to a Kazakh woman and has a business running walking tours.

“It was something I’d been thinking about for years as everyone who comes here is aware of the Borat thing being attached to the country’s brand,” Keen told Reuters news agency.

Borat’s “Very Nice!” catchphrase could be put to good use instead, he said.

“It’s actually the perfect description of the country in the most sincere way. The people and the food are very nice.”

COVID-19 means tourism in Kazakhstan has been hard hit by travel restrictions and border closures like many other countries.

But Kairat Sadvakassov, deputy chairman of Kazakh Tourism, said he hoped the campaign would help people see that Borat’s jokes about the country were off target when the situation improved.

“We would like everyone to come experience Kazakhstan for themselves by visiting our country in 2021 and beyond, so that they can see that Borat’s homeland is nicer than they may have heard,” Sadvakassov said in a news release.

Still, Kazakh authorities remain unimpressed with the film.

In a statement issued by the foreign ministry on Saturday, officials said the new movie was racist and xenophobic, but that an official protest was pointless because it would only generate more publicity and profits for the film’s makers.

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