Tag Archives: beauty culture

Even Skinny Girls Deserve Compassion

As you may or may not know, I began yoga teacher training a few weeks ago. This is part of an ongoing “plan” (I wish it were as organized as a plan) to diversify my income, learn more about yoga, give back to the yoga community I love so dearly, and get way more OkCupid responses (because seriously, dudes go nuts for yoga teachers… they think we’re super bendy.)

It was only on the first day of training that I realized, OMG, I’m going to be teaching beginners…. Somewhere along the line I had let this small fact slip away. I had envisioned myself designing killer sequences and deep, thought-provoking themes. I didn’t so much visualize the part where I’d be teaching people for whom “square hips” doesn’t mean anything, for whom “mountain pose” and “chair pose” are new concepts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super pumped for the challenge, it’s just a different challenge than the one I’d been planning for in my head.

Part of training is observing other teachers as they teach the beginner sequence. In one such observation, I became supremely focused on one Barbie-like girl in the back who, in full make-up, was seriously struggling. Instead of feeling compassion or observing the teacher’s directions aimed at helping her, I felt a little thrill. It’s embarrassing, but sometimes when I see thin people struggle with exercise, I gloat.

As a non-thin person, I routinely face assumptions about my exercise habits that are patently false, and I’m regularly reminded about how little we can tell about someone’s fitness and wellness just by looking. So, this week for Role/Reboot, I wrote about my own struggle to be a little less judgmental, a little compassionate, and give the same benefit of the doubt to the skinnies as I expect given to to me.

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Related Post: Obesity is a problem, so is body-shaming.

Related Post: On wrinkles and love your body day!

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Filed under Body Image, Republished!, Sports

The Short Haired Lady

I told my friend the other day that I was obsessed with Robin Wright’s hair on House of Cards and she replied, “Yes, because you’re obsessed with your hair.” Right. Nothing like a little self-adoration disguised as celebrity worship! The truth is, I wrote a whole essay on it this week for Role/Reboot

I was inspired by the mostly-excellent Laurie Penney New Statesman explanation about why men’s rights activists* are so revolted by women with short hair, but I also wanted to talk about how transformative my short hair has been for me and my presentation of self. That’s not to say that short hair functions like that for all women, nor should it, only that it was a big step in reconciling the way I look on the outside with the way I feel on the inside. For me. 

And this isn’t a tirade against beauty products or beauty culture, only against the expectations and assumptions of beauty products and beauty culture. On the flip side of the equation, I have found a deep and unshakeable love for getting my nails professionally manicured. After 25 years of literally never painting my stubby excuses, I have found that the ritual of a weekly manicure is something I enjoy on an aesthetic and emotional level. I would deeply resent anyone telling me that polished finger nails are a requirement of female professionalism, but as a form of self-care and an hour of quiet alone-time, I find it incredibly rewarding.

Anyway, after those digressions, enjoy a few more thoughts on hair:

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*If you’re not familiar with the term, “men’s rights activists” are not as benign as they sound. While there are certainly worthy rights of men for which to advocate (say, the presumption of equal parental custody), MRAs, as they are known online, are trolls who believe feminism has deprived them of their right to fuck any women they like. Read more about them here, but I will not be linking to any of their content.

Related Post: I get pitches from beauty product companies

Related Post: On wrinkles and Love Your Body Day

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Filed under Body Image, Hollywood, Really Good Writing by Other People, Republished!

Hot Dudes + Big Girls

Inspired partially by an encounter with a cologne-model looking dude at a train station and the most recent episode of Shameless (in which Lip hooks up with a very sexy woman much larger than him), I wrote this week for Role/Reboot about what happens when “guys like that” like “girls like me.”

I’ve written about this before (as did everybody else) after the infamous Girls episode with Patrick Wilson.

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Related Post: Lena Dunham + Patrick Wilson

Related Post: Female figures are, by definition, “feminine.”

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Filed under Body Image, Gender, Hollywood, Republished!

Bodies, Moms, Bodies of Moms, Moms on Bodies

This week for Role/Reboot I wrote about this:

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I keep hearing the same chorus from moms writing about body image and aging, and it goes something like this: Man, I have been micromanaging my body for thirty years and I haven’t been able to stop. I really hope my daughters figure out a different way. 

What kills me about it is that, obviously, we the daughters look to you the mothers as our first source of inspiration on how one should be with one’s body. Even if we eventually outgrow our reliance on that one source, it is the first, the most primal, the most difficult to shake.

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Related Post: The problem with “strong is the new skinny”

Related Post: How Title IX changed my life. 

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Filed under Body Image, Family, Gender, Republished!

On Wrinkles and Love Your Body Day

Today is National Love Your Body Day, which is fitting because I was going to write about wrinkles anyway! Hoorah for convergence! Use the hashtag #lybd on Twitter to participate in the conversation.

Last week, Sociological Images pulled an awesome example of “wrinkle washing” of female celebrities:

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Smooth vs. wrinkly, right? I think it’s particularly stark when you annotate like this:

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SocImages pairs this image with an excellent Susan Sontag quote:

The great advantage men have is that our culture allows two standards of male beauty: the boy and the man. The beauty of a boy resembles the beauty of a girl. In both sexes it is a fragile kind of beauty and flourishes naturally only in the early part of the life-cycle. Happily, men are able to accept themselves under another standard of good looks — heavier, rougher, more thickly built…

There is no equivalent of this second standard for women. The single standard of beauty for women dictates that they must go on having clear skin. Every wrinkle, every line, every gray hair, is a defeat.

A few other examples:

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That is not to say you shouldn’t attempt to take care of your skin. For the love of God please wear sun block. Moisturize. Drink a lot of water. But, you know, but don’t let a laugh line or crow’s foot be a defeat. The men certainly don’t. On the other hand, it’s not just a question of internally changing perceptions of self, is it? Here’s something by Gloria Steinem re miley Cyrus that seems relevant:

“I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed … But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states … the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, “This is why China wins.” You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.”

This stuff is damaging for so many reasons. The pursuit of youth (and beauty, if you’re already young) is distracting us, literally, from all the other things we could be doing with our minds and hearts. It’s part of the reason that we’re behind, because “they” (and by “they,” I mean the “industry,” the advertisers, the media, our friends and family too, sometimes) have convinced us that how we look is related to what we can do. And to Ms. Steinem’s point, playing along isn’t weakness or vanity; in its own way, it’s smart. The appearance game is the only game in town so what the fuck else are we supposed to do?

So… yeah… sorry for the bummer, but it’s a bummer kind of day. Go do something nice for yourself. Buy a book. Take a walk. Eat something delicious. Call someone you love. Write a nice note. Make plans to look forward to. Listen to good music. Look at yourself in the mirror and be like, Yeah, it’s pretty cool that I get to have this body, because this body enables me to do all this other stuff that makes being human pretty fucking cool.

Related Post: Love Your Body Day in years past

Related Post: Why I will not be joining your gym

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Filed under Body Image, Hollywood, Media

I Get Pitches

When you blog, you eventually start to get emails from PR companies and folks that are just dying to offer you “fresh content” that “Google loves” and that will “titillate your readers”. Too bad it is all so ridiculous, because otherwise I’m sure my readers would love to be titillated…

Do you need to figure out how to get the opposite sex to notice you?

Do you need to figure out how to get the opposite sex to notice you?

Do you need an app that makes a miniature keychain book of your photographs?

Do you need an app that makes a miniature keychain book of your photographs?

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Do you need any assistance with hair below the neck?

Do you need anything from someone with the gmail handle celebritytweens@gmail.com?

Do you need anything from someone with the gmail handle celebritytweens@gmail.com?

Bah. It’s hard to convey to advertisers and PR folks that writing about beauty culture or the cult of celebrity does not mean you will write about their tween gossip or manscaping must-haves.

Related Post: Mixed messaging on the interwebz.

Related Post: Curve Appeal vs. American Apparel’s idiotic contest

 

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Filed under Advertising, Body Image, Food, Hollywood

So What Do You Do Exactly? Hair Model Edition

grace hair 1When I was a kid my favorite part of getting my hair cut was paging through those big coffee table books of crazy hairstyles. Remember when those tiny rubberbanded twists were all the rage? I always wondered, who are these people that waltz around rocking these edgy bowl cuts or mint-green stripes? Welp, turns out, I know one of them! This is Grace, and for the latest edition of my jobs series, So What Do You Do Exactly?, she will tell us a little about being a hair model.

What’s your actual job title? This isn’t so much a real job as an adult “extracurricular activity” [ed. note: Grace has a "real" job too], but when get hired for things I am either a “demo model” or a “presentation model”.  I mostly fall in to the category of “creative cut and color”, which tends to mean asymmetrical or severe looking cuts and colors not commonly or naturally found in human hair.

What would your title be if it described what you actually do? I work on event-based contract for a major salon brand as a hair “demo model.” That means I get my hair cut and colored by creative directors of different salons (basically, the top stylists and colorists, who set the tone for the styles that are “in”).

I think the most accurate descriptor would probably be “living doll”– my head and hair tend to be an experiment ground for whichever instructor is playing around with it that day. They know I’m quite open so I’ve wound up with pretty much every hair cut or color you can imagine. For public events that aren’t just in the salon, there is a makeup artist and wardrobe situation going on too.

grace hair 6How on earth did you get into this line of work? Very simply: I got my hair cut one day, and one thing led to another! A friend in college turned me on to this website where you could sign up to get a free haircut from an “apprentice” at a salon who was auditioning to be a full stylist, and one day I went to quite a fancy salon for my free haircut and the head stylist asked me if I’d modeled before, and asked me back to model for an in-salon training they were going to be having.
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From there, I wound up doing a photo shoot with the same salon (You know those big pictures of people’s heads and faces up in a lot of salons? I’m one of them!) and some work as a color model for another salon. This was back in 2010 and I’ve been working for them regularly ever since. As I understand it, I am desirable as a hair model because I amiable and willing to pull off very creative work– I have very thick, dark hair that grows in stick-straight, takes color well, and I like to keep my hair short. I can pretty easily wear the kinds of haircuts people want to see as an example of creative work but don’t want to wear themselves– super angular or asymmetrical looks and “circus colors” for the most part.
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grace hair 4How many different haircuts have you had? Best? Worst?
I honestly can’t say how many different cuts I’ve had– in fact I’m pretty much sure I’ve only had the same haircut twice since I’ve started (this December and January actually, when a stylist I was modeling for was getting really in to classic cuts “invented” by Vidal Sassoon, and I had the right hair type to show one, the five-point cut.)
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I think my favorite was a few days before I graduated from college– I did a show where the stylist asked me what my school color was (maroon!) and what color the gown was (black!) and gave me these amazing angular bangs that were dyed maroon and intentionally super awesome peeking out from under a graduation hat.
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The good thing is there’s really no such thing as a bad haircut because the haircut I get on stage will often be completely different than the one I go home with– they let me know when they’re illustrating techniques that aren’t “wearable” (say, chin-length wispy sideburns or bangs that cover the eyes) and are totally not offended if I ask them to change the cut or adjust the color afterwards.
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grace hair 3Do you get to go to hair shows like the ones Chris Rock featured in Good Hair?  I’ve actually never seen Good Hair! But, I do a show every year called America’s Beauty Show at the Chicago convention center that is huge and really over the top, where lots of different salons and brands from all over the US show their work. The group I work for tends to be one of the classier ones there– cut and color with makeup and wardrobe, but no wigs, extensions, etc– but you will see girls (and guys) working for other groups with big hair, huge added-in hairpieces, body paint, etc. Shows are actually the best, though, because you get paid the most for doing them– depending on the number of days you work it can be in the high hundreds of dollars.
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Sidenote on the money thing since I know I would wonder if I were the one reading this: There is money in doing this, but it’s not a living wage. Sometimes you’re just getting the free haircut (which if you had to pay for it, would be a $200-300 experience, so that’s nice by itself), but for more public events you do get paid a base rate per day or per event; I used my modeling money to pay for my books while I was in school, so it was useful income but not life-sustaining.
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grace hair 5What would we be surprised to know about the hair modeling industry? Most people who do hair modeling are not who you’d be looking at on the street thinking, “Wow, that girl must be a model.” Hair modeling tends to be a lot more forgiving in terms of height and body shape/size; I’m only about 5’6″ and I eat food regularly and with much gusto.
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You do need to be able to walk in heels comfortably, but the “model walk” that’s actually desirable is not so much a strut and hip-swag as an “I am comfortable walking in heels and can go in a straight line”. While I’ve seen a lot of the traditional super tall skinny model-type at hair shows working for other companies, the group I work for especially tends to just pull people that have the look they’re going for when they come in for hair cuts (like I did) or by standing outside of art schools.
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Tween Lit Edition
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? T-Shirt Edition

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Dove: Pioneer or Panderer?

dove_wideweb__430x327I must admit, the first seven times someone emailed Dove’s ubiquitous new ad campaign, I got a little weepy and emotional. It hit all the right cords, all the soft, vulnerable spots that most women (and many men!) hold deep about their appearance. My nose is too big. My eyes are too far apart. My chin is too pointy. My forehead is too high. My X is too Y.  It takes all those “toos” and flips them, revealing with a clever gimmick how much we underestimate our own beauty. Here, just watch, it’s easier than explaining it:

It’s good advertising. It’s memorable, it’s shareable, it makes you feel warm and fuzzy. I literally feel prettier simply by watching it. Maybe I should go buy some Dove products….

Hold up.

It’s a testament to how compelling this video is that I didn’t bother to put on my critical hat and unpack this bad boy a little. I was so distracted by the swelling music and the teary eyed attractive-but-not-too-attractive people that I forgot that the broader implications of this video are hella problematic.

The blogs Jazzy Little Drops and Eat the Damn Cake do a great job of breaking it down, but here are a few of the key issues:

1. Beauty is still #1 – As the participants in the video experiment articulate, how they feel about themselves as friends, employees, partners, as human beings is affected by how they feel about their looks. This might be true, in the technical sense that many people do feel this way, but it’s not okay. We attribute all sorts of “good” qualities to those that possess certain desirable traits, and all sorts of “bad” qualities to those that don’t. This campaign does nothing to undermine this correlation, but rather reinforces it. As one participant says, natural beauty “could not be more critical to your happiness.” Is that really the message we want to send when we’re pushing “Real Beauty?”

2. Only certain things are beautiful: Namely, anything thin. The positive descriptions of body parts are pretty narrow, “thin nose” and “thin chin” = good. Round face = bad. Freckles = bad. Forget the racial connotations (are thin noses the only good noses?), what we see reflected in the commentary is not that beauty standards should be widened, but that more people meet the arbitrary requirements than we think. Congratulations, you’ve made the cut! Should there be a cut? Well, no… but there is, and you made it (phew! you’re not one of the ugly ones), so bravo for you!

3. Speaking of race….: As Jazzy pointed out, people of color appear on screen a total of 10 seconds. Yeahhhhh, like that’s not reductionist. Do you remember the story about the black newscaster with close-cropped hair who got fired after responding to a viewer who told her to “wear a wig or grow more hair?” The idea that one certain thing–long, straight hair, for example–is objectively beautiful is preposterous. All you have to do is watch Jessica Simpson’s VH1 show The Price of Beauty to remember that what you think is beautiful isn’t necessarily the standard everywhere. Jeez, how arrogant can we get?

So where does that leave us? Where does that leave Dove? I’ve been skeptical of those folks for a while, ever since someone clued me in that their parent company, Unilever, is also the parent company of Axe (maker of body spray and terrible commercials).

The goal of this ad is not to change beauty standards. It is not to diminish the importance we place on beauty as a measure of woman’s worth. It is not to remind the universe that the way you look does not determine the kind of person you are or the value you add to the world. The goal of this ad is to make you buy more Dove products. Period.

Related Post: Why is it okay to put 16-year-olds in lingerie ads? It’s not.

Related Post: Models without make-up.

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Filed under Advertising, Body Image, Media, Really Good Writing by Other People

A Lazy Post About International Women’s Day

I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do on International Women’s Day that I don’t do everyday. Think about how awesome it is to be a lady? Check. Think about how the rest of the world still treats ladies like shit? Check. Think about how here in the U.S. we still treat ladies like shit? Check. Think about the kind of world I want my hypothetical children to grow up in and how much work we have to do to get from here to there? Check. Sigh.

I don’t really feel like celebrating or writing; the very existence of International Women’s Day kind of makes me sad. Really? We’re still stuck at this point? We still need this? It just seems to make it so obvious that the other 364 days are International Men’s Days. I suppose it’s worth calling attention to that inequality, of course, it just makes me feel tired.

So, in honor of this holiday that I wish weren’t a holiday, here is a collection of things that I like, find powerful, find moving, find tragic. Creating art about “the female experience” (more accurately, about the range of female experiences) is one of the many tools we have at our disposal to tell our stories and remind everyone just what a long way we have to go.

  • An illustrated account of the attempted murder and miraculous recovery of 15-year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai (by artist Gavin Aung Than).

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<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/51920265″>”You Don’t Own Me” PSA</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user14231652″>You Don't Own Me</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Feminist

Is there any art or writing that you want to share this International Women’s Day? Anything that rings familiar, makes you proud, feels enlightening? Post in the comments!

Related Post: Happy Equal Pay Day

Related Post: 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

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Filed under Art, Body Image, Gender

Model Behavior and a Train of Thought

MODEL-MORPHOSIS - T Magazine Blog - NYTimes.com

Model Hannah Gaby Odiele for Marc Jacobs

Confession: There are few things I find more engrossing than model “before and afters.” There’s a whole genre of this stuff, with variations like “Celebrities without makeup!” and “They have cellulite too!” and “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” and I can’t pull my eyes away.

The example above is from the New York Times Magazine in a series called Model-Morphosis (It’s interactive! Yippee!) but here are a few other examples from the blog I Waste So Much Time

Supermodels without makeup.-2

Supermodels without makeup.-1

Supermodels without makeup.I think the word “engrossed” is the right one. It’s not “fun” per se, to sit and parse the appearances of beautiful people looking less beautiful, but I do find it some twisted combination of mesmerizing, fascinating, horrifying, reassuring, and enlightening. I see pictures like this and in quick succession I think:

a) Wow, she is not attractive

b) That was mean. Stop judging.

c) But like, really, that is all make-up and hair and lighting and photoshop…

d) Maybe I could look like that with make-up and hair and lighting and photoshop?

e) Hold up. Why do I want to look like that?

f) This is fucked. Why is our standard of beauty so far outside the spectrum of what actual humans look like?

g) I want no part of this.

h) Except… look how much bigger her eyes looked like when they added mascara…

i) Maybe I should invest in some good mascara

j) But why are big eyes a good thing? What’s wrong with the size of my eyes?

k) THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE SIZE OF YOUR EYES. YOU ARE PERFECT

l) Except not as perfect as they are… with make-up and big hair and lighting and photoshop…

m) But if people don’t know about the make-up and hair and lighting and photoshop…

n) Then they just think that these women are abnormally beautiful,

o) Which they are not, because they are just normal looking humans.

p) What does it mean if we think these women are normal?

q) It means we start doing things like shaving our jaw bones

r) and getting eyelash extensions

s) and injecting collagen into our lips.

t) That shit is scary.

u) So…maybe it’s okay if everyone knows that this not what they really look like?

v) So… maybe these “before and afters” are actually kind of an educational tool?

w) We should teach media literacy in schools. There should be warning labels on magazine covers.

x) I hope I don’t have daughters

y) That’s a really sad thing to say.

z) I hate everyone and we are doomed.

Related Post: Average-sized fitness models. Who knew?

Related Post: How old is she really? Underage models.

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Filed under Advertising, Body Image, Gender, Media