Thoughts on a Word: Exotic

With the burgeoning power of women in the 1960s, someone had to find a way to neither deny the existence of women of color nor be permissive in their bid for power: enter the word "exotic."
  Exotic is there, not here; them, not us; you, never me. Exotic is warm—hell, exotic is spicy. Exotic is Carmen Miranda, Lola Falana, Lieutenant Uhura. Exotic is Cleopatra, or is it Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra? Exotic is dark and mysterious, but the threat is contained. Exotic is Roxi DLite, Mimi LeMeaux, Jett Adore, and of course Miss Indigo Blue. Exotic is not diffeomorphic to the Euclidean space. Exotic is Early American, Sioux Native, and Ancient Sanskrit. Exotic is Salome and veils one through six. Exotic is one letter away from erotic. Exotic is Josephine Baker. Exotic is a rare fruit, but decidedly never a strange one. Exotic, in its most basic form, means to belong from somewhere else, stemming from the Greek exotikos (“from the outside”). Only 30 or so years after its English coinage in the 1590s, it… Read More...

Beauty Blogosphere 4.6.12

The bad science about ovulating strippers, Hitler as shampoo spokesman, Passover manicure, and defining women's bodies by their relationship to change.
What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between. From Head... POTUS style: President Obama on styling Malia's hair. Awwww! (via Yoruba Girl) ...To Toe... For the record, Team No Socks all the way: You Look Fab asks a surprisingly divisive question: socks or no socks? ...And Everything In Between: What women want: Interesting interview with Revlon marketing executive. "Scientifically, we know that women want colour that stays, things that are easy to use, products that feel light on their skin, don’t crease. But there are some instances where a woman can’t articulate what she wants." Voila, lip butter. Makeup opportunists: Coty attempts to buy Avon while the latter company is foundering; Avon says Coty's undervaluing the company; Coty may keep asking for Avon's hand in marriage anyway via a hostile bid. Ah, young… Read More...

Jennifer’s Body, Redux: The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Actresses

Hollywood doesn't mind having its denizens manipulate their body size to fit a role. So when a film calls for an underfed-looking performer and doesn't order a liquid diet, it sends a message.
  I mentioned this in my roundup last week but it’s pertinent to readers here: I penned a piece at Salon about the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in The Hunger Games. You can read the whole piece here, but the argument in brief is this: Katniss is a prime role for a young actress, one that we knew would assure whomever was cast in the part instant fame—and Katniss’s thinness is not just a part of the character description in the books, but a part of the plot itself. So when virtually every other role written for 21-year-old women is filled by a rail-thin actress, why would Hollywood choose one of its few performers who doesn’t look underfed to play the part? I don’t think it’s just blind casting; I think it’s a message about the dearth of… Read More...

The Two-Cocktail Makeover

Research has proven what college freshmen have known since the days of the "co-ed": Booze makes you think you're hot stuff. But while revealing that at the core many of us think we're ravishing, the study essentially neglects women.
The best makeover tool since the three-way mirror. Science says! Over the years, I’ve had several of what my friend Jessica calls the Two-Cocktail Makeover, perhaps enough to put a good portion of the Mary Kay sales force out of work for a while. But one time in particular stands out: Jessica and I were out at a show, and during intermission I found myself on the bathroom line in front of an extraordinarily drunk bachelorette party. With beer-glazed eyes and slurred speech, the bride-to-be turned to me and said, “You’re pretty!” I smiled and thanked her, and she said it again: “No, really, you’re pretty! And I’m pretty too! I am so, so pretty! My friends are pretty, and you’re pretty, and I’m pretty. Am I pretty? I think I’m pretty.” This might have been irritating were it not… Read More...

Beauty Blogosphere 3.30.12

The lost art of not looking good, beauty products for babies, Estee Lauder's turban, and the compelling argument for chick-watching as subversive cultural rebellion. (Early April Fool's!)
What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between. (The actual story link below is cool, but if I were styling my hair on acid it would probably look more like this.) From Head... This is your hair on drugs: What your hair would look like if you styled it on LSD? ...To Toe... Printer error: Shoes from a 3-D printer. ...And Everything In Between: Eau de bigotry: Perfumer and cosmetics heir Jean-Paul Guerlain was fined around $8,000 for making racist remarks on national television. General assembly: With 90% of Connecticut salons owned by Koreans or Korean-Americans, the state's recent 6.35% tax on manicures, pedicures, waxing, and facials wound up effectively being a tax on the Korean community—and demonstrators gathered at the capitol to protest. (You can support them if you wish by signing the… Read More...

Power, Public Life, and The Hunger Games

The more material illuminating that feminist exists not because men want to keep women down but because the status quo has an investment in keeping people divided and with diffuse power in order to keep power concentrated, the better.
Panem map by Aim My Arrows High and Bad Guys. As a feminist blogger who writes about the significance of the ways we present ourselves, I’m required by law to write about The Hunger Games. This, reader, is that post. To give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I devoured the trilogy in a week, and endured the three days of slow torture between the film’s release and my having a chance to see it. I’m usually the curmudgeonly snob who comes in and says that anything so wildly popular can’t possibly merit the hype. I read, then filleted, a handful of pages from Twilight; I saw part of one of the Harry Potter movies and felt a wave of gratitude for my IUD ensuring I'll never be forced to watch such things against my will. But The… Read More...

The Enduring Popularity of the Suntan

Self-tanners—also known as one of the few products we buy to make ourselves look less healthy than we are—hit the sweet spot between conspicuous and inconspicuous consumption.
Around this time each year—usually a hair later, but, hey, climate change!—I enter the same debate with myself: to self-tan or not to self-tan? After years of studiously avoiding the sun, fervently evoking old-timey movie stars with porcelain complexions as my reason for doing so, I spent time in the tropics a few years ago and returned with a deep allover tan that made people around me say, “Wow, you’re tan.” I freakin’ loved it and promptly spent a small fortune on Jergens Natural Glow. It lasted through the summer, but then the following summer I was faced with a conundrum: I’d adored having a natural tan and didn’t mind keeping it up artificially, but healthwise I couldn’t afford to do it again—I tick nearly every box on the list of skin cancer risk factors. (I’d initially done my best… Read More...

Beauty Blogosphere 3.23.12

Vibrating text-alert tattoos for all the "early adopters," Putin opposition leaders boycotting Proctor & Gamble, and the long tail of H-cup bras.
What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between. From Head... Un/covered: Spellbinding discussion among three Muslim women who have varying interpretations of what the Koran's dictate of modesty means, from a woman who wears the niqab (face veil) to the hijab (head scarf) to no head covering at all. (via Sally) "These vagabond shoes..."   ...To Toe... Exposed: It's sandal weather! I'm probably the least germophobic person on the planet (somebody's got to save all you germ freaks from the superbugs—you're welcome). But after day 1 of sandal weather and coming home with my feet looking like this, I'm about to admit defeat. I was wearing a maxidress, which apparently makes your feet hideously dirty by tracking in every bit of grit on New York sidewalks. Anyone else dealt with this? Thoughts, advice,… Read More...

I Dream of Deenie

What does the "image" part of "body image" really mean?
I was recently diagnosed with a medical condition. I’ve got a mild case of it, but it brings a few troublesome complications regardless, nothing serious. And as one might well do, the first thing I did when I got home upon receiving my diagnosis was Google it to learn more. The list of symptoms included what took me to treatment in the first place, a good number of troubles I don’t have, and a surprising entry: poor body image. The diagnosis? Scoliosis.   Now, if I’m being officially diagnosed for the first time at age 35, obviously my scoliosis isn’t terribly problematic. I was monitored for it as a child (do they still do those annual scoliois screenings at school? It somehow seems like a remnant of the ’70s, like the Dorothy Hamill haircut) but it was so mild that… Read More...

The Transcendence of the Makeover

Makeovers are a key plot point in many a young adult book. So why don't more of them focus on the end goal of the makeover—transcendence?
Makeovers are such a staple of movies targeted toward teen girls that it’s almost beside the point for me to call out specific examples. (Oh, fine, since you asked for my favorite movie makeover: Fran in Strictly Ballroom. Remember, though, I was a theater geek in high school so I sort of don’t have a choice here.) They’ve gotten sort of a bad rap over time—yeah, they send the message that we’re not really lovable until we fit a certain standard, and they set up the idea that the record-scratch moment has to happen or we’re doing it wrong. And it’s obvious but let’s say it anyway: How many actresses who aren’t conventionally good-looking to begin with are cast in these roles? But Hollywood keeps on making makeover movies, and girls keep on loving them—and frankly, I keep on loving… Read More...

Beauty Blogosphere 3.16.12

Links roundup: Rod Blagojevich's prison 'do, eye-gazing parties, chess dress codes, and why green M&Ms make you horny.
What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.   From Head... The Blago: What will disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich do about his hair in prison? "According the Federal Bureau of Prisons commissary list, Blago's choice of hair products will be limited to a choice of shampoo—Pert, Suave, V05 or Head & Shoulders." Also, blow-dryers are banned in the joint because they can be jimmied to do tattoos. Brazilian payout: Brazilian blowout manufacturer GIB agrees upon a $4.5 million settlement after the public outcry over the discovery of carcinogenic formaldehyde in its formula. (Hats off to No More Dirty Looks for being the first to break this to a lot of people, yours truly included.) Stylists will receive $75 for each bottle of product purchased; clients who assert they've been harmed by… Read More...

Kjerstin Gruys, Ph.D. sociology student, Bay Area

"Giving up the mirror is giving up the idea that your own image of yourself is the only image that’s real or even meaningful."
When I initially met Kjerstin Gruys online, my first thought was: There’s another one! Several weeks before I did my own month without mirrors, Kjerstin had launched a project going a full year without them—the same year in which she was getting married, incidentally. (No, she didn’t peek on her wedding day.) A Ph.D. candidate in sociology, Kjerstin has focused much of her academic work on body image and eating disorders. But her years in the fashion industry as a merchandiser for Abercrombie & Fitch, and then GAP Corporate, were hardly an aside: Her dissertation on the shifting standards of clothing sizes merges her passions of body image, cultural body imperatives, and fashion. The best way to get to know Kjerstin’s work is following her blog, Mirror Mirror Off the Wall—and reading her upcoming book chronicling her yearlong adventure, slated… Read More...

“Expectations,” a Short Play in One Act

All the world's a stage!
The Characters TRUCK DRIVER, a man of indeterminate middle age, handling a large vehicle JUSTIN, a 3-year-old on a scooter with flowing red curly hair JUSTIN'S MOM, chromosomally linked to Justin AUTUMN, an exasperated yet easily charmed 35-year-old blogger (nonspeaking role) Time and Place New York City, a busy street. The present. A beautiful March afternoon.   Lights up. Truck Driver is waiting curbside for a delivery. Autumn is walking down the street with a swing in her step because it's gorgeous outside. Justin and Justin's Mom trail Autumn by a few steps. Truck Driver: Leaning out window of truck. Hey. Autumn visibly stiffens, ancestral oppression of woman-as-object spreading across her face. Truck Driver: Hey, kid. Autumn quickens her pace, ignoring the truck driver, silently cursing spring as the time when street harassers come out of the woodwork. Writes mental notes for upcoming… Read More...

A Humble Plea

I'm looking for a few good women. (Aren't we all, dahlinghk?)
I don’t share much about my romantic life here. This isn't necessarily by design; my gentleman friend doesn’t mind when I write about him, as he trusts I wouldn’t write anything about him that would make him uncomfortable or violate his—our—privacy. It’s more that the issued that would be relevant to write about here as far as our relationship—say, the keen desire to be desired, sometimes specifically for how I look, and how that plays out between two people who give a good deal of thought to authenticity and representation in relationships of all sorts—are things I’m still wrestling with. I frequently figure things out through writing about them, but that can be dangerous in a number of ways when the “thing” in question is another person, one you care about immensely. The end result—at this point, anyway—is that while… Read More...

Beauty Blogosphere 3.9.12

Miss Iran 1978, criminalizing street harassment, Care Bears in Spanx, and the best British commute for mascara application. (Sheffield, duh.)
What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between. From Head... Blush on the line: Sixty-seven percent of British women apply all their makeup during their commute. This seems really high to me--British readers, does this ring true? I see this plenty in New York, but it's not like two out of three women on the subway are putting on makeup. (I live at the first/last stop on my subway line, so I'm in a good position to see people beginning their commute routines.) Random bonus: The article lists top 10 cities for en route cosmetics application. Number eight is Sheffield. Why? I don't know! ...To Toe... "I've heard of a fish pedicure, but this is ridiculous!": Mermaid pedicure art. J'adore. ...And Everything In Between: From Girl Model, directed by David Redmon & Ashley Sabin Model… Read More...

The Grandiose Vacuity of “Rock the Lips”

The emptiness of the red lipstick campaign to mark International Women's Day is so monumental that it teeters on genius. Put a pout on it!
Among the handful of press releases and notifications I received about International Women’s Day—which is today, March 8 (set your estro-calendar!)—was an event known as Rock the Lips. The idea is that “Because Women Rock,” women worldwide should wear red lipstick today to turn the world “into a sea of power pouts,” for “if we can get 1 million passionate, dynamic, creative, intelligent, fun women to wear red lipstick March 8th...what else can we do together?” Good question. Judging by the event’s team page on microlending site Kiva.org, “we” can raise $200, the grand total of all donations made in the name of Rock the Lips as of the time I published this. I probably don’t need to spell out how ludicrous this campaign is. There’s the utter emptiness of it (why exactly are we wearing red lipstick? to raise awareness… Read More...