Ladyfans: A Fairy Tale of the World Cup

A modeling contract that sprang from a shot of a World Cup fan highlights the commodification of female fandom.
A few quick thoughts on this story, of how Belgian soccer fan Axelle Despiegelaere, who attended the Belgium-Russia World Cup game, is now modeling for L'Oréal after being singled out in photos of the match:   You'll notice her unofficial fan page, created not long after the June 22 match, has more than 230,000 "likes," which I know can happen in a matter of hours but which is remarkable nonetheless. It's being spun as a fairy tale of sorts, along the lines of how film star Lana Turner was discovered at a Los Angeles drugstore. But I have to wonder how much this fairy tale is really a benefit to Despiegelaere, versus how much it's a benefit to L'Oréal. By seizing upon something that has much of the world in a frenzy* for a full month, the company A) gets… Read More...

The Party’s Girls and Party Girls: Negotiating Beauty in the Soviet Union

The state might have said that Soviet citizens were valued on their contributions to socialist ideals, not their gender and appearance. Women knew otherwise. By guest blogger Alana Massey
I'm pleased to welcome back Alana Massey as a guest blogger—and with this inquiry into how Soviet life shapes the reputation of Eastern European women today, you'll be even more pleased. A graduate of New York University and Yale Divinity School, Alana has seen her work published at The Baffler, Religion Dispatches, Nerve, Jezebel, xoJane, Forbes, and more. You can follow her via her blog, Oh It's Just Awful, and Twitter. ____________________________     The first Soviet beauty pageant.     Next to the Vanguard Theatre in the West Village, there is an unremarkable-looking salon that appears to be a single room devoted to manicures and pedicures to passersby who have never had a service at Spa Jolie. But ascend the narrow staircase to the second floor and the salon is revealed as a labyrinth of rooms and corridors for every imaginable beauty service performed… Read More...

Sorry, Ladies: No World Hair Cup for Women

The thoroughly boring hair of female athletes.
One of the questions we’ve frequently fielded here at World Hair Cup headquarters is that of women: Will there be a World Hair Cup for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015? It would make sense, in some ways. Internationally speaking, women’s soccer still lags behind men’s in popularity and professional participation, but in the United States, that wasn’t true until fairly recently—until the dramatic surge of World Cup interest, I’m guessing that the names Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Brandi Chastain, and Mia Hamm would’ve rang more bells in your average American household than Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Mikkel Diskerud, and maybe even Clint Dempsey. And the iconic image of American soccer probably still remains a triumphant, shirtless Chastain kneeling in the throes of victory after winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup in a penalty shootout. Plus, given that the U.S. women’s team is internationally ranked… Read More...

Hello, Round of 16; Farewell, Hair We’ve Left Behind

After weeks of grueling follicular play, the Group Stage of the World Hair Cup has ended. Now, what you’ve been waiting for: the results. (Click for…
After weeks of grueling follicular play, the Group Stage of the World Hair Cup has ended. Now, what you've been waiting for: the results. (Click for full size.) To address the most burning issue: You can vote in the Round of 16 here. But first, a bit of ceremony. Congratulations are in order to all teams that advanced—after we bid a fond farewell to a few MVPs who were left behind:   Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico. Position: Goalkeeper. Hair: Remarkable.   Guillermo Ochoa, your unbelievable saves against Brazil were echoed only by the glory of your hair. Disciplined by the headband, stunningly spontaneous in its tumble of curls, your hair, bobbing in the aftermath of dive after dive, was a lesson in splendor. Your World Cup journey continues; 'tis a pity your World Hair Cup voyage must stop here.    Keisuke Honda, Japan. Position: Forward. Hair: Remarkable. Keisuke… Read More...

World Hair Cup 2014 Updates

You’ve cast your group stage vote in the World Hair Cup, right? If not, do so immediately—the world needs to know which hair will dominate.…
You've cast your group stage vote in the World Hair Cup, right? If not, do so immediately—the world needs to know which hair will dominate. I've also set up a special URL just for the occasion, so if you tell people about it—or, dare I suggest, set up a betting bracket for your office?—you can just direct them to WorldHairCup.com. So given that 2014 marks the inaugural World Hair Cup, it's understandable that the Fédération Internationale de Hair Association (FIHA) ran into some unexpected issues during group stage. (Hey, it took FIFA a couple of tries to figure out they should hold qualifying rounds to thin out the competition, so forgive us.) Two things FIHA did not consider when compiling the ballots for group stage: 1) Between-game hair changes. Case study: Neymar's hair is definitively remarkable, but he really upped… Read More...

The World Hair Cup

It ain't called the beautiful game for nothing.
Whereas a large portion of the global population is infatuated with soccer, née football— Whereas a disproportionate number of soccer players have remarkable hair— Whereas we, the people, care about hair— The World Hair Cup 2014 has arrived.  And you have a vote. Vote for the team with the most remarkable hair in each group here. Voting for The World Hair Cup will follow the "real" World Cup system and schedule: Group Stage voting will last through June 26, when the two teams with the highest number of votes from each group will progress to the Round of 16 for another round of voting. From there, the winner of each match will continue to quarterfinals, then semifinals, until—at last!—the winner of The World Hair Cup is crowned July 13. (For a visual of how the bracket system works, go here. The sole criterion of The World Hair Cup… Read More...

The Scent(s) of a Woman

"The study of wine—which shares a focus on smell and descriptive language—has a well-documented history and broad appeal: People buy wine magazines, go on wine tours. Perfume doesn’t have that kind of cachet." Guest post by Mary Mann.
Most of my explorations here have been on the visual side of beauty: how the way we look and the way we choose to present ourselves shapes—and is shaped by—cultural forces, as well as who we believe ourselves to be. The other senses, I've neglected. Reading the following essay by Mary Mann has made me want to reconsider this accidental stance. Where I decorated my portal to womanhood with makeup, Mann marked hers with fragrance, exercising the most private of senses. Not that the elusive nature of perfume makes it any less quarrelsome from a by-the-book feminist approach, as you'll see.  Mann's essays and criticism have appeared in The Believer, Salon, The Hairpin, The Rumpus, Bookslut and Ploughshares online, among others. She's associate editor of the forthcoming book Women in Clothes. You can follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.   ______________________________     "Perfume… Read More...

Fat and Happy—and Loved

"It was never guys' fault for not liking me. It was fat's fault." Part II of a series on bodies and relationships.
For the second installment of a series on bodies and relationships, I'm pleased to be able to share the work of Emily Timbol, a blogger and author who writes faith, life, and humor essays. Her work can be found on the Huffington Post, The Burnside Writers Collective, xoJane, Red Letter Christians, Christianity Today’s Her.Meneutics, and RELEVANT magazine online. She’s also been a featured guest on Moody Radio’s Up for Debate, the Jesse Lee Peterson radio show, and the Something Beautiful podcast. Her first book, Two Words: Why Hearing “I’m Gay” Changed My Straight, Christian Life is available now on Kindle, and paperback. You can find links to all her published works on her blog and on her Twitter, @EmilyTimbol. She can also be reached by email, at emily.timbol@gmail.com ____________________________ One of the stupidest quotes I’ve ever heard is, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” If you’re someone who buys into the dichotomy of being thin or being well-fed, taste… Read More...

Comfortably Worn: Review of “The Worn Archive”

"The Worn Archive" proves that thinking highly of your readers makes for a better fashion magazine.
There are plenty of aspects of women's magazines that may be cause for earnest concern. The most visible of these is, of course, the whole skinny models/airbrushing thing. By "visible" I mean exactly that: It's a phenomenon observed with the eyes, making its supposed fallout—dissatisfaction with one's own non-professional, non-retouched appearance—seem somehow more important, more visceral, than whatever our more intellectual quibblings might bring to the fore. But for my $4.99, the larger problem is one of tidiness. Something you hear time and time again in the office of a ladymag is the need for a "takeaway": What do we want the reader to take away from this piece? What value do we want her to derive from it? It's good editorship to keep the question of reader value foremost among one's concerns when developing any part of a magazine,… Read More...

You’re Right, I Didn’t Eat That

Guest blogger Alana Massey on thinness and the illusion of being carefree: "My getting up to run eight miles the morning after sleeping together is admirable in the beginning but becomes frustrating when it means he almost always wakes up alone."
"The second best thing about fifth grade," writes Alana Massey, "is that nearly without exception, everyone in it is a hybrid monster sitting precariously on the border between childhood and adolescence which results in them doing uncomfortable things like still playing with Barbie but making her have multiple abortions." You see why I'm eager to share her work here, oui? Funny as her blog, Oh It's Just Awful, may be, it's her keen, pensive eye on human behavior that draws readers in. A graduate of New York University and Yale Divinity School, Alana has seen her work published at The Baffler, Religion Dispatches, Nerve, Jezebel, xoJane, Forbes, and more. Follow her on Twitter here.  _______________________________________     I’d only dropped a couple of sizes but I was in an entirely new country.   There are a number of euphemisms for female thinness that do… Read More...

On Ladymags and Liberty

If you accept the condition that any part of your content can be dictated by advertisers, the reader's needs can't be the priority of your work.
A tale prompted by the Brooke Burmingham/Shape story, in which the magazine requested that Birmingham cover up her loose-skinned abdomen for a photo accompanying a story on her 170-pound weight loss:   Some years ago, I was freelancing at a women's magazine that did cute little "factoids" about staffers on the magazine's masthead, i.e. the "cast list" of all the editors and designers and other staff members—and, as at this magazine, freelance copy editors. That particular month, the "factoid" was to be "celebrity lookalikes," in which selected people on the masthead would share a celebrity comparison they'd heard about themselves.   I'd heard a smattering of celebrity lookalikes for myself over the years, but one immediately came to mind: Jack Palance. In college, one of my teachers said to me, apropos of nothing, "Something about you reminds me of Jack Palance"—as… Read More...

Baby Got Back

Capsule version: Wear clothes that fit, for chrissakes.
   Someday, friends. Someday I will be on the cover of Butt.   Allow me to make this clear: I wanted a bigger butt. My mother's clan is a flat-butted folk, as is my father's, so there was never a question of me having anything that might qualify as "booty." This worked fine throughout the '90s, when the collective goal seemed to be to stay as tiny as possible, and throughout the aughts I simply didn't allot much time to considering my rear end. It was functional, not decorative, in my mind, and as long as three-way mirrors revealed nothing unsightly I was prepared to live with the prairie-like Whitefield-Madrano derrière the rest of my days. I'm still not sure what prompted my recent malcontent with the state of my behind. Some might blame Kim Kardashian; some might blame an… Read More...

Beauty Work and Intrinsic Motivation

How much reward can the acts of beauty work bring?
Motivational poster, 1937, Works Progress Administration     A friend of mine who's having trouble sticking to her exercise plan asked me what gets me to the gym. The answer, truly, is habit: Unless I'm specifically taking some time off or there's some sort of concrete scheduling problem, strength training is just a part of my routine. That's not particularly helpful advice to someone who's trying to make exercise a habit, though, so I tried to remember what got me to the point of workouts being habit. A common—and useful—bit of advice in this arena is to not focus so much on the weight loss bit, even if you are interested in reducing your body fat, because it's self-punishing. Instead, you're supposed to think about those other rewards of exercise: reduced stress and better mental health, improved functional strength, heightened… Read More...

The 5-Minute Facial Workout, and the Placebo Effect

When you’re talking about a quality as difficult to articulate as loveliness, merely believing that something “works”—even if it's facial gymnastics—can be enough to lend you the light that you’re seeking.
Like this, but for your face.   It would be easy for a critical beauty blogger comme moi to make fun of the book “The 5-Minute Facial Workout: 30 Exercises for a Naturally Beautiful Face.” I mean, the setup is all there, beginning with the title of the first chapter (“Facial Gymnastics: Why?”—my question exactly), through its promises that exercises will “revascularize the dermis” for “significant” results of “a younger and more relaxed face,” all illustrated with photos of a pleasant-looking, vaguely yogic woman doing things like extending her tongue to the corners of her smile, or doing what looks like an exaggerated pout. But, like I said, that’s easy. I don’t want to take a potshot at the author of “The 5-Minute Facial Workout,” Catherine Pez, who has done a fine job of explaining how, theoretically, these exercises work. (In short, the idea… Read More...

Thank You for Shopping: Customer Loyalty Programs

To thank you for spending money at Sephora, you get the opportunity to spend more money at Sephora.
Spend $350 at the Red Cross and you get a free pint of O negative! Yesterday, I was informed that I’d “unlocked” the “VIB Level” of Sephora’s customer reward program. What this means in Sephoraspeak is that by “earning” 350 “points” at the store, I will receive seasonal VIB-only gifts—presumably along the lines of the free lip gloss I received whilst shopping during my birthday month, back when I was merely a Sephora “Beauty Insider”—that I will have advance access to sales, and that I get “dibs” on new products, so that I will be the first lady on the block to have NARS’s newest nail polish in Quivering Otter, or whatever the color of the season is. What this means in you-and-me-speak is that I have spent more than $350 at Sephora—not, as the company would put it, “earned”… Read More...

Gilding the Lily

The minute you start to look at divisions between "good" and "bad" beauty work, they start to unravel.
A theory blog that promises to examine "why it matters so much to be beautiful, and why we have these particular ideas of what beauty is"—well, can you think of any reason not to read it? When I found Carina Hart's wonderful blog, Beautiful in Theory, I was thrilled to find a kindred spirit who loves to marry beauty with unlikely concepts. Whether she's looking at the "Frankenbabe" idea in which women are looked at as parts instead of a whole, examining how individual women have shaped our narratives of beauty with her "Biographies of Sin and Beauty", or considering the noteworthy lack of boobs in Scandinavian noir television, she's consistently seeking out alternate perspectives on beauty, helping each of us continue to form our own theory on beauty. Her work is informed by the research behind her PhD at the University of East Anglia (UK),… Read More...