Nerd Sex Symbol Redux

A few more thoughts on why there isn’t a female “nerd sex symbol” equivalent of Neil deGrasse Tyson, i.e. an average-looking woman who is seen…
A few more thoughts on why there isn’t a female “nerd sex symbol” equivalent of Neil deGrasse Tyson, i.e. an average-looking woman who is seen as a sex symbol because of her excellence in an area having nothing to do with looks: • Maybe we have plenty of average-looking female sex symbols—but they’re just wearing makeup. As Helen points out, it’s far easier for a woman who’s average-looking to transition into good-looking than it is for a man to do the same. Yes, a man can be groomed and styled, and if he’s in the public eye he’s probably experienced enough with concealer and powder, but the average guy just doesn’t have as many options for self-transformation as women do. A good makeup artist can visually whittle your nose, widen your eyes, and lift your cheekbones, and you don’t even… Read More...

Nerd Crushed: Where Are the Average-Looking Female “Sex Symbols”?

Playboy spread aside, no, Marge Simpson doesn't count.
  "Do they exert a disproportionate gravitational force, or are your eyes just a Great Attractor?" Around the time I started “casually” walking by the home of a man who gave me my one and only skydiving lesson, I realized one of the factors that makes me find someone attractive: If I watch a man do something he’s good at and loves to do, it's likely I’ll develop a little crush on him. It’s not a sexual crush necessarily, nor is it a crush that I’d actually act on—in fact, much of the time the object of my crushdom is someone I know full well I’d have no interest in otherwise. Most of the time the crush doesn’t persist past the moment (the skydiving instructor was an outlier, because, I mean, the dude jumps out of planes on purpose). My minute-long crushes are… Read More...

The Risks of Overreporting

Overreporting extreme aesthetic treatments allows us to put distance between our own beauty work and beauty work that “crosses the line.”
Recovering from my hypothetical chemical peel. (Artist rendering.)   So as I mentioned last week, I recently had a medical procedure, uterine fibroid embolization. (I’m fine, just medically oversharing because given how common symptomatic fibroids are, I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of this procedure until I had to have it myself. Happy Fibroid Embolization Awareness Day!) My doctor had told me that I should plan the procedure for a time when I could afford to take two weeks off of work, since recovery varied from person to person and it could take that long before I felt back to 100%. I’m healthy and hardy and all that, so I guessed I’d fall on the earlier end of the spectrum, but still allowed myself two weeks of “freelancer medical leave” (i.e. no work, but no pay) just in case. But then the… Read More...

When Blogger Comes Marching Home

A gentle update before a mad return to blogging.
So! It seems my plan to "blog lite" while I finished the first draft of my book fell by the wayside the closer the deadline got. Perhaps some blogger-writers are able to blog as a way to relax after putting in their time writing in other forms, but that is not me. Cyberapologies all around; will you still have me?   In any case, I've finished the first draft of my book, and spending several months focused on essentially one task—which is a luxury I've never had before—has brought up a handful of thoughts related to what I write about here. And so, allow me to ease my way back into blogging with a smattering of thoughts, if you will? (As for returning to blogging, I am—I promise—but I need a short break from computers altogether, say, a week. I just didn't… Read More...

A Compleat To-Do List for the 34-to-56-Year-Old American Woman, as Determined by Ad Placement on Lifetime Television’s Premiere of “Flowers in the Attic”

Our vagina dentata has yellowing teeth.
Fix yellow, crooked, softening teeth (Invisalign, ACT mouthwash, Colgate Optic White) Cover gray hair (Nice & Easy, Clairol Age Defy) Find appropriate food for pet with food sensitivities (Fresh Pet, Blue Basics) Find a date (Christian Mingle) Lubricate (Osphema; see above) Cheer on patricide (Lizzie Borden movie with Christina Ricci) Find insurance, preferably from talking and/or oversized baby (State Farm, Nationwide) Make homemade bread but not really (Fleischmann's Simply Homemade Bread Mix) Take on vaginal fungus and win (Monistat) Root for the underdog ("Gimme Shelter" with Vanessa Hudgens as "a revelation"; see also Gabby Douglas Lifetime movie) Go to the Bahamas (Atlantis resort) Get a damn coat (Burlington) Eat fried chicken and/or creatively packaged tuna (KFC, Sunkist Tuna Creations) Be appropriately compensated for injury sustained in truck accident (Cellino & Barnes, 800-888-888, Call8.com) Call Cellino & Barnes on new phone… Read More...

“Flowers in the Attic” Is the Best Book Ever* And Here Is Why

Given the history of the "female Gothic," it's actually a surprise there isn't a whole lot more brother bangin' going on in YA lit.
Yes, I’m serious. Flowers in the Attic—a.k.a. “The book that made teenage girls look sideways at their brothers and shudder,” as my similarly besotted pal Lindsay put it—wasn’t originally marketed as a young adult book when it was first printed in 1979, but it soon found its niche in the hearts of pubescent girls across the land. (And now it’s popularly acknowledged as a YA book; in fact, my library categorizes it as such.) It hit bestseller lists within two weeks of its publication, and the popularity of that book and the numerous other works by V.C. Andrews** that followed didn’t dwindle for years—in 1990, V.C. Andrews was still the second-most-popular author among teens.   I was one of those teenagers, and maybe you were too. I’d grown up on a steady supply of classics and earnest Newbery award-winning books… Read More...

You’re Just Jelly

In which I take an episode of "South Park" about digital photo editing far too seriously.
  Just a few thoughts about the latest episode of—of all things—South Park. I've always thought the show was cute, but one of the side effects of cohabitation is that I'm now suddenly exposed to a lot of South Park, and I've become a full-on convert of its inspired mix of goofiness and social criticism and blah blah TV critic circa 1999. Anyway, it's always a treat when I see a media outlet besides the usual suspects take on my pet topics, which Trey Parker and Matt Stone did last night.   For those who don't watch the show or didn't see last night's episode: When one of the main characters tells a girl who asks him out that she's fat, the suddenly feminist cheerleading captain, Wendy, sets out to prove a point about unrealistic beauty standards by Photoshopping the girl's picture. But Wendy's plan… Read More...

A Tentative Exploration of the Female Gaze

Exclusive blog confessional: I can't stop checking out everyone's ladythighs.
The first thing I noticed? The thighs. Several years ago, I was taking a class where I hit it off with one of my classmates—our first conversation was one of those where you wind up gasp-laughing in a way you normally only do with people who are already your friends (or people who are as drunk as you are). He was new to the city, and while he’d made friends at his job, his wife hadn’t had such luck, and would I like to go out to dinner with them on Thursday? I would, and I did, and I was rewarded with more of that good cheer; I liked her as much as I liked him. And when she got up at one point to visit the restroom, I found myself doing something I hadn’t done before: I did not look… Read More...

“Growing Eden”: Author Q&A

"There's pressure on women to have bodies that are 'better' than normal. But it turned out with my pregnancy, normal was exactly what I needed to be."
One of my favorite things about blogging (back when I was doing it regularly—which I'll go back to doing in March once my first draft is finished, I swear!) has been meeting some fantastic bloggers who ceaselessly bring new perspectives to this big loose conversation we're having on beauty, women, feminism, appearance, and the like. Specifically, getting to know one of the brightest body image bloggers out there, Kate Fridkis of Eat the Damn Cake, has been a delight—a delight made all the greater when I learned that she recently published her first book. Growing Eden, an interior chronicle of her pregnancy, diverges from body image but is wholly aligned with one of her larger themes: womanhood, and exactly what that means, personally and collectively. Being grateful for all the opportunities we have today that our grandmothers didn't; feeling constrained by the sheer… Read More...

The Power of Glamour

"Glamour only works when it can tap preexisting discontent, giving otherwise inchoate longings an object of focus": A look at Virginia Postrel's "The Power of Glamour"
 The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, by Virginia Postrel  At my very first interview for a magazine job, the executive editor of a now-defunct women’s magazine asked what periodicals I read, and I answered with what I thought would be the right smart-girl answer—The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and a magazine that was little-known at the time, Bitch. “I notice there are no women’s magazines on that list,” she said. (Bitch is indeed a magazine about and largely for women, but it’s hardly on the same shelf as Cosmo.) I stammered out something about choosing a “broader focus” for my reading material, the interviewers smiled politely, and, as you have guessed, I did not get the job. I didn’t tell them the actual reason I didn’t read women’s magazines: They’re bad for you, right? I mean, that’s what I’d… Read More...

“Fractals” by Joanna Walsh: Short Story and Giveaway

"A friend told me to buy a red dress in Paris because I am leaving my husband."
  When people ask me what I like to read, the first word out of my mouth is usually "nonfiction." My reasoning is simple: I like to read about what I like to write about, namely physical appearance and its intersection in women's lives. And the open-minded part of me cringes to admit this, but: I've tended to believe that fiction isn't the place for this. Sure, the occasional piece might illuminate an aspect of women's stories, but on the whole, I'll stick with my nonfiction shelf—Wolf, Berger, Sontag, Etcoff, Steinem, and so on. Had Fractals, Joanna Walsh's new collection of short stories from 3:AM Publishing, been published earlier than this October, my answer would have changed earlier as well. I'd mistakenly conflated nonfiction with truth, entirely forgetting that fiction allows us to tell a different sort of truth—particularly about internal experiences. Like how, as with Walsh's characters,… Read More...

Hi Honey, I’m Home: Makeup and Cohabitation

If you use makeup to delineate the public from the private, what happens when your private space becomes shared?
So, yes, I moved recently; only days ago. Specifically, I moved not just apartments but living situations—my gentleman friend and I decided to move into a new apartment together. I’ve lived alone for 12 years, so while this was a decidedly positive development, there’s also an element of adjustment going on. I’m not used to having someone else in the space I call my own, except for specific, defined periods of time—dinner, drinks. Even a lazy afternoon is just that, an afternoon, not an indefinite stretch in which ever-elastic time is shared with another. That’s exactly why most of us move in with someone, actually—you want to spend more time with them, or you want your downtime to include more of them, or something like that.   But when we talk about moving in with someone, the words we use… Read More...

Jacqueline Madrano, Retired Homemaker and Volunteer, San Antonio

On dressing well as a military wife abroad: "We wanted to show the Japanese that we were nice people after the war."
Jacqueline Madrano has served plenty of roles throughout her 80-plus years: homemaker, civic volunteer, church pianist, occasional secretary, “kitchen musician.” It’s this life experience, combined with her unique historic role as military wife in the post-WWII years—accompanying her husband, Col. Joseph Madrano, throughout his career, she raised three children in U.S. Army bases around the world—that made me want to interview her.  Rather, those are the reasons I’d want to interview her if I didn’t know her in the capacity I do. But it’s her role as my grandmother—my impeccably put-together grandmother, without whose influence this blog might not exist—that, obviously, has left the deeper imprint upon me. Not only has she led by example through being a fashion plate, she’s also given me morsels of wisdom on fashion, beauty, and self-presentation as long as I can remember. If you put… Read More...

Beauty Backfire

When it comes to extravagant beauty services—hell, most beauty services—it's the ultimate placebo effect: You only get out of it what you think you'll get out of it.
That's me on the left. Apologies for the spotty appearances as of late. I have a feeling that I’ll be beginning many a blog post with variations on that line until my book deadline this spring. In this case, however, there have been two factors that have complicated my blogging schedule even more than authorship: 1) I’m moving (apartments, not cities or even neighborhoods), and 2) a recent vacation spurred by the destination wedding of a dear friend (and faithful reader! Mazel tov, C!). It’s item #2 that was on my mind beautywise much of last week (I’ll get around to the moving-and-beauty post soon enough, and yes, there’s much to say there). Not only was it a wedding and therefore already an occasion that calls for looking one’s best, it was also a wedding at which A) my boyfriend,… Read More...

You’re Not Pretty Enough

I mean, Bon Jovi is pretty enough, but that's beside the point.
The thing about You're Not Pretty Enough, storyteller Jennifer Tress's alternately hilarious and searing memoir, is that it's not really about being pretty. In fact, save for the argument with her then-husband that the book's title comes from—uttered unbelievably (except totally believably) in the midst of discussions about his inattentiveness and infidelity—prettiness doesn't make much of a star turn at all. Yet that's exactly why I found it valuable, because the thing about not feeling pretty enough is that...it's not really about being pretty either. It's about being enough.  When Tress launched her website, she'd titled it You're Not Pretty Enough because of that stinging exchange with her then-husband. She soon noticed that search terms that landed people at her site were those of people looking for comfort in the midst of feeling...well, not pretty enough. And so in addition to compiling her personal… Read More...

Trust In Me, Baby

If you don't trust that the hand you have is good enough, it's easy to default to the privilege of pretty-enough.
Sometimes you've just gotta trust the hand you've got. Promotional tie-in alert! I’ve got an essay up today on Medium.com’s new mind and body channel. It’s a revisiting of something I wrote years ago, before The Beheld had much of a readership, about my own complicity in what some people might call beauty privilege, but what really amounts to sexism (and not only because I am far too modest to own up to “beauty privilege,” kittens). Specifically: By playing the part of a young-enough, pretty-enough woman and putting up with a certain amount of comments about being that part, I expected a certain amount of privilege. (Not universally; it’s specific to a former landlord whom I let make semi-lewd comments to me in hopes that my apartment would receive prompt attention when need be. Oh, just read the story.) It’s been interesting to revisit this;… Read More...