Beautiful Rebellion: How Beauty Can Become a Symbol of and Gateway to Freedom

If you ever thought the topic of beauty products was frivolous, think again.  When women are willing to risk their freedom to smuggle or wear beauty products in totalitarian regimes, then you know it’s no small thing.  

In the recent story by Lexy Lebsack, Lipstick, Hair Dye, & Power — How Beauty Is Fuelling A Revolution In North Korea, women, such as Danbi Kim, share their stories of risking imprisonment in prisoner camps in N. Korea in order to offer people smuggled beauty products. But this pursuit isn’t just a way to make money, it’s a form of political and cultural resistance.  “Products and styles from South Korea, whether it was unlawful lipstick or banned apparel, began to signify a shared disobedience against the North Korean regime and an unspoken nod that the wearer had seen a glimpse of the outside world and was willing to get in trouble to show it.”   How so? North Korea’s regime dictates much of everyday life, including how women should appear in public.  There is even “beauty police” to ensure enforcement of these rules. Punishment for defying the rules includes public humiliation, “confessions” to local authorities and people cutting off hair and clothes as the “offender” passes by.

Beauty and fashion aren’t just a means to defy certain laws, though.  They represent forms of self-expression — exactly what a totalitarian regime abhors.  And exposure to beauty products opens a desire for expertise with them which then leads to a whole new industry for women:“…saving up hair straighteners, makeup, or nail supplies has opened a door for microeconomics among women who otherwise would have no income stream.”  Finally, the exposure to these new products, looks and images of glamour, opens people’s eyes to a world beyond the borders of North Korea.  This exposure — this taste for something beyond — compels people to push for change.  And the governments know this. In fact, Dr. Sung-wook Nam, chair of the department of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul points out that “beauty products are just the latest focus in a chess match between the two Koreas. He’s quoted as saying, “’South Korean K-beauty is a threat to the Kim Jong-un regime and the control of the system’”.

This story reminds me of a study I conducted while at college with Russian immigrants living Israel back in the mid-90’s.  I was studying social anthropology and wanted a way to get to Israel to see my long-distance, Israeli boyfriend.  Merging my studies, with my love for beauty and need to go to Israel, I pushed to secure a grant to study Russian women’s view on beauty.  I wasn’t really sure what I would get other than a free ride.  But I didn’t come up short.  What I remember most vividly (after all it was a long time ago) is that while in the Soviet Union, Russian women were so desperate for beauty products that they would save up their lunch money for days on end to buy a simple lipstick.  Beauty was deemed a frivolous pursuit by the Soviet regime and cosmetics were hard to come by.  But that wouldn’t stop Russian women from finding ways to outsmart the system and look beautiful.

This is not the first time I’ve written about the liberating power of beauty and fashion.  In Clothing is Power I share the story of Jasvinder Sanghera who expressed her freedom from her abusive husband via her highly feminine mode of dress, and in Fashionable Protests: The Unexpected Source of Saudi Women’s Independence I raise the possibility of Saudi lingerie shops as the spark to greater women’s empowerment.  Why is fashion, and, particularly, beauty products and ritual especially triggering of rebellion?  First, for women beauty has often been “our world,” i.e. something that we can claim greater use and understanding of — whether because of male objectification or not.  Second, I believe beauty holds so much power because it is so central to our bodies.  Beauty products literally become part of who we are each and everyday.  Creams, colors, scents blend with our skin and our hair, integrating with our physical selves.  They reflect what we feel, they show our sense of imagination (who do want to look like today?) and what were willing to fight for.  They excite us and give us confidence.  No wonder people have created, traded or smuggled beauty products for centuries.

Beauty may be superficial to some, but for so many of us, it’s a key part of who we are.  Of course there are still some social norms about how much to wear or in what ways to wear it. But, for the most part, we have the freedom to enjoy it.  Let’s appreciate that most of us can put on blush or spritz some perfume any time we want.  Let’s celebrate that we can look beautiful — or not –and no one can stop us.  As this is Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., how fitting it is to celebrate the freedoms — both large and seemingly small — brought to us by fallen soldiers, including the freedom to look buy, apply and wear in public any kind of cosmetics EVERY SINGLE DAY.

BE outside the box, don’t just think it! Kicking Off my New Adventure on Expansive Living

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being both a panelist and a moderator for a few events at Advertising Week in NYC.  One of the perks of being on the speaker roster was that I was chosen among a few other women to be interviewed by Katie Kempner for her video series: “Perspectives with Katie Kempner.”  As Katie describes it on her site, this video series is a way to: “To inspire and empower working women who are attempting to live meaningful, happy, healthy lives as some combination of wives and partners, mothers, friends, sisters, daughters and successful professionals while retaining a sense of self and navigating the crazy 24/7 always-on life that is today’s reality.”

So what did we speak about?  Prior to the interview — I’m talking minutes prior — she asked me what am I known for and what I do at Google.  When I answered her, she looked at me nonplussed.  But when I told her that I live nine lives and try to integrate them all, then she got excited.  And that topic became the main subject of our interview.

And, thus, this interview became the first real forum for me to discuss my next adventure: to share my story on how to live a meaningful (successful? happy? — still not sure of the exact description yet) life.  Here goes: so many of us are an amalgamation of seemingly contradictory aspects.  When it comes to me, I’m part tech maven, part beauty/fashion commentator, part spiritual animal, part athlete, and part mother.  But we don’t necessarily celebrate or push those sides to their fullest, and certainly don’t always weave them together.  For years, I’ve been excited and energized, but also conflicted and challenged by the many nuances of myself.  On the one hand, I’ve been enriched by these many sides, they have opened up new opportunities for me.  I realized it’s time to fully buy my own seemingly random but fruitful, fun, expansive approach to life and inspire others with it.

On the other hand, I’ve been accused of giving people a mind fuck.  People often ask me, “wait, what, you work in tech and sit at the front row at fashion shows?”  Or, “huh, your speaking on big stages about creativity all over the world and are raising three kids?”  Or “you combine anthropology with technology?” And this is my favorite: “you dress like that and strictly observe the Jewish sabbath?”  Yep.  And what’s more, it’s BECAUSE of these different sides that I can be as fulfilled as I am.  Don’t get me wrong, I bitch and moan like the rest of us, so I’m not saying I’m fulfilled ALL the time.  But when I take a step back I can say I have lived, and know I will continue to live, a pretty badass life.  I believe I’ve found my success because I’ve embraced — versus compartmentalized or rejected– these different sides.  What’s more, I have found ways to interconnect them.

In the video, I give an early life example of this.  I studied in small, yeshiva high school. This meant I endured intense days filled with secular and Jewish studies.  Needless to say, college was not just a breeze compared to that but definitely eye opening. I was exposed to many different types of people and subject matters.  Did I reject all that despite having slightly different upbringing or lifestyle? No way! Moreover, I took my treasure trove of judaic studies and applied them to almost every subject!  By combining my two different worlds I realized I could stand out, and ultimately, succeed.

Another example: when I transitioned from my advertising life to Google, I felt like the biggest fish out of water, a total charlatan.  What did I REALLY know about tech anyway? But I was an expert on how to uncover human insight.  I studied social anthropology in college and then spent 20 years partnering with anthropologists to help me uncover those insights.  Aha! That was my special sauce. Leverage the study of anthropology to uncover what drives our deep relationship to the digital space.  That sparked an industry-first thought leadership series of studies, Humanizing Digital.  These insights not only drove digital campaign after digital campaign for my client, but also elevated my team within and outside of the company.

Of course the subject of beauty made its way into the video.  Like I have done in this blog for years, I encourage us to embrace it.  So many people I know see the subject as frivolous and therefore, unsuitable for intelligent business women or men to discuss.  Bull shit. There is no reason to not to weave beauty into our daily lives and let it inspire and empower us.  Yes, we can embrace beauty AND brains!

Ok, I think you get the gist.  I realized it’s time to fully buy my own seemingly random but fruitful, fun, expansive approach to life and inspire others with it.  I’m still spinning this concept around so I would LOVE your feedback.  Or at the very least have fun watching the video :).  Click the image below to watch.

Will AI Kill Fashion or Improve It?

I have to confess: I’m FAR from being an expert on AI.  But given my role at Google, and the work of my team members, it comes up in many conversations, is the engine behind some of the tools my team creates, and it makes its way into at least one article in my news feed a day.  So I have some understanding of it.

Lately, I’ve been talking about it in the context of fashion.  It’s undeniable that AI will have an increasingly greater impact on the fashion world in the coming years.  The question everyone asks is,”is that a good thing?” Like in other creative fields I work with, people are concerned that AI could squelch creativity or limit it altogether.  After all, its key value is automation. What happens to the human being behind all of this? Does all creativity just end? Will creative industries like fashion just fade away or change into something empty of artistic expression? One particular entrepreneur engaged in the fashion tech space argued that soon AI will scan our behaviors, predict what we’d like into an ideal outfit and then we’d scan the looks into a 3D printer which will print out our clothing at home.  No more need for fashion design and no more need for fashion retailers.

I don’t quite agree.  

I was asked to comment about this topic and few other fashion and strategy related issues in an interview with Geoffrey Colon, a marketing disruptor and innovator from Microsoft.  He hosts a podcast, “Disruptive FM” and interviews various people from across the globe every year at the Cannes Lions Festival.  His Cannes video is called “Fashion Boutique.” Geoffrey didn’t waste any time with me under the hot sun and homed into the interplay of AI and fashion.   No question AI will be able to get a faster, maybe even more, nuanced read of our habits, preferences and activities than a human being could.  And with that speed and nuance, it can create styles that every individual would likely find appealing. 

But there is still a need for the human being to oversee and correct or pivot the findings of AI.  Certain cultural norms or expectations may underpin our fashion sense that can’t be picked up through behavior alone.  Certain permutations and combinations may seem to look nice via an algorithm but appear “off” as the end result. Technology is our friend.  It does the tedious work for us so we can then build off of it and spend more time playing and evolving fashion.

Prior to my podcast I was mining my friend and fashion tech guru, Amanda Parkes for insight on this matter since she speaks on stages all over the world on this and related topics.  She highlighted a few fashion companies taking hold of AI like H&M and Myntra which uses machine learning to design full collections in record speeds. But there’s human beings along the way, tapping their sense of creativity to enhance machine learning to be that much more nuanced.  AI isn’t killing fashion or creativity; it’s allowing us to do it more quickly and in different ways.

AI will give us greater personalization than ever before, we we all love that (think the craze over Nike ID).  Could the hyper personalization we crave and receive from AI further discount the need for human side of fashion?  After all, we are getting exactly what suits us, right? Of course we seek clothing that benefits our specific lifestyles and needs.  But there’s the other side of fashion. The side that surprises, enlightens and inspires us.  It’s the side that opens our eyes to something we never even REALIZED we needed. AI can bring us closer to that, but it’s human beings who can take it to the next level.

As Dr. Anastassia Lauterbach, tech entrepreneur and author, said so adroitly: “The word intelligence in AI is highly confusing and causes funny discussions. Today there is nothing absolutely intelligent in Machine learning applications. Everything happens by design, and this design is done by humans – preferably in diverse teams. Humans decide what criteria get emphasized in a model. Machine learning scales what ever good or bad gets into the datasets and algorithms. Every profession needs to adjust to a world where some coding will be as normal as cooking today. Yes, you can eat in restaurants every day and let others cook for you. But it is maybe nice to be capable to produce something on your own. Same is true with AI in any industry. If you choose technology illiteracy, you can lament the death of creativity. Or you can use your great knowledge and add new skills, partner with technologists who are capable to listen, and do the work. AI is not a conscious agent. It is a tool…it can be used in a smart way, and support your ideas. The Intelligence on what and how remains yours.”

The opportunity is in front of us: retreat from AI or harness it to take creativity to newer and maybe even greater heights.

For the full video, click here (My piece starts around the 10 minute mark).

Chinese Fashion: Not A Case Of Cultural Appropriation But Cultural Understanding…I Saw It With my Own Eyes

Yue-Sai Kan, Miss China Universe 2011-2016 and me at the Plaza

I’m sure you’ve all read about the bruhaha about a Utah girl’s Chinese prom dress.  Keziah Daum wore a classic Cheongasm dress and got beaten up in social media by people accusing her of cultural appropriation.  In response to that shaming she received tons of encouraging messages directly from China.  And I’m not surprised at all the positive feedback.  Having just hosted the China Fashion Gala at the Plaza last weekend and seeing all the amazing mixing and matching of traditional and modern Chinese elements worn by Westerners and Chinese alike, I can tell you that Keziah’s choice of dress was a wonderful and future-forward one.  Not only was her dress beautiful but it was symbolic of the wonderful fusion of Chinese and Western fashion, and dare I say, the growing multi-cultural understanding we are all craving..

A little context for you all: you may recall that I’m collaborating with Unipx Media, a Chinese media channel that focuses primarily on fashion, lifestyle and tech.  The goal is to turn me into an “influencer” in the Chinese market.  To be honest, our early attempts weren’t making much progress.  Then we had an idea: host the China Fashion Gala!  It would be live-streamed into China, I would meet some movers and shakers, and be photographed with lots of China’s “beautiful people.”  It was all last minute and a bit crazy up until the end.  Not only did I have to attempt to learn a bit of Chinese, but I had to pronounce A LOT of Chinese names without butchering them too much, yikes!  I was also super fortunate enough to wear not just one but two amazing dresses by haute couture designer, Grace Chen.  

The event was gorgeous.  Men and women — old and young alike, — dressed in stunning gowns that expertly married modern with classic, and Western with Chinese styles.  Each and everybody looked regal with a bit of kick!  In fact, when I kicked off my hosting gig, I had to go off script and comment on how everyone looked so proud and beautiful.  And, just to name drop, I got to hob nob with the likes of Christian Louboutin and Vivienne Tam!!!

What struck me the most, however, is fashion’s unique ability to help people appreciate each other’s cultures.  Clothing is a language of it’s own.  For better or for worse, it “speaks” a culture’s definition of beauty, it’s values, rituals, and social norms.  Just as I convinced my 5th grade teacher when I chose to write my history term paper on the fashion of the Wild West (vs, oh, say, a defining war or key U.S. president), we learn about different cultures through our clothing.  Fashion is a way to see how we differ and how we are very much the same.   Grace Chen reinforced this when she treated us to a fashion show of her latest lines.  And thanks to Yue-Sai Kan‘s urging (Yue-Sai, by the way, has been named the “most famous woman in China.”) Chen explained to us how each piece resembles elements of ancient and modern China culture, as well as those of Western life.  It was fascinating and educational!

Even though I just scratched the surface of Chinese fashion in my short experience as a gala host, I will look at Chinese fashion with a deeper sense of appreciation.  And I will know that much more about a culture rich with heritage and nuance.  So instead of criticizing Miss Daum, we should thank her.  We should thank her for taking a risk and going against the grain and wearing a classic Chinese dress.  But more importantly, we should thank her for introducing a different culture to her community, to social media, and, now, to the entire U.S..

Feel free to check out our page hosted by Unipx!

A Female Perspective: Fashion. How to show up post #metoo: Another Video Conversation

I just returned from a whirlwind — but amazing –trip to Norway where I was privileged to speak to the Norwegian business community at the Oslo Business Forum.  As I prepped for the speech, I definitely had a stressful moment or two.  Was I concerned about the two-thousand-plus audience?  Nah.  Was I in a fluster that the flight was cancelled at the last minute and screwed up our plans?  A tinsy bit.  What really challenged me was deciding what to wear!   And I know I’m not alone in having such angst, especially among many of my female friends and colleagues.  Am and I just a superficial gal?  Well, I do love a nice pair of heels.  But the issue runs deeper than that.  What we wear speaks volumes.  It needs to be on point.  And I have definitely experienced the downside of when it wasn’t.  And it wasn’t good.

This topic is the focus of the second video conversation with my friends and brilliant women: Rachael McCrary, CEO of Jewel Toned, and Marci Weisler, CEO & Co-founder of Smart Women, Smart Ideas (and edited by the great Suzette Cabildo, also from SWSI).  For us, women, especially in this new era of #metoo, we want to be super careful about how we “show up.”  As Rachael and I discuss on the video, there are many nuances to consider — many more, we believe, than those that men have to ponder.  First, we have to think about the audience — is it male or female?  American or Foreign?  Young or old?  Then we have think about whether the event is a business or a more casual one.  Even the state or region of the country in which we are conducting the engagement matters!  Rachael speaks about how she dresses differently in L.A. vs. SF vs NYC.  Of course we have to make sure we communicate a sense of seriousness while not appearing TOO serious.  We want to seem sophisticated BUT still fun.  And we can’t seem to old or too young.  Phew! No wonder it takes us about four times as long to “suit up” than it takes for men.  Think of the opportunity cost of dressing: hours we could spend making money, being with our kids, sleeping, whatever!

Yet, I also appreciate much of the considering, adorning and pampering that goes into this process.  It prepares me; it gives me the added assurances that I can rock it, no matter the situation.  And it allows me to express myself in more ways than just through the words I speak.  I just wish how we appear wasn’t so complicated.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able share our full selves without fearing some kind of backlash … from either gender.

Take a look at our latest conversation and please weigh in with your thoughts.

Getting dressed should be a painless, more than that, it should be a positive experience.  And certainly it should be the least of my worries when it comes to speaking around the world on very big stages or meeting with clients.  Maybe by spreading the word and sharing our feelings, we can learn to applaud, not judge, one another for what we wear.  Imagine how we can channel all that left over stress for new ventures!

And now some pics from the event!

Masculinity, Beauty & Peace: How a Light Make-Over Show Can Be the Key to Tolerance

Queer Eye’s Fab Five

While it’s the month to officially celebrate women, I’m actually going to turn our attention to men today.

In my quest to find a binge-able show on Netflix, I was scrolling through its latest releases and happened upon  “Queer Eye,” the remake of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”  While the make-over premise is still the same, this version has a new team or “Fab Five” and differentiates itself by evolving some of the least likely types — from religious Christians to self-described red necks.   Out of desperation for something — anything — to watch, I gave it a whirl.   Within days I had watched all eight episodes and cried at the close of  EVERY SINGLE ONE.  Needless to say I was moved.  And I’m not the sentimental type.

Every one of the male “subjects” featured goes through a major transformation.  Sure, each gets a better haircut and wardrobe in the end.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  They all become more open-minded, more understanding and more self-loving.  And like me, each of them cries at the end of his metamorphosis.  But don’t discount the physical changes.  It’s because they have elevated their personal beauty, and the beauty of their surroundings, that this tremendous change happens.

I was so excited with the show that I immediately called my long-time friend and partner-in-crime on all my professional anthropological studies: cultural anthropologist, Thomas Maschio.  Because his insights never cease to amaze me, I basically forced him to watch this show and share his thoughts.  Like me, he was moved.  And like me he saw how it was the beautification process in particular that brought these men to a higher plane.

Would these men have evolved if they learned other things, like playing a sport or learning to appreciate poetry?  To some extent yes, but it was their exposure to beauty rituals and their new found knowledge of beautiful things that stretched them as far as they did.   Tom phrased it like this: “beauty opens up inner space or emotional life for the subjects/objects of the Fab Fives’ attentions.  It frees them up from their constricted ways of feeling and their constricted ways of moving about their own lives.”  In other words, beauty opened them up, and as a result, each has his own “coming out” experience.

What’s really going on here?  As the consummate anthropologist, Tom points out that each episode has a ritual of sorts that leads to the transformation:

  1. Setting out  —  the team gets an overview of the subjects and his particular areas of development
  2. Encounter and initial assessment —  the Fab Five meets the subject and sees all of his issues …often this can be the most hilarious part of the show
  3. Discarding of material objects  —  as it sounds, an in-your-face act of throwing the old life away, from stained easy-chairs to clothes that are 5 sizes too big.
  4. Sharing of truths (mutual empathy) — these are often the most profound moments.  While the individual team members are very different from each subject, there’s always something they bond over.  This could be a fear of coming out to one’s family, an intolerance of the “other,” or the sad truth that neglect of one’s appearance shows a lack of concern for his partner.
  5.  Teaching and convincing — life coaching through scotch tasting or shopping or a trip to the salon.
  6. Connection — emotional recognition by the subject for his need to evolve and his gratitude to the team for his reinvention
  7. Reintroduction to the social realm — this is when the men reveal themselves to their families or loved ones and take the leap they didn’t have the courage to do prior to the experience.  They all gain greater confidence in themselves which opens themselves up for more love and kindness towards others, e.g., their wives, parents, children and friends.

Through these steps the men change.  The outward changes lead directly to inward ones.  And beautification is the impetus.  As Tom explains it: “Beauty opens people up…the beautiful is disruptive; disrupts perception, enlarges it, halts the usual flow of thinking and feeling.  So when these guys are introduced to that in ways they can understand, their usual ways of going about things are disrupted.”   Because most of the subjects live in a culture that embraces a conservative or hyper western sense of masculinity, e.g, lack of concern around attire and grooming and a more constricted way of socializing, the Fab Five free these men to explore new, more expansive aspects of male beauty, and maleness in general.

What’s more, these men embody the changes.  They experience them via their physical selves, not just their intellectual or spiritual ones.  From new hairstyles to beard looks to eating different foods, these reformed men literally see the transformations on and around themselves.  Finally, whether it’s via grooming, getting dressed or or consuming more sophisticated flavors, these men are literally touching their physical selves.  They are performing acts of self care which I believe help them  love and care for themselves more.

Why do I care so much about this?  As I’ve said in previous posts, I think men in our society can only benefit from getting in touch with their physical selves.  By opening themselves up to beauty, they will not only see the world in a new, elevated way, but they will get in touch with their bodies.  The result?  A greater appreciation of themselves, and in turn, more empathy and love for others.  Now, more than ever, in this time of so much hatred and abuse in our society, don’t we need this?  If more men actually loved themselves, not in narcissistic way but because of their new-found confidence, they would undoubtedly embrace others.  And if beauty is the key to unlock this change then let’s harness it.  And oh yeah, who doesn’t love to see men in a well tailored suit?.  That’s something we should all celebrate!

A Video Conversation: Exploring How #metoo Can Be A New Way Forward, Not a Tidal Wave of Division

A few weeks back I shared my reactions to the #metoo movement.  And while I wrote about how wholeheartedly supportive of it I am, I also cautioned us not to inhibit our femininity or masculinity.  I urged us to embrace our bodies and celebrate our sensuality.

As promised in my last post, I am sharing the first of our video series of stimulating chats I had with my good friend and entrepreneur, Rachael McCrary, and host, Marci Weisler, CEO and Co-founder of SWSI (Smart Women. Smart Ideas.) Media.  Rachael is not only a brilliant and beautiful woman but also the founder and CEO of the lingerie company, Jewel Toned Inc.  Phew lots of heavy hitters, eh?

In the video we address how people we know are responding to the movement, e.g., whether they are acting differently, dressing differently or speaking differently.  The discussion moves from business success to erotica.  We raise the questions we’re all facing around whether we can give compliments anymore or whether we have to squelch our femininity or masculinity; whether having women with power lessens or raises levels of sexual harassment; whether the paranoia around sexual harassment can some how diminish our confidence and success; and how owning our sexuality can actually empower us.

Please don’t get us wrong.  We are not challenging the movement in any way.  Nor are we necessarily taking the position of Morning Joe host, Mika Brzezinski, who is concerned for men who could be accused and fired without due process.  She was quoted in Newsweek saying: “The problem is that any woman can say anything, and that’s it, it’s over.  Is that how we’re running businesses now?”  We certainly  are not dismissing Brezezinkski’s opinion, it’s more that we are speaking about something different: our own, personal experiences, and more specifically how how to empower one another.

No matter where you stand on the issues, the only thing we truly urge for all of us is to be open to the different opinions and sides.  Listen to others’ points of view, concerns and ideas.  Don’t judge women or men until you hear what they have to say.  Get the conversation going amongst your community in work or outside of it.  We all are going to all have to navigate through these issues to find a better way.  Just don’t expect others to do it for us.  It’s up to us to make the change.

Have a listen and share your feedback.

Embrace, Express and Own: Empowering us to be Feminine, Sexy & Powerful

Golden Globes 2018 fashion

Lots of buzz this week regarding the Golden Globes, especially all the references to women’s empowerment in the industry.  As you all know, many of the female attendees banded together to wear black to protest the industry’s prevalent sexual harassment.  I’m happy to notice that, while the community of show biz women expressed their outrage via the color of their attire, they were still eager to show their femininity and style.  From deep cleavages to hourglass shapes to enhancing sparkle and shine, these impressive women looked sexy and feminine. 

I’m not writing as a fashionista or style commentator here.  I’m writing as an empowered woman who is eager to help empower others.   

I’ve been struggling a bit with my feelings about the #metoo movement.  Undoubtedly I support a woman’s ability to live and work free of sexual harassment.  After all, I, like so many of my friends, have faced harassment in some shape or form from my school days to today.  In fact, I was encouraged by my followers to write my version of #metoo stories.  And I did.  But I never published them.  It wasn’t that I was ashamed.  Partly I didn’t want to incense my readers and then leave them with no inspiration.  But, really, I think I was concerned that all of our anger would lead us to want to disallow our femininity and sexuality.

We are starting to see the backlash from the movement: from women showing their support for men in social media to French celebrities, led by Catherine Deneuve, criticizing American women for “confusing” violence with seduction.  They argue that the movement reduces our sexual freedom, that “instead of empowering women, the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc movements serve the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, of religious extremists, of the worst reactionaries,”and of those who believe that women are separate”.

I certainly DON’T want people — women or men — to misjudge me because of my gender or how I appear.  I’ve been burned by it.  BUT, what I also don’t want is to feel I have to hide myself either.  I want to own my beauty, sexuality, sensuality, femininity — whatever you want to call it.  Could the #metoo movement lead some of us to inhibit our sexuality out of fear that we are advertising for sex or “asking” for it?  Could our efforts to encourage men to judge us for our creativity, intellect and point of view, also push us to dampen or quell our femininity?

I’m not saying we should all be wearing lingerie to the office.  But, from what I’ve experienced, even while wearing a suit and high-necked blouse, people have still judged me as being too provocative.  In the end, it’s not just what we wear, it’s our whole aura: our style, how extroverted we are, how confident we seem.

What I’ve learned is that the biases we face or the harassment we may encounter is not about US, it’s about them — the harasser.  Any anger or mistreatment of us is a reflection of others’ own issues, particularly issues with sexuality.  Thanks to our Puritanical underpinnings, U.S. culture is conflicted about sexuality and beauty.  We either deify or demonize it.  To make matters worse, we have a hard time believing women can be both smart, and beautiful. To this day, we’ve failed to successfully debunk the negative “dumb blonde” stereotype still floating around our culture.  The BBC created an ironic skit, showcasing the amazing Tracey Ullman, aptly demonstrates the biases we face towards women and their expression of their femininity.  But she turns the tables.  In it, the almost all female police team, make a men dressed in a suit feel like he deserved getting robbed at knifepoint since he look so “provocatively wealthy.”  Have a look yourselves: 

 

In all seriousness, we should be able to express ourselves, including our femininity or masculinity, without the fear of harassment.  We can change this.  We HAVE to #TimesUp.

We need to appreciate beauty and sexuality — our own and that of others.  If we embrace it, we won’t feel so conflicted by it — and treat it with the respect it deserves.   Once we embrace it, we won’t feel so conflicted by it.  And I believe our affirmation will mitigate others’ power to use it against us.  Think about it, we apply the same logic to religious or ethnic expression, right? Do we feel we should shut down people’s ability to physically embrace their specialness?  No way!  I’ve given up trying to appease people who feel uncomfortable with beauty and femininity.  If they want to deem me somehow inferior, that’s their problem.  They will lose what I have to offer.

To all of you — men, women, and or however you define your selves — don’t lose that unique and wonderful part of you that is beautiful, sensual and magnetic.   And if that means wearing a powerful pair of pants, a body conscious dress, or short sleeve shirt that shows off your sculpted muscles, go for it!

Not What You’d Expect: What Blind People Can Teach Us About Physical Beauty

Courtesy of WatchCut Video

What does beauty mean if you’re blind?  After all, you can’t see, right?  Does it actually matter to a person who can’t see?

The answer?  Yes!

I came across a fascinating video by WatchCut Video interviewing blind men and women on their relationship to beauty.   This video generated over 900 comments and over 400,000 views (for video see below).  Why?  Because this short film gives us an honest and thoughtful view into how blind people really think about how we all look.  While they may not be able to see, their desire to be beautiful and be among beautiful people is just as strong as that of seeing people.  We might have imagined that a world without sight would turn us into less shallow, deeper human beings.  But, alas it is not so.

I say, “Thank goodness!”

The women and men in the video admit how important it is for them to be attractive, and for their mates look good as well.  Despite society’s pressure on us not to be vain, or certainly to never admit to it, they, refreshingly, confess that they DO care about it.

So how do blind people experience beauty?  As one subject states: “other senses kick in.” Blind people can detect a curvaceous body, or gorgeous sound, a sexy scent, and smooth skin.  As expected, they don’t think vision has a whole lot to do with people’s perception of beauty.

Some of you idealists may bemoan this story, as you yearn for a utopian society where we can be like the unseeing, that is, blind to others’ physical looks.  Considering all the pressures to be beautiful and all the biases around appearances, I understand this sentiment.  But this video brings something else to light that I still think can still inspire all of us.  Because beauty can be experienced through all of our senses, we all have beautiful aspects of ourselves to appreciate, or to appreciate in others.  It could be someone’s infectious laugh, tender skin or warm touch. This video reminds us of all the gorgeous parts of ourselves and others that we often ignore.  But, also, by resurfacing the physical characteristics of beauty we often forget, this video reminds us us to open our eyes to all the many, many more ways the world around us is so beautiful.

Thank you to all the brave and beautiful blind participants in this video for helping us see more clearly.

Beautiful-Ugly Monuments: Should They Stay or Should They Go? How The Beauty of Ugly Monuments Challenges Us

Courtesy of the Daily Mail

All of us have been swept up in the horrible violence and rhetoric that occurred last weekend in Charlottesville, VA.  As you probably know, the initial spark to this was dismantling of the city’s statue/monument memorializing  the Confederacy’s top general, Robert E. Lee.   The city’s leadership wanted it down.  White Nationalists wanted it to stay.  I’m sure most of you, like me, would want that statue not only taken down, but destroyed.  While it may have been crafted beautifully (as President Trump seems to think), it stands for something very, very ugly.

I discussed this with my friends back in May and one challenged me saying that we NEED these monuments to remain. “If we take the beautiful, but, ugly monuments down,” he said, “will we forget the ugliness they symbolize?”  Condoleezza Rice argued the same thing.  A few months back she was quoted saying in the Washington Examiner, “I want us to have to look at those names and recognize what they did and to be able to tell our kids what they did and for them to have a sense of their own history.  When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better it’s a bad thing…”

I see their point.  There are many beautiful, yet, ugly monuments.  In countries around the world stand beautifully crafted structures that represent ugly behaviors, philosophies and leaders, think Czars’ castles or Egypt’s Pyramids, for example.  But  having them remain is critical.  Not because we endorse the behaviors of the leaders behind these places, but because they force us to remember.   But I think it goes further than that.  Their very beauty challenges us.  We are forced to ask “how can something so beautiful be so bad?”

A few years back I wrote a post around a similar topic: The Stark Contrast Makes It The Most Chilling & Appropriate.  In it I reflect upon journalist’s, Laura Kelly‘s, visit to the beautiful, picturesque village of Wannsee on the outskirts of Berlin.  In this town, and, in particular, in a beautiful villa that still remains there, the Nazis met to conceive the Final Solution.  My initial response to such a place was also “tear it down!”  But then I realize we need to maintain these places.  Like Rice’s point, they remind us of our history.

But why not just keep the ugly reminders: concentration camps, parts of the Berlin wall, or bombed out buildings?  Wouldn’t keeping the beautiful (but ugly) reminders offer the wrong message?  Couldn’t we be at risk of people interpreting the very presence of these beautiful structures as a sign that we should admire this dark history?

But it’s the very beauty of these “ugly” monuments may offer an even more searing effect.  As I wrote in my post: “Seeing the beautiful landscapes of Wannsee don’t deflect from the horrors but actually reinforce them. When we see how beautiful the world CAN and SHOULD be, and then realize how ugly it actually has become in some instances, the ugliness feels that much more jarring.”

I referenced Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as an example of this very thing,  I go on to write: “While the film does an excellent job portraying the horrors of Holocaust, the film is still a masterpiece.  It’s beautifully written, acted and shot.  Perhaps this is why the film still captures our attention to this day.”

If we take down all the beautiful, ugly the monuments will we be effectively letting part of our history go?  Will we forget? And will the very painful dichotomy of beauty and ugliness be spared?

What differs the Robert E. Lee monument from the others I mentioned above, though, is that sadly enough, there remains a critical mass of people who don’t see him or what he stands for as horrible.  In the other cases, the philosophies underlying the monuments are rejected by most of the population: Egypt no longer has Israelite slaves, Russia is no longer ruled by Czars (well, it has another type of despotic ruler but let’s not get off track), and it’s illegal to be a Nazi sympathizer in Germany.

But sometimes the ugliness of beautiful things is too horrible to for us to keep.  And sometimes its the very ACT of tearing it down, vs having it remain or having it gone, which is the point.  We all need to remind those who still support Lee’s beliefs that we won’t, as a nation, tolerate them –years ago, years into the future but especially RIGHT NOW.  We need to actively tear these beliefs down along with the statue that represents them.

So, yes, Robert E. Lee must go.