Weekend Observations: When Frivolous Leads to Profound

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How we LOVE to make fun of reality TV.  We deem it as frivolous at best and downright brain-damaging at worst.  Add the whole Kardashian dynasty to the conversation and we can’t help but cackle at their maladies.  Just this weekend I came across numerous articles outlining, in gory, snarky detail, the exhausting lengths Kim must go through to be camera-ready for the tabloids.

Hang on there a sec.  How dare we be so critical? After all, these shows and stories somehow feed out appetite for something.

But more than that, these shows, and the celebrities they cultivate, may actually be quite helpful to society.  They may be the reason for some amazing new advances in social acceptance of otherwise-shunned people.

The greatest selling issue of Vanity Fair  — which also happens to be on newsstands everywhere —  is a testament to this.  Thanks to this magazine, Caitlin Jenner, formerly knows as hunky, Olympic winner, and Wheaties spokesman, Bruce Jenner, can finally show off her gorgeous, feminine side to the whole world. And I truly believe we can thank the Kardashian clan (and they producers of course) for this.

One can argue that had the Kardashians never risen to fame, Caitlin would have chosen to come out earlier.  But she never would have had the fame and resulting impact on the rest of us.  Her bravery to share her story and morph in front of the whole world makes it that much easier for the rest of us.

I am super happy being a woman and have no desire to change my gender.  But there is no way I want others who do want to, to live fear and sadness.

So thank you Caitlin Jenner and the rest of her crazy, overly-made-up, drama-hungry family for helping to change the world.

Weekend Observations: W Might Have Found Perfect Wake Up Call to Naysayers of Global Warming

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Despite how dorky I look, I do it everyday from May until November.  I douse my face with sunscreen and wear a big straw hat visor.  There is no way I’m going to grow old and wrinkly without a fight.

One of the key things that scared me into sun-protection-submission is the website, In20Years.  I warn you, it can be harsh.  Basically you post a current picture of your face and then the “magic formula” adds 20 years to it based off your lifestyle.  Yikes!

Now imagine yourself 20 years from now PLUS a ton of sun damage.  Yike 10X!

But then it dawned on me.  Maybe this fear of sun damage can be a real source of change.

Global warming is undeniable. And yet there is a large contingent in this country who deny it.  When scientific data didn’t impress these naysayers, we then played into a fear of business failure thanks to the effects of climate change.  And when THAT didn’t work, there was arguments made by the military that our dependence on the ozone-depleting energy source, gasoline, were harmful to the success of military efforts too.

It seems nothing is working.

But maybe we can change that.  What if we used yet another tactic?  What if we preyed on people’s vanity?  What if we showed how people would look, not in 20 years, but, say, 5 years thanks to the increasing thinning of the ozone layer.  The math is easy: more sun = more wrinkles, sun spots and leathery skin.

You may say most people aren’t as vain as me (though, remember, I walk around in a dorky hat everyday so how vain can I be?).  Or you may say aren’t we demeaning the severity of the issue by connecting it to beauty?

I’m not the only one who has taken this route.  Let’s look at anti-smoking campaigns for a sec.

Like global warming, cigarette smoking is SUPER dangerous.  And no one can deny it’s a killer.  But it also kills your skin cells and libido. After years of trying to scare Americans’ with messages about early and horrible death, the FDA recently changed course.  They now prey on people’s vanity.  Campaigns turned from death to limp dicks, blackened teeth and ugly skin.

So maybe we have an opportunity here.  I’m not discounting the other arguments.  I only WISH people were affected by them.  But when we’re in a situation where nothing seems to work sometimes the seemingly frivolous is the answer.  In this case losing our beauty may just be the impetus we need to get people scared enough to change their minds.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking like a dork.  Or maybe I’ll just start a new trend!

 

What is Absent Here is the Most Startling & Amazing

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My news feed was filled on Friday morning with article after article about the “controversial” Elle cover featuring an Australian model/mom breast-feeding her infant.

Why was it controversial?  NOT because you saw some of her beautiful boob or that she was  –gasp — breastfeeding for all to see.  No.  The controversy was around Elles cover change.

If you were to come upon the magazine in a shop or news stand, you would see a version with the model fully clothed while still holding her baby.  (Why she is holding her baby dressed in haute couture is downright weird but that’s another discussion.)  The breastfeeding-covered issue was intended for subscribers only.

So what was the controversy?  People protested the magazine’s fully clothed version, not the breastfeeding one!  And I love it!  People were criticizing Elle for playing into the cultural disdain for breast-feeding in public.  And what I love more?  There was no one criticizing Elle for its breastfeeding version.  In other words, a beautiful photo of a mother breast-feeding is just that to most people — a beautiful photo of someone doing something beautiful.  End of story.

How far we have come!

I remember I had to fight one of my former employers an office door so I could breastfeed my first child over 13 years go. (We were all “doorless” then.) Very few of my colleagues pumped or breastfed, and they certainly didn’t do it exclusively for over a year.  But I pushed myself to do it.  And this meant my boobs were exposed in bathrooms, trains, planes and automobiles.  I didn’t love the funny looks or the “encouragement” by others to cover up, but I’m glad I did it.

Today it’s gotten so much better. And I’m grateful for that.  Not only are breasts seen as beautiful because of the sexuality they represent, but also because of the nourishment, love and comfort they offer our loved ones.

Yeah, maybe Elle should have let the whole world see the breast-feeding cover.  But at least they took the first step.

Weekend Observations: The Little Reminders of Our Beautiful Brains

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It was a scene like so many others.  One of the key characters of The Americans, FBI Agent Beeman, sits across from Martha, the secretary from his office, at her home one evening.  The vibe is uncomfortable given Martha’s role in planting a bug in their boss’s office. He doesn’t know this though.  She wants him out of her apartment and says something to the effect of: “well, I have an early morning tomorrow.”  The implication? Get the hell out of my apartment asap.  Of course she uses different language but we can all read between the lines.

Yes, we all use coded language like that and we don’t think twice.  But last night, for some reason, it struck me as remarkable.  Our brains are so sophisticated, so beautiful, that we have the ability to decipher the verbal, physical and emotional cues of our fellow human beings within seconds.

As someone who is surrounded by digital experiences and introductions to new digital formats everyday, I am sensitive to how much digital can do for us.  But I am also sensitive to how much it can’t.  Our brains are so amazing that they can interpret so many elements at once to help us thrive minute by minute.

Last year Nancy Kanwisher gave a beautiful talk about the beauty of our brains: “The Neural Portrait of the Human Mind.”  She showed us where certain brain functions where happening inside of our brains.  It was certainly amazing to see how much scientists have discovered and equally amazing how much they still have to discover! The best part of her talk was how she admitted that it would be wonderful if her discoveries led to medical breakthroughs.  But, in the end, she said, isn’t cool just to know that much more about ourselves?

Amen.  By understanding how gorgeous our brains are — how fantastic it is that we can communicate on such sophisticated levels with others — we can be that much more excited and energized with our daily lives.

We shouldn’t take the beauty of our brains for granted.  They are the probably the most beautiful aspects of who we are.

 

Weekend Observations: Want to Connect with Someone? Groom Her

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We see it with monkeys who pick lice from each other’s heads.  We see it with mothers who carefully bathe their newborns.  And we even see it with friends.  There is something very intimate and bonding about making others look good.

There are many analyses of the beauty salon, including our own, that reveal the communal power of beautification.  But what I’m referring to is different.  I’m not talking about how we feel when we are among others who, like ourselves, are taking care of their beauty.  I’m talking about the impact of grooming one another.

When one person gets so physically close that she can see the other’s pores, feel her breath and smell her hairspray, there is bound to be some bonding.  And when you add the selflessness shown by the “groomer,” the connection gets that much stronger.

I experienced this first hand hours before I was due to go on stage at SXSW.  Remember my DIY situation?  Well, I was able to do my hair and make-up.  But fake lashes are a whole other story!  So one of my colleagues who also traveled to the conference offered to help.  She gently and meticulously placed lash after lash (with glue I might add) on to my eyelashes.  Another of my friends watched and photographed it.  See the photo above.  See how close and loving it appears?

Unfortunately the lashes didn’t stay.  But don’t fret, I still managed to look pretty good for the show :).

More importantly, though, I gained something deeper that morning.  I clearly knew I had the support of my friends — the one who placed the lashes and the ones who observed.  After all, they helped me look pretty.  But something else happened.  I felt even closer and more intimate with my friend.  She could have just verbally cheered me on.  But what she did was far more intense. The physical intimacy comforted me.  It meant she really, really cared.  And I will be forever grateful for it.

In the end the talk went great!

What’s even better?  I feel that much closer to my work-sisters.  With this kind of support and friendship, I know we can achieve anything!

What Mesmerizes Us is As Old As Time

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When I gear up to write a post, I sometimes troll the news feed to see what folks are chatting about.  So I did the same thing this time. After the third or so article I happened upon a post of top photos collected over the past weeks.  I wish I could say the photos depicted images of landscapes or amazing feats of nature.  But they didn’t. They were shot after shot of beautiful celebrities courtesy of US Weekly.

Before you groan, please recognize that I’m not proud of this nor did I intend to even focus my attention here.  But once I opened the post and started flipping through the images, I was hooked.  Time flew and before I knew it, it was a half hour later.

What gives?  Why in the world would I waste minute after minute poring through images of beautiful people in gorgeous outfits.  Well, it is award season so maybe that’s what’s catching our attention.

Nah, it’s more than that.

There is something mesmerizing about images, especially images of beautiful people.  Before we admonish ourselves for admiring these shots, let’s forgive ourselves a bit.  You see we are hardwired to not only focus on visual stimuli, but to focus even more on “beautiful” faces.

As someone who spends hour upon hour trying to figure out why and how we engage with all of our digital paraphernalia, one thing is for sure: we are a highly visual culture now.  In fact, we communicate through our visual sense now more than ever.  Think of all the photos, clips and emoji’s we take, upload, download and share EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Of course our digital gadgets make this easier than ever.  But the real reason we are so visual is that we are hardwired to be so.  Our visual sense is one of the oldest and most nuanced…much older than our ability to decode written and oral language.  Remind yourselves of how how babies first learn — through smell, touch and yes, our eyes. Our digital culture has allowed us to return to that state.

Speaking of babies. There are tons of published evidence on babies’ attraction to beautiful faces.  How do we define beautiful faces?  Of course that’s up for debate and not the focus of this post.  But in the most basic way, we are referring to faces with symmetrical features.  So the fact that we can’t get enough pictures of gorgeous people made even more gorgeous thanks to red carpet styles and make-up is, well, understandable.

I’m not advocating that we waste hours reading US Weekly or poring through shots of people with unattainable gowns and coifs.  All I’m saying is that when we do catch ourselves being pulled towards images of beauty, we can now understand why.  And with that understanding we let ourselves indulge a bit and then walk away.

The Fall of Barbie May Not Be For the Reason The Critics Think

 

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News Alert: Barbie sales fell a whopping 16% in 2014.  And this is no fluke.  The year earlier, the brand’s sales fells 13%.  Oy.

Time Magazine published a story about the doll’s demise.  The reason cited for the brand’s dramatic fall?  Changing values around body image.  Barbie has tried to appeal to these changing norms. Barbie attempted to appear more “real” by adding a line of dolls with different skin tones, less hour-glass shaped bodies, and smaller breasts.  Nevertheless the doll has quickly lost relevance.  The story explains that our culture’s embracing of curvier bodies has left Barbie in the dust.  It cites the increasing popularity of plus-sized models as an example.  After all if Vogue can celebrate full-figured women then you know times have changed!

But I’m not sure this is the whole reason.  After all, as I mentioned above, the brand made attempts at changing Barbie’s appearance.  I submit that the reason Barbie is dying has more to do with what the play experience it offers than how the doll looks.  Sure, I’m all for showing girls an image of women that is healthier and more realistic.  But I feel that conversation has happened and has been addressed.  I actually think we’re starting to tire from it.  I think the issue is different now. Girls want to PLAY differently than before.  Girls and boys alike are more sophisticated than we were a while back. Thanks to the advent of technology, gaming, and coding, kids want to expand their brains.  They want to challenge themselves, explore many possibilities, be hyper creative.  Unfortunately Barbie “play” focuses on girls’ outfits and cutsie accoutrement (think Barbie bath tub, Barbie bikes, Barbie tennis rackets).

Dolls have their place.  I, for one, loved my Barbies.  I could create stories and play out scenarios (let alone give them cool coifs with a pair of scissors :)).  But nowadays, our kids want to tap all different sides of play when they play.  I’m not saying Barbie should just have a website.  Of course they already do.  I’m saying the Barbie experience needs to be more multidimensional, sophisticated and mind expanding.

The body image issue is still something we have to deal with.  But instead of talking about it so much, how about we spend more time finding other ways for girls to feel good about themselves.  Beauty, fashion and other Barbie-like elements can stay alive, even thrive, as long as brands embrace a type of play that unleashes girls’ intelligence, creativity and ingenuity.

The Beauty in Decay, Dirt & Death

After a year of sitting on my shelf, I finally started reading a morbid mystery novel set in 12th century England.  The story aptly titled the Mistress of Death follows a female coroner’s investigation into the deaths of little children.

Macabre, I know.

There was a line in the book that struck me.  The main character talks about the amazing beauty of the process of decomposition.  When we die, our bodies don’t just hang around and accumulate like styrofoam piled up in garbage dumps.  No, they slowly decompose, turning into dust.  And this dust enriches the earth making the planet that much better for us living folks.

Of course we know this from biology class.  But to see it as a beautiful process is eye-opening for me.

Coincidentally (or not as I’m a big believe in orchestrating chance — discussion for another day), I came across a story illuminating the visual beauty of decay.  The photo series entitled “Cosmos” by photographer Marcus DeSeino focuses on bacteria, and what it looks like as it “eats” its way into food or other matter.

Sounds gross, right?  But the pictures are quite beautiful!

When we think of the beauty of nature, we often envision natural landscapes or babies being born.  But natural decay has its own sort of beauty.  And this beauty isn’t just theoretical but a visual masterpiece too!

Take a look for yourselves.

A Photograph of a Star Cluster Eaten by Bacteria Found on My iPhone's Screen.
A Photograph of a Star Cluster Eaten by Bacteria Found on My iPhone’s Screen.
A Photograph of the Trumpler 17 Region Eaten by Bacteria Found in My Trombone’s Mouthpiece.
A Photograph of the Little Dumbbell Nebula Eaten by Bacteria Found on My Gym's 20-Pound Dumbbells.
A Photograph of the Little Dumbbell Nebula Eaten by Bacteria Found on My Gym’s 20-Pound Dumbbells.

Celebrating the Beauty in the Everyday is a Must

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I came a cross a story of an art exhibit at the USC Fisher Museum of Art called the “Everyday Sacred.”  As you can imagine from the name, the art work displays beautiful images of everyday events and experiences, like a group of friends ordering food at a restaurant or a woman getting a manicure.

This story intrigued me immediately. For one thing, in our research into people’s love for the digital space, we learned that people spend so much time sharing, viewing and commenting on pictures online.  But the majority of the images are NOT shots of amazing feats or the obscure piece of artwork.  No way.  They are often pics of everyday things — a latte, my dog, your dinner from last night.  But, these shots are displayed or juxtaposed in such a way to offer us a new perspective on that everyday thing.

Why do we care?  Because we all want to know that our everyday lives — what we wear, where we live, what we eat — aren’t mundane but full of beauty, intrigue and wonder.

So when I saw this story about the exhibit, I was excited.  Not only did it affirm our theory but it was quite beautiful to see.  Just like the rest of us, I need to remind myself of the beauty of everyday.  I tend to run around, always trying to get to that next stage of life thinking if I just get there then life will be more beautiful, happy and fulfilling.

But will it?  Maybe.

Even so, our current lives are also pretty damn beautiful, happy and fulfilling.  I — we — to have remember this.

Starting now.

The Biggest Beauty New Year’s Resolution We Must Adopt

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I always love when New Year’s comes around and we get the big reveal of all the new beauty resolutions that we MUST pay attention to.  They are sure to be different and dramatic, right?

Ha ha.  I’m not trying to discount these “resolutions” but let’s face it (no pun intended :)) they are really the same year after year, decade after decade, and just pure common sense.

Some examples: don’t go to bed with your day’s worth of make-up and grime still on your face, moisturize, wear sunscreen, invest in skin care over cosmetics, etc.

Are we that forgetful that we need to hear this again and again?  Sure, there maybe a news flash from time to time, but they are the basic to-do’s that even our gorgeous grandma’s knew.

I think we like to believe that there’s some magic bullet that will change everything for us.  And I’m just as much a sucker for it.

But we need to think of our beauty as we think about diets.  There’s no such thing as a silver bullet.  Instead we need to commit to a lifestyle change, like my giving up dairy (most of the time).  The flash in the pan techniques, products and treatments are alluring but they are a complement at best or a temporary fix at worst.

My advice for the new year (which I’m mostly stealing from years of discussions with dermatologists)?

1. MOISTurize (I purposefully highlighted MOIST — your skin should look dewy)

2. Wear sunscreen, sunscreen and more sunscreen

3. Use Retin A (another reason for #2 — this sensitizes your skin to the sun)

4. Sleep

5. Drink lots of water (a little slice of lemon helps give it some zing)

6. Eat and drink your veggies

7. Shape and clean up your eyebrows often (especially important for hairy ladies like me)

8. Clean your skin before you exercise and go to sleep

9. DON’T SMOKE

10. Be happy, smile and compliment others’ on their beauty —  it always works!

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!