A Call for Eroticism

In this week’s edition of The New Yorker, I came across a quick story by Peter Schjeldahl, “The Roaring Stetties,”  about the artist Florine Stettheimer.  In anticipation of The Jewish Museum’s retrospective of her work, the story gives us a taste of this New York-based artist living during the end of 19th century and first half of the 20th .  Based on the story, Stettheimer seemed fascinating, bold and talented.  In 1915, Stettheimer painted the first full-length nude self-portrait by a woman.  No coincidence the image accompanying the article was a copy of this very painting.  It’s quite beautiful, tasteful and arresting.  Never would I hesitate to share this story and the image with my children.  In fact, I would be proud too!

But why is a painting of a nude woman any different than other images of naked woman we witness all too often in today’s culture on the internet?  Would I want to show these other images to my children?  My initial response is “no!”  But why? My question reminds me of a post a wrote a number of years back about the difference between erotic art and pornography.  Below is piece from that post:

What explains why pornography is considered base while erotic art is deemed beautiful? In both cases we lay our eyes upon the beautiful (or sometimes not so beautiful) human form.  According to Robert Scruton in Beauty, pornography objectifies the body whereas erotic art represents the embodied person — soul, personality, character….

What struck me about the argument is Scruton’s own words: “My body is not an object but a subject, just as I am…I am inextricably mingled with it, and what is done to my body is done to me.”

His thinking has implications way beyond pornography for me.  Essentially he’s elevating the role of our bodies.  They aren’t just flesh and bone, they are inseparable from ourselves, from our essences.

Keeping our kids shielded from pornography makes absolute sense.  Pornography demeans us and distances ourselves from our bodies.  And the reverse should be true as well.  We should not only deem erotic art differently from pornography, but actually encourage our kids to view it.  They will get a taste of talent and challenge themselves to understand the art in the context of its time.  But perhaps more importantly, they will hopefully embrace the human form and see it as something beautiful not some distant “piece” of who we are, or even worse, a source of shame.  Instead they will see it as inherently part of us, and as such, will  respect it, treat it well and love it that much more.  In a time and culture where we have so many conflicting feelings about our physical selves, let’s at least give our kids a sense of our bodies as sacred and worthy of self-care.  I truly believe such a stance towards our physical selves will make us healthier, happier and more respectful of others’ physicality as well.  Imagine that: we will not only be more loving and protective of our own bodies, but more accepting, caring and cherishing of others’ bodies too.  Could this help to stop body shaming and actual physical harming others?  Maybe.  I hope so.

I would love your reactions to this and I’m looking forward to the exhibit and may even some of you all there :).

 

What’s the Unexpected But Key Role of a Fashion Tech Boss? Check Out This Story & Find Out

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Welcome to our third podcast from the NRF Big Show a month ago.  For this podcast I spoke with Dolly Singh, founder of Thesis Couture, and Alison Lewis, founder of Switch Embassy.   We also had the privilege of re-joining with Monica Phromsavanh, Founder of Modabox.  Dolly and Alison shared with us gorgeous, hi-tech items including: Thesis Couture’s first-of-its-kind scrappy, high-heels that are as beautiful for your back as they are for your feet; and covetable purses like a light, “soft, squishy,” nature-inspired, blue-tooth enabled leather clutch with LED lights and flexible display.

Our conversation spanned topics from how to gather and learn from one another as tech bosses  (leveraging those “secret societies” out there) to what we wished our shoes could do in a dream world (flying, being able to hold our babies, you name it).  One of my favorite statements of the discussion came from Dolly: “It’s desire that drives the world…I don’t want ugly shoes, I want shoes that make me feel like a million bucks…logic doesn’t prevail.”  I couldn’t agree more!

What became so evident from our conversation is the importance  of these women’s ability to communicate — better yet — translate to others.  I immediately connected with that.  So much of my role at Google is to decode and translate the true value of digital to our clients, or translate the user’s underlying motivation and needs to my creative and engineering counterparts.

The same is true for these women.  Not only do they have an amazing sense of vision, but they have a strong ability to translate that vision to all the respective parties.  These different parties often come from very very, different “worlds”, like Silicon Valley engineers and luxury Italian shoe designers.   Alison named her company “Switch Embassy” because of the necessity to be able to pivot AND be “bi-lingual” (my words, not hers).  She has to “speak” fashion AND tech in order to combine these two worlds.  Her role is to really listen, translate and bridge all the expertise.   In her words: “Tech guys don’t know how to talk to brands, and brands don’t know what to ask.”

We sometimes forget how valuable being a great translator and communicator truly is.  We revere the creator, which, having grown up in the advertising world where the creative  director is king, I get it.  But without the ability to bring people together and to get them to see one another’s needs, aspirations and visions, nothing would come to fruition.  As Monica pointed out, “it’s about getting things to market, not just creating them.”  Without the ability to translate among many different teams, collaboration could never happen, and the final product would just be a nice image in someone’s head.  I don’t know about you but I want those beautiful, hi tech purses and shoes in my hands and on my feet, not in my dreams! :).

For the full, fantastic conversation among these tech bosses, have a listen to our audio podcast.

https://soundcloud.com/kathleen-kiley/show-3-beautyskew-mixdown

And if you want to see the live version on camera, have fun watching this…again forgive us for the sound!

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Virtual VS Physical: What Really Drives Us

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VR, Placemaking and spirituality … one momentous day clarified it all for me.  While VR and AR are among some of the hottest topics at CES this year, we still have a fundamental need to find meaning in and add value to our physical world.  The anthropologists have been speaking about this for decades.  They call it Placemaking.  In essence, we, human beings, have a deep seated need to connect with the physical places and spaces that surround us.  This explains why we love to take photos of our environment, why so many social media groups popped over of the years dedicated to local communities, and, why vinyl records soared last year according to last year’s SXSW; and why we still love to decorate our homes. (For more of a description of Placemaking, see my article, Meaning of Mobile)

The concept of Placemaking didn’t just crop up just because of CES, but because I experienced it, first-hand, and in a highly dramatic, spiritual and meaningful way during this holiday season.   You see, my family traveled to Israel, specifically, Jerusalem, to celebrate my son’s bar mitzvah.  We gathered my extended family for a weekend of prayer; good and plentiful Israeli food; and togetherness in the historic Mt Zion Hotel.  Through it all we were overlooking the old city of Jerusalem, and the Hinnom Valley.

To give you some context, the Mt Zion structure was built in 1882 by Members of the Order of St. John, a British charitable organization dating back to the time of the Crusades.  The building housed an eye hospital serving Muslims, Jews, and Christians from all over the Middle East.  During Israel’s War of Independence, the building and a secret cable car attached to it, were used during the night to transfer medicine and arms to Mount Zion, and the wounded soldiers and Old City dwellers to the hospital.  In the daytime the cable was lowered to the ground so as not to be seen.  Years later it was converted into a hotel.  As you can tell from the pictures, it has a classic middle eastern feel, with arched ceilings, mosaic walls, Jerusalem stone and lush gardens.

Experiencing the events of the bar mitzvah in such a historic building — all the while having a view of Jerusalem’s Old City Wall, places of worship and ancient buildings — impacted us greatly.  The setting added beauty, spirituality, history and meaning to my son’s once-in-a-lifetime event that we would not have experienced anywhere else.   The  environment reminded us that my son’s bar mitzvah is a ritual that has dated back centuries, and is part of a religion that has a vast and rich history.  The beautiful hotel rooms in which we dined added a sense of splendor to the event.  And the middle eastern touches, he turkish hammam, morrocon-style furniture and decor, and the classic Judaica surrounding the common spaces, exemplified the mixing of cultures that has strongly impacted the people of Israel and their country.

Like so many of you, I love technology and what it brings us.  How can I not?  I make my living from it :).  But while technology can  transport us out of reality and out of our physical environments, let’s not forget the primal desire we have to surround ourselves with the physical.  We strongly need to touch, feel, plant our feet and smell the real world around us.  As my son’s bar mitzvah shows us, physical space not only grounds us, it heightens our experience.  It connects us to our worlds, to others, and to ourselves.

As we race into the future, don’t forget to embrace our physical world.  It’s primal, it’s necessary, and it’s amazing.

P.S., If any of you are attending NRF Big Show in NYC in a week, please join me on my panel and Beautyskew podcasts! More details to follow in next week’s post.

Garbage Pick-Up, Gaming & Proust: The Ironic Beauty of Dystopia

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I came across a fascinating article by Vice’s website about a rather strange video game: “Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor.”  Unlike every other game that propels you into a fantasy world, “Diaries” is very much real, maybe even too real.  While it takes place in a fictitious world full of weird species and spaceships, the challenges are very relatable.  Maybe even too relatable.   You play out the seemingly mundane, sometimes stressful, practices of everyday life.  Instead of positioning you as a hero or heroine, imbued with superpowers and rewarded for achieving the seemingly impossible, e.g., slaying the dragon, gunning down hordes or bad guys, throwing the longest football pass EVER,  etc., this game celebrates the anti-hero and the “anti-adventure.”  In “Diaries” one must deal with the harshness of a dead end job as a janitor, the desire to escape one’s daily predicament — if only there were enough money saved up to do so, and getting robbed on the way home after a long day.  There are certainly tests and tribulations but they mirror those in so many of our daily lives.

What is the allure you may ask?  Why would someone play this?  I can see why it would begun to try it “it out” for the novelty of it.  But who wants to relive our lives, especially the boring or frustrating parts of it?

But I get it.

And I just spoke about a related notion last week in Milan, Italy  at the If Italians Festival for the creative advertising industry.  Among the various insights I shared, I spoke about why we love to upload, download and share the mundane stuff of everyday life.  When we can have access to so many images of fine artwork via the Internet, why do we spend so much time look at sunsets, our dogs doing something funny or our dinners?  These pictures are not crappy by any means.  Many are often well shot or juxtaposed to offer us a new perspective on these everyday things.  But still, who cares?

WE ALL DO …  and it’s deep.

Throughout history we have always tried to see the beautiful in the mundane.  We crave it.  Marcel Proust talks about this.  And Ancient religions, authors, and playwright have been doing this since the beginning of time.  Turning the everyday into the beautiful allows us to feel like our daily lives aren’t boring, wasteful or downright sad, but rather, beautiful, exciting, and magnificent.  We desperately need this.

This game may not satisfy our hero fantasies but it fulfills something else deeply fundamental: it allows us to see the beauty in the routine.  As the article states so well, this game “find(s) such beauty in the banality of a truly awful job.”  In the ever-changing, dynamic world we live in, so many of us are looking for new new thing — the new job, new house, new mate.  But sometimes there’s beauty in consistency, in the every day trials and tribulations, and being able to know what’s coming next.  We just have to recognize it and appreciate it.

Oh, and for those of us who travel by subway everyday, consistency is the ultimate fantasy come true! LOL 🙂

Beauty, Judgements & Hypocrites: Enough is Enough

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That’s a picture of me when I was about 6 months old.  As you can tell I’m wearing a special shoe on my left foot.  That shoe, along with a cast, straightened (well, for the most part) the crooked leg I was born with.  I’m sure my parents were thinking that having a slightly crooked leg would hamper my movement as I grew up.  But I bet the biggest reason for the correction was that I would just look plain funny with a twisted leg.

So many of us have reconstructed some part of our bodies that we don’t even think twice about it.   Think about how many people have straightened their crooked teeth or in the case of Debora L. Spar, who recently authored “Aging and My Beauty Dilemma” in last week’s New York Times, reduced her breasts via breast reduction surgery.  Such procedures rarely faze us or compel us to judge people harshly because of them.  When a 13 year-old boy walks around with upper and lower braces in his mouth,  we don’t say: “oh, he’s so vain” or “he’s succumbing to social pressures, he should be above that.”  Of course not.

So why do so many of us strong, empowered women feel so damn insecure getting fillers or a boob lift?  Why must we think we are somehow being hypocrites or turning our back on feminism?

I have to hand it to Spar for putting herself out there and sharing her insecurities.  And bravo for the New York Times to take her words seriously enough to print them.  As president of an excellent women’s college, Barnard, Spar is certainly a model of feminism.  And yet, she, like so many of us, are fearful of looking old, and, at the same time, ashamed for feeling that way or doing anything about it.  It wasn’t so much that she was insecure with her changing looks (though she clearly is) but that she feels she is going against her feminist principles that really bothered her.

I get it.  The media or western culture in general can often makes us feel ugly and prey on our insecurities around aging.  And then, to make matters worse, it pressures us not to address those feelings lest we be called frivolous or worse, a hypocrite.

But, c’mon.  Getting a haircut, shaving our legs, and wearing Invisalign are such common behaviors now we don’t think anything of them.  And yet they are all part of our daily regimen to transform how we look.  Should we feel ashamed that we do them, no way!  And men do them too.  They don’t make us less powerful, brilliant or leader-like.

And the same should be true for fillers, botox, breast augmentation, you name it.  They will become so common one day that we will put them in the same bucket as teeth whitening.

So let’s stop wasting our precious energies on judging others for their beauty boosting behaviors.  And even better, lets stop wasting our time and effort feeling ashamed for partaking in them.

I applaud Spar for her article.  Good for her for having the courage to be so vulnerable and talk about something WE ALL feel in some shape or form.  But wouldn’t it be even better if all those “judges” just left her alone so she can feel confident about how she looks and what she does to keep herself feeling beautiful.  And that way she can spend more of her time writing about and sharing her valuable insights on women’s education and leadership instead.

Sexism, Searches & SEO: Time for a RESET

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This is a screen grab from my good friend and creative partner, Rudi Anggono’s, phone. He sent it to me the same night I announced the relaunch of my site via last week’s post. His email message to me, entitled “bias,” was the following:

I was googling your new site but halfway typing, check out the screen grab. “Husband” before “speaker”. We have to do something about this.

This is not the first time someone has mentioned this to me. I usually just crack up. You see, my husband is the LEAST likely to indulge in social media. The last thing he wants is to have any sort of presence online (unlike me, of course 😉 lol).

But Rudi has a point. And I love him for caring. You see Google search results reflect the popularity of a search term. That is, the more searched a term, the higher up on the search list it will appear. So, the fact that “abigail posner husband” appears before “abigail posner speaker” means more people are searching for information about my love life than they are about my speaking. Hmmmm.

I have to confess, there’s a part of me which is kinda flattered. Someone is intrigued enough to want to know about my love life? But, really, I’m just buying into the same sexism that Rudi is pointing to.

No matter how evolved we are, we STILL think it’s ok to demean women by focusing on their femininity, appearance or love lives over their accomplishments.

A few months ago BuzzFeed came out with the story, “If The Media Wrote About Theresa May’s Husband The Way They Write About Samantha Cameron,” perfectly highlighting this point. The article spoofs the inordinate amount of time media focuses on political figures’ wives, and their attire. The article gives examples with pictures and video clips of Phillip May accompanied by headlines such as: “Philip May shows off his tiny waist in a navy blue two-piece,” or “Phillip May shows off his adventurous side. with a light blue tie for another day at the Conservative Party Conference,” or “And maybe they’ll just wax lyrical about his trendsetting way but remind him he’s so much more than a sharp suit.”  No question the story is hilarious, but kinda sad too.

And here’s a less entertaining example.  Again, I give credit to Rudi for enlightening me about this one. The Washington Post published an article about the amazing victory of Olympiad Hungarian swimmer, Katinka Hosszu.  But the focus of the article wasn’t her win but rather the major faux pas by NBC telecaster Dan Hicks as he credited her coach-husband with the victory.  At the same time, the news media kept displaying images of her “cute” husband and Twitter was alight with tweets but all about HIM! Katinka can’t win…well, at least not in the media.

If you want the media to focus on your own beauty, fashion or romantic accomplishments, great! I have no problem with that.  After all, I love beauty and fashion. And who doesn’t love romance!? But if you’re someone who doesn’t want to be defined FIRST by that, today’s culture — along with my search results — is showing we may have a challenge.

But there’s hope.  Because what this last example of Katinka also shows that WE — the public — can voice our opinion about our culture’s screwy values.  Twitter lit up like bon fire after Hicks’s comment with angry tweets, like:

“Hosszu smashes the world record in the 400 IM. Camera pans up to her husband. Dan Hick:”There’s the man responsible!” Unbelievable”

Whether it’s by posting view via Twitter or spending more time searching in Google about people’s substance versus their relationship status or latest outfit, we can actually push for change. The very channels we criticize for reinforcing these values, are also the ones that bring them to light and can be the source for change.

I’m glad people are interested in my husband. He’s an amazing man and has had a tremendous impact on my life. But he’s first person to see me for who I am — a mother, a thinker, a Googler, a blogger, and friend, not for who I’m married to. I hope you all feel the same :).

Freckles, Tech & Mother’s Day: What Do They All Share?

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What do Mother’s Day, freckles and tech have in common?

I recently came across an interesting new beauty trend in JWT Intelligence Report’s 100 Trends to Watch for 2016.  It isn’t the latest lipstick color or Korean skin care craze, rather it’s freckles.  Well, not just freckles but what they represent.  Photographer Brock Embank, who recently exhibited his work on beards at London’s Somerset House, will now be exhibiting his artwork around freckles.  And, if that’s not enough, freckles got some major love on the runway shows, and some brands have recently created products to help us draw freckles on our bodies.

Why does this matter?  For years dermatologists, skin care brands and the media have done their utmost to help us rid ourselves of these spots.  After all, they are blemishes right?  Or maybe not.  Maybe what we are saying is that they represent our individuality.  And THAT is what makes us beautiful.

Thanks to social media like Tumblr  and Pinterest we are celebrating these differences more than ever.  Look at Embracing Our Differences  or my friend and beauty guru, Michelle Phan‘s, appeal for people to “embrace their flaws.”

What in the world does this have to do with Mother’s Day?  EVERYTHING!  We love our moms so much because they are our own, unique moms…no one can replace them.  And our moms love us because we too are totally amazing and irreplaceable individuals.   This extends to our beauty too!  No one thinks our individual beauty is as beautiful as our moms do.  And vice versa.  We think our moms are the most beautiful women in the world!

Thanks to changing societal norms and technology, we can embrace our individual beauty more than ever.  But let’s remember that it’s our moms who have ALWAYS embraced our individual beauty.  Let’s thank her for that.  And let’s also remind her how we think they are the most beautiful women in the world.

Happy Mother’s Day (and birthday to me too! :))

“The inevitable dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance is the engine not only of philosophy but of civil society at large.” Andy Martin. SXSW, Satre & Scissors: Getting Prepped for SXSW Reflects the Basis of Philosophy

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I’m in SXSW now but before my trip, I knew I had to clean up my act before my panel. I don’t mean I had to behave like a responsible adult (the totally wrong move in Austin :)).  No, I had to get beautified.

When it comes to getting my hair cut, I push it off as long as possible. I just can’t commit the time. But when I do, I enter into a state of euphoria as soon as I plunk myself down in the stylist’s chair.  This is especially true when I’m at getting styled by my good friend, and beauty expert to stars and tech gurus alike, Gad Cohen.

Hair transformations have been even more top of mind for me thanks to this week’s episode of American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J Simpson.  Poor Marcia Clark (played superbly by Sarah Paulson) undergoes a hair redo in order to be better liked in the courtroom. The look on her face as she’s about to get shorn totally looked like mine: gleeful excited and full of happiness.  Thank goodness, my result did not resemble her’s on the show! Oy.

Why do so many of us love this type transformative experience? Is because we all need a change? Actually it goes FAR deeper than that.

This question reminds me of a post a wrote a few year back in response to a pretty heady article in the NY Times, The Phenomenology of Ugly called Philosophy: A Bi-Product of Ugliness.  In the Times piece, writer, Andy Martin, realizes (while getting a haircut) that our recognition of our ugliness (in other word the need for physical improvement) is the basis of philosophy. We believe that the world, like ourselves, can be improved.

Here’s an excerpt from my post:

Is vanity vapid or virtuous?  Andy Martin certainly makes a case for the latter.  As you can imagine from the title of his article, the piece was a bit esoteric (lots of references to Sartre and Camus, with a bit of Britney Spears mixed in). But what I got out of it was quite interesting.

In essence, he writes that analyzing your beauty (or lack of it in his case due to a very bad haircut) can have great consequences. That is, by virtue of recognizing that an aspect of your appearance can be improved, let’s say a bad hairdo or big zit cropping up on your chin, you realize that improvement is within reach in other aspects of life.  Says Martin, “that original, self-conscious, slightly despairing glance in the mirror (together with, “Is this is?” or “Is that all there is?”) is a great enabler because it compels us to seek improvement …The inevitable dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance is the engine not only of philosophy but of civil society at large.”

If the knowledge that we have some power over our looks empowers us to change other aspects of our lives for the better, maybe a dose of vanity is what we all need!

I certainly walked away empowered from my amazing transformation experience thanks to Gad.  I feel like I can conquer the crazy networking in Austin and, especially, my stage event on Monday.  But knowing that any kind of change — even just a few inches chopped off and colored — can be the spark to even greater societal movement, gets me all goose-bumpy.

If you’re in Austin, come to our panel!  But if you’re not, then go get a haircut :).

Why Super Bowl Fever is a Very Beautiful Thing

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Like so many of us, I have Super Bowl fever.  I actually don’t care about football or even enjoy watching sports in general.  But my kids, especially my middle son, are buzzing with excitement.  And THAT is so fun to watch.  The energy and passion are infectious.  The fun of having friends over just ratchets up the buzz.

I used to think watching sports was a big waste of time.  But I’ve come to see that there is something truly beautiful about the whole experience.   In particular, the beauty of loyalty.  As I witness my kids and friends perched at the end of the sofa glued to the screen, I remember a post I wrote a number of years ago but this topic.  I was struck with the beauty of team loyalty when I was walking on my way to work early one morning.  It must have been about 7:30 AM (well, early for NYC standards anyway :)) and I passed a bar already open for business.  Sitting there was a woman all alone — literally.  The place was empty expect for her!  She was wearing a soccer jersey (I couldn’t identify the team or country as I am terribly sports-challenged) and staring intently, mouth agape, at the World Cup game on the TV.  It was definitely an odd sight.  But it was a moving one too

Sports are a wonderful thing.  Not only do they promote physical activity and cooperation, but they sublimate our warring instinct.  If you examine the pre-game rituals of some countries, you’ll find they are reinterpreting dances and costumes that were once used to prepare for battle.  But another way to look at it is that sports invoke a sense of loyalty among all of us.   No question loyalty can inspire people to do horrible things, from stadium fights to blindly following dictators to kill masses of people.  And for my son, whose favorite team, the Patriots, lost the opportunity for another Super Bowl win, loyalty also means days of being in an outright pissy mood.  For the most part, though, it is a wonderful, beautiful thing!  Loyalty is what bonds us to our friends and loved ones.  Loyalty signifies a human being’s potential for love, community and willingness to sacrifice for others’ welfare.  No wonder being in a stadium is so exhilarating.  Not only do we get to see the game in person but we can also connect and share in our excitement with a ton of other people.  We don’t even know these people but our shared loyalty and energy builds our own and makes us feel connected.  There’s a term for this in anthropology called “Communitas.”

Of course the Super Bowl is a big spectacle.  It’s an opportunity to party with others and stoke our competitive spirits.  And, frankly, it’s a whole lot of brain candy.  I mean it’s just a game right? But this game, like so many others that we watch from afar, is also a moment to embrace our sense of loyalty and commitment.   Who wouldn’t want more of that?

 

 

Beautiful Protests: Don’t Dismiss Beauty Queens. The Chinese Govt is Downright Scared of Them & for Very Good Reason!

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There’s a lot of different ways to protest.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen some of the worst of them over the past few weeks.  But, for the most part, challenging the status quo, the social wrongs we see, or just plain ol’ anachronistic thinking is an incredibly valuable and innate human behavior.  And, tonight being the first night of Hannukah — a commemoration of the Maccabees’s protest against the repressive Greek regime of their day — it’s only fitting to celebrate it!

The more tyrannical or oppressive the object of our protest, the more crafty, clever and creative we must be in our rebellious acts.  We can’t always march in the street or publish our thinking.  We need to use what we have at our disposal.  And that is exactly what a few feisty beauty queens did as they protested against the Chinese government.  Over the course of the last few days, I saw news story after new story highlighting not just one, but two, beauty pageants that have enraged the Chinese government.

At the Miss Earth beauty pageant, the contestant from Taiwan, Ting Wen-yin, refused to change her sash from “Miss Taiwan ROC” to “Miss Chinese Taipei.”  Her explanation: “I was born in Taiwan, my sash now says Taiwan, I represent Taiwan, and I’m going to use the name of Taiwan in appearing at this pageant.”  She also shared in social media the horrible treatment that all the contestants were subjected to like not being served some meals and forced to attend night clubs to flirt with men.  The result? She was reprimanded, banned from certain activities, and not allowed to be in pictures.  Eventually she was kicked out all together. (For more of the story, read here)

Around the same time, another story hit the news stream about Anastasia Lin, a Chinese-born woman who was crowned Miss Canada.  She has been using the pageant’s platform and the subsequent press coverage to speak against the Chinese government.  She has also created films and written essays to share the corruption and repressive acts of her former government.  And the Chinese leadership was pissed.  Majorly.  They tried to ban her from the Miss Universe pageant.  This, of course, backfired creating an even bigger uproar and heightening her efforts that much more.

Needless to say, the Chinese government is super skittish now when it comes to beauty pageants.

What these stories show us is that the “popular” cultural activities, like beauty pageants (and the people who participate in them) which we may snicker at, can play a powerful role in society.  While I have a hard time endorsing the parading of women around in bathing suits, I also have the seen the power of these “institutions.”  Since the beginning of time and into today, pageants have served as spaces where women could achieve something — whether a way out of poverty or a podium to protest.    I applaud Lin and Wen-yin who not only risked their success to tell their stories, but who realized how to best use the gifts they had and the circumstances they found themselves in, i.e., beauty contests, to do it.  Would they have been listened to if they didn’t use this platform?  Maybe…but, then again, maybe not.

It’s easy for us to look down at people who want to show off and get rewarded for their physical beauty.  But many of us aren’t in the same social, economic and political situations as these people.  Moreover, when beauty contestants use their beauty, and the pageants that showcase their beauty, in ways that most of us wouldn’t have the guts to, how can we NOT admire them?

Lesson here? First, let’s never ever assume that beauty queens are dumb.  Second, we shouldn’t assume that the popular, seemingly frivolous events, like beauty contests, don’t have a potential role for social betterment.  Finally, let’s appreciate the fact that we live in a society where we CAN protest a multitude of ways without fear of reprisal.