Empowerment, Political Affairs & Youth Education: Fashion Week’s Other Side

If any of you follow fashion, you know every major city has celebrated it’s Fashion Week over the past month or so.  And I can’t help but reflect on it all.  Sure, Fashion Week is full of crazy outfits, “who’s who” sightings, and glamazons.  But in some overt and covert ways, it also uplifts society.  Based on what I’ve read and experienced first hand, Fashion Week also helps open borders; gives those otherwise ignored and let down by society a sense of respect and hope; and, in some veiled ways, empowers a group of women living within a conservative and somewhat sexist society.  And when it comes to me, personally, it has helped open my eyes to and widen my appreciation for another world.

No question, the fashion world has it’s share of issues: underage models, eating disorders and, most recently discussed in the press: sexual harassment.  I’m certainly not saying the industry is perfect.  But there’s a beautiful side to it.  Let’s just take a look at New York Fashion Week as an example.

One particular show that kicked off the week, received a ton of buzz, and impressed the hell out of me.  It celebrated the talents and models of the NYC’s homeless youths (see full New York Times story here).  For four weeks, designers from PVH mentored homeless youth, teaching them how to design, sew clothing and choreograph a show.  These lessons culminated in a show that displayed major doses of creativity, elation and pride.  So many of these youths are on the street due to abuse and neglect from their families.  You can imagine the lack of confidence, anxiety and helplessness they must feel on a daily basis.  But this experience not only taught them key skills in design and crafts, but gave them a sense of accomplishment and pride they rarely felt before.  The pictures of the event, alone, tug at the heartstrings.

Here’s another fascinating example from The New Yorker.  Given the uber-New York-ness of fashion week, The New Yorker dedicates a whole issue on the topic every year.  The best story by far in this year’s edition, “Armor and Lingerie,” features Amaka Osakwe, the designer of Nigerian fashion line: Maki Oh.  She, too, showed her talents at NY Fashion Week.  Despite her “unassuming” appearance, Osakwe is “obsessed with the female form and seduction,  subversive interests for Nigerian women.”  She also makes it a point to highlight Nigerian fabrics and designs, embracing  and bringing to light her culture around the world.  Perhaps most exciting for me, is her expertise in turning her clothes into a form of “elicit escape.”  In other words, her designs give women the permission to embrace their sexuality — on their own terms — despite the taboo of sex in Nigeria.  As such, she gives women back their power to determine how, when and in what ways they want to express their sexuality.

Needless to say, the NYC Fashion Week story that affected me the most was that which I experienced myself.  I was invited to attend a fashion show for Chinese brand, Naersi, at the American Museum of Natural History.  I had no idea what to expect.  I’ve never been to China nor have I developed an sense of Chinese fashion.  But given my relationship with UniPx media (a source of fashion and lifestyle to the Chinese market), and the wonderful VIP accommodations I was given, I jumped at the chance to attend.  Naersi dressed me in one their own beautiful gowns, sat me in the front row next to it’s founder, one of the top models in China, and a few seats down from TV star, Leighten Meester (how’s that for a view?:)).  And best of all I was able to drag a few of my good friends to join me.  The brand’s role, according to its literature, is to “instill confidence and success to independent women….through beautiful and modern design.” As to be expected, some of the designs are meant for the runway show only, but there were quite a few that inspired me.  What hit me most was not so much designs themselves but that I was able to peer inside a world that I have admired from afar but, until now, have little contact with and understanding of.  But right there and then I felt a new sense of kinship with Chinese fashion lovers.  Despite the political, cultural or philosophical boundaries that separate China and the U.S., the spirit of beauty, celebration of female empowerment, and love of pushing the limits unites us.  Thanks to fashion, I feel a new sense of appreciation for and connection with a culture that always seemed to distant and different.

No doubt fashion is fun and sometimes frivolous.  And in some ways, it’s because of its very lack of seriousness that it can be used to subvert culture, push against our assumptions and make us think.  When used for the right purposes, fashion has the potential to unite and empower people.  That and a nice new pair of boots will certainly give me a lift. 🙂

 

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.

The Beauty of Social Media isn’t Just Skin Deep

A street in Paris My my trip a few weeks ago

In past posts, I have referenced the anthropology-based work around various technology platforms I had the privilege to develop, including a study on Social Media.  A recent article, “Instagram posts can reveal depression better than anything patients tell their doctors,” brought the insights of this social study to fore for me.  It reminded me of the deep beauty that we can actually derive from social media.  I’m not referring to pretty pictures, though that has an important role in our lives.  I’m referring to the deeper, societal benefit Social gives us.

Yes, for many of us social media is a playful pastime.  We can post great bikini pics or vacation vistas.  We can air our grievances or, at our worst, use it to put others down.  Social media — not matter which sites we frequent or how we’re using them (including the posting of seemingly banal stuff) –serves as greater purpose: one that fundamental and, well, beautiful.

How?  Because of the very elements of social — it’s real time, and raw nature; and the relative anonymity or physical distance from others — we tend to be more real and vulnerable.  And, we will often say things and show things to MANY people that we would either keep to ourselves or only tell a few friends.  In doing so, we often use a sort of language, what we call “poetic language,” (imagery, gifs, emoji’s or slang) that’s full of nuance and emotion to truly convey what we feel.  For example, if you asked me how my day was over text a few years ago, the best I could offer was “good” or “GOOD” of “Way good.”  But now I can add some rainbows, a video clip and an emoji looking up towards heaven to show how amazing it was.

It’s these elements that compel us to share and be open to “hearing” back — whether that’s about the best restaurant in a foreign city or if a woman should leave her abusive boyfriend (true story on Reddit).  And this exchange of ideas, insights and challenges helps us learn about our worlds and our place in it.  We call this “Self-Making through Others.”   What does this mean?  We are less and less motivated by individual self-help and more by interdependence!

So when I saw this article about being able to detect depression in others thanks to Instagram images, I thought:”this is yet another wonderful example of Self-making through Others.”  The article explains how we can help alert others’ to their pain and maybe suggest ways to help them thanks to their Instagram photos.   According to EPJ Data Science, a pair of researchers, Chris Danforth of the University of Vermont and Andrew Reece of Harvard University, were able to analyze Instagram posts based on previously known markers of depression.   The article points out: “Depressed people tend to prefer grayer, darker colors, and to show less evidence of social activity (which the researchers thought might be evidenced by the absence of faces in posted images).”  And depressed people tend not to use filters.

Imagine if you and your social network realized one of your friend’s is experiencing deep, emotional pain and you could help him or her?  Wouldn’t you want to?  Thanks to social media, in this case Instagram, we can.   I realize social media can also contribute to peoples’ pain, for example, when the body-shamers rear their heads.  But as our research indicated, most of what we share and chat about is positive, helpful and insightful; not negative.  And now, thanks to this research, we can be more aware of others’ emotional states, and help them through their situations.

Social media is certainly light and fun, and and we should enjoy that.  But let’s not just sit back an admire people’s images or scroll past them.  Let’s pay closer attention to what others share.  Let’s uplift those even higher who are celebrating their lives and embrace those who are crying out for help.  And we will all be better for it.

 

 

The Evolutionary Proof of the Value of Beauty’s Pleasure

Let’s take pleasure in pleasure.  In case you’re feeling a bit hesitant about this, take a look at evolutionary theories to give you some extra ammo.

We’ve all learned the appeal and surprising evolutionary success of the peacock with it’s heavy but beautiful wings in middle school science class.  According to evolutionary theory, the strongest survive which explains why certain traits have lasted the test of time.   And this theory is also used to explain why the seemingly unfit species, like the peacock that can’t fly, still survives.  The theory is that the female assumes the peacock must be super strong in order to carry around his massive, gorgeous wings, and, thus, a superior mate.

Well, the recent book by Richard Prum, The Evolution of Beauty, challenges the notion that beautiful features in us, animals, MUST  surely be some health indicator.  Instead he says that certain species thrived in spite of being less fit because they inspired pleasure in others.  In an interview for the “Verge,” Prum refers to the Club-Winged Manakin that “actually evolved to become cooler but less fit.”  In order to attract its mate, the bird’s wings adapted to become more beautiful for the purposes of dance but actually less efficient in terms of flying — it’s main role!   In other words, the pleasurable beauty of the winged manakin attracted mates even if it meant the risk of less healthy offspring.  Prum asks if sexual pleasure in certain species is only to ensure reproduction, why do animals endure elaborate dance or singing rituals to attract the other.  Couldn’t one round of two-stepping or a few chords have done the trick?  Nope.  His explanation is that many species, including us, human beings, desire pleasure.  And we desire this not just to ensure survival of the next generation but because it has value in and of itself.

So how come it took so long for someone recognize this?  Plum’s explanation:

“I think evolutionary biology has a ‘pleasure problem’ going all the way back to the Victorians who were very unsettled to the idea that animals, including people, might be motivated by pleasure. It might be anxiety about the power of passion, and so we’ve been going on a long time ignoring subjective experience.”

Let’s face it, so many of us in our culture are downright uncomfortable with notions of pleasure.  So we either explain it way as something that leads productive or reproductive ends, or we ignore it all together.  I confess, I’m sometimes guilty of the former.  I rationalize pampering my skin or wearing fashionable clothes as way for me look more professional or give me the confidence I need to take on a big career challenge.  Why can’t I just enjoy the pleasure of beauty without tying it tie to something purposeful.  I loved how Prum answered a recent question posed by Dr. Prakashin in the New York Times article by James Gorman, “Challenging Mainstream’s  Though on Beauty’s Big Hand in Evolution:” “Why are birds beautiful?” “Birds are beautiful because they’re beautiful to themselves.”  Full stop.

For those of us who eschew pleasure all together, we may be pushing against our nature.  I’m not saying “natural” behaviors are good.  Some are downright horrible, like murder or child pornography.  And I’m not saying all pleasurable activities/things should be embraced, example opiates.   But if we are built to seek pleasure — within reason — shouldn’t we be more comfortable with it?  Even better, shouldn’t we embrace it?  There are so many wonderful pursuits of pleasure.  Enjoying art, wonderful food, beautiful scenery, gorgeous music, and the list goes on.  If it makes us happier, isn’t that a good thing?  Maybe if we just let ourselves appreciate pleasure more we wouldn’t be sublimating our natural desires, and potentially channeling them into not so great behaviors.  As we all know, curbing natural desires has a way of leading us to harmful pursuits.

If we have the capacity to create pleasure for ourselves and others, I think we should see it not only as our privilege, but also as our responsibility to foster it, welcome it, and share it.  Let’s seek out pleasure!

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 :).

 

Beauty in the Workplace: How We Can Embrace, Not Fear, A Multi-Generational Workforce

Within minutes of me publishing last week’s post, The Role of Ugliness and the Need to Address the Topic Head On, I received a very interesting plea by one of the readers.  He urged me to address another appearance-related issue, ageism.  And he was quite passionate about it.  Within a few days of my post, he reached out again asking why I hadn’t yet written about it.

While one might be taken aback by such pushiness, I was actually pleased.  Selfishly, I was happy that he thinks I have something to say.  But more than that, I’m glad he cared, and that he was a “he.”  In case you didn’t see his comment on the post last week, here it is:

Great commentary, Abigail. This is an ‘old’ argument. Have we made progress?; probably. Have we went far enough?; Certainly not. I think the broader discussion has to do with ‘age’ – what is the underlying difference between ‘beauty’ & ‘age’ if it means one class is being treated as an outcast? Many older workers are now feeling the same level of discrimination that woman of all ages have felt for many, many years. Of course, certainly for vastly different reasons in many respects. But what about woman over 50? Now they’re judged on their looks and their abilities. Talk about shaming! We need to start raising the noise on this issue; isn’t 50 the new 30? If so, let’s be more inclusive for all races, genders & ages.

Needless to say, I agree with him.  And as a woman in the corporate world, especially in a very young industry, i.e., tech, I can relate to the fear of being “too old” in the not so distant future.  I may be able to speak in front of large crowds and have the confidence to put myself “out there” in social media but tell my age to may colleagues?  Now, that’s a different story :).  In all seriousness, I experienced a bit of a mid-life crisis last year about this very issue.  Would I lose my allure?  And what happens then?  Will people not want to work with me anymore?  As vain as it sounds, I recognize that we all bring a full package to our social and professional lives.  And that package includes youthfulness, style, attractiveness, in addition to all the other very important traits like intellect, integrity, a work ethic, EQ, and the list goes on.  So I totally understand what this reader was getting at.  There was a recent story by Carly Ledbetter in the Huffington Post all about this: Men are Getting Now More Than Ever.  These Plastic Surgeons Explain Why.

This topic reminds me of a story I wrote a few years back about how American woman and men fear looking older.   This fear is not just associated with sexual appeal but with a sense of currency in the office.  Here’s what I wrote back then:

According to an article by American Health and Beauty(“More Male Patients Seeking Cosmetic Procedures”), men are increasingly seeking facelifts, male breast reduction, Botox treatments and liposuction.  The reason given?  Major competition in the job market from younger, more energetic youths.

What’s even more depressing is the rise of eating disorders among the silver-haired set.  A recent New York Times article (“An Older Generation Falls Prey to Eating Disorders”) states that more and more women over the age of 50 are suffering from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders.

So what do we?  We can be more diverse age-wise in our hiring practices.  And we can support older entrepreneurs who decided to pivot a bit later in their lives.   And I’m sure there are even more actions we can take.  In fact, comment on this story if you have some ideas!

But I actually think the changes need to come from within ourselves first.  If we are in fear of aging, we will inevitably project that onto others.  We all have to maintain ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually.  If we are to lose our sense of energy and positivity then we should expect people to not want to work or play with us.

I mentioned above that it was a man who reached out to me.  While I don’t want women or men to ever feel ashamed or unattractive, I’m actually somewhat pleased it was a man who commented.  For one thing, if both genders are experiencing this issue, the more likely the problem will be addressed.  In addition, I’m a big proponent of men taking special care of their physical health and appearance.  Unlike women who see doctors regularly from a young age and are used to tuning into their bodies, whether for procreation or disease-prevention reasons, men don’t really have a need to think about their bodies until later in life.  They may not understand or feel connected to their bodies in the same way women do.  But when we all make conscious effort to maintain our physical health, and, yes, our appearance, we understand our bodies better.    We are clued into them.  And frankly we respect them more.  If more men were to have a stronger “connection” with their bodies, I am convinced, they will not only be healthier for longer, but also be more aware of when they aren’t healthy.

No doubt I want to ensure that we give everyone a chance, no matter their religion, gender, appearance or age.  And we should fight against any discrimination that we face.  But I also think it’s up to all of us, individually, to ensure we feel healthy, happy and energetic.  Not only will we have that much more confidence, but we will undoubtedly inspire others to see how being older could even be better!

The Role of Ugliness and the Need to Address the Topic Head On

A couple of weeks back I posted my point of view on the recent film, Beauty and the Beast. Honestly, I didn’t think many would read it too closely, let alone comment on it.

Well, I was wrong.  And I’m thrilled!

What’s even better is the conflicting point of view that I sparked. Certainly not everyone agreed with my argument, and that was fine by me.  The sheer number of views and comments reinforces the opening point I made in that post: the movie and the subject of beauty, which is clearly part of the story, generate a lot of interest.  My question was why?

Many of the commentators on my post explained that the story line around inner beauty touches us all and the fact that the Belle character is even more nuanced elevates the story even more.  I buy that.  But I was more interested in why the subject of beauty in fairly tales still resonates.  Period.  A few years back I wrote a post about the animated movie, Brave, and how I appreciated that fact that she was not regarded as beautiful or ugly, but rather stubborn, athletic, loving, etc.  In other words, beauty didn’t enter the equation.

I concluded that the subject of beauty has a key role.  It isn’t something to ignore, but a topic we should raise and discuss.

And this means we should also encourage the topic of ugliness.  This is the other side of beauty.  Can someone look or be ugly?  I notice that I dissuade my children from describing things or other people as ugly. But in doing so am I am I shutting them down entirely.  Is that right?  Shouldn’t we invite the discourse?  Doesn’t Beauty and the Beast do just that?

Here’s a reason to talk about it.  I recently read a fascinating article by Mindy Weisberger of LiveScience, Beauty and the Beast: Why We are Fascinated By Human-Animal Mates?  As you can tell from the title, the story delves into the role of half-human half-animal characters in fairy tales.  Interestingly the half-animal characters are mostly male.  I won’t summarize the whole article but share one reason.  In the times of fairy tales, young girls, say around 14 years old, would often be betrothed to much older men.  To these girls, older men were obviously bigger, harrier, more muscular, perhaps even animal-like in their eyes. To assuage their fear of their future husbands, stories would often depict the princes as part animal.  And as we all know, everything turns out all right and we live happily ever after.  What an interesting explanation to share with our children!  And you can imagine the profound discussion that this explanation would lead to around women’s rights, equality, strong partnerships with romantic partners, and the list goes.  But without the freedom to pursue the topic of beauty and ugliness, we may never get to broach those issues.

We are innately interested and appreciate beautiful things and beautiful people.  And in an effort to shield girls and boys from placing too much emphasis on beauty, of course we shouldn’t elevate it to the only, or the primary source of conversation.  As an aside, there’s a book that just came out this week by Renee Engeln about our attention on beauty as a form of sickness, aptly named, Beauty Sick, How the Cultural Obsession with beauty and Appearance Hurts Girls and Women.  The analysis shows the ramifications of too much thought around beauty.  Obviously I don’t endorse that.  But I also believe that we shouldn’t ignore the subject all together or even downplay it.  Let’s embrace beauty, the uniqueness of it, and the bad and the good that come with it.

“Beauty and the Beast”: A Blow to Feminism or Something Powerful For Us All?

This week we are changing things up!  While the last number of posts have been about the future, i.e., upcoming fashion tech, this week I’m going to talk about something that’s been around for centuries: Fairly Tales.  Well, more specifically, Beauty and the Beast.

The reason?  You can’t ignore it.  Every time I open my news feed I see story after story about the movie.  Of course there’s lots to say about this version: there’s some hot actors in and controversies surrounding it, and box-office numbers are through the roof.  But it seems the focus on it is excessive.

Should I be surprised?  I mean how many versions of Beauty and the Beast, whether in film or written form, have there been?  A ton.  What gives?  Fairy Tales intrigue us because they are a reflection of fundamental human struggles, highs and lows, and desires etc.   But in this day and age why are we so enamored by a simple story about a beautiful woman and her ability to attract a prince?

Beauty, or the lack/loss of it, is so central to so many of these stories, because, well, it does matter to us.  But I can’t help but wonder if the blatant concern with outer beauty is something we want our kids to be listening to or watching in this day and age.  Haven’t we progressed beyond girls being noticed and valued for their beauty alone?

For those of you who follow Beautyskew, you know that I’m anything but adverse to our celebration of beauty.  But I am alarmed when we view beauty as our only asset.   I too have a daughter who is beautiful AND intelligent, gregarious, athletic, friendly, artistic, and the list goes on.  I try to celebrate all these traits.  So when a movie all about beauty gets so much attention I have to pause.

But, maybe this film is actually a gift.  Maybe the smack-you-in-the-face focus on beauty — it’s in the very title — will force a necessary debate.  No matter how successful we are at helping our daughters, sisters, girlfriends or mothers see their worth beyond their appearance, our culture still reflects how critical our looks are.  Often culture has a way of doing it in subtle ways, e.g., only cast young, svelte women for TV roles, churn out only singers that look pretty or put the spotlight only on female politicians’ attire.  When it’s subtle, it’s that much harder to recognize the issue, especially for kids.  On the flip side, the obvious title of the film and the role of beauty in the film can’t be ignored.  It’s there to enjoy, agree with or confront.  And that’s a good thing.

The fact remains:  we are judged by how we look.  I  suffered from this just last week when I was harshly judged by a particular audience for how I looked.  I’m not placing all the blame of my less-than-stellar success at bonding with the audience on my looks, but from what I heard, how I appeared was met with criticism and sexism.  This reaction tainted the whole presentation and had a ripple effect on others I work with.

I don’t like it, but it happens.  We can’t shield our kids, friends, relatives from that.  But we can help them come to terms with it.  If we deny the reality, we don’t help anyone.  We just leave our loved ones unprepared for others’ reactions.

The reason fairly tales still touch us is that they are so obvious.  They speak to the classic issues of beauty vs ugliness, evil vs goodness, strength vs weakness, without apologizing for it or masking it. Of course we are more subtle creatures and don’t need everything so blatant.   But sometimes you got to put the thinking out there so people are forced to respond.  We need to talk about the role of beauty in our lives, we must deal with issues of jealousy and fear.   We may not like that our outer appearances gets so much hype.  But they do.  Let’s address the issue, and learn how to love ourselves no matter how we appear to others or how others react to us.

 

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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