Fashion, Politics & Diversity: NYFW Lily Fashion Event

With Lily General Manager, Chen Chuan & CCO, Sun Mingyang

In my many years writing about beauty, I’ve commented on the bridging opportunities of fashion.  I believe that because fashion and beauty are often relegated to the “nice to have” or “fun/cultural” spaces (aka not THAT important), it gets overlooked by those in political power.  Yet this “status” rewards it the freedom to defy authority, push boundaries or advocate for certain agendas.   

I’ve had the privilege of being associated with Unipx, a Chinese lifestyle/culture/fashion publication.  More than that, I’ve become good friends with members of the publication, including its CEO. Through our relationship I get to do fun things like attend fashion shows and speak at events.  But more importantly I get to hear different perspectives, and, in some small way, help to bridge the gaps that exist between our cultures. No question, with all the events happening in Hong Kong, we jump into lengthy debates.  And of course, we acknowledge China’s limitations for people with different sexual orientations and identities. But at least we are having these conversations and trying to connect.

The recent event at the Lily fashion event: “The New Generation of Chinese Women,” and the subsequent fashion show during New York Fashion Week further reinforced this goal of connection, understanding and openness.    Of course, I loved being outfitted by the brand :). But I REALLY loved the shared values expressed at that event. We all — no matter the culture — want to find ways to empower women — ALL women. Fashion has the ability to help us feel confident, successful, powerful.  And this includes women of different shapes, ethnicities, abilities. This culminated in the fashion show where I was able to see the wonderful diversity of looks, ethnicities, identities and ages at the Lily fashion show tonight. As Pablo Starr from Fashion Week Online said at Lily’s event about today’s fashion scene: 

“There’s a beautiful mingling of cultures…we aren’t just tolerant of other cultures…we want to embrace them…we are excited by them! People want to take from other cultures because there is one human culture…we all belong and can embrace together. “

Sure the Lily brand showed off gorgeous outfits, but it also went out on a limb and pushed an agenda of openness.   Fashion and beauty may not be a subject raised at the U.N. but it allows for sharing, communication and defiance.

See this video for all the diversity of ages, looks, sexual orientation, ethnicities.

Some more pics from the event:

With Unipx CEO, Yitong Qui
With Louie Herman, fashion photographer & FashionWeek Online founder, Pablo Starr

Diversity & Inclusion of Looks in the Workplace Isn’t Just Great for Fashion, It’s Great for Corporate America

I’ve sat on panel after panel but this is a first for me.  I am the only light skinned person in this entire conference, speaking about beauty in the workplace.  And I’m bubbling with excitement (and a bit of fish-out-of-water feeling) because I’m sharing the stage with four gorgeous, brilliant, fierce business women who are blowing me away with their poise, warmth and insights.  My friend Ty Heath of Linkedin organized an amazing conference for women of color, TransformHER, and she asked me to join this particular panel.  No question, I jumped at the chance.  Ty gave me an opportunity to discuss the truly important topic of beauty in corporate America.  While I write about this issue in Beautyskew, I’ve never had the honor to SPEAK about it.  I am thrilled that this topic is finally getting some real attention. 

I can totally understand why this is a key topic for the conference.  There is no denying that African-American women face a double challenge: they often have to concern themselves with BOTH not appearing too feminine or too “black.”  In this era of greater diversity an inclusion, the business world has loosened up the expectations of how we should look in the office. But let’s face it, we still have a long way to go.  I, myself, am still challenged with not looking either too sexy or too dowdy or too corporate. I wrote an angst-filled post about this last year when I had to prep for a huge speech in Norway.  What a pain to have to a. worry about what to wear, and b. have to curb our true selves so so others can feel comfortable.  Why is being comfortable so good anyway?

Diversity of looks goes beyond even ethnic identity or sexual identity.  In a recent Washington Post article, “Hey Goldman Sachs, does your dress code allow thigh-high boots?” the author, Buzz Bissinger, points out that a shift to casual attire may indicate a loosening of rules but doesn’t demonstrate a broad acceptance of divergent looks and styles despite the company’s claims of diversity and inclusion.  There’s still a big gap between allowing chinos in the office and being tolerant of all styles.  He continues to write: “… (A) shift to more “casual” attire is fine, as long as the choices are dictated by what others want, others think, others find appropriate. Which, of course, is antithetical to what fashion should be about: individuality, freedom, self-expression. What one wears, not just on heightened days but every day, should never be captive to anyone else except yourself. It is only clothing, which, as far as I know, is not harmful or lethal — unlike, for example, subprime mortgages. “

Bissinger’s passion is palpable.  How we look isn’t something to take lightly.  It’s fraught with anxiety, judgement, and insecurity. As Bissinger writes: “… In our society of self-suppression, nothing is more subject to instant judgment than clothing. You are defined by what you wear, and if you wear anything different from the mainstream, the furtive stars come out. Then come the snickers. Then come the inevitable stereotypes associated with styles of dress. Worst of all comes your own overwhelming self-consciousness, the sense that somehow, some way, you are actually being offensive by choosing to wear what you want, and that it’s better to be a lemming of conformity, boxy and boring, stultified and stifled, but not sticking out. So you jettison what is most sacred of all, your own sense of self.”

What Bissinger doesn’t stress as much is how our fashion can also also be a source of pride, fun, self-expression and happiness.  And these feelings undoubtedly make us more successful.  So, yes, it’s about time we engage, seriously, in the topic of beauty and fashion in the workplace.  From our hair styles to our clothing, to our thigh high boots, our ability to show up as we want is critical for our senses of self and of confidence. But, as I say on the panel, it doesn’t just impact ourselves.  It signals to our colleagues, our friends and families that we don’t need to hide ourselves, but rather embrace who we all are with pride and happiness.  And doesn’t a happier, more confident, more diverse workplace lead to a more corporate success? No question!

For a full look at the panel watch this:

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.

Stand Beautiful on Feminism — For More Reasons Than You Think

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Lots of wonderful buzz this week about female empowerment, especially amongst us nasty women ;).  The election has certainly heightened our awareness, emotions and convictions around this topic.

But there was another piece of news on this topic that had nothing to do with elections.  Instead it had to do with an unlikely new “face” for a beauty brand: Nigerian author and feminist speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie .  She is the new spokesperson for Boots No.7.  According a statement emailed to Mashable, Adichi feels “women use cosmetics to be ready for something: to show up, speak up, and make an impact in their world in their own way.”  For her make-up isn’t a tool to hide women’s power and turn them into sexual objects.  Rather it is a wonderful source of transformation, confidence and power.  What’s better, she gets to the heart of the matter and addresses the seeming conflict of being a feminist who loves make-up.  She reveals that she shied away from make-up at one point so as not to be deemed frivolous.  But this wasn’t her true self.  It was only when she gained a greater sense of confidence that she chose to go back to wearing make-up again. Check it out in this great new video.

While we may have heard similar statements in the past about the powerful role of cosmetics, to have such a powerful voice speak about her appreciation for cosmetics is new.  And then to take such a strong stance by associating herself with a brand in such a way is even more surprising.  I applaud her for fighting against the typical rhetoric that claims enhancing our beauty is wasteful at best or degrading at worst.

But I would interpret the empowering nature of cosmetics and skin care in another important way too.  Beyond how skin care or make-up make us look, think about what the actual process of engaging with it does to ourselves.  Sure, there are the usual mini frustrations of a wobbly eyeliner lid or a spilled nail polish bottle.  But most of time, the ritual of applying these lotions and potions or colors and creams, is deep.  I wrote about this a few years back in a few different posts: Another Powerful Role for Cosmetics & One More Minute Please I explained that the very act of pampering or applying skin care and make-up allows us to gift ourselves a form of, in what my good friend and Anthropologist, Tom Maschio calls, “self-care.”

Here’s how I described it in then:

When we touch, caress, adorn and pamper our bodies, we are connecting with them and, eventually, our spirits too. Caring for our bodies is soothing and uplifting at the same time.

Our bodies aren’t detached objects just to be prepared for public appearance but, rather, are inextricably linked to the self.  And every part of the body — appendage, organ, secretion, etc., function together harmoniously. Beautification, i.e., the act of massaging, applying, fixing, plucking, whatever the actual activity, isn’t just a means to an end but an act of health care and self-love.

So, for all of us women –and men included –who enjoy adding some scent, sparkle, color or plumpness to our appearances, remember that it not only boosts our confidence but it gives us a spiritual high too.  It helps us connect to our bodies — to admire them, care for them, energize or calm them and, ultimately, connect with them.    And if loving and caring for our bodies doesn’t lead to feeling empowered, I don’t know what does!

What’s Your Most Attractive Quality? It’s Deeper Than You Think

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Given the nature of my posts, I absorb myself in reading and writing about beauty.  While I’ve presented many theories on what makes something or someone beautiful, I don’t often share what I consider beautiful or what attracts me to someone or something.  I guess I feel you really can’t pin the answer down to one thing.

But just the other day I heard a definition of beauty that I never had before.  And I found it to be the best one yet.  What’s even better is I heard it in the most unlikely of places: during a manager training course!

Allow me to explain.  As my colleagues and I were getting valuable coaching tips, the trainer explained that we can better coach our teams if we let them come to their solutions on their own.  To do this, we need to guide our conversations using open questions, like “how do you imagine doing XYZ “or “what possibilities come to mind?”  By being curious we not only let them know we care about them, but we allow them to be creative and find a solution.  As the trainer summed it up: “Curiosity is our species’s most attractive trait.”

Bam! It hit me like a ton of bricks.

Sure we are visual creatures and we are attracted to the obvious signs of health (e.g., physical symmetry) and reproductive capabilities (e.g., large breasts).  But the invisible trait that draws us like a magnet, holds our attention and then captures our heart isn’t our pheromones, but our curiosity in others.

Our curiosity lets others know we are interested them and more importantly that we are concerned with them.  It gives them a sense of safety and security.  Who wouldn’t be attracted to that?!

According to a BBC Story, Why Are We So Curious?curiosity is one of the few childlike traits that we have held on to as a species.  While other species grow out of their childhood traits, e.g. lack of body hair, we actually retain some of ours.  In addition to being far less hairy than other species, we still hold on to our capacity to be curious.  Evolution made us the ultimate learning machines.   Our curiosity gives us the capacity to learn and progress, but ALSO attach to one another.

What’s even better about curiosity? It inevitably makes us happier people.  As a blog I happened upon, Experiencelife.com, states:

“In his book Stumbling on Happiness (Knopf, 2006), Harvard University psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, PhD, shows that, while we think we know what will make us happy in the future, we are actually less likely to find joy as a result of a planned pursuit than by simply stumbling upon it.  It follows that by cultivating curiosity and remaining open to new experiences, we increase our likelihood of encountering those surprising and satisfying activities.”  And in the end, happy people inevitably attract us more, right?

While I’m all for looking our best, don’t forget what will make us the most beautiful: our sense of curiosity.  And for all of you celebrating Valentine’s Day, remember be curious in your loved one. 🙂

I Say “Beauty,” You Say “Attractiveness” … Why Can’t They Be One in the Same?

What is the difference between being attractive and being beautiful?  Vivian Diller PhD, a frequent blogger on Huffington Post and author of Face It, answers this question.  She explains:

“Beauty is a rigid, static physical image.  Attractiveness is a fluid, variable psychological experience.  One that moves from inside out and back again.  Beauty can be inherited, Photoshopped or surgically attained.  Attractiveness develops, evolves over time and can be ageless.  One can be attractive to others or simply feel that way about oneself.  Beauty leads women toward the pursuit of the physical features associated with the word.  Attractiveness is an attainable goal for those who take care of their bodies, enjoy their lives, maintain sensuality and engage with others.”

I don’t agree with her distinction.  I actually believe a beautiful person is what she describes as an attractive one.  I really like the imagery she offers of someone who is “fluid” and full of “energy.”  But I think the notion of enhancing one’s beauty by surgical or artificial means can actually contribute to people feeling more confident, and, therefore, help them be more “fluid”, “sensual” and “energetic”.  In other words, attractive.

Given her role as a psychologist to women facing their aging beauty, I’m sure Diller is reluctant to advise them against seeking surgical solutions right away. I get it. But if one wants to feel more beautiful with some “help” or through natural means, it doesn’t matter to me.  It’s all about having a positive attitude, a sense of grace, and making the most of what you have.

When Will Hair Bias Ever End?!

In an apparent attempt to appeal to women, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the many ways we seek to straighten our frizzy locks.  Why is this a WSJ-worthy piece?  Well, we business women, especially those handling financial matters, must be seen as tidy and put together.
Now wait a second.  Does anyone have a problem with this?
Who decided that curly hair is “ungroomed”? Even the title of the article, “The Taming of the Curl,” pissed me off.  The implication, of course, is that curly hair (ah, dare I say ethnic hair?) is untamed, wild and crazy.
For the sake of argument, let’s say you buy into this theory, i.e., straight hair equals solidity and conservatism.  I can kinda understand wanting to see my financial advisor with a straightened do.  After all, I’m as cautious about my money as the next gal, so of course I want to know that whoever’s handling it dots their i’s and crosses their t’s.
But at the same time, I want to know that this person is always thinking ahead and has creative solutions to my needs.  If straight hair represents solidity and conservatism, then shouldn’t curly hair represent innovative thinking and new ideas?  So, in the end, isn’t curly hair as or more desirable?
The thousands of dollars we spend a year on our hair is evidence of how critical our do’s are to our self-confidence and work lives.  No question, hair matters.  But why must certain styles communicate professionalism and competency?  As women living in an ethnically diverse, open-minded culture, shouldn’t we be passed these old-fashioned judgments?