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.