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 :).

 

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.

 

Week in Review: 1/13-1/19


Take advantage of the nice long weekend to catch up on Beautyskew:
Kids are never too young to appreciate the beauty of Design: Weekend Observations: Even Kids Get the Design Thing
It’s not just girls who are plagued by body image issues.  We must focus on boys too Boys Feel it Too: Negative Body Image
More juicy beauty-in-culture reading in More to Love: Additions to the Reading List
Enjoy your weekend and recognize how far we’ve come as a society!  Now that’s beautiful thing 🙂

Weekend Observations: Even Kids Get the Design Thing

I was walking in the streets of the Upper West Side of NYC with my younger two kids this morning.  During a conversation with my daughter, my 9-year-old son interrupts me to let me know he just saw something cool.  A minute earlier, he happened to notice a logo for a waxing salon, maxwax. (See above for logo.) He was impressed by how the logo positioned the letters so that they almost looked like “max” and “wax” were the same words.
I took this moment to broaden his appreciation for design. I said, “this is why design is so cool.  If all we saw were those same exact words printed in regular typeface on a white background, we probably wouldn’t have noticed the words, let alone took such delight in them.”
No question, beauty elevates our spirits even when it comes in the form of a simple logo for a waxing salon.
I grew up with a keen sense of fashion and make-up, but I never really noticed my aesthetic surroundings, let alone took any delight in them.  I want my kids to be more aware than I was of all the beauty that they encounter in the streets, in their schools and in their friends’ homes.  If my kids’ report cards are any indication of their future interests, art is never going to be a great pursuit for any of them.  But that certainly doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate it and make their lives that much happier because of it.

Weekend Observations: The new “f” bomb

My daughter dropped the “f” bomb.  No, I don’t mean “fuck”, which unfortunately she may actually know given she’s the third child.  No, she said “fat.”

A little context: I was home after a week of traveling, eating a yummy (and a bit greasy) dinner with the whole fam, and enjoying every bit of it.  After chowing down the equivalent of two people’s portions, I said, “Ok, it’s probably a good idea to stop eating so much.”  She jumped in and said “yeah, mom, I don’t want you to get fat.”

Huh?!  My husband and I looked at each other in panic.  Where did she hear that word?  I treat fat/weight “talk” the same may I treat swear words: while I may engage in both, I try to keep it totally out of my vocabulary at home.

Moreover, where did she get a sense that being fat is bad, particularly for her mommy?  We proceeded to grill her with questions like, “where did you hear that word?”, “why don’t you want mommy to get fat?”, what’s wrong with being fat?”, “you know we never say that word, right?”, etc.

Given that she’s only 6, and probably tries to find any way to interject in our conversations, I sort of see this bomb as a way of getting attention.  Nevertheless, it surprised us.  While we don’t use the “fat” word, we are very conscious about what we eat, especially when we see the kids over indulging in junk food.  For us, eating the wrong foods lead to unhealthy, unhappy bodies.

But the way my daughter said the “f” word, it felt like an insult.

Did we send out some signals that allowed her to interpret being overweight as something bad?  I hope not, but I have to confess, I must have.  Could she have overheard my derisive comments about my own weight gain while kvetching to friends? Or has she seen me make faces at my self when I get a scary peek at my cellulite?

Who knows. I take my own 24 hour concern over my weight for granted.  It’s just something I think about on a daily basis along with what I should wear to work and eat for lunch.

But I’m going to have to kick this habit for good.  I periodically tell myself I have to shut up about my weight loss/gain.  But I need to really make an effort or I’m going to raise a mini me, yikes!

Any one with tricks how to get over my addiction?

Should We Ban Fairy Tales? Our Perspective

I just read a review of a new book, Princess Recovery: A How-To Guide to Raising, Strong Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Afters.  While this isn’t the first critical analysis of fairy tales, based on the review, I think the book gives a refreshing approach to how to deal with these stories in our children’s lives.

I, like this author, struggle a bit with reading fairy tales to my daughter.  Not only are they unrealistic about love, e.g., the prince meets the heroine, immediately falls madly in love, and they live happily ever; but the emphasis on beauty as the heroine’s main virtue is unsettling at best.  I’ve toyed with the idea of throwing the stories away. But either out of sheer laziness or some something deeper I can’t put my finger on, I’ve kept them and read them from time to time.

I haven’t yet read Princess Recovery, but based on the review, I sense that I’m going to dig the author’s approach. Why? Because while she recognizes the issues with fairy tales – and the modern day versions of them, e.g., Kim Kardashian’s life – she doesn’t think the answer is to ban them from our kids’ lives.  Rather we should explain the great aspects of these stories, as well as our problems with them to our kids.  Sure, we may scoff at the quickie nature of Cinderella’s marriage, but we may also applaud her desire to to get herself out of her crappy status in life.

I find this very refreshing.  No matter what we do to shelter our kids, they’re going to be exposed to things we don’t like.  So it’s worthless to ban them.  Instead we need to help our children understand what we like or don’t like about what they’re exposed to, in this case fairy tales.  Not only will we end up raising girls who value themselves based on more than their looks, but we’ll help turn them into critical thinkers too.

 Comment or tweet us @Beautyskew

The Real Issue with Little Girls and Pageants

How can you NOT reel in horror when you see all the pics of toddler beauty pageants?  With Toddlers and Tiaras in full swing, you’d think I’d get used these images.  But I can’t.  I’m not the only one, clearly.  A few months ago People magazine did a whole feature on it.

But am I a hypocrite?  After all I recognize the value of beauty pageants.  For many women it’s a way to get necessary funds for college or it’s a stage for them to express their assets.  And many of these pageant winners started young in pageants like these!

Also, I believe its wonderful to want to play with beauty and share the experience with others.

Is this so different?

Yes.

And if you’ve seen the slew of articles about Jon Benet Ramsey’s father coming out recently, he agrees!

First, I’m really shocked at the blatant sexualization that goes on at such a young age.  Girls are being padded to look like Dolly Parton and dressed to look like the prostitute played by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.  Leave it to our Puritanical culture to equate beauty with sexuality, ugh.  This is what happens when people feel they need to go to the extreme to win.

Second, there’s an age limit to everything.  While my husband and I send our son to chess matches at the young age of 7, he’s not a toddler!  My son has enough maturity to take the games in stride.  But kids barely out of diapers can’t truly understand what pageants are.  Can they really view them as fun when so many pageant moms take these events VERY seriously.   I can totally imagine a young girl thinking “if I don’t win this pageant, will I lose mom’s love?”

Finally, being judged on one’s looks at such a young age may screw them up as they grow older.  They’ll end up being super looks conscious.

I’m all for letting kids experiment with clothes and make-up, and allowing them to express their beauty in the comfort of their own homes, or even on stage (assuming for harmless purposes).  But once you add the judging part into the mix, all hell breaks loose.

Comment or tweet me your thoughts @beautyskew

More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

Miss America Crown
We curated some fascinated beauty-in-culture reading….enjoy!
  • An interview with Ewa Asmar,  beauty industry expert and founder of Bionee, organic skin care for pregnant women, new moms, and their babies.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jolene-hart/the-roots-of-beauty-ewa-asmar_b_1234527.html

  • Yay, modern furniture is in fashion again!

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/homes/Bring+contemporary+beauty/6030308/story.html

  • Another example of the powerful role of beauty: Clinics are offering cancer patients beauty tricks to help them look and feel better

http://yourlife.usatoday.com/your-look/story/2012-01-16/Clinics-offer-beauty-tricks-to-help-cancer-patients/52599126/1-

  • Miss America isn’t just a beauty pageant but fuel for women’s dreams and aspirations…at least according to this article.  you be the judge.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-haskell/miss-america-91_b_1205674.html?ref=style&ir=Style

  • What happens when your 7-year-old daughter says: “Mom, I’m fat”?  This mom may have the answer.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janell-burley-hofmann/girls-and-body-image_b_1204882.html?ref=healthy-living&ir=Healthy%20Living

Anything else to add to the list comment or tweet us @Beautyskew

Week in Review 7/31-8/6

Have a read of what we discussed this week:

How my mom’s looks inspire me Weekend Observations: Looking Awesome in Your 60’s

Louis Vuitton’s latest drool-worthy but practical new fashion Pic of the Week: When Utility and Sex-Appeal Marry

A debate over beauty treatments for girls Are Beauty Treatments For Young Girls Such a Bad Thing?

Botox doesn’t just freeze your facial muscles, it freezes your ability to empathize! Can Botox Turn You Into A Bad Friend?

Can’t get enough?  Some more provocative reading from the world of beauty  More to Love: additions to the Reading List

Have a splendid weekend!