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:

Damned if You Do, Damned If You Don’t: In 2019, Let’s Be Done With With The Beauty Prejudice Already

 

 

Elizabeth I‘s make-up killed her. At least according to some historians. In her attempt to look youthful and blemish-free, the queen used a toxic white powder, Ceruse, containing high doses of lead. As you can imagine, lead isn’t something you want to put on your face every single day for years. No wonder the prosthetics and cosmetics to turn Margot Robbie into Queen Elizabeth I in the much-anticipated film, Mary Queen of Scots, gets so much attention. There’s an almost macabre fascination with it.  Margot looks freaky and that “look” actually ends up killing her.

But my fascination with her appearance is for a different reason. The queen went to great lengths to look like this (and suffer for it in multiple ways) for much of the same reasons we “kill” ourselves to look beautiful. According to Rebecca Onion‘s detailed story in Slate, The Real Story Behind Margot Robbie’s Wild Queen Elizabeth Makeup, Elizabeth was stuck. She was expected to look youthful and beautiful, as Onion explains: ‘People perceived a queen’s beauty as a sign of her divine right to rule.” In other words, she had to look good for her job. Sound familiar? Being the Queen, and a virgin at that, she became a worshipped, a cult-like figure that MUST remain youthful. Her appearance was one key aspect of that worship. “Living inside it all, Elizabeth clearly seemed to realize her presentation of a mask that didn’t slip was critical to her survival.” writes Onion.

At the same time, however, there was a strong anti-face-painting movement brewing. It’s questionable how much her subjects actually criticized her for it, but historians point to jokes made about her and published criticisms of the use of cosmetics in general stating that painted women are foolish, foul and abominable. Elizabeth just couldn’t win this game. Either she loses for looking old and ugly or she loses for masking her changing skin. And no question, she loses to her make-up’s poisonous effects.

Times have changed. Make-up won’t kill you (though some plastic surgery, like botched butt enhancements for example, can). Women can lead without having to be worshipped. And adorning ourselves with cosmetics is second nature. But we, women, aren’t fully immune from the high, and often complex, beauty expectations demanded of us in society. We have to look youthful, so as not to be deemed as frumpy and, thus, old-fashioned or not on the cutting edge of our fields.  And, at the same time, we can’t look too beautiful, so as not to appear too provocative or frivolous, and therefore, not smart or competent. Let’s be honest, how many of you — women and men — comment on what your female corporate or political leaders wear vs your male leaders wear? I remember these very discussions when my division was led by a woman.  I willingly took part in these conversations too! I’m not blameless. We didn’t want our female leaders to appear unstylish. Now that it’s being led by a man, not a word is raised. I’m not saying male leaders aren’t expected appear a certain way. It’s that it doesn’t become water cooler conversation, ever.

I love beauty. I love to play with make-up, wear fun outfits and get my hair blown out. I undoubtedly feel more confident and energized. And, yes, I want to be admired for it too. But why does it need to go beyond that? Why do women have to be caught between all of these tensions? Why can’t we look frumpy or dolled up without any of the negative associations? Why can’t we look beautiful without being accused of being flirty and flighty? My only hope is that as men invest in their beauty more (according to the American Association of Plastic Surgery, in 2017, nearly 100,000 men had filler injections, a 99 percent increase since 2000), we will level the playing field, and the conversations will turn from what women and men look like to whether they have something worthy to say and give to society.

 

BE outside the box, don’t just think it! Kicking Off my New Adventure on Expansive Living

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being both a panelist and a moderator for a few events at Advertising Week in NYC.  One of the perks of being on the speaker roster was that I was chosen among a few other women to be interviewed by Katie Kempner for her video series: “Perspectives with Katie Kempner.”  As Katie describes it on her site, this video series is a way to: “To inspire and empower working women who are attempting to live meaningful, happy, healthy lives as some combination of wives and partners, mothers, friends, sisters, daughters and successful professionals while retaining a sense of self and navigating the crazy 24/7 always-on life that is today’s reality.”

So what did we speak about?  Prior to the interview — I’m talking minutes prior — she asked me what am I known for and what I do at Google.  When I answered her, she looked at me nonplussed.  But when I told her that I live nine lives and try to integrate them all, then she got excited.  And that topic became the main subject of our interview.

And, thus, this interview became the first real forum for me to discuss my next adventure: to share my story on how to live a meaningful (successful? happy? — still not sure of the exact description yet) life.  Here goes: so many of us are an amalgamation of seemingly contradictory aspects.  When it comes to me, I’m part tech maven, part beauty/fashion commentator, part spiritual animal, part athlete, and part mother.  But we don’t necessarily celebrate or push those sides to their fullest, and certainly don’t always weave them together.  For years, I’ve been excited and energized, but also conflicted and challenged by the many nuances of myself.  On the one hand, I’ve been enriched by these many sides, they have opened up new opportunities for me.  I realized it’s time to fully buy my own seemingly random but fruitful, fun, expansive approach to life and inspire others with it.

On the other hand, I’ve been accused of giving people a mind fuck.  People often ask me, “wait, what, you work in tech and sit at the front row at fashion shows?”  Or, “huh, your speaking on big stages about creativity all over the world and are raising three kids?”  Or “you combine anthropology with technology?” And this is my favorite: “you dress like that and strictly observe the Jewish sabbath?”  Yep.  And what’s more, it’s BECAUSE of these different sides that I can be as fulfilled as I am.  Don’t get me wrong, I bitch and moan like the rest of us, so I’m not saying I’m fulfilled ALL the time.  But when I take a step back I can say I have lived, and know I will continue to live, a pretty badass life.  I believe I’ve found my success because I’ve embraced — versus compartmentalized or rejected– these different sides.  What’s more, I have found ways to interconnect them.

In the video, I give an early life example of this.  I studied in small, yeshiva high school. This meant I endured intense days filled with secular and Jewish studies.  Needless to say, college was not just a breeze compared to that but definitely eye opening. I was exposed to many different types of people and subject matters.  Did I reject all that despite having slightly different upbringing or lifestyle? No way! Moreover, I took my treasure trove of judaic studies and applied them to almost every subject!  By combining my two different worlds I realized I could stand out, and ultimately, succeed.

Another example: when I transitioned from my advertising life to Google, I felt like the biggest fish out of water, a total charlatan.  What did I REALLY know about tech anyway? But I was an expert on how to uncover human insight.  I studied social anthropology in college and then spent 20 years partnering with anthropologists to help me uncover those insights.  Aha! That was my special sauce. Leverage the study of anthropology to uncover what drives our deep relationship to the digital space.  That sparked an industry-first thought leadership series of studies, Humanizing Digital.  These insights not only drove digital campaign after digital campaign for my client, but also elevated my team within and outside of the company.

Of course the subject of beauty made its way into the video.  Like I have done in this blog for years, I encourage us to embrace it.  So many people I know see the subject as frivolous and therefore, unsuitable for intelligent business women or men to discuss.  Bull shit. There is no reason to not to weave beauty into our daily lives and let it inspire and empower us.  Yes, we can embrace beauty AND brains!

Ok, I think you get the gist.  I realized it’s time to fully buy my own seemingly random but fruitful, fun, expansive approach to life and inspire others with it.  I’m still spinning this concept around so I would LOVE your feedback.  Or at the very least have fun watching the video :).  Click the image below to watch.

A Female Perspective: Fashion. How to show up post #metoo: Another Video Conversation

I just returned from a whirlwind — but amazing –trip to Norway where I was privileged to speak to the Norwegian business community at the Oslo Business Forum.  As I prepped for the speech, I definitely had a stressful moment or two.  Was I concerned about the two-thousand-plus audience?  Nah.  Was I in a fluster that the flight was cancelled at the last minute and screwed up our plans?  A tinsy bit.  What really challenged me was deciding what to wear!   And I know I’m not alone in having such angst, especially among many of my female friends and colleagues.  Am and I just a superficial gal?  Well, I do love a nice pair of heels.  But the issue runs deeper than that.  What we wear speaks volumes.  It needs to be on point.  And I have definitely experienced the downside of when it wasn’t.  And it wasn’t good.

This topic is the focus of the second video conversation with my friends and brilliant women: Rachael McCrary, CEO of Jewel Toned, and Marci Weisler, CEO & Co-founder of Smart Women, Smart Ideas (and edited by the great Suzette Cabildo, also from SWSI).  For us, women, especially in this new era of #metoo, we want to be super careful about how we “show up.”  As Rachael and I discuss on the video, there are many nuances to consider — many more, we believe, than those that men have to ponder.  First, we have to think about the audience — is it male or female?  American or Foreign?  Young or old?  Then we have think about whether the event is a business or a more casual one.  Even the state or region of the country in which we are conducting the engagement matters!  Rachael speaks about how she dresses differently in L.A. vs. SF vs NYC.  Of course we have to make sure we communicate a sense of seriousness while not appearing TOO serious.  We want to seem sophisticated BUT still fun.  And we can’t seem to old or too young.  Phew! No wonder it takes us about four times as long to “suit up” than it takes for men.  Think of the opportunity cost of dressing: hours we could spend making money, being with our kids, sleeping, whatever!

Yet, I also appreciate much of the considering, adorning and pampering that goes into this process.  It prepares me; it gives me the added assurances that I can rock it, no matter the situation.  And it allows me to express myself in more ways than just through the words I speak.  I just wish how we appear wasn’t so complicated.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able share our full selves without fearing some kind of backlash … from either gender.

Take a look at our latest conversation and please weigh in with your thoughts.

Getting dressed should be a painless, more than that, it should be a positive experience.  And certainly it should be the least of my worries when it comes to speaking around the world on very big stages or meeting with clients.  Maybe by spreading the word and sharing our feelings, we can learn to applaud, not judge, one another for what we wear.  Imagine how we can channel all that left over stress for new ventures!

And now some pics from the event!

Masculinity, Beauty & Peace: How a Light Make-Over Show Can Be the Key to Tolerance

Queer Eye’s Fab Five

While it’s the month to officially celebrate women, I’m actually going to turn our attention to men today.

In my quest to find a binge-able show on Netflix, I was scrolling through its latest releases and happened upon  “Queer Eye,” the remake of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”  While the make-over premise is still the same, this version has a new team or “Fab Five” and differentiates itself by evolving some of the least likely types — from religious Christians to self-described red necks.   Out of desperation for something — anything — to watch, I gave it a whirl.   Within days I had watched all eight episodes and cried at the close of  EVERY SINGLE ONE.  Needless to say I was moved.  And I’m not the sentimental type.

Every one of the male “subjects” featured goes through a major transformation.  Sure, each gets a better haircut and wardrobe in the end.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  They all become more open-minded, more understanding and more self-loving.  And like me, each of them cries at the end of his metamorphosis.  But don’t discount the physical changes.  It’s because they have elevated their personal beauty, and the beauty of their surroundings, that this tremendous change happens.

I was so excited with the show that I immediately called my long-time friend and partner-in-crime on all my professional anthropological studies: cultural anthropologist, Thomas Maschio.  Because his insights never cease to amaze me, I basically forced him to watch this show and share his thoughts.  Like me, he was moved.  And like me he saw how it was the beautification process in particular that brought these men to a higher plane.

Would these men have evolved if they learned other things, like playing a sport or learning to appreciate poetry?  To some extent yes, but it was their exposure to beauty rituals and their new found knowledge of beautiful things that stretched them as far as they did.   Tom phrased it like this: “beauty opens up inner space or emotional life for the subjects/objects of the Fab Fives’ attentions.  It frees them up from their constricted ways of feeling and their constricted ways of moving about their own lives.”  In other words, beauty opened them up, and as a result, each has his own “coming out” experience.

What’s really going on here?  As the consummate anthropologist, Tom points out that each episode has a ritual of sorts that leads to the transformation:

  1. Setting out  —  the team gets an overview of the subjects and his particular areas of development
  2. Encounter and initial assessment —  the Fab Five meets the subject and sees all of his issues …often this can be the most hilarious part of the show
  3. Discarding of material objects  —  as it sounds, an in-your-face act of throwing the old life away, from stained easy-chairs to clothes that are 5 sizes too big.
  4. Sharing of truths (mutual empathy) — these are often the most profound moments.  While the individual team members are very different from each subject, there’s always something they bond over.  This could be a fear of coming out to one’s family, an intolerance of the “other,” or the sad truth that neglect of one’s appearance shows a lack of concern for his partner.
  5.  Teaching and convincing — life coaching through scotch tasting or shopping or a trip to the salon.
  6. Connection — emotional recognition by the subject for his need to evolve and his gratitude to the team for his reinvention
  7. Reintroduction to the social realm — this is when the men reveal themselves to their families or loved ones and take the leap they didn’t have the courage to do prior to the experience.  They all gain greater confidence in themselves which opens themselves up for more love and kindness towards others, e.g., their wives, parents, children and friends.

Through these steps the men change.  The outward changes lead directly to inward ones.  And beautification is the impetus.  As Tom explains it: “Beauty opens people up…the beautiful is disruptive; disrupts perception, enlarges it, halts the usual flow of thinking and feeling.  So when these guys are introduced to that in ways they can understand, their usual ways of going about things are disrupted.”   Because most of the subjects live in a culture that embraces a conservative or hyper western sense of masculinity, e.g, lack of concern around attire and grooming and a more constricted way of socializing, the Fab Five free these men to explore new, more expansive aspects of male beauty, and maleness in general.

What’s more, these men embody the changes.  They experience them via their physical selves, not just their intellectual or spiritual ones.  From new hairstyles to beard looks to eating different foods, these reformed men literally see the transformations on and around themselves.  Finally, whether it’s via grooming, getting dressed or or consuming more sophisticated flavors, these men are literally touching their physical selves.  They are performing acts of self care which I believe help them  love and care for themselves more.

Why do I care so much about this?  As I’ve said in previous posts, I think men in our society can only benefit from getting in touch with their physical selves.  By opening themselves up to beauty, they will not only see the world in a new, elevated way, but they will get in touch with their bodies.  The result?  A greater appreciation of themselves, and in turn, more empathy and love for others.  Now, more than ever, in this time of so much hatred and abuse in our society, don’t we need this?  If more men actually loved themselves, not in narcissistic way but because of their new-found confidence, they would undoubtedly embrace others.  And if beauty is the key to unlock this change then let’s harness it.  And oh yeah, who doesn’t love to see men in a well tailored suit?.  That’s something we should all celebrate!

A Video Conversation: Exploring How #metoo Can Be A New Way Forward, Not a Tidal Wave of Division

A few weeks back I shared my reactions to the #metoo movement.  And while I wrote about how wholeheartedly supportive of it I am, I also cautioned us not to inhibit our femininity or masculinity.  I urged us to embrace our bodies and celebrate our sensuality.

As promised in my last post, I am sharing the first of our video series of stimulating chats I had with my good friend and entrepreneur, Rachael McCrary, and host, Marci Weisler, CEO and Co-founder of SWSI (Smart Women. Smart Ideas.) Media.  Rachael is not only a brilliant and beautiful woman but also the founder and CEO of the lingerie company, Jewel Toned Inc.  Phew lots of heavy hitters, eh?

In the video we address how people we know are responding to the movement, e.g., whether they are acting differently, dressing differently or speaking differently.  The discussion moves from business success to erotica.  We raise the questions we’re all facing around whether we can give compliments anymore or whether we have to squelch our femininity or masculinity; whether having women with power lessens or raises levels of sexual harassment; whether the paranoia around sexual harassment can some how diminish our confidence and success; and how owning our sexuality can actually empower us.

Please don’t get us wrong.  We are not challenging the movement in any way.  Nor are we necessarily taking the position of Morning Joe host, Mika Brzezinski, who is concerned for men who could be accused and fired without due process.  She was quoted in Newsweek saying: “The problem is that any woman can say anything, and that’s it, it’s over.  Is that how we’re running businesses now?”  We certainly  are not dismissing Brezezinkski’s opinion, it’s more that we are speaking about something different: our own, personal experiences, and more specifically how how to empower one another.

No matter where you stand on the issues, the only thing we truly urge for all of us is to be open to the different opinions and sides.  Listen to others’ points of view, concerns and ideas.  Don’t judge women or men until you hear what they have to say.  Get the conversation going amongst your community in work or outside of it.  We all are going to all have to navigate through these issues to find a better way.  Just don’t expect others to do it for us.  It’s up to us to make the change.

Have a listen and share your feedback.

Embrace, Express and Own: Empowering us to be Feminine, Sexy & Powerful

Golden Globes 2018 fashion

Lots of buzz this week regarding the Golden Globes, especially all the references to women’s empowerment in the industry.  As you all know, many of the female attendees banded together to wear black to protest the industry’s prevalent sexual harassment.  I’m happy to notice that, while the community of show biz women expressed their outrage via the color of their attire, they were still eager to show their femininity and style.  From deep cleavages to hourglass shapes to enhancing sparkle and shine, these impressive women looked sexy and feminine. 

I’m not writing as a fashionista or style commentator here.  I’m writing as an empowered woman who is eager to help empower others.   

I’ve been struggling a bit with my feelings about the #metoo movement.  Undoubtedly I support a woman’s ability to live and work free of sexual harassment.  After all, I, like so many of my friends, have faced harassment in some shape or form from my school days to today.  In fact, I was encouraged by my followers to write my version of #metoo stories.  And I did.  But I never published them.  It wasn’t that I was ashamed.  Partly I didn’t want to incense my readers and then leave them with no inspiration.  But, really, I think I was concerned that all of our anger would lead us to want to disallow our femininity and sexuality.

We are starting to see the backlash from the movement: from women showing their support for men in social media to French celebrities, led by Catherine Deneuve, criticizing American women for “confusing” violence with seduction.  They argue that the movement reduces our sexual freedom, that “instead of empowering women, the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc movements serve the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, of religious extremists, of the worst reactionaries,”and of those who believe that women are separate”.

I certainly DON’T want people — women or men — to misjudge me because of my gender or how I appear.  I’ve been burned by it.  BUT, what I also don’t want is to feel I have to hide myself either.  I want to own my beauty, sexuality, sensuality, femininity — whatever you want to call it.  Could the #metoo movement lead some of us to inhibit our sexuality out of fear that we are advertising for sex or “asking” for it?  Could our efforts to encourage men to judge us for our creativity, intellect and point of view, also push us to dampen or quell our femininity?

I’m not saying we should all be wearing lingerie to the office.  But, from what I’ve experienced, even while wearing a suit and high-necked blouse, people have still judged me as being too provocative.  In the end, it’s not just what we wear, it’s our whole aura: our style, how extroverted we are, how confident we seem.

What I’ve learned is that the biases we face or the harassment we may encounter is not about US, it’s about them — the harasser.  Any anger or mistreatment of us is a reflection of others’ own issues, particularly issues with sexuality.  Thanks to our Puritanical underpinnings, U.S. culture is conflicted about sexuality and beauty.  We either deify or demonize it.  To make matters worse, we have a hard time believing women can be both smart, and beautiful. To this day, we’ve failed to successfully debunk the negative “dumb blonde” stereotype still floating around our culture.  The BBC created an ironic skit, showcasing the amazing Tracey Ullman, aptly demonstrates the biases we face towards women and their expression of their femininity.  But she turns the tables.  In it, the almost all female police team, make a men dressed in a suit feel like he deserved getting robbed at knifepoint since he look so “provocatively wealthy.”  Have a look yourselves: 

 

In all seriousness, we should be able to express ourselves, including our femininity or masculinity, without the fear of harassment.  We can change this.  We HAVE to #TimesUp.

We need to appreciate beauty and sexuality — our own and that of others.  If we embrace it, we won’t feel so conflicted by it — and treat it with the respect it deserves.   Once we embrace it, we won’t feel so conflicted by it.  And I believe our affirmation will mitigate others’ power to use it against us.  Think about it, we apply the same logic to religious or ethnic expression, right? Do we feel we should shut down people’s ability to physically embrace their specialness?  No way!  I’ve given up trying to appease people who feel uncomfortable with beauty and femininity.  If they want to deem me somehow inferior, that’s their problem.  They will lose what I have to offer.

To all of you — men, women, and or however you define your selves — don’t lose that unique and wonderful part of you that is beautiful, sensual and magnetic.   And if that means wearing a powerful pair of pants, a body conscious dress, or short sleeve shirt that shows off your sculpted muscles, go for it!

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. 🙂

 

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.

 

 

Finally Going East: Creating Ties Through Beauty and Culture

As I hinted in my last post, there were some changes going on with my website which was why I’ve been a bit delinquent about my posts.

Well, I’m happy to announce that I’m officially a member X UNIPX INFLUENCE Program!  In other words, I’m now acting as an influencer in the Chinese market leveraging UNIPX media platforms which focus on pop culture, lifestyle, media and entertainment.  Here is a recent article my friends at UNIPX published that effectively introduces me to the market as a strategist and lover of all things beauty (It’s super easy to translate into English :)).

While I’m going to represent one of many different points of view from the U.S. market, I realize I need to wrap my head around views of beauty in Chinese culture too.  As you can imagine this can be a life long pursuit, but even just peering in to this new world could be give some insight.

So the first thing I did was look into my past research.  To explain to my colleagues and clients how views of beauty differ across cultures, I compared how Americans vs French, Russian and Chinese natives interpret beauty.   Initially I jumped into social media and published research.  While it’s a few years old (I’m looking forward in my new role to motivate me to do update this), and I’ve had to generalize a bit, I believe some of these themes stand the test of time.   What intrigued me the most, and it surfaces in the article written about me linked above, is the true duality of inner and outer beauty in China.  While concepts of inner beauty are in “vogue” in Western culture, when we talk about beauty, let’s face it, we are really referring to our outer appearances.  From an outer beauty perspective, the Chinese tend to view a healthy body and skin, as well as white skin, and an sense of approachability as attractive.

As a woman wrote in social media (translated into English): “Actually health is beauty.  It’s better to get up early, do some exercise everyday and focus on the balance of whole body.”

At the same time, Chinese culture deems traits like confidence, intelligence and honorability as beautiful.  As another stated:

“Out long tradition emphasizes more the inner beauty of a woman.  Beauty is not only your appearance but also your charm, characteristics and nobility…..”

Of course this is only scratching the surface. But imagine if we started thinking about or appreciating beauty this way. I’m not saying that all the Chinese notions of beauty will be right for us here. In fact, maybe by sharing some of our more enlightened notions of beauty with them we can all grow. I’m looking forward to learning more about these differences, experiencing and adopting some of them myself.

Speaking of experiencing them, I tried to do just that.  While I couldn’t take the next flight to Beijing, I did the best I could and headed down to NYC’s famous Chinatown to explore the beauty world.  I went shopping with my friend, Kristi, at the neighborhood beauty shops, and indulged in some beauty treatments a few weeks later.  Not surprisingly, the shops offered way more beauty products from Korea and Japan than from China.   But that didn’t stop us from partaking. 🙂

In terms of beauty treatments, I went on a lark to a place that had a website offering manicure and blow outs on Canal St.  The manicure didn’t seem any different than one I would get at a typical salon uptown.  But the hair experience certainly was.   (Let me caveat by saying this is certainly not a comparison of all Chinatown salons since I only went to one. )  The first thing that happened was I was asked to sit on one the of the blow out chairs while a woman covered my collar in plastic.  She then gave me a 5 minute shoulder massage — which was awesome.  Here is where it gets really interesting: while I’m sitting there, she takes the shampoo, pours it on my head while another woman squeezes water out from a plastic bottle to be mixed with the shampoo.  The first woman washes and massages my scalp for another 5 minutes as I’m sitting right next to a gentleman getting his hair cut.  So I’m thinking, do they not have sinks?  What’s the deal?  They do! I know because after the 5 minute wet hair massage I’m led to the sinks where my hair is rinsed and rewashed and then conditioned.  Clearly a healthy, clean scalp and head of hair is a MUST!

Another interesting difference between “western” blowouts and and the ones I experienced myself or saw on others in the salon, is emphasis on smooth and straight (vs full volume).  I was not surprised at this look given the high preponderance of Japanese straightening products that have made their way around the globe, and especially in Asia.  Given the humidity and my general lifestyle the look lasted a day or so but experience was a blast.

No doubt beauty is more than skin deep.  But I’m not referring just to inner beauty.  Rather I speaking about how much beauty is a product and reflection of culture.  While there may universal truths about physical symmetry and health as markers of beauty, it’s so evident how our rituals around, beliefs of and issues with beauty tells us a world of information regarding our values, social politics, environment and the list goes.  This is one of the key goals of Beautyskew: to shed light on culture through the lens of beauty. More than that, as evidence of my new relationship with UNIPX media, beauty can be a vehicle to connect with and learn from others, even those from a totally different world.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this great new relationship, sharing what I know and learning from others too, maybe just maybe, helping to build some amazing bridges.

To get a taste of some of the Chinese-American beauty influencers on U.S. soil, check out Soothingsista and Francis Lola.