The Sheer Beauty of Ugliness — and I am not talking about #DonaldTrump or US #PresidentialElection

723732-_sx540_sy540_

Last week’s post, Can Images of War & Destruction Be Beautiful?, raised a number of interesting responses.  There’s no question war is ugly, but I wanted to know if beauty be found in all that ugliness.

Writing the post and the feedback I received on it reminded me of one of my posts from a few years back.   In it I asked whether ugliness could actually be a form of beauty.  What I wrote then still resonates with me today — actually especially today — when we see so much ugliness around us.  The election, in particular, has led to some very ugly statements, acts and responses.  Do I condone them?  No, but maybe they do offer us something positive in a way.

My post, All Hail Uglinessshows how.  Here’s what I wrote:

While I celebrate beauty, I also revel in ugliness.  Why?  Because ugliness isn’t a negation of beauty but another side of it.

Easy does it on the hallucinogens, you’re thinking. Let me explain.

I’m not here to declare what is beautiful or ugly. So much of these definitions are culturally and personally determined. Nevertheless, we all know beauty and ugliness when we see it, however we define it.

Yet, as Sara Halprin tells us in “Look at My Ugly Face!,” ugliness can be powerful.  Ugliness isn’t a fixed state but a creative and transformative process that “offers riches to be mined.”  While she points to various explanations of the role of ugliness, my favorite is this one: sourcing her thinking from ancient myths and current research as a psychologist, she says that being stripped of beauty is akin to being stripped of other societal expectations. Being ugly frees us!  Many times people who have been maimed or sick, and therefore appear ugly to themselves, actually look at the world and their abilities in different ways.  Being ugly opens up new doors and allows them to express new sides of themselves.

Ultimately, by being the other side of beauty, “ugliness” contains within itself the “spirit of beauty” she writes. Why? Because things of beauty force us to compare ourselves and our world to them. A simple example: when someone who lives in a worn down, beat up town full of dilapidated building sees a photograph of a town full of greenery, interesting architecture and culture, she can’t help but compare her town to this one. She will want something better, and hopefully find ways to satisfy her desire. Ultimately they can inspire, enlighten and push us to ask ourselves questions, like “is this all there is?” or “could things be better?” Ugliness, as I pointed out above, also inspires us to access or express different sides of ourselves and, ultimately, pushes us forward.

Back to today’s election season, we’ve certainly seen some ugly things. And they downright disgust and scare me. But they do motivate me, offer me a new perspective and in a way, inspire me. These ugly words forced me to discuss issues around entitlement, misogyny and prejudice with my friends and family. They compelled meet to write about them in this blog. They drew my attention towards problems I am fortunate enough not to experience, like sexual harassment. And they made me care that much more about who governs us. While ugliness may not uplift me, it can teach me something, offer a new perspective, and sometimes even push me to act. So, yes, ugliness can be beautiful.

But in the end, I don’t think we should strive for ugliness.  In the words of Alec Baldwin, as he stepped out of his Donald Trump character in yesterday’s SNL, “I hate yelling at you all the time… don’t you feel gross because of this?”  Let’s aim for beauty, love and peace.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-1-47-22-pm

Sexism, Searches & SEO: Time for a RESET

img_7664

This is a screen grab from my good friend and creative partner, Rudi Anggono’s, phone. He sent it to me the same night I announced the relaunch of my site via last week’s post. His email message to me, entitled “bias,” was the following:

I was googling your new site but halfway typing, check out the screen grab. “Husband” before “speaker”. We have to do something about this.

This is not the first time someone has mentioned this to me. I usually just crack up. You see, my husband is the LEAST likely to indulge in social media. The last thing he wants is to have any sort of presence online (unlike me, of course 😉 lol).

But Rudi has a point. And I love him for caring. You see Google search results reflect the popularity of a search term. That is, the more searched a term, the higher up on the search list it will appear. So, the fact that “abigail posner husband” appears before “abigail posner speaker” means more people are searching for information about my love life than they are about my speaking. Hmmmm.

I have to confess, there’s a part of me which is kinda flattered. Someone is intrigued enough to want to know about my love life? But, really, I’m just buying into the same sexism that Rudi is pointing to.

No matter how evolved we are, we STILL think it’s ok to demean women by focusing on their femininity, appearance or love lives over their accomplishments.

A few months ago BuzzFeed came out with the story, “If The Media Wrote About Theresa May’s Husband The Way They Write About Samantha Cameron,” perfectly highlighting this point. The article spoofs the inordinate amount of time media focuses on political figures’ wives, and their attire. The article gives examples with pictures and video clips of Phillip May accompanied by headlines such as: “Philip May shows off his tiny waist in a navy blue two-piece,” or “Phillip May shows off his adventurous side. with a light blue tie for another day at the Conservative Party Conference,” or “And maybe they’ll just wax lyrical about his trendsetting way but remind him he’s so much more than a sharp suit.”  No question the story is hilarious, but kinda sad too.

And here’s a less entertaining example.  Again, I give credit to Rudi for enlightening me about this one. The Washington Post published an article about the amazing victory of Olympiad Hungarian swimmer, Katinka Hosszu.  But the focus of the article wasn’t her win but rather the major faux pas by NBC telecaster Dan Hicks as he credited her coach-husband with the victory.  At the same time, the news media kept displaying images of her “cute” husband and Twitter was alight with tweets but all about HIM! Katinka can’t win…well, at least not in the media.

If you want the media to focus on your own beauty, fashion or romantic accomplishments, great! I have no problem with that.  After all, I love beauty and fashion. And who doesn’t love romance!? But if you’re someone who doesn’t want to be defined FIRST by that, today’s culture — along with my search results — is showing we may have a challenge.

But there’s hope.  Because what this last example of Katinka also shows that WE — the public — can voice our opinion about our culture’s screwy values.  Twitter lit up like bon fire after Hicks’s comment with angry tweets, like:

“Hosszu smashes the world record in the 400 IM. Camera pans up to her husband. Dan Hick:”There’s the man responsible!” Unbelievable”

Whether it’s by posting view via Twitter or spending more time searching in Google about people’s substance versus their relationship status or latest outfit, we can actually push for change. The very channels we criticize for reinforcing these values, are also the ones that bring them to light and can be the source for change.

I’m glad people are interested in my husband. He’s an amazing man and has had a tremendous impact on my life. But he’s first person to see me for who I am — a mother, a thinker, a Googler, a blogger, and friend, not for who I’m married to. I hope you all feel the same :).

Freckles, Tech & Mother’s Day: What Do They All Share?

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 11.23.23 AM

What do Mother’s Day, freckles and tech have in common?

I recently came across an interesting new beauty trend in JWT Intelligence Report’s 100 Trends to Watch for 2016.  It isn’t the latest lipstick color or Korean skin care craze, rather it’s freckles.  Well, not just freckles but what they represent.  Photographer Brock Embank, who recently exhibited his work on beards at London’s Somerset House, will now be exhibiting his artwork around freckles.  And, if that’s not enough, freckles got some major love on the runway shows, and some brands have recently created products to help us draw freckles on our bodies.

Why does this matter?  For years dermatologists, skin care brands and the media have done their utmost to help us rid ourselves of these spots.  After all, they are blemishes right?  Or maybe not.  Maybe what we are saying is that they represent our individuality.  And THAT is what makes us beautiful.

Thanks to social media like Tumblr  and Pinterest we are celebrating these differences more than ever.  Look at Embracing Our Differences  or my friend and beauty guru, Michelle Phan‘s, appeal for people to “embrace their flaws.”

What in the world does this have to do with Mother’s Day?  EVERYTHING!  We love our moms so much because they are our own, unique moms…no one can replace them.  And our moms love us because we too are totally amazing and irreplaceable individuals.   This extends to our beauty too!  No one thinks our individual beauty is as beautiful as our moms do.  And vice versa.  We think our moms are the most beautiful women in the world!

Thanks to changing societal norms and technology, we can embrace our individual beauty more than ever.  But let’s remember that it’s our moms who have ALWAYS embraced our individual beauty.  Let’s thank her for that.  And let’s also remind her how we think they are the most beautiful women in the world.

Happy Mother’s Day (and birthday to me too! :))

Are We Hard-Wired to Be Attracted to the Beauty of Our Elders?

Untitled-3.0Untitled-4.0

Is it me or are we finally looking at our elder beauties in a new light?  Every where I look I feel like people are starting to pay attention to the beauty of the older women and men in our society in a different, progressive and admirable way.  Or perhaps it’s because my birthday is coming up that I look at aging with a fresh eye.  Whatever the reason, I feel like we are finally starting to see aging beauty for all the glamour, wisdom and experience it offers.

First, I was struck by the amazing comments I received in one of my recent Linkedin posts: Age and Decay: A Twist on What We Actually Crave.  The fact that we instinctively need to experience the aging process in others is what makes vinyl records, dilapidated buildings and older women so beautiful.  And then I came across a scientific study claiming that women don’t want beauty companies to offer them “anti-aging” products, but rather products that make them look and feel awesome as they are now. (Science Daily)  Finally, when I came across this story in Los Angeles Racked: “Fashion and Beauty Secerets form L.A’s Most Stylish Older Women,” I knew I must be on to something.  The article shares images of gorgeous older women, strutting their stuff, donning eclectic outfits, and displaying amazing hair and make-up (see pics above & below).  And what’s even cooler about them?  They are all active members of society — working in film, non-for-profits or even modeling!

But why try to stay beautiful?  For younger people it promises a mate and eventual propagation of the species.  But who needs it as we age?

But maybe there’s another way to think about people’s beauty.  Beauty — both inner and outer (frankly, I can’t separate the two) forces us to take notice.  It mesmerizes us.  It stops us in our tracks and draws like a magnet.  Nature has hard-wired us to react this way.  For the youth it may have one reason for it’s existence, but for others, another.  By admiring and being attracted to an older person’s beauty we can’t help but learn their stories, adopt some of their joie de vivre and hopefully take on their desire to keep building in this world vs let it all go and wait for the end to come.  When we see it in the best possible light, beauty’s allure can help us learn something, build for a better future, and see the opportunities before us.  We need the beauty of youth AND the beauty of old age.

Nature has made us beautiful creatures at EVERY stage so that we all strive to build a better world — whether that means more babies, more equality, better forms of entertainment, more happiness — and the list goes on.  Let’s hope I can adopt some of this lesson for myself as the big day rolls around :).



Untitled-67.0

Untitled-6.0

What do Lady Gaga, the start of spring and your bodies have in common?  So much.

Article Lead - wide1006386943gn6fg5image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.gn6d4v.png1456796403913.jpg-620x349

If you were like so many of us who witnessed Lady Gaga’s amazing Oscar performance of “Til It Happens to You,” you were moved.  The song is amazing, but it’s her passion and power that make it so riveting.

I later learned one of the reasons this song affected her so much was that she, like the people she sings about, was sexually abused.  In an article about her story, she explains how the trauma of the abuse lasted for years and manifested itself in her body.  She was in chronic pain for years.

The idea that feelings and memories can bury themselves in our bodies may sound a little “hocus pocus” for some of us.  And I get it.  Aren’t feelings all manufactured in our brain?  Where do our bodies fit into this?

Well they do.  And I, myself, have spent that past year starting to explore my own feelings via my body.  I’m fortunate enough to have an executive coach who employs some techniques of Somatic Experiencing.  What is S.E.?  Wikipedia defines it this way:

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a form of therapy aimed at relieving and resolving the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical trauma-related health problems by focusing on the client’s perceived body sensations (or somatic experiences).

Psychology Today further explains: “When any part of this normal cycle (cycling between alertness and stress) is interrupted, the charge of energy gets ‘stuck’ in our bodies. We can then fail to fluctuate easily between states of different intensity. And the charge stuck in our systems will likely be triggered when in the future we encounter events, people, or things that remind us of the earlier experience that was never completed.”

Fortunately I am not suffering from major stress like that of Lady Gaga.  But my coach and I still feel the techniques could help me be more aware of how my body is holding emotions that are preventing me from experiencing happiness and progress.

I’m not writing this story to compel you all to try out Somatic Experiencing.  Rather, I’m continually struck by the strong connection between our emotions and our bodies.  Our bodies are not just vessels or shells.  They shouldn’t be ignored unless we’re hungry or cold, nor should they be turned into the only reflection of we are.  

Are bodies are ARE us.  We are intimately connected to them. And so we must nourish, care for and connect with our bodies as much as possible.  And certainly when we experience trauma — both physical and emotional, we can’t will away the pain, we have to face it in mind and body.

Spring has sprung and it’s a time for new beginnings.  It’s also a time when we are more physical again.  Let’s celebrate this time by re-connecting with, listening to and caring for our whole selves — mind, soul AND body.  

 

Would You Risk Your Lives for Art? These People Did.

 

23HOLOCAUST1-master675
Painting by Nelly Toll

Musings by @APosner on the @NYTimes article “Art From the Holocaust: The Beauty and Brutality in Hidden Works”

If you think beauty is a luxury and not a necessity, think again.  

While in hiding or in work camps during the Holocaust, Leo Haas, Bedrich Fritta, and Nelly Toll, just age 8, struggled to survive.  Smuggling food, staying sheltered, and trying their hardest not to get sick — the basics of basics — were a daily challenge.  And yet, they spent their hours imagining and capturing beauty.  And what’s more?  They would risk their lives smuggling art supplies into their rooms to fulfill their need to express their talents.

Interestingly, Haas, Fritta and Toll didn’t depict images of horror or suffering as we would expect given their circumstances.  No, they painted or drew glorious images of landscapes or fantastical paintings of fairies.

How could they let their imaginations go there?  And how could they even think about beauty, let alone, risk their lives to obtain beauty supplies?  What about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?  Logic tells us that we focus on immediate needs in order to survive, like food, water and shelter.  Certainly art should be the last thing from our minds.  

What’s going on here?

As Ms. Toll, now 80 years old, explains in the NY Times article “Art From the Holocaust: The Beauty and Brutality in Hidden Works“: ‘“When you’re fighting for your life and your basic human needs,”… creating art “is not just an escape, it’s an active choice of defiance.”’  Bedrich Fritta depicted Jewish concentration camp workers in his pieces, not as feeble, ugly and downtrodden victims (as the Nazi’s liked to show), but as muscular, proud and handsome men.  He was later executed because of these works.

We often analyze art to better understand the times in which the artists lived.  We learn about what sorts of technology was available or their cultural values.  We effectively see the world at the time through the eyes of the artist.

But what’s so interesting in this case is that the very act of creating art — not necessarily just what it depicts, is a form of defiance and rebellion.  Art was these victims’ lifesaver.  It was as necessary as food and water.

Now, I’m going to tread into familiar ground.  But I still feel like we have to talk about this.  

Our society values the arts.  Our schools have art classes, philanthropists fund museums, and city governments create boardwalks and parks.  But when the budgets are cut, what’s one of the first items to go?  The arts.  After all, we need to learn math more than art, right?  And art won’t prevent us from getting diseases.   Art won’t lower the crime rate.   Net, net, we don’t need art to survive.

Ah, but we do!  The arts not only reminds us of what is good in our world, but it fortifies us, challenges our thinking and sparks our ingenuity.  And without that those things, we, as individuals and as a community, cannot survive.  If some people are willing to die for it, shouldn’t we at least raise the arts to the level of daily necessities?

These paintings are now on display at the Jewish Historical Museum in Berlin and accessible via web.  Take a look and I guarantee you they will fuel your imaginations and emotions.

Despite What David Brooks Says, We Can Experience the Deeper, More Spiritual Side of Beauty

the_bean_eater

The world-renowned New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, published a piece on Friday that initially depressed me.  In his Op-Ed, “When Beauty Strikes,” Brooks laments our lack of deep appreciation for the spiritual gifts of beauty — an appreciation that dwindled after the end of the era of Humanism.  Brooks writes:

“These days we all like beautiful things.  Everybody approves of art.  But the culture does not attach as much emotional, intellectual or spiritual weight to beauty.”  He concludes with: “The shift to post-humanism has left the world beauty-poor and meaning-deprived.”

Of course I see his point. There is no doubt that in our current times of hyper-rationalism, we don’t have the same relationship to beauty as we once had.  We see it as something that defines things, like a nice object or people, versus something that stirs our souls.  It is often something we critique.

So is that it?  Should we just cry in our soup?  Can we change this?

I refuse to be deterred by Brooks article.  Not only do I believe we want to have a deeper connection to beauty, I think we are driving towards it more and more every day.

Why do I feel this so strongly?  Thanks to increasing globalization, we are being exposed to world views that challenge the assumptions that come with Western culture.  In Hinduism, for example, beauty is one of the “triad of ideals.”   “Appreciating beauty fully and in the right manner is to experience Brahmananda—the joy of being one with the universal one.” (Source: What When How)

Also, in this digital age, our relationship to beauty and creativity has changed dramatically.  The internet has helped us create, capture and communicate in a much more visual, aural and creative manner than mere words ever can.  We now observe the world differently thanks to our smart phones.  Open up a Facebook page, there’s no question visual communication is far more disruptive and engaging.  And our access to beauty is so much greater!  Look at the picture I used for this post.  This was among thousands that I was able to get my hands on in a matter of seconds.

And with the advent of digital, came the ability to put our creativity to amazing use.  Sure, sometimes we just want to upload something silly.  But the act of developing pictures, creating and editing videos and music, even mashing up others’ clips is not just fun.  It is exciting, mentally engaging and, yes, even spiritual sometimes. What better way to appreciate beauty than when we are creators of it!  No doubt this creative process taps a powerful, spiritual side of us.

Do I agree that our culture often has an unfortunate relationship with beauty?  Hell yes!  But do I think we should be resolved to live with it?  No way.  And the good news is that there are ways to tap the more spiritual side of beauty.  We can seek out the interpretations offered by other cultures, and we can continue to push our own creativity.  We are seeing changes in Western culture thanks to digital, and especially social media, and how these have affected the ways we interact and see our world.  Let’s harness these changes to help us reconnect with beauty in deeper, more powerful and more fulfilling ways.

 

The Best Part of Star Wars May Not Be What You Expect

Screen Shot 2015-12-25 at 12.05.34 PM

So what’s really so great about the new Star Wars anyway?

I went to see Star Wars Episode VII: the Force Awakens with my two younger kids a few days ago.  I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, but as a citizen of the world how could I give up the chance to see highest first-weekend-grossing movie ever?!  As you can imagine, my kids and I anticipated something out of this world (no pun intended ;)).

As a bit of a Star Wars “novice,” I’m sure I missed a lot of the brilliance of the film.  But I definitely enjoyed the age-old good vs evil fights, father vs son theme, and the notion of the “force” within us all which makes the film oh so spiritual.  The presence of the original characters, including biggies like Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo, made the film that much more fun.  The best part of the film is Rey, the female Jedi.  How great is it to see women kick some ass!?

And I bet you’ve all heard this from everybody else who has also seen the movie.

So what’s new here?

As I was watching the film, I couldn’t help ask myself: “Why do people love this franchise so much?”  We’ve definitely seen these themes in other movies too.  But then about an hour into the film, it hit me.

The film is full of crazy looking characters.  Your could even call them freaks.  Some characters appear human and others — well, how do I begin to describe them?  Some are a combination of metal parts and some look like huge rodents.  Many are downright disgusting looking.  This makes sense actually.  We are watching characters from a galaxy far far away.  Of course most of the characters wouldn’t look human.

The result of this?  Nobody looks like an outsider (or an insider for that matter).   Yoda, probably the most beloved character, looks like a cross between a gnome, dog, and a human toddler.  In this highly antagonistic galaxy, nobody is deemed a friend or enemy, good or bad because of his/her appearance.  Instead a character is considered good or evil because of what he or she DOES, e.g., rip off Rey when trading her parts, fight against or for the resistance,  see the force in Rey, and the list goes on.

What’s more, the really evil dudes — the storm troopers and Kylo — are the only ones who look the same.  They wear identical white or black uniforms and masks.  Clearly appearing the same as everyone else means you’re probably NOT a hero in this film.

Other films certainly try to mix races or “types” (think geeks and beauty queens) to represent a pluralistic society.  But they border on contrived.  And while each character may have a central role, it’s obvious each represents a “type.” Star Wars, on the other hand, pushes this multi-planetary look to the max.  While watching Star Wars you can imagine jumping right into the films’ scenes and not stand out not matter how you look.  And for many of us, that’s beautiful, beautiful thing.  I’m sure we’ve all wished we could just be the “normal” one in a situation.  I can imagine we’ve all wanted to feel like we belong no matter how we dress, sound, hold our bodies, or wear our hair.

I’m sure there are endless numbers of online communities chatting about all the many lessons Star Wars teaches us.  But the one I’m taking with me and sharing with all of you is that we should strive for a world where, like in Star Wars, there is no such thing as being beautiful or ugly, normal or weird, perfect or imperfect.  Instead, we should aim for a world where can harness our forces, and those of others, and use them for good.  Full stop.

Hope you all enjoy the movie!

A Social Experiment: What Happens When You Tell Someone s/he is beautiful?

2F05110900000578-0-image-a-2_1449140815300

We are taught, and still teach, our children to look beyond people’s exteriors to truly appreciate who they are.  And I would be the first to endorse that.

But this doesn’t mean we should ignore people’s beauty.  Beauty has become such a source of conflict in our culture.  We worship and demonize it at the same time.  We see it as the holy grail or petty and shallow.   And we don’t want others to think we only appreciate them for how they look.  (See last week’s post as proof of this.)

The result? We can’t fully accept it — either in ourselves or others.  And that’s really not healthy.

There is a great independent video by teenage Chicago student, Shea Glover, that’s being circulated in social media.  One day she took her video camera to school, stopped individual kids — some she’s friends with and some she isn’t — and told them that they were beautiful.  It is a must see!  Every teenager she approached looked different.  Some were girls and some were boys.  Their skin colors, styles and facial features represented every look you can imagine.

What strikes me is how almost all of them reacted in the exact same way.

First, each is surprised, even shocked, at being called beautiful.

Second, each giggled with embarrassment by the compliment, and responded with a degree of disbelief (one of her friends even curses at her!)

Finally, they all smile — I mean REALLY smile  — with happiness and gratitude.  As one said: “That is so nice.  This has been such a great day.”

Glover explains on YouTube: “I want to clarify that my intentions were not to get a reaction out of people.  I was simply filming beauty and this is the result.”  For more on the video, “Things I find Beautiful”, read this story.

It’s a simple but powerful video.  While it only features teenagers, I bet you most of us, no matter our age, would react similarly.  It shows us that we still have a long way to go to feel confident about how we look.  And it also reminds us that we need to raise the next generation — our kids, students, loved ones — to not shy away from their beauty but appreciate it.  Not only will they feel better about themselves, but will see the amazing variety of beauty in others!  As the video concludes: “There is so much beauty in the world.  If you blink, you will miss it.”

What is also so clear to me is power of making others feel beautiful.  This few seconds of interaction with Glover gave each of these kids a wonderful boost.  Imagine if they felt this beautiful everyday!?!

What can we do?  Appreciate our own beauty for one thing.  But also help others appreciate theirs.  Think of what it would like if we told at least one person every day that we thought he or she were beautiful?  Maybe it’s a friend or total stranger.  Plus, it’s easy!  And it doesn’t cost anything.  The result is so worth it. Oh, and your kids and friends will see you do this and maybe, just maybe do the same.

Hey, we are in the middle of the holiday season, scratching our heads as to what to give are friends and loved ones.  How about whole-heartedly  complimenting them on their individual beauty?!  That’s pretty a nice gift.

Of course we are a lot more than just physical beings.  But as this video shows, appreciating all of our outward beauty can make us feel oh so beautiful on the inside too.