Day one of the 2 week count down to my photoshoot.
It’s time. I’m FINALLY getting my new headshots. I’ve hemmed, hawed and avoided this project for years. And then I spent another few years looking for the perfect photographer: someone who will make me feel comfortable, understand what I’m trying to convey, and will make me look awesome! Note to self: I really despise the way I look in photos so it was super important that I gelled with my photographer.
I found that person: Rebecca Rehder, founder of June 4th Studio. And the good news is I used to work with her years ago in the advertising biz! So not only do I feel comfortable with her, but she adds a strategic lens from her Ad Strategy background to her talent as an artist. She really GETS me. She put a ton of effort in to thinking through the my “brand,” the various looks I wanted to achieve. In all honesty, we started the process of thinking through this shoot a few weeks ago but I’m introducing her now as the first step to the photo shoot of a lifetime!
Hope you follow me during this two-week countdown 🙂
Could beauty be a business liability? According to a recent edition of Harvard Business Review, it just might be. Well, if you are a woman that is. Professor Lead D. Sheppard of Washington State University and Stefanie K Johnson, an associate professor of the University of Colorado Boulder, published a study that showed how people will rate more attractive women in the workplace as “less truthful, less trustworthy as leaders and more deserving of termination than their ordinary-looking counterparts.” (“For Women in Business, Beauty is Liability”) Haven’t we heard that beautiful men and women have a leg up in business? I’ve written about this in a number of past posts (“Hotties Get More For Free” and “Did Newsweek Get It Right?” to name a few.) The article does point out that other studies have shown women rated high on the appearance scale did benefit from being seen as more competent. While that too reflects bias, I can see how that makes sense, i.e. if you assume those women who care for their appearance may also care for their work. But to assume anyone, based on their looks alone, is more or less truthful and honest, is disturbing, to say the least.
Was it the methodology that was out of whack? Doesn’t appear that way. The professors had participants in the study read fictional articles about certain people with their photos attached, and then these participants were asked to rate the honesty of the people featured. The articles were quoting leaders explaining why certain people were laid off due to economic conditions (vs anyone’s failures). While the content remained the same, the pictures changed. There were pictures of more or less attractive men and women. Attractive men were regarded the same as unattractive men with regard to the different attributes. Not so for women.
The professors attribute some of this bias to our long history of believing women use their attractiveness to lure men. (Scary that this STILL is so deeply embedded in us.) Another reason for this bias is the long history of some women using their attractiveness to compete for men to climb social and economic ladders. Think beauty contests for example.
Many would argue that attractive people have it easier in life. There have been studies showing how attractive people get more attention, higher salaries for example. But that’s based on bias too! I’m so thrilled to say that we are now living in time of pushing to bust our biases, and a call for inclusion ALL people — all genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, in our schools, offices and media. But there are many other forms of bias we have to be aware of too. And women’s appearance, especially, is one of them. Let’s start by recognizing this is an issue, and remind ourselves that ALL people deserve a fair chance. Sexism is NOT ok. End of story.
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.
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.
Hello readers! Apologies for being so out of touch. I’ve been caught up experiencing some great beauty and fashion experiences that I will THEN write about. And… I’m writing a book! Yep. In fact, I will be surfacing some of my book via Beautyskew over the next months to get your take on it.
But now let’s go back to the topic at hand.
Henri Bendel, a fashion institution for close to 125 years, is shutting it’s doors. It joins a long list of retailers. Living in Manhattan I see the demise of retail, especially fashion retail, all around me as almost every block near my neighborhood displays at least one for rent sign.
The struggles retail are experiencing are not new. Thanks to online shopping, retail, especially fashion retail, it is in bad shape. I’m as much to blame as the rest of us. I really hate clothing shopping. I hate the process of going to a store, then trying to find something, ANYTHING, that fits my body and the look I’m going after. I hate waiting on lines, I hate poor sales help and I hate the atmosphere of being surrounded by loads of clothes that squeeze me. So I stopped shopping. I hired an amazing stylist and we shop online and occasionally run into a store and where she finds me everything.
But I’ve always been a believer in the role of a great fashion shopping experience. I just think most brick and mortar retailers haven’t cracked it. With perhaps a few exceptions out there, most clothing stores see the retail space as a depot to unload their inventory. Yet, physical spaces can offer SO much more, especially more than online experiences. They can offer a sense of adventure, customization, emotion and true style. They we can be meeting grounds and places to experience new sensations. Sure, physical spaces allow us to literally try on the styles. But it’s more than that. It’s only in a physical environment can you feel, smell and examine the the stitching, fabrics and textures. In this era of online-everything, we crave the physical — maybe even more so. We’re still human, and it’s a fundamental need to want to connect with the physical spaces a places around us. In anthropology this need is called “place making.”
And it’s only in a physical environment that we can connect with human beings in a nuanced, deeply emotional way. These humans can be expert stylists who seek to truly understand our bodies; our needs and our aspirations or other like-minded people who want to share — whether that’s their excitement around fashion or feelings about other issues. There’s no surprise there is still love for the open bazaar or souk or shuk. These are places where shoppers shop, yes, but more than that they come together to share in a cultural experience. (I happened to have written my senior Anthropology thesis on the topic so I’m very close to it.)
Good news, I think I found such a retail space that gets it: Le Board. Conceived and developed by Creative Director, Sofia Karvela (who also happens to be my stylist — lucky me!) and CEO, John Aghayan, Le Board is a retail experience that merges fashion with entertainment and, ironically, leverages the medium of immersive technology and human interaction. It can host events like trunk shows, offer immersive tech experiences like holograms and VR “Behind-the-scenes,” and share the talent of thought leaders via panel talks, and art shows. Another bonus? Opening end of September, the store promotes brands of women-led businesses.
Beyond the many different aspects of Le Board, is the the feeling the experience evokes. The ultimate mission of Le Board, Karvela explains, is to provide a place where “women could feel a part of something a little bigger…we created this space so we could bring women together to feel inspired…Women with goals…to give them hope to believe that whatever they want to do can happen. We use fashion as a great to avenue to bring these women together to create a look for themselves to inspire to go out there and do great, big things.”
Let’s hear it directly from Karvela in the interview I conducted at the shop a week ago. (By the way, I’m wearing a latex dress which was related to the event which Le Board hosted, Social China…You can hear it in the background :)) Click image below for interview.
For more information visit: weareleboard.com
I have to confess: I’m FAR from being an expert on AI. But given my role at Google, and the work of my team members, it comes up in many conversations, is the engine behind some of the tools my team creates, and it makes its way into at least one article in my news feed a day. So I have some understanding of it.
Lately, I’ve been talking about it in the context of fashion. It’s undeniable that AI will have an increasingly greater impact on the fashion world in the coming years. The question everyone asks is,”is that a good thing?” Like in other creative fields I work with, people are concerned that AI could squelch creativity or limit it altogether. After all, its key value is automation. What happens to the human being behind all of this? Does all creativity just end? Will creative industries like fashion just fade away or change into something empty of artistic expression? One particular entrepreneur engaged in the fashion tech space argued that soon AI will scan our behaviors, predict what we’d like into an ideal outfit and then we’d scan the looks into a 3D printer which will print out our clothing at home. No more need for fashion design and no more need for fashion retailers.
I don’t quite agree.
I was asked to comment about this topic and few other fashion and strategy related issues in an interview with Geoffrey Colon, a marketing disruptor and innovator from Microsoft. He hosts a podcast, “Disruptive FM” and interviews various people from across the globe every year at the Cannes Lions Festival. His Cannes video is called “Fashion Boutique.” Geoffrey didn’t waste any time with me under the hot sun and homed into the interplay of AI and fashion. No question AI will be able to get a faster, maybe even more, nuanced read of our habits, preferences and activities than a human being could. And with that speed and nuance, it can create styles that every individual would likely find appealing.
But there is still a need for the human being to oversee and correct or pivot the findings of AI. Certain cultural norms or expectations may underpin our fashion sense that can’t be picked up through behavior alone. Certain permutations and combinations may seem to look nice via an algorithm but appear “off” as the end result. Technology is our friend. It does the tedious work for us so we can then build off of it and spend more time playing and evolving fashion.
Prior to my podcast I was mining my friend and fashion tech guru, Amanda Parkes for insight on this matter since she speaks on stages all over the world on this and related topics. She highlighted a few fashion companies taking hold of AI like H&M and Myntra which uses machine learning to design full collections in record speeds. But there’s human beings along the way, tapping their sense of creativity to enhance machine learning to be that much more nuanced. AI isn’t killing fashion or creativity; it’s allowing us to do it more quickly and in different ways.
AI will give us greater personalization than ever before, we we all love that (think the craze over Nike ID). Could the hyper personalization we crave and receive from AI further discount the need for human side of fashion? After all, we are getting exactly what suits us, right? Of course we seek clothing that benefits our specific lifestyles and needs. But there’s the other side of fashion. The side that surprises, enlightens and inspires us. It’s the side that opens our eyes to something we never even REALIZED we needed. AI can bring us closer to that, but it’s human beings who can take it to the next level.
As Dr. Anastassia Lauterbach, tech entrepreneur and author, said so adroitly: “The word intelligence in AI is highly confusing and causes funny discussions. Today there is nothing absolutely intelligent in Machine learning applications. Everything happens by design, and this design is done by humans – preferably in diverse teams. Humans decide what criteria get emphasized in a model. Machine learning scales what ever good or bad gets into the datasets and algorithms. Every profession needs to adjust to a world where some coding will be as normal as cooking today. Yes, you can eat in restaurants every day and let others cook for you. But it is maybe nice to be capable to produce something on your own. Same is true with AI in any industry. If you choose technology illiteracy, you can lament the death of creativity. Or you can use your great knowledge and add new skills, partner with technologists who are capable to listen, and do the work. AI is not a conscious agent. It is a tool…it can be used in a smart way, and support your ideas. The Intelligence on what and how remains yours.”
The opportunity is in front of us: retreat from AI or harness it to take creativity to newer and maybe even greater heights.
For the full video, click here (My piece starts around the 10 minute mark).
I’m sure you’ve all read about the bruhaha about a Utah girl’s Chinese prom dress. Keziah Daum wore a classic Cheongasm dress and got beaten up in social media by people accusing her of cultural appropriation. In response to that shaming she received tons of encouraging messages directly from China. And I’m not surprised at all the positive feedback. Having just hosted the China Fashion Gala at the Plaza last weekend and seeing all the amazing mixing and matching of traditional and modern Chinese elements worn by Westerners and Chinese alike, I can tell you that Keziah’s choice of dress was a wonderful and future-forward one. Not only was her dress beautiful but it was symbolic of the wonderful fusion of Chinese and Western fashion, and dare I say, the growing multi-cultural understanding we are all craving..
A little context for you all: you may recall that I’m collaborating with Unipx Media, a Chinese media channel that focuses primarily on fashion, lifestyle and tech. The goal is to turn me into an “influencer” in the Chinese market. To be honest, our early attempts weren’t making much progress. Then we had an idea: host the China Fashion Gala! It would be live-streamed into China, I would meet some movers and shakers, and be photographed with lots of China’s “beautiful people.” It was all last minute and a bit crazy up until the end. Not only did I have to attempt to learn a bit of Chinese, but I had to pronounce A LOT of Chinese names without butchering them too much, yikes! I was also super fortunate enough to wear not just one but two amazing dresses by haute couture designer, Grace Chen.
The event was gorgeous. Men and women — old and young alike, — dressed in stunning gowns that expertly married modern with classic, and Western with Chinese styles. Each and everybody looked regal with a bit of kick! In fact, when I kicked off my hosting gig, I had to go off script and comment on how everyone looked so proud and beautiful. And, just to name drop, I got to hob nob with the likes of Christian Louboutin and Vivienne Tam!!!
What struck me the most, however, is fashion’s unique ability to help people appreciate each other’s cultures. Clothing is a language of it’s own. For better or for worse, it “speaks” a culture’s definition of beauty, it’s values, rituals, and social norms. Just as I convinced my 5th grade teacher when I chose to write my history term paper on the fashion of the Wild West (vs, oh, say, a defining war or key U.S. president), we learn about different cultures through our clothing. Fashion is a way to see how we differ and how we are very much the same. Grace Chen reinforced this when she treated us to a fashion show of her latest lines. And thanks to Yue-Sai Kan‘s urging (Yue-Sai, by the way, has been named the “most famous woman in China.”) Chen explained to us how each piece resembles elements of ancient and modern China culture, as well as those of Western life. It was fascinating and educational!
Even though I just scratched the surface of Chinese fashion in my short experience as a gala host, I will look at Chinese fashion with a deeper sense of appreciation. And I will know that much more about a culture rich with heritage and nuance. So instead of criticizing Miss Daum, we should thank her. We should thank her for taking a risk and going against the grain and wearing a classic Chinese dress. But more importantly, we should thank her for introducing a different culture to her community, to social media, and, now, to the entire U.S..
Feel free to check out our page hosted by Unipx!
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!