Fashion & Sex: How #Metoo is Changing It, But Is It For The Better?

A few weeks back you may have a seen a short video between my friends, Rachael McCrary and Marci Weisler about our reactions to the #metoo movement.  One of the areas discussed was our attire.  How should women dress?  Are we asking to be seen as sex objects if we wear something alluring or are we displaying our sense of empowerment?  This isn’t a new debate but it’s just that much more heightened due to the times.  Rachael and I believe its the latter.  This should be of no surprise if you know me, my blog posts, and how I tend to dress; and no surprise given Rachael’s role as a CEO of lingerie company, Jewel Toned.

But now this question is also being discussed by the fashion and its surrounding industries, i.e., publishing.  In a recent Financial Times article, “Lets Talk about Sex,” Lou Stoppard reflects on the fear of fashion designers and magazine brands to display sexuality in their designs and photo shoots. The story cites the trends by fashion brands to cover up, develop more unisex items and create “reserved” looks in response to today’s climate.  Likewise, style magazines are forcing themselves to rethink their often-hyper sexual imagery.  The article aptly kicks off with these words:”There is little joy of sex in the fashion industry right now.  In fact, the industry seems seems almost scared of it.”

As a mother of boys and a girl, I’m not disappointed that the media industry is challenging itself to portray women in a more empowering light.  But must we avoid sexuality all together?  Of course not all brands are avoiding it.  As the article points out, designers such as Christopher Kane are still developing alluring designs.  His words sum it up for me: “No one should be taken advantage of, but sex is not a bad thing, either.  Abuse is a bad thing.”  EXACTLY!  Demonizing sex or avoiding it isn’t the solution.  If we assume sex or being sexy is bad, we will not only inhibit women from trying to look as alluring as they choose but also will link sex with abuse.   By making such a tight connection between sex and abuse, we may be encouraging the abuser to further use sex as a way to exert his/her power over and anger towards others.   If we regarded sex and looking sexy as a beautiful thing and as a wonderful way to commune with others (assuming its consensual), we will begin to stop using it in an abusive manner.  Call me crazy, but I liken it to our relationship to food.   We need food.  And it’s wonderful!  Of course we should treat our bodies with respect and not over do it.  Nor should we stuff crap down our throats.  Both of those are harmful.  But to demonize food is harmful too.  But when we have a screwy relationship to food –when we feel both consumed by it and then ashamed when we eat it — we begin to hate it.  The result? We abuse it and abuse ourselves that much more.  We need to change this negative relationship …with food and sex.

Everyone has a different interpretation of sexy attire.  No matter what that is, I think we should all be free to embrace our own version of it.  As I’ve said in past posts and in our video conversation, eschewing sensuality or sexuality isn’t necessarily empowering.  For me is depressing.  Just as eschewing lovely foods or spirits.  Sexuality is part of our amazing lives.  We just have to respect it’s boundaries and honor it.

Look out for our next video chat in a the coming weeks!

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 Evolutionary Proof of the Value of Beauty’s Pleasure

Let’s take pleasure in pleasure.  In case you’re feeling a bit hesitant about this, take a look at evolutionary theories to give you some extra ammo.

We’ve all learned the appeal and surprising evolutionary success of the peacock with it’s heavy but beautiful wings in middle school science class.  According to evolutionary theory, the strongest survive which explains why certain traits have lasted the test of time.   And this theory is also used to explain why the seemingly unfit species, like the peacock that can’t fly, still survives.  The theory is that the female assumes the peacock must be super strong in order to carry around his massive, gorgeous wings, and, thus, a superior mate.

Well, the recent book by Richard Prum, The Evolution of Beauty, challenges the notion that beautiful features in us, animals, MUST  surely be some health indicator.  Instead he says that certain species thrived in spite of being less fit because they inspired pleasure in others.  In an interview for the “Verge,” Prum refers to the Club-Winged Manakin that “actually evolved to become cooler but less fit.”  In order to attract its mate, the bird’s wings adapted to become more beautiful for the purposes of dance but actually less efficient in terms of flying — it’s main role!   In other words, the pleasurable beauty of the winged manakin attracted mates even if it meant the risk of less healthy offspring.  Prum asks if sexual pleasure in certain species is only to ensure reproduction, why do animals endure elaborate dance or singing rituals to attract the other.  Couldn’t one round of two-stepping or a few chords have done the trick?  Nope.  His explanation is that many species, including us, human beings, desire pleasure.  And we desire this not just to ensure survival of the next generation but because it has value in and of itself.

So how come it took so long for someone recognize this?  Plum’s explanation:

“I think evolutionary biology has a ‘pleasure problem’ going all the way back to the Victorians who were very unsettled to the idea that animals, including people, might be motivated by pleasure. It might be anxiety about the power of passion, and so we’ve been going on a long time ignoring subjective experience.”

Let’s face it, so many of us in our culture are downright uncomfortable with notions of pleasure.  So we either explain it way as something that leads productive or reproductive ends, or we ignore it all together.  I confess, I’m sometimes guilty of the former.  I rationalize pampering my skin or wearing fashionable clothes as way for me look more professional or give me the confidence I need to take on a big career challenge.  Why can’t I just enjoy the pleasure of beauty without tying it tie to something purposeful.  I loved how Prum answered a recent question posed by Dr. Prakashin in the New York Times article by James Gorman, “Challenging Mainstream’s  Though on Beauty’s Big Hand in Evolution:” “Why are birds beautiful?” “Birds are beautiful because they’re beautiful to themselves.”  Full stop.

For those of us who eschew pleasure all together, we may be pushing against our nature.  I’m not saying “natural” behaviors are good.  Some are downright horrible, like murder or child pornography.  And I’m not saying all pleasurable activities/things should be embraced, example opiates.   But if we are built to seek pleasure — within reason — shouldn’t we be more comfortable with it?  Even better, shouldn’t we embrace it?  There are so many wonderful pursuits of pleasure.  Enjoying art, wonderful food, beautiful scenery, gorgeous music, and the list goes on.  If it makes us happier, isn’t that a good thing?  Maybe if we just let ourselves appreciate pleasure more we wouldn’t be sublimating our natural desires, and potentially channeling them into not so great behaviors.  As we all know, curbing natural desires has a way of leading us to harmful pursuits.

If we have the capacity to create pleasure for ourselves and others, I think we should see it not only as our privilege, but also as our responsibility to foster it, welcome it, and share it.  Let’s seek out pleasure!

The Beauty of Sexuality

While waiting for my son at his chess tournament, I had the luxury of A LOT of time on my hands so I picked through my friend’s discarded NY Times. I couldn’t help but notice the article, “The Closing of the American Erotic” (2/13/11).  The author marvels at the screwy values evidenced in the film rating system here in the U.S.  A gory, gruesome film full of violence receives a NC-17 rating while films like “Blue Valentine,” with some well-acted and soulful sex scenes, get an R rating.
Clearly, the Puritanical side of our culture shines through, especially when it comes to media.  Now I’m as wary as the next mother when it comes to some of the overt sexuality displayed in music videos and the like.  (My husband and I even got a tad nervous when watching Rhianna‘s wiggles and booty shakes with Drake on the Grammy’s knowing that the kids’ were going to want to watch the Tivoed version.)  But, for all its in-your-face sexual titillations, our culture actually shuns real sexuality.  And, in doing so, it vilifies it. This, counterproductively, makes sex seem both dirty and highly alluring to rebellious teenagers.
To make matters worse, our culture ALLOWS, even celebrates, horrible displays of violence in video games, television and movies.  What does this signal?  (Another form of acceptable cruelty?  The terrible teenage comedy shows on Nickelodeon that make me want to scream, but that’s a story for another day.)
I’m not saying that we should have Big Brother determine what our kids watch.  I just wish we had a healthy respect for and celebration of the beauty of sexuality.  I truly believe that if we had such respect for sexuality,  we’d have less abuse of it.  Imagine the positive impact on our children and society in general…