Want to Take a Stand? Use the World of Beauty

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Conversations around beauty have been a source of ugliness and racism this week thanks to the former West Virginia mayor and her disgusting post about our lovely and intelligent first lady.  And we had to weather our share of obnoxious comments about Hillary’s pantsuits for years.  

But this week also shows that beauty dialogue can be a source of amazing, unifying and progressive power.  When society, even government, takes an intolerant, racist stance, sometimes it’s the world of beauty that pushes progress forward.

Just this week, Allure magazine published a thoughtful set of articles about muslim women, including their take on beauty and fashion, and their culture in general. For the first time, a non-white man,  Dwayne Johnson — half Samoan, half- black actor, was named sexiest man of the year by People Magazine. Cover Girl named its first spokeswoman wearing a hijab, Nura Afia; and the transgender community held their first (in-secret) beauty contest in Indonesia.  All of these stories not only affirm these diverse individuals’ beauty, but they empower them and others like them  And, they give us a much-needed view into their worlds, allowing us to better empathize and support them.

There is no question, conversations around and depictions of beauty can be a source of angst, even cruelty.  But the world of beauty can also lead the way.  It can force conversations, provide new perspectives and hopefully, just hopefully, change our views for the better.  And it’s not just me saying it.  At the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women dinner honoring Nicole Kidman this past week, Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion, said (which I then tweeted out to the world :)):“We need to use the power of fashion to end violence against women.”

There’s no getting around it: most of us care about what we look like — some more than others.  So instead of ignoring the important role it plays, let’s use it to tell a critical and meaningful story.  Let’s leverage our fascination with beauty to make us more tolerant, accepting and loving.  

So many of us are looking for ways to rebel against the increasing intolerance being spewed since the election…some by the very people in charge of running our government.  There are MANY actions we must take to stop it, e.g., signing petitions, starting dialogues and trying to understand the root of the hatred itself.  But there’s another form of rebellion too.  And that can take the form of embracing beauty of all the lovely, diverse people we have in our country.  Let’s buy more makeup from the brands that embrace diversity, let’s comment on the insightful beauty articles posted about different types of beauty, and let’s compliment others’ unique beauty in front of our children.  These small actions will add up to a big difference.  It’s not the only solution, but it’s a start.  And, it’s fun, so why not?

If you’d like to donate to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, please go to this link and contribute what you can or Text to Pledge to 56512: UNTF20[space] Pledge Amount [space] Your Name.

Want to End Violence Against Women? Start by Wearing Orange

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I had the privilege of attending an intimate lunch with an amazing group of accomplished and giving people at the U.N. the day before Thanksgiving.  The purpose of this luncheon was to commemorate the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women.  The gathering was hosted by the United Nations Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women and was kicked off by an event which included speeches, poetry readings and a panel.

This group’s mission is to “support(s) effective initiatives that demonstrate that violence against women and girls can be systematically addressed, reduced and, with persistence, eliminated….(It) has awarded USD 103 million to 393 initiatives in 136 countries and territories. The UN Trust Fund currently supports 95 programmes in 75 countries and territories with a value of USD 56 million.”

Of course I’m going to support this initiative!  I am fortunate enough to have been brought up in a loving environment and continue to live and work in safety.  But I also realize that there are many, many women — abroad and in our very own country — who live in harm’s way.  Imagine being under constant fear of sexual exploitation or being at high risk for HIV contraction because you live on the street in Eastern Europe?  Imagine living in Campbodia where a common form of punishment is acid being poured on your face, or if you were denied access to services after being sexually abused in South Sudan?  And the list of violent acts towards girls and women around the world goes on.

“What does this have to do with beauty?” you may be asking.  Certainly the subject seems so trivial in comparison to these UN’s initiatives.  Ah, but there is a connection.

The symbol of the commemoration was the color orange.  More than that, the event’s attendees were asked to wear something in the color.  Some people wore orange dresses or other pieces of clothing, like ties.  And if you didn’t have an orange garment, everyone was given a gift of a lovely orange scarf to wear.  I, too, received and wore one.  I’m sure most people didn’t think twice about donning it or why the very act of WEARING orange — not just having orange decorations and merchandise — is significant.  But it is.

What we choose to put on our bodies is important.  We don’t just wear clothing to shield our ourselves from the elements or to comply with social norms.  We wear what we do to tell a story — a story about ourselves, about our beliefs and about our hopes.  In fact, what we wear is often our first form of communication.  We are visual people.  Seeing is one of our first senses and certainly one of our most complex.  We compute information when we see it far faster than when we decode it via language. By my wearing the orange scarf and then posting the image to my social media networks (vs just tweeting a few words of encouragement), I undoubtedly caught people’s attention.  And by doing so, I both showed support for the cause, and, hopefully, prompted others to learn about the UN’s amazing projects.

But clothing doesn’t JUST communicate to others.  It reminds us of who we are and what we stand for.  It forces us to pay attention to our bodies and our personalities. When we ask, “does it fit?” when we put something on, we are asking, “Does it fit our physical selves?”   That question may urge us to get in better shape or remind us that we are fine as we are.  Or we may be asking does it fit our inner selves, i.e., is it too corporate, too immodest, too casual…you get the point.  It may force even more profound questions upon ourselves, like, who are we?  What do I want to be known for?  And, for many of us privileged Americans, how privileged am I to wear what I want without fear of attack.

We can choose to view clothing as something frivolous.  Or we can see it as a way to reconnect with ourselves, with others and our united hope for a better future.

I will definitely hold on to that orange scarf and wear it with pride.   It is a reminder of what we have done to help women around the world and how much further we have to go. And, in this time of thanksgiving, it’s a reminder of how grateful I am to live as a woman in freedom and safety.