Category Archives: Beauty

If You Weren’t Adding To Body Image Issues, I Might Buy Your Video

I love Gwyneth Paltrow. I admire her, I think she is beautiful, I think she is talented. She seems like a smart, sensible person who likes to have fun. I’m a smart, sensible person who likes to have fun.

I also admire her physique, which we do not share. Ms. Paltrow writes about her trainer, Tracy Anderson, like on this blog post about how she got into shape for the new Iron Man movie. In it, Paltrow links to an Anderson butt and leg work out you can buy. I’ve been to Anderson’s website and tried her 9 minute enticement video. It was pretty good.

But here’s the problem: Anderson used the word “perfect” when talking about the kind of body I can have. That seems wrong. I can’t have the perfect body because I don’t have the same DNA as Gwyneth Paltrow. Or any other other celebrity who has a body I think is amazing. I have my DNA, which is decidedly NOT perfect. I can lose weight but I’ll always have hips and boobs. End of story.

Words like “perfect” are red flags for taking advantage of people’s insecurities to sell weight loss products.

Then there’s the “baby food diet.” Apparently, Anderson is out touting her idea that women can eat baby food all day and then eat an adult meal and lose weight. It probably works. Baby food is low in calories and fat. But is healthy? What do doctors and nutritionists think of this diet? Is Anderson a nutritionist? It sounds crazy to me. Wrong. Again, manipulative. (Thankfully Paltrow admits to eating actual food – what I like about her – and gives some recipes on that blog post.)

Anderson is pretty but not real. She has the “I’m amazing!” look that women in the Victoria Secret catalogues have but she does it on her videos. She is mugging during the work out. That’s weird to me. I want my trainer to be a regular person who doesn’t think she is better than me, just further ahead.

The butt and leg video is interesting – my ass is showing my age more than my wrinkles do. If I give this woman my money, though, it says I approve of her sales message, which I don’t. In fact, I think it perpetuates a myth that is dangerous to women. So, she won’t be getting my money and I’ll have to live without knowing the secret to a smaller, perkier butt  and how to never need squats again.

And I have to admit that the more Ms. Paltrow helps Anderson sell that message without questioning it, it knocks her pedestal down a little.

Catwalk vs. Rock Wall

Photo from AP, originally in http://www.dailymail.co.uk

I’ve been thinking a lot about my child’s birthday.  Hard not to, since she has been talking about her 6th birthday since 5 minutes after her 5th birthday. I discovered why that is, why kids are so focused on birthdays: they are a kid’s only source of power.  L says frequently, “I am NOT inviting so-and-so to my birthday!” Sorry, kid, everyone in class gets to come if they want.

Last year, we had a princess party. Friends came and dressed up, got their hair, nails and make-up done. Then, the guests played games and had cake. It was sweet and silly and pretty easy. I was pleased.

Over the summer and into Fall, L was invited to three girl birthdays and all were Princess Parties/Fashion Parties, or a combination. The first one was small – even the boys had knight costumes and, of course, fought with the plastic swords.  Mostly the girls ran around the house playing with toys and trying to get the birthday girl to be with them. It was quite low key.

The next party was similar to Lillian’s own with a twist. The girls dressed up in costumes, got their hair, nail and make-up done, learned a dance and then did a fashion show.  The place was tiny with chairs for the parents facing a small runway. L picked a Snow White dress, and I was relieved she didn’t pick the rockstar mid-driff bearing t-shirt.  Girls who were done being primped stood in a mirror and sang to themselves – they weren’t even playing together! The dance was okay and the fashion show was, well, disturbing. As I watched this display of “confidence” with all the parents cheering and laughing at the adorable kids (and some were really adorable), I had a sinking feeling. I mean, I spend all this time worrying about my child’s self-image while she is drenched in a culture that is set to destroy that self-image. It just seemed…wrong. This is a child’s fantasy? To play out being a model? What are we doing?

The next birthday party my husband attended because I was out of town. Apparently, it was a princess party (girls wore their own costumes) with Cinderella reading as story about manners, and then the girls took a CARRIAGE RIDE WITH A REAL HORSE around the neighborhood.  According to J, the house and the party were quite over the top (pictures show a stage with a movie marquee with the kid’s name on it), which isn’t surprising given the location. It’s a suburb that basically wrote the book on McMansions. At least the party dealt with being a Lady and not a model.

Why are we allowing our children, no, encouraging our children to engage in celebrity culture fantasy play? I have no issue with the general dress-up play, but having a bunch of parents “ooh” and “aah” over glittery eye shadow and an exposed belly is just wrong. What’s next? Fake papparazzi? A fake film premier with fake fans? Fake cocaine in the bathroom stalls?

Even though I told L I won’t discuss her birthday until March (actual birthday end of May), I have been thinking about it. And I’ve decided it is going to be a very athletic birthday. Something where the kids run around and get sweaty. Where they use their bodies in ways that helps their growth. Where they get to laugh and have fun being kids. Thankfully, my child is completely into the idea of having her party at our gym, which could include rock climbing or swimming if we choose.

I’m done pretending that a child’s most special day of the whole year is time to act like a prissy adult. As we know so well, getting to act like a kid is special enough.

Support whatever group you like, but I don’t have to help you do it.

This year we want to have professional photos taken of L for the holidays, like we did two years ago. We loved our photographer, who is extremely talented. She and her husband run the business.  I figured we would just use them again this year. (I can’t upload any of the photos – she has them protected, as any smart photographer would.)

I go on her website to get her phone number and begin looking around in the “Giving Back” section.  I first spend 10 minutes weeping while viewing photos from an “Operation: Smile” photo essay this woman did in Hondouras.  Incredible before and after photos. I was really moved.  Then I clicked on something called “DPRC” with a little “uh-oh” in my mind. Afterall, I do live in Texas. This could be anything.

DPRC isn’t just anything: it is an anti-abortion clinic that talks women into giving birth through what I consider misinformation. The website uses language like “post-abortion syndrome” and “sexual purity.” They claim to talk about birth control but I don’t know what or how.  They also have a statistic about STDs on the front page which was at first encouraging, since most abstinence only groups don’t like to even mention STDs, but if they are using it to further abstinence and not education, then that is bothersome for me. (I admit, I didn’t research it too closely. I picked up on the rhetoric quickly enough.) It goes against all my hard work this summer on those articles for The Democratic Blog of Collin County. It goes against my personal moral belief system.

Here’s the except from the photographer’s blog (I am purposely not giving her name or web address):

“We were honored to photograph some of the women who have sought the helpful guidance of the Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center during their time of need. It was a blessing to meet and photograph these strong ladies again after their precious babies arrived. Click here to visit the Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center website and see the great work they are doing. On March 29, 2007, Angie’s images of these women and babies were displayed during a “Concert for Life” at the Lakewood Theater starring Christian artist Nichole Nordeman and benefitting the DPRC.”

Clearly, this photographer is anti-abortion and strongly Christian.  I am about as Pro-Choice as anyone can get and feel that Evangelical Christianity is hurting our country.  I am not against this photographer choosing to support this group as a matter of Freedom of Speech. My issue is, I don’t want to give her my money. But I really want beautiful photos of my child.

I shared my conflict with my husband who, without much thought, said, “We aren’t doing business with them not matter how good she is.” (If you know my husband well, then you know that is a kid-friendly version.)

This is the issue, I guess.  The photos of L the first time around were the most incredible photos I have seen.  I want that again – for the cards but also for posterity.  But can I hand over a LOT of money to someone who is going to use her resources to benefit a group I think is doing harm? Can I let go of what I want in order to stand up for what I believe?

Of course I can. I might not like it, but I can. And I must. Because no matter how beautiful my child looks in our holiday cards, if I can’t look myself in the mirror because of it, then it isn’t the right thing to do.

Upscale, Everyday

“Dresses give me lots of freedom to dance. Plus, they twirl. This is my Easter dress from Children’s Place. So what if Easter is over?”

img_1650img_1652 img_1651

The following is an interview with child style-prodigy, L (she’s so amazing, she doesn’t even use her full first name).  After only 4.10 years on Earth, L has already been credited with beginning and advancing the latest trend in young wear: Upscale, Everyday.

L was gracious enough to sit down with the editor of Child Design Magazine Jasmine Brockstone (in exchange for a cupcake) to discuss her beauty practices, clothing philosophy and the future of children’s clothing.

Jasmine Brockston: L, you are a fashion phenomenon.  Tell me how you came to such a sophisticated style philosophy.

"This is more of an indoor look."

"This is more of an indoor look."

L: Well, up until I was 2, my mom put me in a lot of jeans.  They were cute, sure, but I don’t have hips yet.  No matter how tight she made the side adjuster-things, they fell down. No self-respecting toddler shows her butt-crack. So when I was 3, and could dress myself, I officially stuck with dresses and skirts.

JB: How did your mom feel about this?

"I love my mommy."

"My mommy is my biggest fashion influence. Because she buys my clothes."

L: She was disappointed because there are a lot of darling tops out there. But once I explained that the buttons cut into my adorable, round belly, she understood.

JB: Do you and your mom argue over clothing?

L: (smiles) Only when I say I’ll wear something and then when she gets it home I refuse. (giggle) That drives her crazy. I used to purposely not match my clothes and watch her work hard not to say anything.  Now, though, I only mismatch my hair bands – much  more subtle.

JB: What is your favorite look for Spring?

L: Right now I am really into Easter dresses even though we’re Jewish and Easter is over. I have never been one for formality. I’m already wearing white and it is only April. I think kids should wear what they like and not be held to adult rules. We get enough of that at the dinner table.

JB: What about upkeep?  I mean, you are wearing Easter dresses to school.  Doesn’t your mom worry they will get ruined?

L: Well, apparently they are not too expensive because she always announces the price to my Nana when they shop together and then says, “That’s cheap!”  She has said that she can’t understand paying $50 for any single piece of clothing I will grow out of in 4 months, so she looks for bargains.  Plus the materials make it easy to remove stains.

JB: What was your most daring look?

L: I once wore camouflage pants with a tulle ballet skirt over them.  More recently, I wore two different shoes to school. Also, to the Father/Daughter Dance I added fairy wings – nothing says “special night” like fairy wings.

18 months and already showing fabulous style.

18 months and already showing fabulous style.

JB: Who do you typically wear?

Mom says this is a "Pucci" look. Sounds like a bad word.

"Mom says this is a 'Pucci' look. Sounds like a bad word to me."

L: I do a lot of The Children’s Place and The Pumpkin Patch because they carry cute dresses and skirts.  Love Carter’s still, just wish they offered more cotton jammies in my size.  Old Navy works sometimes but they are more on the casual side…

JB: Meaning they have a lot of pants and capris?

L: Right. (rolls her eyes)

JB: What do you think of the dust up with Michelle Obama and her choice of clothing for official engagements? She kind of takes an opposite approach to you – dressing a little more down scale.

L: I’m a big Barack Obama fan and I think those mean people should leave Michelle alone.  Name calling isn’t allowed in my class and those who say mean things have to sit at the Thinking Table.  I think Oscar De La Renta needs to sit at the Thinking Table and then say he’s sorry.

JB: How do you keep your skin so beautiful?

L: Um, I’m 4, so my skin is still good. I use California Baby shampoo/bath soap. My dad let’s me play with bars of soap in the bath, which is so much fun because I can make lots of good experiments with it.  My mom complains but Dad doesn’t stop me.  That’s why I like bath time better with Daddy.

JB: How do you see this Upscale, Everyday trend working with kids your age?

L: You know, much like the fashion trend setters before me, I am not too concerned with what others do. I have a style that works for me – it is comfortable and yet I feel great about myself. I make sure I wear leggings under the dresses and my skirts usually have shorts, so things are proper. I think we can get away with mixing high fashion with low brow fun, unless I’m making mudpies. Then my mom insists on old shorts and old shoes.

JB: Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out.

L: Yup….Can I go now? I need to go potty. (while running out of the room) Don’t forget my cupcake!

One For The Ages

I’ll be 40 years old in a month and I got my first birthday present: an age spot on my arm.

According to this guy, it will be hard to remove.  Thankfully it isn’t large or pronounced, nor is it obvious.  But I know it is there.

For the past eight birthdays, my body has given me a new “You Are Aging!” birthday present.  One year, the skin next to my eyes wasn’t a smooth.  Another year, my backside seemed to have dropped 2 inches (guess I was paying too much attention to my not-flat abs).  Last year, the skin on my hands and arms was missing some elasticity.

I have a friend who spends an incredible amount of money on anti-aging programs.  He has the money to do so – adult children, no spouse.  He had a facelift (and can I tell you it turned out great! He looks like a regular person, just fewer wrinkles) and he gets hormone shots.  I complained in front of him about aging and he said skin is the one area no one has been able to truly turn the tide on.  Which is sad because it is the part every one sees.  Who cares of my heart is the age of a 30 year old if my face looks 50.

My parents gave me the most important anti-aging tool: good genes.  Both my father and mother look extremely young for their age – my dad still has all of his hair at 71 years.  But it is what I have done with those genes that makes the difference.  I have never been much of a sun worshiper since I burn and once I turned 30 I got very serious about my skin.  But, again, the tide can’t be turned once it comes in.  Lines don’t actually fade.  Skin can’t get more taught once it loses its spring.  Brown spots stay brown.

Can you tell this bothers me?

I could go into my psychology about beauty, my personal looks, my mother, etc.  I don’t know that it would help though.  I could blame it on “society” and the pressure to look young.   I do, actually, look young…for 40.  Isn’t that the game?

Here’s my real problem: I focus on what could have been but wasn’t.  My lifestyle has changed but my mind-set hasn’t.  I’ve been married for 8 years but I still want to be attractive – to men.  I am no longer someone in any kind of spotlight but I continue to worry about being presentable.  I don’t have to compete for anything using my looks, but I still want to be envied for them.  If I give up these tendencies, though, will I let it all go to Hell and be just another mom in a pair of sweatpants at the park?  Perish the thought!

I’ll never be one of those moms that looks amazing in a bikini – not my body type.  But I’d like to be pretty for the rest of my life.  I’d like to strive for turning heads when I walk into a room, like my mother does.  You are welcome to judge me as shallow and self-focused.  That won’t be anything new and is unlikely to change.  What I would like to change is worrying about every new case of aging evidence without giving up completely.  How have you dealt with growing older, or other transitions that are indisputable? Or how have you tried to fight it?

UPDATE: I’ve had lots of views (awesome!) but almost no comments.  Really want to know how you are dealing with aging.  Really!

Sing Praise, but Softly

Note: This post might seem like just another parenting question, and in some ways I guess it is.  That said, input is not exclusive to parents.  If you are someone without children, I invite you to read and comment.  While you might not be a parent right now, you are a child to somebody, and so you have experience being parented.  That alone is qualification enough to have a worthwhile opinion about what I should do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about praise.  You see, my child (I call her L) is really pretty.  She is also our only child, and while I would like to think that my adoration of her is because she is All That, apparently I am devoted because she is my only focus.  (So happy to know I truly, truly am only as good as Pavlov’s dog.)  Given that she is exceptionally beautiful and our only child, my compliments are basically free-flowing, without restraint.

cakeI have heard a bit about a more constrained approach to praise, a movement started because, apparently, kids nowadays were so overpraised that they have unrealistic expectations about themselves and the world.  They expect, for example, just by showing up they need to be acknowledged.  What is considered baseline participation is elevated to effort.  Worse yet, they resent their parents for setting them up so poorly (alas, parents never get a break do they?).  I read this, which is an article about why overpraising is bad and how to praise in a way that works.  Most important is to hold back, don’t do it all of the time. for everything.

I want to say I think the article is a bunch of silly psycho babble but some of it made sense.  Given how hard we work to get L to persevere through frustration and to make positive choices rather than throw a tantrum, I can see how this doctor would say praising the effort over the result works.  I don’t have an issue with that.

I feel resistance, though, when I consider holding my tongue to compliments of her looks.  It might seem silly or petty, but when I look at my child, in certain moments, I am overcome with love.  I might say, “I love you,” and I might say, “You are so lovely.”  Sometimes I greet her with, “Hi, pretty.”  I will even hold her like a baby in my lap and softly say, “Look at that sweet face,” before giving her nose a little kiss.  We are an affectionate family and we don’t hold back on affection, ever.

Now I am having second thoughts about that.  I mean, who would have thought that doing the above meant I was practicing bad parenting?  I talk to my child like my mom and dad talked to me.  Yes, I can relate to the doctor’s report that children discount their parent’s compliments:

“I can’t tell you how many children and teenagers have noted to me that they are skeptical of their parents’ praise because, ‘It’s just my Mom saying I’m pretty. She has to say that because she’s my mother.'” – Ruth A. Peters, Don’t Turn Your Child Into A Praise Junkie.

This is how I felt when my mom complimented me, too.  Do I know that it is because she praised me too much or is it simply something kids go through with their parents?  I had an interesting situation with my mom that L won’t have with me: my mom was a model (locally, doing runway work and some photography) when I was young and into my teens.  Before puberty we had the same body but then I got boobs and hips.  I looked at my mom and thought that if she was a model then how she looked was the standard.  Once I deviated from the standard, I was no longer pretty.  I kept this secret, even from myself, until I was mature enough to deal with my insecurity.  This had nothing to do with my mother saying I was beautiful when I was little.  This was something she could never have controlled.

So, the question is: can I compliment L too much?  My husband and I talk about the context of being pretty, like we tell L that being pretty is not a way to introduce herself.  I also use Cinderella as an example of how being pretty on the outside isn’t enough – being a good person is what wins over the animals who eventually come to her aid.  However, I worry that she will focus on the beauty, or what if we don’t keep the compliments up for some reason and she thinks, “Am I no longer pretty?”  She wouldn’t ask us – it would be a conclusion she would draw on her own, like I did with my mother.  At the same time, I can’t see cutting back and not expressing myself.  I don’t want to remove one of the great pleasures of parenting – reveling in the beauty (in and out) of my child.

So tell me from your experience, whatever that experience is, can I compliment my child too much?  Or is expressing myself fully the right to path to take?

Wax On, Wax Off

This post is about bikini waxing, or rather, not waxing.  I couldn’t find another way to introduce the topic that didn’t sound forced – so there you go.

During the summer, I go to my wax specialist every 3 weeks while doing my own maintenance in between.  I guess you can say I am fairly self-conscious of this body “feature,” being of Russian descent.  Nuff said.  I have tried Nair, even the extra strong variety.  It still takes forever to begin working, doesn’t work completely and I end up with a horrible, uncomfortable rash as the hair grows back in.  But that’s a lot of money for a year-round treatment.  Totally worth it in the summer when we go to the pool 2 times a week, but in the winter when our child wants to go swimming normally I just bow out.

Recently, though, J invited me to the hot tub with him after a work out and I couldn’t go ‘cuz I was totally grown in.  But I wasn’t happy about it.

When J and I sit in the gym’s hot tub, it is the one place where our daughter can’t interrupt us.  Fifteen minutes of conversation all our own – our special time.

So the dilemma is – how can I continue to take a winter break from waxing and still take a dunk in the tub?  (I once wore J’s swim trunks over my bathing suit but that just screamed “I HAVEN’T SHAVED IN AGES!”  I was embarrassed by the obviousness of it.)  What do you do when you need to wear a suit in a pinch and haven’t been properly groomed?  Any bathing suit companies that are good for this?