Beauty Blogosphere 10.21.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

From Head...

Neck and neck: Flattery "rules" don't usually work for me, but this post on mathematically calculating flattering necklines explains a lot (namely, why I feel best in wide, deep necklines despite not generally showing a lot of skin). (via Already Pretty)

Smile!: Speaking of numbers as guidelines, the layperson can detect dental deviations of less than 3 millimeters, reports the Journal of the American Dental Association. But breathe easy! Says the dentist who alerted me to this, "A lot of people do more than they need to. Perfect Chiclet teeth look a little weird." I always thought that, but he's the one with the degree, so!

...To Toe...

Bootie Pies: "Pedicure-friendly" boots with removable toes. Between these and my new automated twirling spaghetti fork, my life is about to get a whole lot easier.

...And Everything In Between: 
Quiet riot: Are YOU on the lam for your participation in Vancouver during the Stanley Cup riot? Do YOU need a massage? We've got the spa for you! Just go to Vancouver's Eccotique Spa, detail your criminal activities and fingerprint yourself onto their $50 gift card, then turn yourself into the police and return to the spa with proof of arrest for your treatment of choice.

Occupy CoverGirl: Fortune magazine uses Procter & Gamble's fully legal ways of evading taxes (to the tune of billions of dollars) to illustrate the need for corporate reform.

Salon tragedy: Portrait of Salon Meritage, the California hair salon where eight people were killed when the ex-husband of one of the stylists took open gunfire on the floor. Salons are known for hosting a particularly high intimacy among workers, and to a degree between staff and clients, making the violence seem all the more shocking. It's also a hard-line reminder this month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, that not all partner violence takes place behind closed doors. (Speaking of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Tori at Anytime Yoga is hosting a blog carnival October 29. It's an important topic, so if you're a blogger with something to say, please participate—I will be.)

Willa won: Procter & Gamble settled its suit against startup hair- and skin-care line Willa. P&G had contended that "Willa" was a trademark infringement of their hair line "Wella," thus thoroughly annoying anyone paying attention to trademark law or good old-fashioned common sense. (Their recent Cosmo award for being a woman-friendly company doesn't seem to extend to its litigation targets.)

J&J's big move: The "sleeping giant" of Johnson & Johnson is peering into the higher-end market with its recent acquisition of Korres, a switch from its drugstore stalwarts of Neutrogena, Aveeno, Clean & Clear, and, of course, Johnson's. Considering that the company only got serious about mass facial care in 1991, it's not nutty to think that J&J could expand its offerings in luxury and masstige markets soon.

Uniclever: Unilever is quick to snap up Russian brand Koncern Koliva, noting that Russian beauty product spending is up 10% compared with Unilever's overall growth of 4%-6%.

One can never have too many reminders of our erstwhile presidents in their college years.

Rah rah: Via Sociological Images, a slideshow of how cheerleader uniforms have changed over time. I mean, obvs the bared midriff is because of global warming, but the uniforms have changed in other ways too.

"They did this to me":
Hair's symbolism, particularly within some religions, makes it an unsurprising—but still shocking—target of attack from a splinter Amish group headed by the unfortunately named Sam Mullet. He's been attacking families in more conventional Amish communities by cutting patches out of men's beards and women's hair.

Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street:
Gross. Gross? Gross! GROSS.

Taxed: England considers a "boob tax" on cosmetic surgery procedures, which brings in about £2.3 million annually. Fair method of supporting social programs, or an unfair way of punishing women for getting procedures that may help them level the playing field? (The U.S. rejected the similar "Bo-tax" in 2009.)

The Brazilian way: The Women's Secretariat of Brazil (a Cabinet position, appointed by President Dilma Rousseff) issued a statement against a recent lingerie ad featuring Gisele that suggested using one's erotic capital to manipulate one's husband was a jolly route to take. The complaint is somewhat plebian, but it's taking place at high levels of government, something we simply haven't seen in the U.S. Is this what happens when a country elects a female president? Women's issues get taken seriously? You don't say. (Of course, The Economist reports that women in the UK parliament are also making their thoughts heard about false advertising for beauty products, notably a bust cream claiming to increase a woman’s bra size from 32A/B to "a much fuller and firmer 32C," so it's not just the big cheese that matters.)

Betty Rubble's makeup kit unearthed.

Makeup artist, the world's oldest profession?: Anthropologists find a 100,000-year-old tool kit and workshop for making ochre paint, used as an early body adornment.

Side by side: Personal science blogger Seth Roberts on the newly coined "Willat Effect," in which we experience two or more similar items compared side-by-side as more or less desirable than we would if sampled on their own. I suspect this is the reason for popularity of "before" and "after" shots of beauty treatments. In other words: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair (somewhat depressingly, the #2 search term that lands people at this blog) basically doesn't work at all, and only appears to when compared with the other side of my face.

What forms our body image?: Turns out it's not your body; it's your beliefs about other people's thoughts on your body, reports Virginia Sole-Smith. That includes bodies in general, so enough with the body-bashing talk, okay? Forget your own body image—you could be hurting your friends' too.

13% of IT professionals gave away their passwords when asked to by a...drawing of a pretty lady? The findings are bizarre but worth reading.

Body and Soul: Interview at Threadbared with Alondra Nelson on the images that came out of the Black Panthers in the 1970s, including their Free Clothing Program that induced "sartorial joy."

Stuck on you: Magnetic nail polish! I'm such a sucker for cool nail art.

Tweezed: XOJane asks if tweezing in public is okay, pinpointing something I hadn't been able to articulate about public grooming: It's interesting to see someone be self-conscious enough to "fix" something about their appearance (stomach hairs, in this case, at the gym) but not self-conscious enough to do it in private.

Beauty contest: If you're near New York, you may want to check out the Beauty Contest exhibit at the Austrian Cultural Forum. Austrian and international artists examine "contemporary global society’s obsession and fascination with physical appearance." I went to a performance art arm of the exhibit, and the following panel discussion, including French choreographer François Chaignaud and author of The Man in the Grey Flannel Skirt, Jon-Jon Goulian, was invigorating.

"This is basically uncharted territory": Style blogger Stacyverb guest posts at Already Pretty on style and disability. "For anyone with a disability who’s interested in experimenting with style, there aren’t exactly any rules or road maps to follow. It’s not like we see models and celebrities in wheelchairs rolling down the runway during fashion week or on the red carpet on Oscar night. This is basically uncharted territory, which means it can be disorienting—but also liberating!"

No-makeup week: Rachel Rabbit White revisits her no-makeup week, an experiment she tried on for size last year. Like much of her work, what's exciting here is the acceptance of ambiguity: "It’s not about taking a week off  because make-up is somehow bad or because not wearing it is better. It’s that by taking a week off, I should be able to understand my relationship to cosmetics more clearly."

I'm a Pepper, you're a Pepper: Caitlin at Fit and Feminist on how even if the Diet Dr. Pepper "It's not for women" ad is satire (I don't think it is), it still gets to have it both ways in wrangling the diet industry into man-size portions. (I also love her post about cheerleading as a sport, and her contribution to Love Your Body Day about the difference between respect and love. Seriously, if you're not already reading Fit and Feminist, you should be.)

Good old-fashioned erotic capital: Rachel Hills, writing on Erotic Capital, raises among her many excellent points one of my biggest annoyances with Catherine Hakim: "Hakim and her colleagues would have us think they’re intellectual renegades... But while the terminology may be new, the principles underlying 'erotic capital' and 'sexual economics' are decidedly old-fashioned."

Sunrise, sunset: Be sure to check out the Feminist Fashion Bloggers roundup of posts on youth and age. Franca writes, "God forbid [professional women] just go for the suit and shirt 'uniform' and actually look old... Professional clothes need to be constantly balanced out by elements that represent youth and health and fun, like accessories and hair and makeup"; Jean writes on bucking trends usually defined by age; and Fish Monkey and Tea and Feathers, like me, write on the happiness of no longer being young.

Kerry Ann King, Dance Instructor, New York City

By the end of my first dance class with Kerry Ann King, I was hooked. Hooked on Nia—a movement practice integrating dance, martial arts, and healing methods—and hooked on Kerry Ann’s particular style of it. The theory of Nia is that it uses movements that work with the body’s natural mechanics to create a mind-body connection; in my Nia class, full of fit, active women, classes resemble anything from a rave to an exuberant ritual, made all the more exuberant by Kerry Ann’s creative leadership. Example: For a Halloween class, the cardiovascular push was to the decidedly non-aerobic Exorcist theme, in which we pretended to be scurrying up the stairs to heal a head-on-backward Linda Blair. It was silly, sure, but that was part of the point: Nia has no room for the lack of presence self-consciousness invites. I was eager to talk with Kerry Ann about the connection between beauty and a state of flow, beauty and the Oedipal complex, ethnic identity and presenting one’s self authentically, and on whether self-acceptance can go too far. In her own words:

On the Body of a Dancer
I was always a good dancer, but not built for ballet, aesthetically or physically. I’m not naturally turned out, I don’t have a natural arch in my foot--I spent hours as a child with my mother trying to make arches in my feet. And then I got big boobs! When I was 14 I was taking classes with the Joffrey Ballet School and I was getting a lot of attention from my teachers, but I wasn’t being cast. I decided to ask why because I wanted to know what my future was. My teacher said if I wanted to be a ballerina, I would have to have breast reduction surgery, and I’d have to lose another 10 pounds. I was heartbroken, but I was not going to do that. I was not going to alter my body, even though I loved ballet so much. That was a turning point for me in terms of thinking about beauty. As disappointed as I was that I didn’t meet the aesthetic, I wasn’t going to completely succumb to what was being asked of me. Some of that resistance is just genetic: My mom was an active feminist, my great-grandfather—you know the movie Matewan? He was one of those striking coal miners. I see it in my kids now too.

I went to my first Nia class about six months after my twins were born.  I was weak and out of shape, and to be frank, it sounded like it would be easy.  But when we started moving what hooked me was that I got the joy I’d always in had dancing--without feeling like I didn’t “look right.”  That’s one of the benefits of Nia. You’re supposed to do the technique correctly, but there’s a baseline acknowledgement that our bodies behave differently. Nia allows everyone to have an experience of just doing it.

On Babies and the Body
I know women whose experience of pregnancy and mothering is that they feel their body somehow gets ruined by it. It feels like there’s this desire to not change: “I’m not going to let my body change, I’m not going to let my life change. I’m not gonna let this in.” It’s a way of keeping at bay all the anxiety about the body that comes with having another person inside you. Because it’s freaky! There’s someone inside you! But for me, embracing it made it all easier and left me in a better position on the back end. After I got through the ten years when I was either pregnant or nursing all the time—someone was always using my body for something they needed—I came out stronger, happier, and actually feeling more attractive.  

My boys love me in a different way than my girls do. There were a few things about which Freud was correct, and the Oedipal crisis is one of them! They tell me I’m pretty, and they really, truly believe it. I have a lot of loose skin on my belly, and people say to me, “Oh, your abs are so tight, why don’t you get that skin taken away?” I think about it and then I’m like, Am I still me if I do that? And then my sons look at my belly and say, “We love your belly, Mommy! Your wrinkles make a heart!” And, you know, they do! Sons can be very powerful tools for making a woman feel beautiful.

On Observing Beauty in Action
I think for a lot of women, beauty is a tool. We want to attract a mate by being beautiful, or we want to make other women feel a certain way about us—like us, envy us. We’re frequently using it to get something in the world. When you’re constantly in that mind-set, you’re constantly thinking about what someone else is seeing when they look at you. You’re putting yourself in someone else’s mind instead of being in your own: “Does he think I look hot? Does she like my jacket?” Asking what everyone else is thinking is the quintessence of not being in the moment. Whereas when you settle in and feel physically satisfied yourself, instead of thinking, “Is he going to ask for my number?” you become that girl who’s thinking, “Do I like him?” People who are in themselves and in the moment are more attractive. They get more positive attention.

Part of being able to be more in the moment, for me, was age. I wasn’t always comfortable in my body. But now I know its flaws, and I know its advantages, and I’m more willing to take it as it comes. And it’s very powerful for me to spend my time looking at women in my classes, seeing them express themselves and look beautiful. It helps me form my sense of myself and the way I do my work. I teach in Chinatown, and there will be certain Nia movements that are also in tai chi, and lot of my students in that class have been studying tai chi for years at the senior center. I remember giving them an instruction and mentioning something about making your hands into butterflies, and they all did this certain move at the same time. They were beautiful—incredibly so. Also, being around women who are older has shown me that older women can still be sexy. They totally get into all the shimmying! We become attached to the idea that we’re only going to be sexual and beautiful when we’re young, and that adds a veneer of desperation to the idea of staying young, of not getting wrinkles. So for me to see all these women when they’re older, and they’re beautiful and sexy, has been an important learning experience.

On The Power of Being Critical
Sometimes we’re too quick to want to entirely kill off any bit of negative self-image. Every so often I’ll feel guilty about something I’ve done as a mother, that I haven’t lived up to my own standards. But that’s what keeps me trying, that feeling that I’ve failed at something. If you’ve failed, you’re kind of supposed to feel like you’ve failed! We have to learn the difference between knowing you could have done better, and berating yourself about it and feeling ashamed. I went to a Nia workshop and they were photographing everyone. I hadn’t waxed my eyebrows in weeks, and I was wearing a cotton shirt that was dark but not dark enough, so you could see how much I was sweating. They’re nice photos of me, but, you know, I could have looked a little nicer! There’s a difference between being like, “I look so ugly in these pictures!” and saying to myself, “Okay, next time I go to this workshop I’ll know they take pictures so I can wax my brows and wear something more appropriate to being photographed.”

If someone’s unsophisticated and uneducated, we don’t say to them, “Oh, you shouldn’t worry about it! Don’t read! Just sit there all day and watch Real Housewives of Darien Connecticut!” But with physical beauty we have this idea that everyone should just accept everything. It’s not that I don’t want people to accept themselves. I just feel like we’ve gone through all of these cycles with beauty and weight and everything: “You have to be thin. Wait, no, everybody’s anorexic, we have to teach people to accept themselves. But now everybody’s obese, we have to get them to be thinner! My body’s ugly! I weigh 400 pounds and it doesn’t matter! Nothing’s okay! Anything’s okay! Nothing’s okay! Anything’s okay!” I would love it if we could get to a point where we accept who we are and try to be our best selves at the same time.

On Truth and Ethnicity
Beauty and truth are linked for me. There’s this Dave Chappelle skit where he’s brought this girl home and she’s like, “Oh, give me a second while I take off my false eyelashes,” and he’s all, “Baby, you don’t need all that!” So then she’s all, “Let me take out my contacts,” and then her wig, and by the end of the skit she has one arm, one leg, and a glass eye. I kind of feel that way about altering myself to be more attractive. For me, if it lacks truth, it can’t be beautiful. I rarely wear makeup, I don’t spend a lot of time on my hair.

I feel comfortable referring to myself as beautiful. I also know that I don’t fit most people’s vision of conventional beauty. I’m not white-girl pretty. I think my race is part of why I am the way I am about being natural. My hair is a political statement: I’m not going to straighten my hair, because my hair is the thing about me that looks the most black, and I have no interest in pretending that I’m not black. Of course, because I’m so racially ambiguous, when people look at me they don’t necessarily see that. I have a friend who used to tease that I’m like a racial projective test—people see what they want to see. “Oh, I know you’re Jewish!” “You’re Egyptian, aren’t you?” My favorite one is, “What ARE you?” I’ve always wanted to say, “A Gemini,” but I can never do it. But I think that’s one of the reasons why being as natural as possible is, to me, an act of pride and self-love.

Annika Connor, Painter, New York City

Like fragments of an ongoing daydream, artist Annika Connor’s lush watercolors focus on the feminine aesthetic in beauty—lovers in an embrace, ballerinas in flight, even decadent interiors. Annika’s work also extends outside of the studio; she’s the founder of Active Ideas Productions, which promotes emerging artists through education, publications, and more. The impetus to talk with Annika was, of course, her intriguing work, which frequently captures beautiful women in intimate moments. But I was also particularly eager to learn more about her thoughts on personal beauty and presentation: Even in the fashion capital of the world, she stands out as exceptionally stylish (legendary New York Times style photographer Bill Cunningham agrees; he’s photographed her several times) and effortlessly glamorous without sacrificing any of her natural warmth. In her own words:

On Seeing and Being Seen
I got glasses a couple of years ago for distance, and when I did I was like, “What?! You’re supposed to see all that?” [Laughs] I couldn’t believe that I was supposed to see the branches on trees 50 feet away—that’s nuts! That’s way too much information! When I go to the ballet or the museum I'll put on my glasses; other than that, I don't tend to wear them. I kind of like seeing what's in front of me and letting the rest be a little blurry. So I don't really notice people on the street very much, or notice them noticing me—I get lost in this little bubble. [Laughs] But I don’t take the glasses off in order to not see people; it’s just a byproduct.

 Marilyn Multiplied
I started this around the time I got glasses—Marilyn Multiplied, and it's obviously playing on the Andy Warhol idea. This is from How to Marry a Millionaire, where Marilyn Monroe plays this bumbling sort of fool because she has to wear strong prescription glasses, but she doesn’t want to. She’s this great comic character—she’s doing all these silly things because she can't see what's going on. In this particular scene, she's gone into the bathroom, she's had her glasses on, she's fixed her hair, she's fixed her makeup, she's straightened her dress, and here she's just taken off her glasses and she's putting them back in her handbag. So this painting is depicting the moment when she's decided to literally not see the world in order to be seen by the world as beautiful. She's playing a comic character, but it struck me as poignant that her character was deliberately operating blind in order to be seen.  When I painted her reflections—they're all her, but they could almost be different women too.  Overall the painting is about the various multifaceted sides one has, all the many women that one woman is, depending on the angle or the light or their mood.

Any flat surface functions as something you gaze at—there's an immediate association with the mirror.  So a painting, although it doesn't actually reflect your image, often functions as a mirror, both to the viewer and the artist. As an artist, it's hard to keep yourself out of your paintings. My paintings almost always have a self-portrait element, even if I’m painting a man or a forest, so when I am painting women, it’s natural that I project a bit of myself into them. Of course my mixed emotions and feelings also go in there on some level, but my paintings take a really long time to make, and my emotions change, so it’s not necessarily as direct as: I’m angry, and then the woman looks angry.

La Goulue

On Allure
I titled this painting La Goulue, which was a great restaurant on the Upper East Side but which also translated means “the greedy one.”  I gave her this name because in this painting she’s so greedy for the viewer’s attention. I was inspired by a Stieglitz photo of a woman looking at the viewer, sort of hanging over a sofa wearing a come-hither look that seems to say, “Look at me.”

In my studio, I actually had to hang La Goulue behind my sofa because she was so demanding of your attention that if she was on the other wall it was interfering with the ability to see my other work.  I love that she’s really insisting having on the viewer’s eye on her, but no, I don’t think I need to make sexy paintings in order to get the viewer’s attention.  When I make sexy painting, it is because my work in part deals with depicting romance and daydreams, and sex and allure is a part of that conversation.

I have a lot of notions that are feminine and super-idealistic—some might say idealistic or naive.  However, there's so much in the world that’s unpleasant, unattractive, uninteresting, and aggressive—if I have the opportunity to literally make something that never existed before, like a painting, why shouldn't I create something that's inspiring and uplifting and beautiful, as opposed to something that’s jarring? I definitely feel that by seeing the world as beautiful, I end up painting a world that is somewhat beautiful.

On Self-Presentation
I want to give gifts to my viewer, and I suppose that kind of extends with my love of fashion and how I present myself. If I’ve put myself together in the best possible way that is the most appropriate for the situation, it makes me feel confident. So for example, if I meet with my lawyers, I’ll put on a great suit, I’ll pull my hair back, I’ll look all...Corporate Annika. Doing this sort of attire makes me feel competent and I’ll ask questions about [faux-deep voice] intellectual property law.

Sometimes there's a theatrical element to what I’m wearing, a bit like costuming. Presentation is a big part of pulling together a look. When you put a frame on a painting, it’s the final touch. And a pretty dress without any accessories or makeup—something feels missing. Jewelry, makeup, hair—it's how you frame the figure. It's similar to how you paint a painting.

During the day I don’t wear much makeup, just the basics to make me look like I don't have dark circles under my eyes. But if I’m getting dressed up for an event, I enjoy doing something dramatic. That's one of the best things about being a woman—we can make ourselves look way more beautiful. I sometimes feel bad for men. They don't get to wear cover-up! That must suck! They just have to look how they look.

At the Les Liaisons Dangereuses: The Young Fellows Ball; photo, Yina Lou

As a woman, when you know you're looking good, you feel confident. Your day is better, you accomplish more, you meet more people, because you have that extra edge. Sometimes when I'm feeling blue, I'll put on an outrageous outfit and go to Whole Foods and grocery shop. The great thing about Whole Foods at Columbus Circle is that everybody goes there. You have no idea if somebody's just stopping and getting some food on the way to a dinner party, so I can totally be in a ball gown at Whole Foods if I feel like it!

So when I am sad I'll put on an outrageous hat or I’ll wear a super-colorful outfit, so people will smile at me. And maybe it's a bit because they’re laughing, but in the end when you’re walking down the street and people are smiling at you, you start to feel better, even if you had been sad.

 Left: At the Performa Red Party; House of Diehl created the umbrella bustle on-site; photo, Yina Lou.
Right: At the Veuve Cliquot Polo Classic.

On Actions and Reactions of Others
Obviously I notice when a guy catcalls or something like that—but I learned while living in Barcelona that that is a compliment.  Of course, you can get offended by it from a feminist perspective, but essentially they're paying you a compliment. There's certain ones I don’t like, but for the most part when I'm walking down the street and some guy is like, "Ooh, looking good!” it makes me smile. Maybe I shouldn't, but—I mean, "Ooh, looking good!" [Laughs]

I don't feel I get belittled for being feminine, because I'm embracing it. My hair is blond and I’m wearing a sequined dress—if the first guy I'm speaking with doesn't immediately take me seriously and think I'm, like, this crazy intellect, that's totally okay! When that person eventually hears my ideas, my smarts will show themselves.

Actually, it's sort of good when people underestimate me, because then it's easy to impress them. [Laughs] And they do—I tend to get underestimated. But when they see my work, the painting speaks for itself.

Held back by beauty? Honestly, I don't really see myself as a beautiful woman. I see myself as, you know, moderately attractive. I'm okay, but I’m not any kind of supermodel. So maybe if you're super-super good-looking, you get pigeonholed by that. But I'm not good-looking enough to be held back because of things like that. [Laughs]

On Fascination
Beauty encourages projection because it engages with fascination: Something that's really beautiful fascinates you. You want to keep looking at it, whether that’s sunshine through yellowing leaves in Central Park on a lovely Sunday, or a woman simply strolling by. 

Because beauty is evocative, you relate what you're seeing with what you're remembering. When you’re looking at a beautiful landscape, you're enjoying the transcendental moment, but you’re also remembering, say a hike you took with your mother some other time. So when you're seeing a beautiful painting and it reminds you of an experience you had, or someone you knew. A beautiful woman can remind you of someone you know, or almost someone you can imagine you want to be.

 Midnight Express

But I also think there is a flipside to the beautiful. In order for something to be truly beautiful, there has to be fragility, or perhaps a potential of destruction. Everybody says beauty is fleeting—it this sense that beauty won't last forever which is part of why it its hypnotizing.

I also think people project with beauty because there's a longing that comes with the beautiful—a longing to possess, a longing to be there, a longing to become, depending on what the subject is. That longing can contribute to that darker side of the beautiful.  And that darker side can intoxicate, intrigue, and destroy.

 Rivera Remembered

Jessica Obrist/Jo Jo Stiletto, Burlesque Dancer/Roller Derby Queen, Seattle

I first met Jessica Obrist in 1997, when we were both involved in theater and magazine journalism at our university. But I first met Jo Jo Stiletto—her alter ego—in 2005, when I saw her gender-bending burlesque act involving a auto-work chassis, coveralls, and, of course, pasties. Jo Jo/Jessica performs and leads burlesque workshops in Seattle, and also has a heavy presence in the Rat City Rollergirls team, winning 2008 Alumni of the Year for her fairy-godmother-like dedication. She talked with me about beauty personae, self-exposure, the allure of athleticism, and drag-queen rash. In her own words:


On Having a Persona                        
If you gave me two words to choose from—beauty or glamour—I’d choose glamour. Beautiful, pretty…maybe I’m like—that’d be boring. Give me moxie, give me glamour. Would I describe myself as beautiful? Probably not. Fabulous? Yes. I consider myself a faux queen—like a drag queen, but, I mean, I’m a woman: taking this persona and making not even a real woman, but this crazy, over-the-top woman. I like the heightened reality of burlesque, and part of me thinks there’s nothing wrong with that heightened reality—this woman with no imperfections, with 10 pairs of pantyhose on. It’s fascinating to me. There’s the everyday Jessica who wears what I call my uniform: leggings, American Apparel skirt, T-shirt, sweatshirt. Jessica hates glitter. But this other person, Jo Jo, is the glitteriest person anyone seems to know! I want to wear wigs, wear the glitter and the fabulous makeup. It’s me putting on my clown face. And I kind of like to put on my clown face.

It’s for fun, this sort of exaggerated beauty, this fake beauty. It’s not real. I don’t have to do this to feel better about myself, and sometimes I do it in unflattering ways too—r
eally gross-looking eye makeup, the "I cried myself to sleep" look, for dramatic effect. Why not? In some ways I don’t want to attract the male gaze. Maybe I want to be the center of attention, but it’s not about being the beautiful center of attention. It’s about—Oh, look at that wig, where did she get those shoes, that’s ridiculous! It’s the idea of making art. Being myself is expressing myself in these ways, and it’s okay to express yourself by wearing fake eyelashes and way too much glitter.

Right now I have drag rash, this rash on my forehead from a wig. The first time I experienced drag rash, I wasn’t on a show; I was just on this party bus as a fundraiser for an LGBT nonprofit benefit. It was a bunch of drag queens and regular people going on a pub crawl. The theme was “back to school,” and I was the best substitute teacher I could be—beehive wig, pencils in the hair. Could it have been as fun in jeans? Maybe. But every so often it’s fun to put on a dress and have a persona. It certainly makes it more fun to hang your cleavage out in the wind—that’s not me, not Jessica, but that might be my persona.

I feel beautiful if I perk myself up a little bit, put myself in drag. But a part of me also feels like I don’t have to have any of that to have that same feeling. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, especially for people who have a persona: If I take that away, I’m still the same person. Look in the mirror without all that and you’re the same girl, you’re still beautiful. Hearing it without that persona feels strange, but it’s true.

There are these girls with the perfect shoes, the perfect makeup. It’s who they are, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed. I cannot put that effort in. I just can’t! And you know what? I feel fine. I feel fine if I put on leggings and a frumpy outfit. Because tomorrow I’m going to wear a vintage pinup dress and put on fake glasses and do something else, and I’ll feel a little pick-me-up. But then I’ll be back to a sort of frumpy outfit, and it’s okay. I mean, those people who feel like they always have to look perfect—I don’t know if that’s a persona. Is that a persona? I hope so. They’re wearing their game face for work, for everyday. But to me it just seems exhausting.

I was getting a dress for my wedding reception. Honestly, the idea of going to stores is horrible, because I hate trying on clothes in traditional stores. The idea of being fussed over sounded horrible. I go into these stores and have a miserable experience, buying cookie-cutter clothes for cookie-cutter body types and having people fuss over me. I guess I like making my own persona instead of being told who my persona is. The persona of a bride—maybe I’m not comfortable being what other people might define that as. Going anywhere and having someone call me a bride—I’m Jo Jo! I’m Jessica! I’m not going to play that role, that bride role.   

 Jessica as bride: at her wedding reception, November 2010

On Changing Faces
The public image is that I’m pretty happy with myself, but, I mean—my hair is matted down and I’ve got this rash on my head, and my skin isn’t perfect. I’m having my wedding reception this weekend and I’m thinking, I look awful. And then I’m like: You hired your friend, who’s a fabulous photographer. All you have to do is just look in the mirror again, and your face is going to look different. What’s in your brain is going to be what you see. Look back in the mirror and change that. I have that hating voice, and then there’s the good voice. It’s all in your fucking brain.

On Changing the Rules
Roller derby was theatrical at first. Girls in fishnets and lipstick hitting each other—wow, it’ll be crazy! [Laughs] From the get-go there was definitely a lot of sexuality at play, but it wasn’t supposed to be that we’re doing this for dudes. Early in our history we were offered pictures in German Playboy and we were like, Fuck no! There’s this idea of the hyperfeminine, but there’s this athleticism too. If you went to a bout today, there’s no difference between this and any other sport. They’ve trained for hours—it just happens that they wear lipstick. Why are they wearing fishnets? Because it’s fun! We write our own rules. Anyone who changes the rules, it’s not like the rest of the world just catches up to you. I always tell the girls: If you want to keep the fishnets and lipstick, wear it, do it—hey, sure, wear a push-up bra. If you want to wear an athletic jersey and pants to your knees, do it. It’s women being athletic and strong, but still having a wink and nod to something that’s not accepted into any other sort of sporting world.

With burlesque, it’s about accepting that there are many different types of beauty, that it’s not just the type of beauty that we see in magazines. For me it’s the world that I love, the world that people are creating that’s sort of free of what society is telling me is beautiful. I’m seeing what these artists are telling me is beautiful. When we do these burlesque classes, it’s your idea of sexy, and the person next to you is probably really different—let’s explore that. They’re both beautiful and sexy, let’s engage with that. 

On Self-Exposure
Burlesque is fun, and it is petrifying. It’s terrifying to expose yourself, whatever that means. Burlesque can be done without exposing any part of your body, but you’re exposing yourself creatively. Will I be accepted? Will people scrutinize me? You judge yourself more harshly than anyone else. So stand in front of a group of people, take off your top with confidence. Watch the audience, watch their faces change. You have this expectation that you won’t be accepted, and it’s the exact opposite. It’s beautiful and fascinating to watch. You’ve got different bodies, breasts, bottoms. You’ll find that the girl with the big tits hates her big tits and loves the girl with the tiny little boobies and thinks they’re awesome. It’s about finding what you appreciate in other people and what you appreciate in yourself. If a girl walks in and is all, “I hate my butt, I’ve got the biggest butt”—okay, okay, I hear that. But part of my thing is: Well, bend over. Bend way over. Now bend over all the way. Now bend over all the way with your legs straight. And it looks amazing, and that person is owning their giant bottom—everybody loves it!

In my world, it’s very much a bunch of women—I hardly ever think of men. But I do think of gender roles. It’s playing with sexuality, playing with gender roles and who you’re appealing to—or do you even want to appeal to someone? There was a man in the show this year, and I found myself trying to rewrite statements in my head. It’s so much focused on women for me, and I felt totally biased. How do I tell a man that he’s beautiful? How do I make him see that he’s dealing with what we all deal with?

Anyone stands on that ledge, exposing themselves, and you have to take that step. Burlesque and roller derby both happen in a room. It’s not filmed, it’s not recorded. It happens live, for an audience, an audience who will experience it, and then they will leave, and they can’t ever perfectly re-create that experience. It’s truly unique. Something is happening. And there’s a lot of beauty issues there, a lot of issues relating to self-image, to how women are perceived, and sports and art and sexiness, and all these things are being explored live, in front of an audience. You’re going to find that falling off the cliff is a thrill. It’ll be amazing, and people are going to love it. It’s the same for everyone, it’s no different for men, women, tiny women, big women—we all have the same fear. But if you actually step off the cliff, they’re going to love you.