Beauty Blogsophere 11.11.11*

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

From Head...
Thin Mint lips: Girl Scout Cookie Lip Smackers! But what's with this "Coconut Caramel Stripes" flavor? You already yanked the rug out from under me with that "Samoa" jazz. Caramel Delight 4-eva!

...To Toe...
This little piggy went to fashion week: Fashionista's slideshow of models' feet on the runway is a lightly grody reminder that fashion ain't always glamorous (and that you're not alone in having fit problems).

Pediprank: Indiana governor Mitch Daniels went in for surgery on a torn meniscus and wound up with a pink pedicure. Dr. Kunkel, you old dog you!

...And Everything In Between:
"It's angled, like a diamond baguette": The rise of the $60 lipstick in the midst of a recession. Not sure about the "pragmatic" part of the term "pragmatic luxury," but what do I know? I just drink red wine, smack my lips together, and hope for the best.

Dishy: The flap surrounding the Panera Bread district manager who told the Pittsburgh-area store manager to staff the counter with "pretty young girls" was reported as a racist incident, since the cashier he wanted replaced was an African American man. But as Partial Objects points out, it may have been more motivated by sexism. To that I'd add that it's not just sexism and racism, but the notion of the "pretty young girl" that's at the heart of the matter here.

Give 'em some lip: American Apparel is launching a lip gloss line, with colors that will be "evoking an array of facets of the American Apparel experience." Names include "Legalize L.A.," which references the company's dedication to immigration reform, and "Intimate," an echo of the company's racy advertising aesthetic. Other shades on tap include "Topless," "Pantytime," "In the Red," "Jackoff Frost" and "Sexual Harassment in Violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act Govt. Code 12940(k) Shimmer."

Music makers: Boots cosmetics line 17 commissions up-and-coming musicians to write and perform songs that align with the ethos of 17 products. As in, "You Might Get Stuck on Me" for their magnetic nail polish.

"Let women of sixty use 'beautifiers,' if they think they need them. But you, who are young, pretty, and have a complexion like a rose-leaf—you should avoid such things as you would a pestilence." 

99% marketing: For its 132nd birthday, Ivory soap is unrolling a new ad campaign, which hinges upon it being A) nongendered, and B) soap. Revolución!

Baby fangs: Intellectually I should be against about the practice of yaeba, in which dentists in Japan artificially enlarge their lady patients' incisors to create a childlike appearance. But as someone who is genetically blessed with noticeably sharp and semi-crooked incisors, I'm basically all, I am gonna be huge in Japan.

Vaniqua'd: The active ingredient in Vaniqua—you know, the drug you're supposed to take if you have an unladylike amount of facial hair—is also an effective treatment for African sleeping sickness. Of course, the places where African sleeping sickness strikes can't afford to buy it. But hey, our upper lip is so smooth! (via Fit and Feminist) 

La Giaconda: The Mona Lisa, retouched.

Beauty survey: Allure's massive beauty survey reveals that 93% of American women think the pressure to look young is greater than ever before. Am I a spoilsport by pointing out that every person who answered that question is also older than they ever were before? (Of course, the "hottest age" for women according to men surveyed is now 28, compared with 31 in 1991, so there may be something to it.) Other findings: Black women are three times as likely as white women to self-report as hot, and everyone hates their belly.

Gay old time: Jenelle Hutcherson will be the first openly lesbian contestant of Miss Long Beach—and she's going to wear a royal purple tux for the eveningwear competition. The director of the pageant encouraged her to sign up, and Hutcherson has been vocal about how she's reflecting the long tradition of diversity and acceptance in Long Beach. (Thanks to Caitlin for the tipoff!)

Miss World: In more urgent beauty pageant news, British women protest Miss World, and somehow the reporter neglects to make a crack about bra burning.

The freshman 2.5: Virginia debunks the "freshman 15," and then Jezebel reveals that the whole thing was an invention of Seventeen magazine, along with the notion that every single New Kid on the Block was supposed to be cute.

Ballerina body: Darlene at Hourglassy examines the push-pull between embracing and dressing large breasts (which she does beautifully with her button-front shirts designed for busty women) and her love of ballet. "By the end of the performance I wasn’t paying attention to anything but the movements. There was nothing to distract me from the dancers’ grace and athleticism. Would I have been distracted by large breasts on one of the dancers? Definitely."

(Still taken from SOMArts promotional video)

Subject/object: Prompted by this intriguing Man as Object exhibition in San Francisco, Hugo Schwyzer looks at the possibilities for desiring male imperfection. He's the expert here, both because of his research and his male-ness, but I can't help but wonder how much men have internalized the notion of male perfection. I have zero doubt that the focus on the body beautiful has impacted men, and certainly the tropes of masculinity are a reasonable parallel to the tropes of femininity. But there's always been more room—literal and metaphorical—for men of all varieties to be considered sex symbols. Everyone gawked when Julia Roberts paired up with Lyle Lovett, but even then there was talk of how he had "a certain quality." Save someone like Tilda Swinton—who, while odd-looking, isn't un-pretty either—when have we ever spoken of women in that way?

Am I the only one who thinks gigolo should be pronounced like it's spelled?: Tits and Sass has been looking for voices of male escorts, and lo and behold, Vin Armani to the rescue!

"Did my son inherit my eating disorder?": There's been some talk about how a mother with food issues can transfer that to her daughters—but Pauline wonders if she's passed down her eating disorder to her son. A potent reminder that boys internalize ED factors as well.

What you can't tell by looking: And along those same lines, Tori at Anytime Yoga reminds us shortly and sweetly that eating disorders of all forms come in a variety of sizes. This is enormously important: I'm certain that there are many women with eating disorders who don't recognize it because they don't think they fit the profile.

In/visible: Always glad to see celebrities acknowledge that looking they way they look actually takes work, à la Jessica Biel here: "My signature style is a 'no-make-up make-up' look, which is much harder than people think." Well, probably not most women who do no-makeup makeup, but whatevs.

Touchdown: This BellaSugar slideshow of creative makeup and hairstyle from NFL fans in homage to their favorite teams is a delight. I could care less about football itself (I finally understand "downs," I think) but I think it's awesome that these people are showing that there are plenty of ways to be a football fan, including girly-girl stuff like makeup. (IMHO, football fans could use a PR boost right about now. Seriously, Penn State? Rioting? You do realize your coach failed to protect multiple children from sexual assault, right?)

Face wash 101: Also from BellaSugar: There were college courses on grooming in the 1940s?! 

She walks in beauty like the night: A goth ode to black lipstick, from 

Muppets take Sephora: Afrobella gives a rundown of the spate of Muppet makeup. Turns out Miss Piggy isn't the first Muppet to go glam.

Love handle: The usual story is that we gain weight when we're stressed or unhappy because we're eating junk food to smother our sorrows—but Sally asks about "happy body changes," like when you gain weight within a new relationship.

Locks of love: Courtney at Those Graces on how long hair can be just as self-defining as short.


*Numerology field day! More significantly, Veterans' Day. Please take a moment to thank or at least think of the veterans in your life—you don't have to support the war to support soldiers. It's also a good time to remember that not all veterans who return alive return well: The Huffington Post collection "Beyond the Battlefield" is a reminder of this, particularly the story of Marine widow Karie Fugett, who also writes compellingly at Being the Wife of a Wounded Marine of caring for her husband after his return from Iraq; he later died from a drug overdose.

While most combat roles are still barred to women, there are plenty of female veterans—combat, support, and medical staff alike. Click here to listen to a collection of interviews from female veterans of recent wars, including Staff Sergeant Jamie Rogers, who, in When Janey Comes Marching Home, gives us this reminder of the healing potential of the beauty industry: "I went [to the bazaar near Camp Liberty in Baghdad] often to get my hair cut. They had a barber shop and then they had a beauty salon. It was nice to go in and it was a female atmosphere. It was all girls. You could put your hair down, instead of having it in a bun all the time, get it washed. It was just something to escape for a while, get away from everything. And it was nice to interact, and the girls were always dressed nice and always very complimentary: 'You have such beautiful...' and I don't know if it was BS, but it felt good that day. That was a good escape."

Beauty Blogosphere 9.9.11

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

From Head...
No product no problem: Awesome roundup of 130+ women with absolutely no hair products from green beauty site No More Dirty Looks. (Bonus points if you can spot me without cheating! I also see a couple of Beheld readers...)

...To Toe...
Pedi for the cause:
Men in Jonesboro, Arkansas, are getting their toenails painted for ovarian cancer awareness. Okay, now, truly I am glad that these men are making it clear that women's health issues are actually people's health issues, and I should probably just shut up. But doesn't the whole idea here hinge upon ha-ha-women's-concerns-are-so-hilarious? Or am I just looking for a self-righteous feminist reason to not endorse slacktivism?

...And Everything In Between:

And the award for the MOST OBVIOUSLY IRONIC headline of the year goes to: Me, with "I Was Bad at Sex!" in this month's American Glamour (the one with Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, and Alicia Keys on the cover). My mini-essay about being a lousy lover is on page 250 (but isn't online), and is waiting for you to peruse whilst on line at the grocery store. (In Glamour's defense, they did run the headline by me. And to my relief, they did not fact-check it.)

Isn't he lovely: Super-excited for the upcoming Cristen Conger eight-part series at Bitch about the male beauty myth!

Crystaleyes: Vogue Japan tapes Crystal Renn's eyes to make her look...Japanese. This seemed both racist and ridiculous before I learned it was Vogue Japan (the stylist who did the taping was Italian), and now it just seems absurd.

Where are all the male Asian models?: Forbes asks. (And we answer, well, they certainly aren't working at Vogue Japan.)

Oshkosh B'Gosh: I'm oddly fascinated by the shoplifting of cosmetics, despite not having done it myself for 20+ years, and this story has the brilliant twist of the culprit being the reigning beauty queen of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Uncanny!: A Boston federal judged ruled that The Manly Man Cans, a bundle of men's grooming products, must cease distribution under that name, as it comes too close to a competitor, The Man Can.
Not like teen spirit.

When the judge cries: Prince is to pay nearly $4 million to Revelations Perfume and Cosmetics after he backed out of a deal to promote a perfume in conjunction with his new album.

Mercury poisoning from cosmetics: A good reminder of why the Safe Cosmetics Act is important: 18 people in south Texas have reported elevated mercury levels as a result of a Mexican skin cream. And that's just what's being brought across the border--I shudder to think of the mercury levels in the blood of users whose governments might not be as vigilant.

"Why do you walk like you're all that?": Nahida at The Fatal Feminist has a fantastic essay about slut-shaming, modesty, and the male gaze: "Don't lecture me about modesty when you've clearly lost yours, arrogantly believing you have any right to tell me these things or command me to stop or interpret my behavior..."

News flash: Okay, I am officially over the whole "Did you know women can legally go topless in New York City?" publicity stunts with the arrival of the Outdoor Topless Co-Ed Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, which in an interview with Jen Doll of the Village Voice claims to want women going topless in public "something of social inconsequence" yet has the tagline "making reading sexy." I mean, seriously, am I missing something here?

Extreme confessions: Interesting read from one of the "extreme plastic surgeons" on Extreme Makeover. Seems that the show was somewhat nonrepresentative of how plastic surgery usually goes. Shocking, I know, I know.

"That's not funny": Speaking up about sexism makes men nicer, according to a recent study. My personal experience correlates with this, and I always thought it was because I'm a bit of a wuss and while I will call out men on their sexist remarks I do so with tons of apologies and nice-making and blushing and stammering. But maybe I'm not giving either myself or the men enough credit?

Self-care Rx: Rosie Molinary's prescription for wellness comes at a handy time for me as I attempt to up my self-care. Being specific and deliberate helps here—and I can attest to the power of actually having a prescriptions. (An old therapist once actually wrote out a prescription for a monthly massage.)

Wearing confidence: Already Pretty on how to broadcast your body confidence. My favorite (and most unexpected) is about giving compliments, which, when spoken from a place of truth, brings rewards to both giver and receiver. (Here, though, I'm reminded of the double-edged sword compliments can become.)

Midge Brasuhn of the Brooklynites

Roller derby and spectacle: Fit and Feminist looks at roller derby—usually played by women in suggestive uniform/costumes who go by oft-racy pseudonyms—as a sport by the way we currently define sports. I'm not the biggest roller derby fan, but after reading this intriguing post I'm ready to declare it not only a sport, but the sport.

Scent strip: Strippers test pheromone perfumes at Tits and Sass to see if they increase their earnings. The grand result: eh. But an amusing "eh"!

There she is, Miss America:
The history of the American beauty pageant. Is it any surprise that one of the first brains behind these events was circus impresario P.T. Barnum?

Un/covered: Photographs of women in public and private life in the Middle East. Most interesting to me are the photos of the fashion designers who are fully covered. It seems like a juxtaposition—and it is, given the flashy designs they're creating—but it makes me wonder about what traits we assign to designers, assuming that their work is an extension of them...and about what traits we assign to women in hijab.

She's my cherry pie?: Jill hits the nail on the head as to why the self-submitted photographs for the plus-size American Apparel modeling contest are disturbing. Intellectually I guess I should be all yay subversion! but my genuine reaction is quite different.

On Athletic Bodies

I never dreamed I'd have an athletic body. I was a gym-class-fearing child, to the point where I would purposefully fall down stairs in the days leading up to the dreaded gymnastics unit; breaking an ankle seemed better than having to attempt to do a cartwheel in front of my classmates. I saw nothing wrong with sitting down on the playing field during T-ball games (to this day my parents swear I asked to join the team, and I can only assume that I was being ironic at an extraordinarily tender age); my favorite day of tennis lessons was our end-of-summer party because I got to stay on the sidelines and eat the racket-shaped cookies my mother had made for the occasion. Running The Mile—which I saw in my head like this:

—felt like torture, and I had to do it every year from grades 6-9, and I played sick every year until I realized I’d just have to do it on a day when the rest of the class was playing touch football or something and therefore able to watch me run The Mile, which was even worse.

I thought that way all my life—a singular aqua aerobics class my final semester of college notwithstanding, in order to "round out my course load"—until 2002. I'd broken up with a boyfriend, and it was one of those breakups that makes you wonder if you will ever be okay again, where being alone feels excruciating because you’ve cried all you can and you don’t know what else to do. Being on the subway felt okay for some reason, and since I wasn’t so despondent as to just ride the rails all day with no purpose, I took the opportunity to travel to gyms in the farthest reaches of all five boroughs to take advantage of their guest passes. (Plus, then I’d get really fit and toned and lithe and show him!)

The first time I entered a gym, it was in the Bronx, which I’d specifically chosen because I didn't know anyone who lived in the Bronx, so nobody I knew could possibly witness my fumbling around with the machines. I sat down at every machine in the place and read the directions so that the next time I went to a gym that would presumably not be in the Bronx, I wouldn’t look like a total fool. I stayed there for four hours.

Guest pass after guest pass, I worked my way through the city, and after a couple of months I realized that it was helping in ways beyond dealing with the breakup. My mood was improved, for one. My body, which hadn’t felt particularly out of shape before, began to feel...better. Like things were just working right. I was gaining confidence by knowing how to use the machines and free weights, and to my surprise I was finding that I was quickly able to up how much weight I was lifting—and, in fact, that I was lifting more weight than most of the other women on the floor.

And then there were the muscles. I had enough fat on me that it wasn’t visible for a while, but I could feel my arms getting more and more solid every week. Shaving my legs suddenly invited hazard because there was now a sharp little tennis ball where a soft calf had previously been. I distinctly remember looking at myself in the mirror while washing my hands and freaking out because there were these things moving in my chest, these ripply creepy-crawly things underneath my skin—and realizing that was my upper pectoral muscles, which I’d never actually seen before. I mean, I was no Colette Nelson, and you probably wouldn’t even have looked at me and called me “buff.” But I was distinctly more muscular than I’d ever been, and I’d even say I looked more muscular than the average woman of my age.

It turns out that my body actually is rather athletic. I still can’t catch, throw, or hit a flying object (gym-class phobia sets in even if a coworker tosses me a pen), and I would hesitate to say that I’m even in particularly good shape. But I’m reasonably fit; I can run a few miles without stopping; I lift weights. I even did some somersaults a few years ago when I went through a krav maga phase. Compared to the kid hurling herself down the stairs in 1983, I’m Mary Lou Fucking Retton. And when this fact hits me—when I am energized instead of exhausted after a run, or when a fellow gymgoer asks me to spot him, or when my doctor tells me that my heart rate is in the zone of conditioned athletes—I feel the type of gratitude and relief you can only feel when you realize that something negative about yourself that you’d accepted as truth is, in fact, not.

So the first time I saw “athletic body” in the “dress your figure” pages of a women’s magazine, I got excited. Finally, someone was acknowledging that not all women who work out are doing so to lose weight—and, hey, maybe I’d finally, once and for all, learn what kind of figure I actually had. But when the advice focused on “creating curves,” I was confused: I'm not particularly busty, but lacking curves has never been my problem. In fact, since muscles generally are not shaped like squares but instead are gently sloping, I probably have more curves than I did before I started lifting weights.

All the arguments I've made before about "dressing for your figure" apply to "athletic." For starters, it’s meaningless: Some magazines use it to mean “broad-shouldered and thick-waisted,” others use it to mean “big thighs, little hips,” others use it to mean “naturally slender and small-breasted.” The one thing they always say is to “create curves”—something I don’t think, say, Jennie Finch or Gabrielle Reece ever worried about. (Webster’s does lists mesomorphic as one of the definitions of athletic, and while I’m appropriately skeptical of constitutional psychology, the ectomorph/mesomorph/endomorph typing comes in handy when discussing basic body types. But that’s not usually what’s being discussed on these pages, and within those classic types there’s enough cosmetic variation that it doesn’t really belong on a “dress your body”-type of page anyway.)

But the “athletic body” deserves a bit of special treatment. For unlike being an apple or an hourglass or whatever, being athletic is something you choose. You might not be able to choose how your activities shape your body, but you choose to be athletic. And while I understand that you might not always want to be showcasing your body, I also don’t know of any female athletes—professional or just gymgoing ladies—who seem to try to conceal what their activities have brought them. You don’t see swimmer Natalie Coughlin covering up her developed shoulders as Rent the Runway would say she should (“detract from wider-built shoulders” with a one-shouldered dress, they advise); you don’t see Lisa Leslie trying to cover her rippling muscles when she’s on the red carpet.

From Athlete by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein

More important, though, the idea of the “athletic body” ignores the enormous range of sports and the athletes who play them. Different sports work better with different bodies, as beautifully photographed by Howard Schatz in Athlete, a collaboration with Beverly Ornstein that depicts the enormous range in athletes’ bodies, from high jumper Amy Acuff to gymnast Olga Karmansky to weightlifter Cheryl Haworth. And even if we make room for the prototypical body of each sport, as Ragen at Dances With Fat—whose blog roots are in showing the world that a 284-pound dancer is, in fact, a dancer (she's won three National Dance Championships)—asked us last week, “When did being an athlete become more about how a body looks and less about what it can do?”

And, at its heart, that’s what ails me about the “athletic” body type as shown in women’s magazines. I don’t lay claims to be an athlete. But learning that I could develop muscle and look “athletic” was enormously empowering to me. I have worked hard to be able to do 40 push-ups (okay, I haven’t done 40 push-ups for a while, but I could at one point, I swear!), and the muscles that come with it are emblematic of that growth. Yeah, yeah, I struggle with body image like everyone—but my “athletic” build isn’t among those struggles. (In fact, when I look at my hard-won muscles and have a negative thought about them, that’s evidence that something else is going on that I need to examine.) My body does not do anything extraordinary; in fact, it just does what it’s supposed to do. But my athletic body is a triumph over so many painful memories: defiantly munching cookies during my final tennis lesson because I was afraid I’d look foolish on the court, pretending to twist my ankle during the 50-yard dash on field day so I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of coming in last, teachers asking if I was okay when my face would still be beet-red 30 minutes after gym class.

Listen, I can’t say I “love my body,” all right? But I love what athleticism has brought to me, and I treasure the ways it’s visible on my body. My athletic body doesn’t need anyone’s fashion advice. It doesn’t need anyone’s categorization. It does not need to be dressed around, typed, or even acknowledged. It just needs to move.

Month Without Mirrors 5.9.11 Update: My Mirror Shroud, Hair Care, and Going to the Gym

One of the cooler things that's happened as a result of this project is cyber-meeting a California academic who's also abstaining from mirrors—for a year. Not just any year: the year in which she's getting married. I love her description of plotting out mirror-avoidance with her fiance; she's also exaining mirror-themed poems and books. I'm looking forward to reading more on her blog, Mirror Mirror Off the Wall, and you should totally check it out! She's contemplating not even looking at her wedding photos until after the experiment is over; wonderful proof that the "bridezilla" phenomenon gets attention because it makes women look cray-cray. It's thoughtful, reflective stories like hers that are probably more representative of women on the eve of marriage.

"I bought it.  I loved it.  It loved me.  Until... somehow... we fell out of love. Mirrors are to blame."
—Mirror Mirror Off the Wall

Her "rules" entry prompted me to clarify something that caused some eyebrows to raise; a couple of  commenters felt that my use of a hand mirror to apply makeup went against the whole point. (In fact, some felt that wearing makeup, period, went against the whole point. But this experiment isn't about my relationship to beauty standards; it's about my relationship with the mirror. Dig?) I am indeed using a hand mirror to apply makeup, but I'm using it at close range so that only the feature I'm able to see is the one being worked on. (In fact, the below shot is a broader scope than what I normally see, but anything closer made photographing this an impossibility.) And I quickly realized that I only need it for eyes and lips; the rest of my makeup, I apply blindly.

My handy accomplice.

A few people have also expressed quiet concern for the eeriness of having one's mirrors shrouded, as though I'm sitting shiva for myself. But look! My mirror veil is pink and froofy and adorable and makes use of my enormous collection of vintage slips that are far too synthetic to feel comfortable lounging around in! Betty Draper in da house!

The biggest practical concern I've had thus far has been something I wish I'd put more thought into: That other beauty experiment of mine, the no-shampoo bit. It's not styling my hair that's problematic (I usually either wear it loose or in a purposefully disheveled updo anyway); it's dealing with the greasies. Because as much as I crow about how fantastic life is up here on my shampoo-free perch, the only reason it's fantastic is because I've made good use of dry shampoos and hair powders. I don't use them daily, but I do rely on them, and without those tools I'd look, well, terrible. And again: The point of this experiment is not to see what happens if I walk around in public with toothpaste on my shirt, lipstick on my chin, and hair like a particularly bedraggled Dean Martin. In fact, I need to look reasonably neat in order for this experiment to work: I want to not think about how I look, not be concerned about whether I look poorly groomed. So I present to you my workaround:

If I feel my hair and it seems like it could use a touch-up, I lift up the white slip and find this cutout shaped to my face, which allows me to see where I need to apply some product to my hair, without seeing my face. My hair is rarely the concern when I look in the mirror anyway, so I'm satisfied with this solution. (My "bad face days" outnumber my "bad hair days" by probably a 12:1 margin—that is, assuming both of those are gauged internally, not by how your face or hair actually looks, which, in my case, is pretty much the same day-to-day.)

It's been surprisingly easy to avoid mirrors: With only a handful of exceptions, I've been good about anticipating panes of glass and unexpected mirrors. (Why do so many elevators have mirrors? I've never noticed that before!) I was out and about plenty this week but was working from home; this week, I'm working in an office—a famously image-conscious office, at that. The company cafeteria features a funhouse-style mirror at its exit; of the architecture, the New York Times writes, "Gazelles and other svelte creatures pass along a wall of rippling mirrors. Their figures merge, contort, morph and liquefy. The panoramic image changes constantly, forming and reforming in the eye of the beholder. Why shouldn't beauty flow into the soul like a fresh scent strip?" This place will be home base for the next week, folks. I'll resist the temptation to peek (never fear!), but being in an environment where image-consciousness is turned up to 11 and having no clue how I look will be an exercise in self-restraint, that's for sure.

As for other shared spaces: I admit to feeling slightly foolish at the gym when I turn away from the mirror to do my biceps curls, but the side benefit is that gym rats are less likely to gawk when you're facing them head-on. A more direct benefit is that without intending to, I've been able to do more reps, with both biceps curls and triceps extensions, which are the two exercises I usually perform directly in front of a mirror.

Previously, I'd believed I felt inspired by looking in the mirror at my muscles as I'd pump iron. I'm not a fitness fiend, but I lift the heaviest weights I can when I work my arms, and it shows. Most of the time I feel pretty good about that. I grew up thinking my body was incapable of doing anything remotely athletic: I saw no problem with sitting down on the T-ball field to pick dandelions; I couldn't ride a bike until I was 31; I would invariably feign illness the day of The Mile, when all students had to run a timed mile in P.E. class. Before joining a neighborhood gym for the first time, at age 25, I actually spent the day at a gym in the Bronx—an hour subway ride away—so that there would be zero chance anyone I knew would witness my trial and humiliating errors. So for me to not only be lifting weights but having actual muscle to show for it is still a thrill for me, and I love seeing my (moderately sized) biceps bulge when I'm straining to complete my last few reps.

But at some point in those minutes, probably once a session, I think of the time an ex-boyfriend called me a "bruiser," or the time we were watching the scene in Fargo where Shep beats up Steve Buscemi's character (NSFW) and he squeezed my arm and told me I was "built like Shep"—who, while undeniably powerful, doesn't exactly embody the look I'm after.  

Or I simply see that the muscles I've worked so hard for are snuggled into the layer of fat that surrounds them, which doesn't particularly bother me unless I'm, say, intensely focusing on the way my arms look. Which is exactly what I do every time I do biceps curls.

When I face away from the mirror, my workout becomes only about how I feel. I truly thought that it already was, mind you; but removing my self-observation cuts off one avenue for my thoughts to wander to appearance, not performance. Yes, I lift weights in part to look better. But my muscules will develop regardless of whether I'm observing the way I look during exercise, and my self-surveillance robs me of the opportunity to focus solely on the flexing and retracting of my muscle. In short: When I observe myself lifting weights, I'm impeding my flow, which is what I'm after. When I'm just lifting, however, I can harness resources that are stunted by my reflection.

It's still too early to tell how I'll emerge from this project mentally and emotionally—but if this keeps up, I'll emerge stronger in at least one way.

Beauty Blogsophere 3.25.11

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

Okay, I think single-use eyeshadow applicators are a bit extreme.
But maybe I'm just jealous of people who know how to use eyeshadow?

Singles: I usually snooze my way through beauty product slide shows (look, it's shampoo! look, it's more shampoo!) but thought that this one was actually useful—a roundup of single-use beauty products. (If I were at all entrepreneurially minded I'd be using these for my product kit, The Shack Pack, which allows ladies who may or may not be sleeping in their own beds every night to have a wallet-sized kit with all things cosmetics. Business majors, take it away.)

Cosmetics cheerleader: Jane Feltes at The Hairpin gives fun beauty advice every week, but what's particularly noteworthy here is her shout-out to women like me, who are self-conscious about makeup but still want to play. "Everything stands out when we’ve never done it before, but trust me, no one else sees it that way. They all think you're 'so put together' today."

Say cheese: Non-promotional pics of the Photoshop camera, from Allure. The more I stare at the "after" photo the weirder it seems. I get that it's nice to not have to put on powder every time you snap a photo (I'm a shiny gal myself) but other than that I truly think that the alterations aren't doing anybody any favors. Her forehead looks strange in the second one, probably because IT'S NOT HER REAL FOREHEAD.

Beauty quotient: Nice piece on HuffPo about inner beauty, and the combination of qualities that make a woman beautiful, and how we're all individuals, and blah blah blah. It would be a helluva lot nicer if it weren't written by a man who's made his living as a plastic surgeon specializing in faces and boobs. Toe
NBA pedicures: Apparently you can get a pedicure at the Lakers game, which seems absurd. If you're paying that much to be in the VIP section, shouldn't you at least be enjoying the game? Or is that why Lakers fans are ranked among the worst in the nation?

...and Everything in Between
Growing up ugly:
Amazing post about what life was like as the resident "ugly girl" in high school. I remember "that girl" in our high school—the one everyone teased, the butt of every joke—and always wondered how it informed her adult life. The common wisdom is either that it seriously messes someone up, or that they go on to be a rock star supermodel and they've shown us! This engaging, thoughtful essay shows what one woman gleaned from having to rely on a different barometer than most of us do.

But just in case that isn't enough: A guide to "surviving the uglies" at Eat the Damn Cake. I usually want to hide in my yoga pants when I'm having an acute case of these, but know I always feel better when I wear something a bit more structured, and to see it and other ideas laid out here was nice. (Though why do people always recommend taking a bubble bath? Where do these people live where a bathtub is comfortable?)

The privilege of pretty: Lovely meditation at Seamstress Stories about how recognizing the privilege of beauty enables one to more easily reject it.

Dove's dirty deeds: From the company that has done some nice work on women and self-esteem, an ad that truly seems to imply that black skin is "before" and white skin is "after." No, I don't think it's a coincidence. As a commenter at Sociological Images says, "These companies have psychologist and sociologists working on these ads that specialize in people’s – and in particular the white upper class women this ad is aimed at – reactions to advertisement. If it were an accident, they would catch it. Period."

Giving to Japan: My philosophy is that if you care about a cause, you should donate directly to it—time, money, effort—instead of merely engaging in consumer activism. You'll feel better about it, and it's a greater act of generosity, both in direct impact and in feel-good energy. And though some companies have a truly excellent record of philanthropy, it's also an easy out for organizations that don't really give a shit to go on record as having done something. (International Cosmetics & Perfume made the tremendous sacrifice of donating fifty—yes, that's five-zero!—Hanae Mori reusable tote bags, originally intended as an in-store customer appreciation gift, to the American Red Cross to assist Japanese displaced from their homes and belongings.) That said: If you're planning on stocking up on certain products, here is a nice roundup of major companies that are donating some proceeds to aid with recent events in Japan.

The yoga tax: Connecticut legislators are considering dropping the exemption of commercial yoga studios from the state's commercial tax. Health clubs are currently exempt from the tax, but nail salons and pet grooming are being considered for inclusion into the new tax scheme as well. I'm all for yoga—Cat and Cow, yo!—and think it should be treated as a health and wellness area, not beauty. But honestly, a lot of the commercial yoga studios have that sort of icks me out and makes it about "achieving" a certain lifestyle, and is it terrible of me to say that while I want as many people as possible to do yoga, I'm not exactly crying tears for certain Connecticut yogis? Can there be a one-person committee consisting of me that decides which studios are about health and wellness and which are about who has the cutest yoga mat?

Elizabeth Taylor: Amid all the press surrounding her death, a few pieces stand out as far as what's of concern to me as a beauty blogger. ABC News looks at her as a template for celebrity fragrance; Virginia at Never Say Diet examines her as a body image role model; and NYTimes style writer Cathy Horyn investigates the intersection of fashion, era, beauty, and image that Ms. Taylor embodied. Edited to add this nice quote roundup from beauty professionals, including Ted Gibson, Eva Scrivo, and Tabatha Coffey, paying tribute to her.

Colette Nelson, Professional Bodybuilder, New York City

Mention the name Colette Nelson in bodybuilding circles and you can pretty much guarantee the response will be smiles of recognition all around. Over the years she has carved a niche for herself as one of the most respected and admired professional athletes on the circuit. However, what few people realize is that competitive bodybuilding is only one string attached to this woman’s bow: Colette is also a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator, holds a master’s degree in science—and still manages to fit being a hair and makeup artist into her demanding lifestyle. (She also happens to be a bit of an artist when it comes to spray tanning…)

 Photo: Kyle Quest Studios

But it’s the bodybuilding that intrigued me the most, as she’s one of the few competitors who manages to combine extreme muscularity with extreme femininity, which has likely been a key to her astounding success in the sport (check out her site for a rundown of her contest history)—and it’s what made me want to delve deeper into the phenomena of female muscle as the possible new face of beauty. In her own words:

On the Beauty of Bodybuilding
Bodybuilding—at least women’s bodybuilding—is simply a new way of judging beauty. They say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and for those who attend and judge women’s bodybuilding contests, the muscular woman is beautiful. Call her a female Adonis if you will. Now, this may seem like a somewhat arrogant statement but let’s stop to consider this: Do you call the woman who spends hours in front of the mirror doing her makeup arrogant? Of course not, so why should we give this label to the woman who works out hard in the gym and then chooses to display the results on stage? Both are seeking what they deem to be perfection. 

Some may think it’s a huge contradiction and that muscle and femininity—or indeed beauty—cannot go hand in hand. I like to think that in some small way, I and women like me are proving that muscle can be both feminine and beautiful. The qualification to that statement is, of course, as long as it doesn’t go to the extremes of drug use, which many women fall victim to. I’ve never been an advocate of drug use, and yet I have had a very successful career in bodybuilding. I’ve gone about as far as I can go without sacrificing my femininity, which I am never willing to do.

On Femininity
Yes, some women may fall into the trap of taking drugs that threaten their femininity in an attempt to be “bigger and better” than their rivals. And the price they pay is significant—it’s emotionally traumatizing. It’s not unknown for women to begin losing their hair due to “male pattern baldness” and have to shave every day to remove significant facial hair growth. It’s not my place to judge or criticize these women—but should they ask for it, I can offer them my help. That’s how I got involved in the hair and makeup side of competitions. I’m not saying that all my clients are trying to cover up masculinizing side effects of drug use, but there are a small percentage of women for whom this is true and those were the first ones I helped. Now I do hair and make up for all contest categories, from bodybuilding to figure and bikini.

As a female bodybuilder you walk a fine line. You love muscle, and yet you love being a woman at the same time. I have always embraced my feminine side. I love doing my hair, makeup, nails….and I love fashion. Go figure! I think that is what makes me interesting—being a sexy girl with muscles. I may not be the biggest girl when I compete, but I do have decent size. I am just not willing to sacrifice my femininity for size. I also think that more women would be interested in looking like Jillian Michaels with that type of body than to go to the extremes of muscle size that can only be achieved with significant drug use.

 Photo: Dan Ray

On Supplements
I have to touch on the drug issue because, like it or not, it is a part of the sport of bodybuilding. For myself, I have never considered bodybuilding to be my career, so I was never willing to take it to that extreme. You don’t make money in the sport—you make it from offshoots of the sport, be that modeling for fitness magazines, movie work, or whatever. You need to focus on the big picture, and when you take drugs the big picture outside the sport can go from poster to thumbnail size.

In addition, I have a career as a dietician and diabetes educator. I need to be conscious of the image I present to both patients and fellow professionals. For me, drug use would be professional suicide—and let’s face it, I did very well during my competitive career without them!

On Contest Prep
Contest preparation begins about 16 weeks before a show. You start becoming more aware of your hair, your skin, your nails—everything. I don’t color my hair until about two weeks before a competition. That way it’s clean, healthy, and not over-processed. I also exfoliate my skin—more than I would just for myself—to make sure I have no blemishes. I also get facials three weeks before the show and start tanning about 10 weeks prior to competing. I never tan my face—only my body. Tanning can be extremely aging to the skin, and I’m not into that!

 Photo: Dan Ray

On Adolescence
When I was 12 years old I saw pictures in a magazine of Cory Everson and Rachel McLish and liked that look. My dance teacher at the time was muscular and I recall her saying she wanted to be thinner. But I loved those bigger, muscular bodies. Back then I was really skinny—I came from a family of skinny minnies—and I never considered myself as looking good. To me I looked frail and not interesting. At that time I was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which made me feel weak, broken—even damaged. I remember asking my doctor what I could do to make this situation better, and he said I had to pay attention to my diet and start working out. So I started going to the gym at a very young age—I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I went! It gave me a feeling of empowerment. I felt stronger and ultimately more accepting of my body. I got hooked on feeling strong.

On “Attention: Bodybuilder Ahead!”
I really don’t use this body I’ve built as a tool to get attention in everyday life…but I have to admit that I do love attention. People make comments—which are for the most part positive—and I get a kick out of how some people respond to me. Like, they always say, “Oh, I want to arm wrestle you.” I live in New York and the people here are very accepting of individualism, so I rarely get negative remarks aimed in my direction. 

People aren’t used to seeing a woman with muscle, though, so they do stare. We aren’t really brought up to know how to respond to a muscular woman. All I know is that it gives me a level of confidence and strength which I was lacking before, and people can feel that from me. That tempers their response.

On Perfection
Bodybuilding challenges our conditioning about what beauty looks like. With a muscular body you are creating art. I was always classed as “pretty,” but I wanted more. I am a total type-A overachiever—I’ve always been that way. And for me, building my body and reducing my body fat was a logical step toward perfection. When you have toned your body, you have altered it, nurtured it, re-created it—and when you are lifting those weights you feel like a superhero. Bodybuilders may seem neurotic in their attention to detail, but who said that trying to achieve an ideal of perfection would be easy? It may not be easy, but is it worth it? Do I really need to answer that?!

 Photo: Ivana Ford

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.