Friday, February 29, 2008

Vocab Rehab: Pregnancy and New Mom Edition

The phrase: “You just had a baby? How is that possible?” or “How much weight did you gain when you were pregnant?” or “What are you doing to lose the baby weight?”

What you’re trying to say: We live in the era of Hollywood Bump Watch. Gossip magazines, blogs, and entertainment shows document every stage of stars’ pregnancies as well as every pound they shed to “get their bodies back.” Not only has it become normal practice to scrutinize preggo A-listers, but women everywhere are now scrutinizing themselves in the same way. Most moms and future moms have fears about how motherhood changes the body, and this worldwide celebrity pregnancy fixation certainly isn’t doing anything to alleviate them. When we tell someone how good she looks post-baby or ask about pregnancy weight gain or baby weight-loss strategies, it’s usually an attempt to bond over those pressures. But behind the compliments and questions are much deeper insecurities: “How did you face the fear of gaining weight? I am afraid that pregnancy will make me fat and I already have issues with my weight. You’re giving me hope that I don’t have to destroy my looks to have a baby.”

What might be heard: The bottom line is that when you comment on a pregnant woman’s or new mom’s weight, you send a message that your focus is on the way her body looks--not the baby’s health, her health, or her emotional state.

Where it goes: Bonding over baby weight might feel comforting in the moment, but women who get into these exchanges are really cutting themselves off from more meaningful conversation. Events and feelings attached to becoming a mom suddenly take a back seat to body obsessions. You start trading tales of hours on the treadmill instead of expressing the joy of hearing baby’s first laugh or sharing tips on how to find personal time when your whole world has shifted so dramatically.

What you could say instead: Having a baby is a life-changing experience. In ALL departments. Ask a pregnant woman or a new mom how she’s doing and listen to her answer. She might talk about feeling stressed or tired. She might say she’s completely blissed out and head over heels. And yes, there’s a chance she’ll tell you she’s unhappy with her weight. In that case, tell her to steer clear of Us Weekly. Then give her a nice long list of the reasons you think she is/will be a great mom--reasons that have nothing to do with the numbers on the scale.

Read all Vocab Rehab entries.

Body of Model Katoucha Found in the Seine

French police have found the body of Katoucha. She had been missing since January. There is no sign of foul play and it is suspected that the renowned model accidentally slipped into the river Seine.

In a time when there is so much talk about the lack of ethnic diversity on the runways, it is important to note that Katoucha was one of the first African models to rise to fame as a muse for YSL. She was a victim of genital mutilation and dedicated herself to speaking out against the practice later in her career. She will be missed. [Associated Press]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What Is Your Six-Year-Old's Beauty Routine?

Beauty is big business. Companies vie for consumer loyalty, and the sooner they can convince girls that they need products and treatments to look and feel pretty, the more profits they can bank on. Forget junior high--beauty marketers are now going after girls in elementary school. According to a study conducted last year, 55 percent of 6- to 9-year-old girls said they used lip gloss or lipstick, and nearly two-thirds said they used nail polish.

Sweet & Sassy, a salon and party destination based in Texas for girls 5 to 11, includes pink limo service. And Dashing Diva franchises often offer virgin Cosmos in martini glasses along with their extra-virgin nail polish, free of chemicals, for a round of services for a birthday girl and her friends. Then there's Club Libby Lu, where little girls can dress up like Britney Spears and pretend they're paparazzi-stalked celebrities. Oy. What happened to silly cone-shaped party hats and pin the tail on the donkey? [New York Times]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Beauty Myth Wednesdays: The Truth About Toner

Here's your weekly dose of beauty reality from makeup artist Christopher Drummond.


Christopher: This is a biggie. Years ago, when toners were created, they were made to 1) clean off excess debris that your soap didn’t get and 2) to balance the pH level of the skin. Cleansers nowadays are so thorough and advanced, they do this already. You don’t need a toner. It is a way for cosmetic companies to make more money. Period. If a company says that toner is needed, they are admitting that their cleanser doesn’t thoroughly cleanse the skin.

Read all Beauty Myths.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Submit Your Questions for Jess Weiner, "The Queen of Self-Esteem"

We are thrilled to be interviewing body image expert Jess Weiner for a special podcast to celebrate BlogHer's new Letter to My Body Campaign.

Jess is the bestselling author of A Very Hungry Girl and Life Doesn't Begin 5 Pounds from Now. She is also the Global Ambassador for the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Do you have a question for Jess? Post it here by Thursday 5 p.m. ET and we'll do our best to include it in our interview!

It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Find out what events are happening in your area.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

C-Section Births are at an All-time High

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of women giving birth via cesarean section has increased 50 percent in the last ten years. C-sections now account for one third of all U.S. births.

No one is exactly sure who or what to blame for this record-breaking increase. Some say it's demand from women who want to schedule their births the Christina Aguilera way. "I didn’t want any surprises," the pop star told People magazine. "Honestly, I didn’t want any [vaginal] tearing...The hardest part was deciding on his birthday. I wanted to leave it up to fate, but at the same time I was ready to be done early!”

While the convenience factor of a scheduled c-section is a draw for many women, experts are concerned that too many of these procedures are elective and not medically necessary. C-sections are not without risk. Researchers found that neonatal mortality rates were higher among infants delivered by cesarean section (1.77 per 1,000 live births) than for those delivered vaginally (0.62).

Perhaps our largest concern is whether mommies-to-be are getting enough information about the birthing options available to them. Pregnancy can be a confusing, exhilarating, head-spinning time. Women need to fully understand their choices in order to make the decision that's right for them.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

In Memoriam: Johnnie Carr, Civil Rights Activist

Longtime civil rights activist Johnnie Carr has died at the age of 97. Carr joined her childhood friend Rosa Parks in the Montgomery bus boycott.

Carr succeeded the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association in 1967, a post she held at her death.

She played a prominent role in 2005 on the 50th anniversary of Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat, speaking to thousands of schoolchildren who marched to the Capitol.

"Look back, but march forward," Carr urged the huge crowd of young people. [MSNBC]

Friday, February 22, 2008

Beauty Myth Wednesdays (On a Friday)

Things have been slow over here due to one of us coming down with a monster flu, but better late than never, right? Here's your weekly myth buster from makeup artist Christopher Drummond.

Christopher: Many women ask me what I think about La Mer, a very expensive face cream that is about the price of a Mercedes. My honest answer is this: don’t waste your money. The second ingredient is Mineral Oil. This oil is not only a petrochemical, but it is incredibly cheap to produce, as it is a bi-product of petroleum. Since it is the number two ingredient, this means there is a lot of it in the product. This is true of many expensive products: they are simply a high priced, underperforming product. Your best bet is to buy a product that is used by a professional esthetician in a spa. Estheticians are very serious about skincare, and use high-quality, decently priced products. I don’t know any that use La Mer.

(Estee Lauder's La Mer Ingredients: Seaweed Extract - Mineral Oil - Petrolatum - Glycerin - Isohexadecane - Lime Extract - Microcrystalline Wax - Lanolin Alcohol - Sesame Oil - Eucalyptus Oil - Magnesium Sulfate - Sesame Seeds - Alfalfa Seeds - Sunflower Seeds - Powdered Almonds - Sodium, Potassium, Copper, Selenium, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc Gluconate - Paraffin - Vitamin E Succinate - Niacin - Beta Carotene - Decyl Oleate - Aluminum Stearate - Octyldodecanol - Citric Acid - Cyanocobalamin - Magnesium Stearate - Panthenol - Methylchloroisothiazolinone - Methylisothiazolinone)

Read all Beauty Myths

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Big Bottom

One of the biggest myths about body image issues perpetuated by the media is that these are only the anxieties of Western women who are obsessed with staying thin. But this BBC story from the Ivory Coast in Africa proves otherwise, showing that different concerns with body image exist in every culture. The article describes a new popular body "enhancement" inspired by a dance craze called Boboraba (Big Bottom):

Bobaraba dancers

A national dance craze in Ivory Coast has spawned a black market in treatments claiming to increase one's bottom size.
The dance in question has been inspired by DJ Mix and DJ Eloh's hit song Bobaraba, which means "big bottom" in the local Djoula language. When it plays you can be guaranteed that the dance floor will be packed with people shaking their derrieres.

The message seems to have been taken on board - so much so that some women are now going in search of a "bobaraba". In the sprawling Adjame market just north of the city centre in Abidjan, women sell "bottom enhancers". "You need to inject this liquid into your bottom once a day," says a market trader, showing a vial of coloured liquid labelled "Vitamin B12". Each vial costs $2. The label claims it is made in China.

Not a long way from Sir Mix-A-Lot, is it?

Ivory Coast's Big Bottom Craze [BBC]

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Hollywood Moment

I was having dinner a few nights ago with some friends. One of them, a successful set designer, started on a rant: “I am a fat blob. I hate what I have done to myself! No one told me how huge I got since I quit smoking. I stepped on a scale and I freaked out. So I bought one of those running machines. I've been sweating my ass off on it for three weeks and I only lost three pounds. I am disgustingly fat.”

"Honey, this can't just be about the weight," I said, trying to dig a little deeper. It turns out that my friend is nominated for an award and might have to get on stage to give an acceptance speech in front of colleagues and other power players in the industry. Forget feeling proud of that accomplishment (or the other major achievement of staying smoke free for a year). No, all attention was focused on the f-a-t.

Sound like a typical dinner among girlfriends? Well, the set designer I am talking about? He's a guy--a man with an impressive body of work, a very talented professional held in the highest esteem by many people in the business. Unfortunately, he doesn't see himself in that positive light.

It continues to amaze me how our cultural obsession with weight can take these moments when we (both women and men) should feel happily full of ourselves and turn them into moments full of miserable self-loathing. Have you ever let weight or body insecurities overshadow a moment when you should have felt deliriously ecstatic and/or proud of yourself?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hey, Jude: Have a Happy Long Weekend

Aisha Tyler Gets Real About Retouching, Body Insecurities, and Feeling "Giant"

Aisha Tyler already has major cred for her turn as the host of Talk Soup (paving the way for the comic genius of Joel McHale). She earned even more cool points last week when she showed up at the The Young Women's Leadership School to take part in a workshop sponsored by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund and Step Up Women's Network.

Aisha started off by telling the group of seventh grade girls that she has her own share of insecurities, especially when it comes to her height. "Sometimes I feel like a giant next to my friends," she said. She also passed around some of her photos (including the before/after pics that appeared in her "I Don't Want to Be Perfect" Glamour article) and talked about how unsettling it is when she sees herself retouched to a point where sometimes she barely recognizes herself. Then she left the room armed with a tub of Handi Wipes and returned sans makeup.

The workshop aimed to give girls a reality check on the Hollywood illusion treatment. By the end of the two-hour discussion, that goal seemed to have been well accomplished. One girl spoke up to say that her favorite episode of Friends was when Aisha's character went on a tropical vacation with Joey. "That was filmed on a set, you know. We weren't at the beach," Aisha replied. "Really? You weren't on vacation?" A few girls seemed genuinely surprised. Her final answer summed it all up quite nicely: "No, that wasn't real."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's Not BMI, It's Body Image

We have always believed BMI (body mass index) to be a pretty dubious predictor of a person's health. Now there's a new study showing that the desire for weight loss is actually a more telling sign.

After looking at a sample 150, 577 participants, researchers determined that the more weight a person wants to lose, the more likely s/he is to engage in unhealthy behavior. Men who wished to lose 1 percent, 10 percent and 20 percent of their body weight, respectively, reported 0.1, 0.9 and 2.7 more unhealthy days per month than those who were happy with their weight. Among women, the corresponding increase in numbers of reported unhealthy days was 0.1, 1.6 and 4.3. So we're with Carson Kressley on this one. It looks like his "perception revolution" is where it's at. [Medical News Today]

Beauty Myth Wednesdays: The Difference Between Men's and Women's Skin Care Prodcuts

It's Wednesday, which means we're back with more myth dispelling. This week we asked makeup artist Christopher Drummond what sets men's skin care products apart from the stuff they make for the ladies. As it turns out, the secret ingredient is a whole lot of nothing.

Christopher: It’s commonly known in the industry that many companies take a successful women’s product, re-package it, and sell it as a “men’s” line. Take Clinique as an example. The men’s and women’s moisturizer is exactly the same product. As is the bronzer and the eye crème. So the next time your boyfriend or husband says, “I’m not using that moisturizer, it’s for women," show him the ingredients and revel in the fact that you are right AGAIN….

Read all Beauty Myths.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Supermodel Katoucha Missing in Paris

Police divers in Paris are searching for the African supermodel known as Katoucha. She disappeared more than a week ago after returning to her houseboat after a party. Though there was initial talk of a possible suicide, it is now suspected that she lost her footing and slipped into the Seine. “That night, it was raining, it was windy and the currents were strong,” said an officer.

Katoucha, 47, gained international fame in the '80s as a YSL muse and one of the first ethnic models with "super" status. Born in Guinea, Katoucha suffered genital mutilation as a child. She wrote in her autobiography that it was "an unimaginable horror" she sought to overcome through modeling. 1n 1994, she launched an organization (Katoucha for the Fight Against Excision) to fight the practice. [Times Online]

Polly Ann Williams, Featured in HBO's "Thin" Documentay, Passes Away

Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield reports that Polly Ann Williams has passed away after lifelong struggles with eating disorders. She was 33. Polly was a former patient at the Renfrew Center and appeared in Greenfield's documentary "Thin," which was filmed there. She was also a talented photographer guided by one simple mantra: Believe. Here are Polly's words for sufferers from an HBO interview she gave at the time of the film's release:

"You are not alone in this. And it's not something that you have to do. And if you'll just take the chance... If you just find a little bit of courage, enough to say, 'Help me.' It'll save your life...and to avoid a lot of damage to yourself."

Though Polly tragically lost her own life, many others are saved when they find that bit of courage to break through the shame and silence. Her wisdom and insight will live on in those she has inspired. Donations in her memory can be made to The National Eating Disorders Association. Rest in peace, Polly.

Model Spies Infiltrate London Fashion Week

Seven top models will act as undercover agents this week in London, filing reports on working conditions, eating disorders, and harassment issues with the actors' union Equity. One hundred models have already joined Equity in the U.K. and the union will have a drop-in office set up onsite, where models can give union officials the scoop on how they are treated during London Fashion Week. [Daily Mail]

Of course the more models are represented by a union, the greater that union's negotiating power (just look at a recent little entertainment industry scuffle and you'll see how that works ). The downside? Forming a union means risking the loss of work and facing intense pushback from the powerful businesses in the industry. Those guys are never psyched to hear the "u" word because adhering to regulations and paying standard wages and benefits affects their bottom line.

Unfortunately, convincing a majority of models to join a union is going to be an uphill battle. Today the industry is filled with very young Eastern European models, girls who are often working to support their families and are more than willing to put up with crappy working conditions for a crappy-but-better-than-nothing paycheck. It's not just a pipe dream, though. Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland paved the way for SAG, so let's get some gutsy fashion dames together and raise hell.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Girls Rock! Trailer: Counting Down the Days Until This Opens

As the former drummer of the famed Baltimore hardcore trio Within (okay, how is it possible you've never heard of us?), I understand what some serious rocking out can do to lift a girl's spirit. I'll concede that my live performances back in high school were perhaps lacking in the area some call "skill." However, I sure did love making a lot of ear-splitting noise. Even when I couldn't find a way to verbalize all the confusion and insecurity coursing through me, music always gave me a way to turn up the volume of that inner voice I finally learned to let out. You can probably guess why I am so incredibly amped to see Girls Rock! Just try not to be charmed by this trailer. [You Tube via Feministing]

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Vocab Rehab: Change Your Body Talk for the Better

This weekend we had a two-hour chat about language. We used a lot of different words to describe the times we have been on the receiving end of appearance-related "compliments" that feel good in the moment we take them in, but actually aren't so good for us the longer we hold onto them.

We are two women with tons of body image baggage. We know how hard it is to avoid engaging in body talk--especially when those conversations seem to be common ground for so many women (and increasingly more men). Enter Vocab Rehab, our new regular feature aimed at detoxing some of the most typical body conversations. We hope you'll add your comments and send us your suggestions for future Vocab Rehab words and phrases. Here's our first pick:

The phrase: "You look great! Did you lose weight?"

What you're trying to say: In our diet-saturated culture, commenting that someone's frame looks more slender and svelte is widely accepted as the ultimate compliment. If you throw this one in someone's direction, you're usually trying to make her/him feel good.

What might be heard: You can just never be 100 percent sure what is inside a person's heart, body, and mind when s/he loses weight. Though not always, weight loss can be linked to physical or emotional problems. You might be talking to someone who is secretly caught up in an unhealthy obsession. By drawing attention to size, you could be inadvertently adding fuel to a dangerous fire. What that person hears is a loud and unrelenting: "I am more beautiful and loved when I'm thinner."

Where it goes:
If there's "look who's thinner!" buzz in a room, diet war stories spread fast. Before you know it, everyone's talking about weight. And the more people get into the convo, the greater the chances that one or more of them struggles with disordered eating. In fact, those odds are pretty good.

What you could say instead: We don't know about you, but we're pretty excited about this historic Presidential race. We'd much rather talk about the future of our country at happy hour than compare the size of our jeans. This is not to say that there isn't a time or place for fashion and beauty talk. But we keep our compliments in the realm of "You're glowing!" (translation: "Something amazing must be happening in your life.") and "I love your style." (translation: "There's something special about you that's really working right now.").

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Male Models are Feeling the Skinny Pressure, Too

Fashion PR spin says male models are getting skinnier because of consumer demand for that look (yeah, right) while casting agents point to Hedi Slimane (nope, the last name is not lost on us), former head of Dior Homme, who is credited with setting the scrawny chic dude trend in motion. There are theories o' plenty, but not too many definitive answers--and even fewer proposed solutions. As has been the case from the beginning of the discussions about the unhealthy size of models, this is a classic game of responsibility hot potato. But the bottom line is that men on the runways are shrinking.

Demián Tkach is a 26-year-old model who said that when he came here from Mexico, where he had been working: “My agency asked me to lose some muscle. I lost a little bit to help them, because I understand the designers are not looking for a male image anymore. They’re looking for some kind of androgyne.” [New York Times]

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beauty Myth Wednesdays: Experts Tell You What Marketers Won't

If you're a regular reader, you know that we are enthusiastically pro-beauty and staunchly anti-beauty b.s. over here. In other words, we're all about feeling pretty, but we're not so fond of marketing messages that tell us we have to buy certain products or follow specific trends to have the "right" look. So today we're kicking off a weekly feature where we'll ask industry experts to weigh in on the myths that make beauty companies big bucks.

For the next month, you'll be hearing from Christopher Drummond, a makeup artist who just launched his own line of vegan makeup. He'll share his top five skin care and makeup myths and some beauty buzz words that are known to make consumers dip needlessly into their wallets.

Christopher: The FDA requires that all products sold as cosmetics go through some kind of allergy testing. These tests are conducted or overseen by the companies themselves and they are not regulated. Each company has its own term for selling its products as non-allergenic. However, consumers should be aware that all this means from a regulatory standpoint is that the products did not produce allergic reactions in most subjects when they were tested. So in a nutshell, all products on the market are "hypoallergenic." This word is a marketing tool used to promote products and it doesn't guarantee that you won't be sensitive to a product with that label.

Check back next Wednesday for Christopher's next beauty myth.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's Super Tuesday: Make Your Voice Heard!

As New York and Los Angeles dwellers, we'll both be making our way to the polling stations today. This is an incredibly exciting and historic election. If you live in one of the 24 states holding primaries today, we hope you'll cast your vote.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

"Stressorexia" Affects Working Moms

"Stressorexia" is the latest media-invented term to describe disordered eating behavior (remember drunkorexia and diabulimia?). Experts say that stressorexics are mostly working moms who might skip lunch one day to meet a deadline, but self-starvation quickly becomes a way of coping with the stress of juggling work and home life. And of course once the pounds drop off, the MILF talk starts--whether it's compliments about losing baby weight or praise for juggling so much and managing to look so good.

"They are trying to be sexy, fashionable and slim, have a career and be perfect mothers and wives, says Dr. Adrian Lord, a psychiatrist. "Some neglect to eat because they are too busy and others are just totally stressed-out, which suppresses the appetite. Fifty years ago, women just had to be a good mother. Now they have to do everything and they can't abdicate."

Unfortunately, Dr. Lord goes on to blame this pressure on the "blurred roles of men and women," which seems to suggest that if we all went back to being June Cleavers and let the men bring home the bacon, there would be no mommies with eating disorders. Um, ever heard of The Feminine Mystique? That scenario didn't really result in optimum mental health for a lot of women. There's nothing wrong with staying home with your kids if you can afford it, but being a SAHM certainly doesn't protect you from being over-stressed and developing an eating disorder. The truth is that all moms would benefit from a definition of success and beauty that is more in balance with reality, not Us Weekly. [Daily Mail]

Friday, February 1, 2008

The First Day of Fashion Week Also Marks the First Day of Black History Month

People are talking about the lack of ethnic diversity among the models on the runways, but did you know that Tracy Reese is the only black designer to show inside the Bryant Park tents this week?

In other fashion diversity news, casting director Jennifer Venditti was interviewed for the Wall Street Journal, recounting an incident when a client's stylist insisted that she didn't need to hire a second black model because they already had one. Venditti told her "They're both beautiful. Why can't you have two?" As for whether the industry is open to lasting change, Venditti offered her real opinion on the matter. "In general, [the industry] is a bunch of followers," she says. But "the conversation has started."

Fashion Week Day 1: Remember The CFDA Guidelines, Designers?

Almost exactly a year ago, the CFDA hosted a breakfast to announce their Health Initiative. It was a bitter cold morning but the fashionistas bundled up and turned out in droves to hear the announcement of the CFDA's recommendations to promote wellness and a healthier working environment for models. Lest we forget, here are those recommendations:

1. Educate the industry to identify the early warning signs in an individual at risk of developing an eating disorder.

2. Models who are identified as having an eating disorder should be required to seek professional help in order to continue modeling. And models who are receiving professional help for an eating should not continue modeling without that professional's approval.

3. Develop workshops for the industry (including models and their families) on the nature of eating disorders, how they arise, how we identify and treat them, and complications if they are untreated.

4. Support the well-being of younger individuals by not hiring models under the age of sixteen for runway shows; not allowing models under the age of eighteen to work past midnight at fittings or shoots; and providing regular breaks and rest.

5. Supply healthy meals, snacks, and water backstage and at shoots and provide nutrition and fitness education.

6. Promote a healthy backstage environment by raising awareness of the impact of smoking and tobacco-related disease among women, ensuring a smoke-free environment, and address the issue of underage drinking by prohibiting alcohol.

The CFDA has taken a lot of heat for not including BMI restrictions in their guidelines. However, we think there's an even more important recommendation that's missing: medical exams for models. In fact, the medical experts and fashion industry insiders we surveyed agreed that exams were most likely to be effective.

A low BMI might signify an eating disorder, but an average BMI certainly doesn't mean that a model is in good health. People with eating disorders are not always dangerously underweight. Magali was never stick thin, but she was so sick that she once passed out at a photo shoot. If we're serious about protecting models' health, we need to find a way to ensure that they are getting regular check-ups. A doctor can examine the physical, but perhaps more important is that private one-on-one time when a trained professional can ask each model how she/he is doing emotionally. It's a question that's rarely asked in such a frantically-paced industry where young models are increasingly replaceable. It's a question that can be a lifesaver.