Where Are All the Healthy Bodies?

Uh-oh, another marketing campaign featuring real women…and it’s already getting backlash. The spring 2014 aerie “Real” ad campaign features “untouched” images of real (read: not just waifs with curiously large boobs) women — thin women, curvy women, healthy women…gals who look like you and me.

AERIE SPRING 2014 CAMPAIGN

The women, featured in the store and online, hit the full spectrum — from 32A to 40DD: variety besides just hair color, a deviation from the Victoria’s Secret 35-24-35.

And, as expected, critics are either silent (Jezebel? not a peep)…or screaming:

“Somewhere in the process of questioning our desire to commodify skinny hot chicks, the general public concluded that an appropriate solution would be to commodify non-skinny women, too. Instead of reducing the attention we pay to women’s bodies, we came up with new euphemisms (“show off her curves”) and doubled down.” —Maureen O’Connor, New York Mag

“I just think the conversation about “redefining beauty” is a misguided one at best. Because “redefining beauty” is still talking about beauty, and we need our girls to be thinking and talking about things other than the way they look.” —Charlotte Alter, Time Magazine

Yes, companies like Aerie and Dove (#RealBeauty) and Pantene (#WhipIt) and Vogue (Lena Dunham cover) are all making money off of their “real women” campaigns by showing healthy female bodies. And yes, they’re getting media attention. And we’re complaining?

The fact is, advertisers have to show some kind of bodies in their ads. So what’s wrong with healthy ones? You have to look pretty hard to find them in the first place– in media or on the streets (I’ve often thought to myself: Where are all the healthy bodies?).

For one, we girls are painfully aware of the world’s glamazons (especially in New York, where they roam free on the streets!): 5’9″ 115 pound models with DD chests who represent one kind of unattainable beauty in magazines and on screen. These ideals are driving us mad and getting hard-wired into our national brain: recent studies have found that by the time we’re five — yes, just five years old — girls are worrying about how we look. And it only gets worse with age: As many as one in three teens are unhappy with their bodies, with plastic surgery in adult women up 20% since 2008.

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[An artist’s representation of a healthy weight barbie next to the real Barbie we all know…and once loved.]

But on the other end of the spectrum, many of us are also surrounded every day by friends and neighbors and colleagues who are devastatingly unhealthy, with one in three of us obese (and another third overweight):

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A number of studies have found that if people around you are overweight, you’re more likely to be overweight too (like the famous Framingham Heart Study, which followed more than 12K people over 32 years and found that your chances of being obese increase by a whopping 57% if a friend becomes obese). If everyone around you eats like you & is the same size as you, the alternative means trying to look like that other female body type you see, the one in fashion magazines — so you either starve yourself (not good) or give up (not so great either). Moral? We desperately NEED more realistic representations of female health and beauty besides waif and obese.

The more we start having a conversation about what’s healthy and what’s not, the more progress we just might make. YES. It is our duty as parents and mentors to show young girls that they are so much more than their looks. But it certainly can’t hurt that there are more public representations of what it means to be beautiful.

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We Are What We Think, Ladies

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File this under: Mind over matter. A recent study Montana State University found that women — traditionally self-deprecating to a fault — can be fooled into promoting themselves. Because in not-so-new news, women aren’t as good as men at selling their their qualifications and successes to others. (How many females do you know who AREN’T fearful of touting their accomplishments because they’re afraid it will make them look arrogant? Yet we’re so quick to criticize ourselves and others!)

In the study, women were asked to write a self-review with the promise of up to $5,000 in reward for their thoughts. Some participants were put in a room with a hoax ”subliminal noise generator” black box they were told made an irritating sound they could only hear subconsciously (it totally didn’t); some weren’t. The results? Those who were in the black box room made up to $1,000 more than girls who were in the regular room. Why? The researchers think this fake black box subliminally distracted them from the task at hand, so that any nervousness they felt writing about themselves was transferred to, essentially, the “irritation” they felt about the “noise machine.”

Enter stereotype threats: Just this past weekend I was listening to an old podcast from NPR’s RadioLab that described a similar phenomenon: women’s well-documented floundering in math compared to men. The show’s hosts discussed a study which found that when men and women with the same qualifications were put in the same room with the same math test, the women performed significantly worse than the men. But in that same room when the class was told before taking the test that women always have and always will perform as well as men on this particular exam, the girls performed just as well as the boys.

Crazy.

Like so much of life, we really are what we think. So if we women want to be quants or physicists or heart surgeons or chemists, we’re totally capable. Or if we’ve been working hard at our job for the past two years, we probably deserve that raise (and should demand it!). We just need to start believing in ourselves and stop with the negative talk — both to ourselves and others around us.

“Chris Christie is Santa Claus”: Fran Lebowitz & Martin Scorsese in Conversation at BAM

Last night I watched Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese (longtime friends who made a movie together four years ago) hold a talk together at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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Photo: IMDB Fran — inveterate New Yorker, essayist, author, humorist, and unapologetic smoker — did most of the talking; Martin offered one-word responses to most audience questions, seemingly overwhelmed by Fran’s uncanny ability to hold up a conversation for the both of them. Fran is that super-opinionated person who’d probably otherwise get on your nerves if you ran into her at a party…except that she’s smarter than you and crazy funny so you just shut up and listen. Here are a few Fran-ism highlights from yesterday’s discussion:

On Awards Season:

“It’s an endless cavalcade of knick-knacks.” (Webster definition of knick-knack: a cheap ornament.) Needless to say, Fran apparently isn’t a huge fan of awards season. Call me a crank, but I think she’s totally right — to me it’s red carpet hype, snoozer speeches from people who get paid big bucks to speak yet can’t prepare one minute of entertaining words for ostensibly the most important moment of their lives…and the wrong winners getting the knick-knacks most of the time, anyway.

On computers:

“It’s like a very fast typewriter.” She hates all technology and doesn’t have any gadgets, including a cellphone (“nothing is an emergency” — she’s right about that!), computer, or even a typewriter (she never learned to type, period). Yet I sensed some regret that she never got on board: “I just didn’t know the whole world was going to go onto it.”

On microwaves:

“It’s like having a small atomic bomb in your home” (you guessed it…she doesn’t have a microwave!!).

On the worst place in the world:

“The Whole Foods on Houston and Bowery: it has its own foreign policy. You get to the checkout and it’s like, now we’re boarding…when you finally pay the cashier asks you ‘would you like a bag for that?’ with contempt in their eyes. It’s like ‘no, I plan on juggling these all the way back to my apartment.’ They make you think you’re causing global warming with your grocery bags.”

On being a kid:

“When we were kids, we sat in the front seats on the laps of our smoking mothers. And we’re still alive.”

And:

“When we were kids, our parents hated us.”

On kids today:

“Parents today love everything their kids do. Except smoking.”

“Aging…makes listening to people much more annoying.” She lives in the village (“NYUistan,” as she calls it) and has to overhear NYU students talk all the time. “I feel like saying, ‘No, that’s not going to happen. I know everything there is to know, and it doesn’t happen the way you think it does.'” Sounds about right: The older you get, the more you realize life is unpredictable and unfair and you’re better off learning to go with the flow.

On New York:

“New York was always an expensive place to live,” even when she moved here to live in the village in the late 60s. “No one can afford to live here…yet eight million people do.” It’s true — most of us come here not knowing how we’re going to make it yet we somehow do. And then we’re hooked.

On Times Square:

The Bloomberg administration spent $40 million — $40 million! — paving Times Square to make it more pedestrian-friendly. Why? Because “tourists were saying, ‘you know what I hate about Times Square? There’s not enough places to stop and lie down.'”

I think most New Yorkers can relate to her distaste for tourists, and her Times Square anecdote is the perfect example. Reminds me of John Skylar’s brilliant Huffington Post essay on New Yorkers’ reputation for rudeness: “for some reason, a huge number of tourists to New York seem to totally forget that when you are a guest somewhere, it behooves YOU to learn the unwritten rules of conduct so that you will not upset the delicate social balance of the place you are visiting. Because New York relies so much on foot traffic, these people often utterly disrupt the flow in the subway or on the street, and then complain that New Yorkers are “rude” when we do not accommodate their interference with our lives.”

On Chris Christie: 

“Chris Christie has become a Santa Claus figure,” for the gift he gives us all — his  shenanigans make endless dinner-table fodder. As a former New Jerseyan, Fran says she’s confident Christie will “never become president” because he’s so dirty: “‘I’m not a bully’ really sounds nothing like ‘I’m not a crook’.” Well Fran, when you put it that way…

On her best advice to young people:

“If I was young kid, I would start looking for water” because we’re running out of it, she said, referencing Thomas Malthus’s population theory (too many people = not enough resources), which exploded in the 1970s. Deja vu: my own dad — same generation as Fran — loves to go into detail about this theory with me every time I visit. Call me an optimist, but I think since most first-world countries (U.S., France, U.K., etc.) don’t have an expanding birth rate, maybe avoiding populationclypse is a matter of access to education and birth control. At least that’s better than the alternative…

On the South:

A lifelong New Yorker, Fran claims the deep south (and West, and, well, pretty much everywhere but New York) wants to erase 200 years of progress…alluding to women’s rights, abortion, gay rights, abolition of slavery, even evolution. “Evolution is not a religion: You don’t have to believe in it. That’s the difference between science and religion.”

Preach it Fran — though in saying so she contradicts her own earlier assertion that she doesn’t believe the science behind second-hand smoke (she and her mom have both smoked their whole lives and they’re still alive!, she says). But that’s what’s great about Fran: She knows she may not always make sense, but that doesn’t stop her from opening her mouth.

Everyone’s Missing the Point of Lena Dunham’s Vogue Cover

Back in October 2013 Hollywood Life reported that Vogue editor-in-chief wanted to “violate a lot of Vogue traditions” by featuring Lena Dunham “even though she doesn’t really conform to the [magazine’s] body type” to appeal to their “next-generation audience.” Then, for the February 2014, Wintour did as she promised…and more. She put Dunham on Vogue’s cover:

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Credit: Vogue

Grab the attention of the next generation? Vogue did: S**t hit the fan.

Jezebel — assuming the dolled-up images of a usually clean-faced Dunham had been seriously retouched — paid $10,000 to get the (supposedly) original versions. In their article they showed the before and after side-by-side, claiming that that “while Dunham’s images were not drastically altered, it’s important to remember how unforgiving the media is when it comes to images of women.” OK, I’m totally with you. But I think there’s more to this retouched image than first meets the eye.

While it’s easy and even justified to be a little miffed at the choice to retouch Dunham’s photos, it’s a bit par for the course. According to the Wall Street Journal, every magazine does it. And a little bit of fixing some images doesn’t change their content but just makes them more aesthetically professional. Even in photojournalism contests, slight retouching occurs, former director of photography for Men’s Journal Rob Haggart told the WSJ. “This level of photographer and publication, it’s really about adjusting every little thing.”

What’s more, Vogue isn’t even the first magazine to feature Dunham in sexed-up makeup and clothes (and, judging by the below, in retouched images). Marie Claire did a spread that no one was talking about back in April 2013, with a photo that looks — shocker — pretty similar to the images in Vogue:

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Credit: Marie Claire

The bashing continued. Slate editor Katy Waldman wrote that “while Vogue’s modifications were admittedly light, understanding Dunham’s ‘persona,’ her ‘creativity,’ and who she is (among other things, a spokeswoman for more realistic forms of loveliness) would seem to preclude altering her body at all.”

OK Waldman, I’m with you. Dunham’s show Girls is all about being proud of all bodies, imperfections and all, and that’s why so many people love it. But I think the “shame Vogue retouched Dunham!” and “she’s a hypocrite for showing her face in a fashion magazine” critics are obscuring a more important point. And that is just being featured in Vogue is doing exactly what Dunham set out to do all along…and it’s right on point. 

A friend of mine who works in fashion (who shall remain nameless) said she tried watching Girls but couldn’t because, in short, Dunham is ugly and gauche and she didn’t like seeing her fat body naked. But that awkwardness is exactly what Dunham is trying to capture and normalize with her show, applying a contrast to the perfectly made-up women with tight bodies and gorgeous (if unaffordable on their salary) apartments and, if not a perfect husband, lots of attention from men (think: Sex & the City, Friends, Gossip Girl, Modern Family…I love most of these but they serve a different purpose). And my friend isn’t the only one who feels that way, judging by the comments on the Vogue article. Like this gem (of verbal vomit):

“She is an ugly, fat dolt that finds humor in her own existence. I tried watching Girls and quit half-way through the first season. As a successful 30-year old who dwells in NYC…my friends and I are smart and successful…Lena Dunham makes a mockery of all the pretty New Yorkers that pride themselves in being healthy and fit, not to mention mentally stable.”

And this:

“Anna Wintour must be in the beginning stages of fashion dementia…I realize not everyone has been blessed with great genes..but it is just her whiney, indulgent, condescending personality.”

And this:

“I also realise that the age of the Supermodel is over, but surely there are a few models out there that would still sell your magazine?”

Indeed, lots of people love to criticize Dunham for being just an average girl on screen. Like Tim Molloy of The Wrap, who asked Dunham at a press conference earlier this week:

“I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.”

To which Dunham responded, “if you are not into me, that’s your problem,” (as director Judd Apatow called Molloy’s question sexist and misogynistic).

Aha. Seems like it’s all adding up. (Besides just a really good PR ploy) maybe Dunham’s intention was not to bow to the stereotypes she’s fighting against but rather to broadcast her point of view in a place where people who otherwise trivialize her for being a “fat doll” couldn’t avoid her. As Dunham told Slate France:

“I don’t understand why, photoshop or no, having a woman who is different than the typical Vogue cover girl, could be a bad thing…If they want to see what I really look like go watch the show that I make every single week.”

Amen, sister. Keep doing your thing.

Why the French President’s Affair Isn’t About Sex

Most men cheat because…”they simply need breathing space. For such men, who are in fact profoundly monogamous, infidelity is almost unavoidable.” That is, according to one of France’s most famous psychologists, Maryse Vaillant, in her 2009 book — where she also estimates that 39 percent of French men cheat on their wives at some point. (Gulp, and I’m about to marry one.) But…wait for it…a new U.S. study says that about 40 percent of American women cheat on their husbands. Sensing a trend?

Extra-marital fooling around is everywhere. Yet it seems to be even more prominent in politics: the higher up you go, the more rampant the affairs. I guess when you’re the ruler of the free world (or at least your little country), where else do you have to go to get a high on power than to the arms of a woman who’s not your wife. The latest scandal? Swirling rumors about an affair between French president Francois Holland and the actress Julie Gayet were confirmed last week in the French press, with Holland’s longtime companion Valérie Trierweiler hospitalized Monday for exhaustion. Sounds like a Gallic soap opera…tell me more!

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Turns out (in especially shocking news) there’s been lots of saliva shared in the French “Élysée”: Mitterand, with Louvre curator Anne Pingeot (complete with a “second family” they kept secret, revealed only as Mitterand left office); Chirac and his Japanese mistress (they also had a baby together, which was only unearthed in a book after he left office); Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and the erotic actress Sylvia Kristel (among lots of other women); and, more recently, Sarkozy and singer Carla Bruni (they got married when he was in office!!).

But before you’re too quick to shake it off as just a “French” thing, affairs in the White House are nothing new either (though the French do manage to outdo Americans on most levels of outrageousness). Take, for example, JFK, with Marilyn Monroe (among quite a few others); FDR, with his distant cousin Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley; Thomas Jefferson, with his slave Sally Hemings; Clinton, with his intern, Monica Lewinsky.

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The difference, of course, has been in how the press and fellow politicians have reacted to these affairs. For the most part, presidents’ private lives have been pretty much none of your business on both sides of the pond, with the press shut out of the proverbial oval office both in the U.S. and France (you didn’t hear anyone talking about JFK’s now notorious loose-belt policy when he was president). But then…something changed.

That is, around the time Clinton introduced Monica Lewinsky to his favorite cigar (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”). The press jumped on it like starved wildebeests. So did politicians, who somehow got the matter into court, then called for his impeachment for lying there.

It was 1998. CNN was at its prime. While America is a prudish country compared to Western Europe, the hysteria this silly affair reached had a lot to do with political showboating from ego-drunk men who loved the 15 minutes of limelight they got for denouncing their political rival. Like this guy:

“Our failure to bring President Clinton to account for his lying under oath and preventing the courts from administering equal justice under law, will cause a cancer to be present in our society for generations.”

— James Sensenbrenner: (R-WI)

Cancer. Wow.

Take that, in comparison, with the reaction of Marine le Pen, the head of the right-wing Front Nationale party, about far left-wing President Hollande’s affair:

“Our president Francois Holland, as a citizen of this country, has asked us to stay out of his private life. He’s right to do so, and I have nothing to more to say.”

Can you imagine if an American politician ever said that about his opponent?? Our politicians can’t stop screaming at and about each other long enough to get a damn bill passed.

So in the end, these very public affairs are never really about the sex or even cheating — at least as far as the rest of us are concerned. They’re about selling newspapers. And political power. The French do judge their politicians’ lives, because there’s been a ton of coverage about the Hollande affair in both American and French press. (We’re all fascinated with politicians’ scandalous personal lives. Sex sells!) I’m not downplaying the ickiness of extramarital affairs (I’m liberal, but I am getting married too…and the thought of cheating disgusts me). But ego-maniac politicians with mistresses are everywhere, puritan country or not. It comes down to how these affairs are handled publicly…and unfortunately in the U.S they become weapons for political game.

More importantly, I think we just have to hope that these powerful men who love to let their dicks hang out of their pants don’t also have their heads in the clouds when it comes to running their countries. And if they do, they’ll hang themselves another way. That’s a point on which I think all Americans and French can agree.

Maternity Sabbatical Program Is Cold Comfort for Military Women

The Associated Press posted a promising story yesterday about an old but barely surviving U.S. military program under review that offers sabbaticals of up to three years so men and women can start a family or take care of their own.

“For women to have a family and a career, it’s just extremely difficult. And, being in the military, it is extra sacrifice, you have deployments, you have workups, and it just makes it that much more challenging,” one marine said — and the program is one way to encourage women to leave for a year or three because they know they’ll have a guaranteed job waiting when they get back.

It’s a nice gesture…but it’s not paid. And paid — not unpaid — family maternity leave — is what’s got the most benefits for moms and babies: New moms who take paid leave are more likely to take the six to eight weeks recommended by doctors, while their babies are more likely to be breastfed, receive medical check-ups, and get critical immunizations. And the benefits go on.

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CREDIT: WhatToExpect.com

In fact the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee at least some paid time off for new moms — falling behind some otherwise human-rights questionable countries like Venezuela (18 weeks) and Pakistan (12 weeks). So for military members who have given everything to their country but can’t afford to take unpaid time off, a sabbatical is cold comfort.

Time to think about catching up with the rest of the world and offering hard-working moms the PTO they deserve.

Some Thoughts on Women in “The Wolf of Wall Street”

I saw The Wolf of Wall Street last week with a couple of guy friends, and I have to say I stepped away speechless. 

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(Photo: The Wrap) It is a “revolting, outlandish, uproarious, exhilarating and exhausting master work on immorality” as one Los Angeles Times critic wrote – from the moment a too-innocent Long Island boy goes to a five-martini-and-coke lunch on his first work day where his boss starts beating his chest like an ape and singing about f***ing the client and jerking off, to the office orgies, to the quaalude-induced stupor on a country club floor, to watching a fat sedated friend almost choke on a piece of baloney until a snort of cocaine saves the day. In theory, all of these party boy antics are the stuff of frat guy dreams (at the University of Southern California, where I went to school, we had our very own Animal House(s)…the frat that closed after the guys burned it down, the frat put on probation for pushing a fridge off of the roof…I digress). 

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But all of this chest-thumping masculinity minus a single female character who was smart, likable or anything but objectified, got me thinking: does this movie hate on women? A quick sampling of women in The Wolf of Wall Street:

  • As barely-animate sex toys, uniformly blonde with balloonish fake boobs and toothpick thighs (with the exception of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character — Jordan Belfort’s — first wife, who is a kind but totally helpless, mousy housewife) who appear when you want them (prostitutes, naked for the office holiday party) and disappear when you don’t (your wife, when you’re snorting coke out of a prostitute’s butt crack)
  • As three types of women: Belfort describes them by how beat they are, which decides whether or not he uses a condom (this is actually word-for-word from the dude’s real-life biography…going to show the craziest stuff you can’t make up)
  • As the girl who blew every guy in the building, who then by a miracle marries one of these finance animals..who ends up killing himself three months later (presumably because she’s a horrible witch who turned on him too…she is treated with absolutely no compassion as a human being)
  • As the office secretary, who takes $10K from Belfort at the office party to shave her long hair — then when the guy doing it gets distracted by a hoard of whores in bikinis who storm the office he doesn’t finish the job, leaving the girl to pathetically slink off alone with her fistful of cash to the bathroom

I could keep going. But you get the idea.

After I left the theater I took a couple of hours to digest, then talked it over with my fiance Olivier. Was I overreacting to be disgusted that there was no positive representation of women in the movie? That it was from such a warped male perspective? Disclosure: Olivier works in finance, but the geeky type with spreadsheets and excel models, and says this kind of stuff doesn’t happen. And that even though it wasn’t going to help the perception of his profession, he wasn’t offended. All of the scenes are from Belfort’s diary, and he’s a salesman…so everything was exaggerated for effect (i.e., someone got caught once in the bathroom having sex so a coworker put up a sign as a joke…gross enough on its own…but not as bad as the depicted bathroom orgies and a real “no sex in the bathroom” policy). What’s more, as Belfort’s company’s ad at the start of the movie (a lion walking through a Manhattan office high-rise) suggests, Scorsese’s point is to show people at their most base and animalistic. It’s meant to disgust. The only way to get that across is to do the extreme, over and over again, until you almost can’t bear to watch it anymore (in this case three hours and you’re a bit mind-f’ed).

What’s more, as Olivier pointed out the movie likely isn’t made to suggest that all bankers and blondes are vapid and greedy. But there is a particular type of person who, like the lion, hasn’t progressed past the jungle. These men are obsessed with air-brained barbies with big tits…and these women in turn seek idiotic coke-snorting apes. They’re made for each other! And for both these men and women, money is everything, at the expense of love or family or any kind of real relationship. 

The only problem is that if you are of this money-as-God mindset, you don’t get that this movie is actually making fun of you. And so you react like this, according to a writer who saw a screening at the same Battery Park theater where I saw it weeks later (though I didn’t hear the same reaction):

When Belfort — a drug addict who later attempts to remain sober — rips up a couch cushion to get to his secret coke stash, there were cheers.

Then, intercut with Popeye eating spinach, Belfort is irrevocably high on Quaaludes (or “ludes,” a muscle relaxer) and dumps coke into his nose to remedy the situation — more cheers.

The worst, though, mild spoiler alert … At one point later in the movie, the feds get Belfort to wear a wire to implicate others at his firm. Meeting with his No. 2, Belfort slides over a piece of paper: “Don’t incriminate yourself. I am wearing a wire.”

And the crowd goes wild. Don’t rat! Stand by your firm!

Or this, Tweeted by  Rebecca Eisenberg (@ryeisenberg), an Upworthy editor:

I found it really disturbing that people in the audience laughed when he punched his wife in the stomach after raping her. #wolfofwallstreet

In the end, spoiler alert Belfort didn’t get punished in any meaningful way, leading some to suggest the movie glorifies his behavior to the people who were cheering or laughing at these moments.

So what point did Scorsese get across? I don’t think people really change that much. So for those of us who are disgusted by his treatment, we got the effect Scorsese intended. Let’s just hope that the morally empty people who really need to hear the message were at least marked by Belfort’s pathetic lack of a single friend or female or even family who sincerely cares for him.

What did you get out of The Wolf of Wall Street? I’d love to hear other blogger’s thoughts.