Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sherry Mills, Artist, New York City

Artist Sherry Mills wants you to know that beauty is closer than you think. Creating large-scale abstract works from her close-up photographs of unlikely beauty—the peeling paste of abandoned posters, rusted oil drums, tarred rooftops—she prompts the viewer to take an alternate perspective on the city landscape. The perspective is flipped again with another branch of her work, box art: whimsical yet concentrated dollhouse-style miniatures evoking a vibrant Joseph Cornell. Her work has shown at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, on billboards as a part of Clear Channel Outdoor’s Local Spirit campaign, and Galapagos Art Space, and her solo show featuring her commissioned box art opens June 30 at the Rogue Gallery. You can read her blog here. We talked about walking the line between hiding and self-expression, being a woman in the art world, and ways to cry over spilled milk. In her own words:

On Beauty Being Closer Than You Think
I remember being on the subway after 9/11, and the tone was severe depression and fear. And suddenly this popped through: We have this common ground in the very streets of New York. We share this ground; we have these beautiful, normally overlooked abstract images on our streets, in this shared public space. I was so excited to be thinking in those terms, of this common ground. In a way it’s kind of like beauty being in the eye of the beholder, but it’s really more that we’re surrounded by beauty if you’re looking for it. A colleague of mine then said, “Beauty is closer than you think,” and I was like—that’s it! The idea is that perspective is everything. You can find magnificence in the simplest arrangement. Beauty is constantly available to us—the experience of beauty can always be there, because it’s just a matter of our perception.

At the same time, I feel guided to work where there’s grit or grim things that typically wouldn’t be considered beautiful. If you look at this bowl of pomegranates, it’s a still life you can imagine someone painting; it’s a little bit easier. But then—you know how sometimes you see straws on the sidewalk, where there’s a milkshake splatter? Of course you think, Eww, that’s gross, someone should clean that up. But you can also see it as a cylinder of green with this spray of white, and it becomes this beautiful arrangement. The composition sets you free, not the content. It might be more difficult to drive some sense of beauty toward that kind of thing, but that’s what I like to photograph. I have a great appreciation of classical beauty—it definitely guides us to find beauty in other territories. And that’s the beauty we need to find: Most of us are living with those other territories much more than we live with those classical forms of beauty. If you evaluate beauty differently, that way of seeing becomes more of a habit.

Green Straw

It can be the same way with people. I don’t really see the physical element of people as much as I see a compatibility, some kind of ability to connect with the world. People’s physicality is always changing for me—you know when you’re in love, that person looks different to you? You find that appreciation and the composition seems like it actually changes. Of course, when you apply it to people, the flip side is how are they looking at you, and that gets more challenging.

There’s also this odd perspective when we look at ourselves. There’s this funny thing with our bodies where we really only see it from this one close-up perspective, when we’re just looking down at our bodies so everything is out of proportion to how we actually appear. Even if we look in the mirror, we can’t really be sure of what we’re seeing. I’ll look at my body sometimes and not know how to look at it. Like, am I overweight? Am I not? Am I small? Am I average? I really don’t know.

On Hiding and Self-Expression
In seasons that require a coat, I feel more comfortable. It’s almost like I don’t want to be seen—I guess I’m like a bear! I feel kind of private. I want to be able to go out into the world and not really attract much attention. But then people say that’s a contradiction because of the clothes that I wear—tons of layers, lots of color, a lot of patterns worn together, flowing things. It does attract attention. It’s something that’s always going on in me: I don’t want a lot of attention, but I do want to express myself. So when the weather calls for a long coat, everything can go under cover. I can be totally self-expressive yet covered, and no one really knows what’s going on under there until I choose to show it to someone. It’s a private, sort of self-protective thing. I don’t want a lot of energy heading my way necessarily. Also, a coat contains me: I wear a lot of flowy weird things, and in the wind it’s annoying, so I like to be able to pull it in. I don’t want to be mentally distracted by my clothes. When I’m out in the world I want to be able to be open and present with things and people and landscapes. It’s the same reason I can’t wear heels: I can’t be present when I’m constantly focused on my physical self.

In some ways, getting myself dressed every day has been a way of keeping a muscle going, with collage and my art. If nothing else, I’ll get myself dressed so at least there is a practice with the relationship of pattern and texture and form. Some photographers take one picture a day no matter what, or a painter will at least touch the brush to the canvas every day, so getting dressed has been a way of keeping my eye going. When I’m making a collage and choosing certain things to go with other things, I might see this green fabric with this weird red-pink thing that wouldn’t normally go together. But there’s a sense in me that it does go, even if the next person might look at the combination and say it doesn’t. When something gets a little too perfect, I try to disturb it a bit. I like to challenge what it means for something to “go together.” After a while it’s become very simple—people sometimes say, “Oh, it must have taken you forever to get dressed.” I dress like this every day! It takes me just a few minutes. It’s my style. 


It’s a similar thing with my glasses. I got this pair of glasses for traveling during college—I’d worn contacts through high school—and I loved not having to worry about getting stuff in my eyes. They were a bold statement for me then, and getting these particular frames set an evolution of some kind for me and my style. I’ve tried many times to get rid of them. I felt like I needed to purge them, like I needed a free face, that I wanted my face to be forward to the world and not these distinctive glasses. I’m hiding behind these. I’ve gone out to try to find new frames, and at one point I did get these really crazy red frames with rhinestones. But I went back to my old black ones. Essentially it was like trading my face. These have been my face for so long, I could never feel comfortable with another pair. It’s got an emotional tie, like I’d be letting go of my image entirely. I don’t want to let them go.

On Feminine Branding in the Art World
I don’t necessarily think of myself as being in the art world; I’m finding my own way to navigate things, which I think everyone is doing now because a lot of the traditional systems aren’t working. But it does still feel a little bit like a man’s world. I don’t feel like a victim, but I do want to be taken seriously, and sometimes that doesn’t happen. I was happy to hear that people didn’t just see my box work as fluffy and whimsical without depth—I get concerned that I come off that way in every way, because I’m a playful person. I think people might see me as light, playful, emotional, non-intellectual—kind of dancing around but not focused enough. All these things are probably true in a way, but they’re also things that are associated with being a woman. It’s easy to get scattered with doing too many projects in order to sort of prove my seriousness.

Bear Face

It seems like women have a lot of hats going all the time. My partner is this competent, amazing, very focused man who I learn from and appreciate so much, and it’s almost like I want that, but I operate from a different place. It’s a different way of maneuvering in life. I think when I started dressing in my current style, I was looking to express something about myself—something more solid, even though the look I have might be seen as crazy sometimes! But I learned to be comfortable enough to break the rules and be okay with funny stares. It was like a strengthening technique, consciously or unconsciously. It was difficult to present myself like that with consistency in public, yet I felt it was true to myself. Over time it became easier, and the idea of self-expression stopped being so much of an effort—I was just being me, coming out of myself.

So now I have this look and people will say that they’re inspired by it, and I realize that in some ways, my brand is my presentation. It becomes important. It’s one of the elements of presenting myself—my photography, the video, a documentary, my blog, and the outfits. It’s kind of like giving a snippet of what my work is about. It’s all about alternate perspectives.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thoughts on a Word: Gorgeous

Gorgeous is beautiful on a mild dose of prescription speed. Gorgeous's eyes are a little wider, the curves a little more pronounced, the skin a little more even, the hair a hint more lustrous. It is more difficult to quibble with gorgeous, with a code still broad enough to let in a variety (though anything but garden-variety) but its fences a bit more structured, perhaps a bit higher. Gorgeous can be cultivated, painted on, but not merely approximated. It's easy enough to approximate pretty, or the bombshell, or hot, but gorgeous? From afar, I wish you luck. 

Gorgeous comes from Middle French gorgias for "elegant or fashionable," which likely sprang from Old French gorge for "bosom or throat," and eventually "something adorning the throat," such as throat armor (gorget) or a neckerchief (gorgias). From gorgias, gorgeous arrived in late 15th-century English to mean "splendid or showy."

And from there, the denotation of gorgeous doesn't change much. (Nor does its usage: Since its inception in the 1600s, gorgeous has been used to describe men, women, clothing, landscapes, interiors—anything, really, though we're somewhat less likely to use it to describe men now that royalty is mostly out of the picture.) Webster's currently lists it as "dressed in splendid or vivid colors: resplendently beautiful," or "characterized by brilliance or magnificence of any kind." It's this resplendence that makes gorgeous a word we use more sparingly than beautiful. We may call a woman beautiful because she fits a mainstream ideal, or because of the way she moves or speaks, or simply because we love her. But if we call her gorgeous, we imply that she has a sort technical beauty—and it is a matter of technicality. We use gorgeous to apply to one’s exterior, not her inner riches; after all, the roots of gorgeous are in showiness, adornment, not transcendence. Gorgeous is less forgiving than beautiful: We speak of someone’s acts making them beautiful; whether we mean this on a physical level varies by person, but we don’t speak of someone becoming gorgeous through their kindness. Many people will argue that everyone has something beautiful about their appearance. Few will make that same argument for gorgeous.

To be gorgeous is to be exaggerated in one’s beauty: not necessarily more beautiful, but more alarming in one’s beauty. Perhaps we should be alarmed by the gorgeous, as they apparently make you drop dead (or are prone to dropping dead themselves? The hazard!). The term drop-dead gorgeous entered our vocabulary in the 1960s, and by the 1970s was firmly established—and not only in reference to women, making appearances in Mademoiselle (1976, in reference to leather accessories) and Women’s Wear Daily (1972, in reference to an Italian designer).

Without knowing exactly who coined the term, it’s difficult to say why gorgeous was anointed with the peril of drop dead instead of that honor going to beautiful. (That measure of the hive mind, Google search results, drums up seven times as many results for “drop dead gorgeous” as “drop dead beautiful.”) I’m guessing it’s related to the excess implied with gorgeous that may or may not be there with mere beauty. After all, though the terms evolved separately, both gorgeous and gorge have the same Old French origins—and that word came from the French use of gorge, meaning throat. Gorgeous’s early roots are from a place of heady indulgence, then. Beauty may mean indulgence; it may also mean restraint, a delicacy, a subtlety. Not so for the lavish ways of the gorgeous: I envision a gorgeous brocade covering a gorgeous table supporting a gorgeous stuffed pheasant in a gorgeous room, with gorgeous, gorgeous revelers ready to gorge themselves—all very French, very excessive, and very much taking delight not in merely being aesthetically pleasing, but in being splashily so. The delight of gorgeous lies in its undeniability.

As a coda here: There's another alarming use of gorgeous. In doing the aforementioned Googling, I was disquieted to see find that the word gorgeous is overrepresented when discussing women of specific nationalities—say, French or Chinese women. We fetishize women around the globe: We don’t want a bevy of beautiful Chinese women; we want the Chinese woman (or French woman, or Venezuelan woman, or whatever). If you’re performing a search for “gorgeous Thai women,” you want something more singular than mere beauty; you want something above and beyond. 

This might be harmless enough or seem like politically correct quibbling, until you give a search a whirl and find that one of the suggested searches for “gorgeous women” is “gorgeous Russian women,” which leads to gorgeous Ukrainian and Baltic women—that is, women whose economic circumstances and perceived gorgeousness in the United States make them prime candidates for self-export. These arrangements aren’t necessarily abusive or coercive, but I wouldn’t wish upon any woman a husband who found her because he was searching for a splendid show.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Applying Makeup in Public: Preserving the Beauty Mystique

A while ago I was talking with a friend about annoying subway behavior. We covered She of the Unending Cell Phone Conversation, He of Legs Spread Wide Encroaching Upon Your Space, and Dude Who Asks What You Are Reading When By Virtue of Reading It Should Be Clear You Do Not Wish To Be Bothered. And then I got to my personal favorite: She Who Applies Makeup.

"I mean, powdering your face, whatever, that's fine," I said. "But putting on a whole face of makeup! I hate that!" My friend paused. "I put on my makeup on the train," she said. "It's dead time on the subway otherwise; I can sleep in a little bit and still show up to work made up if I just do it on the subway." I made some halfhearted attempt to say it was a hygiene or safety issue--that "makeup particles" could fly everywhere (she then pointed out that was most likely to happen with powder, which I'd already given the thumbs-up to) or that I hated having to worry if She Who Applies Makeup would jab her eye out while applying mascara ("That's her problem, not yours," she said). 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized what annoyed me about seeing a woman apply makeup on the subway was that is was a public handling of private behavior. And not just "private behavior" in the sense of another subway personality, They Who Grope One Another, but private behavior that I, as a woman, have an investment in other women keeping private.

Woman at Her Toilette, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

In theory, I'm all for transparency in government, reporting, and beauty. Preserving the smoke-and-mirrors aspect of beauty upholds the notion that conventional beauty is something accessible only to the chosen few who are lucky enough to be born with clear skin, straight teeth, and balanced or striking features. One of the things I appreciate about the mass beauty industry is the democracy of it: Don't hate me because I'm beautiful; you can be beautiful too. At its best, it levels the playing field (or at least teaches us how to bunt).

So in an effort to be transparent about my beauty routine, I don't pretend like I don't use any of that stuff. My look is rather "natural" (you know, 11-product "natural") so it doesn't scream out that I'm wearing makeup, but neither am I coy about my beauty routine. I use self-tanner! I wear concealer! My eyelashes are not naturally black-tipped, and I did not emerge from the womb smelling like a delicate mix of milk, honey, carnation, and rose.

But when I think of the feeling I get when I see a woman whip out her makeup case and go for it on the subway--an irritability that, if I'm already on edge for whatever reason, can easily tip into something resembling contempt or even anger--I have to admit that I have an investment in preserving a certain beauty mystique. By "beauty mystique" I mean not any particular look or effect, but rather the quality that prompts us to speak of a woman's magic, or her je ne sais quoi, her effortlessness, her aura. Any given woman may, of course, have forms of magic or je ne sais quoi that have naught to do with her appearance, but most of the time we refer to any of those qualities we include the effect of her appearance as a part of the quality we're describing. If we're able to witness the quality's construction, the effect is diminished. And if we witness the construction of any one person's effect--say, a woman putting on bronzer on the subway--we can apply that revealed knowledge to others.

In beauty talk, discussion of the beauty mystique most often comes up in discussion of the irony of how the "natural look" actually requires a zillion products. (Or, in my case, 11.) And that is the clearest example of how hiding one's labor serves to create an air of effortlessness. (Sociologist Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life: "In interactions where the individual presents a product to others, he will tend to show them only the end product, and they will be led into judging him on the basis of something that has been finished, polished, and packaged...It will be the long, tedious, lonely labor that will be hidden.") When I'm filled with ire by witnessing a woman putting on makeup in public--doing what I do every day, just in private--I'm taking that idea of hidden labor and turning it into a sort of morality play. What I feel is close to indignance: How dare she let the world know what it takes? Not what it takes to apply makeup, but what it takes to appear feminine in that particular way. 

As much as I'd like to think I want that labor exposed, there's a petulant little part of me that wants to preserve that mystique. I don't think women want to preserve that mystique to control other women's access to it (remember, we're not to hate the Pantene hair model, because "you can be beautiful too"), but because preserving that mystique forms an armor against the performance of womanhood being exposed as a shadow-puppet show. "It is a widely held notion that restrictions placed upon contact, the maintenance of social distance, provide a way in which awe can be generated and sustained in the audience--a which the audience can be held in a state of mystification to the performer," writes Goffman. In other words, the more those of us who engage in the performance of femininity reveal to our audience, the less power we have, even if the power in question is a mirage.

As a feminist, I want the performance of femininity deconstructed so we can examine its usefulness, rebuilding it from its scraps so that we can make a new model that's more inclusive, less constrictive, based on our collective wishes and desires rather than the needs of those with the keys to the castle. Transparency equals access; transparency allows us to find common ground. Transparency helps us form sisterhood: It's the very reason that beauty talk can allow for a greater conversation to begin. Transparency can become subversive. And sometimes I want to make sure that beauty stays as opaque, as filled with mystique, as by-invitation-only--the invitation being womanhood, not genes or money--as it currently is. It turns out I'm fiercely protective of the beauty mystique, and I'm trying to figure out why.

Talking to my She Who Applies Makeup friend was revealing, so I'm curious to hear from other women: Do you try to keep your beauty routine private? Is it important to you to be perceived as not putting as much effort into your appearance as you actually do? Have you ever misrepresented your beauty labor--either playing it down, or playing it up (perhaps to demonstrate the importance of an event, as Rosie Molinary discusses here when talking about beauty transparency in Latin culture)?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 6.24.11

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

Uncomfortably numb.

From Head...
Because every girl wants to be a vampire: Am I old-fashioned for being freaked out by lip balm with Benzocaine, designed to "leave your victims’ lips numb and their hearts racing"?

...To Toe...
This case has no legs: New York man sues SoHo pedicure outlet for not complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines. His disability? He lost both legs in a car accident. (Interesting piece on him in Blackbook a ways back.)

...And Everything In Between:

Men in the cosmetics industry: Fast Company asks if LinkedIn is a gender equalizer: Men thrive in the cosmetics industry, according to LinkedIn's analysis of user data. Yawn, yawn, male CEOs, blargh. But! Women rule ranching and tobacco! (Go cowgirls!) My initial hunch would be that the novelty factor of women in those fields might give them an advantage, though I'm hesitant to say the same for men. If that world is anything like another female-focused industry I'm familiar with—women's magazines—the business side is likely run by men while the day-to-day operations and development is run by women.

More pink Cadillacs: Mary Kay still going strong, signing up 165,000 new representatives in April—the largest monthly amount in a decade. These are independent sellers, meaning these workers may still be underemployed, but Mary Kay's endurance is a testament to the ability of woman-driven businesses to attract a work force looking for flexibility. (Per the above item, though, it's worth nothing that the Mary Kay CEO is a dude with an MBA, not a lady with a dream.)

Dollar stacks on the left are ad dollars from 2009; on the right, from 2010. Each bill represents roughly $50 million in ad budgets. (Via Ad Age and Marketing Degree.)

Ad budgets: Interesting graphic from Ad Age detailing ad dollars for various beauty companies. The buried lede here is Axe's ad cuts, though I suppose given the onslaught of, what, 2006, you can only go down from there. (The entire cross-industry graphic is here. Of note: Weight-loss companies went up, quelle surprise, as did Proactiv and Yoplait. Good to see the latter company can afford to swallow the cost of their pulled eating-disorder-littered ad. While jogging in place.)

Those hormones paid for your yacht, lady: Evelyn Lauder makes a good point in an unfortunate way at the Elly Awards Luncheon: "Older women should be on boards." Agreed! "There's just less hormones, less crying." Oh! I'd really like to see a broader conversation about women and aging happening (Naomi Wolf's piece in the Washington Post was a start, but am I alone in finding it a little dismissive of younger women?), and I suppose these sorts of fits and starts are a beginning? Maybe?

Holy house: Estee Lauder's synagogue in Queens gets a makeover. (Why am I so obsessed with Estee Lauder real estate? Between the casino and the graveyard I'm a one-woman watch.)

Behind the veil: A young Saudi-Canadian woman on feeling liberated from the beauty myth by wearing the hijab. "When I cover myself, I make it virtually impossible for people to judge me according to the way I look.  I cannot be categorized because of my attractiveness or lack thereof."

Characteristics of the Chinese beauty market: Chinese women as demanding cosmetics consumers. Interesting bits about how even though China is rapidly becoming more westernized, there's still a very strong Chinese ethos to cosmetics--hair-dyeing, for example, is rare except to cover grays.

Faux cosmeceuticals: False claims in cosmetic advertising increased five-fold in Korea last quarter, with products fraudulently advertising use of "stem cells." (Ew!)

More false advertising: Center for Environmental Health sues Kiss My Face and Hain Celestial (Avalon Organics, Alba Botanical) for falsely labeling cosmetics as organic when they're not. Say it ain't so! I love Alba lotions!


Still from Dark Girls, which, from the preview, looks to be startling and poignant.

Help kickstart Dark Girls: Via Ashe at Dramatis Personae comes an alert to help fund a documentary that sounds incredibly promising about women's skin tone in the black community.

Wax on, wax off: Sally at Already Pretty on feminism and body hair, which has been a sticking point for me personally. I shave my legs, etc., because I feel more comfortable that way; I tried challenging that, and just felt unappealing to myself. Ironically, the way I came to peace with this was to start shaving all the time, not just when my legs would be available for public viewing. I realized that I truly do take my own pleasure in having smooth legs. As Sally writes, "Does this mean I’m willingly bowing to the patriarchy on this issue? I guess you could see it that way.... Everything we do to change how our bodies look, feel, and smell is a nod to societal norms. And I’m willing to nod occasionally."

Hup!: Allyson at Decoding Dress questions the symbiosis of fashion and the military—it might not be just a one-way conversation.

Reflections: Y'all know I'm a sucker for mirror talk, and Kate at Eat the Damn Cake goes in for it: "People say, 'This mirror makes me look weird,' but they only half believe themselves. The other half is saying, 'I think I might actually look like that.'"

Socrates' sister: Feminist Philosophers questions whether philosophy itself is gendered, and of course the answer is a flaming YES, which points to why questions of personal beauty haven't received their philosophical due. "The self of feminist philosophy...often knows that Descartes was hold that the human mind is whole and entire unto itself. She cannot be the whole respository for the normativity that is needed for a theory of concepts, for example. Her intellectual thriving is dependent on social inputs, corrections and co-constructions."

Mentoring: Not beauty-related, but enough young women have contacted me through here for this to be pertinent: Australian feminist writer and blogger Rachel Hills has some excellent posts on women and mentoring for her recent Mentoring Week (well, weeks) project. Here is but one of them, with links to more at the bottom. You read a lot about the importance of mentors but this series explores unexpected angles, like mentoring and media and male/female mentoring styles.


Yes, I'm exploiting this bunny for its sheer cuteness, but I'm not going to pinch its ass, so we're all cool, right?

Bunny hop: This story at The Good Men Project about being a Playboy Bunny in 1978 is revealing about the effects of being in a highly image-conscious environment: "I was getting a thorough training at work in just how much looks mattered if you were female." Aw, hell, it's really just an excuse for me to recommend Gloria Steinem's classic essay "I Was a Playboy Bunny." (I can't find it online, but here's an excerpt.) The Good Men Project piece isn't as insightful, but it's more personal, as the writer's reasons for being a Bunny weren't journalistic.

Sweet smell of success: Between Mercedes-Benz perfumes and The New York Times-scented candle, can't wait to catch a whiff of the bourgeoisie!

Portrait of a perfumer: Better fragrance chat here, with Bella Sugar's Annie Tomlin interviewing fragrance legend Frédéric Malle.

Beauty exhibit skin-deep?: Thoughtful Tom Teicholz review of the "Beauty Culture" exhibit in L.A., asking the pointed question: "Is this exhibit really a conversation?" So much beauty talk isn't talk at all, but presented images. I still want to see this exhibit, but am eager to keep the beauty conversation going.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Martina Molin, Painter, London

Swedish painter Martina Molin focuses her work on femininity, simultaneously expressing an aspiration toward beauty itself and the desire for a more profound sentiment and existential value. Her subjects—usually women appearing to consciously straddle the divide of solitude and being gazed upon—reflect and filter the inner experience of being seen. She studied fine art in Stockholm before moving to London (where she currently resides) in 2001 to study painting and drawing, receiving her master’s in drawing from Camberwell College of Art in 2008. During her visit to New York for a private exhibition, we talked about the experience of becoming an image, the importance of portraying feminine presence and absence, the Swedish beauty aesthetic, and Falcon Crest. In her own words:

On Beauty and Secrets 
I’m trying to capture what I’m absorbed by, which is in part this kind of beauty ideal, but really it’s a blend of different scenarios and impressions. A lot of it’s coming from family, history, things you see when you’re little—for me it was this admiration of my mother and her twin sister, being a child seeing this grown-up world.

I had access to French Vogue as a child, and just looking at that and seeing my mother and aunt go out to a party was this kind of magic, forbidden world. It was these glamorous, beautiful women—their scent, their experience. It was their sophistication and beauty, with strong charisma, that inspired me. They were like real-life fairy tale princesses.

There’s a secret power or knowledge of your own femininity and sex appeal for women, and I think that’s quite obvious for a child to see, because you look at the other children and none of you have that—and it’s good that way. But I couldn’t help being intrigued by the charms of their appearance. I see women almost doing magic with their looks, with makeup and how they present themselves. And thus I developed an interest in beauty, as a child.

The Awakening of Love

In The Awakening of Love, the girl is nude, but there is a sense of innocence about her. I like to portray the awareness of being seen, and the value of being seen as beautiful. She’s on display but she’s aware of her own worth. It’s about her inner experience and wish to be desired.

Happy Birthday Girls

To me, the mirroring element in Happy Birthday Girls is a reflection of the thrilling sensation of getting older. To be at ease with your own reflection is to realize the potential of each age and not get stuck in what was. They’re celebrating a birthday, but it’s with a certain melancholy as they gaze at the birthday cake, which has been left looking more like a fence. On the one hand it’s a celebration of being alive, about looking forward—yet another part of youth is in the past, so in a way it must be a bittersweet practice of letting go.

Sometimes I like to include in my paintings a feeling of absence, the lack of emotion that you can experience. There are times in life when things go too fast. When you don’t fully realize a moment, it leaves a sense of emptiness, a void. For a while I was almost erasing my paintings from the paintings. There was so much white space, because I felt isolated, living in a different country. It’s important to me to portray absence and presence of femininity. When painting in the studio the artist gets a distance from the self. It is this which is so important, so the art can have its own voice.

Spanish Skies

Though my work is not a direct form of self-portraiture, I am subconsciously included. In my painting there’s is an element of self I cannot erase. Perhaps a moderate degree of reflection is necessary to give an honest approach to a narrative. However, I am most interested in the possibility of a multiple persona, absorbing inspiration from fiction, film, photography, and history. People often comment that some of the women in my paintings look like me, and I can see how a part of me shines through. However, artists can be a little overly critical; for me it can be a bit destructive, to be overfocusing on myself.

On the Swedish Beauty Aesthetic 
I first moved to England when I was 20. I was thrilled to be going someplace new, but concerned I would be perceived as the Swedish-girl stereotype, this happy blond girl there on holiday. To avoid this I initially dyed my hair brown, but it turned kind of gray and it didn’t suit me at all, so I went back to being blond and I just carried on.

As a Swedish woman, sometimes I feel that I get put in a category. While this can be frustrating, this stereotype can also offer quite a nice escape. If I already have others’ ideas projected onto me, then I can relax and be. I can feel quite safe in my little illusion, knowing privately that I am confident and know that I am more than preconceived perceptions.

On Swedish Equality 
We’ve come quite far in Sweden, with equal opportunities for men and women. An interesting spin off of this is that men there have gotten more into their own appearance. Maybe Sweden's equality has allowed men to look into traditionally feminine areas, such as makeup and other parts of the beauty industry. But regardless of how equal society becomes, men and women will strive to have a certain appearances. That is universal and is not going to change. What has become more equal now is the sense that men and women both want to be beautiful. This is not particular to a place or country, just the human desire to be desired.

Perhaps the pressure to be “perfect” is more strong still in some parts of America than in Sweden, where the approach to appearance is a bit more relaxed. I grew up watching Dallas and Falcon Crest. It was magic to me. I remember being mesmerized by the perfectly groomed women—the power they projected onto the viewer was impressive! I’ve always been fascinated by constructed or artificial beauty. In Europe that’s more of a Mediterranean thing; the women in that region dress up more and they’re impeccably groomed. We don’t have that as much in Sweden. You’d feel a little bit overdressed if you wore a dress when you go out; it’s quite casual.

Sweden has a natural beauty ideal. With plastic surgery there is the ideal of eternal youth that you can achieve if you can afford it. But a majority of Swedes embrace aging and beauty—they keep it healthy, exercise a bit, take long walks. Sweden is an earth-bound society. Maybe the belief that a natural beauty is preferable over a more artificial aesthetic might just be in keeping with Scandinavian minimalism—who knows?

Ideally, in a modern society we should be allowed to embrace our femininity and our masculinity with playfulness—whatever makes one comfortable in their body shouldn’t collide with their equal value as an individual or professional.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to Make a Midsummer Floral Wreath

A change of pace for me, given the season—a how-to on making a traditional Swedish handmade floral wreath for Midsummer. The summer solstice according to "nature" was yesterday, but Scandinavians know that it should be a full weekend celebration, so Swedes will be celebrating this Friday and Saturday. You can too, if you head over to The Hairpin to read my piece on how to make wreaths with fresh flowers to wear in your hair as you dance around the maypole! (I also have a guide to not looking at yourself so damned much over there.)

Stay tuned for more on the Swedish aesthetic, with an upcoming interview with Swedish artist Martina Molin; if you can't wait, now's a good time to revisit my interview with Swedish-American artist Annika Connor (also pictured above, on a Midsummer past, wearing the type of wreath we instruct you on over at The Hairpin). Glad Midsommar!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thoughts on a Word: Fair

Fair meant beautiful before it meant light-complected, not the other way around. Fair derives from Old English faeger (beautiful, lovely, pleasant), which came from the Germanic and Norse fagar and fagr for beautiful. Until the 1550s, fair was used to describe a beautiful or attractive person with no regard to the color spectrum, and indeed with not much regard to sex. "The men of this province are of a fair and comely personage, but somewhat pale," wrote the narrator of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (circa 1357-1371).

This changed with the Elizabethan era, and with that great language alchemist, Shakespeare. The bulk of his sonnets were addressed to whom his scholars call the "Fair Youth"—and his uses of fair in these sonnets sticks with the original meaning. But the youth in question is described as having a "gold complexion"—after all, we're comparing him to a summer's day—and during this time the meaning of fair broadened to include skin tone. Just in time, too; with the arrival of Africans in England in 1551, Britons suddenly needed a term to distinguish their pale-skinned beauties from the new arrivals. (Certainly it's no coincidence that this era saw an uptick with the usage of fair to mean "morally good." That usage dates back to the 12th century, but the late 16th century introduced the phrases fair play and fair and square, setting the race status quo early on. It worked on the other side too: The 1580s saw the first use of black to mean "dark purposes," alongside its prexisting adjective use to describe dark-skinned people.)

This is also the same period during which the term "the fair sex" originated as a designation for women of a certain class. Erasmus in 1533 queried "the Artifices us'd by such of the Fair Sex as aim more at the Purses than at the Hearts of their Admirers," already using the term ironically even though it had only just then been introduced. And even jumping the pond, fair soon became a catch-all reference to American women—well, the white ones, at least—as beautiful, light-skinned, and morally virtuous. "Strategic deployment and ordinary usage of the term 'fair sex' produced white women as a special category: a racialized sex group that lost consciousness of itself as bounded by race and class, retaining the memory of its identity as one based on gender alone," write Pauline E. Schloesser in The Fair Sex: White Women and Racial Patriarchy in the Early American Republic. "Once the discourse was deployed, one understood universals like 'females,' 'ladies,' and 'the sex' to mean white and middle-class without having to make these specific references." Fair, in America, became a way of determining how western European one was. An 1850 genealogical compendium from Harvard delineated pale skin from fair skin, the former indicating an Eastern European heritage instead of the British-Germanic pink undertones of fair skin. Fair skin was also thin and soft, as opposed to the thick, hard, dry—that is, working-class—complexion of pale-skinned folk.

But all this is in the past, right? The olden days? Have you ever heard someone describe a woman as fair without referring to her complexion? Even in today's most popular use of fair outside of skin tone, My Fair Lady, we understand the term to be quaint, archaic, charming, much like the class system it mocks. (Plus, it's unlikely that Lerner and Loewe would have come across this title organically; My Fair Lady took its title from Pygmalion: Fair Eliza, one of the considered subtitles for the 1912 play that inspired the latter production. And even that was borrowed from Robert Burns's 1791 poem "Thou Fair Eliza.")

It's not in the past, though. I'd argue fair-as-beautiful continues to be relevant, even as that direct use of fair has ceased. (It's worth noting that the first-listed definition in Merriam-Webster is still "pleasing to the eye or mind," however.) Its history is encoded in its complexion reference: Fair is a less racially charged way of saying white. I've argued before that the skin-whitening creams found throughout Asia reflect a desire for class status, not whiteness per se; just as having a tan in America signifies you have the time and resources to take long beach vacations from our indoor jobs, having pale skin in Asia signifies that you've risen above menial outdoor labor. But the use of that particular word—fair—crops up time and time again with these products. Fair and White, Fair and Lovely, Fair and Flawless, Fair Lady (one of the few products recalled) are but a few of the products that use the word. So even without evoking Caucasian skin, fair conjures a particular kind of woman: not only one who is whiter-skinned than most Asians, but one who is delicate, refined, and working indoors (or not at all). Fair is aspirational.

There's another archaic use of fair that I'm seeing cropping up more and more. While most of Shakespeare's sonnets were written for the Fair Youth, a handful were penned for the Dark Lady. These were passionate, sexual sonnets, in contrast to the tenderness of the poems for the Fair Youth. We've continued this dichotomy, hypersexualizing today's "dark ladies" even if American beauty standards are finally becoming more inclusive (well, somewhat). We've got the spicy Latina; sultry, exotic women of the Middle East (surely they belly dance!); sexy squaws; and, of course, the ubiquitous bootylicious black women that populate hip-hop videos. It's not an issue of dark-skinned women being seen as less beautiful; it's an issue of them being seen as beautiful in a particular way. A way, not incidentally, that precludes them from being a part of "the fair sex," which preserves the term's original connotations of class and delicacy. Dare I go for the obvious here? It's not fair.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Five Beauty Sale Finds For Which I'd Gladly Shell Out Retail Price

I rarely write about products on here, in part because so many other people do it so well, and with more genuine enthusiasm than I have even at my most enthused. But after last week's post on ladymag beauty sales, I took a look at my collection and realize there are some damn good products I never would have tried had I not gotten them for a dollar—and that I'd be willing to (or already have) purchase at retail value. So in the name of beauty sisterhood, I present: beauty sale finds worth their actual price.

1) MAC Mineralize Skinfinish Natural in Sun Power: Um, so I didn't realize until I read the product description that this isn't necessarily a bronzer. That's how I use it, though. I like that it's a hard powder, not a loose one that gets everywhere, and that it's not particularly shimmery. Honestly, bronzers are really all about whatever tone happens to work with your skin, so maybe I just lucked out here. But in any case, it's palm-sized so it feels more luxurious than some brands. Because big = luxury, because I am American.

2) Hard Candy Sheer Envy Primer: When I interviewed a beauty editor, she told me that one of her must-haves was primer. I've always been skeptical about primers, as it seems exactly like the kind of thing cosmetics companies would create just to make you buy more stuff. But! Primers are awesome! This one creates a nice base, giving the illusion of a smoother skin texture, and even though it's not billed as a mattifier, I notice I don't get shiny as quickly as I normally do when I put this on. It takes 15 seconds and the face-feel is nice and smooth, and even though I hate that this product uses "envy" in its title, I do love wearing it.

Um, this image has nothing to do with body cream! But the scent of the body cream I got is discontinued, so instead of picturing a product I don't actually own I'm turning you on to Tatterhood, a collection of traditional fairy tales by The Feminist Press featuring strong female protagonists. Awesome gift for a young reader. And thus, I have ameliorated the utter lack of intellectual heft in this post.

3) C.O. Bigelow Body Cream: One of the downsides of the beauty sale is that your risk of finding a product you love and then having it discontinued is higher, because the companies are throwing everything at you, and so few products wind up sticking around in the long run. So my preferred fragrance, Ginger Mentha, is sadly discontinued (though they have other Ginger Mentha products). But what I really love about this moisturizer is its perfect mix of creaminess without greasiness; it's light enough in summer but strong enough for winter, and basically I am in love.

4) Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer: In theory, I think it's a terrible idea to dye your skin orange. In practice, though! I love looking tan! I'm too lazy to use this all the time, but when I do use it, it gives a natural, gradual glow that doesn't make you look orange and that won't make you regret using it if you miss a spot. The smell isn't quite up to par yet but it's miles better than that tanning stuff we used in the '80s. All the magazines say this is the best gradual self-tanner, and though I haven't tried others, I can't see what would make one better than this.

5) Lush Coconut Deodorant Powder: Truthfully, I don't use this often, because my morning routine always involves me putting on deodorant after I've gotten dressed, and since this is a powder it would get everywhere. But every so often I remember its existence and put it on before I get dressed (in something light-colored, mind you), and it's fantastic. It's surprisingly effective for a powder, feels nice to put on, and smells like coconut, which, combined with the Jergens Natural Glow, will have to suffice until I can spend six months on a beach in Thailand.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Beauty Blogsophere 6.17.11

The latest beauty news, from head to toe and everything in between.

From Head...
Behind Bare Minerals: Nice profile of mineral-makeup guru Leslie Blodgett. I'd argue that the piece overstates the revolution of mineral makeup (is it really that different than regular makeup? Or am I wearing it wrong?), and the comparisons to Estee Lauder are a little baffling, but it's an interesting read nonetheless.

 Sic McGruff on pedicure bandits!

...To Toe...
Nailed!: What's up with all the pedicure fraud lately? Between the Muncie, Indiana, pedicure bandit and the Great Park Slope Nail Salon Freakout, pedicurists are getting shafted. For shame!

Foot fault: The pedicure that nearly killed Serena Williams.

...And Everything In Between:
Men and beauty purchases: That ever-reliable source of meticulous research,, released a study about how grooming products are the #1 item purchased by men online, beating out tech. Forgive me for being a tad skeptical of the research methods here, but clearly something is going on here. Are men buying more body products online because they're embarrassed to be buying bath gel in person?

Beauty sales rising:
Mass products fared somewhat better than prestige cosmetics in Q1, though prestige skin care easily beat gains from mass products. Let's call a victory for those pricey cosmeceuticals, shall we? 

Poker/Face: Estee Lauder facility on Long Island may become casino operated by Shinnecock Nation. 

Lush wants everyone to kiss and makeup.

Lush "Kiss and Tell" event in support of same-sex marriage rights: I am thrilled to see a cosmetics company taking action on an issue that's actually controversial. Once upon a time, breast cancer research was controversial. It's still important, but I tend to view corporations whose "women's issues" begin and end with pink ribboning with skepticism. Like WOW you're really taking a stand, aren't you?! So if you're near a Lush store on June 18, join the protest! Head on over with your partner at 11:38 a.m. local time (U.S.A. and Canada only)—1138 being symbolic of the number of marriage rights that are denied to same-sex couples under current law—and smooch!

Social media marketing: How ladybloggers yakking about Secret Clinical Strength proved a success for Procter & Gamble. Yikes!   

Beauty and the veil: Student project from a media literacy class at the American University of Beirut about veiled women and beauty. Things get interesting around 2:40, when we start to hear from Lebanese men and veiled Lebanese women about the signals the veil sends in regards to beauty and desire. Actually, the whole thing is interesting—I've heard so many stories of "...and in the Middle East CURVY women are considered BEAUTIFUL!" that I sometimes fall into the trap of "Orientalizing" body image and beauty concerns. This was a good reminder that not only are American beauty standards being heavily exported, but that each culture will interpret these standards in their own way.

Tila Tequila and root causes of eating disorders: Tila Tequila is (sort of) shedding light on an essential aspect of eating disorders that's often overlooked, especially when discussing their prevalence among professional beauties. "I put pressure on myself to constantly eat, but once I put pressure on myself, that's when eating is no longer a ‘natural’ thing to do for me and ironically becomes the opposite," she said in Radar Online. It gets to the idea of EDs being about control, not thinness, which is essential to an understanding of the disease.

Udderly gorgeous! Moo-tiful! Alert Hugh Heifer! (It's been a long week, okay?)

Cattle contest is so pageant: I'm not particularly into the whole Sexual Politics of Meat angle, though I think it's an interesting-enough discussion. That said, this piece at Der Spiegel about a dairy show, which the magazine terms a beauty pageant for cows, gave me the heebie-jeebies. (THAT said, a personal bit of trivia is that as a young 4-Her I had a flair for beef cattle judging, and I can tell you from personal experience that there is absolutely no wink wink nudge nudge about judging cattle. It is as earnest an activity as you will ever find.) 

Barbie-blaming: The F-Word takes on Greenpeace's campaign against Barbie as responsible for deforestation because of her packaging. "Were Greenpeace to roll out a complementary campaign featuring Action Man or GI Joe being court-martialled for his rampages through the would be an even-handed address....No such campaign exists."

Nail salon history: The contemporary history of the nail salon is the history of the Vietnam war, as shown in this article that traces the growth of Vietnamese-owned nail salons from mass emigration in the 1970s to today. New York might not be representative, but at the salons in my neighborhood, workers tend to be either Asian (usually Chinese or Korean) or Latin American. Given the slowing of Vietnamese immigration and the increase in Latin American immigration, I wouldn't be surprised to see more Latina-owned salons within the decade.

Chewable toothpaste: Effin' brilliant workaround for liquids restrictions on flights.

Shopping style: Sally at Already Pretty asks if you're a lone shopper or a pack shopper. I'm interested in how one's preference might translate to attitudes toward appearance—I always shop alone, and besides just being a solitary sort of person in general, I've wondered before if my need to shop alone has to do with my self-consciousness. It's one thing to be self-conscious, quite another to have someone witness it so up-close. shopping with others but it's because I feel so self-conscious about someone knowing I'm looking at myself.

Facebook fast:
Courtney at Those Graces quit Facebook when she saw her self-perception changing—check out her self-portraits (none of which look phony to me, but which don't) to see what she means. "Instead of being me, I became the image of who I thought I was." Social media can indeed function as a mirror, in other words.

Feminist fashion bloggers on women in the media: Awesome collection of posts on women in the media, all from members of Feminist Fashion Bloggers (and beauty bloggers too!). Historical media criticism, a no-no to ecofeminist representations, tired old tropes, "Hollywood ugly", representations of feminism in the media, depictions of indigenous women (which, as a part Caddo woman who looks white and therefore doesn't get the tiptoe-around I might if looked more Indian, particularly resonated with me). 

Duff!: Remember Duff? She's also a writer, and she now has a column in the New York Daily News—fashion, beauty, and, yes, "aging gracefully," but her spin aims to be fresh, funny, and inclusive. This is a woman who has been included on People's Worst Dressed list, so it'd better be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Ladymag Beauty Sale (and What I've Learned From Them)

This post is a part of this month's Feminist Fashion Bloggers prompt: women in media. You can read a roundup of all FFB prompt posts here.

Imagine every single beauty product you have ever heard of being crammed into one room, and you have something resembling the women's magazine beauty closet. And when I say "every single beauty product you have ever heard of," I want you to really picture every permutation of every product possible. Lipsticks, lip pencils, lip stains, lip glosses. Fake nails, fake hair, fake eyelashes, fake tans. Body moisturizers, body butters, body creams, body oils, body lathers, body lotions, body powders, body bars. Eyelash curlers, skin supplements, bust enhancers, electronic ab exercisers, "face yoga" contraptions, pubic hair dye, coconut-scented underarm powders, brow waxing templates, nail polish that changes color with your mood—you get the point. I'm not talking a narrow selection here, people. I am talking buckets—literally, buckets—full of lipstick, bins of nail polish, drawers full of powder compacts.

"What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?"
They will have my nail polish collection.

Companies send magazines these products in hopes of making it into the pages, which sometimes happens and sometimes doesn't. (Beauty editor Ali gets into this in our interview, and if you're interested in the goings-on of beauty departments, add Free Gift With Purchase by Lucky beauty editor Jean Godfrey-June to your must-read list. Incidentally, she estimates she receives 50-200 products every single day, which is par for the course.) For every product you see featured in a magazine, there are hundreds that don't make it. But unlike couture fashions, which are usually returned after photo shoots, all the beauty goodies wind up in the beauty closet.

So the closet gets full, and the beauty team needs to make room for more products to come in, so maybe once a quarter they'll have a beauty sale. The bins and buckets come out, and staffers have at it. Whether it's a $2 Wet 'n' Wild lipstick or a $98 face serum, it's $1 now. (Proceeds go to charity, often a women's shelter, I'm glad to report.) If it's a big enough sale, you may well see a line of women snaking through the office, bags and single dollar bills clutched in hand, ready for the fray. And a fray it can be.


At this point, you may be wondering what a ladymag beauty sale has to do with feminism, even as its link to women in media is obvious, since everyone there is, indeed, a woman in the media. Here's what:

Despite the easy targets that ladymags sometimes make for feminists, the brains behind them are usually those of intelligent, perceptive women, many of whom identify as feminists, or at least notafeministbuts. Trust me, these are women who care about improving women's lives, even if the product isn't always what I'd like it to be. And, of course, these are also women who care about beauty. So when you put together dozens of these minds in a room with hundreds of beauty products that are essentially free for the taking, you wind up with a hothouse of beauty messages. You hear hope ("will this work?"), and joy ("Tahitian vanilla bean body lotion! OMG!"), and camaraderie ("Ooh, I'm glad you got that face scrub")—and, of course, anxiety.

It's this anxiety that has become the caricature of women's magazines. Were a beauty sale ever depicted in a Hollywood movie, it would culminate in a catfight over a bottle of mousse with which Amy Adams and Drew Barrymore set one another's hair on fire. (Laffs!) Of the beauty sale in Confessions of a Beauty Addict, beauty editor turned novelist Nadine Haobsh writes: "...otherwise warm-hearted, generous women...behaving like spoiled, me-me-me! toddlers. The conference room is crowded with assistants and editors, all frantically pawing through the products on the tables....One woman...snatches a lipstick.... 'That's mine!' she exclaims nastily. 'I just put it down for a second. I'm buying it.'"

"If someone's in the hospital or a nursing home, load up on the cheap beauty products. While it's fine to give the patient something, that's not the point. ... Put them all in a big bag, and hand them over for the patient to distribute to his or her caregivers. Not only will the patient receive markedly more receptive care, but he or she will get that not-insignificant zing of power that comes (I'm speaking from experience here) from being the distributor." —Jean Godfrey-June, Free Gift With Purchase, the best of the ladymag tell-alls, fiction or otherwise

Don't get me wrong: There is tension at these sales, and it is a madhouse, and people do get inordinately out of control on occasion. (Records circa 2001 may reflect a hapless copy editor who cadged her boss into handing over some cake mascara and still feels guilty every time she uses it, which is never. It's cake mascara and therefore too amazing to be used.) But the ensuing beauty talk reveals quieter, less stereotyped stories of the women in this world; the conversations that take place after a beauty sale, as everyone walks around and checks out each other's finds, teach me more about my colleagues than you'd initially think. I remember my abrasive manager walking out with more than 75 products, then seeing her pore over her goods at her desk. "I grew up poor," she said to me, nearly apologetically. "When my mom saw something on sale, we always had to get it, because we didn't know if we'd be able to afford it any other time. I'll never use sandalwood body spray, but it was a dollar." I remember overhearing a woman from the ad sales department—that is, a woman whose job it is to appeal to beauty and fashion companies and show them how our readers want to spend their money on products—holding a bottle of vitamin C cellulite cream at arm's-length. "Does anyone know if this works?" she said in this flat, cynical tone that belied the daily grind of mustering up enthusiasm about an industry that, like me, she's probably conflicted over. I remember a woman I'd never seen in a drop of makeup carting out a showgirl's dressing room of eyeshadow. "I should just get shampoos, I know, since I never use any of this stuff," she said to me—again, apologetically. "But it's just so fun to think about using them, isn't it?"

Beauty sales exemplify the push-pull of ladymags that has long fascinated me—and that has continued to pull me back into the industry during times when I wanted to push away. I used to consider the fashion and beauty talk in women's magazines the "hook" that would lure readers in so we could give them the good-for-you features—you know, the vitamin-rich pieces about women in Afghanistan or reproductive rights. Those pieces are essential, to be sure. But through dallying over bins of lipstick with my coworkers—and through witnessing my own impulse to grab as much as I can and then horde it—I began to become more comfortable with my own relationship with beauty. The beauty sale was a baby step toward seeing beauty products not as weapons of concealment but as potential tools of communication: of myself to the world, of colleague to colleague.  

As beauty editor Ali said, "It's funny that some people look down upon a journalist like me who's in women's service magazines. I may or may not want to know about the third reich of blah blah blah, but they always want to know what lipstick to buy!" If beauty talk sometimes serves as the lingua franca of women, then women's magazines function as its motherland. There's genuine communication happening there, even in what seems to be the most frivolous of settings. You just have to listen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thoughts on "Plus-Size," and a Guest Post on Fabulosity

Today's word post is kindly being hosted at Plus Size Models Unite, which features interviews (and stunning photos) with plus-size models, shedding some light on the industry. I wrote a post for them about the history of the term "plus-size," which was fascinating to research. (I was particularly amused by Lane Bryant's early use of the term "junior plenty," which I guess was phased out by my day. All I remember of shopping during my pudgy girlhood was "6X"—any other 6X-ers in the house?) Here's some of what I learned (you can read the whole thing here):

It wasn’t just consumers who were coming up with weird terms to describe ladies of size. Women’s magazines in the 1970s gave style advice to readers who were “chunky,” “bigger,” “broad,” “big-boned,” “heavier,” and “fat.” Even a lifestyle and fashion magazine devoted to plus-size women, Big Beautiful Woman, didn’t embrace the term until after its 1979 launch. By the 1980s the word choices had become a tad more complimentary: “round” and “full-figured” began cropping up, along with “curvy all over,” particularly a favorite in annual June swimsuit roundups.

Elizabeth Nord, one of the brains behind Plus Size Models Unite, also runs Secrets of Moms Who Dare to Tell All. The blog touches on everything from recipes to handling overcommitment to navigating motherhood in the midst of mean girls. Here she is with tips for you on what to do on those days when you feel utterly blah. Enjoy! (This post originally appeared on Secrets of Moms, but as this child-free blogger can attest, toddlers aren't the only things that can make you feel frazzled...)

Elizabeth, post-frazzle, all fabulous.

I know firsthand what it feels like to transition from feeling frazzled and frumpy to feisty and fabulous! After having our kids, there have been many times when I have felt exhausted, let myself go, or lost my fire. Here are some ways I’ve gone from frazzled and frumpy to feeling feisty, strong, sexy, and fabulous!

• Set boundaries and reclaim yourself. We are busy women trying to balance kids, marriage, friends, careers, domesticity, and personal time. Do not underestimate the power of “you” time. Some of us may feel guilty taking time out for ourselves (I do), but work through it or you will end up burned out and resentful. If you take time for yourself, you will feel refreshed, be a happier mom and wife, and better able to take on the world.

• Throw your shoulders back, pick up your chin, and open up your posture. Yes, do it right now! How does that feel? It feels good! I immediately feel more confident and energetic whenever I extend my arms. If I’m sitting down somewhere and notice that I’m not feeling “on,” I just open up my posture by setting one of my arms on the chair next to me. I swear it works wonders every time!

• Embrace your body right now! I have been really open on both my web sites about the fact that I’m not very well endowed, and I’ve decided–who cares!?! Feeling successful and sexy is not about a cup or dress size; it’s about being confident with who you are right now. I’ve got a lot more going on than my chest size, so I’ve decided to focus on what I do have. That change of attitude has been positively life altering for me!

• Ditch the baggy sweats and frumpy clothes. Get rid of outdated deformed bras and old panties too. I’m not saying you need to wear a low-cut blouse and super short tight skirt to feel sexy. No—I’m saying find something comfortable and classy that accentuates what you love about your body. Have fun with it!

Several years ago, a clothing boutique owner explained to me and showed me what styles would work for my body type. His advice was invaluable. It made me think about my clothing choices and the lines of my silhouette very differently. One of my friends met with a personal stylist at Nordstrom’s and it was an amazing experience for her that had a profound impact on the way she feels about her body. She had not embraced her curves until she learned how to use clothing to flatter her figure. Regardless of what your body type is, you can find the perfect clothing for you!

• Change it up! Find a different route to work, your kids’ school, or when you are running or walking. Try a completely new mani/pedi color or design that you would not normally wear. It’s fun to step away from the usual. Visit a new stylist to get different hairstyle or color ideas. It’s interesting to hear a new stylists ideas, whether it’s dramatic or subtle. I had my eye brows professionally shaped several years ago, and it was an amazing experience. I know it sounds basic, but I didn’t know how to make the most of my features and she did! It made such a difference, and I felt beautiful! If in doubt, go to an expert.

• Eat well. I love food—LOVE it! I’ll eat almost anything. Even though I eat whatever I want, I don’t go crazy because I know I’ll feel like crap if I eat a bunch of chips, burgers, fries, and Hostess Donuts in excess. It zaps my energy and I feel sluggish. I love the way I feel after eating a healthy diverse meal. I’m not saying don’t eat what you want, I’m just saying—moderation is key!

• Go exercise. It could be a walk, run, aerobics, yoga, swimming, dancing, kick boxing, or whatever—get your body moving and get your blood pumping. It’s good for your mind, body, and soul! I always eat better when I am physically active, and I feel way sexier, stronger, and energetic too!

• Laugh often! When I ‘m feeling funky, I know I need to change my perspective and attitude by looking at things from a different angle. Sometimes I call one of my friends, Angela, and say whatever I’m thinking without censor, which usually means me talking crazy talk. Then she joins in with the crazy talk, and we always end up laughing hysterically. It’s hilarious! That always helps to diffuse any negativity I’m feeling. Boxing via the Wii is fun and makes me giggle too, and I burn off the funky energy while I’m playing!

• Be brave! Let your authentic unique personality shine and embrace who you are truly meant to be. Believe in yourself. Take care of yourself. Be fearless. Take charge. Set goals and go after your dreams. With the right mindset, you can succeed, feel great, and accomplish anything!

Please share your ideas. How do you get yourself out of a funk and back on track?