Monthly Archives: November 2011

Happy Black Friday

Take a break from all that damn shopping for some beauty-related funny from my friend, the hilarious and talented stand-up Sue Funke. 

Hee hee. The hair mayonnaise thing, I know! Now back to shopping. Those flat screen TVs aren’t going to buy themselves.

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[Never Say Diet] Why Talking About Good Sex Boosts Your Body Image

Here we are, mere hours from a good, old-fashioned family holiday… so why not spice things up with a discussion of the role sex education can play in shaping teenagers’ fragile body image? That’s exactly what I’m doing over on Never Say Diet today.

It’s inspired by the New York Times Magazine cover story, Teaching Good Sex, where a private school teacher (teaching sex ed as an elective to seniors) gets to say crazy sh*t like “I don’t think it’s necessarily unhealthy to have sex at age 17,” and show students videos about female ejaculation (because we’ve misguidedly decided “it’s O.K. that boys ejaculate, that’s totally normalized […] but girls, gross! Girls will think they’re peeing themselves, and it’s really shameful.”).

Obviously, you want to go straight back to high school and enroll in a class like that… although the article is pretty clear on the sad fact that there is no other class like that in the entire country. Which is a shame, not only because most American teenagers are lacking crucial information about sex (and getting it from porn or Cosmo instead) but also because most American teenagers are struggling to feel normal in their bodies in a whole variety of ways — and sex education is a prime opportunity for sage adults to normalize all of those things, and hey, while we’re at it, maybe get kids thinking about a broader definition of beauty. Than, you know, exclusively the kind of beauty they see in porn.

More on all of that over on Never Say Diet. Click, read, thank me for your Turkey Day ice breaker anecdotes later!


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[Never Say Diet] Living Outside the Beauty Myth

Today in Never Say Diet, I’m talking about the findings in The Allure New American Beauty Survey: When asked about their attractiveness, African-American women were three times as likely as Caucasian women to rate themselves as “hot.”

I don’t think the reason for this — if, indeed, we can prove it’s true beyond the perhaps not quite nationally representative sample of Allure Magazine poll takers — is as simple as the whole bootylicious thing, where women of color get to celebrate their curves in ways that white women don’t. Whether they’re demanding you be fat, thin, or somewhere in between, beauty standards are problematic because they demand that you be something and it’s impossible for everyone to be that one thing, all the time. So Beyoncé only helps us so much.

I think this stat speaks more to what happens when women are forced outside the traditional beauty narrative, which can happen for a million reasons… though race and size are probably the top two. When you live outside the beauty myth, maybe it’s easier to stop judging yourself by the beauty myth. Because it’s not like you have a ton of other options.

So I’m curious to know: Is there any aspect of your appearance that falls outside the Beauty Myth? And if so, have you gotten to a place where you find this at all liberating — because when the rules don’t apply, you get to make up your own?

Obviously, as I shared last week, the part of me that falls outside our culture’s definition of beautiful would be my midsection — and judging from the awesome comments (keep ’em coming!), I’m not alone in this. I wish I could say that I’ve found this failure to make the beauty grade 100% liberating, but alas. Most of the time, I just wish I had a damn waist. It would make more sense with the rest of my body and I’d have a hell of an easier time buying pants.

So this is not to say that I think it’s easy for the black women in the Allure poll — that’s some hard-won body confidence they’ve got. And I am finding it inspiring. Because it suggests that somehow, somewhere along the way, women are starting to broaden our definition of beauty and move away from restrictive standards. Starting with ourselves.

PS. No photo again today because I remain stymied by CaptureMe. Sorry! My little Macbook Air and I have been on a journey of tech support adventures as of late. (One of the joys of self-employment.)



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[Never Say Diet] The Case of the Mistaken Pregnancy

Nope. Simmer down, this isn’t any kind of an announcement. Today’s Never Say Diet is all about what to do when someone assumes you’re pregnant but you’re totally not — plus why that even bothers us so much in the first place.

As you can probably guess, this post is inspired by a true story because being mistaken-as-pregnant Keeps. Happening. To. Me.

As previously discussed, I do not have a waist. I also have a thing for empire waist dresses and flowy cardigans. And that is my journey — though I think this mini-trend in my life says just as much about how much we’ve lost the plot on women and the shape of their stomachs, as I explain over on NSD. 

What I didn’t have space to get into over there is how I’ve actually handled these encounters.

In a word: Awkwardly.

So very awkwardly.

I usually laugh and try very hard not to seem offended — because I want to get the message across that I’m comfortable with my body and anyway, I don’t think “looking pregnant” is the crime against humanity/fashion faux pas that we make it out to be.

But at the same time, I am offended. There’s that initial moment — before all the body positivity training kicks in — where the tiny part of my brain that still unequivocally buys into the Beauty Myth thinks, “good f*ck, I’m fat.”  I’m not proud of this, but it happens and I want to be honest with you guys.

Then I remember all the stuff about being comfortable with my body, blah, blah, and we’re good again. Me and my body, that is. I’m still offended by the person calling me pregnant, not because it’s so terrible to look pregnant but because it’s so terrible for total strangers to think they can say this stuff to women they’ve known all of twelve seconds. My body is not available as your conversational ice breaker.

Also, and this is just a fact: There is no way anyone has ever mistaken me for more than three or four months pregnant. I’m just not that big! And we all know that the first trimester falls under the Pregnancy Cone of Silence where you only tell family members and such. So then I try to combine my “Whatevs, I love my body!” laugh-and-shrug with a stern “I don’t even have to disclose this fake pregnancy to my employer yet, why would I tell you?” eyebrow raise to let them know they’re being horribly inappropriate and I’m not letting them off the hook that easily.

And that’s a weird set of reactions to combine in the space of a few seconds, and ergo, awkward.

I went through that whole dance again last week with a nurse in my dermatologist’s office who mistook my flowy cardigan as an invitation to discuss the status of my uterus (at a skin cancer screening? Not relevant!). That’s when I decided that this is what it is, it’s going to keep happening, and I really need to sort out some better responses for myself. Which I have now done, and you can check them out over on Never Say Diet.

And please, if you have a story about being mistaken for pregnant, do share. My NSD editor had it happen to her at a wedding — the groom’s father swooped over to grab a glass of champagne out of her hand with a lecture about expecting mothers and booze! Which is pretty great. One of my best friends had a bus driver shout “any day now, right?” when she ran on wearing a big coat. (She explained that unless he saw a baby crowning, he should stop assuming things about the bodies of the women boarding his bus.) And so, we can agree this is one of those universally awkward moments that women aren’t talking enough about. I’d love to know how you felt about it and how you handled it — let’s add to my list of useful responses so I’m never stuck doing the awkward laugh + shrug + eyebrow raise thing again…

PS. No picture today because my CaptureMe  software has decided to start only taking really, really dark pictures of everything it captures. If any tech gurus know the fix (or a better screen-grabbing app to use!) I’m all ears!


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[Never Say Diet] Can the Rockettes Really Be Reinvented?

iVillage Never Say Diet Rockettes Virginia Sole-Smith

Not to sound like an awful curmudgeon, but I’m not convinced we can remake the Rockettes as karate-kicking post-feminist role models, no matter how many LED special effects the new show employs. The show’s 78 year history just seems too steeped in a sexist Stepford beauty ideal that demands women work incredibly hard (five shows per day, six days per week hard) to look exactly like everybody else. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a joiner, but I have a hard time finding the empowerment in any activity that strips away personal identity to this degree. (This might be why I ran into so much trouble over military dress codes, too.)

So I guess I’m glad that somebody is trying to shake things up, if skeptical about whether there’s really any room for improvement. If anyone goes this year, stop by with a comment to let us know your take on the end result? Considering how many thousands of little girls get dressed up in red velvet and Mary Janes to go see the Rockettes each year I’d love to stand corrected on this one. It would be glorious if the lines of dancing ladies could teach them something positive about sisterhood and strong women — instead of reinforcing, once again, that they are how they look. After all, they’re getting plenty of that message everywhere else, especially this time of year when every time a bell rings, a Victoria’s Secret angel gets her wings — and shares the salacious details of the insane diet regimen it took to win them.

More over here, on Never Say Diet.



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[Never Say Diet] Everybody, Please, Stop Tweeting Your Diets

iVillage Never Say Diet Twitter Diets Virginia Sole-SmithWhoops! This went up on iVillage last week, but I forgot to tell you about it.

So here’s the word: If you’re using Facebook or Twitter to vent about your Master Cleanse, celebrate your new life without cheese, or bemoan your hardcore Pilates schedule… please stop. Just stop it right now. Your friends and followers are not interested in your diet.

And this goes double if you are an elected member of the federal government (ahemSenatorClaireMcCaskill!). In this age of chronic over-sharing, I think it’s time to draw a line in the sand and say no more with the diet kvetching and body snarking on social media. I’m not sure if it’s an offshoot of all those blogs where people photograph everything they eat (do not tell me this is because you’re a budding food stylist, you are just being obsessive!) or simply because social media has made public what used to be just bitching to your cubicle mate over Lean Cuisines. But either way, I am so over it. We’re already inundated with messages about why we should lose weight, eat less, and workout more every hour of every day from media, advertising and all of the people we have to deal with in-person. We don’t need it to come in this form as well.

Anybody else getting fed up with this trend? Can we agree it has jumped the shark when U.S. Senators are twittering about plans to lose 50 pounds and divorce pasta?

Gah! So. Embarrassed. For. Her.


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Is Sexual Harassment the New Normal?

ivillage herman cain virginia sole-smith

We interrupt our regularly scheduled beauty & body issues talk once again, this time to discuss the insanity that is Herman Cain and his inability to behave appropriately around women. So I guess, in a way, it’s still a body issue — especially if you factor in the way conservative pundits are going after Sharon Bialek’s obviously-asking-for-it hair. (They clearly haven’t been paying attention to Slut Walk.)

But what’s depressing me even more than yet another politician sex scandal is the study published this week revealing that 48 percent of 7th to 12th graders experienced sexual harassment in the past year. Which means we’ve normalized sexually aggressive and derogatory behavior — especially towards women and girls, though boys were harassed as well — to a frankly, alarming degree.

How has this happened and which cultural forces are to blame? I’m not entirely sure, but I tell you, worrying about this is taking all of the fun out of watching The Vampire Diaries. (Seriously. Is it just me, or is this season extra rape-y?)

Anyway, back to Herman Cain, and how we can use what’s left of his fifteen minutes to have a productive conversation about why sexual harassment has become so commonplace, Cain genuinely seems to expects us to believe him when he says he doesn’t remember doing anything wrong.


Filed under Career Opportunities, Government Watch, Happenings

[Fun With Press Releases] This Would Be the Diet Industry, Hoping to Profit Off Your Freshman 15 Phobia.

Forgive me, because this is going to be rather … on the nose.

But when a press release like this arrives in my inbox in the very same week when I’ve been busy debunking the myth of the Freshman Fifteen, well, what’s a girl to do? Post it on her blog, of course.

Because while I was using science to explain why college students don’t actually gain as much weight as expected — and you all, in your thoughtful comments, added evidence to the theory that some of that weight gain might just be kids becoming adults — this “celebrity nutritionist” has figured out the real reason college freshmen gain weight.

And I don’t want to scare you.

But it’s because of the late night snakes.

Hi Virginia,
The dreaded “Freshman 15”
XXXX, Celebrity Nutritionist Is Here To Help All Those College Students Coming Home for the Holidays
The causes of the freshman 15 may seem to be common sense for many people but for those who don’t understand why they gain so much weight during the first year at a college this should help. Everyone is settling into their college life, finding out what works for them. However, somewhere along the way health gets put on the back burner. Next, you show up to Thanksgiving looking like the turkey. Here are some reasons:
  • Lack of exercise
  • Pulling all nighters (drinking/ studying)
  • Late night snakes
  • Keeping unhealthy snacks on hand (in the dorm room)
  • Not watching the calories you consume throughout the day
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Unmotivated
Although the “Freshman 15” might be a litt bit of an exaggeration, most freshmen do gain 5 pounds.
Some Fun Facts about Freshman year: Cornell University researchers found that college freshman gain half a pound per week on average. That’s about 11 times more weight than the average 17-and 18-year old will gain, and nearly 20 times more than the average weight gain among adults. Both male and female college students eat approximately 500 additional calories between the hours of 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.
XXX’s Dorm Room Tips:
·         Get all the unhealthy snacks out of your dorm (yes the Ramen Noodles and Mac + Cheese have to go)
·         Walk to class! While the shuttles may seem to be a better option the exercise will help
·         Eat Breakfast and do not skip meals
·         Every campus has a gym and you already pay for it. Get there, even if it is 3 times a week
·         Try your best to get a full night of rest. This helps your overall health tremendously
·         Get involved in an intramural sport, it will keep you active and create an opportunity to meet new people
·         Keep an eye on what type of alcoholic beverages you are consuming, stay away from sugary mix drinks
·         Start a workout routine in your dorm room. You can start with something as small as 25 push-ups and sit-ups. You can gradually increase the number that you are doing.  
I hope you find these tips useful for your readers. If you would like to speak with XXXX RD, CNS, CDN, the Chief Science Officer of XXX, about what steps to take to lose the freshman 15 and keep it off I can be reached at XXX-XXX-XXXX.
Thank you,
XXXX RD, CNS, CDN and Chief Science Officer of XXXX
XXXX is a registered, certified clinical nutritionist appointed as Chief Science Officer for XXXX. With over 27 years of experience using innovative, complementary nutritional therapies in private practice, he has dedicated his efforts to research and product development for the dietary supplement and medical foods industries, where he has been instrumental in bringing unique nutritional substances and formulations to the health/dietary supplement industry.
XXXX is a clinically studied performance-enhancing formula designed to improve athletic performance through optimized recovery. This FDA submitted formula combines a blend of extended release proteins, anti-oxidants, and amino acids that meet the multi-nutritional needs of strength, speed, and endurance athletes.


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[Never Say Diet] Obesity, Custody Battles and the Good Divorce

iVillage Never Say Diet Obesity Custody Battles

Only everything, if you ask a certain class of divorce lawyers. Which the Wall Street Journal did. I’m finding the whole thing infuriating over on Never Say Diet today, and it’s not just because it’s offensive to fat people — and thus, to everyone with a body. To be honest, I’ve been riled up ever since I read Susan Gregory Thomas’s piece in the Sunday New York Times about whether “The Good Divorce” is really all that good for kids. She ultimately concludes that it can be, but along the way she cites research finding “children of divorce score worse in math and social skills, and suffer from lower self-esteem than those from non-divorce households, period.” And if you check out the comments over on Peggy Orenstein’s Motherlode post on the story, it’s clear that plenty of readers are skeptical of the concept as well.

As it just so happens, I come from a Good Divorce — my parents share holidays and vacations, welcomed each other’s new spouses and children to the family, and never, ever fought in front of me or undermined each other’s authority. So confidential to those researchers: I scored 700 on my math SATs. And my social skills and self-esteem are generally through the goddamn roof.

There are exactly three things about me that will tell you I come from a “broken home:” I’m really organized, after 18 years of joint custody. (It’s great to live with both your parents. It is not great to forget half your science homework at the other parent’s house.) I over-worry about where my husband and I will spend the holidays now because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

And I will become irate quite quickly when you try to tell me how much divorce messes with kids’ heads.

I’m not saying that doesn’t happen. For every Good Divorce, there are thousands of terrible, heartbreaking divorces where parents won’t or can’t put their differences aside for the collective family good. But what really messed with my head as a kid wasn’t anything my parents did. (I mean: They made me organized. And considerate of other people’s feelings. Quel horreur!) It was the cultural perception of my family as fractured and dysfunctional. Teachers, friends’ parents, and unsolicited strangers often shook their heads and tsked that my cruel parents made me spend half the week at each of their homes so they could play equally important roles in my life. Everybody assumed I must hate my step-parents or new half-siblings (nope, they’re cool). One school secretary told me it was so sad that I had a hyphenated last name, “because it shows you’re secretly hoping your parents will get back together.” I had a lot of feelings about her.

Fortunately, since my family is pretty kick-*ss, these experiences didn’t leave many lasting scars. I’ve long assumed all that early cultural confusion was a sign of how trailblazing my parents were, since they more or less invented the Good Divorce back in the early 1980s. After all, as Thomas notes in her article, 30 years ago, only three states upheld joint custody arrangements at all — now they all do. I didn’t even know what to call it back then — I’d just have to say, “my parents are divorced — but no, really, they like each other.” We’ve made so much progress, right?

But when I read about trumped up custody battle tactics like “you’re too fat to be a mom,” and shoddy, stereotype-perpetuating research like “divorced kids suck at math,” I realize that the Good Divorce is still depressingly rare. And this traps families in unhappy marriages because there’s a default assumption that anyone getting divorced is screwing up. When in fact, getting divorced is very often an act of great courage — and of love.


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[Never Say Diet] The Freshman Fifteen and Other Lies Fed to Our Generation

iVillage Never Say Diet Virginia Sole-Smith Freshman FifteenToday on Never Say Diet, I’m talking about a new study which explodes the myth of the Freshman Fifteen by figuring out that college freshman… don’t really gain fifteen pounds.

I know. Your mind is blown.

We’ve created a lot of hype and expectation around the idea that leaving home equals piling on pounds — just like we assume everyone gets fat over the holidays or right after they get married or when they have a baby. Which is not to say people don’t gain a little weight during these times. As it happens, I gained the Freshman Twenty (ohhh triple-decker PB&J every day in NYU’s Hayden Dining Hall, you were delicious…), so I know what of I speak.

But why do we demonize these expected weight gains as epic failures of willpower that need to be held at bay at any cost?  Perhaps there are just stages in your life when weight creeps up a bit — and that’s not necessarily a sign of anything more apocalyptic or sinful than a newfound preference for triple-decker PB&J, or a busy work schedule, or whatever.

Because — not to get all conspiracy theorist on you — who really benefits from Freshman Fifteen Phobia, whether it results in an actual weight gain or unnecessarily restrictive behavior to stave it off? Our good friends in the $60 billion diet industry, of course.

Read more over on Never Say Diet. 



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