J. Cole: Rapper, Producer And…Body Image Counselor?

JCole_CrookedSmile

When hip-hop artists spout horribly misogynistic lyrics, the Twittersphere weighs in, the media chooses sides and sometimes protestors take to the streets. Fair enough, but how about we give credit to rappers when they do something right? J. Cole deserves a shout out for his new single “Crooked Smile” from his Born Sinner album. The song delivers an uplifting message to women who are plagued with insecurities: “Love yourself, girl, or nobody will.”

It’s fitting that Cole recruited T-Boz and Chilli to lend their voices to “Crooked Smile” because like TLC’s  hit “Unpretty,” the song is about impossible beauty standards and self-image. In the first verse, Cole brags that he’s maintained his success without fixing his “twisted grill” and his “thick as hell” eyebrows. He urges ladies to stop trying to cover up their own perceived flaws.

Oh, you a woman? I don’t know how you deal / With all the pressure to look impressive and go out in heels / I feel for you / Killing yourself to find a man that’ll kill for you / You wake up, put makeup on / Stare in the mirror but it’s clear that you can’t face what’s wrong / No need to fix what God already put his paint brush on

J. Cole continues to showcase his sensitive side in the second verse by reassuring us that we’re fabulous just the way we are.

Take it from a man who loves what you’ve got / And baby girl, you’re a star, don’t let ‘em tell you you’re not / Cause what’s real is something that the eyes can’t see / That the hands can’t touch / that them broads can’t be / and that’s you

He uses the last verse to remind us that we don’t have to look a certain way to go for what we want in life. And, as he points out, there are bigger, non-superficial problems in America.

We don’t look nothing like the people on the screen / You know them movie stars, picture perfect beauty queens / But we got dreams and the right to chase ‘em / Look at the nation, that’s a crooked smile even braces couldn’t straighten / Seem like half the race is either on probation, or in jail

Although “Crooked Smile” is a refreshing display of social awareness, it doesn’t mean that Cole’s entire album is warm and fuzzy. Rappers have the right to say what they want, and offensive lyrics aren’t going away anytime soon. But perhaps if we pay just as much attention to inspiring songs as we do the controversial ones, the latter won’t have as much power.

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Do You Know Any Women Whose Armpits Look Like THIS?

Jasmine Tookes VS

Whenever a brand or magazine gets carried away with Photoshop, the blogosphere is quick to call them out for screwing up women’s self-esteem with unattainable images of stick-thin legs, miniscule waists and suspiciously swanlike necks. Well, I would like to shed light on another unrealistic beauty standard: perfect armpits.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that in pictures, most models and celebs have poreless, pimple-free skin, but retouchers don’t stop with their faces and limbs. Their pits always look incredibly smooth and even-toned, too. It’s as if no hair has ever grown out of them, ever. They’re like babies’ armpits. Check out these examples:

Karlie Kloss on her Muse Spring 2013 cover.

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Joan Smalls on the cover of the January issue of Vogue Japan.

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This model from the April issue of Elle UK.

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And there’s also Jasmine Tookes, pictured at the top of this post in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. I’ve never seen a woman over the age of 12 with such pretty pits in real life, which is why they jump out at me when I flip through mags. Watch, I bet you’ll start noticing them more now, too. It’s kind of hard not to. Those pages are filled with flawless underarms! Filled, I tell you! I’ll get over this little fixation eventually, but in the meantime, I felt compelled to drag you down with me. You’re welcome. Oh well, at least Dove might be making some money off of the whole thing. Somebody’s got to. Might as well be Dove, right?

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I Keep WHAT In My Medicine Cabinet? (The Answer Might Surprise You)

I often joke that my bathroom looks like a beauty aisle at Duane Reade because of the ridiculous number of blushes, lip glosses, and random moisturizers hanging out on my Ikea over-the-toilet storage shelf. But there’s something else I’m accumulating besides makeup. My little collection is hidden inside my medicine cabinet. Wanna see?

This is my stash of beauty products…

I have a bunch of quotes that I love taped to the door so that every time I open it, I get inspired. It’s a great way to begin and end each day, and I’ve decided to keep going until the whole space is covered.

….but I value these inspiring quotes more.

Here’s what I have so far:

1. “You’re never done paying your dues.” –Sam Fine, makeup artist

My friend Andrew shared this quote with me. We were talking about the vicious cycle of ambition we Type A people often create for ourselves–as soon as we achieve one goal, we immediately replace it with an even loftier one (or five). It’s like no matter what, there’s always something bigger, better or something-er to strive for. Hence this quote.

2. “Proximity is power. If you put yourself in positions for good things to happen to you, if you’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices, if you’re patient and persistent, you dream big and focus small, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.” –Robin Roberts, Good Morning America Anchor

Hmm, let’s see: Living by this motto has helped Robin Roberts score a co-hosting gig on GMA, a game-changing interview with President Obama and a spot on the Forbes “Power Women to Watch In 2013″ list. Not too shabby. I love it when super-successful people acknowledge the importance of working hard and not giving up. Those are two values that I think are very underrated these days (I blame sex tapes and reality television).

3. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, OK? Getting happy.” –Stephen King, author

A few months ago, I read On Writing by Stephen King which is part memoir, part how-to-be-a-writer handbook. It is genius. The nugget of wisdom above reminds me to block out all the noise and self-doubt in my head and just write what feels natural to me. Yeah, it’s a bit corny and idealistic, but it helps me get unstuck when I feel stuck.

4. “Write your own part. It’s harder work, but sometimes you have to take destiny into your own hands. It forces you to think about what your strengths really are, and once you find them, you can showcase them and no one can stop you.” –Mindy Kaling, writer and actress

These words jumped out at me from Mindy’s hilarious book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me. She was referring to her breakout play, Matt & Ben, which she wrote with her best friend, but the statement also applies to her new series on Fox, The Mindy Project. I learned from New York that she’s one of the few women of color in the TV biz that is a creator, writer, producer and star of a show. So she’s onto something with the whole “write your own part” idea. Forget trying to fit a mold and make a completely different, way better mold!

5. “It’s important not to fit perfectly anywhere.” –Pete Holmes, comedian 

The guy that hosts the You Made it Weird podcasts said this during one of his shows and I thought it was great. The point he was trying to make is that it’s better to be able to play to a bunch of different types of crowds versus just one. I think that’s true in life, not just in stand-up comedy.

6. “Workout today and you will reach your goal and feel good.” –Me

I wrote this note to myself to give me that extra nudge I sometimes need to take my butt to the gym. Does it always work? No. But I like seeing it anyway.

So that’s it. Just thought I would share the uplifting words that run through my brain while I put on my eye cream.

Would you ever stick quotes inside your medicine cabinet, or am I total weirdo?

Update 9/25 4:52 p.m.: The original post didn’t include an attribution for quote #1. Andrew informed me that it was the legendary makeup artist Sam Fine who said it!
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And The Award For The City With The Coolest, Sexiest, Most Wonderfully Diverse Fashion Week Of The Season Goes To…Sao Paulo

OK, so why haven’t I ever paid attention to Sao Paulo Fashion Week before? It’s been around since 1996, but it’s been completely off of my radar until now. Apparently, I’ve been missing out big-time.

Seriously, once I started looking at the pics, I could not stop. I got sucked in by striking, African-inspired details, ginormous statement accessories, bright colors and, of course, those models’ bodies–they’re ridic.

As for the beauty statements, they were, well…beautiful. And refreshing. We’re talking big Afro wigs, winged-out-beyond-the-brows liner and models with all different skin tones. From what I’ve seen, this season of Sao Paulo Fashion Week is what all fashion weeks should be: diverse, cultural, artistic and sexy. I really, really, really want to go to there. Here are some of the looks that got me all obsessed:

1. From ivory to dark chocolate, all complexions were represented on the Adriana Degreas catwalk.

2. At the New York and European shows, there’s often a one-weave-fits all attitude backstage. At FH for for Fause Haten, the models got faux ‘fros. Now that’s a cool twist.

3. I love the pairing of two extremes at Andre Lima: crazy-extended eyeliner and massive (and hopefully light!) earrings.

4. This model knew exactly how to work this orate mask at the Lino Villaventura show. Hot!

5. More awesomeness from Adriana Degreas. This is head-to-toe edgy perfection.

6. Um, I would kill for the butt on this model at the Movement show. Seriously, I think offing another person would be a fair trade-off. I’m not kidding. I kid, I kid.

7. Blame it on my African roots, but this headwrap worn at the Neon show is calling (very loudly) to me. So is the model’s grape lipstick. I doubt I could pull off either one in real life, but I can dream, can’t I?

Yep, I can see SPFW becoming a much bigger deal globally in the near future. I know I only showed you a snippet, but what do you think?

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Proof That Gabrielle Union Is As Cool As You Think She Is

Me and Gabrielle. This is what her skin looks like with zero retouching. Perfect.

Guys, what can I say: It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, hence, my absence from this blog. But, I’m back! In between all of the super-busy moments, a few cool things happened. For example, I went to a Neutrogena event and I got to meet Gabrielle Union, who I love. Gab (that’s what I call her now because we’re besties in my head) had some funny things to say about beauty. Here’s the scoop:

During our chat, I asked Gabrielle what beauty advice she would go back and give to her 25-year-old self and she immediately responded with five hilarious nuggets of wisdom:

1. “Less! Put it down. Stop. Don’t.”

2. “You are not qualified. Put those tweezers down. You don’t know what you’re doing.”

3. “Leaving the relaxer on your head is not going to make it any better; it’s going to give you lesions.”

4. “That Janet Jackson ‘Black Cat’ haircut works for Janet, not for you.”

5. “Stop drawing on that mole.”

Ha! How can you not adore this woman? BTW, she looks gorgeous in person; a true natural beauty. Can you believe she’s turning 40 this fall? She hasn’t aged a day since Bring It On. As for her advice, sadly, I can relate to #5.  But the most important thing I would tell the 25-year-old me is “Yes, you do need to wear sunscreen every day!” I’m good about applying it now, but I have a little bit of sun damage near my temples.

So, now I’ll ask you the same question: If you could go back five or ten years, what beauty advice would you pass on to the younger version of yourself? Don’t hold back!

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A Complete Stranger Bought My Friend An Upgrade For A Flight (Because Of Her Hair!)

Behold Kristi's hair. I wish I had a shot that wasn't cropped, but you get the idea.

Here’s the deal: My friend Kristi has a weave. It’s a straight, bra-strap length weave that one of her PR clients, a celebrity hairstylist, hooked her up with just for fun. Kristi isn’t afraid to experiment—she’s had all kinds of hairstyles in the past. For example, when I met her in 2007, she had gorgeous locs. She eventually wanted a change so a few years ago she chopped them off and got a short asymmetrical cut, kind of like the one Rihanna used to have. Then about a year ago she got the weave. I had drinks with Kristi recently and we were talking about what it’s like to make dramatic hair changes. I know a little something about that myself because I wore my hair in an Afro for about seven years before I started relaxing it again four years ago. When you go from one look to something completely different, it makes you realize just how much your image effects the way people treat you. Especially men.

“The dudes in suits talk to me now. They didn’t when I had locs. The privileges you get with long, straight hair are endless,” Kristi told me. I asked her to elaborate and the example she gave me is a doozy.

About a month after Kristi got the weave, she was at the airport, waiting to board a Virgin Atlantic flight from New York to London for work. She was standing in line at the gate, hoping to change her seat. Kristi said she wasn’t used to her hair yet and it was bothering her. She kept playing with it and tossing it, trying to get comfortable and she noticed that she had caught the eye of the gentleman standing in line behind her—a white guy that looked like a frequent business traveler. When Kristi got to the front of the line, she asked the agent if there were any free upgrades available. The answer was no so she stepped to the side to organize her carry-on. Next thing she knows, she was told that the man behind her had paid for her to move up from premium economy class to the upper class section of the plane!

“I thought ‘What do I do next? Do I talk to him?’ I sat right next to him on the flight and we chatted for a few hours. He ended up giving me his number,” Kristi said. The man was nice and not overly flirtatious with her at all. After the trip, she never spoke to him again.

Now, obviously she didn’t ask the guy why he upgraded her, but it’s safe to assume it was simply because she’s a pretty girl. A pretty girl with long, straight hair. He wanted her company and he had the means to get it. Kristi felt pretty sure it had everything to do with the hair because she flies all the time and nothing like this had never happened to her before. I didn’t even challenge her on that because as crazy as it sounds, I know she’s right. I had a weave once too. It was about the same texture and length as Kim Kardashian’s hair. Wearing that weave was a real eye-opener–I’ve never been ogled so much in my life. And I definitely don’t get those kind of stares now with my shoulder-length cut. Not that I miss all the leering on the subway.

Me and Kristi in 2007

But it taught me that before the weave, I was invisible to some guys and didn’t even know it. As Kristi put it: “Ideally every woman’s hair would get attention and be considered beautiful, but men love long hair. They’re programmed to think that long hair equals beauty, sexiness and femininity. They don’t care if it’s real, fake, pony, donkey or ostrich—they love it!”

She went on to say that the upgrade experience shocked her and also made her wonder if the “looks don’t matter” speech she heard growing up was a bunch of B.S. “Is everything about how you look and how long your hair is? If so, my mom was way off. She always told me it was about being smart, not pretty,” said Kristi.

I don’t believe that every man on the planet is shallow or only interested in women with long hair–I met my boyfriend with my hair in a messy bun. But generally speaking, cascading hair is considered to be more desirable. Evidence of that is everywhere (magazines, Disney movies, Victoria’s Secret catalogues, music videos) and has been since who knows when. No woman is immune to that bias, not even A-list actresses. When discussing her pixie cut with Elle UK last year, Michelle Williams said that “Straight men across the board are not into this hair!”

Although the long hair beauty standard is nothing new, Kristi’s story floored me so much that I just had to share. If you have an outrageous tale of your own, feel free to blab in the comments section below. And check out what short-haired girls have to deal with on a regular basis–it’s funny/sad!

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What would be your dream splurge for 2012?

 

Happy New Year! I love me some January. Despite the miserable weather, post-holidays withdrawal and the slightly depressing sight of dried out Christmas trees strewn on sidewalks, the month is so full of optimism. But let’s forget about all the usual boring health and fitness New Year’s resolutions for a minute and fantasize. If money was no object, and you could get any pricey beauty thing you wanted this year, what would you choose? I would definitely pick…

…lash extensions. I’ve had them in the past, but I got them again recently for my sister’s wedding and it reminded me of how much I love them. They’re not so great for your lashes (mine looked like nubs after I took the extensions off), but the results are amazing. They really do change your whole face. I got mine at a questionable salon in Korea Town and I paid $90 bucks. That’s a bargain considering they cost around $250 if you to a lash stylist that uses name brand lashes.

What would you splurge on if someone else were picking up the tab? Vote, then defend your decision in the comments section below.


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A Great Beauty Motto for 2012

 

See that saying below? I'll drink to that!

Internet surfing turns up the darndest things. I randomly came across a website that has a bunch of humorous statements about love, life and even beauty. They’re kind of like virtual bumper stickers. Here’s one that made me laugh:

It’s meant to be funny, but wouldn’t it make a great mantra for 2012? I kind of want to print it out and tape it to my bathroom mirror as a reminder the next time I start mentally lamenting my forehead lines, dark circles or whatever so-called imperfections are currently bugging me. I’m not suggesting that I’m gonna ditch my concealer next year–let’s not get crazy. I’m just saying I want to ease up on the self-criticism. Many women, including myself, habitually beat ourselves up about our looks without stopping to think about who we’re comparing ourselves to, and how those images got into our heads to begin with. Pictures of airbrushed celebrities and extremely hungry models are everywhere, and they aren’t going away anytime soon. But it’s good to keep things in perspective. It makes no sense to feel bad about not looking like you have an on-call personal trainer, nutritionist, cosmetic dermatologist, chef, and hair and makeup artist, when you don’t. I know, it’s easier said than done. But I am going to make an effort to give myself more positive reinforcement in ’12 and beyond. Here’s to a more confident year. Cheers!

 

Now This Is What I Call An Extreme Makeover

Let’s say you put on a super-short wig, dressed up in men’s clothing, spoke in a lower pitch and didn’t wear any makeup. Do you think you could fool anyone into thinking you’re a dude? In the new movie, Albert Nobbs, the title character (played by Glenn Close) is actually a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to land a job as a waiter. She manages to keep up this charade for 30 years without anyone suspecting a thing. Then again, the story takes place in 19th-century Ireland, way before boyfriend jeans and pixie cuts were in fashion.

Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs.

Glenn Close in real life. Photo: Mike Coppola

There’s a lot going on the film besides Glenn Close parading around as a man. The plot touches on issues of survival, secrets, repressed sexuality and loneliness. Close does an amazing job of conveying the emotional agony and desperation bubbling below Albert’s stoic, withdrawn exterior, and she often accomplishes this using only her face. Close’s looks were transformed for the film, but not so much so that you can’t tell that it’s the crazy lady from Fatal Attraction. The makeup artist for the movie reportedly used minor prosthetics on Close’s ears and nose along with other techniques, but didn’t go too nuts with changing her appearance.  The overall effect is believable enough, but I think Mr. Dobbs would arouse suspicion if he, eh, I mean she, were to step out in drag today.

Besides marveling at Close’s metamorphosis, the movie got me thinking about how traumatic it would be if I were forced to completely smother my femininity. And I’m not just talking about giving up my favorite MAC blushes. To live like a man, Albert had to wear a corset over her chest every day to flatten her breasts. She had to rid herself of any girly thing she might have owned, like a pretty hat or bottle of perfume. She had to change the way she walked, talked and even her mannerisms. In one scene, a friend that finds out Albert’s true gender asks, “What’s your real name?”  Albert replies, “Albert.” After 30 years of living a lie, it’s easy to see how the truth might become a bit fuzzy.  I know I’m making this film sound really depressing, but in between the sad moments, there is actually some humor sprinkled in. It’s worth seeing for the excellent performances.

Have you seen Albert Nobbs? What do you think of the guy-version of Glenn Close? What would be hardest girly thing for you to give up if you were Albert?

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Are you a “Caitlin” or a “Martha?”

I was catching up on my favorite show/the best show on TV, The Good Wife, last night and the latest episode brought up the whole “Marthas vs. Catilins” issue again. If you’re a fan of the show, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t watch, a “Martha” is…

… a Plane Jane—an average-looking woman. And a “Catilin” is the beautiful girl who always gets the guy, and well, everything. The Martha vs. Caitlin debate started several episodes ago when the main character, Alicia Florrick, a lawyer played by Juliana Margulise, is given the task of hiring a new first-year associate for the firm. She narrows down her search to two candidates: Martha, a whip-smart brunette who gives the impression that she might have been a little dorky in high school, and Caitlin, a striking blond who comes across as a bit ditzy during her interview. Alicia decides to go with Martha. But right after she offers her the job, a senior associate at the firm informs Alicia that Catilin is his niece. He makes it pretty clear that he expects her to get the position, or else Alicia will be burning a pretty important bridge.

Feeling like she has no choice, Alicia reluctantly hires Caitlin. Fast forward to last week’s episode and Caitlin, who as it turns out is much smarter and more ambitious that she seemed, is arguing her first arbitration case under Alicia’s guidance. Guess which lawyer she’s up against: yep, Martha. When Martha greets Alicia in the court room, she looks over at Caitlin and says, “So that’s who you hired instead of me? She sure is blond. Pretty hair.”  She doesn’t even attempt to hide her bitterness.  Her anger probably goes deeper than this particular snub. She’s likely suffered through a lifetime of watching prettier girls get the boys, the jobs and the opportunities she’s equally–and sometimes more–worthy of.

 

This is Caitlin.

 

And this is Martha.

In this episode, they took pains to exaggerate the physical differences between the two women. Caitlin shows up for court in body conscious, bright-colored outfits with her golden waves flowing over her shoulders. Meanwhile, Martha wears drab, neutral-colored outfits with her dark hair pulled back into a nondescript bun. You get the point. But surprise! Caitlin is more than a pretty face—she holds her own in the courtroom, even after Martha’s childish attempts to intimidate her.

I know we’ve seen the pretty girl vs. plain girl storyline a million times in the movies or on TV. Films like In Her Shoes and Just Wright and shows like Glee or even The Brady Bunch come to mind. It’s not the most original plot, but usually it’s focused on romance, not career.  The Good Wife put a different spin on it. This episode brings up the fact that even if you’re not a model or actress, looks do matter when it comes to landing a desirable job. The harsh truth is that attractive people have a significant advantage in life. There is actually data that proves hotties make more money. And a 55-year-old banker recently ‘fessed up to O, The Oprah Magazine that she has had ten cosmetic procedures and that she believes they helped her get ahead at work. That’s a lot to go through for a few promotions.

As women, we learn from an early age that the world is generally kinder to Caitlins as opposed to Marthas. But no matter how others perceive us, we have all have felt frumpy or insecure at various times in our lives. In this episode of The Good Wife, it’s actually Caitlin that lacks confidence at the beginning of the case. As a result, she comes off as weak and unprepared. But as soon she gets comfortable and becomes more of sure of herself, she begins to kick butt. It’s a good reminder about the power of confidence.

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