Over at the redesigned Canadian Business, I interview CEO Bill Baker of Consonant about his career move, from advertising exec to non-toxic skincare guru.
I am now, and always have been, a nail-biter. I am also pretty deficient at anything that requires combining patience with fine motor coordination. As such, I got into the habit of getting my nails done. And I am cheap frugal, so I got in the habit of getting them done at cheapie nail shops.
It’s pretty obvious upon entering most places that offer $15 manicures that it’s far from a great job. Even if the owners are fair, and nice, sloughing off other people’s dead foot skin for minimum wage has got to suck. It’s also pretty obvious that most of the people working in these nail shops are young, immigrant women for whom English is a second language.
A year or two ago, the mother of a friend of mine developed pneumonia. She’s Vietnamese, and she worked in a nail shop for decades. Her doctor thought she was a chain-smoker, because of the condition of her lungs.
There was only so long that I could ignore that getting my nails done in these places very likely made me a first-world jerk. So, I finally grew some ovaries and wrote this story for the Globe on all the really terrible health risks faced by nail salon workers.
I’m trying to learn to do my own nails. I pretty much suck at it.
I once dated a man who wore this rhinestone-studded bullet shaped necklace. Yes, I did.
Everything about that is embarrassing, including the fact that this embarrassing “man” told me that he spent $600 on this, a shiny bullet dangling from what appears to be a chain that was once attached to a bathtub drain stopper. That may have been a lie, since he lied about everything. The going price for the Marc Ecko Loaded Bullet is now about $250 on eBay.
Let’s call him Leb, for Loser Ex-Boyfriend, and also because “Leb,” is a term I heard used disparagingly to refer to Lebanese people when I lived in Ottawa. Leb wasn’t a Leb, or maybe he was. See, Leb didn’t know what race he was, and in my humble but correct opinion, that was a big part of his many, many problems.
Leb was adopted in Quebec, in the mid-1970s. He grew up outside of Edmonton, where he was regularly called “nigger,” or maybe, creatively, “sand nigger.” I’m not sure quite how much he was teased and bullied (see: compulsive lying) but at some point decided to take on whatever tough-guy persona he associated with the n-word. His powdery-white parents bought him everything he wanted (including a Porsche) but he still did break-and-enters, just to be a badass. Or something.
In the mid-1990s, Leb moved to Ontario. Overnight, Leb became white. Maybe Spanish or Algerian, but basically white. In Alberta, Leb had been a black guy. Here, he was a white-guy-trying-to-be-a-black-guy.
By the time we hooked up, Leb was pretending to have a sense of humour about this (i.e. saying to friends, “help a wigga out”). From time to time, he’d mix up his hip hop gear with a Diesel-type look; on these occasions, he’d say something like “today, I look like a Gino.” Leb had a brown-girl fetish and while I knew deep down that was idiotic, I kind of liked it for a minute. It was especially intriguing to Leb that I was Trinidadian, since apparently his biological father was too (possibly a lie). He’d ask me all the time if Trinidadians were “smart” and whether I thought he was brown or black.
Fetishists make the current object of their obsession feel like the centre of the universe. And y’know, it was more attractive than I expected, because yeah, every day of my life I’ve been suffocated by tv shows and magazine covers and everything and everything else focused on the apex of beauty, white women. It’s childish and dumb to say “white girls are flat-assed and ugly.” But hearing it was strangely comforting. I knew straight off that Leb was a racially confused soul, but that didn’t bug me at first. What it took me far too long to accept was that he was a lying liar who threw distasteful and scary temper tantrums and planned on funding his champagne lifestyle by bullying money out of me, his friends and his ever-infantilizing parents. Why am I telling you this shame-inducing story? Don’t judge me.
The particular nexus of low self-esteem/absolute insanity that led me into this “relationship” is not something I want to revisit, but in my defense, I did protest the Marc Ecko Loaded Bullet. I pointed out that it was bullshit of the first order to appropriate violence as something shiny and fashionable when one had grown up in a dangerous, strife-ridden suburb called Spruce Grove. He told me that it was just a cool, shiny object and I should stop overanalyzing everything.
But that’s me, dog, I was born overanalyzing. So, I’ve thought about it and thought about it and thought about it and—I don’t think you’re brown OR black. You are totally Portuguese.*
This post is part of the Interracial Dating issue of the Ethnic Aisle, the only publication for which I would publicly regurgitate this much TMI. Inspired by the piece Negroni Season, which made me laugh, cringe and empathize until my abs hurt.
*”White” people in Trinidad are descended from Portuguese colonizers. They’re pretty mixed by this point though. They kind of look Lebanese.
A few years ago, the window display at Get Outside at Queen and Spadina stopped me in my tracks. There, among the trendy leather moccasins, was a family of Native dolls posed in front of a teepee. There was a bare-chested, six-packed chief dad, a scantily clad, pigtailed mom, and their cute, primitive little kids. I pitched this as a story to a local weekly—I wanted to stop some passers-by and do quick streeters on whether they had the same reaction I did—but they didn’t buy it. So I just went home and muttered to myself.
Native fashion makes me feel weird. It so often reduces a huge and complicated group of people to caricatures. I feel weird, too, because I only know a handful of indigenous Canadians, and only in passing. I’m not trying to adopt anyone’s battles, or be an expert on a topic about which I actually know nothing. But I think it’s fair to say that freezing Native people into Pocahontas poses in order to sell furry mukluks is basically bullshit. Newsflash—we’ve all come into the 21st century together. Or actually, we haven’t: as of this past February, 116 First Nations communities in Canada didn’t have safe drinking water. I think this is what really angers me, that so often Canadians use art, design and culture to reduce Native people to cartoons while ignoring both their painful histories, and their difficult present. Don’t even get me started on Will and Kate watching “aboriginal” dancers (no tribe mentioned), or Stephen Harper putting on a headdress and face paint. No really, don’t get me started. Go look at Kent Monkman’s paintings instead.
Back to fashion: apparently Navajo prints and colours are currently “in.” The adoption of any culture’s art or fashion aesthetic by the mainstream is always cause for an eye-roll. What’s in today is of course out tomorrow, and boo to you, fair-trade Indian cotton, the customers are now bored by your livelihood. The thing is, though, that Navajo design (and embroidered cheong sams, and intricate mehndi) is gorgeous. I’m going to save myself the embarrassment of trying to articulate this fully, as fashion-speak isn’t my forte: let’s just say the colours are vibrant, the prints are bold, the turquoise-and-silver jewelry is stunning, and if you want to know more, hit Google. A good place to start would be the Beyond Buckskin blog, where Jessica R. Metcalfe writes lively and knowledgeable stuff about Native fashion, including celebrating non-indigenous designers who work respectfully with traditional artisans when adopting these ancient arts.
If you’re going to wear Navajo, good for you. It’s some eye-catching stuff. What would make it even better was learning a bit about the history of the people who made it—let’s start with the Long Walk of 1863 and 1864. This is paraphrased from the site Legends of America:
“After years of war and starvation with the United States, 8,500 Navajo and Apache men, women and children were marched almost 300 miles from northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico to Bosque Redondo, a desolate tract on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. The ill-planned site, named for a grove of cottonwoods by the river, turned into a virtual prison camp. Bosque Redondo was hailed as a miserable failure, the victim of poor planning, disease, crop infestation and generally poor conditions for agriculture. The Navajo were finally acknowledged sovereignty in the historic Treaty of 1868. They returned to their land along the Arizona-New Mexico border hungry and in rags. Today, they are the largest Native American community in the United States.”
That’s a pretty ferocious history, wear it well.
This post is part of the Ethnic Aisle, a blog about race, ethnicity and diversity in the GTA.
Last weekend, a bunch of lady friends and I vegged out by the pool, lazily flipping through a stack of old Sassy magazines. One of us had cleverly hung on to her teenage pile, resulting in the perfect summer afternoon of nostalgic media debate. On the agenda: ’90s fashion, teen angst flashbacks, and how the clever, groundbreaking stylings of Sassy were ground to a halt by conservatism. We also reminisced about YM and Seventeen—the first lightweight, the second staid, both shaken up at the time by Sassy’s rabid popularity.
So, I thought I’d flip through a recent copy of Seventeen and see what teen girls are being told by magazines these days. My first thought is: I am so not a teen. I have no idea who any of these celebrities are. I’m happy to see a Latina on the cover, but I couldn’t tell you one…tv show?…that Selena Gomez has been in.
Good things: Decent diversity in both ads and editorial, with plenty of “real girl” comments and pics sprinkled throughout. While user interactivity is a 21st century no-brainer, I’m still saying Sassy’s reader integration is another reason actual teens are in Seventeen today. Another sign of my aged disconnect is an inability to tell if the clothes here are reasonably priced. Teen-wise, $30 seems decent for a jacket, and none of the jeans are over $80. Barely anything tops $100—this seems realistic to me, but I’m sure many parents would beg to differ. Old-fashioned “magazine” “articles” are scarce, but the two first-person pieces are genuinely moving—a girl whose sports coach secretly filmed her naked, and another struggling with self-harm. The tips on avoiding these problems are a little light, but the stories seem relatable. A one-page short story contest winner by a reader named Kelly Reardon is really tight and quite good.
Things I don’t like: So. Much. Product. I mean SO much. I remember 1990s Seventeen as being quieter, with longer articles. All in all, I consider this less of a general interest mag than a fashion mag, so I shudder to think what Teen Vogue is like. There are pages and pages and PAGES and PAGES of clothes and makeup in here. I’m glad there’s a reference to pepperoni being “weird and full of preservatives” in a healthy lunch chart, but it’s hypocritical when every other page encourages under-18s to regularly smear chemicals on their faces. A new makeup look for every day of the week? I know mags need to please advertisers, but this excessive coverage (no pun intended) hardly has teens’ best interests in mind. Aside from the two first-person pieces, there’s hardly anything “real” here—no politics or environmental articles at all, no A&E coverage aside from pics of celebs’ cool outfits and smooching shots.
Design: neon onslaught. Aside from copious amounts of actual advertorial, plenty of the editorial pages look exactly like ads. Having nail polish spills on the masthead is kinda cool though.
Biggest problem: no grit. Namely, no sex. This is what brought Sassy down—despite having 800,000 subscribers, the magazine lost all of its advertising due to a Moral Majority-orchestrated letter writing campaign. A decade later, publishers have learned their lesson, and the September 2009 issue of Seventeen exists in a world without teen sex. There are a few mentions of french kissing, and one dude says he’s ashamed of his “boners.” No safe sex, no GLBT anything. One mention that being drunk is lame, and then nothing on drugs, either. In an age where teens are supposedly done with dating and rely entirely on no-strings-attached “hookups,” when abstinence-only sex ed is a reality and drugs I’ve never even heard of seem to pop up daily, this is a huge hole. This negligence leaves teens to learn about these things from more nefarious sources, and that is a sad story for everyone.
Verdict: 15 years after Sassy died, everyone is still afraid to treat teenage girls like real people.
Hey, writers and other users of notepads: Rhodia notebooks are awesome. I mean, I love Moleskines too, but since I have a habit of scribbling one or two senseless lines on a page (random example from closest pad: “Indonesia – blobs – masses” “dad”), I go through the things pretty quickly, and Hemingway’s notebook can get expensive. Besides, everyone uses Moleskines.
Be cool and different with a Rhodia pad. It’s from France (“Wee! wee!,” as Lynda Barry would say) and filled with high grade vellum paper. It’s the only wirebound notebook I’ve ever found that doesn’t come apart after two days of being jostled in my bag, and the pages are perforated, which is handy because I never carry business cards. Buying one is a good excuse to visit the very cool design store F13 or the super delicious noodle shop Manpuku (getting a notebook at a Japanese restaurant is slightly odd, but hey, their udon is always fresh and silky, so who cares). All that, and it’s less than $6. We have a winner.
It might be that I’m just jealous, cause the fact is, I can’t wear heels. I find them uncomfortable to the point of painful. To the point of extremely painful. Last fall I attempted to wear them to a friend’s wedding, spent most of the night sitting down, alone and grumpy, and ended up with an actual bruise on each big toe.
Personal whining aside, it’s still an ongoing muse for me: why are heels (like lack of muscle) an indicator of female hotness that also result in female incapacitation? What is the chicken and what is the egg? Are weak females hot, or are hot females weak? Even if the vast majority of the North American female population can happily walk in heels, I shudder to think of all the women who have failed to run in them.
I have a high-powered exec friend who insists that business women can’t make it unless they wear heels (the main reason I’ll never be a bank president). I have another very high-powered exec friend who says it’s not a must, but it certainly helps, and she certainly wears heels to any important meeting. It’s powerful and sexy, she says. Both of these women and loads of men have compared heels to guys wearing a new suit, a comparison that I consider bunk. Suits don’t cause permanent structural damage and lifetime uglifying to feet, legs and posture—please see the handy and grotesque diagram, above or here.
This is a losing battle, I know, but here’s my last thought. A few years ago, I interviewed a number of Muslim women in Toronto about their decision to wear, or not to wear, a head or face covering. At the time, the past editor of Toronto Life asked me what thoughts the piece had stirred up. My answer was that, for all the vitriol about the sexism of the hijab, high heels are an equally strong gender signifier—one that Western women choose to don regularly, despite the real risk of sciatica and varicose veins. I am, of course, speaking only of women who live in countries where clothing is, politically, a personal choice. Once choice comes into play, is familial pressure to wear a hijab really more significant than professional pressure to wear heels? Both hijab-wearers and heel-wearers say their choice of dress increases self-confidence, long stated as a goal of feminists everywhere.
For me, heels and the hijab (and breast implants and the niqab and makeup and on and on and on) are all on the same continuum: gender signifiers that women (and every other gender) have to consciously and unconsciously negotiate every day. The more conscious those negotiations are, the more genuine the choice.
I know that you’re all going to keep wearing heels anyway. At least when we’re 50, my feet will be way prettier.
This issue of Dazed & Confused is gorgeous, full of wonderful photos and clever styling. The Ditto photos by Rankin, with makeup by Peter Philips, was especially cool. Beth Ditto and the Gossip are so cool. I wish they were my friends. The piece is about the band holing up in Rick Rubin’s mansion to record the new album, since titled Music for Men (I like the new single, do you? And I’m so glad they didn’t just put a snippet on MySpace like other lame bands have been doing lately). The interview doesn’t offer too much new info in terms of band lore, but there’s a collection of Nathan’s own backstage photos that give intimate, sweaty glimpses into the band’s trajectory and off-stage life.
In the front of the book, Hayley Hatton reviews photographer Martin Schoeller‘s new portrait collection of female bodybuilders. The shots are pretty striking—women with massive, rock-hard chiseled bodies, loaded up with makeup and huge breast implants. Ok, I don’t think male bodybuilders are attractive—their extreme muscle definition, dehydration and the inability to touch their toes doesn’t say “healthy body” to me. But I do sometimes think that the visible recoil that most people have to female bodybuilders also has to do with the fact that the standards of attractiveness for women also prize weakness and immobility (see: heels. I’m sure you can walk in them. But like the old Bikini Kill zine once asked, can you run for your life?). So, I thought it was pretty cool that Dazed picked up the female bodybuilder image again for “U”, a fashion spread in the back of the book that juxtaposes the big, hard body of a female bodybuilder with that of a reed-thin teenage model, both sporting various outfits in shades of pink. Fashion is so smrt. There’s a lot of fun gender play going on in the Y, O, U, trio of fashion spreads. “O” has got a selection of pouty girly-boys draped in silky fabrics, or sporting beards tangled up with sequins, a look that’s clever, but seems painful.
Aside from the consumerist itch that such magazines instill, I also tend not to buy them because the writing is only satisfactory. Poorly constructed run-on sentences and bad copyediting ruins the buzz for a word nerd like me. But there’s lots of new art and music to get excited about in here (has anyone heard The Coathangers?), and the photos and design are really fun to look at. I’m going to make a cut-and-paste zine just to use some of these fonts and fun titles. Still to read: the Peaches interview and James Mooney’s piece on the street fighting Spartans in New York City. Oh, and, FYI: I still miss The Face.
Update: The Face might make a comeback!
Right, so, I don’t know what happened but a few weeks ago I noticed that my nominally lustrous black locks were more like stringy, knotted black wires. There was one spot particularly, near the lower right part of my head, that was just constantly gnarled up. This hurt my ego, but not more than the thought of a salon oil treatment hurt my financial conscience. It was, as Bone Thugs n Harmony so eloquently sang, the first of the month. Or wait, was that song supposed to be happy, re: welfare cheques? I dunno. Either way, it was near mortgage time for me and therefore I needed a cheap hair fix.
Going on advice from Tasia, who often goes unheralded for the many ideas of hers that I’ve borrowed, I mashed up an avocado with 1/3 cup of mayonnaise and slopped it onto my head. Then I sat around for two hours smelling like a sandwich and wishing I could have instead eaten the avocado-mayo combo with chips. Then I washed it out, but not well enough. My dry head went from zero to 100, and for a whole day, I had insanely, beyond oilslick, greasy, lank hair. I felt desperate. I felt embarassed, because I didn’t have time to wash it again and I had to go out that evening and pretend that I didn’t notice the seal sitting on my head. I felt meaningless and vain, but also sad, because my hair sucked.
Then I washed it again the next morning and guess what? My hair was (cue advertising voice) noticeably softer and shinier. I’ve also started doing that old Seventeen magazine trick, rinsing with ice cold water before getting out of the shower, which also really adds some gleam and bounce. I’m much happier with my locks and even got a compliment on the weekend. I’ll point out here that this solution is free of weird chemicals we should all be avoiding, like parabens, pthalates, SLS and propylene glycol. So all in all, a win. Go to it, sandwich head.
Dear graphic designers of the world,
Now that kittens, monkeys, old-timey dudes, monsters and even women can be DJs, let’s all agree that turntable images are tired. As are boomboxes/ghetto blasters, headphones, microphones and equalizers. It’s time to find some new signifiers for “authentic,” “urban,” “music aficionado” and “party.”