Probably I should settle down and come up with an editorial specialty, but then I wouldn’t get to do fun one-offs like this. In the Grid, a roundup of makeup made by Toronto-based companies.
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.
Gender, childish insults, and Canadian columnists. In the Toronto Standard.
The book is a DIY-guide to civic activism, lending inspiration to those colouring both inside and outside the lines. There’s a handy, accessible guide to navigating the red tape of City Hall; a piece on how citizens could participate in allocating the city budget; and many, many heart-warming stories of regular people who helped clean up neighbourhood parks, start farmers’ markets, install public art, build skate ramps, and generally make Toronto the kind of place I want to live.
My piece is about looking beyond the sometimes saddening homogeneity of elected bodies, to see the real diversity that’s on the ground, everyday. And, just to toot my own blog here, someone just told me that none other than Matt Galloway said, live and on air, that my essay was his favourite. I’m going to put that one in my back pocket and pull it out when I need a pick-me-up. But really, I found the whole book really optimistic and an excellent kickstart: the day after I got my hands on a hard copy, I signed up to volunteer in the after-school snack program at my local community centre. It’s hard for a hungry kid to grow up to be mayor, after all.
From Saturday’s Globe, a piece (by me!) about whether four historically “bad neighbourhoods” still deserve a bad rep. This was pretty inspiring to write – the tiny, one-table farmer’s market at Jane and Finch caused my heart to swell far more than the yuppie fest that is the Brickworks. And I say that as a veritable yuppie myself.
In the Star, a profile of David Mitchell, the first head of Toronto Community Housing to have actually lived in one of the city’s subsidized housing projects.
I’m doing pretty well at avoiding the evil, evil Balsam of Peru, and so my split, stinging finger is much better. If you’re looking to go fragrance-free, here’s what I think about a bunch of stuff. If you’ve got any to recommend, please do, I’m always looking.
Avalon Organics Olive & Grape Seed Conditioner: Didn’t do much for my hair, left the ends pretty dry. Wouldn’t use it again.
Clinique Comfort on Call Face Cream: Clinique toiletries do have some questionable chemicals in them, unfortch, but they’re affordable-ish and always scent-free. Both this and the Redness Solutions line work really, really well for me, better than most things I’ve tried. I’m loathe to give them up, so instead I sent the company an email to ask if product colouring is really necessary, since that’s largely what gives them a moderate toxicity rating. Stay tuned.
Jonathan Green Rootine Dry Brush on Hair Powder: The people at Jonathan should really read their Sephora reviews, because the package this stuff comes in sucks. It does not work, so save yourself the trouble of bashing your skull repeatedly with the useless brush. Instead, unscrew the bottom and gently tap about 3/4 of a tablespoon into your hand. Replace the cap immediately, or you’ll dump the whole thing down the sink, guaranteed, and the bottle lasts eight uses, max. Price and crappy design aside, I love this stuff. The actual powder works really well, and I could not get through a week of 7 a.m. shifts without it, although you will have to do two “real” shampoo latherings to get it out. Please let me know if you are going to the U.S. and can buy me a few of these at $13 USD, rather than $20 CAD. Thanks.
Nature Clean Unscented Dishwashing Liquid: Suds up nicely, does a great job. A winner.
Nature Clean Unscented Herbal Shampoo: It’s ok. Not quite tough enough when I’ve been dousing my head with dry shampoo, and sometimes I could use a little more volume. I’ll probably try another kind next time, but I bet this would be a great kids’ shampoo. Aside from fragrance, it’s also free of SLS, propylene glycol and other gross weird stuff we probably shouldn’t absorb through our skin every day.
Nature’s Gate Fragrance-Free Moisturizing Lotion for Sensitive Skin: This is a decent mid-weight body cream. My skin can get pretty dry in the winter, so I personally need something richer at this time of year, but I’d buy it again in the summer.
Ren Guerande Salt Exfoliating Body Balm: Although I love exfoliating salts, I never would have bought this pricey stuff myself. Happily, a style writer friend who gets lots of swag passed it along. Yay, friends. It’s awesome, and softens things up nicely. It has essential oils, but no Balsam of Peru et al, so smells lovely yet left me rash free. And, the container is giant. Love it.