Saturday, December 30, 2006

Weekly Best Dressed Award- Tara Reid

Yes, you read that title right. Party girl extraordinaire (or trashy drunk, if you really want to be honest) Tara Reid has done just about everything in her power over the last few years to destroy her reputation as a pretty, up-and-coming young actress. Her first and last great role was as Bunny Lebowski, in one of my all time favorite films, The Big Lebowski (if you haven't seen it, rent it, it's strange and wonderful and you'll laugh all night).

But since then, she's been better known for a highly publicized "wardrobe malfunction", in which she, um, didn't notice that the left strap of her evening gown fell off, exposing one of her recently implanted breasts. How convenient! This was only the first of many unfortunate pictures, the majority of which featured a stumbling, highly intoxicated Tara wearing next to nothing, accessorized with a bottle of booze. If you thought that Britney invented the "left my panties at home" attention-getting strategy, you were wrong.

Then, earlier this year, complications from a botched boob job/liposuction (perhaps they were having a 2-for-1 sale at the plastic surgeon's?) landed Tara on the cover of US Weekly for a tell-all interview.

So Tara doesn't have the greatest track record when it comes to celebrity classiness. But recently she has had quite a turnaround, such as when she appeared in November at the premiere of The Fountain in this drop-dead gorgeous outfit:

Whoa, where has this been all these years? Tara looks young, healthy and gorgeous (not to mention sober and well-rested!). I absolutely love the hair and makeup, which is glamorous but not stuffy or over-done and the dress is a classic little black number with pretty beaded details.

I saw this photo and was happy, but I remained skeptical. Was this a fluke? Had the fairy godmother of Hollywood fashionistas taken pity on poor Tara and granted her one night of beauty and class? I was anxiously awaiting a follow-up photo.

A couple of weeks ago, that photo came.

She looks just as happy and healthy from the back:

Everyone loves a good comeback story, but I'm wary about proclaiming that Tara's sincerely turned a new leaf. I think she'll need to avoid any photographed inebriation for a good 6 months if we're to truly believe she's given up her "every hour is a happy hour" ways. But let this be a lesson for our dear friend Britney: if it can happen to Tara, it could happen to you.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Inexpensive Party Jewelry

Late last week I received an e-mail from Anne, who wanted some recommendations on interesting, fun jewelry to wear to a New Year's Eve party. Jewelry is a very personal issue, and it seems that every woman has very specific preferences about what she does and does not like, but I've tried to find pieces that are young and versatile, perfect for parties year-round. While every woman should have a few classic pieces, it's great to have some funkier pieces to spice up an outfit. Nothing in this guide is over $200, so you won't have to worry about breaking the bank either.


Be sure to check out your local thrift stores and hit up any estate sales, they're both great places to find cool, inexpensive jewelry that no one else will have.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Shield Your Skin - A Review of Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion

I'm usually skeptical of any beauty product that promises to do something no other product can. Cosmetics companies copy each other all the time, and there's often very little difference in the list of active ingredients from one product to another. So when I received a sample of Shielding Lotion from Skin MD Natural, I was doubtful of their claims that this product was, "far more effective than conventional moisturizers" and used "the latest developments in skin care technology" to create a lotion that shields the skin from chemicals and irritants that dry out skin. But I'm always up for an experiment, so I decided to give the shielding lotion a try.

The directions say to apply a small amount every 2-8 hours for the first few days, and then build up to reapplying every 12-24 hours. Except for hand lotion, who really has the time to apply something to their entire body every few hours, even for a couple of days? My skin is dry, but I'm not that desperate, so I applied it once or twice a day for the week.

My skin is sensitive and I'm prone to allergic reactions to fragrances and colorants in products, so I was happy to read that the product was fragrance and colorant free. This is not the kind of lotion you show off in your bathroom, as the packaging and product are not luxurious in the slightest. But if you're the kind of person who just wants a moisturizer that will keep their skin from itching and cracking, this stuff might be for you.

When I first applied it, I was a little surprised at the consistency. It's thin and a little runny, not at all like the thick, greasy stuff I'm used to slathering all over my legs and feet at night. It soaked in within 60 seconds and suddenly you couldn't tell that I had any product on my hands, except for the fact that they were smoother and softer than usual. This effect was so cool that I made my mom try it, and she couldn't figure it out either, neither of us had seen anything like it.

One of my biggest pet peeves is putting on clothes after applying lotion (even 30-60 minutes later) and getting the lotion on all over a nice tank top or (this is the worst) tights or hose. Because it soaks in super quickly and leaves no oily sheen on your skin after application, it's great under more fitted clothing.

The first couple of days I tried it, my skin still felt a little dry even after applying the lotion, so I layered it with other products. I know this stuff is supposed to keep irritants from entering and drying our you skin, but for some reason it helps other lotions soak and stay in skin. Whenever I applied the shielding lotion first, followed by another lotion, my skin was incredibly moisturized, and the effect lasted until my next shower, over a day later.

After a few days, I found that I didn't need to layer with other products, and during times when I'm normally super dry (after being outside, post-shower, etc), my skin was less resistant to dryness. It was really neat effect, and definitely had a positive effect on my skin.

Skin MD Natural says that the product is safe for use on your face, but I didn't want to run the risk of breaking out right before Christmas, so I stuck to using it on my body. The lotion is a bit pricey- $25 for a 4 oz bottle (which supposedly lasts 2-3 months, though it's probably more like one month's supply), but the company guarantees that if you don't like the product, they'll give you a full refund. I'd recommend the product for anyone with severely dry skin who's sick of thick, greasy creams. If you try it out, let me know what you think of it!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Online Etiquette - An Oxymoron?

For a long time, my boyfriend was a poster on a message board that had a fair share of "flamewars" (basically, huge pointless arguments). People would write the most horrible things to each other, curse each other out, and treat each other terribly. It really bothered me that he posted on the board at all, even though he refused to participate in the negativity, and he's since given up reading it altogether.

Initially, I figured that it was only on message boards like this one, which had a ton of type A aggressive types who seemed to enjoy one-upping each other and arguing, that people treated each other with such a lack of consideration. But based on the comments I've read on a lot of blogs and postings on some of the message boards that I read (like Makeup Alley) that appeal to a totally different demographic, it seems more and more like this is an Internet-wide problem.

Why is it that people are so, well, mean when they're online? Certainly, real-life manners are disappearing (see my post about common courtesies), but that can't explain everything, because people are acting in ways that they never would in real life. David Pogue of the New York Times recently discussed this in an excellent blog entry titled "Whatever Happened to Online Etiquette?", where he basically outlined the problems behind the breakdown of Internet courtesy. I'm going to discuss a few here, and add some of my own ideas:

Barriers make us a bit too brave. When you can hide behind an anonymous name, or even just a random Hotmail or Gmail address, it's very easy to abandon all sense of politeness or deference. In fact, why waste time being polite when you can word your argument as strongly as possible? It's pretty clear that message boards where people have to use their real name and register with a real e-mail address are far more civil and polite than most.

Spelling and grammar are out of style. I don't know if it's education, or just the widespread availability of spell check, that has made us such bad spellers and writers, but countless message board postings and blog comments are filled with obvious spelling and grammatical errors (don't even get me started on Myspace). I don't really mean to say that bad spelling is horrible in itself, but it's just another thing that has gone into decline as our forms of communication become more and more informal.

The Internet is taking its cue from real life. I don't mean to blame the Internet for the decline in etiquette- if anything, the Internet just reflects the way we behave in real life, but with the problems of anonymity and instant communication. More and more, people seem to care about making a quick point (just take a look at Fox News), or winning an argument at any cost, rather than respecting others and strengthening relationships.

In any case, it seems like just focusing on the decline in online etiquette might just be another outgrowth of how society is changing. Independence and having a strong will are great things, but more and more of us seem to be exclusively focused on ourselves (or a very small group of people), rather than on how we relate to others. Unless people begin to think more about how others will perceive their actions, it's likely that these problems will just continue to grow, and there will be no shortage of posts about the decline of online etiquette, and manners in general.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Makeup Return Policies

Like most people, I hate returning anything, because it means an extra trip to the store, or shipping a package back, and sales clerks (especially at this time of year) are often annoyed by return requests, as it requires paperwork and can be time-consuming. A recent NY Times article discussed a new trend in cosmetics and beauty companies relaxing their return rules, which is very exciting for all of us beauty addicts who have drawers full of products that didn't work, looked bad or broke (pencils, anyone?).

Because each company has a different policy on returns, I've compiled a list on the return policies of many of the most popular stores and companies, from online retailers to drug stores to department store counters. So next time you come home to find that the Clinique lipstick you spent $14 for looks awful in the light of day, or that the Cover Girl mascara from CVS dried up within a week, just refer to this list to figure out what you can return.

Sephora: Sephora is so nice about returns that I actually get excited about getting something I can return. I have returned products I received as gifts months before and USED, with no receipt or proof of purchase, and they gladly gave me a gift card worth the price of the product. It doesn't matter whether the product is defective or if you just decided you didn't like it. With products bought online, you can mail them back within 60 days for a full refund, and they pay for shipping and handling. After 60 days they will give you store credit, but won't pay for shipping costs. You can also return online purchases at their retail stores. will accept returns within 30 days for a full credit or refund, though they do not accept items that are opened or used. They do have a special policy called the "100% color guarantee" on many (but not all) of their color cosmetics in which if you don't like the color, you can return it for a full refund. For the holiday season, they're extending their return period until January 31. Partial refunds on used items and anything returned after 30 days.

CVS: For cosmetics and CVS brand products, they will accept opened or used products and will provide a full refund, as long as you bring them back within 30 days, with receipt. For other products, they only give full refunds on unopened, damaged or defective products, with receipt.

Bobbi Brown: If for any reason you're not satisfied, return the unused portion for a full refund. If you buy online, there's no refund for shipping fees.

MAC, Chanel and Estee Lauder: Each store has it's own return policy (though in my experience, I've been able to exchange used products). They'll refund used online purchases, but you have to pay the shipping fee.

Benefit: Accepts returns within 30 days, with receipt on unopened and "lightly used" products. If bought online, you have to pay the shipping fee.

Bath and Body Works: If for any reason you're unhappy with a product bought online or in a store, you can return it for an exchange or store credit. If you have a receipt, you can get a full refund.

The Body Shop: If for any reason, etc, you can return a product within 60 days of purchase for a full refund (receipt necessary). Without a receipt you can get store credit.

There were other popular stores and companies that I researched, but I didn't include those that were unclear or didn't mention a return policy. If you have a question about a brand I didn't mention, look up their customer service number on their website and call directly to find out if your product is returnable.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lame Book, Good Tips: "Never Eat Alone"

Do you ever read a non-fiction book that teaches you something but is written by an author who is so annoying that you can't wait to finish it? Most self-help books tend to be this way, written by narcissistic authors who advertise their expertise and superiority, using cheesy metaphors, lame stories and inspirational quotations that make you cringe to expand a 5-10 basic concepts into a 300 page book. But I'm a cynical college kid, so what do you expect?

I recently picked up Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, which claims to teach you "how to build a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends and mentors." In my search for jobs and internships, I've been teaching myself to network with alums, family friends and former employers, and was given this book by a friend. It has all the aspects of self-help books that I just listed, with lines like, "human ambitions are like Japanese carp; they grow proportional to the size of their environment" and requesting that the reader, "take a stroll through that relationship garden. What do you see?" My personal favorite quotation is, "The way you reach out to others is the way you eat an 800-pound gorilla: one small bite at a time." Um... eww?

But the most obnoxious aspect of the book is the raging ego of the author, Keith Ferrazzi, who manages to name drop his famous friends and associates, as well as the name of the company he founded. And when I say this, I mean literally, every single page. You'll hear plenty about Phil Knight (former Nike CEO, apparently a good friend of his), Arianna Huffington (political pundit quasi-celebrity), and, strangely, how the author has had Richard Branson's phone number in his Blackberry for nearly a decade and is looking for the perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation.

Ferrazzi basically admits early in the book that he is not particularly intelligent, talented or creative, and owes all of his success to his ability to network. So, who better to teach you how to connect with others to further your career?

As I said before, I believe that most self-help books can be reduced to a few basic points, with an additional 296 pages of filler. This one is the same, and to save you the time of reading so many unnecessary pages, here is a summary of the book's most essential points, which I found very helpful:

Get over your fears
. The toughest part of talking to someone you don't know (particularly someone who is very successful in your field) is gathering the courage to approach the person. But as Ferrazzi points out, it "often simply comes down to balancing the fear I have of embarrassment against the fear of failure and its repercussions." Even the small chance that this person could greatly help your career outweighs the possibility of an embarrassing situation with someone you're unlikely to see again. Be confident, be yourself, and don't be afraid to show your enthusiasm in meeting the person, you're far more likely to stand out.

The goal is always a relationship
. Once you've overcome your fears and struck up a conversation with someone, it's important to connect on some level. Everyone hates superficial small talk, so try to bond with them on a more meaningful level, by showing interest and admiration for what the person does as well as presenting yourself as an interesting person who the other person could benefit by knowing. If you're just starting out, you probably don't have much to offer the other person, but you can at least make it clear that you'd love to learn from this person, and everyone loves talking about themselves and their life. Do everything you can to make it clear that you're not just talking to this person because you want to use them, but that you're actually interested in who they are and what they do. Sincerity goes a long way.

Build it before you need it. This is one of the best lessons I learned from the book. You'll be far more successful if you start building relationships with people before you need their help. Building relationships with people who can give you advice and provide mentoring is wonderful, and if you need their help in finding a job, they're far more likely to want to help you once they have gotten to know you well.

No one is too big or too small
. The author makes the point that secretaries, assistants and receptionists often have incredible power, because they often serve as gatekeepers to very powerful people. While you should treat everyone with the respect they deserve as human beings, you should go out of your way to make a good impression with anyone working under an important person, as their opinion of you may decide whether you get a chance with their boss.

Do the research (when you can). Ferrazzi is a huge fan of scouting potential contacts ahead of time and being able to know their interests ahead of time. This is supposed to help you make a connection, though Ferrazzi's examples often tread a bit close to the line of creepiness (such as when he opens a conversation with, "so I hear you run the New York Marathon"). I think it's better to prepare a line of questioning that will lead the person to start talking about their interests. If you find that someone is very active with a charitable organization, for example, you could start off by asking them what they do in their free time, and if they answer that they work for such-and-such charity, you will have done your research about the group and can talk about your familiarity with their work, etc. Use Google, read the person's biography (if they have one) on the company website, check to see if they've written any articles for trade journals, etc, but just be sure that you have the right person.

Overall, Ferrazzi's advice is mostly spot on, but a little bit unsettling, as he seems to recommend a pretty Machiavellian way of approaching relationships in life. Even so, almost everyone would benefit from reading this book and at least considering his advice, so I would definitely recommend checking it out on Amazon.