Saturday, April 28, 2007

Saturday Best of Blogs

The Luxe Mix has the lowdown on Polyvore, a really neat website that allows you to put together outfits from pictures of clothes on other websites, and share and compare them with other users.

Afrobella finally reviews cult brand Miss Jessie's products, while The Organic Beauty Expert has the info on their new travel sizes.

Poetic and Chic has been chronicling her experience training for an Olympic-distance triathlon in May, which you can read about here. She's participating to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society, and if you're interested in donating to the charity in support of Annie, click here. Good luck Annie!

Lipstick, Powder 'n Paint has great tips for guys (and girls too!) who are going to a spa for the first time.

Finally, The Beauty Brains reviews Juice Beauty products and discusses whether pricey organic beauty products are better than the regular stuff.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Finds: Flip Flop Alternatives

In three seasons of Project Runway, I can't recall an instance where I disagreed with Tim Gunn's take on a garment. I think it's great that he's gotten so much attention lately (how rare it is that someone gets attention for something other than outrageous, attention-seeking behavior) and I was happy to hear that he'd been given a book deal last year. The man just oozes class and sophistication (two words not commonly used in discussion of current fashions), and it's no surprise that someone thought that Tim's deep-rooted understanding of style, lovable personality and experience as an educator would also translate well into writing.

In the name of "blog research," I ordered Tim's book, "Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style," hoping to pick up some tips on how to achieve those wonderful yet vague terms "elegance," "style" and "class." Unfortunately, I found the book very disappointing. Turns out I'm not the only one who has a hard time explaining what these terms mean and how to achieve them, because much of the advice in the book is very ambiguous ("If you consider your wardrobe to be a sphinx, then the sphinx's riddle is surely, "who are you?" Only you possess the answer.") or unrelated thoughts inserted randomly ("Please conceal your midriff" is thrown in at the end of a chapter on establishing your identity). Then there's the cliched advice about throwing out stuff you don't wear and finding a fashion mentor, yadda yadda... in all, I found very little useful, specific advice about how to achieve "quality, taste and style" and a lot of anecdotes about Tim's loving (but slightly oddball) relationship with his mother.

But there was one point Tim made that really struck me. He talks about the "flip-flop phenomenon," using those ubiquitous slabs of rubber to symbolize the lack of effort most people put into getting dressed. According to him, what we wear sends a message about what kind of person we are, and that if you're leaving your house, there's never a reason why you shouldn't look presentable. Even if it's just to pick up some coffee or get groceries, you're interacting with people, and it's only fair that you show them the respect that you'd show anyone else you cared about. Plus, you never know when you're going to run into someone you definitely want to look good for (business acquaintences, ex-boyfriends, etc). Sweats and flip flops definitely don't make the cut.

One of my goals this year has been to try and put in a little more effort than usual when I'm going about my daily routine. To be honest, I've fallen back into old habits ("I plan on going to the gym tonight, so I'll just wear my sweats all day"-type excuses seem to come up a lot), but Tim's advice made me want to get back on the wagon.

Exchanging your sweats for nicer casual clothes (a nice fitted t-shirt and flattering jeans) is definitely the biggest step toward presentability, but I realized that it's the accessories that can really make or break a basic outfit. We turn to flip-flops because in warm weather they're comfortable, easy to throw on and seem to work with anything. I set out to find a few alternatives to the flip-flop: something more interesting than a basic flat that adds a lot to a casual outfit, without sacrificing comfort, ease or walkability. And as always, I limited myself to pairs under $100 that you can order online. There are so many great, inexpensive shoes out there that there's no reason why you can't relegate your flip-flops to the shower and the beach.

Dolce Vita "Athens 12" thong sandal, from Nordstrom, $69.95

BP "Edie" flat, from Nordstrom, $44.95

Nine West "Gavin" flat, from Zappo's, $72.95
Dolce Vita "Vienna-21 flat," from Nordstrom, $94.95

Old Navy "Patent Thong" sandal, $16.50

Poetic License "Check mate" flat, from Nordstrom, $64.95

Thursday, April 26, 2007

New Feature: Ask Meg's Mom!

In last week's post "Sheer at School," I employed my Mom's services (in reality, she did the job without my asking) as Master Advice Giver to help me answer a reader question on whether a sheer or semi-sheer top is appropriate for work (specifically for a high school teacher). Mom was straight-up, no questions about it, 100% against the sheer at school idea, while I was kept open the possibility that certain sheer tops were modest enough to remain in the realm of appropriateness.

Turns out that most of you guys agreed with Mom (after listening to your arguments, I'm softening my stance), and an idea came to me... there are a lot of questions that my Mom could probably answer better than me (not the fashion or beauty or pop culture stuff, but the things that require a little more age and experience). Why not create a regular feature where readers can send in questions for my Mom to answer? Jane Pratt got away with it when she ran her own magazine, so why can't I?

Me and Mom circa 1988

Here's how it would work: you e-mail me your questions. I'll talk them over with Mom and choose one every week or so that we both find interesting. She'll answer the question to the best of her abilities, I'll throw in my 2 cents (or based on the frequency of my disagreeing with her, it could be more like $1.50) and then you all can contribute your thoughts in the comments section.

Now you may be asking, "What qualifies your Mom for this? How is her advice better than my Mom's or anyone else's?"

Well, I can't promise that her advice will necessarily be better, but if I were to characterize my Mom's advice-giving capabilities, I'd describe her sympathetic and understanding but definitely not willing to sugarcoat or beat around the bush. There's no B.S. in her house, and she'll tell you exactly what she thinks (but in a very nice way, I promise). She's also taught me just about everything I know about relationships, dealing with people and etiquette, always has a clear head in tough situations, and has the life experience to back up any advice she gives.

Feel free to ask any question, whether or not it relates to a topic I cover on the blog. If we think it'll spark an interesting debate, we'll do our best to answer it and then open it up so other readers can contribute.

Sound good? Bring on the questions!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Price of Thin

What would you be willing to sacrifice to have a model's body?

Kate Spicer, before and after her extreme diet

A few weeks ago, in a fantastic piece in The Sunday Times (U.K.), journalist Kate Spicer wrote about her experience undergoing an extreme diet for a documentary on what it takes to "achieve" the size 0 bodies of models, actresses and celebrities. An already fairly thin woman at "just over 10 stone" (140 lbs), she committed to 6 weeks of near-starvation in order to reach her goal size. Here's a summary of what happened:

Week One: She goes on the "Master Cleanse Diet" (a favorite of celebrities like Beyonce) and immediately begins to feel the effects, becoming weak and woozy, to the point where she can't concentrate on work and even faints after a trip to the steam room. She then increases her calorie intake to 500 calories a day, has terrible diarrhea and smokes far more than usual. She finds her social life suffering, since she can't be around food, and barely has the energy to socialize with friends.

Week Two: She avoids family so she's not forced to eat more. After going out with friends, she breaks down and orders a piece of cake, the sugar from which propels her to a sugar high, and she's unable to calm down or think straight. The guilt from the cake makes her feel so fat that she lies in bed wishing for her hipbones to jut out more.

Week Three: She's lost enough weight that her breasts and butt are flat and lifeless, leading male friends to complain that she's too thin. She continues to feel guilty about last week's slice of cake (!) and has reached the point where she can think and care about nothing but food and sex, "a girl needs some kind of sensory pleasures in life, and sex and smoking are the only ones left." She begins to take laxatives and attends a detox retreat where she consumes nothing but fruit juice and exercises twice a day. She no longer communicates with friends or family, and has so little concentration that she can only watch trashy TV and read celebrity magazines.

When she realizes that she's lost a stone (14 lbs) in 3 weeks, she's overjoyed, and gets a rush of power and a feeling that she's better than other women because she can look good in anything. She judges other women's bodies obsessively and ruthlessly, and her only enjoyments are shopping (naturally), smoking and sitting in the steam room. She decides to take time off work.

Week Four: When her doctor finds out about her laxative use, he sends her to a psychologist, who tells her she's at risk for developing bulimia and needs to go back to her pre-diet eating and exercise habits. Not surprisingly, she's furious and refuses to take his advice.

Week Five: Back on the job but away on an assignment, she can't handle her stress, and without food as a coping mechanism, turns to binging followed by self-induced vomiting. When she casually mentions this to two friends, she's surprised by their shock, having reached a point where such drastic measures are normal and justifiable. She begins reading books on eating disorders, encouraging her intellect to "fight back against my misguided, hunger-fueled, bizarre idea of vanity."

Week Six: With the experiment coming to an end and the binging and purging taking a serious toll on her physical and mental state, she slowly begins to eat normally again. Not surprisingly, everything else in her life becomes a lot simpler and easier to manage. Yet she feels like a failure, having gone down to 9 stone (126 lbs) when most Hollywood celebrities are closer to 8 stone (112 lbs, which would probably translate to a size 0). She reflects on the fact that at her thinnest, her female friends all thought she looked her best.

Okay, now up until this point everything made sense to me, based on what I've read about how the mind and body react to eating disorders, and from observations made by friends and family members who've suffered from anorexia and bulimia. But here's where she really shocks me:

"The cult of thin is a powerful one and, truth be told, if I didn’t have to work I could imagine almost enjoying getting into it."

Whaaat? After realizing the toll this lifestyle took on not only your body (constantly feeling weak, inability to think clearly), your mind (non-stop obsessing over food and comparing yourself to other women), your relationships (the eating disorder made it nearly impossible to interact with others) and your personal life (only gaining pleasure from shopping and smoking, no longer capable of participating in intellectual hobbies), how do you justify wanting to continue living this way?

Life is certainly easier when your life revolves around one thing only- not eating. You're competing with yourself, with the results of your hard work visible to you at all times. The article reinforced what I've often heard from people suffering from eating disorders, which is that it's never about wanting to look better for other people... it's not about looking better at all. It's about regaining a sense of control that you previously felt like you'd lost.

One other thing that interested me was that she mentioned in the beginning of the article that before this experience she had pretty good self-esteem, and while there were always things about her body she'd have liked to change, she'd never been motivated to make any drastic changes. But once she began the diet, the high she got from losing the weight and feeling like she'd conquered her body led her to do things that her normal, pre-diet self would have never considered. I wondered whether this meant that almost any of us, if we committed to an extreme diet like this, could be sucked into a kind of eating disorder... is it a slippery slope that we're all at risk for sliding down?

I've never been on a diet in my life and have no interest in ever going on one. If I want to lose weight, I try to limit my portion sizes, eat healthier and go to the gym more. When I stick to this routine for long enough, I lose weight (it's certainly not a fast fix). I've read the statistics about dieting and I recognize that diets don't work for longterm weight loss. And besides, I get way, way too much pleasure out of eating to ever consider giving up the things I love to eat, even if I limit my intake to weekends or special occasions.

I don't want to pretend that I wouldn't prefer to have Gisele's body over my own. But based on Kate Spicer's description of her life while on an extreme diet, I could never justify making those kind of sacrifices just to have the perfect body and all the things that come along with it.

But I'm curious what you guys think... do you think that having the perfect body and an (artificial) sense of control over your life is worth the mental/physical/emotional trauma Kate Spicer experienced? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Swimsuits for Every Body, Part 1

The mere mention of swimsuit season strikes fear into the hearts of women everywhere. Never has shopping been such a painful experience. Standing in the dressing room, you stare at your nearly naked body. The combination of awful lighting and "fat mirrors" seem to highlight your every flaw. You cringe as visions of every dessert you've had since last August float through your head. Add onto that the seemingly impossible task of finding a suit that actually fits AND flatters, and you begin to wonder why people go to the beach at all.

Over the next week I'm going to tackle the issue of swimsuits, and give examples of which features to look for to make the most of your body type. Everyone has body parts they want to show off and others they want to hide, and the key is finding a swimsuit that draws attention to those parts you love and minimizes the rest. Today's post will deal with finding a suit that best compliments your bust size, whether you're a AA or DD.

First scenario: You have a small bust that you'd like to draw more attention to. Or alternately, you're trying to draw attention away from your bottom half. Here are a few suits that will do the job:

Victoria's Secret "The Miracle Bra" Push-Up Triangle Top, $38 (bottoms are $28)
Small chested ladies, the push-up top is your friend. Add an underwire triangle top in a bright, fun pattern and you'll definitely make the most of what you've got.

Victoria's Secret "The Miracle Bra" Push-Up Full Coverage Tankini Top, $33 (bottoms are $21)
If you're not comfortable showing off so much skin, try a push-up tankini top (also in a bright, fun pattern) paired with a more modest bottom in a dark color, which will draw the eye upward and make your top half look larger.

Paul Frank "Hearts" Keyhole Bandeau, Urban Outfitters, $36 (bottoms are $32)
Details, Details, Details. If you're ever trying to emphasize an area of your body, pile on the details. Ruching, ruffles, bows, cut-outs, bright colors, horizontal stripes, patterns, an interesting shape... all work to make the area look larger.

What doesn't work for a small chest? Spaghetti-strap bandeaus, which seem to be everywhere this season. To be honest, I don't think they work on anyone, because they give no support and make even small breasts look droopy and lifeless (as LaLohan and Kate Hudson show here).

The nice thing about having a small bust is that you don't have to worry too much about having enough support. But when you're blessed with a larger chest, support is key.

Anne Cole D-Cup One Piece Tank, Nordstrom, $138
Not only will this suit give you all the support you need, with underwire and thick, comfortable straps, but it does double duty as an allover slimming suit, using gathered fabric to draw attention to the top ribcage, your thinnest part. It also shows off enough cleavage to keep things interesting, but not so much skin that people can't focus on your face.

Victoria's Secret "Body by Victoria" Full Coverage Underwire Halter Top, $29 (bottoms are $24)
Because falling out of your top is NEVER an attractive look, a full coverage top (also with underwire) will keep your breasts where you want them to be, even when you're swimming, diving or playing volleyball on the beach. A halter top in a dark color is also very flattering, while a splash of color adds visual interest. It also comes in a graphic floral pattern.

Land's End Hi-Neck Slender Swimsuit, $82
Another great way to minimize a large bust without losing sex appeal is to wear a high neck suit with slimming details like ruching at the waist. The black color and boat neck adds a little Audrey Hepburn-esque glamor, while a high cut back prevents the dreaded back flab that so often occurs from a too-tight suit. An added benefit is that you can actually swim in this suit, without having to pull on the bottoms or readjust the top every time you do a flipturn, so it's very practical.

Be sure to check back in the next week as I discuss other tips and tricks for looking your best on the beach, no matter what body you've got.

Got a tip or suggestion to add? Leave it in the comments!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Beauty "Must-Haves" In The Age of Global Warming

Like a lot of people, I think it's great that our country has grown much more environmentally aware in the last few years, mostly due to the efforts of Mr. "I invented the Internet" himself, Al Gore. While I sometimes question whether the media exaggerates the environmental disaster scenarios, I'm glad to see that people are stepping back to think about the impact of their actions upon the environment. Hollywood celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney and Julia Roberts add sex appeal to the whole "go green" movement, and I've seen enough Annie Leibovitz spreads featuring beautiful people writhing in the grass and hugging trees to make me feel guilty on those days when I sleep in an extra 10 minutes and drive instead of walk to class.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before companies tried to exploit our collective fear of global warming and environmental demise to shill products. Surprise surprise, the first industry to jump on the bandwagon was the beauty industry.

Now the industry has gotten desperate enough to capitalize on the environmental craze and invent treatments for skin conditions that previously did not exist. Take for example, Clarins new Expertise 3P.
A few spritzes a day of this stuff (which retails for $40 at Sephora) promises to protect skin from "the aging effects of Artificial Electromagnetic Waves," "indoor and outdoor pollution," creating an "imperceptible physical film on the skin to reinforce the skin's own natural protective barrier." In addition, it "protects against biological stress" and "increases cellular energy."

Until now, I didn't realize that my cells were feeling particularly sluggish (a few cups of coffee might do the trick, and it's a lot cheaper), but these threats aren't very convincing to me. I tend to be skeptical of any beauty product that claims miracle results for problems I never knew existed, but maybe I'm being too tough on this product...

Now there's a reason that I'm studying art history and not science, so I decided to consult The Beauty Brains, two cosmetic scientists who blog about the chemistry and biology of cosmetics. Wielding an eyeliner brush in one hand and a pipette in the other, these ladies cut through every kind of marketing hype, giving product loving consumers like us all the info we need to actually understand beauty products, as opposed to simply appreciating them. Here's what the Left Brain had to say about Expertise 3P:

"This has got to be one of the most ridiculous new products I’ve heard about in a long time.

While I couldn’t find a complete ingredient list, I was amused to read about their “Magnetic Defense Complex with Thermus Chermophilus and Rhodiola Rosea, two powerful plant extracts which reinforce the skin’s natural barrier and provide biological protection against electromagnetic waves.” Puh-lease! This can’t possibly work. To block electromagnetic fields you would need some kind of metal or insulator. This is just ridiculous.

Even if these ingredients DID absorb EM radiation, you’d have to smear them ALL over your body before they would protect you. And finally, even if these ingredients DID work and even if you DID apply the product all over your body, there is absolutely no demonstrated negative effect on skin due to the electromagnetic fields created by cellphones or computers."

Thanks, Brains!

Anti-aging cosmetics is a very big business, and if cosmetics companies can piggyback on the environmental craze to come up with a new source of aging, whether it's from cellphone waves or "biological stress," you know they're going to do it. Really want to prevent aging caused by environmental damage to the skin? Go to the drugstore and pick up a good sunscreen. What frustrates me in particular about the marketing for this product is their use of all these pseudo-scientific words and phrases, which are intended to make you feel like they know something important that you don't. If a company is going to talk down to me, they can't expect that I'll want to purchase their products.

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Review: Flirt! Squeeze Me Lipgloss

When I saw this picture of Beyonce, my first thought was, "what could she possibly have done to make a makeup artist angry enough to do this to her face!?" My second thought was, "oh my god, she was Flirted." See, a few weeks ago I received a box of complimentary samples from Flirt! Cosmetics. Flirt! is currently promoting their new makeup collection, which was guest-designed by none other than Vanessa Minillo, famous for her terrible fashion sense, her job as part-time TRL host/part time men's magazine model and for being Nick Lachey's post-Jessica Simpson arm candy.

I had my doubts about any company that would want Ms. Minillo to be the public face of their products (was Fergie too expensive?), but I decided that in the name of blogging integrity, I would keep an open mind when trying their products. I was given samples of three of their new, Vanessa Minillo designed/inspired lipglosses, the Flirt! Squeeze Me Super Shiny Lipgloss, in Nectar Fizz, Mighty Aphrodite and Cherries Jubilee.

Each gloss comes in a 3-inch clear, squeezable tube with a twist cap, which I prefer over the hard plastic or glass tubes that require you to dig around with an applicator, always missing the last 10% of product that's stuck to the sides.

Then I applied the first tube, in Mighty Aphrodite to my lips. This color is similar to what Beyonce is wearing, meaning that it's an 80's neon pink that was probably last seen in a John Hughes movie. Vogue can tell you that the 80's are back, but a color so far removed from anything found in nature does not deserve to be deemed trendy. The color was quite opaque, and the texture felt more like applying wet oil paint to my lips, which combined with the atrocious color, made me look like I had been eating bright, Barbie-pink frosting all morning. Not a good look.

I decided to move on to the more natural colors, choosing Nectar Fizz, a peachy-brown pearlized gloss. This color was definitely better than Mighty Aphrodite, mainly because it was more translucent and natural looking. Nudes tend to look bad with my pale skin, but I can see this color working well on darker skinned women, or used layered over a light pink lipstick.

I've discussed my love for red lippies endless times, and I had high hopes for the final gloss I received, Cherries Jubilee, which is a blue-based brick red in the tube. Luckily, it was on the clearer side, and added a nice, natural-looking red shine to my lips. The undertones didn't really match my skin, but it was a good color that would flatter many other skin tones.

A final observation: the Flirt! glosses are scented (kind of a fruity, floral scent) and they have a chemical aftertaste that isn't pleasant, especially if you're like me and have a terrible lip-licking habit.

When it comes down to it, the Flirt! glosses are totally hit or miss. Mighty Aphrodite is one of the ugliest, least flattering lip colors I've ever seen, but the other two were pretty and wearable. Still, for around $10 you could get a far better product (with more consistently good colors, and more gloss in the tube) from MAC or Clinique.

Vanessa, don't quit your day job.