Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

Salon's Cary Tennis wrote a very interesting column on the issue of whether a woman should take her husband's name after marriage.

The Budget Fashionista
has advice on how to buy a quality handbag.

Roop Cafe
reviews Garnier Nutritioniste's Nutripure Scrub.

The Wall Street Journal
reports on the trend of retailers pushing consumers to accessorize every gift.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm going to be busy cooking, noshing and celebrating with my family for the next two days and I won't be back until Saturday. I have so much to be thankful for, and the readers of this blog are no exception. You've made this blog such an exciting and fulfilling part of my life and I can't thank you enough for your contributions and support. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Problem With Princesses

It may come as a surprise, but as a child, I wasn't a particularly girly girl. I spent most of my time at swim practice, climbing trees, making mud pies with my sister and generally spending the days barefoot outside. But even as a sunburned, dirt-caked, hyperactive kid, I loved playing make-believe with my sister and friends, usually dressing up as our moms, or in a close second, as tea party-attending princesses. I understand the allure for a little girl of being a princess... you get to wear pretty clothes, you're beautiful and glamorous, there isn't anyone to boss you around (you might even have maids!) and you get to be swept off of your feet by a handsome prince who chose you over every other girl in the kingdom.

After about an hour of play, I usually got sick of pretending to be a princess. Those poufy dresses didn't lend themselves well to digging up worms or playing capture the flag with the kids next door. And I shed my princess fantasies altogether by the time I hit middle school, when I started thinking more about all the cool things I could do as an adult, and sitting in a castle for the rest of my life didn't match my growing ambition.

But I am clearly in the minority, since Disney's booming "Disney Princess" franchise is worth over $4 billion and continues to capture the hearts (and pocketbooks) of girls and grown women across America. Disney bets that being a princess is an aspiration that begins at birth (princess cribs and changing pads!), continues through childhood (costumes, clothes, shoes, furniture, toys and so much more), and continues until a girl can realize her princess dreams on her wedding day with a Disney princess-inspired gown and then decorate her castle, er, I mean home, with princess decor. She can even pay for it all with an Ariel Visa credit card.

I don't know about you, but I find this trend a little disturbing. Obviously fantasy and make-believe are a crucial part of childhood, and I'd never suggest that it's bad for girls to do what I did as a child or go through a "I want to be a princess when I grow up" phase. But I don't know if it's great to be pushing the princess idea so heavily, and there's certainly a point where a girl should grow out of wanting to be a princess.

One of the problems with the Disney princesses is that they represent a very specific version of femininity, particularly an image-focused, sexualized one. In every Disney movie, the princess has proportions that make even Barbie seem frumpy, with big hair, huge eyes, large breasts, an itty-bitty waist, curved hips and long legs. They dress in form-fitting often sexy clothes and are uniformly gorgeous. Their beauty, kindness and gentle nature (but mostly beauty) enchants a prince, who is there to sweep them off their feet. There's almost always a class element to the story, with the princess being poor until she meets the prince (who always has money) and never has to work again (which is the dream come true, apparently). Don't plan on getting an education if you want to be a princess. Brains are unnecessary for this job, and you'll never use them anyway.

Being a princess is just about as far from empowering as one could get. Unlike queens, princesses have no power or agency... they don't really do much of anything. If you want to be a princess, don't think about having a career on the side. Being rich and beautiful is enough to fulfill you. Let your prince go out and fight wars and rule kingdoms, you've go to get ready for the next ball.

So what attracts grown women to this fantasy? The idea of giving up housework forever, of escaping an unfulfilling job, of relieving financial burdens and the pressure of balancing work and family life? I don't really understand how the princess alternative is so much better. And it's interesting that the same group of princesses are marketed to children and adults... you have women in their 20's, 30's and 40's idealizing these teenaged cartoon characters.

I think it's particularly telling that Disney has been so successful in the wedding market. Weddings have taken on this ridiculous importance in recent years as women have been hammered with the idea that their wedding day is the one day in their lives when they should be treated as princesses (one frequent refrain is "this is the most important day of your life!"). The bridal industry has been extremely successful in transferring the purpose of wedding from celebrating a relationship and a commitment between two people to making the bride's every wish come true by making her the star of the show.

One final note: if I ever get an invitation to a Disney Princess themed wedding, I'm going to gag.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving Host/Hostess Gifts

Hey Meg,

I am an avid reader of your blog, and I really appreciate that you answer serious questions that I always feel like I can relate too. Anyway, with Thanksgiving coming up so soon, I was wondering if you could recommend hostess gifts or what's appropriate to do in these occasions. It could be going home with the family of a boyfriend (in my case) or a friend from school (in the case of my sister), what would you recommend doing/bringing/sending?



First, I want to commend you for thinking about hostess gifts at all in these situations, I think far too many young people underestimate the importance of proper etiquette- it will go a long way, especially when you're trying to impress another person's family.

But before you start thinking about a hostess gift, I think it's always a good idea to call or e-mail the host or hostess in advance, thank them for the invitation and ask if you can bring a dish to share. If you like to cook and you have something you usually make for your own family, you could offer to bring that. Most likely, the hostess will say that she's got everything under control and that you don't need to bring anything. Of course, you should always ignore this statement.

My favorite gifts for these situations are the personalized variety. If you can find out the hostess's interests or hobbies in advance and bring something related, you're in. Alternatively, you can bring something that is personal to you, it's a nice gesture. I'm from Michigan so when I'm home I'll stock up on things like chocolate covered Michigan cherries or cans of local preserves for hostess or thank you gifts.

Most of the time when I'm invited to dinner or a party, I'll bring some homemade cookies or candies (I like to make those decorated chocolate dipped pretzels- they're easy and impressive), but I would shy away from bringing more food to Thanksgiving. The hostess and her family will already have tons of leftovers and another plate of cookies won't be appreciated. If you want to go the food route, candy or anything that will stay fresh for weeks is better, since they can enjoy it when the holiday craziness is over.

Unless you know that the family doesn't drink (definitely check in advance), a bottle of wine is always a nice gift. The New York Times has a great guide to the best wines under $10- perfect for the poor college student's budget. Unless your host is a connoisseur, they'll never guess you spent so little, just don't forget to take off the price tag.

Flowers are another hostess gift staple, but I'm hesitant to recommend them for Thanksgiving, since it's likely that the hostess already has some flowers set out. My other issue with flowers is that bringing them requires the hostess to take time out of her hectic schedule to trim and arrange them when she's trying to finish dinner. You could always send flowers the next day as a thank you, or bring them pre-arranged in a vase.

Finally, there's a category of generic hostess gifts that never fail. Candles, soaps, candies, chocolates, bud vases, picture frames, Christmas tree ornaments (obviously, make sure the family is Christian first), nice tea or coffee or a wine stopper are always appreciated.

And don't forget to send a hand-written thank you note within a day or two of the event! Happy Thanksgiving!

Anyone else have suggestions for Thanksgiving host or hostess gifts?