Saturday, December 22, 2007

Saturday Links

The New York Times Magazine has an article on Etsy and the rise of Buy Handmade.

The Guardian
interviews the models fighting for union representation.

skips the over-hyped, expensive beauty products in favor of drugstore finds (turns out beauty editors do the same).

calls on Congress to reinstate the discounts on birth control pills for college women.

The Beauty Brains
shows why a $50 bottle of Kerastase is identical to a $4.99 tube of L'Oreal Vive Pro.

Have a happy holiday, everyone! My boyfriend is coming to town next week to celebrate Christmas with my family and we've got a lot of exciting things planned, so I'm going to take a short vacation from posting. I'll be back on January 2, 2008!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Finds: Last-Minute Gifts

As the holidays near, I like to stock up on small presents to give as last-minute gifts for people I've forgotten, or as hostess gifts if I've been invited to on a short notice. There's nothing worse than being in a situation where someone you don't know very well and weren't expecting to receive anything from gives you a thoughtful holiday present. You don't have the time to fight the crowds at the mall or wrap the item, so you end up either giving nothing or running and grabbing a generic Starbucks gift card. I don't think there's anything truly wrong with giving someone a gift card as a present, but it certainly isn't personal and doesn't suggest that you gave a lot of thought. I keep lots of extra gift bags and tissue paper at home as well as small, last-minute stocking-stuffer type gifts for just these situations.

I think that for gifts under $20, it's great if you can find an item with beautiful design or packaging. It shows some extra thought and reflects some of your own personality and style. Soaps and candles are two of my favorite inexpensive gifts, since everyone can use them, or at least set them out in their bathroom or leave them for guests. I tend to find the prettiest and most original looking soaps and candles at specialty gift stores, but Sephora and Anthropologie have a decent selection.

I've also had a lot of luck finding small gifts at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Both stores have a beauty section, featuring mainly organic products. But their real draw is their selection of food gifts. Boxed truffles, gourmet hot chocolate, handmade marshmallows and peppermint bark are all great gifts, and are elevated by the cool packaging. It's hard to go wrong with sweets, and again, you know that if someone doesn't care for a particular flavor (or if they're on a diet), it's something that's easy to re-gift or share with friends and family.

And if you're the baking type, it's never a bad idea to make a huge batch of a fairly simple sweet like chocolate-covered pretzels (you can have fun decorating with sprinkles and drizzled white chocolate and caramel), fudge, bark, brittle or turtles, any candy that won't spoil quickly. A few hours of work and you have a large selection of homemade presents that will impress anyone.

Do you have a go-to gift for these situations?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is Regifting Acceptable?

Between writing final papers, taking final exams, driving home to Michigan and rushing around on last-minute Christmas errands, I've had a crazy couple of weeks. I got a little bit behind on blogging, so today I'm going to run a post I originally wrote last year on the subject of regifting. Thanks for understanding, I'll be back to normal posts once the holiday craziness is behind me!

Regifting is something almost everyone has done at one point (though we wouldn't want to admit it), but it's very risky. If you forget where you got the present, you might give it to a mutual friend or family member of the original giver, leading to a very uncomfortable situation when that person comes across your gift in someone else's house.

But, if you decide to regift something, there are a few guidelines to follow:

Make sure you're 100% sure who gave you the gift before you give it to someone else. Obviously the worst case scenario is that you give someone their present back, but it's just as bad if you give the gift to the original giver's best friend. The best way to avoid this situation is to only regift to someone who is in no way associated with the original giver. If you're not sure who gave you something, you shouldn't try regifting it.

Don't regift anything you've used. If regifting something is slightly disrespectful to the person who gave you the gift, giving a used gift is disrespectful to both people.

Check that there isn't a personalized note in or on the gift. Forgetting this step can be very dangerous, as someone will be far more offended that you were too lazy to notice this than they would be about the regifting.

Don't regift food or perfume (unless you check the expiration date). According to a recent article, perfume evaporates within 6 months. And no one wants stale food.

Don't regift "important" presents from the people who are closest to you. If someone makes a big deal about the gift, they're going to ask you about it in the future. You're best off storing it somewhere in the house and wearing/using it when the person comes over.

Just because you're regifting something doesn't mean you shouldn't follow the regular gifting rules. Only give people things you think they'd like. Make sure the gift is in good condition (iron clothing so it looks new). And don't give anything that's dated (like the signature piece from last year's collection).

What are your thoughts on regifting?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Product Review: The Body Shop Mango Products

Recently, my friend Sidnie made her beauty blogging debut by reviewing two new holiday sets from C. O. Bigelow (reviews here and here). I was so proud of her posts that I asked her to write another, this time for The Body Shop's Mango Time Out gift set, which I was sent earlier this week. Extra props go to Sidnie for reviewing this when she probably should have been writing her senior thesis!

Finals time in college for me usually means choosing between sleep and bathing, but armed with new products to test and a sense of duty, I chose the latter and headed off to the showers. I tested a gift set from The Body Shop which included Mango Body Scrub, Mango Shower Gel and the their famous Mango Body Butter, as well 2 exfoliant gloves and a little glycerin soap. I have to admit that to date I have not used the glycerin soap, which I expect is more a sort of added bonus to the gift set than a product that would truly knock my socks off. I use antibacterial soap and then I had all of that shower gel, so there was little room for that tiny soap.

The Mango line is meant for very dry skin, which I definitely have. I’m a West Coast runaway living in New England and at this time of year, when I’m regularly getting smacked in the face with something called “wintry mix” I wonder why I ever left, and that same cold, in collaboration with my super-dry house, has certainly taken a toll on my skin.

After shaving, I started with the scrub. I’m not sure if that’s the proper order; I don’t know much about this beauty stuff at all really, but it seemed counter-productive to try to exfoliate hairy legs. I put on the exfoliant gloves and got to business. I have to say, I felt a little silly standing in the shower stark naked save for two orange gloves and trying to position myself so that I could get at my scaly legs, and dip my hands into this tub of scrub without getting too much water in it. The scrub smells amazing and is this pretty, fresh orange color. The sugary granules applied with the gloves certainly works to exfoliate, but the sensation isn’t all that pleasant; imagine rubbing yourself down with some sandpaper. I moved on to the shower gel stage feeling rug-burned.

I was really skeptical about the shower gel- the bottle I received was only 8.4 fluid ounces, so I thought I could probably run through it in a week. Not so- the little spigot only allows a little to come out of the bottle, and a little is all you need because it really lathers up. Like the scrub, this smells delicious.

I have to air one more small frustration at this point with the Body Shop- under a title of "MADE WITH PASS!ON" was a paragraph detailing how “for years, Indian women have been rubbing the kernels from the velvety mango onto their skin to keep it soft”. First of all; this shower gel, aside from smelling a little like mango, is not comparable to that. It would have been purchased in a shopping mall and it contains a myriad of ingredients and very little actual mango. If mango worked best, why not just head to the Stop n’ Shop and really do it? What I’m left with, then, is that I should somehow feel connected to Indian women because we both slather our bodies with mango-esque products. I find this ethnocentric, patronizing, and trite. Not to mention the danger this poses of exoticizing the Eastern woman. I chalked this up to the fact that I had been studying too much International Relations and moved on to the body butter after toweling off.

I have shopped at the Body Shop on-and-off for years now, feeling worldly as a teenager because I could buy both my Stop AIDS bracelet and lip balm at the same location. I consider the body butter to be their premiere product and they carry 18 different types, ranging from hemp to the holiday cranberry and vanilla spice, all categorized by how dry your skin is. I used the body butter at the end of this process in varying amounts; first liberally and then as a slight veil over my skin. I would definitely recommend using this sparingly; even with dry skin this left my skin greasy. I remained greasy the following day and actually felt the product wash off the following evening in the shower. It helped my skin, but it was slightly gross. It also got all over my sheets, which are luckily a mango color anyway, but I wouldn’t suggest getting them on a high thread count or your silk sheets. I assume some of the butters intended for less dry skin may have less of a greasy effect.

The set is pretty and it certainly works to hydrate skin and make it softer, even tough skin like mine. Curel is still my gold standard for hydration, but you’re not going to buy that for a holiday gift (my general rule is refrain from wrapping and placing under the tree things I have purchased at a drug store). The regimen would be great to use once a week as a treat, and the shower gel could be used all the time. Meg and I agreed one could use the body butter on feet with toasty socks over to protect sheets. The packaging is a bit of a problem; the butter and scrub both strike me as too thick to place in a pump bottle, which is probably why they are in tubs. I made sure my hands were very clean in applying the butter, as I was just dipping my hands in, touching my body and then dipping back in, making the tub a breeding ground for bacteria. Overall, when used sparingly (and I’d suggest using the gloves with less rigor) this is a nice set for a person who likes to pamper themselves.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pet Etiquette

Okay, I'm just going to say this upfront: I'm not an animal person.

Some people react to this news as if I've just told them that I eat puppies for lunch. In reality, I just like to admire animals from afar, but to a lot of people, this lack of enthusiasm is considered offensive. I don't know when it was that it became generally acceptable to anthropomorphize pets and treat them as children, but it seems like it's only been in recent years that a whole industry has grown around the pampering of pets. You can take your dog for a trip to the spa, buy him designer clothes, take him around in a Hermes carrier and have a catered birthday party for him and his puppy friends. People spend money on a lot of frivolous things, and that's their own business, but I think it really goes to0 far when people begin expecting others to treat your pet as an equal.

The New York Times
recently published an article on the subject that was alternatingly hilarious and disturbing. It included stories of people who lost relationships after putting their pets before their family members and friends. One woman insisted on bringing her dog to her parents' house for Christmas despite the fact that her sister's fiance was allergic, and was furious that she was told to keep the dog in the bedroom. Another couple brought their (uninvited) dog to a wedding, who proceeded to get pond scum all over the white furniture and help himself to the hors d'oeuvres table. The most shocking part of the story is that the dog owners did not understand why their behavior was inappropriate.

Pets are wonderful companions and friends, but they are not people, and I don't think it's fair to expect others to fully accommodate your pet. It's important to be conscious of others when you have your pet around, and not to make any assumptions about the person's feelings about your pet. I think it's courteous to always offer to put your dog away if someone comes over, and to never, ever bring the pet along with you to another person's house unless they've explicitly said it's okay. If you are in a position where you've brought the pet and someone mentions they're allergic or uncomfortable (you should try to look for these signs, sometimes people are afraid they'll seem rude if they have to ask you to put the animal away), it shouldn't be up for debate, you should take the dog outside or into another room.

If someone doesn't want to be around your pet, don't take it personally. Some of us just aren't pet people, it has nothing to do with your pet in particular. I know that other people's feelings can be hurt whenever I've mentioned that I don't like pets, so I try to at least show interest in the pet by asking questions and telling the owner how cute, smart, personable, etc he is, but politely mentioning that I'm just not an animal person. If the person doesn't take the hint and put the pet away, I tell them I'm allergic. I am actually allergic to cats and some dogs, so this isn't a total lie, but I think it's justified if the dog or cat is seriously interfering with my ability to enjoy my time with my friend or family member.

What's your opinion on pet etiquette?

Monday, December 17, 2007

David Beckham for Emporio Armani

One of my biggest issues with advertisements is pointless objectification. The last thing that's going to make me want to buy your product is a half naked women lounging next to a bottle of perfume. I've often sat flipping through magazines with a friend and wondered aloud why there are so many images of naked or nearly naked, hypersexualized women, and so few of men. It's not like women don't enjoy a little male eye candy (and not the "guy with his shirt off" sanitized, cheesy Cosmo type), or sometimes think about men in purely sexual terms.

Well, my wish was granted last week when Emporio Armani unveiled their new underwear ad (warning, probably not safe for work), featuring David Beckham laying on a bed in tight briefs with his legs spread. While an advertisement featuring a female model in the same position, wearing a similar amount of fabric probably wouldn't get a second glance, Beckham's ad is actually pretty shocking, considering the rarity of such images. Basically, it's all about his package, and what those Armani briefs do for it.

I was a kid during the heyday of Calvin Klein underwear ads, and I couldn't think of another mainstream brand that's used sexually explicit (I use this term loosely) images of men in their advertisements, so I looked up some older ads to see how they compare to this. It's interesting that they generally feature the men standing up and facing the camera, whereas Beckham is laying down, face is covered in shadow, while all lines lead the viewer's eye to his bulging underwear. Mark Wahlberg looks sweet and goofy, Antonio Sabato Jr. stares you down and Michael Bergin poses like a Greek statue. There's something more sensual than outright sexual in these ads, and it's just striking to look at how much the Beckham ad differs.

I think the ad raises the question of whether advertisers should objectify men. On the one hand, it feels unfair that women are always reduced to pieces of meat, but alternately, that doesn't mean that men should be too. I was surprised to find that I felt kind of uncomfortable with the ad, similar to the way I feel about hypersexualized images of women in advertisements, but a quick survey of my friends showed that most of them just thought it was hot and liked the fact that a man was being totally objectified for once.

The fact that Beckham is an A-List star and not just a model is especially interesting, since it's pretty rare to see top male actors and music artists sexualized that much. Female stars are expected to be sexy in addition to talented, and the media reflects that in advertisements, photo spreads and performances. A famous actress posing in her underwear rarely makes headlines in the way that this ad has gained so much attention.

The ad has gotten a lot of press (unsurprisingly), but it will be interesting to see how successful it is for Emporio Armani, whether consumers actually go out and buy more underwear or if they just spend time gawking at Beckham's body. I'd be very curious to see whether this ad appeals to both straight and gay men, since sexualized portrayals of men are pretty rare among ads aimed at straight guys, and I'm not sure whether this much of an aspirational image for straight men.

Are you a fan of the Beckham ad?