Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

My daughter and her all-female class made their First Communions recently. The massed ranks in the church were quite a sight to see. Immaculately coiffed hairdos, amazingly stylish frocks, even a few fake tans.

Yes, the mothers looked stunning. Of course all the little Communicants were beautiful, and they could never be overshadowed by their Mums on their special day. But it has to be said, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Once I had my gúna purchased, I had thought my own preparations were more or less complete. But in the weeks leading up to the big day, sartorial and cosmetic arrangements were the talk of the playground. Who was wearing what, were the blowdry appointments booked, would the few pounds be shed and had the right shoes and jacket been located?

In spite of myself, I gradually found myself being swept along by all this.

A life-long hater of fake tan, I cautiously purchased a bottle of moisturiser which promised a hint of built-in tint. I slapped it on for a few days and fretted about smelling like a biscuit or ending up with orange palms and elbows. As it turned out, I’d been too cautious; the light shade I had chosen made no discernible difference to my skin colour. I did emit a slight biscuitty fragrance though.

I also bought slightly higher-than-normal-for-me shoes (with wedge heel to enable me to walk) even though I’m not that fussed about shoes. I had the eyebrows threaded. I booked a professional blowdry for my very easy to maintain hair.

I realised I was losing it when, seized by a last-minute anxiety about being out-glammed in the church, I began desperately experimenting with different make-up the day before the Communion. Confronted by the slightly scary results in the bathroom mirror, I told myself to get a grip. After all, it wasn’t about me.

Well, we all love dressing up, don't we?

The maternal glamour quotient was extremely high the next morning –  noticeably higher than at my son’s Communion four years ago – and I was glad I’d made the extra effort. Though I did wonder who we were all trying to impress. Each other? The viewers of the family photos in years to come? Was it significant that it was our daughters making their Communions – were we subconsciously trying to compete with them? Surely not.

Of course, on the day our daughters were the stars of the show. Every parent’s heart was full of pride as the girls sang their well rehearsed hymns, brought up gifts and did readings. Whatever your feelings about the First Communion ritual (and stepping back from it a little, the white dresses and the cash gifts are a bit odd really) it was difficult not to be moved by the innocent seriousness with which they took it all.

A wonderful day – and the photos turned out well. Phew.

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Get your body beach ready! Get your bikini body now!
What? Why? My body IS beach ready thank-you, lumps, pale skin, wobbly bits and all. I just want to swim, not to enter Ms South Beach. I’m not going out there to titillate the surfers. I simply want to build an enormous moat with the kids, skim perfect pebbles, and maybe look for interesting critters in the rock pools.
What I do want though is a new swimsuit. No, actually I want genuine fullblown swimming costumery, preferably Victorian, something that ends at my knees, that blooms over my bumps, that shovels up the ole boobs into a grand shelf and hides at least some of my sins.
I want to be comfortable.
I want it in stripes.
I want.

What I really want (from a 1950s Vogue photo shoot) only in Lycra, with support panels please.

I suspect Nigella Lawson wanted the very same when she tossed her languid, luscious self into the ocean off Australia dressed from head-to-toe (quite literally) in a startlingly unflattering black burqini. You’ve seen the photos taken by the paparazzi she was doubtless trying to avoid: our lovely Nigella plopped about in the waves looking remarkably like a clumsy sea lion with her button nose and shiny black roundy body, and I sighed in deepest sympathy, along with thousands of women on the curvy-to-morbidly-obese spectrum the world over.
Nigella, I feel your pain. I don’t want to prance about on the beach in the equivalent of Lycra underwear either.

Hold on a sec though: did I say I want a new swimsuit? Actually, I want a swimsuit full stop, with no “new” about it, for I currently don’t own one. Several years of swimwear shopping trauma, changing-room rage and scuttling to the water in baggy T-shirts worn over whatever I can borrow have brought me to this sorry point.
See, swimwear is not made for women like me and Nigella, women with hips and thighs and, dare I say, real-life labia. Swimwear is all bikinis and tankinis, with tummy-tucking ruching and breast-hoiking cups for those jugs, but I have yet to find a cossie for the classic pear: smallish on top but abundant down below. Equally, there’s nothing out there for the Nigellaesque hourglass either, unless she’s a size eight.

Nigella's burqini

The hot-pant style often suggested to us pears simply cuts straight through the meaty hip-thigh circumference like a rubber band, causing the sections above and below the elastic to bulge much like a squeezed balloon. The legs (often dumpy on a pear) are foreshortened, the bum oozes out and the body is often too short (we pears are long-trunked). Trying on a longer body and bigger size means the straps are too long and sad little boobs are left stranded, a couple of floppy fish sagging in spandex.
You can get two-pieces that are meant to do the job, with high-waisted bottoms to marshall the gut and a cute, padded bikini top — handy because two-pieces can be ordered in separate sizes for each half — but again, the bottom cuts straight through the leg at its widest point. There are great 1940s and 50s styled swimsuits out there too, but I just look squat in them all.

So I want a modern take on a Victorian swimsuit, only body-fitted, and with Lycra and support. All my friends want one too. It must end at my knees, lift my boobs, support my tummy and not go transparent when it hits the water. A cute frill (sewn down so it doesn’t billow in the water) or a bit of ruffle is optional. It must fit a size ten on the top and a size twelve… okay… size fourteen at the bottom, with a long body.
I have scoured the internet. The closest I’ve come so far is a picture of a cartoon hippopotamus doing ballet. It’s either that or a wetsuit.

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It came out of the blue. At a family Sunday lunch in a local trattoria, my eight year old daughter made an announcement; “I want to be a thin girl”.

Her dad and I exchanged significant glances. Where was this coming from? Food, weight and dieting have never been an issue in our house. We own a set of scales but they spend most of their time covered in dust. We all love food and have been visiting restaurants regularly as a family since the children were babes in arms. They eat everything, from Chinese dim sum to big bowls of mussels on holiday in France. We encourage healthy eating but are not puritanical about treats, and have never forced them to finish everything on their plates.

Not something an eight year old should be doing

The thing is, she is a thin girl. She’s tall for her age, slim and, most important of all, healthy. The last thing I want is for her to start obsessing about food or feeling guilty about eating the things she enjoys.

Slightly floored by her declaration, I told her that she is already a perfect size. “But I want to be thinner” she replied. At this point I felt like shouting “Where are you getting these stupid notions?” My mind was racing. What is she hearing at school? Is it the American teenage comedies she watches on TV? Or is her desire to take up less space in the world the inevitable outcome of being surrounded by images of ridiculously thin models and celebrities? I bit my tongue and just told her that if she carries on dancing, cartwheeling and rollerblading she’ll be fine.

We moved on to other topics of conversation and she happily finished off her pasta and ice cream cone. No need to worry then – for the moment at least.

(Photo by puuikibeach on Flickr)

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Self-portrait with Monkeys (1943) - Frida Kahlo

Who needs or wants to know about the inner workings of other people’s relationships? About the minor detail of their lives? We may not need to know but we certainly want to know about some couples. Often the stormier the pairing, the more drawn we are to the drama. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, for example; or Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Iconic Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are a good example of a couple that excite curiosity. And because of their meticulous recording of their lives through art, as well as some artful myth spinning, we know a lot about a lot of their life together. They married each other twice. He – and then she – was serially unfaithful. Between them they notched up as lovers famous communists and actors, painters and photographers, including Leon Trotsky and Paulette Goddard. Rivera even had an affair with Frida’s sister, Cristina.

A joint exhibition of Kahlo’s and Rivera’s work was launched on Tuesday night at IMMA in Dublin. It is comprised of masterpieces from the collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman. At the opening we were treated to Mexican beer and margaritas and even a sparky mariachi band, who had their Irish-based compatriots singing along with gusto. The great hall was thronged with people, excited about this particular exhibition making its way to Ireland. It is a splash of carnival in a dull, grey country and we surely need that.

Our new Arts Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, gave his first major public speech since his appointment and he mentioned several projects with enthusiasm: a new Centre for Literary Excellence in Dublin; he also plans to set up an Arts TV Channel and he is going to prioritise arts education in primary schools. All good news.

Frida Kahlo lived her life in pain and her colour-rich paintings are an autobiography of her love-hate relationship with her physical self, her love for and nurturing of Diego, and her missed chances at motherhood. Rivera’s work is more monumental and political – they were both Communists – and his palette is often more muted than his wife’s.

Kahlo’s self-portraits – and there are many – are compelling: her gaze is head-on and she is often dressed in the vivid Tejuana style of dress she adopted, with elaborate neckpieces and braided hair. My favourite of these is Self-portrait with Necklace, a quiet, earlier piece, though the exhibition includes more well known works such as Self-portrait with Monkeys. Rivera’s stunning Calla Lily Vendors is also on show; he was a painter of the people and he delighted in ordinary scenes of workers going about their business.

The exhibition contains – as well as paintings – drawings, photographs of the artists, diary pages with sketches, collages and lithographs. It is a rich collection of artworks and there is no doubt that thousands of people will flock to it over the next few months, and so they should. It is well worth the trip to see such iconic work ‘in the flesh’.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Masterpieces of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection runs until the 26th June at IMMA. Admission €5, concessions €3.

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When I was little and we got the giggles in ballet class, the teacher told one of the big girls off for saying we had laughed so hard that we “literally hosed ourselves”.
We hadn’t, obviously.
But then we hadn’t had sex, been pregnant, given birth to children, or had hysterectomies yet either. Nowadays, one in four of us probably do “literally hose ourselves” every time we get the giggles. It kind of robs the joy out of life. We also hose ourselves if we try to sneeze and walk at the same time, or if we shout at our offspring, the very offspring who popped our poor bladders into our vaginas when the ingrates were in utero, ever after rendering us vaguely incontinent, then adding to the mortification by demanding we jump on the trampoline.

Oh, that'd be nice...

Jump? God knows, even dancing is getting embarrassing. Perhaps that’s why so few gals over 30 are found in night clubs: it’s not that we’re too tired, but that we’re scared of piddling a little while in the clutches of the boogie-monster. No one wants to be the old lady in the night club smelling faintly of wee and broken biscuits.
And as for exercise, if another gym bunny yells “cardio” at me I’ll scream. That’s why all my workout sweatpants are black. You try jogging with your bladder dripping every step you take. You try the step machine when every ten strides needs a change of knickers and a change of gyms too due to the sheer shame of it all. One optimistic bunny insisted we go outside to do some leapy little sidesteps. Did I say leapy? Should have said leaky…
“You obviously never did your pelvic floor exercises,” she said haughtily.
“I’m doing them as we speak,” I snarled back. I’ve been doing them ever since I gave birth at the age of 19, and then again at 27, and all the way through that second pregnancy, particularly after staying with a physiotherapist aunt who reminded me constantly, saying I’d be sorry if I didn’t.
A friend with four children of her own said memories of me post-birth had ensured she still does her own merry Kegels every day — she recalled how every time I stopped at a red traffic light I’d shout “Pelvic floors, ladies”, and we’d all start squeezing. I did it at traffic lights when on my own too, and sometimes I even did it at green lights for good measure. I did it, oh yes, and I still do

But for what? To be in my thirties and unable to run, or jump, or even dance with any feeling? To be terrified of tickling contests with my bloke or playful rugby tackles and bear hugs from my boys?
I never spoke about it because how could I? I didn’t want to tell the people I love that sudden movement makes me wet myself. I’d rather be on a pedestal than in the litterbox, and what woman wouldn’t?
I finally mentioned it to my doctor who said “pelvic floor exercises” then looked at me knowingly when I protested that I did, that I do, that I can (sort-of) stop my urine mid-flow so I know I’m pulling the right muscles. “Keep practising,” she said very unhelpfully, because if 20 years of traffic light Kegeling ain’t helped yet, then it ain’t going to, frankly.

The forecast is wet.

So I looked into it, and that’s when I discovered the one-in-four figure and realised I was not all alone in a corner with the old ladies, air freshener and a maxi-bag of incontinence pads. No, instead I am in the esteemed company of numerous mothers — whether they’d given birth by Caesarian or naturally, because it’s the hefty baby in the womb that juggles the bits down below. I am also in the company of hysterectomy patients, prolapse sufferers, and both overweight people and serious sportswomen (it’s the bouncing again, the hardcore gym-bunny bouncing!).
It seems to be a flaw in the very design and manufacture of women, and a mortifying one at that. Are you listening, God, because I’m shaking my fist, gently though so as not to pee myself?
Apparently, tragically one of the main reasons old women end up in nursing homes is incontinence.


But is it actually fixable? I don’t know. I know you can have an operation. I know it’s not always successful, and if it fails it’s not easily repeatable. I know online there are countless pelvic floor toners. I know they offer results in anything from two to twelve weeks. I know I bought one based on positive reviews, and it arrived on Monday, all parcelled up in surreptitious brown paper. I know it takes batteries and comes with a probe and now I know it makes me squeak if I set the power too high.
Yes, I am trying to fix my fanny by electrocuting it.
Bet that made everyone squeeze the old pelvic floor…
I’ll let you know how it goes, or maybe you’ll just hear my whoops of joy as a bounce ever higher on the trampoline.

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The Perfect Dress *Sigh*

After months of neutrals and too much black, strong colour blocking is all over collections for the spring and summer.  Although some folks turn sniffy over the trend of pairing a combination of elementary hues, I’ll maintain the old standby that if it’s on my body, it matches.  Those standard LBDs paint you right into the background or else scream funereal, while by contrast, great splashes of colour signal a bold style which stems from self-confidence.

The Cacharel dress pictured to the right is my ideal for the season.  A yellow and blue combination always makes me smile from the cool glow it transfers to the skin.  For example, in Balzac’s 1846 novel Cousin Bette, when the bratty young Hortense hands over a worn yellow cashmere shawl to the titular figure, she tells the poorer relation that the shade is as good as makeup for one’s complexion.  Balzac knew his fashion (and no one ever charged him with producing chick-lit, either).  Also, the V-cut neck, nipped waist and flared skirt to the dress is universally flattering.  I bet there’s a jaunty flounce when you move in this number.  The problem is the frock retails for over $1500, so I figured it was worth a look around to see if there was a reproduction at an affordable price.

River Island's closest version seems too purple

Retailers such as J Crew, Collection of Style, Zara, A Wear and Monsoon offered nothing online close in cut or paired shades.  Top Shop had one floral dress in blue and yellow listed for £29, but it looks far too romper-twee with hues in the crayola range.  River Island’s version sports a belt and a more adult take on the summer dress at £24.99, but the heavy hand of purple makes it overwrought.

This Top Shop dress bears a poor resemblance to my precious

A smart woman once counseled to shoot for the middle when dress shopping, so I expanded my search beyond the High Street shops.
Nanette Lepore features a really cute floral mini, not quite the same colour blend and without the same emphasis on structure.  It retails for $300 which falls outside the whimsical purchase range.
These days, when boxed between the prohibitive designer garments and the spurious fabric and stitching that go for cheap, the smart approach would be to invest in sewing classes and a Singer.  Words I never would have guessed I’d say, yet a sentiment that would have made my seamstress granny proud.

Nanette Lepore's floral looks too casual

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Snidely goes Cabaret

Nevermind the fact that a gay man who claims a gypsy mother would find little favour with the Hitler he professes to love, that there was plenty of room on those cattle cars for folks who weren’t Jewish.  John Galliano’s rabid anti-Semitic outburst was a vehicle to attack women for being ‘ugly.’

Galliano’s point as a man who made millions in fashion was the women on the receiving end of nasty tantrums were ‘ugly,’ had no style and should therefore be exterminated.  If that’s the case, Galliano should have taken a look-see in the mirror.  His personal style is not only ugly, it’s uninspired, derivative,  a mere imitation of the original cheesed-out figure he decided to mimic.  Nearly half the results on a google image search feature Galliano as a lesser-than Mickey Rourke ( not from the PYT era of the actor’s former screen credits , such as Angel Heart, either).  The sure-fire way to tell them apart is by the absence of a little dog in tow (R.I.P Loki!).  There are scores of photographs where Galliano appears as hybrid copy of Axl Rose, Bret Michaels and Kid Rock.  Nary a fashion plate in the bunch, I might add.

Axl? Bret?

He attempts impersonations from the film Cabaret, Snidely Whiplash and Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.  Galliano even throws second-rate shades of Lafayette from True Blood in front of the camera.

We’ve all witnessed this type of creepy dude, one who shreds women for the least imperfection while they rate as an unmitigated aesthetic disaster.

Jack Sparrow with extra grease?

Dude, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Lafayette would totally rock this in the garden

Oops.  Too late.

Galliano channels Mickey Rourke

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A recent Guardian feature asked a number of fashionistas if the comfortable high heel, ‘the holy grail of fashion’ really exists. Oddly, many of the respondents agreed that it does, though there was little consensus as to who actually makes this mythical item. The article featured a bewildering number of shoe designers nominated for the ‘most comfortable heel’ award. One woman was of the view that pain-free high heels cost big bucks, while another argued that you can’t beat good old M&S for comfort in a towering heel.

Oops! Has this woman fallen off her shoe?

I decided that many contributors had to be telling porkies to justify their shoe addiction. In the short term, high heels cause corns, calluses and blisters. They throw the posture out of kilter, stressing joints and forcing weight onto the front of the foot. Prolonged wear shortens calf muscles and Achilles tendons and contributes to bunions and hammer toes. Women are more likely than men to suffer from knee and foot problems in later life.

At this point I must confess that I’ve never really got the whole shoe thing – I think I lack the relevant gene. I live in flat boots and ballet pumps, kitten heels at a push. While I can see that some heels are things of beauty, I find many of the more extreme styles of high heel ugly, ridiculous or downright trashy looking. There is also the small matter of being unable to walk in them.

Victoria Beckham has reportedly already suffered bunions, a painful bone deformity, caused by her obsession with heels. And as for that other killer heel wearing fashion icon, Sarah Jessica Parker – I’ve rarely seen a bandier woman.

Yes yes, I know, heels  are sexy and glamorous. But let’s not kid ourselves that they’re actually comfortable, eh ladies?

(Photo by twicepix on Flickr)

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Boardwalk Empire didn’t live up to the hype or the recent round of awards in our house.  We stopped watching after a few episodes because it was one of those productions that seemed too familiar and therefore lacklustre.  It didn’t help that whenever Michael Pitt appeared onscreen I wanted to glass him for unaccountable reasons other than the smug which emanated from him like cartoon stink lines.  The series was my introduction to Paz de la Huerta, an actor whom I now see getting lots of media coverage, based on her dedication to being the biggest sex bomb of the moment.

Now I am the first to arch an eyebrow when slut shaming occurs, a ritual more likely performed by women than men, in what must be an attempt to recalibrate the narrow margin of approbation on reserve for women.  Call it a survival tactic (if you want to be kind) when women find a reason to shout down or shut out other women for being too slutty, available sexually, scantily dressed.  Slut shaming is the way some women prove their bona fides as one of the ‘good ones,’ a way to say she follows the rules and deserves consideration over the other trampy bitch in question.  Culture tells women as knee highs that there are only a few contempt-free spots available for the ladies, so they better get busy trying to claim one.  And since culture’s invested in equating a woman’s worth in terms of sexual access, it’s a no-brainer that some women will use the double bind of sluttitude however they can.  The hoary ‘ol Madonna-Magdalene binary for women clings to pop culture as unpalatably as unsalted butter on toast.  Women charge another with the offence or else claim the slattern badge as modernity’s badge of honour.

The first two dozen shots I’ve encountered of Paz de la Huerta in textbook vampy poses are of a piece with the persona she cultivates in interviews.  Profiles in Paper and New York Magazine waste no time before announcing de la Huerta as a sexual tigress.  Both articles use the actor’s sexuality as the defining point of her person, and sadly, she makes it easy for the dudes and feeds right into it.

She’s reported in NY Mag as rubbing her breasts amid horny ogling dudes in a steam bath, or else in Paper she’s determining character through sex:

“Nudity is a non-issue for me. Sex is a huge part of life,” she explains with a slight, all-purpose Euro accent. “To pretend it’s not is being a liar, and people who are afraid of their sexuality are suffering.”

We get it, Paz.  You like the sex.  Other women are not sexy enough, not as sexy as your enlightened self.

As I live and breathe, is it too much to hope that we could graduate beyond this simplistic baseline of self-actualisation?  I become as weary after hearing the ladies crow about how in touch they are with their sexuality as I do with those who think vigilant hymen protection ranks a woman in the saintly league.  Sex is not the lynchpin of your moral compass or personal growth, whether you have no sex, sex with only your life partner, or sex as random and often as you can manage.  Sex is fun, feels great and all the rest, but trading upon your willingness to engage in it doesn’t translate into higher being status.  Stop defining yourself by how little or much sex you have.

One strain of culture, the flip side of the virgin fetish, renders ladies as the sex class, she’s not really espousing any radical sentiments in a quest to be Ms. Naked & Sexually Open 2011.  In fact, it’s a rather conservative stance to take in our pornified society.  One won’t get far with the sex kitten role when the window stays open for such a short time in a culture that adds a youth obsession on top of the s-e-x.  Also, notice how she qualifies sexual partners as potential husband and father of her children, among all the other warm fuzzy things in order to paint her sexuality inside a traditional and conventional frame.

So Paz: Give It a Rest.  Pick up a book.  And go watch Bette Davis in Mrs. Skeffington or another cautionary tale on film about the perils involved in putting all over your eggs in one beauty-sexy-times basket.

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Your wedding day. The happiest day of your life. The day when everyone can be relied upon to swallow their actual thoughts upon watching you flounce down the aisle looking for all the world like an escaped loo roll holder (remember these?) and instead murmur, ‘The bride! So gorgeous’.

Yes, this is a public health campaign, as seen in Blackrock Dart Station.

Except, sometimes, it doesn’t happen like that. It happens like this: some.ly/elo757

I’m not sure what baffles/offends/astonishes me more about this. The idea that the bride’s wedding dress was paid for by her parents? The idea that they refer to the (presumably enclosed) cash as ‘insuring our investment’? The divorce rate is 50% in the USA, so I guess there’s a fair chance their little darling would be the blushing bride more than once, but surely she’d at least change dresses when she changed groom? The fact that they’re telling her to weigh herself weekly, as if she’s a calf??

A friend of mine was a cheerleader in Texas, which is apparently as awful as it sounds (mind you, it was either that or Bible group, so she chose well). She has many eye-popping stories, but my favourite is that the girls’ thigh measurements were taken weekly. Any teenager demonstrating even the slightest increase in millimetreage was banned from the pyramid and the Spirit Sprinkles until the following week’s measuring.

Strikes me that this poor bride may well have a mother who once was a cheerleader. Either way: run! Run for the hills! And leave the dress behind…

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