age ain’t nothing but a number

Who remembers this song? I love this song. I loved in 1994 when I was 16, and I love it now in 2013 at the shiny new age of 35. Mostly it’s because I have a never-ending love for Aaliyah, but it’s also because age has never really mattered to me. I’ve had romances and friendships with older people, younger people, and people my age. While our age can influence who we are, in my opinion it doesn’t define who we are.

Apparently it does define some things, like pregnancy. Do you know what pregnancy is called in a woman 35 or older? A geriatric pregnancy. Seriously. Geriatric. Because that’s your first connotation when you hear “geriatric” right? 35. Certainly not, oh, I don’t know, 80. This site claims the term has been “changed to ‘advanced maternal age'” but my doctor and everyone at her practice did not get the memo.

So here I am, a 35-year-old actress, singer, and writer preparing for an eventual old lady pregnancy. But what did the internet want me to know? Not anything about enhancing my artistic career, or health tips, or new fun adventures to consider. Instead, I was inundated with methods for Preserving My Youth. The most important thing for anyone ever in the history of humankind. Looking young.

As my birthday drew near, the creepy search engines of google and facebook started posting ads for magic lady face creams promising to take decades off my skin. You know what else takes decades off my skin? Photoshop. I tried to do my own photo to see if I look as alabaster smooth as Cate Blanchett, but Photoshop is complicated, so all I managed to do was remove some fly-aways.

By now we should all know that there is no point in judging ourselves by beauty ads or celebrities on the red carpet. I just read in this month’s Glamour that Jennifer Garner has a standing facial appointment TWICE A WEEK. Guess what else will take decades off your skin? Two facials every single week.

The internets like to tell us what 35 looks like, how old we’ll be when we start turning into uggos, and what age is So Perfect that even younger ladies are aspiring to it via their helpful plastic surgeons. It even provides a forum for random douchebags to create graphs based on their asinine perceptions of when and why a woman is attractive.

Of course the internets also provide the rare glimpse at us real folks, like in this impressive slide show from Esquire that features all kinds of different women (no really!) from ages 18-53. While it’s annoying that the URL refers to women “aging gracefully” – because, truly, what does that mean? why can’t we just call it aging? – it’s an honest portrayal of what the headline claims: “What the Real American Woman Looks at in the Mirror Every Day.” Those look like women I know. Women I would have brunch with.

Also can’t help but love the woman who says “The best thing about being 35 is, you don’t have to pretend to give a f-ck anymore.” Heh. Damn right.

So because I’m Hollywood obsessed, let’s take a look at 35 according to Tinseltown… Do you know how hard it is to find ages of female tv/movie characters?? Very hard. So, here are two I was able to dig up sort of: Joan and C.J.

joan-holloway-650-430In Mad Men Season 5, Episode 4, “Mystery Date,” Joan is probably 35. Her fictional birthday is in February 1931, and this episode is circa 1966.

cj_cregg_the_west_wing_season_2_nbc_18h18i0-18h18kkThis photo is supposedly from Season 2 of The West Wing, and C.J. was supposedly about 34 when she joined the Bartlett campaign, so after two years at the White House she’s possibly maybe supposedly about 36 years old.

That’s all I’ve got. The only movies I could think of where women talk about their age were romantic comedies, in moments which frequently involve lamentations about turning 30. Because when you turn 30 YOUR LIFE IS OVER.


It amuses the hell out of me when people ask for your birthdate to fill out some random form, and they tiptoe around it for fear of offending you. “….we don’t need the year, but could we get your birthdate?” I always give the year. Why not give the year? What is there to be ashamed of? I don’t feel any different then I did five years ago. I didn’t have a meltdown over turning 30, and I’m not having one now. Better than the alternative, I always say!

Here’s me last week as I careened toward the geriatric baby making, maybe hottest but maybe ugliest, Game Over or is it Game On next year of my life:

Photo on 8-12-13 at 8.00 AM                                                 No makeup, with bangs

Photo on 8-15-13 at 8.08 AM

Makeup, with bangs

Photo on 8-14-13 at 8.03 AM

No makeup, no bangs!

Photo on 8-20-13 at 8.32 AM

Makeup… oops, cut my bangs so now they’re hard to pull back

So I can’t tell you What 35 Looks Like, or How to Stay Young Forever, and I don’t want to. What I can tell you is that this is what My 35 looks like, and that youth may have its perks, but so do growing and changing and learning and evolving and living.
581798_10151519966016933_151280541_nBirthday! Celebrating with friends. One is 32 and one is 27, and I’m not telling you which is which because it doesn’t matter. Cheers!

Talking to Our Daughters

This morning brought with it a handful of Facebook posts sharing these musings from Sarah Koppelkam of Hope Avenue. It is a sweet and idealistic post about what we should tell our daughters about their bodies. The short, short version is this: we should tell them nothing, beyond the functional. 

Again, these are lovely thoughts. I choked up a little reading “She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.” Excellent points are made about the importance of not degrading ourselves or other women in front of our daughters, and helping them to learn by example. Move your own furniture, don’t fear carbs, etc. All great advice. Still, after the first read, something didn’t sit right with me.

And then it struck me.

This is almost exactly how my mother raised me. 

There was no fat shaming in my house (and we’ve already covered that I was a chubby kid), and there was no celebration of thinness or beauty. This practice of non-discussion was extended to me, my sisters, my mom, and the other women in our lives. My mother encouraged all of us to play sports that we liked, even to the extent of coaching some of our teams. My mother is a fierce, strong, hardworking woman. She takes pleasure in all kinds of foods and experiences and spending time with her loved ones. She is a brilliant chef who has passed on to me a deep love of preparing and sharing food. My mom always encouraged me to pursue and improve my talents as an actress, writer, and singer. She believed I was capable of those things even when I didn’t believe it myself. 

I couldn’t ask for a more ideal role model for confidence, self-worth, and accomplishment.

So why did I go through years of insecurity, struggles with eating, and body image issues? 

The reality is that we are not the only influences in our daughters’ lives. While I commend the author and my mother for everything they did right, I think it’s crucial to point out what’s missing.

We need to be prepared to talk to our daughters about their bodies, because they will have questions.

Whether it’s: ‘why do my thighs touch and my sister’s don’t?’ or ‘why do boys always like the skinny girls?’ or ‘why does so and so have breasts already when I don’t?’ There will be moments where talking to our daughters about their bodies becomes essential. We need to arm her with tools to navigate a world that challenges all of the principles and ideals we’ve worked so hard to instill within her.

When I was young and chubby and working through that self-consciousness, it wasn’t in my mother’s toolbox to help me. She came from a family where being thin was an ideal and an expectation. Her mother and her grandmother were intensely fat-phobic. My mother and I weren’t able to talk about those things until I was very much an adult, and had found my own way through the jungle of messages telling me that how I looked mattered a great deal. I don’t blame her for not having those tools, and I am grateful to her for not passing on the judgements that she was raised with.

But I want to have those tools for my daughter.

I don’t have a daughter, yet. If nature hadn’t intervened, I’d be on my way to having one, but that daughter was not meant to be. All the same, I had enough time to begin to consider what kind of parent I would want to be for her, and these are the things that came to mind.

It would be wonderful if we never had to address the reality of value placed on a woman solely because of how she looks. But that isn’t the world we live in. There are numerous things we can do to work on changing that reality, but in the meantime, we need to be ready to talk to our daughters about their bodies. Because they will have questions.

mama y yo


with me every step of the way


Real Beauty in Advertising

By now most of you are probably aware of the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” videos that have been making their internet rounds. This is the video that I first saw. It’s a segment from the full version.

While the majority of reactions that I’ve seen involve words like “moving” and “so important” or “tears” and “thank you”, as with everything on the world wide web, there are naysayers as well.

Here’s my initial disclaimer: Yes, Obviously, this is an ad. It’s an ad that aims for the end result of you buying Dove products. And YES, Dove is owned by Unilever, the company that also owns hyper-sexist, patently absurd Axe body spray. Here’s what I have to say about those two things:

  • Almost everything we see and experience these days is some form of marketing, with the end goal being ‘buy this product, see this movie, read this book after you buy this fancy e-reader, etc. etc. etc.’ If you have a problem with marketing, you should probably move to Mongolia. Seriously. That documentary that followed babies for a year made it look like a really peaceful, uninfluenced place to live.
  • Dove Unilever Axe… If you really want to get up in arms about who owns what, then prepare to give up A Lot of your favorite things because guess what. There are about ten companies that own damn near everything, and when it comes to the people who control the money in those companies, that number gets even smaller.
  • Now let’s look at the number of women who have influence over what kind of media we see (including film, tv, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, communications jobs, video games, and the internet). For the 21st century, the numbers are still quite abysmal. The Women’s Media Center report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2013, points out the finding that “At its current pace, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship and nonprofits.”

What does all of this mean? It means that every step counts. It means that there is nothing wrong with getting excited about a company choosing this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 10.34.20 AM

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 10.33.26 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 10.34.06 AM

Over this:

Of all the naysaying, there is a key issue that is very elegantly addressed on this tumblr, and that (unsurprisingly) is the issue of race. I am in complete agreement that the Dove ‘real beauty’ ads consistently do not reflect the true diversity of the population. This video in particular features women of color for about 10 seconds in a video that is over 6 minutes long. The man drawing the women appears to be Hispanic, but he is not the target of the ad, he merely plays a role in it. I was hoping to see more from the women of color in the full version of the video, and I was disappointed to see that it was in fact more women who were white, most of whom were blonde.

I then read a comment on FB from my friend Anne who said she was on board with the video until her daughter, who is nearly seven, asked what she was watching. At that point Anne realized, “…as I explained it to her, it became clear to me that the video’s very narrow definition of what beauty looks like, as well as the idea of its supreme importance to a woman’s life, are actually antithetical to what I try so hard to pass on to her.”

Again, I agree. The idea of beauty’s ‘supreme importance’ must be turned on its head before women will be taken seriously as complex individuals with a great deal to offer the world beyond their looks. The unfortunate reality is that there is currently an intense amount of emphasis placed on a woman’s beauty, and this emphasis is Everywhere. Any instance of encouraging women to feel beautiful in their own skin should be built upon to challenge the current ideals even further. Celebrate and promote instances where you think media is doing it right, and call out the instances that aren’t. Go ahead and contact Dove and say “Your real beauty sketches ad had great intent behind it, but it’s a shame you didn’t see fit to be truer to your own message and feature a more diverse group of women. I’ll consider buying your products when I see genuine diversity in your ads.” Or something to that effect.

Anne then referenced a friend who questioned what the Dove ad means for women who “actually look like the photo on the left”…and honestly my first thought was, ‘but do you? Do you look like one of the photos on the left, or is that only your impression of yourself?’ I have to stand behind this campaign’s challenge to women to Be Aware of how you see yourself versus how others see you. This blog was started based on the frightening statistic that 97% of women, on average, have thirteen or more negative thoughts about themselves every day. Even more disturbing to me has been the number of women I know who hear that statistic and are entirely unfazed, because that sounds normal to them. It has become a personal ambition of mine to reverse that statistic, until 97% of women have an average of thirteen positive thoughts about themselves every day. In this endeavor, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Issues of gender and race are huge, complex, and deep-rooted. It is always important to question and challenge what we’re exposed to in this era of mass information, and to exercise our media literacy. When it comes to representations of women in the media that aim to be positive, I believe we need to acknowledge them and push for them to go even further. As I see it, the ultimate goal is to free women of the preoccupation with how we look. If in fact only 4% of the world’s women think they’re beautiful, and it’s certainly true that the vast majority of the world’s media is telling them that beautiful is what they should strive to be, that preoccupation is inevitable.

I’m compelled to quote the Contentious Ad Campaign here, because I think it’s a crucial point: Imagine a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. If we don’t even Begin to look deeper, to build confidence, to expand notions of a woman’s worth, we will never get to the point where girls and women value themselves beyond their beauty.

My final word is this – if nothing else, I am fucking thrilled that we are having these conversations. Any and all opinions are welcome here.

Now go forth, and be your amazing self.
Note: For above and beyond the messages of Dove, Beauty Redefined has a list of “doable strategies” to redefine and reclaim notions of beauty and health, encouraging all of us to push the boundaries and “promote real fitness, confidence, happiness and love for yourself and others.”

Women in Ads and Magazines: An RLB Chat

This morning S and I were chatting via gmail, as we are wont to do, and we decided that our conversation about how women are portrayed in magazines would make a pretty stellar blog post. Herein, a glimpse into the minds of the RLB creators…

(Note: Because I copied and pasted the chat, the “me” that appears is me, Elizabeth, and the “Sha” is S, because I have her listed in my email contacts as Sha Na Na Na. Naturally.)

me:  What I really want to do today is write a blog post about how this happened.

Sha: Hmm what do you think of it?

me: When I first read a quote from it I was pretty uppity, but then
1. I realized he was speaking at a Feminism in Media conference hosted by COSMOPOLITAN magazine and
2. He has some valid points. I won’t say, as many have, “at least he’s being honest” because being honest doesn’t equate integrity. If he followed up with “and I think this is a problem and we all need to work together to fix it,” well then sure. But he doesn’t. He’s all Shrug, this is the way the world works, which is the BS part for me.

Sha: I wouldn’t expect somebody in his position to recognize this as a problem

me: Right.

Sha: Because he sells these magazines

me:  mmhm

Sha: And they do sell. And I also agree with him that women’s magazines are much worse

me: See, I don’t know about Much Worse or The Root of the Problem. They are at fault, surely…

Sha: I see them as worse because they manipulate women directly

me: …but my Vogue doesn’t have ads of women in bikinis pouring milk on themselves. Or whatever.

Sha: Hahaha, unless it’s a new beauty treatment.

me: Haha.

Sha: Women’s magazines and men’s magazines are both guilty of objectifying women, totally. They just have different goals.

me: Exactly.

Sha: Women’s magazines want women to feel like shit so they buy stuff, and men’s magazines want to sell more magazines. And also stuff.

me: So they turn women into objects.

Sha: To sell objects

me: Yes.

Sha: So the images of women are presented differently in each. He’s right that the women in men’s magazines are more diverse, which is interesting, because a women’s magazine would have you think that all women look like 100 lb aliens with no pores, and that that’s what men want, lol.

me: Hahaha, right? When most men in fact prefer women who are human, and even (gasp) a little “flawed.” And he’s also generalizing, about women’s magazines. Glamour has taken leaps and bounds in this arena as of late,

Sha: Oh right I’ve heard about that.

me: whereas Cosmo is offensive just by existing.

Sha: Hahaha. The industry is just really fucked

me: Well yes. Women in media, in general, are not well represented.

Sha:  HENCE the blog. lol

me:  Haha huzzah! And I don’t think you get brownie points just for being “honest” about it.

Sha: No, he’s sleazy. But I would expect him to be, I guess? I don’t expect the editor in chief at Cosmo to be a good person either, or hollywood studio executives. They don’t want to upset the status quo, that’s how they make their money

me:  BUT THEY ARE CREATING THE STATUS QUO. Sorry for the shouty caps.

Sha: Hahaha. I think that we create it, by buying it. The collective we. If we stopped buying it they would stop making it that way.

me: True… I think it’s a cycle, because we are in a consumer culture, and we are desensitized. So yes, I agree with your point, but

Sha:  But we can make choices in what we consume. I don’t know if there’s like a male magazine equivalent to Bust Magazine? Is there?

me: I don’t think so. But let’s take Dove, as a for instance.

Sha:  yes

me: Great Real Beauty campaign, right, but so many women say

Sha:  right

me: “That corporation also owns Axe body spray, so they’re hypocrites, so I won’t buy Dove”

Sha:  ah

me: But by not supporting the campaign that’s great, aren’t we sending a message that it isn’t important to us? Unless you’re writing to them saying “I will not buy Dove until you stop making Axe,” then no one knows about your principled protest. And like you said, our dollars matter. So buy Dove, not Axe. Amiright?

Sha: Right, yeah that does make sense.

me: It’s not productive to say All Women’s Magazines are to blame, because they’re not all the same. We have to support the pieces that resonate with us. I subscribe to Glamour, not Cosmo. Bust is a women’s magazine, and it’s amazing.

Sha: It’s like the indie flick that gets great reviews and makes no money

me: Exactly! It’s why box office earnings are so important. Opening weekend, specifically. But I digress.

Sha: The thing about advertising and magazines, because most magazines are mostly about advertising, is that even if it seems good… like the dove campaign, for example, and even if good things come from it, like the dove campaign, we are still just being sold something (soap), but also a feeling…

me: Of course. I say better that feeling of positivity and acceptance than feelings of worthlessness and insignificance.

Sha: …and I’m sure that even though there are well-intentioned people who worked on the Dove campaign along the way, and they were glad to put it out there, it was backed by people who were like, “You know what women seem to want right now? Acceptance. Let’s sell that to them so they will buy this soap.”

me: Which again, in my opinion is a better message, and a result of what women want right now, what we are demanding, which speaks to your point that our dollars do our talking. So ultimately I think if more media responded that way – “this is what women want so let’s give it to them to sell our product” – that’s essentially a good thing! They’re going to try to sell us shit no matter what. That part isn’t going away.

Sha: Haha that’s true.

me: Personally I’d rather have diversity and acceptance selling me things than Rosie Huntington Whitley draped over a fur rug in her panties. (Added after chat: Omg I just said that off the cuff, but look! It’s almost an actual thing.)

Sha: Well we’re both from a demographic like that and plenty of companies use that on us. But not all. Many of them don’t need to use it. Like men’s magazines!

me: Way to bring it full circle! And I suppose my biggest issue there, is that the kind of objectification in men’s magazines is the sort that leads to perpetuating the treatment of women as objects.

Sha: Yep.

me: And in women’s magazines, the objectification makes women feel like they Should be treated as objects. So all around, things need to change, and if it’s one greedy corporation at a time, so be it.

Sha: It’s a gross business. I don’t know what it would take to change it but talking about it is definitely a start.

Elizabeth’s Summary: Talking about it is absolutely a great start. We can see the ripple effect that these conversations are having – there are countless grassroots campaigns that have set out to spark the necessary discourse, in order to change the way women are portrayed in the media and the way we see ourselves in everyday life.

Together, these campaigns have already had a powerful effect on representations of women in commercial media (as evidenced by the ads below, which were unheard of in popular culture before the body image movements of the last several years), but there is still a long way to go. Our voices, our insistence on respect and real representation, cannot be too loud or too prevalent. This is how we will change the story.

On that note, here are some steps in the right direction: 



Yes! More women of color! More women who are curvy!

Dove-Campaign-for-Real-BeautyYes! Not all women are under 25!

nikethighsYes! Women’s bodies are strong, healthy sources of support for how we live our lives!

And if this:

Leads to this:

real real women
Then let’s demand more of it!

This link is also posted in my summary above, but y’all should check out Beauty Redefined! It was pure coincidence that I stumbled upon these amazing ladies while doing my google search for diverse ads. Show them some love and support. And let’s plaster the world with their amazing post-it notes!


Saturday Love Special

Today is my husband’s birthday. It has been a delightful treat to call him my husband ever since we were married almost four years ago. A picture of us on our wedding day was recently featured in an ad for Tiffany ‘love notes’ (yes, that Tiffany), and it was very exciting to see our love represent something so timeless and romantic.

Today I also read a post that was shared by our wedding photographers, Kitty and Craig. It is an open letter to a wedding magazine that would not publish an ad for Anne Almasy wedding photography, because she wanted to use a photo of a same-sex couple. Her letter is beautiful, powerful, and rings true to me in so many ways. Please take a moment to read it, and share it if you are so inclined.

I am married to a man, but I am not a heterosexual woman. Gender doesn’t matter to me, and before I met my husband I was in relationships with women. I have loved women, cherished women, and challenged the notions in our society of what it means to Be a woman.

This will always be a part of who I am. In my marriage, I am secure and accepted by the world around me, but because of my heart and its history, I need to fight the good fight until love between all genders is ensured that same security and acceptance.

Thank you, Anne Almasy, for also fighting the good fight. Our site doesn’t usually have ads, but we will run this one for you.


2012 in review

Thank you to all of our readers in 2012! We hope you’ll continue to enjoy Real Living Beauty in 2013. Spread the word by sharing our posts, liking our Facebook page, and following our Pinterest boards. As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments.

To close out 2012, enjoy this adorable illustrated compilation of our Year in Review, and we’ll see you in 2013!

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Fresh Face Fridays

MissRepresentation is at it again! This time, they’re promoting a campaign conceived by one of their Action Reps (we’re like grassroots superheros), a teenager wanting to challenge the face-painting status quo. And I don’t mean butterflies and tigers on kids at the state fair. I mean you and your daily face-painting habits that likely began sometime circa junior high.

In all honesty, when I first saw the campaign, my immediate reaction was “Ha. I’m not doing that.”

So of course, here we are.

Here it is in a nutshell:

Never in my life have I been a Major Makeup girl. Day-to-day I have a very simple, basic routine. But it is my routine, and this little challenge made me realize that I cling to it like plastic wrap at a plastic wrap party. You see, dear reader, I have substantial/genetic/doesn’t matter how I eat or live, dark circles under my eyes. Once, in the seventh grade, a kid asked me if I’d been in a fight. His friend laughed, but I don’t think the kid was being snarky – he sounded genuinely concerned. Or at least that’s what my twelve-year-old self chose to believe.

Enter: Concealer. My constant companion since approximately my fourteenth year on the planet. Never foundation, always concealer, and just for my infernal, perpetually raccoony eyes. Even if my only plans involve the couch and a stack of magazines, I almost always wear concealer. Someone could stop by unexpectedly, and like a boy scout, I am always prepared.

The kicker here is that as a working professional, it feels like even a day without makeup isn’t really an option. My particular eye condition* makes people tell me I look tired, even when I’m not. It makes me look like I have a poor diet, even though I don’t. So going without makeup feels somehow… unprofessional. It’s an unfortunate conundrum.

Thankfully, RLB exists. A platform for me and S and sometimes Lou to celebrate, critique, pontificate, and take the occasional risk – all in the name of True Beauty. So while I am too nervous about challenging the world’s obsession with makeup in my workplace, I will instead post it all over the internets. As S once declared: “Here is a picture of me with no make up. On the internet. All in the name of science.”

The best I could do was ride my bike to work, makeup-free, then sit down at my desk and document this process. All photos are 100% untweaked. No Hipstamatic, no Photoshop, no magic wand enhancing. And at first, the photo above did make me flinch a little. And I questioned moving forward. But this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us, and progress, and confidence, and truth, and beauty! (that one was for you, B)

First step: Apply precious concealer to mask fatigue beliers.
Imagine my surprise when these two images turned out to be… really similar. In my mind, my pre-concealer self is very sloth-like. Apparently my mind likes to embellish. Suspicions point to exaggeration as a common problem among most females: we think we’re too fat, too thin, too pointy, too curvy, too this, too that… when in truth we could all use a refresher on the Goldilocks worldview.

Next step: Apply mascara, a little blush, and some lip balm.
And I’m done!

That’s it for me and everyday makeup. Is it a big difference? Not at all! Am I ready to rock my Fresh Face for an entire Friday at work? Probably not as long as I have the fancy job in the fancy office working among lots of fancy, important people. But thanks to this little exercise, I can now honestly say that I wear makeup at work because I feel the need to present a polished and professional persona** not because I think me without makeup = wildebeest.

Perhaps I’ll aim for Fresh Face Sundays… Not as catchy, but hopefully just as effective in starting conversations about the role of makeup in our daily lives.

So what do you think, RLB readers? What is your relationship to makeup? When did you start wearing it and why? Does your job or school or vocation support you rocking a Fresh Face once in a while, or do you feel it’s a key part of your daily persona? How does it make you feel when you venture out in public, Fresh-Faced? Share your thoughts in the comments, or email us at

*I almost wrote affliction. Working hard to turn it around, people!
**Yay, alliteration!