Monthly Archives: August 2008

You Are Beautiful

50000Silver.jpg How are you feeling today?  About your looks? About yourself?  Is your skin tone looking a little uneven?Lips chapped?  Eyes red?  Is your breath a little unfresh? Is your butt too big, or maybe not big enough?  Breasts saggin? Knees baggin?  OK, maybe you do look pretty good today, but couldn’t you stand to look just a wee bit better?

Yes, you there, sitting at your desk ducking the pop-up ads for wrinkle cream, driving down the highway past billboard after billboard, sitting in the subway, watching TV, waiting at the doctor’s office as advertising blip after advertising blip enters your brain.

A steady stream of media messages tell all of us, but especially women, that we are not good enough, lovely enough, smart enough, desirable enough, cool enough, and that the only answer is to buy, buy, buy.  Unfortunately, if the relentless messages of the marketing masters are to be believed, we can never buy enough product to ever get it just right.

It is just those kinds of messages that the creators of the You Are Beautiful sticker project hope to counteract, armed with nothing more than a simple phrase in black text on a silver sticker.  Actually hundreds of thousands of stickers. The goal of their project is to “spread the message to as many individuals, in as many places as possible, simply reminding them of their beauty.”

Since the project begin, they have printed over 500,000 stickers and given them away free.  You can contact them here to get your own stickers and help spread the word.  Alternatively, a pdf download is available for those who want to print their own batch.  They also encourage one and all to create their own You Are Beautiful art and art installations, then send photos to be posted on the project website where examples from around the world are archived.

Just imagine, one day as you are sitting in traffic you glance up at a street sign to see the unexpected rectangular addition that tells you: You Are Beautiful.  And you are.




While I am a very clean person, one who has been known to bathe twice in one day just because I like soaking inert in the tub, I am a woman afflicted with…..clutter. Mounded magazines (not newspapers because I don’t want to be found under a moldering pile of them when I’m 80), mail, mail, and more mail, books, books, books, oh yes and more books. Topped with new mail. And a couple more books to hold it all down. Now I know I am not alone.

My great friend Kristen emphatically recommended Karen Kingston’s book, CLEAR YOUR CLUTTER WITH FENG SHUI (Broadway, 1999) after she could stand her own clutter no longer. Kristen and I are both teachers and writers with young children, so we have similar forms of clutter: the flotsam & jetsam teaching/writing types collect plus brightly colored childhood related dreck. She claims this book has started to get her home, and by extension, her life, in order. As she explained the author’s assertion that clutter clearing is one of the most powerful, transformative aspects of Feng Shui, I surveyed the increasingly baroque piles of clutter in my home.Oh, how have I sunk to this low estate?, I wondered.I’ve not yet purchased said book, but just the thought of embarking on a clutter-clearing program that could energize my life got me instantly juiced.

Kristin read me a few choice excerpts from the book over the phone one morning as I procrastinated about sorting my mail. Apparently, Ms. Kingston uses the principles of Feng Shui to banish clutter, clear space and bring about a new sense of balance. She gets your Bagua in order. Yes, my friend, your Bagua , from the Chinese pa kua, literally “eight symbols”.

A bagua map is a tool used in some forms of Feng Shui to map a house, a room or even a desk to see how the different sections correspond to different aspects in life, such as fame/reputation, family/ancestors/health, love/marriage, children/creativity, helpful people/travel, career, knowledge/cultivation, and wealth/prosperity.

The bagua map is intended to find areas lacking good chi, (the circulating ethereal substance or life energy that in Chinese philosophy is thought to be inherent in all things) and to show where there are negative or missing spaces that need rectifying.It seems that if you solve your chi issues in your environment it can carry over into the corresponding areas of your life. Get your Bagua in order; get your life in order. Don’t mess with the Bagua—that’s all I’m sayin’, till I actually read the book myself.

According to Ms. Kingston, dealing with clutter is one of the most important aspects of using feng shui. Clutter, which derives from the Middle English word clotter—to coagulate—tends to accumulate when energy stagnates, and vice versa. Kingston’s approach to feng shui is that you can sort out your life by sorting out your stuff.

Jazzed and enthused with the possibility of clearing an energy path in my life, I recently actually collected and purposefully disposed of three garbage bags full of mail and other assorted junk. I have a long way to go before I achieve spatial nirvana, but it’s a start. Wish me luck.

Charmed Life

“I’m not stupid. I went to Wendy Ward Charm

School… I know how to walk, how to get in and

out of a car without showing the world everything.”

Terry Ventura, on her readiness for her new

role as Minnesota‘s first lady (, 01/18/99)

Mrs. Jesse Ventura and I share a special bond. We’re both proud graduates of The Wendy Ward Charm School. In windowless offices above the local Montgomery Ward’s, I learned about the magic Ps—Poise and Posture.

MaryAnn Palodino, doppelganger of 1970s siren Marisa Berenson, presided over ten girls in various stages of gawk every Saturday for 8 weeks. Her title, Personal Charm Director, fit like a tiara; in sweet but forceful tones she turned the everyday into Proper Pronouns. False eyelashes improbably becoming, lip-gloss blindingly shiny, her silver bangles never jangled on her willowy arms. I was grudgingly mesmerized. Like me, MaryAnn was tall and dark; unlike me she was thin, a walking definition of perfection.

It wasn’t my idea to enroll in The Wendy Way to Charm; my mother thought it would bring me out of myself. Self was something I hid and ignored. At twelve, with my height and breasts in full bloom, I looked eighteen. I didn’t want to parade in a roomful of little girls.

Radiating disdain, I slouched through the door in a baggy T-shirt. My cool was practiced. Head down, I stumbled into a chair. I guess you have your work cut out for you, my mother sang out. She quickly exited, leaving me to my best impersonation of a paralytic. Nonsense, MaryAnn purred. She’s a tall and lovely girl. I was hers; it was that easy.

Cherub-voiced, with the personal force of a drill instructor, MaryAnn schooled us in Classic Charm. Before we could touch the jeweled pots of gloss nestled temptingly in our Beauty Kits, we imbibed the mantra: Cleanse! Tone! Moisturize! I inhaled the almond moisturizer we were issued—my first real girl gear.

Several girls began wearing their hair in disheveled homage to MaryAnn’s sleek chignons. I managed to achieve a “hiding small woodland creature” effect, and then switched to a Veronica Lake do. MaryAnn pronounced it chic but impractical; I kept tripping while practicing the Model’s Walk.

MaryAnn imparted the mechanics of modeling with the gravity of a tutorial with Balanchine. Model’s T, which, indeed, resembled a ballet position, was the starting point for Model’s Walk— a pantherish glide. The Pantsuit Lunge, my favorite, came next—lurching forward with hand on knee, elbow slightly bent. I tolerated The Skirt Tilt: one hand on hip with a slight dip to the side. It echoed the unflattering I’m A Little Teapot I’d been corralled into performing in kindergarten. Only the Hokey-Pokey earned more of my childhood scorn.

The group favorite was Little Twirl, a supposedly controlled spin for showing off skirts. Spin Girls Spin! Maryann sang as we dizzied ourselves. Beatrix Chassee, a sallow milk fed veal of a girl, became briefly notorious for twirling herself into a nosebleed. Heedless of her distress, the rest of the Charm commandos spun in disoriented orbits while MaryAnn ran Beatrix to the restroom. A visitor to class at that moment might have witnessed something akin to Interpretive Dance for the Autistic.

Model T, Model Walk, Pivot, and Pantsuit Lunge. Model T, Model Walk, Pivot. We practiced our panther glides tirelessly, for the ultimate reward—A Fashion Show, the golden carrot MaryAnn held out as we toiled on imaginary runways. Wendy’s Way handbook featured such weirdly deathless prose as “Beauty is learned…and earned—you’ll never find it sitting on a mushroom” and the slightly frightening “…remember rudeness is the devil’s gift to a self-conscious girl, and you don’t want people to think you’re self-conscious.” If that was true, the entire class was enrolled in Satan’s Gift Registry.

I worked hard for MaryAnn, she of the flawless skin and noiseless bracelets. Her huge eyes seemed to reflect what I could become. Soon, I was voluntarily showering two times a day. A miracle! , my mother declared. I sneered an elegant sneer; my Model’s Smile was for MaryAnn alone.

When MaryAnn looked at all of us, gangly, pimply, plump, or stringy, she really seemed to see Natural Beauties capable of pulling off a Graduation Fashion Show. Natural Poise and Beauty are the Best Cosmetics Girls—Makeup and Stylish Clothing are Only Icing! I forgave her mixed metaphors.

As we descended to Ward’s retail floor to select outfits for the Show, my stomach tightened with familiar dread. I was 5 ft 8 and over 120 pounds–huge, enormous, gargantuan. My sad baggy T-shirt camouflaged my flaws.

Nothing ever fit—why bother looking? Freak!—too tall, too big, and too fat–my inner rant continued. As the other girls fanned out in pursuit of Fashion, I lurked near the footwear department feigning sudden interest in Earth Shoes. MaryAnn caught me with her gimlet eye as I slinked behind a pillar. Why wasn’t I looking for an outfit? I stared at the pillar, the floor and MaryAnn’s charm bracelet—all hearts. I unleashed my litany of woe—too big, too tall—too much! She was unconvinced. Show me where you usually look, she commanded. I led her to the area where my father usually selected my clothes. Always in the largest size possible.

A frown broke her usually placid surface. Then she smiled and said, Why sweetie, this is the children’s department! You are a lovely young woman—not a little girl. In memory I see her as a sort of Disco Glinda the Good Witch, lip-gloss reflecting light from an ever-present rotating mirrored ball. I wanted her to curse my parents as fools, but without another word she led me to the Fun & Lovin’ Juniors department. With MaryAnn’s help, I chose my first grown-up outfit: a fitted brown and cream windowpane-plaid jacket and a peach mock turtle neck shell with chocolate brown pants. Brown platforms completed the ensemble.

MaryAnn waited for me while I changed in the mirror-less dressing room. Remember, shoulders back, chest out, she murmured as I reluctantly emerged. Slowly, I turned to face the mirror. I froze. I had a real woman’s figure—breasts, waist, hips, and long legs. I nearly swooned. No wonder my parents tried to hide it. No wonder I was speechless; I’d never really looked at It–the body I had long disdained. I only knew what I felt like all the time—too much. Yet, now I felt just right. I wasn’t fat—I was curvy. For once I didn’t cringe at my own reflection. Good fit is always important; you can’t put clothing on willy-nilly; MaryAnn smiled but I hardly paid attention. Nearly drunk with self-love I did the Pantsuit Lunge and bonked my head on the mirror.

Some thirty years later, I find myself summoning up all the Charm I can muster to ask: what the hell does plus-sized mean? If the count starts in the size 0 range of Kate Moss and the Sex in The City gals, all the rest of us are plus-sized. I buy what fits and flatters, no matter the number on the little tag. I live fully in my tall, curvy body and can often be persuaded to demonstrate the Pantsuit Lunge at parties. Wendy Ward,embodied by Mary Ann Paladino,equipped me not only with the ability to get out of a car without flashing my knickers, but with enough Charm to take on just about anything.