Saturday, March 31, 2012

The skinny on the heavy

Dara-Lynn Weiss and Bea
photographed for Vogue

In the April issue of Vogue there are two alarming stories. One has the online world in an absolute uproar, the other is so business-as-usual for the magazine it has dropped with nary a trace. 

The beleaguered Dara-Lynn Weiss is vilified as a monster-mom for an essay, now a book deal, on her efforts to help her 7-year old daughter Bea lose weight. Bea was diagnosed as “obese” when she was four feet, four inches tall and weighed in at something like 93 lbs.

As the essay outlines, Bea loves food and claims to be constantly hungry. She regularly gobbled adult sized portions at mealtimes, and had trouble ‘self regulating’ at the snack table at school. Convincing her of matters such as portion control or healthy snack choices was tough-love at its toughest, met with screams and tantrums and no doubt a great deal of guilt on the part of her not-svelte mother. Nurturing your child is job one as a mom, it must feel against nature to have the job of depriving one.

In a NYT story on the story of the story it has been reported that Ms. Weiss was quickly excoriated on the internet -- as one of the most “selfish women to ever grace the magazine’s pages,” according to Katie J. M. Baker in a widely distributed post on Jezebel that drew more than 600 comments. ABC News sternly reported that “Mom’s Diet for 7-Year-Old Daughter in ‘Vogue’ Sparks Backlash”; a commenter on asserts that Ms.Weiss has just handed her daughter road map to all her future eating disorders.
The Times says it may have been one thing to have such an essay in Vogue, “possibly the spiritual home of the eating disorder”, but the fact the essay has led to a book deal seems to have sent the entire thinking universe into a spin – indeed, a quick search on Twitter today shows a mind-boggling array of vitriol against this poor woman concerned about her fat kid.

Here’s the thing. If young Bea were 10-20lbs too skinny rather than about that much too fat and her mother took action we would praise her as a saint and goddess. I can assure you from experience that trying to make an underweight, possibly anorexic child eat also causes tears, tantrums and angst. Whether Ms Weiss has “handed her daughter a road map to all her future eating disorders” remains to be seen, or may be an unfair assertion – Bea ALREADY has an eating disorder. She eats more than her body can use in a healthy way. She was most certainly on the road, map or not, of a lifetime of physical health issues not to mention the psychological ones associated with being the fat kid in the playground. Elsewhere in these good media outlets are stories lamenting the crisis of childhood obesity, adult obesity, and the struggle to find ways to reverse an alarming trend. If Ms Weiss’ methods are in error, please suggest another way to fix this massive, no pun intended, health problem.

The other alarming story in Vogue which has not created the same fervor is a profile of Victoria Beckham, famously a stick figure who has achieved her pre-baby weight or less a mere few months after her daughter was born. The story goes on to describe the frantic pace of work and life across two continents and however many time zones, and mentions that Ms Beckham had salad with mere vinegar and a Diet Coke in the place of what might be lunch, and sipped water through a straw in place of High Tea. I am very fond of the feeling of having not eaten and even I grew exhausted at the thought of how much force of will must go into her every day fueled with so little.
But she is perilously skinny, rather than fat, and so we accept her quirky eating habits as maybe being a little bit honourable. She has the right eating disorder, not the invisible undiagnosed one Bea has.
If you want to find a mother handing her daughter a road map to future eating disorders, I suggest the mom you’re looking for is not Ms Weiss.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Embrace colour

Don't listen to me -
Suzanne's tips are at

I firmly believe black is the new black.

For decades this has been the non-colour of my most beloved choices. I like to wear black with black with an accent of black and should you care, or dare, to open a burgeoning closet around here you will see a sea of noire, with maybe a bit of charcoal as my "bright". And camel, actually, now that I look. Eye piercing in comparison I must say.

Did I mention I am often in black?

And yet this season, colour is unavoidable. Colour has been creeping in around the edges for several seasons and is the "story" fashion editors try to push but for spring, this spring, colour and print are It and for the first time since, well, forever, black just doesn't seem quite right.

Which is how I found myself at The Bay's flagship, at an event hosted by its fashion director Suzanne Timmins, to be instructed on How To Wear the Trend.

It was somewhere between a runway show and a CityLine how-to, with Suzanne gamely showing different options various models COULD have worn, demonstrating how very versatile is this alarming amount of bright or juicy or candy-coated-pastel colour. The crowd was a similar combo of runway-worthy fashionistas and Bay customers, and inexplicably included a small boy dressed head to toe in an impeccable white suit and bow tie who had quite a lot of product in his strawberry blond hair. I admired his strong sartorial point of view and feared for his life on the playground. The models meanwhile were every young, very thin and gorgeous though often with disconcerting tattoos sort of messing up the "ladylike" or "city chic" look they were going for.

I've always loved fashion shows and this one was a little like the very first ones I attended with passionate interest as a child on the prairie, when my mother and I would get all dressed out for a "girls' night" and witness what the home sewers had put together. There was always an MC who described what we were looking at and explained the details. I loved these outings and found them glamorous and inspiring, a look at Life as It Could Be which is the essence of fashion I think. Since then I've moved on to adore real fashion week shows and note that the feeling is the same though the clothes themselves are often far more glamorous and way less understandable than those homemade creations.

In spite of myself I am still thinking about an acid yellow knit top by Pringle of Scotland shown with navy and black (whew!) trousers by Jason Wu. I was suitably surprised that some of the things were downright cheap in price and looked pretty good, really. I am happy to learn that print can be mixed in one single outfit so long as the colours relate and the scale is different. And maybe if you are very young, very thin and gorgeous.

The eye does learn to appreciate the new, new thing. The smudges that were derided once are now precious Impressionist paintings, and fashion is a visual medium where the eye educates itself over time, too.

Will I be wearing acid yellow Pringle anytime soon? Well, I bought a bright lipstick. First things first.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Inspiration for writing and life

I found this within this week's always delightful Brainpickings newsletter. It is Jack Kerouac's list of "belief and technique for modern prose" (whatever that means) and I think point number 3 is especially useful. I also think he may have been at home, drunk, when he wrote this but it's a lovely list anyway:
(visit for more of the different and inspiring)

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You're a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How to be French

My most ridiculous hobby, or shameful secret, is a passion for any book that tells a North American how to be French.

Happily for me this genre is ever-green, and just as there will be a book or so a year on Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedy's and hockey, at least annually there will be a book or two describing why French women don't get fat, or how to raise a child a la Francaise, or how to be chic, or how to unleash your inner French girl. You would think with all this love and desire I would at least speak the language but this is where my French fails me -- I can say, in French, "all our lines are busy now, please be patient" and then I don't know the rest. This is not terribly handy information unless on hold.

I am panting, in an elegant French way, for Lessons From Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott, who spent a year in France bouncing between Madame Chic and someone else more bohemian.

Is this hobby a little unseemly at my age? Oh probably, but I am not sure if watching adult men play games with balls on fields is all that grown up either, if you think about it, and loads of folks do that.

In reading the NYT review of her book (read it here:,  Ms Scott had me at "she would look more polished if she threw out “70 percent” of the vast supply of disposable clothing she had amassed since her teens and winnowed her core wardrobe to 10 good-quality items each season." As a packrat who does believe the grass is greener if only I had it, too, I have had a contradictory desire all my life to pare down to just ten things. Ten perfect things. If my math is right, Ms Scott will show me the way toward 20 perfect things, if we think of summer and winter as seasons -- if we include pre-fall and resort, well.....I'm getting ahead of myself here and will consult the book closely on this.

I wrote yesterday about being in the job market at this age, and confronting ageism I pondered to my old self if really we just don't put enough effort into the presentation. The "personal brand" if you want to be all North American about it, and really what I longed to say was, "a French woman would never show up for an interview like that." In fact it is most likely a French woman wouldn't do the vacuuming looking like that. I think at a certain age, it behooves us to put a little effort into it. This is not an affront, though it may seem so to those of us on this continent -- it is a way of life for generations of very elegant people who probably have family homes older than our country. Their point of view is a valid one.

I would write and exude more love for all things French here but really, I have to get dressed up and race, elegantly, to the bookstore on the corner to grab, courteously, this fab new book. I advise you to do the same.

Check out Jennifer's blog:

Friday, March 23, 2012

The new hustle

You’d think that by the time you were half way through something, you’d know what you were doing.
Life is not like that.
It is now that the questions become urgent – what are you good at, what should you be focusing on in the time left, where exactly do you fit in the world. And, the economy being what it is, if you aren’t already asking yourself these questions, you may soon be forced to confront them. “Downsized” is fancy new no-fault word for what we used to call “fired”, and with all that streamlining going on in the world there are few spots left on the life raft of making a living.
I just met a woman who is trying to figure out what she should do next. She was getting her picture taken for a series of news feature stories on “transition” or somesuch, the transition being out of a job or a way of life and into the next. The hook of it is, she’s 50-ish and part of a growing crowd of us scrambling to find the next gig. Midlife and out of work, or midlife and thrown out of the life you knew, is a trend it seems.
She said she had been a creative director at an advertising agency, a field notorious for ageism. She is not hopeful about finding another role like that one, and is now trying to morph those strange skills (the ability to think in pictures to encourage the purchase of potato chips, or RSPs, or cars) into something that will pay the rent.
Now, I’ve tried my very best to hire 20- and 30-somethings and I’ve always had to struggle against a prejudice born of the “pay your dues” mentality I grew up with. The kids always seemed to be way too focused on this thing they call work-life balance, way too interested in getting out in time to make their yoga class or meet their inevitable gang of friends. So if there is ageism in the workplace, my own has been on the other side of the time continuum.
So what gets in the way of hiring someone older, wiser, and with that much more experience not to mention desperation to bring to the job?
I have come up with a thought on this, and I am indeed judging here. I would say our age group is guilty of feeling way too comfortable in its own skin. This is a great thing, this confidence and the equanimity that comes with experience and knowing yourself well, and it’s totally wonderful when kept in the cozy confines of home. But out here in the world, a world that is driven by images and impressions and the quick message, it lacks a certain and utterly necessary energy.
That’s what is often missing. A sense of energy, urgency, a sense of engagement in the world, perhaps even a sense of wonder that would lead an employer to expect that you would be gung-ho for the work and have a desire to help my company succeed in whatever way your job description suggests you’re responsible for, big or small as that role may be.
The poor woman who has become my example was perfectly ok looking. Her outfit wasn't fabulous but then again, she’s out of work so clothes versus pyjamas is probably an accomplishment. It certainly is for me. She was perfectly fine.
But “fine” doesn’t earn you a place on the raft.
It is ironic, now that I look at it. The trouble with kids today, those who are in my terms “trouble”, is that they are often too complacent, too focused on their own story versus engaging in the larger world. I’m wondering now if this is also the problem with the rest of us.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Keeping house

Grown ups are those other people. Not me. They're those people who look grown up, and know things like when is the deadline for income taxes, or how change a fuse or who to call when the roof leaks. I just call my dad.

One thing grown ups know how to do is how to clean the house properly, and grown ups have proper devices for same.

Many years ago I sobbed down the phone to my brother saying that I was of a certain age and didn't even have proper knives in the kitchen. He duly sent a set, sweet boy.

But you know you are a perpetual and pathetic teenager when you find yourself picking up popcorn kernals to feed into the vacuum hose in the faint hope that the cheapo, frustrating piece-o-crap will actually do its job.

I swear to god all my life all I've ever wanted is a proper vacuum cleaner that actually sucks stuff up instead of sitting there making a lot of noise and doing nothing.

Sweet Mr. Dyson sings my song, I love those ads and drop everything to watch them oh yes oh yes Mr. Dyson, other vacuums lose suction! Terrible things! And yes, yes I want one of yours, your ever-sucking machines!

As my brother is no longer taking my calls, a very good friend gave me her spare. She bought a Dyson to satisfy the crabby cleaner, and the cleaner couldn't figure it out so she bought a Miele for the cleaner who grumbled and now has central vac. THAT sounds grown up.

Ha ha I said, I've always wanted one of these! Sadly it is a bit more complicated than your average appliance, or I am far more stupid than I used to be (a distinct possiblity) and thus I have had to go to Youtube and the world wide web to figure out what the wand is all about but now, sweet friends, now we are working like a charm and cleaning every single day just for the joy of it. The carpet has never been cleaner and as soon as this wand thing is fully sorted out, the filthy sofa will also be brought into submission. There's a doodad attachment thingy that is called a "mattress tool" which I might take out for a spin, too. This Mr. Dyson, he's a little obsessive about the clean but nevermind, it's all good, and he's right, the thing sucks like a ... well, it does a good job.

Nothing on earth feels better than being able to take care of these small tasks, like keeping clean. It's almost like being a grown up.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Never too old to be It.

I live in a neighbourhood populated by the far reaches of the continuum -- there are young families with tiny children and very old ladies, and not a whole lot in between.

And my question is, where do all these old ladies get their polyester double knit elastic waisted pants? Somewhere in the universe there is a shopping mall that only the grey-haired know about, filled with shops in turn filled with row upon row of these pants and a crowd of elderly women scooping them up in bulk.

The mall also sells a kind of plastic trainer as well, with soft soles and kind of shapeless upper because the army of the elderly in this neighbourhood also sport those. So the mall must be nearby, these ladies don't walk all that well.

But here's the thing -- horrible as I find these clothes to be, the greyhounds of the 'hood are the muses of the moment. I've looked at all the Fall 2012 (for this is the real season in my own particular world) offerings saw fit to cover and the one ubiquitous message is something along the lines of "big, baggy, shapeless in colours insulting to nature is IN". Which, generally speaking, is how these dames dress.

Witness Celine, which has launched many a trend in the past few years such that every brand looks quite a bit like it. For fall we have coats big enough to hide the groceries under, voluminous trousers, boxy tops. For the most part Chanel showed piles of clothes, skirts over pants with jackets and coats and tops stacked sufficient to keep you in good nick should you need to traverse the Siberian desert to safety. Louis Vuitton? Also had "volume" in mind, topped with dotty hats. In fact, "square" is the shape of the moment.

I think colour is refreshing after decades of black, and here my old gals are ahead of their time as well. They show no fear in mixing it up, with lots of red factoring in with orange or yellow or brown or whatever happens to be at hand. I always thought this would be the fun and relaxing thing about old age -- to go out garish and clashing, assaulting eyes everywhere with impunity. I already have a collection of rather bright lipsticks, for the right time and place.

And so this year we see many pages from their manual, with brights upon brights topped off with brights. It lends a circus atmosphere to the fashion section, and while neons or hot pink and orange or, say, brilliant yellow pants might not be for everyone, it is all a ray of sunshine given how depressing the world is at the moment.

So I will try to scoff less and observe more, these ladies are on top of it. May I find their secret mall before all the good stuff is gone.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bringing up Bebe

Along the long and winding road of life I somehow forgot to have children. Which is fine by me, though I don't know who will look after me when I'm old and demented -- my two nieces will have their hands full, as my family is cursed with longevity and there are a lot of us in the generations ahead of them.

Not that comfort in age is the sole reason for having children of course -- no, I'm not saying that. But I personally never really had any reason at all. Don't get me wrong, I like children well enough (many would beg to differ) but the esteem with which they are held by their parents, at least in my neighbourhood, does wear a little thin.

Screaming, demanding, ill-behaved, toy-throwing, tantrum-prone picky eaters are what I see on the playground and no, it isn't pretty. A child in a stroller takes on the look of a little emperor on a throne, attended by much taller servants. The goo-goo voices these adults take on when speaking to their emperors grates on my nerves in a large way. The pandering obsequiousness of the attempts to engage their interest and attention? Crazy-making.

All this time I've suspected that I am simply "not maternal", or misanthropic. As it turns out, I may be merely French.

Pamela Druckerman's new book, Bringing up Bebe or French Children Don't Throw Food, as it is known in the UK, indicates that France might be my native land in that children are viewed as short adults when viewed at all. There are strict rules of behaviour, emotions are controlled, no allowances made for small tortures like eating all your vegetables. You mind your manners, you eat what's put in front of you, and you can sob yourself to sleep every night from the age of four months onward if you like, mama's not going to come in and coddle or comfort you. Dally anywhere outside the bounds of good behaviour and you will receive a smart smack on the bottom, or maybe the top, depending on how far mama wants to bend down.

And the result seems not to be a nation of psychopathic killers honed by chilly abuse as children but rather a cultured people who know how to both create and celebrate the joyful moments of every day life; who seek intellectual stimulus over sit-coms; a nation of smart dressers and seductive lovers. A grown-up world, in other words. Call them snobby, or zenophobic, or cold if you like -- they have something to be snobby about if you ask me. If you can live this way, it ain't bragging.

So now should you see me sneer at your offspring at least I will know in my heart I am not entirely wrong. No longer will I feel alone in my impatience. An entire country agrees with my view.

I'm not mean. I'm French.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

It's been a while my friends

Here we are at the intersection of feckless youth and age. And this will be dispatches from the front. What it is to live now, when all about us are messages about hanging on to Youth, or details on the latest hip replacement techniques. There's gotta be a middle ground, where the truth of middle age can be told?

Yes, friends, and it is here.

Now, some required reading. The syllabus (trust me, some good things here...) :