14 February 2007

A message for young girls

"At the end of the day, you can go to Harvard and you can go to Brown, but there's not a chance in China that you'll get a second date unless you're pretty."

So asserted Janis Spindel, matchmaker to Manhattan's super-rich, during an ABC News interview in which she was asked to defend her controversial speed-dating venture in which men and women were admitted based solely on their personal wealth and beauty, respectively.

We may not like the sound of Spindel's words, but we all know there's truth in what she says.

If a young girl learns at 12 as opposed to 21 that making the best of what she has physically is just as - if not more important in the long run than - getting that 5 on the AP Chemistry exam, that will afford her a nine year headstart on her classmates on the 5-workouts-a-week gym schedule, the elegant high heel strut, and most importantly, the seamless nice-Midwestern-girl-cum-Blanche-DuBois transition.

Allow me to bring a movie into the fold to demonstrate my point.

Perhaps the most controversial scene in "Little Miss Sunshine" was the one in which Greg Kinnear attempts to explain to his seven year old daughter Pearl (played by Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin) the connection between ice cream and weight-gain. As an audience, we're supposed to be horrified at the notion of an adult not just divulging this "secret" but also that he would do so when just a few scenes earlier he thought it "inappropriate" for her to know about her uncle's suicide attempt and homosexuality.

Seven, admittedly, is young for the everything-that-tastes-good-will-end-up-padding-your-ass discussion, but in light of the fact she wants to be a beauty queen, not completely inappropriate. He didn't have to do it right after she'd ordered her "a-lah-moh-dee," he didn't have to do it in front of the entire family (and the waitress), but considering the benchmarks for success in her competition of choice, I thought his interjection was justified.

Just as we encourage young girls to invest in their minds with higher education, their competitive spirits with athletics and their imaginations with creative arts, so should we encourage attention to appearance with lessons in style. Striking the right priority balance among these is very much up to each individual and often a daily, if not hourly re-determination.

The women who know how to use their brains and when to use their beauty to their advantage not only turn out to be the most attractive and confident women, but they also turn out to be the women who fund their fondness for shoe shopping with their own money, not a man's.

These are the women who climb that financial ladder in a pair of BCBGirls peeptoes until they could afford to kick them off for Pedro Garcia satin slingbacks and ultimately, once at the top, for Jimmy Choo t-strap platforms.


brown bear said...

Where did the Harvard brat go???

She was there this morning!

a fan said...

I still disagree with what you wrote, but I disagree *less* than I did before I read it.

I guess that means you wrote a pretty persuasive article.

bff in chicago said...

Amen. I would much rather have my first pair of couture shoes be one I paid for myself.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind receiving nice gifts on holidays, but when I want something, I want to know I can pay for it on my own.

Here's to never being on a man's allowance, JC!

Anonymous said...

I actually agree with your premise. It's a dangerous line (as you know) to bring up weight with young girls, but better they hear it in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way from their parents than from the asshole boys at school.

Kudos to your courage for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you are not a parent, and one can shudder to think of the message you might send to your children. And secure women never "use their beauty to their advantage". I'll take the 5 on the AP exams anyday--that's independence.

Johanna said...

I appreciate your honesty, but I respectfully disagree with your statements.

I think the young girl *should* go after that 5 on the AP Chem exam. No question. That's really important. But I also think she should look good doing it.

Life isn't "fair" in the sense that people are judged on, admitted and given access to things based solely on merit. Appearance matters. It matters more in certain industries than others - modeling and PR in NYC, spring to mind as the ones that place the highest primacy on looks - but it's completely unrealistic (and misleading if you teach that idealism to your children) to think all you need is a brain and a work ethic to succeed.

"secure women never use their beauty to their advantage" -- beauty alone, no, but beauty and brains rule and change the world. The looks get you the spotlight, and the brains get the job done.

And you're right, it is a good thing I don't have a daughter yet. That kind of gift changes a person's views on issues like this. Perhaps when it happens for me, it will change mine one day, too.

Until then, I'm sticking to my own personal experiences - which, sorry for bragging, but include five 5s on AP exams - and telling it how I've seen it.

Thanks for your comment.

I think you're brilliant said...

well put, editrix!

I am a mother of 2 daughters and know that you're not off the mark at all with what you wrote.

Plus, if Ms. Anonymous had read your piece more clearly, she would've understood you weren't trying to promote looks *over* brains but a combination of the two.

She's living in dream world if she thinks secure women don't use their wiles to get what they want. And as long as they don't cross the line (sleep with the boss, show cleavage in the office, etc.), more power to 'em.

A 5 on the AP Chem exam? Smart and stylish :-)

Anonymous said...

Please, please, please "I think you're brilliant" stop before you drag women back to a time mature successful women would prefer to forget. I understood exactly what this blogger was promoting and I vehemently disagree with her shallow premise and I think we do a great disservice to the young girls in our lives to promote this.

And I'm not living in a dream world, just a world where I respect myself enough not to use my appearance to advance my career. Where is the line you're talking about? Pretty subjective and open to contradictory interpretations.

Oh, and Johanna, "sorry for bragging" but I have several of my own 5's, an Ivy League education, 42 proud years of life and three beautiful children. All of which matter much more to me than what I see in the mirror. Which ain't half-bad either...

Johanna said...

First, I want to set the record straight by saying I never advocated a woman should use her appearance to advance her career. I might have hinted at the fact that it can't *hurt* her career by not weighing 300lbs and wearing Mom khakis with pilgrim shoes, but nowhere in that post did I say a girl should use her beauty to get somewhere professionally. In fact, I didn't make a single reference to looks as it related to career advancement.

I think you should love your education, your professional success and your children more than your appearance -- where would you get the idea that I promoted otherwise? I'm just saying add "appearance" to the heap of other priorities in your life. I'm saying it should supplement, not supplant, all of the things you mentioned.

I'm tired of belaboring my central point, so I'll just say it once more as simply as I can, which is that beauty is not more of an asset than brains but that we live in a world where both - yes *both* - are highly valued and generously rewarded. This is true in the professional realm, in the social realm, even when you're standing in line trying to get upgraded at the airport. Those who refuse to accept this are living in a dream world. Whether you choose to play along and bat your eyelashes to get that first-class seat or to boo on the sidelines and sit in coach with your "dignity intact" is up to you.

You and I have obviously chosen different paths, but we've both ended up with professional success. No, you're right, I don't have a family, and perhaps that is somehow a result of my love for running to stay thin, wearing stilettos when there’s ice on the sidewalks and having a passion for tulip skirts, but at this point in my life, I'm perfectly fine with that.

If you consider prioritizing your appearance "shallow" and dragging women back to a time "mature successful women would prefer to forget," you're entitled to think that. You being so much more "mature" than I am, I can't help but think there might be a generational difference between your experiences and my and my girlfriends'. Just a thought.

In the end, I don't doubt you have a wiser and keener perspective than I do on this issue. I also don't doubt that when I'm your age, my attitude might very well be aligned with yours.

Until then and until I have a single experience in which my looks haven’t played some kind of role (you’ve seen the clothes I wear on my website – I’m not suggestive, just polished), I’m going to have to disagree with your and all the other feminists’ rosy views of the world.

a Johanna fan said...

it's a fact of life that people are judged by their appearance - that's the cold hard truth. regarding the little girl in the movie, the fact that her parents were even allowing her to be in a beauty pageant is something too - a pageant like that is completely superficial and they should have been directing her interest elsewhere. by definition it's a "BEAUTY" pageant - its completely superficial to begin with, so to expect people to enter their kids and NOT have that kind of talk with them is kind of ridiculous. they're entering the pagent = they're asking for it. if parents are entering their kids in something like that then they've already made a huge mistake - having that kind of talk on top of it is just being realistic.

I think you're brilliant said...

let me be clear, the "I think you're brilliant" is for Johanna, not the anonymous writer to whom this comment is directed.

Johanna *is* shallow on some things (she'll be the first to admit that!), extraordinarily shallow, but on this particular topic she's just the opposite - her post and its points were brave, sobering and insightful. From my standpoint, she's saying out loud something we all know to be true but never face up to. It may not be right or ideal, but it's the way the world works. And I say give your daughters all the tools they need to be successful. Part of our job as mothers is prepare our children for the reality of "real life" outside the suburbs.

If I were to tell my daughter it was fine to go into a job interview wearing jeans and without waxing her unibrow because that's what she wanted to do, it would be irresponsible of me. Even if she was the most qualified person in that applicant pool, she shouldn't expect to get hired looking like that. It may not be fair or right, but that's what would happen 9 times out of 10. And she should hear about that from her parents *before* the interview, not during from some HR person.

Johanna didn't say anything about fitting a pre-set standard of beauty (we should all be bottled blondes with big chests, for example), she said we should do the best with what we have. How can you argue with that?

And finally, if you're 42 years old and resorting to dropping your Ivy League education to win points in an argument with a woman who is not only a better writer but I'm wagering more accomplished and better educated than you, well, I can't help but feel a bit sorry for you.

Anonymous said...

OK, Ladies, chill out. This is getting unduly personal.

This is a very interesting issue and both sides are making valid points. There's no need to resort to personal attacks.

Everybody play nice. As a man, I'm finding it educational and I'd like to see this discussion continue.


Anonymous said...

Ok "I think you're brilliant" I see you can't understand sarcasm when you read it. I think it's ridiculous this blogger talks about her AP scores still, 5-10 years after the event. I have no need to brag about my intellectual interests, pursuits or achievements.

As for arguing and writing, if you must succumb to an ad hominem attack to "score points" in a discussion, I feel sorry for you.

nyc admirer said...

Uh, yeah, this was just *dripping* in sarcasm:

"I have several of my own 5's, an Ivy League education, 42 proud years of life and three beautiful children. All of which matter much more to me than what I see in the mirror."

Sorry, I have no real beef with you. I just really can't stand when people use apostrophes to indicate a plural. It's for possessives ONLY!

I adore my Johanna-bear, and I hate to see people attack her like you did. She's going to be a great mother one day. And I think she's handled your angry rants in a very classy, very mature and very thoughtful fashion. But that's the way she is and that's what she's made of -- class through and through.

I've noticed your last two posts haven't even addressed what Johanna wrote in response to your first comment. Other than to trump her much more obviously sarcastic 5-dropping, you've stuck to pulling apart things "I think you're brilliant" has written. Why is that?