How the other side lives

It’s funny, I feel like I’m dropping my casual and comfortable ways and being more intentional about looking profession. This is an article about a woman addicted to the beauty industry, and to the techniques of visual conformance.

What a large spectrum we fall under? Where do you fall in the beauty-obsessed spectrum?


Get the sock out of your pants

The 5 new skills every woman needs to succeed at work

CNN/Oprah had an interesting article today on 5 skills for women in the workplace. I’ve read a lot of these kind of articles, and know the litany pretty well. This one starts off with an old chestnut about how we, women, do a crappy job of negotiating salaries. (So true!) But then it took an interesting left turn with some gender-specific guidance about how to go about asking without sounding pushy. Better yet, they had actual scientific studies to back up their claims.

It was a good and rather empowering article.

So… what gender-specific skills do you think women need to be successful in a workplace?

Magazine Review: Glamour

Glamour: Grade C

Glamour: being progressive by claiming Venus is not hideously fat

Glamour: being progressive by claiming Venus is not hideously fat

When I fly, I often get girly/womanly/fashionly magazines. Especially when I’m tired, it’s fun to flip through a magazine, read the advice columns and look at the pictures. In the last year or two, I’ve come to realize that what I’ve thought of as super-light barely-reading material is actually much more in the life of a fashionable woman. These magazine are the white-papers of the fashion world. They are the TED talks and Economist, all in one glossy package. The truly fashionable women study fashion very seriously, and invest a tremendous amount of mental energy and effort into keeping up with the latest advances in their areas of study. This is the need these magazines fulfill.

So you and I, in our desire to look like we care about fashion, had better at least read the Cliff notes version of the fashion magazines. (Note: my goal is to become your bullet-pointed, cliff-notes version. Unfortunately, that therefore requires me to read all these magazines cover to cover.)

So I have set myself a goal of reading one fashion magazine cover to cover every month. From this, I will give you two things:

1) What has changed in fashion since the last month
2) Which fashion magazine is least gag-worthy and most helpful, in case you decide you need to use primary sources

Up first was Glamour Magazine. I read it for two consecutive months – September and October 2012 – since one month is too small a sample size.

First, the upside:
– Glamour offers 282 pages of content (probably 50% of which is paid advertising)
– If you buy it at the airport (my usual M.O.), it costs $7.99, which is a mid-range price.
– Reading it will give you a good overview of the season’s fashions
– Contains some good outfit ideas, even if most are too edgy to be attempted by amatuers
– There were one or two half-hearted attempts at body-positive writing.

Now, the downsides:
– Glamour sells the sort of celebrity-centric, dumb-girl, how-to-get-the-guy kind of fashion writing that convinced me at an early age that fashion was not meant for me.
– Representations of minorities are minimal. There was Gabby Douglas, Michelle Obama, and one smart Amazon add. By far, most of the women represented are are light-skinned.
– Body type variation was also very limited. My jaw dropped when they considered it a legitimate question whether “The Birth of Venus” representation was too fat. Very few of their fashion suggestions were optimized for women with non-fashionable sizes.
– It was very catty. September’s involved Posh Spice as the editor. At one point she talked about how “realistic” and “authentic” another woman was, and you could just hear the poison seeping through the pages.
– I was very annoyed by the “Tee hee hee aren’t we stupid” affectation. This month, it was pretending that a fit man’s body might make our vocabulary desert women. Last month, it was carrying a hollowed out book as a purse in order to make us seem smart… which we would only want to do in order to attract dudes. UGH.
– Totally ageist. There was a skin care regimen by decade. The list of things 20 year olds were expected to do was appalling. But the advice stopped at 40, because dude. After that? You’d pretty much dead.

Gag me with a spoon.

Gag me with a spoon. Also, it’s called an “Iliac Furrow”.

Conclusion: Buy if you’re really, really bored. But you can find better sources of fashion information, and gossipier, more fun columns. For the most part, don’t bother.

International Day of the Girl

October is a busy month. It’s fire awareness month, national popcorn popping month, national dental hygiene month (coincidence? I think not!), national breast cancer awareness month, national arts and humanities month, national disability employment awareness month and national book month. (Why are these all national months? Why does it matter? Which nation, for that matter? I digress.)

In this busy month, today is – apparently – the International Day of the Girl. As part of this CNN asked a bunch of notable women: “Looking back, what one piece of advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?”

It’s a good question. What would you want to tell your 15-year-old self?

Women in STEM jobs

I recently got sent this infographic (below). I had just finished reading a Boston Globe snipped talking about the pervasive discrimination in pay and promotion for women in hard sciences. So I’m not sure how to take this – are we improving our lot? Are we slipping? Are the metrics they show here the important ones?

The Rise Of Women In Tech

Shopping redux: Dress Barn

I took today off, for no particular reason. Because my company doesn’t have sick leave, I usually conserve some of my paid time off in case someone gets sick (or needs surgery, etc.). But in the last quarter, if the days are unused, I take some bonus days off to do stuff.

Normal day off: jeans, brown sneakers with white socks, nerdy Starbucks/Klingon t-shirt and a White Lake State Park sweater

Normal day off: jeans, brown sneakers with white socks, nerdy Starbucks/Klingon t-shirt and a White Lake State Park sweater

Friday was mostly errands and chores. I got my hair cut, got my eyes checked, did the laundry (partially), had a roofer inspect our roof, dropped the kids off at school and did the grocery shopping. But it so happened that the eye doctor was right next to the Dress Barn. Now I’ve only ever stepped in a Dress Barn once… when I was about 22 years old. I remember thinking that the clothes were all huge and there were not actually that many dresses. I never went back. But my mother-in-law has gotten me quite a few Dress Barn things that I liked, and it was right there, and I really needed some new blouses.

Oh… my. Why didn’t you guys TELL me about this? It was GREAT! There are two “sides” to the store, one for standard sizes (S – XL) and one for plus sizes (to size 24). And all the clothes were really nice – clearly intended for work. When I tried my selections on I was in serious trouble. They all fit, they all looked great, they were all machine washable, and not a single one of them was on sale. I decided that obviously these clothes would be an extra birthday present to myself (my precious…). I decided that maybe that hiring bonus I got should go to this. I paid the money. Here’s my haul:

My loot haul

My loot haul

Outfit 1: Sweater and plum/silver blouse

Outfit 1: Sweater and plum/silver blouse

Outfit 1: Sweater and plum/silver blouse

Silver and plum blouse: $32
Black sweater: $40

In my last shopping trip, I picked up two of the bright-colored slacks that are so stylish this year – one plum and one brick red. I was looking for a top that would pick up the plum, to build on what I already had. I spotted this plum and silver foil number and LOVED it. It is a silky knit fabric – very comfortable. I’m really fond of the foil inlay, which makes this blouse bright and conspicuous. I like a cowl-neck quite a lot. This one is well designed so there are no gaps or unintended cleavage. The sweater that was paired with it is a fabric that looked rather informal on the hanger, and was soft and comfy to the touch. But it got really classy really quickly in this combination. It’s a sweater I can see being a total favorite. It was pretty expensive – the most expensive thing I bought by a good margin – but it is well made and tremendously versatile, making it also one of the most valuable things I bought today. I could see leaving this at work for my “throw on” sweater, for when I inevitably get cold but still want to look good.

I probably will not wear a necklace with this outfit – it would be a bad idea to try to compete with that print!

Black knit blouse

Black knit blouse: $32

I really like the tailoring, rouching and fabric on this blouse. It darts in nicely at my waist to help give my figure more definition. It’s a great length. The best part is the fabric though – instead of being the stiff cotton that button up shirts usually are, this is a very soft knit. In practice, what this does is to prevent gapping. Now, I’m sure that many of you with two larger lovely ladies up front have some of the same trouble I do – button up blouses are fraught with a revealing peril between the third and fourth buttons. This one, regardless of gesticulation, will stay put. This is a great blouse for either pairing with a really interesting skirt or a really interesting jacket. It’s very versatile (again). The shortened sleeves show off bracelets nicely, although I find it hard to wear bracelets and type all day.

Black cowl neck  shell

Black cowl neck shell

Black cowl neck shell: $19.50

Once again: a comfy, stretchy fabric, a basic color, machine washable, nice cut. This is really a shirt intended to be worn under a jacket, when you’ll mostly be noticing the jacket.

Blue beaded blouse

Blue beaded blouse

Blue beaded blouse: $32

This was my real extravagance of the trip. The rest are either high-professional or basics. This one is not a basic, and not something I would wear to a client meeting. But it fit really well, and it felt really comfortable. Basically, I failed my will save. I regret nothing. Paired with a brown skirt, it will look a lot dressier than it does here with jeans.

Pewter Shoes

Pewter Shoes

Pewter “Me Too” Shoes @Famous Footwear: $40

That sound you hear is my mother-in-law squealing with delight. Footwear is really the last frontier with me, but I decided I would get one (1) pair of completely non-neutral, exciting shoes this fall and see what I think. Usually, if it’s on my feet, it’s either brown or black. I was looking for a burgundy, but figured a metallic would work too. I really liked these when I saw them (the sole is rubber and looks very durable, the fit was comfortable, there were no heels). You can see how, when paired with the silver and plum shirt, they make a much more interesting statement than just black shoes would. Having those two complementary elements so far away from each other really adds to the “pulled together and stylish” look that I am working to counterfeit.

Total damage: Just about $200.

So… Dress Barn.

Great clothes. Great selection of sizes. Practical (yay machine washable!). But it is expensive. Recommended, especially for people with larger sizes. In order to minimize pocketbook damage, I recommend signing up ahead of time for their coupons, and timing your shopping with their sales. Their standard sale rack was very small, so if you go on your average Friday in September, you’ll likely end up paying full retail price, like I did.

Cup runneth over

I read a great post on my way home the other day about self-image and bust size. In addition to being very affirming, this post talks a lot about the context of clothing, and at the bottom has some great advice on clothing to deal with unusually large mammaries.

There’s some great advice here!

Cups Runneth Over: Love, Lifestyle, and Clothing Tips for Large-Busted Ladies

Delightful Digits – more 2012 trends

Rainbow of nail colors

Rainbow of nail colors

The other day I went to a yoga class. I’m still sore. But while I was in the class, I had ample leisurely time to study all the other women’s pedicures. And you know what? Every. Single. One. had a recent pedicure. And ALL of the pedicures were in really bright colors: lime green, hot pink, yellow, silver…. I had on a barely-there pink iridescent pedicure. I was definitely Out Of Touch in my toes.

So another clear trend for Summer/Fall 2012 is the bright/fun manicure and pedicure. It used to be that when you went to a nail salon, there were 50 shades of red. While red is still a pretty dominant color in real salons, the pages of Glamour only showed red/pink nail polish where required to fill out the rainbow of shades. In the cover picture, Victoria Beckham is wearing polish so dark purple as to be almost black. There are blues and greens and gold sparkles.

There’s also a lot of decorative nail art. There are nail stencils, that allow you to do fun designs with no skill required. There are crackle finishes. Possibly one of my favorites, which I’ve so far managed not to buy, is magnetic nail polish. You put it on and then you use a magnet and filings in the polish make patterns. That’s almost as cool as my photosensitive nail polish!

Now I love colors. I have about 90 pens on my desk, all in various interesting colors. I actually keep a few boring one son my desk in case someone needs to borrow one that is more serious. So obviously, this whole nail phenomenon is great! I love colors! And they’re “stylish”, so I have every excuse to wear them… right?

This is a situation where I feel like I need to be careful. I think it’s a bit risky to wholeheartedly embrace this trend, even though it’s extremely tempting to. Remember that just because something is fashionable does not necessarily mean that it is professional. (You would probably get kicked out of most work places if you showed up in clothing straight from a fashion runway. Either that or they would call an ambulance…)

So here’s how I’m splitting the difference: I can wear fun nail colors as long as they match with my outfit. For instance, I went to Atlanta the other day. While there, I wore a beige suit and a “statement” red necklace. I got a manicure with polish to match the necklace. If I had a meeting and I was going to wear purple, then I’d do a nail color that matched the purple. This helps take the trend and tie it more firmly to your style. You can have fun, but not edge to far from professional.

And hey, I found this really fun manicure blog, The Daily Nail. I can barely get polish onto my fingers, but this person does some truly amazing art on her hands.

So… do you have a manicure/pedicure? Is it always the same color, or is it a variety? Do you love the fun colors and wild effects, or do you feel like they’re too conspicuous. Do you think nail art is professional? What’s your take?

To Sunscreen or not to Sunscreen

A few weeks ago, I wrote up a list of three things that a young woman interested in a technical career could do to plan for when that career requires looking professional. I recommended three things: start wearing sunscreen with moisturizer young, cut out sugary drinks while you still have an adolescent metabolism and keep your tattoos discreet.

Now, I knew I was courting controversy with these. Weight is the besetting body issue of our age. Tattoos are the ultimate form of self-expression. I steeled myself for controversy, prepared myself to both listen carefully and support my views, and clicked publish.

And lo! (Extremely mild) controversy ensued! But not about Mt. Dew or tramp stamps. It was about whether wearing sunscreen was a good idea or not. Huh. Not what I was expecting.

Unilateral Dermatoheliosis

Unilateral Dermatoheliosis: or why you should wear sunscreen even when you are inside all day

But my curiosity was piqued. One of the nice things about this topic (fashion & apparance) for me is that it’s easier to be open minded. I mean, do I really have a great reason for thinking I needed to wear sunscreen? There isthe dermatologic-industrial complex and their advertising budget. My mother-in-law. And my extremely desultory browsing of fashion magazines. I concede the possibility that I could be wrong in my advice.

Then I remembered that one of my geek-gaming friends was a dermatologist. I dropped her a line and asked if she’d be willing to go “on background” to educate me – and by extension you – on sunscreen: the whys, whens and hows. After a review of the AMA’s guidelines on MDs talking as MDs on blog platforms, we decided the easiest way to get information from her to you was an informal overview and review. So… all those standard disclaimers about “But talk about it with your own doctor” apply.

The objections to sunscreen raised in the previous post came in the following areas:
1) The chemicals in sunscreen might cause cancer
2) Especially for people in Northern climates, insufficient vitamin D might be produced using a rigorous sunscreen regimen
3) Most technical folks spend their working days indoor anyway and don’t get a lot of direct sun exposure

In discussions with my dermatologist friend, she mentioned a lot of people have been strongly influenced by The Environmental Working Group’s analysis of sunscreens. Their main points are:
1) Maybe sunscreen doesn’t prevent skin cancer, or might cause deadlier forms of cancer
2) Sunscreen blocks the body from synthesizing vitamin D
3) Sunscreens may use antioxidants, which can create free radicals, which can create damage to cells

There seem to be many variations on these themes in their online materials.

My friend and I had a fascinating 90 minute discussion on sunscreen. And I realized: I’m writing for an audience of technical women… women who are probably as interested as I am in the science of how sun and skin interact. So let’s talk about it!

Next up: UVA, UVB and the desk jockey

Thank you, Mr. Jones

Our toilet started running. At 11:15 pm on a day that started at 6:15 am (with another 6:15 morning looming), this is the last thing I wanted to notice. I brushed my teeth eeeeexxxtra slowly, hoping I was hallucinating. Finally I gave in to the cascade sounds and watched the water in the tank run and run. Hmmmm. A quick tap on the float and it raised itself back up, stopping the waterfall. “Maybe,” I thought, “Maybe this is a one time thing?!”

My ears were extra-vigilant for bathroom noises. They are anyway… with two young boys, you stay vigilant for sounds that indicate someone is drinking out of the toilet, or taking an unapproved bath. And sure enough, that dreaded hiss of water! Truly, this was a problem that must be solved.

I’ve entered this unpleasant stage of life. Let’s call it the “Harry Truman” stage. When I was a girl, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. As a teen, I might have told my parents. Probably not. As a young adult, I would’ve called my landlord and it would’ve been his problem. But now, squarely into my fourth decade, the problem was mine. All mine. Note that I’m not the final stop of the Responsibility Train for just toilets. No. My purview includes dietary choices, project dates, playground time, what we can and cannot afford, appropriate number of treats per day (and whether Flav-r-pops count as a whole treat), business rules for new applications, and how stained is too stained for a shirt to continue in a wardrobe. In so many areas, there is no one for me to escalate problems to.

Thus, the toilet.

Back when other people had all the responsibilities, in Junior High, I decided that shop sounded waaaaay more interesting than Home Economics. I’m old enough, I suppose, to have had gender-segregated classes. The plan was that the girls got a year and a half of Home Ec and one semester of shop, and the boys had a year and a half of shop and one semester of home ec. I got through my first, divided year, and emerged convinced that if I never saw another apron pattern in my life, it was too soon for me. So I ended up the only girl in a class of 26 guys and a poor, harried Mr. Jones.

In that year I made a bowl on a lathe. I turned metal. We rebuilt lawnmower engines. We wired and drywalled a fake wall with real electricity. We plumbed, carefully fitting together the tubes with all the various goos. I used the jigsaw, the planer, the lathe, the scroll saw. I used wrenches and hammers and WD-40. I also learned that just because I had no clue how to do something, it didn’t mean I couldn’t learn. The most arcane of masculine skills were not out of my reach; I simply had to find a book and/or a mentor and roll up my skirt.

This came back to me as I gazed into the swirling waters of the toilet. OK, so I didn’t know how to fix this. I knew how to begin. I pulled out the books on home repair (toilet technology in the US hasn’t changed that much in the last 50 years, and our toilet is probably that old). I observed and tinkered to figure out where the problem was. (The floaty thingy wouldn’t float.) I learned the correct name for it, and proceeded to giggle uncontrollably. (It’s a ballcock. I couldn’t wait to go to Lowe’s and tell them that my ballcock wouldn’t rise. Sadly, they proceeded to help me right away.) I bought the spare parts I needed. I turned off the water. I drained the tank. I spent about 2 hours trying to get frozen, rusted bolts to give, until they finally admitted that I was more stubborn than they. I installed the new fitting. And it worked perfectly. I looked down at my hands – black grease embedded stubbornly under my fingernails. It looked better than the finest manicure, to me.

This is a small thing in the realm of home maintenance. Just saying that I can figure out how to fix my toilet, that’s minor. But one of the lessons I think I internalized in that shop course, as I learned about masculine and feminine fittings, was that I could learn about things about which I was completely ignorant. I learned that just because I knew squat about what I was doing right now, that didn’t mean that I had no chance of doing it. I just needed to start at the beginning and follow it through. That lesson, there, is extremely relevant to my Life As a Grownup. Don’t know how to run a meeting? Start at the beginning. What does a meeting look like? Don’t know how to program in Java? Start at the beginning. Find a site or a book with a good overview. Don’t know how to pick a life insurance policy? Start at the beginning. What are the options?

To me, that is the height of what education really is. It’s not about dates or facts or information, although that background is important. It is about the tools to break down problems in areas where you are ignorant, and the confidence to believe that you can learn about things you don’t know. Perhaps other people learn these same lessons doing algebraic equations, or parsing the meaning out of “A Tale of Two Cities”. For me, it came at the business end of a wrench, unveiling the cam shaft of a geriatric lawnmower.

Where did you learn this lesson? Have you?

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