Archive for the 'beauty' Category

what really matters (my last post)

“People like you more when you’re attractive,” said a friend of mine who has spent a lot of time losing weight and getting fit. “It’s been proven. There are a lot of studies. You’re more likely to succeed.”

“Okay,” I said. “That stuff about CEOs? Where they’re always tall?”

“Yeah,” she said. “That too. They’re always tall and have all their hair. It’s practically a law.”

I thought immediately of my dad, who is admittedly not the CEO of a fortune 500 company, but who has been successfully running a business for close to forty years. He is short and bald and didn’t go to college. He should probably be a failure. According to some study.

“It matters,” I said, slowly, “But I’m never sure just how much.”

“A lot,” she said, her voice hard.

“Maybe,” I said. “But maybe not.”

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(I made a little cake for this post. I am a shitty baker. Shitty is probably exactly the right word, based on how this looks…)

When I started writing this blog about four years ago, I was positive that beauty mattered a lot. That’s why I wanted to write about it. I wanted to do something. I wanted to fight back, even if it was in a small way. How many of my friends were going to confess that they’d struggled with disordered eating back in college? More than I could imagine at that time, and it was already plenty. I had gotten cosmetic surgery to change my face, because I’d become convinced that if I could only get a little prettier, my life would improve exponentially. Oh, it sounds so superficial, doesn’t it, when you’re being quick and dismissive and morally superior. We’re all good at that. Plastic surgery is for weaker, sadder women. Except that I am one of them. And I know so many more. People I never would’ve guessed. People I never could’ve predicted.

I’ve always blamed the whole world for this. Biology, culture, misogyny, TV, advertising, ancient history, patriarchy, agricultural development, school, work, horizontal social groups in childhood that emphasize peers over mentors, the human tendency to instinctively dichotomize, our cocky refusal to admit how many problems remain even after women were finally admitted to Harvard, and so much more. The messages about just how crucial and big beauty is come from absolutely everywhere. They come all the time. They are quiet and loud and insistent and just a subtle suggestion and most of all, they are effective. They get in. They stick. They stay. And they trap us on our surfaces, agonizing over details, fretting, pinching, shaming ourselves. Because we have learned the obvious lesson: beauty matters. It matters a lot. Sometimes it matters so much that people stop eating in order to force their bodies to change. Sometimes it matters just enough to feel occasionally disgusted by your own flesh. It feels normal to dislike our appearances because it is normal. It’s completely ordinary. It’s the way things so often go.

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But I find that I am some sort of pathetic, yearning optimist after all. Four years after I started writing about beauty, about a year after I had a daughter, I find myself thinking that beauty also doesn’t have to matter that much. I inch away from it. My face in the mirror is the same one I once hated, but older, of course, and maybe even more complicated. And yet I find myself forgiving it. My body, rearranging itself again after pregnancy, is a celebration. It has transformed so dramatically. Like a movie star who suddenly gets a PhD, it’s hard to keep up, but someone should throw them a party. The things that separate me from models and even from the women who everyone automatically thinks “wow” about are less significant in my own mind right now. I saw myself in the trailer for this film my doula is making, and I think I look TERRIBLE and weird and like I don’t know how to move my own mouth and like I maybe have suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury that I am only just recovering from and like I don’t have a chin and like I am not at all normal, and also, even though I think all of that, I think I sound fine. Maybe even a little smart. And I am also proud of the way I look. Maybe not there. But here, in real life. Sitting here in my wrinkled shirt from Old Navy that has a smear of banana on it from the baby, writing at my laptop. I like myself. I am happy. I am proud of being this person. I am proud of looking like me.

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I look around and I see that people find wild, fulfilling love without being stunningly gorgeous. That people are happy or sad in proportions that don’t seem to really correlate with their appearances. That I admire people or find them boring without their beauty having too much meaning. People are successful all the time without being very thin. And then some of the types of success that people like to measure don’t even look that interesting to me.

I’m going to stop writing this blog now.

I argued with myself over this decision for a long time.

And I’m bad at this sort of thing. At graceful exits.

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I’m not going to stop writing, ever. I can’t. I’m a writer. But I think I’m done being a blogger.

I have loved connecting with people from around the world. I’ve loved meeting them in person, sometimes, when they visited NYC or I visited somewhere else. I’ve made good friends this way. I’ve heard many hundreds of life stories. I’ve gotten recognized a few times on the sidewalk and felt cool. I’ve knocked professional goals off a stubborn list. I’ve gotten very fast at writing essays. I’ve proven to myself that I could build something out of nothing. I’ve been amazed by how many people were interested in reading my words. I’ve embarrassed myself and distinguished myself and gotten furious and hurt and once someone wrote to me to tell me she hated me and we talked and talked and she changed her mind and apologized and told me her story. People I’ve never met have told me I suck and I’m stupid and I’m shallow and I’m harmful and I’m generally a huge humiliating failure. People I’ve never met have told me that they are grateful for me. Once someone offered to tithe to me. People I’ve never met were happy for me when I was happy and sad for me when I was sad. Thank you so much for that. When I started blogging I’d literally never read a blog. Four years later, I think this experiment has taught me a lot about my own worth.

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I’m stopping because I feel done. I feel ready to focus on other things. I thought that this blog might one day lead to a memoir and I worked for a long time on a book proposal, but when I had the chance to finally sell the book, I realized that I didn’t want to put it into the world anymore. I don’t want my legacy to be about my childhood, about my struggles and issues and little triumphs. I don’t really want to expose myself in that way anymore. I don’t want to read the Amazon reviews about how self-centered I am. I don’t want people to notice the story and forget about the writing. I don’t want my daughter to think of me as a woman primarily concerned with her own self-esteem, her own dramas. I don’t want my daughter to grow up watching me analyze beauty. I want her to see me being comfortable with who I am, creating new stories instead of pulling apart old ones.

For the time being, I’m still going to write over at the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life, and I still write a column for Home Education Magazine, and I am working on transitioning this website into something more general, that will include all of my preexisting posts and my e-book and the beautiful cake eating photos that I treasure, and also have room for the new things I want to eventually do. I’m not sure how long they’ll take. I know the internet moves very, very fast, but I want to go slower. I want to watch Eden sit on the kitchen floor and thoroughly delve into her first nectarine. And I want to wait until she’s finished without thinking about what I should be doing instead. I want to keep the promise I made to myself a long time ago, that I would write fantasy novels with strong, awesome girl protagonists.

Anyway. I’m not sure what else to say. Except thank you, again. And if you like my writing, please stay tuned.

I didn’t convince my friend, by the way. At least, I don’t think I did. She is doing her best to tease a successful life out of the tangle of human experience. We all are. Me too. Except for me, right now, there’s a lot less looking in the mirror.

So much love,



Unroast: Today I love my eyes. Just for being mine. They’re interesting.

P.S. To the people who have been emailing me to see if everything’s OK– I’m sorry for not responding to you individually yet. I hope I can soon! I appreciate your messages so much.

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Kate on June 19th 2014 in beauty, life, writing

real women, size 12-14

I got an email from one of those extremely popular TV shows that no one I know actually watches. I was trying to feed myself with one hand and spooning sweet potato into the baby’s mouth with the other. The email had come up on my phone and I thumbed over it messily, unable to resist.

Would I be interested in coming on the show, the email asked, to talk about my experience as a real woman?

I was interested! Yes! I will talk about being a woman on national television! It’s a powerful, sometimes difficult, confusing, meaningful experience! For me, personally, there is this big question about yoga—is it possible to go through life as a modern woman without doing it at all?

But wait. There was a little more.

They were looking specifically for someone size 12-14, who isn’t comfortable with her appearance. This, succinctly, was the working definition of “real woman.”



So, how about it? The emailer was obviously in a hurry, but she was friendly.

Eden banged on the table. MORE. Seriously, cow, what’s the hold-up? (She refers to me as her cow, you know, with her eyes, even when I’m not actively giving milk. It’s a pesky habit.)

I laughed at my phone and gave her more. Then, immediately, without thinking, I wrote back. And then I thought for a minute.

I am generally a proponent of the “we all know what was meant” school of thought. I think maybe this is an underrepresented group on the internet—generally I pretend I’m not a member, in order to avoid being unnecessarily yelled at. Political correctness in language has become so nit-pickingly obsessive that it can sound a lot like a desperate effort to make up for the wanton callousness of the in-person world. Some pieces have so many disclaimers, you can hardly find the subject text. (“I fully recognize my own privilege, in its every complex, subtle, tiny iteration: to begin, I am sighted, so I am able to clearly make out these letters that form the words I am typing, which gives me a significant advantage in life over people who suffer from a range of ocular differences that affect the way that they perceive and are able to interact with the visual world. Of course, not everyone will understand this as an ‘advantage,’ per se, and to even use this sort of judgment-laden language reveals my own implicit biases…”)

I also totally appreciate how tempting it can be, as a relatively smart person who reads a lot, to quibble over semantics. You feel like you’re accomplishing something, doing nerdy battle against the forces of ignorance and oversimplification and raising the red pen of equality. I spot a typo in the New York Times, sometimes, and a small, smug smile seizes my lips and I shake my head disapprovingly. “Ha! Gotcha!” The writer assumes that everyone is male—I roll my eyes and resist the urge to leave a pithy, biting comment. I AM NOT A MAN, thanks very much. (I need to maybe work on my biting comments, anyway).

So when you say “real woman”, giant TV show, I know what you’re talking about.

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Kate on April 23rd 2014 in beauty, body, feminism, perfection, weight

Things I want to change by the time Eden notices

(This is not at all a comprehensive list. It’s just the first stuff that came to my mind. And my mind is all over the place.)

I want more movies and TV shows to have female protagonists even when they aren’t about “girly stuff.”

I want the way coolness works to stop being about not being sensitive. Sensitivity and vulnerability are healthy, crucial aspects of being a fully operating person. Without them, we miss out on the things that make poetry timeless and life rich. Making fun of ourselves and other people is not necessarily a bad thing, but there needs to be plenty of room for caring automatically and whole-heartedly and even just a little about stuff, too. Or maybe we can just all care less about being cool?

I want it to be a lot harder to find gross photos on the internet. I feel like we should all be able to google without running into graphically documented surgical procedures and abused animals and car crashes and unusual, dramatic skin conditions.

I would also appreciate it if there weren’t so very many photos of sexy mostly/totally naked women online and everywhere else. And if those women didn’t all look so particularly similar that it feels easy to assume that there must only be one good way to be a mostly/naked woman.

I want there to be more swimsuit options. Why do they all demand that I pay a lot of attention to what my pubic hair is doing? Mandatory bikini waxing is ridiculous. If we can’t get over the fact that adult women have pubic hair, let’s at least wear swim trunks.


(googling for “bikini” resulted, predictably, in a million examples of the last topic, too. maybe I just wanted to see the bathing suit? maybe? source)

I want porn to actually be varied. I keep reading about how it is. Whenever someone writes an article about porn, they’re always like “you can find any crazy thing out there! If there’s a fantasy, there’s a video of it on the internet!” But the reality is that most of the readily accessible porn is endless repetition of the same themes, and popular among those themes is total female submission and, often, humiliation. Yes, some women like to be humiliated, but that’s not the point. We need a lot more versions of female sexuality, and it’d be much better if they popped up, too, upon a casual googling.

I want girls to be able to run around and study and make friends and play and goof off and think and look in the mirror without having to prioritize their appearances. Being embodied is about a lot of stuff, not just the way we look. I want girls to enjoy their bodies without having to think first about whether or not other people find them attractive.

I want this for women, too, but it starts with girls.

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what older women should look like

“Sharon Stone Tells Shape She Doesn’t Want To Be ‘An Ageless Beauty,’ Is Still One Anyway” goes the Huffington Post headline. It’s refreshing, says the reporter, that Stone doesn’t long for eternal youth. It’s refreshing, also, we’re clearly meant to agree, that she looks eternally youthful.

This is how we, as a culture, celebrate older women, when we celebrate their beauty. And often, unfortunately, we are celebrating beauty first and the rest later, in a smaller room in the back. We praise those women who, like great illusionists, amaze with the magic trick of their appearances. We are impressed with women over forty for looking like they’re not yet. We admire women for confusing us at first sight, we show respect to the ones who can manage, mysteriously, to look nothing like nature suggests they should look.



I am in my late twenties, and it would be nice if the future of my face wasn’t so dire.

But maybe that’s just life. Maybe these are the cold, hard, disappointing facts. You get older, you look worse, so deal with it.

OK, fine. I think that would be fine, if we could all agree that looking “worse” isn’t a big deal. Actually, I can imagine a world in which everyone agreed that we all look crappier and crappier with each passing year, but simultaneously, we care less and less about the way we look, so it’s practically irrelevant. Sounds like fun! I picture myself, seventy-seven and sloppy, my hair buzzed for convenience, sunbathing in the floppy nude on a European beach. Now that’s the life.

The problem is, we can’t agree on this vision for the future (what? The rest of you don’t want to see me naked on the beaches of my sunset years?).

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Kate on April 2nd 2014 in beauty, body, fear, perfection

the wound

A reader alerted me to the fact that it’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week right now (thank you, Addison!). Please click the link and learn more.

I was about to publish a different post, and mention NEDAweek in a note at the bottom. And then that didn’t feel right, so I wrote this. I didn’t have a lot of time. My mom is watching Eden in the other room. I hope you’ll forgive any mistakes or general hurrying. But I wanted to say:

This is a serious, serious issue. It erupts on the infected site of the wound girls and women have sustained from a world that enforces the flat, cold idea that our worth is based primarily on the way our bodies look. It festers. It takes different, complicated forms. The definitions can seem unhelpful and nebulous. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that bad. Sometimes you don’t even know about it. Sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with being skinny. Sometimes it results in death.

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Kate on February 26th 2014 in beauty, body, food, weight

window with light pouring out of it

My baby daughter Eden doesn’t know what she looks like.

“It’s your arch-nemesis, Eden number two!” Bear informs her ominously from the mirror, where they are hanging out, looking at their reflection. “Do you think she recognizes herself?” he asks me over his shoulder.

“Nah,” I say. “Not yet, I don’t think.”

She recognizes me—I’m the one with the milk boobs and the toothy grin all for her. I’m pretty sure she can smell me and thinks I smell right.

She recognizes Bear—he’s the one with the red beard and the fun nose for grabbing. The big, sturdy chest.

But right now she is a window with light pouring out of it and she’s the inside, opening up, and she’s a camera, taking millions of pictures of everything. Her body is for touching the world. It’s all tools for experiencing and learning. She makes expressions to try out different muscles in her face, to move her jaw around in order to practice chewing. She looks like a bewildered frog. She pops her stubby legs up and grabs her feet triumphantly and lets out a carefree fart. She looks like a cheerful, farting bug. Who cares how she looks? She’s all about how it feels.


It’s weird to think that I started out like this, too. That we all do. A brilliant jumble of sensors sensing excitedly all at once.

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Kate on February 5th 2014 in beauty, body, motherhood, perfection

sexy naked women absolutely everywhere

Bear opened his new headphones. “Check it out!” he said happily, gesturing at them.

I peered into the box. There were the headphones (I don’t know much about headphones), and directly below them was a glossy photo of a naked woman, wearing the same headphones.

He followed my gaze. “Is she totally naked?” he said, only a little surprised.

“Yup,” I said.

“Is that a nipple?”

“No, but almost.”

“Phew,” he said, grinning. “Wouldn’t want to see a nipple or anything.”

“Awesome,” I said.

“Now I REALLY want to wear these,” he said, teasing me. “Naked ladies LOVE these headphones.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “But seriously? I mean, seriously?”

“Seriously,” he said.




We got off the subway, Eden on Bear in the frontpack, on our way to buy a little plastic plate and a little plastic spoon and maybe even a sippy cup for the first time. It was the weekend, life was good, the city was muddy and cheerful and the cold felt like the right complement to hot chocolate and wool. I glanced up, waiting to cross the street, and there, covering the side of a building, was a butt.

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Kate on January 29th 2014 in beauty, body, fear, feminism, motherhood, new york