Sunday, January 31, 2010

A box of Kleenex and RuPaul

I didn't grow up with cable TV. My house had an old TV with rabbit ear antennas and we usually got only two stations -- PBS and FOX. Because of this, I didn't spend my tween and teen years watching a lot of television. I watched Ghost Writer and Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS and the occasional movie or show on FOX. When my friends were discussing 90210, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Dawson's Creek, I didn't have a single point of reference. I didn't watch any of that stuff and I wasn't that interested.

When I was 15, however, my father remarried and we moved into my stepmother's house. She had cable and her channel lineup even included MTV and VH1! My brothers and I never tired of music videos, but I had yet to slip into the world of reality TV until a weekend that I was feeling sick. I spent an entire Saturday wrapped up in a blanket in the recliner, sipping on ginger ale and feeling miserable. Without cable I would have spent that day reading or sleeping, but now I had MTV! I spent the whole day watching an entire season of The Real World.

I can't remember which season I watched or what city they were in, but I remember being transfixed by this marathon of "reality" TV. Even back then, when reality TV was a relatively new phenomenon, I had little tolerance for the semi-staged drama and the months and months of footage condensed into a dozen or so hours of television. That did not, however, stop me from being enthralled by this weird microcosm of society neatly packaged into a day's worth of TV-viewing. I didn't have to devote all my Thursday nights to watching a particular show! I could just sit in the recliner nursing a ginger ale and watching a whole season's worth of crazy in a single day.

I have to admit that the habit hasn't left me. Whenever I'm home sick and I'm too tired to read but not tired enough to sleep, I flip around the channels until I find some odd bit of "reality" to watch. It's voyeuristic, but I like to watch the weirdest "reality" possible when I'm feeling crummy. When I've been home sick I've watched marathons of shows that I actually enjoy (like Project Runway or America's Next Top Model) and marathons of shows I'd never even heard of (like The Chef Jeff Project or -- sadly -- RuPaul's Drag Race, which features contestants competing to be the next big drag star).

Though I can't imagine watching these programs religiously once a week, I find them oddly satisfying to watch when I'm curled up on the couch, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, too sick to do much of anything else. When I'm not feeling well, it's too easy to fall asleep watching a movie and I lack the concentration to watch anything serious. There's no way, however, anyone can accuse me of lacking the mental stamina to watch five hours of a Project Runway marathon while I eat chicken noodle soup and blow my nose.

So the next time I'm stuck on the couch with a box of tissues and a cup of tea, I hope I find four hours of a cooking competition show followed by reruns of an old season of HGTV Design Star. Either way, it sure beats the reality of a raw, red nose and cough syrup!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tyra Banks announces "fiercely real" plus-size model search

Tyra Banks announced this week that her latest modeling competition will involve plus-sized teens. She calls the competition the first "fiercely real" teen model search, as it is open to any girl between the ages of 13 and 19 who wear a size between 12 and 20, and are between 5'9" and 6'1".

Now I love me some Tyra. I think she's a beautiful woman, a wonderful role model, and that she genuinely cares about girls in America. I also know and love the plus-size world. It's not easy being "plus-size" as an adult and I imagine its even more difficult as a teenager. Thinking about the difficulties, I'm excited about the prospect of young plus-size women having the chance to show off their curves on a national stage.

A few things about this competition jump out at me though. For starters, Tyra's plus-size models will not be competing on a season of her show America's Next Top Model. Instead, contestants will submit an application with photos and finalists will be announced on an episode of The Tyra Show, and the winner will be revealed the following day. The winner of the Fiercely Real Teen Model Search will win a one-year modeling contract and a spread in a major fashion magazine, however, just like the winners of ANTM.

I am a little disappointed that Tyra's search won't result in a season of ANTM. I suppose that there are several reasons for this, including the fact that TV shows are still sponsored by advertisers, some of whom may not share Tyra's appreciation for girls of all sizes. I also suspect that a few of Tyra's modeling gurus who appear on the show -- including runway coaches, photographers, fashion designers, makeup artists, and the like -- may not want to be associated with plus-size girls, or don't believe that high-fashion can be plus-sized. While I certainly think this is wrong, I understand that our society is still driven by the almighty dollar, and an often-impossible standard of beauty.

I've also heard a lot of griping about the fact that the girls must still be between 5'9" and 6'1". This is not a fact that bothers me. While I'm all for elevating young girls' self-esteem and celebrating bodies of all types, models in the industry simply aren't often short. If plus-size girls have to be tall to model in this competition so be it; at least its a start.

The only other thing I hope for is that the winner of the Fiercely Real Teen Model Search ends up somewhere in the middle of range. No offense, but a 6'1" size 12 model is hardly plus-size. I hope a lovely young woman wins because of her unique beauty and curves, not because she's the smallest of the plus-sized contestants.

All negativity aside, I do hope the winner of Tyra's plus-size model search is featured in Glamour, one of my favorite magazines and one of the few glossies that is committed to featuring plus-size (and even "real-size") girls in their magazine. I know that the winner's curves would be appreciated by Glamour's readers and that such exposure to the mainstream media would help boost her career.

In a statement to Us magazine, Tyra said, "I've always felt it was my mission to expand the narrow perceptions of beauty." She went on to talk about "celebrating non-traditional beauty" and expressed her disappointment that the term "plus-sized" has a negative connotation, when it refers to the average American woman.

"That woman is healthy, fit and beautiful," said Banks. "Adolescence is such an impressionable time in a young woman's life, and I hope this contest helps teen girls discover their own beauty from the inside out."

I do too, Tyra. And I can't wait to see the results.

Tune in to The Tyra Show on March 2 to see the winner of the Fiercely Real Teen Model Search.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Friday nights hold a special wonder for me.

What I love most about Friday nights is that they lazily stretch out before you. You have no obligations! In fact, the whole world seems preoccupied with relaxing, so you're nearly always sure to be left alone and you can do whatever you want. And though I enjoy the company of my friends and family, I'd prefer to reserve Friday nights for just me.

My favorite Friday nights aren't spent at a club or a fancy restaurant. Instead, they start with no expectations and no commitments. A typical Friday night usually begins with my changing into comfy pajamas, eating something delicious and warm (bonus points for anything cheesy, gooey, crunchy, or salty), and drinking some wine or a big mug of hot chocolate. Then, I proceed to do whatever I feel like.

Sometimes I borrow half a dozen movies from the library spend Friday night kicking off a weekend of watching them all. Other times I borrow half a dozen movies and decide to ignore them and not watch any at all! I spend many a Friday night catching up on DVR-ed TV shows, reading chapters upon chapters of books, or playing Tetris until my thumbs are sore. Other Friday nights I take a bubble bath, paint my toenails, or putter around the house with beauty potions and pastes on my skin and in my hair.

The best thing about Friday nights is that nearly everyone is unwinding in his or her own way from a long week at work, so it's unlikely that you'll have any specific responsibilities. There are no doctor's appointments to rush to, no banking that can be done, no commitments to keep. For a few precious hours, nothing lies behind you but another completed work week, and nothing stands in front of you until the rush of Saturday morning. For a few glorious hours you can do whatever you want.

I love my Friday nights because they help me unwind from one long week and prepare me to gear up for another. For a few hours I can be selfish with my time and do whatever I want to do. Sometimes, it's the only few hours of my week that aren't pre-scheduled -- with commitments or fun. Even though I love participating in my sign language classes and going to the theatre, sometimes they those things run the risk of becoming just another item on a list of errands, appointments, and tasks. Friday night is the one block of time I can nearly always count on to be open for anything.

With that in mind, please pardon me. I think it's time for a novel and a bubble bath. Or perhaps another glass of wine and a few games of solitaire. Or maybe an hour of Project Runway and a pedicure... The night is young!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I'd learn to play the violin

Where do people find the time to do everything they want to do?

I have so many things I want to learn (how to speak German, how to paint, how to cook like they do on the Food Network...), and so many things I'd like to practice more (writing, American Sign Language, working out...), and I hardly have time for any of it. In fact, the bulk of my week is taken up by my job, something that would surely make the bottom of my priority list if I were independently wealthy. With all that I want to do competing with all that I have to do, I mostly just find myself frazzled.

I try to imagine what life would be like if I took the fifty hours I spend commuting to and then working at my job, and spent them doing things that were more fun.

For starters, I'd be fluent in American Sign Language and German.

I'd be healthier (since I could spend more time at the gym, less time starving when I finally get out of work -- leading to less eating of Ramen Noodles and quick-fix meals).

I'd be writing a book instead of goofy blog posts.

I'd paint like Bob Ross.

I'd take a cooking class.

I'd volunteer at the library.

I'd have completed scrapbooks instead of a desk full of half-done art.

I'd own a dog.

I'd take up the violin.

I'd travel more and stress out less.

I'd read more of the hundreds of books on my "to-read" list.

I'd upload my photos in a timely manner.

I'd vacuum. (Heck, I might even dust.)

This morning I woke up at 5 a.m. I wrote a post for my part-time writing gig. I surfed around the Internet. I read for a bit. Now, I'm writing this post. It was nice to have two whole hours to myself to do stuff I wanted to do. Of course, I wanted to sleep too, but I didn't have time for that and everything else! I guess I'll just try to keep squeezing the most out of the hours I have.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to ignore my German lessons, scrapbooking, working out, and photo uploading: I'm off to work.

Monday, January 04, 2010

If I were a rich man...

Man, oh man. If I had a dollar for every time I got worked up about the inequalities between the rich and the poor, I'd be one of the rich folks about whom I complain.

Last week, Yahoo! News reported that earning just $32,879 puts you in the top half of taxpayers. The story was tucked away on the site's finance page, and while I understand that this might not be breaking news, I'd be surprised if many people know that figure.

I think it's an outrage that wages are so low in this country. We're one of the most educated, technologically-advanced countries in the world and more than half of our residents are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Let's do the math: Let's say that I make just a little more than the $32, 879 that puts a person in the top half of taxpayers. (I work in Boston, which has a higher cost of living, so I make about $35,000 each year before taxes.)

The average cost of an average apartment in Boston is $1,350 a month ($16,200 a year!). Transportation (whether by car or train) is easily another $150 a month, and that doesn't include maintenance costs. Groceries for a single person come in at around $160 a month. Add in health insurance — which is mandatory in Massachusetts — for an average young professional (at around $175/month), the recommended 10% of your income in savings and/or a retirement plan ($290/month), and about 20% of your gross income for various state and federal taxes ($583/month), and you've got about $2,500 each year (or about $200 a month) for such extravagances as co-pays for doctor's visits or medications, utilities, phone/Internet, travel, and — God forbid — entertainment.

When people are paid so little and costs are so high, it's hard to imagine that people are getting ahead when so many of us are barely getting by. I live well-within my means. I don't have credit card debt, a gambling habit, or even a car loan. I buy store-brand groceries, use coupons, and shop on sale. I drive a beat up car that uses regular gasoline, cover my windows with plastic to keep the heat in during the winter, and have worn the same snow boots since college. I'm a saver, not a spender, and yet I'm still not making much financial "progress."

I do have a modest amount of school loans from obtaining my Bachelor's degree, and I have a fondness for theatre tickets, which I spend my discretionary "fun money" on. Aside from that (and a penchant for pizza, which I indulge once or twice a month), I'm hardly a careless spender. And yet, I make more than half the tax payers in the United States, and I can't afford a house, an extravagant vacation, or even major car repairs.

Something is wrong when more than half the country is barely scraping by. I tend to blame the structure of the system, but also the super-rich for the discrepancy and disparity in wealth.

How do we fix it? Someone recently told me about a business model in Japan that requires companies to succeed together. Though I don't claim to know much about it, it sounds like in order for high-level executives to earn more money, the whole company must improve and all employees must receive wage increases as the executives' wages increase. The "little guys" wages must always be a reasonable percentage of the top executives' paychecks. This ensures that companies work together to succeed and that high-level employees are cognizant of the necessity of having skilled, motivated workers throughout the whole company.

I propose that the United States adopt a similar method. There's no need for the super rich to continue amassing more wealth than is necessary, while millions of people live in or very near poverty. The government also needs a wake up call in regard to its so-called "poverty line." When the national poverty line (meaning that anyone earning less than that amount is living in poverty) is at $10,830 for a single person and $22,050 for a family of four, something is deeply wrong. I, a college-educated, frugal, single person, could not support myself on $22,000 a year, and I certainly couldn't support a family of four on it.

Readers, what do you think? I know that you have opinions on this matter! Please feel free to share them in the comments.