Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Keira Knightly and the Ladies in the Locker Room

In Los Angeles, when someone asks you, “Are you in the industry?“, they are referring to the movies. Yet there’s another industry that I’m pretty sure is thriving, let’s call it the “industry that supports the industry”, otherwise known as plastic surgery. Open any copy of People, Star or US magazine and you’re guaranteed to see at least one spread about the latest Hollywood Starlet’s nip, tuck or augmentation.

It’s not just the actors and actresses in magazines - the not-so-famous LA folk have quite clearly had a few trips to the doctor as well. There’s the woman at CVS with the skinny face and giant puffy lips. The teenage girls at the farmer’s market who still have bandages covering their new noses. But mostly, it’s breasts. I’m surprised they even sell bras in LA, given the number of size D breasts that are completely gravity defying on their own. Walking around the farmer’s market, you would think there must be a nearby stand where you can just order a pair of lips with a side of double Ds.

This is not a rant about plastic surgery. I have nothing against a forty year old mom who just wants her body back the way it was before babies took it over. And you know what? Someone who feels a new chin or different nose will give him or her more confidence, I am not about to judge that either. But the truth is, while it might be glamorized in magazines and on reality tv, you put yourself at risk anytime you undergo surgery. 25% of women who undergo breast augmentation will find themselves back in the hospital within four years due to leaking or hardening. Pretty sexy, huh?

This is why, as a mom of three daughters who will be lucky to fill a B-cup, I loved that Keira Knightly refused to have her A-sized breasts enhanced to Cs on promo photos for her new film, “Duchess”. I like to think this is a turning point for young actresses determined not to be pressured into fitting the cookie cutter (Barbie-shaped cookie cutter) mold expected of them. I’m skeptical though because when I look around I can clearly see there are plenty of Barbie-shaped women ready to step in and fill the roles.

Raising girls in a world that bombards them with negative body images isn’t a problem unique to LA. It seems a little over the top here at times (note the “Pam: Girl on the Loose” billboards all over Ventura Blvd.) but you can turn on the tv or pick up a magazine anywhere in the United States and young girls do it all the time. It makes teenage years seem particularly daunting.

When I start to worry that my girls are exposed to too many of the wrong type of images, I keep myself grounded by thinking of the ladies in the locker room at the Y. These women have never seen a plastic surgeon. They are wrinkly enough to look as though they’ve been in the pool for hours, even before they get in. They have dark purple veins running up and down their legs. Their breasts hang down to their belly buttons. They are lumpy, flabby, and liver spotted. I find them refreshingly beautiful. Sure, they aren’t going to grace the cover of any magazine, but these women have confidence. They stand there, showing their wrinkly bodies to the world, while they ask the girls about swim classes or chat with friends about where to meet for cards that afternoon. I love them for being so happy with who they are. Whatever the plastic surgeons are trying to sell, they’ve got it already, in its pure form.

I’m not holding my breath that Keira Knightly will set a new trend in Hollywood, but I like that it’s a start. Until then, I’m taking my girls to the Women in Science exhibit at the Getty and I'm hoping they learn a thing or two about beauty from the women at the Y.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

California Sun

A friend of mine recently declined a visit to the beach with us because she doesn’t go to the beach with her baby. She doesn‘t want to expose her to that much sun. Her response threw me off for a moment. I haven’t even considered NOT going to the beach. I mean, we live in southern California now. Aren’t my girls supposed to be little surfers-in-training?

While I'm unwilling to give up our weekly beach trips, I’ll admit that the exposure to the sun has become a concern for me here. My mom is smiling triumphantly if she is reading this. Except she is probably also shaking her head because it is too late for me. She spent our teenage years chasing after us with hats and sunscreen (back then SPF 8 seemed extreme to me), but despite my mom’s best efforts, I spent years as a lifeguard and swim instructor in the summers and I have plenty of photo albums full of peeling nose photos to prove it.

My mom was ahead of her time in her obsession with sunscreen. Since then, the ozone has depleted some more, further research has been done about the sun’s effects on our skin, and nearly every minute someone in the United States dies of skin cancer. Pair that with the fact that I’m turning 34 this summer and am starting to see some of the effects of those years of sunburn, and I’m ready to lather on the sunscreen… Except that this is 2008 and the days when moms could actually throw their kids in "way back" of the car without car seats while drinking soda out of a chipped BPA-laden plastic cup is over, so of course new research shows that we not only have to worry about the sun, but also really bad for you? Sunscreen. Apparently we are all peeing out hormone-altering chemicals, which just doesn't seem like a good idea. I guess it is sort of obvious if you think about it - all of those weird sounding names on the back of the sunscreen bottle you buy at CVS just can’t be good for your skin.

So what’s a concerned mom to do? Any dermatologist will tell you “stay out of the sun from 10 to 4 every day”, and I’m willing to concede that it probably would be the best option for your skin. But what about your life? From hiking to biking to swimming - most of the activities I enjoy involve some sun exposure. And, as I wrote in my last blog entry, being outside is the most natural place for children to be. Also, you have to factor in sanity, and staying indoors for six hours a day with kids in the summer is just not an option.

So we’re investing in long sleeve rash guard shirts, hats, and natural zinc-based sunscreens. Apparently we are willing to look dorky and pasty white to avoid being inside! Fortunately, I think the trend is catching on so maybe we won't stand out too much as the overly sunscreened family. In fact, when I asked about sunscreens on a listserve, my friend Sandy gave a homemade option, which I included below:

Sandy’s Recipe for Homemade Sunscreen:

1 teaspoon titanium dioxide 1 tablespoon zinc oxide 10 ml of vegetable glycerine (this is only for mixing the 2 powders, so any amount will work--I think it is more than a tsp and less than a tbsp) 1/4 to 1/3 cup Shea Nut Butter (olive oil will work, too, but SNB has natural sun protective qualities 1/4 to 1/3 cup coconut oil Mix the powders with the glycerin, using a fork will help get the lumps out, stir well, almost whipping. The SNB can be warmed so it is more liquid, but also works at room temp. Mix all ingredients together. The more you stir the more "whipped" it will be and that seems to be the preferred texture.

Now, speaking of beaches, my family is there now and I am supposed to be unpacking (another example of how a day in the sun is much more appealing!) so I am signing off to try to find the floor in my room...

Monday, July 21, 2008

parkle, nuggu and growing up on a lake

I recently heard a public radio segment about childhood myths that we carry into adulthood. The premise was that, as we reach adulthood, we lose most of our childhood myths because we figure out certain beliefs to be false (Santa, the Easter bunny) but sometimes a belief is obscure enough that it never has the opportunity to be disproved, in which case it might just sneak through to adulthood. One of the callers described how he had always believed a road crossing was a “cross zing” because you were supposed to “zing” across quickly. Another woman called in to describe how, during a discussion about endangered species, her friends around the keg became embarrassingly silent when she asked, “Are unicorns extinct or just endangered?” I’m sure we all have had moments like this. When I was two, I called throwing up “’parkling” because I thought it looked sparkly and I couldn’t pronounce the letter “s”. I was an adult before I learned that wasn’t a word that people outside of my family would recognize

Today, my cousin updated her Facebook status to “is excited to swim in a Vermont river” and, flooded with a wave of nostalgia, it occurred to me that the belief that everyone shared a country childhood similar to mine - one filled with afternoons on the lake in a boat, swims in the gorge, hikes along trails only minutes from my house, the freedom to spend hours in the woods building forts with my sister - is another “myth” that I seem to have carried into adulthood. To me, childhood, freedom and nature might as well be synonyms, as most of my childhood memories involve playing outdoors with no parents in sight. When I talked to friends in high school and college, I was continually surprised by the variation in everyone’s childhood memories. It still surprises me when Toby talks about memories from his own childhood that are so different from mine. {As I also was surprised that you don’t actually have to endure frozen toes and frostbitten cheeks in January. There are some childhood memories I gladly release!}

And yet, here I am raising city girls. As they get older, it occurs to me more and more that they are not having the childhood that I had. I think about diving off the raft for rocks with other kids in the neighborhood or ice skating on the pond at the end of the point, and I feel a pang of sorrow that they will never have these memories. It’s not just because we moved to L.A. - they were city girls in Frederick too. While we had access to hiking and camping, they could never head out the backdoor and find themselves in the woods and the only lake we frequented was man-made and a twenty minute drive from our house.

But I suppose I could title this entry “apples and oranges” too because, of course, there are benefits to living in a more urban area and they have memories that I never had. They have all the advantages of living in a city - they can walk to both school and friends’ houses, which is wonderful now but will be even more beneficial when they are teenagers. They are exposed to more diversity than I was growing up. If we are looking to see other children, we can just head to the park and immediately they will find playmates. They also have access to nature, just in a different way. In Frederick, it was weekend trips to the woods. Here, we can either walk over to the canyon for a nature hike or head to Malibu, where we spent two days in a row this week. The only way I can describe the girls at the beach is pure joy. Toby calls them sandpipers, as they run in and out of the waves, filled with excitement. This past weekend, they built sand sculptures with my mom, dared each other to grab rocks as the waves receded and looked for crabs and different species of birds.

Given that we use it still in our family, they might continue the tradition of growing up thinking “parkle” is a real word. Lucy’s word for snuggle, “nuggu”, might make it out of childhood as well. Mostly what I hope for them is that they carry out of childhood memories that they cherish, that they wish everyone could have experienced because it was just so wonderful. I don’t know if it will be hiking or playing at the beach or something else entirely, but watching them play in the waves I realize that it might not be Lake Champlain, but it’s still something really good.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

apples and oranges

A few days ago, we headed to the Y for “family swim time” at the pool. It’s not Thomas Pool in Frederick, with its child-friendly sloping entrance, surrounded by trees and full of families. It’s a decent lap pool next to a busy road in a shoddy, run-down building, but it’s a pool and the girls were excited to swim. Then we got to the pool and, due to a chlorine overload, it was closed.

So I took a deep breath and held back tears. That probably sounds dramatic, but it’s been kind of a tough week - the adjustment of life in a new city with three girls in tow can be exhausting. During the day, I try my best to smile and point out all of the positive attributes of Studio City - the palm trees, the quick walk to Trader Joes, the shaded park - and at night Toby endures the comparison - the grocery store is so crowded and the air is so dirty and people are not pedestrian-friendly in their cars and so on and so on.

So there we were, looking at a hot afternoon with nothing to do. Then, as we were walking out of the building, an eccentric woman came running up to us, exclaiming that the girls just have to try the acting class. It’s free and it’s for children ages 4 to 7 years old. So, that Saturday afternoon, while Toby and I took turns working out, Evie and Lucy took turns scampering around the room as mice, stealing gold coins as a devil and her cat, practicing award speeches, and choreographing dance moves. It wasn’t the afternoon I had envisioned but it was wonderful and new and different. Where else but in Los Angeles would the Y have free acting classes for children with the very dramatic Miss Sandra? [And I couldn’t help but smile when Miss Sandra told me that the girls have “the calling” for acting, which Mike said gave him visions of Lucy in fifteen years stomping off of the set while the directors and producers shake their heads sadly, lamenting that “all the best talent comes with that attitude.”]

There are still going to be bumps in the road, but I felt like Saturday afternoon was a turning point for me in my feelings towards LA. It was a metaphor handed to me on a platter and an opportunity for me to learn that I should give up on the side by side comparison between two cities. There are things I will always miss and appreciate about Frederick - meeting up with friends at the pool, walking two blocks to Baker Park, and of course the ease of visits with family. But this week we drove less than half an hour to spend the morning at a beautiful beach with Sarah and Ethan, the next day we participated in a neighborhood bike parade, and yesterday morning I biked through the canyon behind our house and then headed to a farmer’s market like I’ve never seen before.

In the car this morning, the song “California Dreaming” came on and Lucy said, “I heard them say California! What is this song called?” I listened to the words to explain them to her and realized that I was describing a song about being on the east coast and missing California. One day I might just have a blog entry about that as well.