Beauty of a Woman Blog Fest III: In Praise of the Selfie

Closeup decorative grunge vintage woman with beautiful long hair
This is my third year in a row participating in this celebration conceived by the lovely and talented blogger August McLaughlin. Inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem 
The Beauty of a Woman, which you can read on August’s blog here, the festival celebrates beauty, women feeling beautiful, aging gracefully, and that inner glow. And this year August (who is quickly becoming her own generation’s Susie Bright!) has introduced a #GirlBoner edition of the BOAW fest to celebrate not only the beautiful but the sexy. Check out August’s blog today through Wednesday March 3rd for posts, stories, prizes, and links to other great blogs!

The Beauty of a Selfie

photo 4So I am a little behind on the cultural phenomenon now engraved into the Oxford English Dictionary as THE word of 2013 and known by all teens and tweens as the selfie. Even as I type, my spell checker wants to correct selfie to selfish. But here’s the thing, I have come to embrace the selfie, and its near cousin the photo bomb, as mini-celebrations of girl beauty for two reasons: startling insights and pure entertainment.

The Insightful Selfie

Since I am a selfie novice, I haven’t yet entered the wild and wonderful world of filters and photoshopping with my efforts. In a throwback to Polaroid days, what the camera clicks is what you get. But I have learned the art of KADildayphoto1holding the phone high as I look up into it (to eliminate neck wrinkles) and slightly to the side (to minimize my elongated nose.) Here is the me close up and in everyday clothing. And, hey, she’s not half bad…an affirmation devoutly to be repeated. In fact, my “about me” picture on this blog is a selfie that I took on a day when my eldest had left PhotoBooth up on the Mac and I saw that my hair and makeup had held up to a long day of wrangling words and young ladies. Of course we all know that moment of horror when we look DOWN into the camera. But UNLIKE the Polaroid days of old, there is a delete button on the thing.

The Entertaining Selfie

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I have laughed a lot taking selfies with my daughters. My girls make faces, they goof off, they rarely smile in that contrived way achieved with the warning of a camera in your face. Selfie-taking is hysterical! No, really. Check out the photo bomb talent! I have also posed with my parents, my parents-in-law, my husband, and my dog (he’s particularly great at the selfie) but have not yet accosted any celebrities to see if they would be willing to step into my personal photo stream. (Yes, I’m talking to you Matt Damon!)

photo 3The truth is, selfies make me laugh, and in review, they comfort me somehow and make me look back at myself in a way that my mirror doesn’t. I acknowledge the potentially angst-ridden nightmare that perpetual selfie-taking represents for young girls who have not yet formed their sense of self and who seek external validation. Trouble lies that way. But I’m sticking with my personal claim that selfies are fun, selfies are fearless, and selfies are fabulous. And the girl in that photo? Well, she’s beautiful.

So I know you all take selfies…wanna share? 🙂 Any selfie stories? Celebrity moments?

Don’t forget to check out the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest III at August McLauglin’s site. And you can see my previous two entries at BOAW I and BOAW II.

And a little more selfie link love:

Pusheen the Cat’s Guide to Selfies

Selfies Are Good For Girls by Rachel Simmons on Slate

EXTERNAL CRAZY: Military Style

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a comment responding to the funny and truly talented Myndi Shafer’s hilarious blog post about random strangers feeling free to comment on (and touch!) the pregnant belly. She asked to hear more about my experiences as a pregnant active duty military person…and, as we all know, pregnant ladies should get whatever they want, especially in their ninth month. So, this one’s for you, Myndi!

Here’s the story I told about being pregnant in uniform:

I was pregnant with my first when we lived in South Korea, stationed at the US Army base in Seoul. I was on active duty and so was my husband (both Navy). By policy, since tours in Korea were generally just one year, pregnant service members were reassigned back to the States at 20 weeks. But—lucky me!—we were on a TWO year assignment, so I got to stay. Which meant that I was the ONLY woman in uniform with a huge round belly by month eight! The Korean ladies were always putting their hands on my belly to predict the sex of the baby: “Oh! So BIG. That means BOY!” (It was a girl, BTW. So much for hands on predictions.)

So one day I was walking over to where my husband was going to meet me after work. I had seen a bunch of big black sedans lined up at the headquarters to take all the Generals somewhere. NOTE: If you’re in uniform and you see a general officer’s car approaching, you have to stop to salute it. But I knew if I kept walking, I wouldn’t have to stop because my back was to the cars. The truth was, I was having major Braxton Hicks contractions and didn’t want to have to double over while trying to snap out a salute. BUT because I have this sign on my forehead that says “ask me for directions,” someone stopped me just as those cars were approaching. The guy, who wanted to know where the base exchange was, had stepped by me just enough so that I had to turn to answer him. I could see the four star flags on the front of those black sedans approaching. Damn, I couldn’t get out of it now. So while my belly squeezed the ever livin’ breath out of me, I popped at least six salutes. I think I saw a grin on every single one of those generals’ faces as they saluted right back. To be fair, I was a truly funny sight in my “maternity battle dress uniform” (yes, there is such a thing…the military’s infinite wisdom is a whole ‘nother story), which was a tent-like camouflage uni with boots (had to get the hubster to tie my boots every day since I couldn’t even SEE them). When the cars were gone all I could think was: Jeez, and I have another month to go!


Here’s a pic of me and the hubster at Seoul Tower, Namsan, Seoul, Republic of Korea in 1998. I WAS pregnant at the time but not yet wearing the maternity uniform. That was actually a nice feature of the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) we were required to wear, I managed to “hide” under that overblouse till month six or so.

I can’t find the picture of me—large and in charge—in front of a combat rigged HumVee wearing the maternity tent, but you can get the general idea from this picture (from TheStir).

For a discussion of military uniforms and style, here’s Anne Brigg’s post from Ruly on what the different services wear and how hard it is to be uniform in uniform. Of course, I favor the Navy, hands down. And I think Katie Couric does too, check her out fawning over Admiral Mike Mullen in Ruly’s pics. 🙂

In 1975, the military changed their policies about pregnant service members. Prior to that date, women who became pregnant were automatically discharged from all services. Following that date, even though there were restrictions about where they could be assigned (both in terms of location and job activity), pregnant women could continue to serve. Interestingly, however, maternity uniforms were not designed and authorized for women until several years later. I particularly like the headline on this 1977 article from the Toledo Blade: Navy Accepts Facts of Life, Authorizes Maternity Uniforms. We tend to forget how much of a trail has been blazed for military women since that time.

This excellent article by a curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s Armed Forces History collection contains a thoughtful discussion of the military’s policy history and the unanswerable dichotomies of pregnancy for servicewomen:

“Even in these times of increased military awareness, with so many of our service members deployed or called to active duty, the complications of being both pregnant and in the military aren’t readily visible to civilians.”

But hopefully, I’ve shed a little light and humor on the subject for you–civilian or no. Do you have any pregnant-at-work stories (for the men reading–of your wives or co-workers)? If you worked outside the home, did you find it tough to reconcile your pregnant self with your work self? If you didn’t work outside the home, did you find yourself doing things in a subsequent pregnancy you would never have done in your first pregnancy (carrying a 25 lb. toddler around, for example?) Does the idea of a pregnant soldier or sailor make you uncomfortable?

One last pic. Here’s my Band of Sisters in Navy and Marine Corps ROTC summer training…I’m second from right. Because we’re all sisters-in-arms, right?

Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: The Beauty of Aggression

I offer buckets of thanks to blogger August McLaughlin and her wonderful idea for a blog festival. Inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem The Beauty of a Woman, which you can read on August’s blog here, we are talking about beauty, feeling beautiful, aging gracefully, and lots of other girlie–and not so girlie–stuff. Check out her blog today and tomorrow for stories, prizes, and links to other great blogs!

Here’s my contribution. And may I just say, this blogging thing never really turns out how you expect, but something is always revealed…

I went to college in Los Angeles, which is a varsity league kind of place for people concerned about how they look. Especially young girls—young women. I hadn’t picked USC because of the preponderance of pretty people; I was more interested in the solid reputation of the International Relations department—I know, geeky of me, wasn’t it? I quickly realized (like in the first 10 minutes of checking into my dorm!) that my J. V. grooming skills were not up to the task of competing in this world where everyone was tan, blond, and fabulous, not to mention somehow connected with the film industry. I was thrown into a river of piranhas when I didn’t even know how to tread water.

My parents were native Californians but I was from Philadelphia by way of New Mexico, and I had the short haircut and pale skin to prove it. My mom, who had nurtured me all the way to this crossroads–her second child, her last child, her only daughter–looked around at the sudden influx of Barbie look-alikes (and maybe at my shell-shocked face) and promptly took me shopping. God bless her! Believe me, shopping was not, and is not to this day, anywhere on my mom’s list of favorite things to do. But a few hours at the Galleria, and several hundred dollars later, she left me sitting on my dorm room bed feeling a little better because now I had a few OP (remember those?) tops and some cute shorts to go with them. Who wears shorts in September in Philly? But I wasn’t in Philly anymore, I was in Southern California. Still, I cried when my mom walked out of the dorm and got in her car. Buckets.

I eventually found my niche at USC, academically and socially. I grew my hair out, enhanced the blond, had a boyfriend, and graduated with honors. One night near graduation, I was in a friend’s room primping for a party. A friend of hers was there too. This other woman was drop dead gorgeous, a standout in a land of standouts. She didn’t go to our school. In fact, she wasn’t in college at the time, but earning a living as a model. I was sitting on the bed sipping wine and watching my friend curl this knockout’s long, shiny blond hair. They were both in their underwear so as not to get hairspray and long strands of hair on the little black dresses they were going to wear. I have such a clear picture in my head of them laughing together in front of a floor length mirror. I didn’t feel part of their group of two, so I wasn’t talking, just sitting. Out of the blue, the beautiful girl turned to me, flames shooting out of her lovely eyes, and yelled, “Stop f*%ing STARING at me!”

I bobbled my wine glass. “I’m not staring,” I mumbled. Then I made some excuse and left the room, fighting tears. My friend later apologized to me for her friend’s outburst, but I had shrugged off the sharp needle of hurt by then. What kind of inner imbalance and pressure was such a woman under to react that way to me? I asked myself snottily.

Maybe I should have asked, What kind of vibe was I giving off to cause that reaction? I was so envious, after all. And I had been thinking (even though I knew better), Look how beautiful she is, it must be so easy for her…

What I really WANTED to say back to her (later, when I thought of it) was, “I’m NOT staring at YOU. Get over yourself, bitch.”

Maybe what I should have said was a much more honest, “Oh, wow. Didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I was just thinking how amazing you look. And envying you. What products do you use in your hair to make it shine like that, or is that just God-given luck-of-the-draw?”

Here’s the thing. We women compete for men and resources and position. We vie with our looks, our brains, and our bodies. We judge, we evaluate, we make improvements, we collude with each other at the expense of others, and we send out little darts that draw blood. But I have always thought (and it’s not a terribly original thought, just a true one): What if we used all that energy we spend competing on collaboration? We could rule the world, maybe. And wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

In my late twenties and thirties, I plunged into all the feminist and post-feminist manifestos: Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, the classics of Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, Ms. magazine. One book stuck with me though, and I have it prominently on my bookshelf even now. Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography spoke to me with her truth and her language. Here she is on why we struggle to conflate the aggression that wells up inside us with the image of ourselves that our culture hands us:

“The problem with ignoring female aggression is that we who are aggressive, we girls and women and obligate primates, feel confused, as though something is missing in the equation, the interpretation of self and impulse. We’re left to wander through the thickets of our profound ferocity, our roaring hungers and drives, and we’re tossed in the playground to thrash it out among ourselves, girl to girl, knowing that we must prove ourselves and negotiate and strut and calibrate but seeing scant evidence of the struggle onscreen or in books or on biology’s docket. We are left feeling like “error variants,” in the words of one female scientist, wondering why we aren’t nicer than we are, and why we want so much, and why we can’t sit still.”

So for our celebration today of The Beauty of a Woman, I offer a toast to women: Here’s to roaring hungers and profound ferocity. Beautiful, dangerous, and strong. May we feel the envy, but reach out a hand anyway.

What about you, my readers? Were you ever in a place and time you felt out of your league? Was it the people around you, or was it really YOU causing your discomfort? Can women work together, collaborate, share? What makes you feel beautiful?