Saturday, October 4, 2014

Power Posing: It's a Man's Man's Man's World? Miss C Poses a Question to Amy Cuddy

Does the way we stand and sit affect the way we perceive ourselves?  Researcher and Harvard B-School professor Amy Cuddy thinks so, and her TED talk on the topic is the current "bright young thing" of the internet.

Cuddy distinguishes between powerful and weak poses--the first involves opening up the body: taking up space on a chair, feet planted firmly, arms in a variety of positions from what my son calls a "Brazilian goal" (named after his favorite soccer stars where they run the field with arms held high and out) to hands on hips (the Wonder Woman), to arms resting on chair arms.

The weaker poses involve crossed legs, crossed ankles, crossed arms, and, especially, chins in hands.

They are, as Cuddy notes, often gendered poses.  And indeed, they are.  That troubles me.

Because if I wear a pencil skirt to work, I pretty much *have* to cross my ankles or my knees when I sit down.

Cuddy also argues, via scientific experiment, that individuals' testosterone levels rise when they assume said power poses. And that, apparently, is a good thing for someone in a position of power (her actual experiment compared levels of testosterone with cortisol, the hormone emitted in stressful situations).

So then.  Are we women being instructed to find our inner testosterone by assuming power poses? But is there not a fundamental problem in the first place that power is being equated with testosterone, which is usually equated with men?

Maybe there's a different way to--ahem--pose the question.

Consider this: Cuddy recommends that people assume two minutes of power poses before going into a situation where power dynamics are involved--a job interview, for instance. She argues that such poses are part of the "fake it till you make it" philosophy: adopting the pose will make the person look more powerful, even if they don't yet feel it.
Here's my take:  I've done a good bit of community theatre; I sing and dance with our faculty rock band; and I certainly perform every day in the classroom. If I step on one of these stages right after, say, taking notes at my desk, or reading a music score, I'll bet that my initial performance will fall flat because I haven't got into character yet. (And yes: "the professor" is a character.)

In other words, all Cuddy is saying that that we have to warm up before an event, and we warm up not only our minds, but our bodies, even when the event appears to be a strictly intellectual one (like discussing de las Casas or Crevecoeur).

But what can we do about the gendered aspect of these power poses? Feminist scholars and theorists have long discussed how women are encouraged not to take up space, through posture, through diets, through staying in the house instead of entering the public sphere.

Personally, I see NO PROBLEM with crossing one's legs or ankles.  I think it looks attractive and smart. And yes, I find that arms folded or shoulders slumped do give off an unappealing, unengaged vibe. But I do take issue that we're all looking to--or need to--increase our testosterone levels.

And what do we do with Lisa Taylor in the Helmut Newton photo above? She's definitely taking on a power pose--legs apart, hand on hip (coding masculine along with the "assessing" look in her eyes).  But she's also twiddling her hair, a decidedly female pose. Or juxtapose, if you will.

Have gentle readers thought about Amy Cuddy's thesis?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Farewell Deborah Freeman-Mitford Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

I learned, via BBC radio, that the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire died today. Born Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford, into a family of six sisters (who all went on to be rather infamous), she was known as "Debo." After she married Lord Andrew Cavendish, she eventually moved into the family seat, Chatsworth (that's a greatly abbreviated version of her history).

I love these pictures of the Duchess, especially the one where she's in full plume, as glorious as one of her beloved chickens.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Literary Connections Miss C Hath Mayde

As a recovering medievalist, I find that my love for the period rekindles when I find fashions that remind me of certain characters.

Take Chaucer's Prioresse from The Canterbury Tales, for instance:

Ful semely hir wimpel pinched was,
Hir nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas,
Hir mouth ful small, and therto softe and reed.
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed—
It was almost a spanne brood, I trowe—
For hardily she was nat undergrowe.

I think that a modern-day prioresse would be totally on the Bal if she wore these looks from  Bally and Balenciaga. 

The movement structured into the wimple and cape indicate her fashion-forwardness, not to mention the velocity of her garments--should her horse break into a canter.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Of Plastic Rain Bonnets and Prada Boots

Growing up in Canada, we dealt in boots and bonnets--the boot was the trunk of our car and the bonnet was the hood. (My grandmother, of Scottish descent, was a true Anglophile.)

That alliterative phrase came to mind again while paging through Vanity Fair (yes; I'm turning a good deal of magazine pages these days) and I saw these nostalgically hilarious boots by Prada.

Of course Prada is a venerable Italian company and not doubt looked toward some smart Italian historical reference, but all I could see with these boots were bonnets--the plastic rain bonnets worn on Coronation Street and beyond to keep a lady's hair dry in the wet. 

Indeed my grandmother wore them, and her carefully set coiffure never wilted in the rain. (Random French word alert.)

Even the patent leather recalls a sturdy rain slicker.  The loafers by themselves don't have quite the wit, but those boots! 

I think I'm getting a P* in my bonnet.

*P for Prada.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fall Blues (updated)

It's the most beautiful fall day today--crisp and clear--just what I;d been looking for the other week.  To celebrate (?) I tried yoga for the first time, and feel a pleasant full-body exhaustion on the horizon.

Upon leafing through the men's style magazine T, I was reminded of another fall day, waaaay back in the mid/late 80s when I was a second-year undergraduate (after having taken two full years off to work in the fashion world).

I was reading ELLE magazine (my 80s favourite) and saw either an editorial photo or an ad of a model wearing a navy silk shirt.  I can't recall the designer, but suffice to say that it was one carried by a boutique in the Market, the funky side of town.

This is neither the ad nor the shirt, but I did remember the designer: KIKIT.  Here's an ad from 1990, with a younger Antonio Banderas.

I high-tailed it to the boutique and learned that the shirt was actually men's wear, and that it was the most luxurious sueded silk. Of course, it was too large for me, but such was the alluring combination of ELLE, that particular shade of navy, and the sueded silk that I bought it.

I did that at times--bought men's things instead of women's.  When Ralph Lauren came out with fragrance, I bought the more medicinal Polo for myself instead of the unappealing Lauren for women. I wore a men's rugby shirt. (I still wear Mr. C's rainslickers.)

If I think about it, though, I wonder about my motivation.  Did I think men's wear; schmen's wear--I like it so I'm wearing it, or was I purposefully cultivating an eccentricity that filled my closet and vanity table with odd one-offs instead of things to mix and match. I may have been working toward Anna Piaggi when I really wanted to look like (a blonde) Yasmin LeBon.

I've written here before about my sartorial education in being "different"--how my grandmother would buy me a "cooler" equivalent of whatever was fashionable, even though I just wanted to look the same as my friends.  That shirt, brought back to mind via the photo above, has me thinking, somewhat uncomfortably, about past choices.

Do gentle readers ever travel back in time and reevaluate their style?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Take Meowwwout Tonight: A Rentmembrance of Things Past

Well, a misRentmembrance, if I'm being honest.  Mr. C and I have been married to each other for almost 23 years, and I've long considered the musical Rent to be part of our love story. 

I told our children how we didn't have a honeymoon (I balk at tradition) but instead, some six months after our fall wedding, we took an un-honeymoon, an unneymoon, if you will, at the Paramount Hotel in New York where we spent a long weekend taking in theatre and drinking morning Martinelli juice at the in-house Dean and DeLuca. (If readers know Martinelli, they'll know why I reference it.)

Seeing Rent was an enormously big deal, as it had just opened at the Nederlander Theatre and we had scored tickets not yet a month into its run, just five rows from the stage.  I adored the musical, especially loved Adam Pascal's voice, as well as Jesse L. Martin's and Taye Diggs's. Idina Menzel, fresh from the Long Island wedding-singer circuit was impressively raw and Daphne Rubin-Vega terrified me on the catwalk as she prowled and sang from a perilous height. I made visual and aural imprints of everything and couldn't wait for the cast album to be released and memorized all the songs without trying when it was.

Rent was further inscribed in my history as being on the weekend that I cut my almost-waist-length-hair (see photo above) into a short bob at the fabled Frederic Fekkai, still in Bergdorfs then. Mr. F himself was supposed to do the cut, but when I arrived I was informed that he'd broken his leg skiing in Gstaad and was taking only long-time clients.  I would be with his second-in-command, Mark Garrison (who went on shortly to have his own salon, as did my colourist, Kathleen).

In short, Rent was an important part of my 90s and of my unneymoon story.

Except that it's not. This weekend, I took my two daughters to see a professional, waaaay off Broadway production of Rent.  I could have performed it as a one-woman show, so fresh were the lyrics and line deliveries. Afterwards, I ran into the actress who played Mimi and complimented her, saying that I'd seen the Broadway production in '91 and that I enjoyed her interpretation. 

All was well till I returned home, looked up Rent, and determined that the online information included a major timeline typo, as Rent was listed as opening on Broadway in 1996, some five years after I got married. I looked up a couple of other sources and received the same info: Rent opened in '96(!!).

And so although I did see Rent a month after it opened, I also saw it five years after I was married, five years after I chopped off my hair chez Frederic Fekkai. (I hardly dare type what we saw on that unneymoon, but now I think it was Dancing at Lughnasa, among other plays.)  But who knows, now?

No day like today? No day like Rent in 1991.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Of Vintage Esso Stations, Trenchcoats, and Ingenues

This week I was re-watching the Carey Mulligan/Peter Sarsgaard film An Education (2009) and was reminded, yet again, of another film in which an Esso station, a trench, and an ingenue are prominently featured: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964).

Both films feature innocent heroines who wear trenchcoats and who receive educations of varying sorts. One such educating moment takes place for both women at a (vintage to us) Esso station.

Cherbourg, of course, is situated in France, and I read Education's Esso scene as a gentle homage, as our ingenue character from that film loves France: she listens to Juliette Greco over and over (the album cover with the eyes); she breaks out into French words and phrases during English conversation, which makes perfect sense to her schoolchums but comes across as utterly odd to Helen, a deliberately uneducated but well-clothed character. (You know, I do that seemingly random French inclusion too, not to be pretentious, but because of my many years spent in bilingual Ottawa and Montreal.)
Esso in Cherbourg, France

Esso in England
I think I also see both Esso scenes with nostalgic fondness because I grew up with that gas station on PEI. Mr. C tells me that it became Exxon in the United States; perhaps that explains why it remains only on film and in my memory.