The Knot

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Incidental Workout

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t wish that my legs were longer. I have spent the past 30-odd years disguising them or dressing them up to elongate. It’s one of the reasons that I am rarely seen in public in flats. Elle Macpherson was my inspiration for this strategy. At the height of her modeling career Elle revealed her bum was her least favourite body part. She had cleverly ensured that very few photos were taken of her from behind during her career. And if they were, you’ll notice that a sarong or sweater was tied around her waist.

Call it mid-life crisis (or coercion by a girlfriend), but when I turned 45 I decided it was now or never for my legs. Placing them on a stretching rack would have been my first choice had it been an option. If I couldn’t make them longer, I’d have to make them leaner so they looked longer. I had the choice of joining a gym, engaging a fitness trainer or going for a walk. A quick opportunity cost analysis resulted in three strikes. I have things to do, places to go, people to mother. I actually don’t have time in my day for an activity entirely focused on me. If I have a facial, a manicure or a coffee, then I am generally in business mode at the time.

About six months ago I offered to swap parking spots with one of my managers as she often needed to leave quickly to collect her child from daycare. It was win-win, given my determination to sort out my legs without having to devote time to doing so. My original parking spot was close to the office. Hers was on the other side of the corporate park and involved about 100 stairs. Most people thought I was crazy, and I’ll admit that the first few weeks were tough as the hike from the parking spot to my office in four-inch heels was a mental and physical challenge. But within weeks I started to notice a positive impact on my legs. They didn’t start to grow (unfortunately 165cm is my lot in life), but they did begin to firm up and trim down. Three months into my new fitness regime and I’d lost a couple of centimetres around my thighs. Six months later and we’re talking thighs that can take me back to my youth (almost). The overall condition of my legs has improved, which is just as well as I’ve also decided that, mid-life, its OK to bare my knees, get back into a bikini and choose the shorty shorts.
And now I wear heels just for the height ;).


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Gillard: Haunted By The Ghosts Of Backstabbing Past

Left: PM Julia Gillard and her deputy Wayne Swan

I phoned my father this morning and he very proudly informed me that there was a photo of him in his local newspaper alongside his views on the election.

"I told them I hope the Liberals win," he said. "I don't like the way that Labor got rid of our Prime Minister. We voted him in we should be able to vote him out."

My father did in fact vote for Labor in the last election, assisting Kevin Rudd's rise to the nation's highest office. It was a very big deal for my father to vote Labor. A card carrying member of the Liberal party for all of my youth - my parents used to stand outside the local primary school on election day and hand out how to vote cards for the Liberal party - dad chose Rudd over Howard who he perceived to be racist. He voted with his heart.

Never one to fence-sit (or mince words), dad's passion for not voting Labor again was overwhelming.

"I don't like backstabbers," he cried (almost literally). "When Gillard did that to Rudd it reminded me of when your boss did it to you."

I moved on from my backstabbing former boss long ago (although I remain adamant that if he was burning in the street I wouldn't throw water on him), but clearly my dad hasn't. It wasn't until I'd had this conversation with my father that it dawned on me why so many otherwise rational Australians were turning on Julia Gillard for what I believe to be an 'all's fair in war and politics' act. This election is entirely personal for many people. This isn't an outpouring of support and affection for the former PM. Almost every eligible voter has been the victim of a backstabbing at some stage in their lives and when Labor handed its leadership baton from Rudd to Gillard in an effort to save the party from what they thought would be a certain loss at the polls, they unwittingly ripped the scab off a painful wound in the backs of the electorate.

The thing is though that my dad really dislikes Tony Abbott, almost as much as I do. He shares my distrust and is hoping that the Liberals will return Malcolm Turnbull to the leadership. But here's the rub: when questioned he admitted that he'd be happy for the change to happen after a Liberal party win at the next election. I can't criticise him for that or the twitterverse that's packed with Turnbull-for-PM tweeters (or is that just the group that I follow?); I'd be praying for that too should the unthinkable occur.

But how does a Gillard grab for power differ from a potential Turnbull ascension post Abbott-as-PM?

It's the elephant in the room, isn't it. When a man does it he's taking control but when a woman does it she's a backstabbing bitch.

The office of Prime Minister does not belong to any one man or woman. We vote in a political party and the party of the day decides who best to lead them to office, or to hold onto it. Labor believes they have their best hope with Gillard at the helm; the Liberals are hanging their hat on Abbott.

So while Australians remain haunted by their backstabbing ghosts of the past, there seems to be an almost blissful ignorance of the core issues that will affect the progress of this nation. Call me idealistic, but hair colour, dress sense, lack of religious persuasion and propensity to backstab are not what we should be focused on when deciding where our country should be heading. But it's up to Gillard and Abbott to brand our minds with a vision of their future Australia so that ordinary Australians like my dad and I can work out how to vote with our head instead of our heart.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Gillard Forces A Change To Our Reality

Above: Prime Minister Julia Gillard

If anyone doubts the significance of a female Prime Minister of Australia they should scan the news feed of a teenager's Facebook page.

Since Julia Gillard became our 27th Prime Minister on the morning of June 24, much of the traditional media reporting has focused on the fact that a woman has finally reached the country's highest office, 11 years after New Zealand. Even those who intensely dislike her politics have to admit that a female Governor-General swearing in a female Prime Minister represents a coming of age for our nation.

But it's in the social media that it becomes apparent the timing of this momentous occasion was long overdue. Teenage girls shared their elation almost unanimously in the news feed that I read on the evening of Gillard's rise to power, posting status updates that included: "A female PM! Yay!!!", "Go Julia" and "Can you believe it! Wow!" Most of the postings by teenage boys in the same news feed were less enthusiastic: "A female PM? That's just silly", "How gay", "A woman can't run Australia" and "Who does she think she is?"

A highly intelligent 16-year-old at my son's school, who has aspirations of reaching the top job himself one day, noted, "there are two things that a woman should never do: drive a bus and be Prime Minister". That comment apparently got a huge laugh from the boys traveling home on the bus, driven by a woman.

In the 21st century it's shocking to hear young, relatively well-informed men sharing such archaic views. However, we shouldn't be surprised given that until last Thursday they hadn't previously had to think about the idea of a woman as ultimate leader of this nation.

As most teenagers speak words that reveal the views of their parents before they've been out into the real world to formulate their own, it is clear that there is much work to be done if we are to become a nation that believes in the best person for the job - any job.

So as we force a change in the perception of many: young and old, male and female, Labor and Liberal, the irony is that we have our ousted PM Kevin Rudd to thank for reaching this important milestone. It was Rudd who gave us our first female Governor General and Rudd who chose the most capable person in his cabinet to be his Deputy, regardless of gender. Rudd nurtured Gillard. He talked her up and he entrusted her with key portfolios that would eventually position her as a likely future PM.

Rudd will always be remembered as the Prime Minister who apologised to the stolen generation, but he should also be remembered for his foresight and courage in choosing capability over gender. Hopefully our impressionable young men will one day understand the significance of his actions and begin to make gender neutral decisions too.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Definition Of Inappropriate


When David Jones CEO Mark McInnes was forced to resign last week as the result of 'inappropriate behaviour toward a female staff member', the rules of corporate Australia changed forever. The 25-year-old who alleged the inappropriate behaviour by her boss took a brave step forward on behalf of all women in the workforce.

I have had a long professional relationship with McInnes for most of the years that he was a senior executive at David Jones, through my publishing careers at Fairfax, EMAP and in my current role as Publisher of Independent Digital Media. I always found him to be charming, witty and incredibly astute and can honestly say that I never witnessed his alleged womanising. But then, if the media reports about his penchant for slim blondes is correct, I'm clearly not his type.

The victim of McInnes' alleged approach was right to take the stand she did, and the Board of David Jones moved swiftly to appropriately terminate his position as the company's most senior executive. David Jones is, after all, a public company and the Board's business is to mitigate risk to brand and reputation. They had no choice.

But what if inappropriate behaviour occurs in a private organisation and the perpetrator is the Chairman of the company? And what if the victim of inappropriate advances is a female director of the Board? What would be the course of action in that event? I may decide to investigate further, buoyed by the courage of the David Jones marketing executive. Apparently the inappropriate behaviour does not need to be current to be relevant to a course of legal action.

As the most senior male executives in companies across the nation receive a much-needed wake-up call at McInnes' expense, there are women who are starting to ask the question of what constitutes 'inappropriate behaviour' in the workforce. Have they in fact been putting up with similar or worse? Yes, I've started to hear the whisperings.

Inappropriate executives: be very afraid.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SATC2: Embracing Your Outer 40s

I resisted seeing Sex And The City 2 with the media scrum because I wanted to see it as the makers intended: with a group of girlfriends my own age.

Five 40-something women left our partners and children at home for the evening, slipped on our favourite heels (that would make Carrie proud) and swanned down to The Verona in Paddington for a spectacular ride.

From the extravagant gay wedding and references to eighties fashion, to Carrie's to-die-for maxi dresses in a multitude of colours (I’m about to embrace my outer emerald green) SATC2 is a visual fantasy. But it’s not for everyone.

Unlike the series and first movie, where the girls are in single land hoping to find Mr Right (or in Carrie’s case – land Mr Big), time and lifestages have moved on in this second instalment. Carrie is still married to Mr Big and is experiencing the slump of the terrible twos (the Gen-X version of the seven-year itch; we have always been such an impatient lot). Charlotte has two little girls and is living the parenting hell of the original terrible twos (I’m allowed to express this as I’m a mother, PC or not). Miranda is smashing herself against the glass ceiling of her law firm and the reality of having it all: the husband, the child, the career, has resulted in battle fatigue (and for the first time I realised that although I have identified with Carrie throughout the series, my life is really Miranda’s). And Samantha is going through menopause.

SATC2 is generational, meaning that it would be hard to identify with the girls in their new lifestage unless you were over 40. We post-40 girls laughed, nodded, oohed, aahed, and averted our eyes ...only slightly...when Samantha's legs were in the air yet again. I loved that the film kick-started with the Liza Minelli version of Beyonce’s Single Ladies and wound up with Carrie and her BFs singing karaoke to Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman. If those two songs don’t divide a generation, then nothing will.

Carrie’s clothes were breathtaking, thanks to the clever stylist Patricia Fields. I love that Carrie visited a traditional souk market in Abu Dhabi wearing a Dior singlet and cinderella-style ballskirt. Carrie didn’t sacrifice her extraordinary heels for her time in the desert. There was nothing she wore that I didn’t immediately want to own. Hell I even adored the headband she wore as best man at Stanford’s wedding.

Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha are representative of women post-40, if you can ignore the glamour and exotic location. What woman hasn’t harboured doubts about her marriage? What mother hasn’t wanted to lock herself in a room away from her screaming child? What career mum hasn’t felt pulled and pushed, unappreciated and guilty? And what menopausal woman hasn’t worried about maintaining her sex drive? Those are the honest truths of ageing, characterised for the big screen in a way that we want to see it: glamorised rather than raw. If I have to go through all of those things then god damn it, let me be frocked up to the nines wearing the best shoes my money can buy.

No one is holding them up to be role models: apart from the critics who do so for target practice. These women aren’t pretending to save lives, they aren’t developing anti-cancer drugs in their spare time and they aren’t kicking goals at the World Cup. They are merely providing much-needed escapism from the reality of most 40-something lives. What's wrong with a lot of fantasy?

I have a number of favourite scenes: Miranda and Charlotte being honest about enjoying their break away from their children, every scene with Aidan (you're either a Big or an Aidan woman) and when the women of Abu Dhabi strip off their burquas in female-only confines and display the very best of Louis Vuitton. I was in neighbouring Dubai a few years ago and was delighted to see some of the world's most divine and expensive shoes: the very latest Manolos, Jimmy Choos, Louboutins poking out from beneath burqas. Those women love fashion as much as we do. The difference is they can actually afford to wear the very best of it. While we wear our style as a badge, they strip down to high fashion only for each other and for their husbands. Vastly different cultures can still bond over fashion.

SATC2 has been panned and praised in equal measure - well actually it's mostly been panned by the critics and celebrated by moviegoers who have voted with their pockets.

If I have one criticism? Not enough shoes.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fashion's Big Deal

Left: French model Tara Lynn

Tara Lynn is a French size 48. That translates to size 20 in Australian women's clothing sizes, size 16 in US sizing and, according to the international size charts on the fashion website, it's simply size XXXL. In anyone's language it tips the top of fashion's Richter scale and is usually enough to frighten off most designers.

Despite her extraordinary beauty a woman like Lynn rarely gets a look-in when it comes to fashion's elite, which is why France's leading weekly women's magazine ELLE caused a stir amongst fashionistas this week when Lynn appeared on the cover, wearing an Hermes jumpsuit no less. She also features in an extraordinary fashion shoot inside that mostly disguises her size from being the focal point - apart from a beautiful image of a naked Lynn that is reminiscent of the Venus of Willendorf.

Left: March 26 cover of ELLE France with covergirl Tara Lynn

It's ELLE magazine's Curvy Issue and that's the justification for Lynn as covergirl. It's a bizarre concept the Special-Issue-featuring-covergirl-as exception-to-the-rule. Rather than inviting plus-size fashion into its stylish world, the magazine excludes curvy fashion from its regular weekly line-up by interrupting the program with a special event. If Valérie Toranian (Editor, Elle France) is serious about doing anything more than publishing the equivalent of an upscale freak show for undernourished women to point and snigger at, then this issue will mark the beginning of a beautiful relationship between ELLE France and women of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps that is the intent for future issues. Keep an eye out.

Twitterer @curvesmart has called on US Vogue editor Anna Wintour to start using larger size models too. But what would happen if she did? Would fashion magazine consumers stick with US Vogue if it featured heavier women as models or would they dump the title and jump ship to a leaner Harper's Bazaar?

At their very best magazines are created to attract the maximum number of people sharing a particular style and interest. So what if the majority of fashionistas aspire to be thin? Perish the thought, burn the very idea at the post or accept that all women are in fact different and that includes our aspirations and our shape. It may be politically incorrect that fashionistas prefer to see Miranda Kerr wearing Gucci than Tara Lynn wearing Hermes, but it's not a crime.

I am all for embracing the idea that women need to start seeing role models of all shapes and sizes but the fashion world needn't be made to shoulder that burden alone. Film and television reach more female eyeballs than fashion magazines so perhaps we need to be calling for plus-size female actors to do more than make reality TV shows.

Let's not be token with such a cultural shifting issue. And let's not adopt the politically correct stance publicly about matters we have no intention of supporting privately and with our own money. We need to challenge our own institutional commitment before we can ever hope to see fashion magazines featuring plus-size models increasing in circulation month-in, month-out.

Photo Source: ELLE France March 26, 2010

Photographer: David Oldham
Sets/Production: Nora Bordjah
Hair: Alessandro Rebbechi
Makeup: Jurgen Braun
Manicure: Elsa Deslande


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Magazines: Inspiration Or Salvation?

As a magazine editor, I often wondered just how much advice the readers of my magazines took note of. Women's magazines are full of ideas and advice, designed to inspire. But how much of it is adopted in everyday lives?

When I was the editor of Dolly I knew that many of the thoughts shared by my team through the pages of our magazine were consumed en masse. Teenagers, the least confident of women, are more likely to follow advice exactly as presented, so we were always extra careful. If you call something a must-have, then they really will believe that they need to own it which leaves little room for individual expression.

When I progressed to grown-up women's magazines like Cosmopolitan and ELLE, my readers did too. I assumed they had started to develop their own sense of style and that, rather than adhere to all advice and ideas religiously, they would cherry pick the most relevant parts. (That, incidentally, is why it's so much harder editing a magazine for all women - all women have different needs and wants once they find out who they are post teen years.)

So I was intrigued to hear that a woman in the US had decided to slavishly follow the advice of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey as a year-long experiment. Robyn Okrant kicked off her Living Oprah project as a New Year's resolution on January 1, 2008. For 12 months she consumed Oprah in every medium that her advice could be obtained: television show, magazine, book club, website. Her goal was to discover if a person could really live their best life (the Oprah Winfrey brand promise) by doing things the Oprah way.

The hilarious, and at times alarming, result is documented in a new book released last week called Living Oprah.

The book is compelling, you won't be able to put it down. I read it from cover-to-cover in two sittings and I would have stayed up all night with it if I didn't have a day job. I have to admit to squirming (as a former editor) as Okrant battles with her innate individuality, though, as I was provided with a wake-up call about the potential impact of how-to magazines on the less confident and cash-poor.

"There is an inner battle taking place inside this wannabe nonconformist who doesn't want to admit that being Oprah's poster girl is the least bit agreeable," Okrant writes on March 22, 2008 (less than three months in).

"The jury is still out on whether it's worth it. On one hand, from the outside, things in my life are probably looking better: I'm dressing in a more stylish and trendy manner (according to Oprah and her style experts), I've slimmed down a bit from the regularity of my Best Life Challenge exercise, the readership on my blog is growing steadily...and I'm getting a bit of press about Living Oprah. But inside I'm feeling tired and stressed. Living life in this manner is like an endless run on a woman-sized gerbil wheel."

I won't ruin the ending for you. Definitely worth a read - even if it never gets recommended by Oprah's book club.