Monday, 22 August 2011

Embracing my CAPS

For those of you who don't know, I write a relationship column called The Playing Field for Toronto-based niche publication King West Magazine. This is my latest piece that ran in the summer issue:

There comes a time in every Thirtysomething Single Girl's life when the middle modifier starts to write itself out in all-caps. SINGLE. If it were a neon sign, it would flicker and make a buzzing sound. As a billboard sign outside a rundown motel, the "S" would hang upside down and swing idly in the breeze. If you listen close enough, you might even hear a faint squeak. It's like, all of a sudden, the word no longer says unattached, but unattached.

When my caps lock key got stuck last fall, it caused a brief, albeit alarming panic to set in. In a not entirely un-Bridget Jonesian fashion, I found myself being asked by lots of unsingle people why I was still single — something I somehow had managed to escape until now. Whether it was because I live like a child or act like a child, no one ever really questioned why I was still on my own after all these years. But as a significant birthday drew near, my marital status started to draw suspicion from even my oldest and most trusted cronies — the ones who've been privy to my marriage conspiracy theories, deep-seated commitment issues and misanthropic tirades for decades.

To say that I was blindsided would be an exaggeration. I know what my friends see: a reasonably attractive and intelligent woman with a keen sense of style and a clean criminal record. Who wouldn't want a piece of this, right? As is often the case when faced with a truth that niggles at the back of your subconscious, I too was feeling crowded by the caps.  

Of course I have loads of beautiful, single girlfriends, and of course we are totally content being on our own. If the right man comes along, great! If not, so be it.

Eventually, though, you start questioning serendipity and it doesn't look good. Then come the thinly veiled arguments: A little social experiment wouldn't hurt, we say. I need to get myself out of my comfort zone, one points out. My liver can't handle the excessive drinking that comes in the name of socializing, another argues. It'll make for great material, I reason.

And up goes the online dating profile.

Marketing is a powerful tool, dear reader. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. Those schmaltzy eHarmony commercials with their giggling couples and two-month timelines-to-happiness had me hook, line and sinker. It was, I told myself, the 21st-century version of a discreet matchmaker and would result at the very least in a date with a man who could a) write a coherent sentence, b) enjoy a good action-adventure or c) afford to shell out for two coffees.

At first, I would feel a faint thrill as I'd open my email in the morning and find my matches of the day. I did the math: 10 matches per day for the 30-day period would result in 300 possible mates. There had to be one diamond in all that rough. But as the days ticked away and I continued to receive grinning emoticons from Tonys and Franks and Dinos, I grew suspicious. Evidently, despite having checked the Caucasian, Hispanic and African-American boxes, eHarmony, like my mother, felt it was important that I date within my own culture.

By day five, I was ready to call it quits. Despite my jocular attitude and promising math calculations, my self-loathing was starting to reach a dangerous apex every time I opened one of those daily emails and, frankly, I don't need anything to fan the flames. I had nothing against the Tonys and Franks and Dinos — some of them were even cute, and employed! But I simply couldn't continue to participate in a mating ritual that reeked of computer-generated insincerity.

Yet something told me to wait. I don't know if it was another TV commercial or the slipped disk I suffered from carrying a heavy suitcase up the stairs by myself, but I decided to give it one more day. I know what you're thinking. Serendipity! And in a way it was. Because when I opened my email the next day and surveyed my matches, someone caught my eye. A man who was strangely familiar, who possessed traits eerily similar to mine and was completely and oddly in synch with my personality. It was as though we had known each other all our lives. And you know what? We had. Because he was my brother.

I took it as a sign. A sign to take down my profile and never look back. I think I'll stay in my comfort zone, poison my liver and find material elsewhere. The universe — cyber and otherwise — is clearly telling me online dating is not the answer. I'll stick with my caps, thanks. 

Saturday, 20 August 2011

CNN interview: Jours Apres Lunes controversy

For anyone who missed this story in the news, the French underwear label for children, Jours Apres Lunes, has come under attack for the controversial photos posted on their site featuring little girls in their designs. In what seems to me was an attempt to deflect criticism, the line has been dubbed "loungerie" as opposed to "lingerie", but the pictures don't do much to deter scandal.

I was first interviewed on the topic by my good friend Lindsay Goldwert, who is a staff writer for the New York Daily News. She came to me for my expert opinion on the topic seeing as I recently published a book on lingerie, called Le Snob Lingerie. You can read her story here.

The next day, the UK Daily Mail picked up the piece and re-ran my quotes.

The day after that, CNN International contacted me and asked to do an interview, which I've posted below (with a strange but welcome surprise at the end!). And then I was contacted by our very own Globe & Mail.

While I stand behind everything I've said and staunchly reject the idea that the images on the Jours Apres Lunes website are anything but overly sexualized depictions of little girls, I do feel a little awkward being positioned as the mouthpiece for children's rights. I was initially approached as a lingerie expert and I want to stress that I stand by those qualifications throughout and not as a representative for any official organization.

I would like to thank everyone for their words of support and encouragement.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Fratelli (e sorelle) d'Italia

Italians are anomalous creatures. They're like unicorns on the American pop culture landscape: rare, fleeting and seemingly fictional. I suppose it doesn't help that they have done little to market themselves in North America. Italian restaurants are few and they have nary a celebrity chef to disseminate the local cuisine. Even more traditional pursuits have been ignored. They could certainly benefit from a film about their country; one to celebrate a bygone era of glamour with an all-star Hollywood cast, perhaps? Or they could look to other cultures who have gained international recognition through a creative expression like design or literature or music. It might behoove the Italians to foster athletics among their populace. Famous athletes would certainly help to boost their presence, or at the very least, establish a national sport with international appeal. It's a pity, really. All Italy needs is some good PR.

Thank heavens MTV had the presence of mind to create a television program about "Italians" for America. It's called Jersey Shore and it follows the lives of a group of young people of "Italian" descent as they navigate the day-to-day tasks of being healthy, attractive and hygienic. This group, with their highly stylized hair, original outfits and impressive command of the English language, is just what Italy needed to represent them overseas. What sets them apart from other reality actors you see on television is their entrepreneurial spirit — it's not every day that a TV personality writes an august tome or channels their staggering creative talent into a line of couture for the masses. And yet they aren't elitist nor do they hide their true selves from the cameras. They are not ashamed to be human, for they are "Italians." Hath they not big hair, tight shirts and rock hard abs? If they fall from a bar stool, do they not bleed? If they drink, will they not be arrested? 

In a charming twist, this merry band will be transported to Italy to film their next season where they will surely be welcomed with open arms by their motherland. Italy and its inhabitants, although utterly unaware of the existence of this crew and the positive image they've been promoting across America, will undoubtedly embrace their long lost bambini and all the endearing brouhaha they will stir. All eyes will be on Italy and its lush mountains, sparkling seas, breathtaking architecture and effortlessly styled citizens, all of which will be juxtaposed against the "Italians" of Jersey Shore. They will appreciate the international attention these visitors will elicit and gladly allow them to carry on painting a picture of their culture with loud, garish strokes and booze-goggled turbidity.

Italy will be thrilled. And their opinion of America is sure to soar. Buon viaggio, Jersey Shore.