Alison Garwood Jones

The woo girls

July 22, 2011

A friend sent me a quote recently.

“Beauty is not caused, it is.” Yeah, I purred, appreciating his appreciation for Emily Dickinson.

The next day I found a copy of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue shoved in my mailbox. I didn’t ask for it. I used to order it, but that was back when women moved and looked more like women I could relate to.

But ever since Paris Hilton’s arched back and Rachel Uchitel’s pillow lips, bottled tan and blow-up boobs became the North American ideal — “beauty caused” at its artificial best — I‘ve stopped enlisting Victoria to fulfill certain aspirations.

I mean, what the hell is this?

Hyperextension has replaced the subtle serpentine “S” of a women’s back, and reduced her arms and hands to flippers. And it would take a chiropractor to unclick that hip.

Ladies, News Flash — stop trying so hard. I’ve got unscientific evidence from my guy friends that a woman’s beauty burns brightest when she’s not even thinking about it … so when you’re studying for a test, brushing your dog and pulling hot laundry out of the dryer.

I think our obsession with the red carpet and Facebook have changed the way we pose, move and self-actualize. This is not the first time, though, that technology (and not just social mores) is dictating how we appear in photos. The Victorians never showed their teeth because long exposure times for gelatin silver prints made it harder to hold a smile. As a result, we assumed people back then were all grim, like Susan B. Anthony. Contrast that with the speed and ease of Facebook which has turned so many women into “woo girls.” I’ve written about this before in verse.

But when Asian women started sporting blonde streaks and blue contacts ….

… well,  that’s when I started my retreat back in time to the “Free to Be You and Me” seventies when all we wanted was to “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” with the help of a fizzy bottle of Coke (glass, not plastic). That was when women made conditioner the last step in their hair care routine and freckles (remember those?) were mildly annoying, but still cute, and certainly no reason to pay a fortune for six sessions with a cosmetic blowtorch over your face or to rub gallons of self tanner into your skin hoping to even out the discolorations.

There wasn’t much tampering going on back then. Individuality led the way. “Nature Girls” in off-the-shoulder floral print dresses and wedges were the ideal. Today’s fembots have chosen a uniform issued from New Jersey but revered well beyond that. On the outside, it’s all bleached teeth, bleached hair, French tipped nail extensions, orange skin and massive lady lumps, while on the inside you’ll find pickled livers and angry hearts.

Surgery and self-tanner, like the internet, are here to stay, however. You could say we’re reaping the effects of our own inventiveness.

Now the decision not to alter your looks is surprisingly quaint, if not downright radical.

And, at the very least, it’s retro.



The nearness of you

May 16, 2011

One of the things I like best about journalism is how it shrinks the phenomenon of Six Degrees of Separation — the idea that we’re all six steps away from any other person on earth — right down to zero so that one day you find yourself standing face-to-face with Kevin Bacon and asking him all sorts of impertinent questions about his personal life and career.

I haven’t met Bacon, yet, but I have stood close enough to Robert Kennedy Jr. to study the parrots on his tie and ask him questions about growing up Kennedy. He said when he was a kid his mom would send him outside when he complained of feeling sick. “She thought the sun cured everything.”

I noticed he wore the parrot tie again in a photo shoot for New York Magazine:

(Photo: Jason Schmidt)

I’ve also sat beside the late great Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. She smelled like vanilla. I asked her tons of questions about her human rights activism as she squeezed my arm red to emphasize the changes that were needed in the world. I liked her immediately and I miss her influence.

Later, stuffed in a back room with Paris Hilton, the heiress stretched her arms up over her head half way through our interview and squealed out a yawn before telling me, “I have to pee.” Was it something I said?

When I met the lithe Liz Hurley, she scanned me from top to bottom and remarked in a plummy accent, “Good God, you’re tall. Are you Dutch?” I’m not, and we sat down for a nice lunch and a chat about Hugh Grant. He lives down the street from her in London, and is god father to her son. Frankly, I think they’ve been married in spirit since they first laid eyes on each other.

When I met my writing hero Gay Talese, he had me at hello.

(Photo: Joyce Tenneson)

Gay smiled at me, just like he’s doing in the picture above, then asked me my name. “Alison,” I replied, with a grin so wide you would have thought two coat hangers were pulling back the corners of my mouth.”And your last name?” he asked. “Wait! Don’t tell me,” he interjected. “You”ll probably change it!” — like I was about to get married, or something. I ended up talking with New York’s biggest flirt about the challenges of the writing life, being an editor at Elle and what it was like to be so tall.

Back when I was an art historian, I shared a desk at the Smithsonian with Alex Nemerov, the nephew of legendary photographer,  Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman played her in a 2006 film). Alex kept nudging me, saying I was space hog with my books and papers and once left me a sweet note with a volume on “Manifest Destiny” to make his point. Today he’s an art history professor at Yale.

Diane Arbus, “Identical Twins,” Roselle, New Jersey, 1967

Years later, I spent an afternoon with actor Peter Keleghan that was just plain silly. I loved every minute of the interview and photo shoot with the star of The Newsroom, Made in Canada and most recently 18-to-Life. No one, except maybe Alec Baldwin, is as good as Keleghan at playing vain and fatuous characters. He even played one on Seinfeld.


“Wait, I gotta get the lint off.” (Photo: Evan Dion)

Three weeks ago, when I was in New York, I had dinner with a friend who had lunch the week before with Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, and his wife Anne Wojcicki. My friend is a neuroscientist specializing in Parkinson’s research and Wojcicki is the founder of 23andMe, a genetic testing company funded in part by Google. Brin is looking to genomics for a cure for Parkinson’s. His mother has the disease and so may he one day.

Unlike my friend, I haven’t met Brin. Yet. But maybe, just maybe, I can write my way towards him.

That’s the beauty of journalism.


Blond ambition

January 1, 2006

Paris Hilton is building a beauty empire, and her fans can’t get enough

Paris Whitney Hilton, she of the blond extensions, fluttering false eyelashes and size 11 Jimmy Choos, touched down in Toronto recently for the Canadian launch of her fragrances.

While fans, journalists and a phalanx of security guards gathered in the patrician ballroom of The Bay’s Arcadian Court awaiting the arrival of the ever-so-fashionably-late socialite, booming techno-pop rattled the chandeliers. Girls in sparkly tees carried their jittery chihuahuas in designer knock-off handbags while they scanned the balcony for a first glimpse of Paris. Suddenly there she was, a slight figure in a blur of peach, purposefully crossing the mezzanine, waving her perfume bottles — pink for the girls and blue for the boys — in each of her manicured hands.

Later, alone with Paris in a quiet conference room, I ask her why, if the women’s fragrance was launched last Valentine’s Day, was she only now coming to Canada? “I’ve done, like, a world tour for this fragrance,” she says, smoothing out her Roberto Cavalli cocktail dress. “I’ve travelled to Mexico, Australia, England and France. Like, honey, I’ve been to so many different countries that this summer I was, like, “I need a break.” So I had to take off three months because I’ve been working so hard and then I finished my album in Miami … So I’ve been trying to get up here.” As she starts to tell me that the men’s fragrance is actually new to counters, we can hear the distant crowd chanting “Paris, Paris, Paris.”

A grin spreads across her face. “That’s awesome,” she says before pitching to me the merits of the women’s fragrance. “It smells really good. It makes guys want you.” When I ask her how that works, Paris explains that both her perfumes contain human sex pheromones scientifically proven to attract the opposite sex. “I gave samples to all of my friends, so they love it.” The women’s scent is a sweet blend of frozen apple and juicy peach, with a hint of mimosa, jasmine and ylang-ylang blossoms. The top notes of the men’s scent are open sky, wet fig leaf and green mango.

The rules of attraction according to Paris are as follows: “Play hard to get if you’re a women. And for the guys, don’t be so desperate and annoying.” Hilton says she plans to expand her brand to include a line of clothes, shoes, watches, hair products and makeup.

The interview over, Hilton spritzes herself with, what else, Paris for Women and reapplies some gold-sparkle body lotion to her bare arms. Then she picks up her mic and heads for the ballroom stage, where she announces to the crowd: “I love Canadians. You guys rock. I can’t wait to come again and again. Thanks, you’re all hot.”

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