BlogHer and Real Beauty

BlogHer is a network of blogs by, for and sometimes even about women, to which I belong.  They have an awesome initiative called Own Your Beauty.  The idea is to get as many women as possible to upload pictures of themselves.  They want to see women’s faces as they really are, no matter how they are.

So come out from behind the camera, ladies, and get into the spotlight!  Upload a picture of yourself to the flickr group, and browse the gallery to see a wide range of Beauties.

If you’d like to participate but don’t have a flickr account, feel free to email me your picture and name ( and I will upload your submission along with my own.



TSA is Gross

A handy set of links to convince you that TSA is abusing the American people, and not altogether making us any safer. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

TSA makes a cancer-surviving woman remove her prosthetic breast, even though in their guidelines it says you will never have to remove a prosthetic.

TSA agents have performed a pat-down without first offering privacy (scroll down partway to Marlene McCarthy’s story), and are generally begrudging about giving it at all (see story below for an example of the latter).

TSA disrupts the seal on an older gentleman’s ostomy bag (after he warns them that their search technique will do so) and ignores the fact that they have caused a man (also a cancer-survivor) to be humiliated and soaked in his own urine.

TSA agents are supposed to be slow, agrressive and inconvenient in order to make you submit to the digital nudie-show. It’s a punishment (that article is full of anti-TSA goodies).  And apparently, they’re enjoying your discomfort.

Ya know how they claim they’re immediately disposing of the images?  Not everywhere.

What about pat-downs of children?  Read the original story full of creepy, sad and afwul here.  Oh and they strip-search children, too.

There’s a documentary I need to check out called Please Remove Your Shoes.  My favorite tidbit?  The TSA has basolutely zero law enforcement capabilities or rights.

A detailed first-person report of TSA being confusing, contradictory and weird.

The US Airline Pilots Association refers to the pat-downs as “molestation” and is unconvinced of the safety of the radiation levels. 

To brighten the mood, a sampling of cartoons about the body scanner (or porn-scanner, if you’d prefer).

Even the talented Jessica Hagy of Indexed is weighing in with her patented mix of humour, charm and wit.

Do you have any other links, photos or stories of TSA treating us like criminals and do a terrible job of keeping us safe?  Do share in the comments!

PS I apologize if any TSA agents are offended by this, but your company and its policies are horrible, and I think we have a right to call them out for violating us.  I understand a job is a job, but I also believe a person is a person and should be treated as such.  Most evidence indicates that your employer disagrees.

You Are Not Smart Enough to Look Like Hell

I know it’s been said before, and it’ll be said again, but come conference I’m always reminded of the importance of appearances.  How is it that we can spend months on research, carefully choosing every point, motion and agenda item, focusing on even the strategic implications of introductions, and yet still find so many in our number who look like slobs?

I go to a co-op school.  We work in real, professional environments, and even have a class where they have us come in with sample outfits.  How are we not better than this?  Even basic stuff, like running a brush through the hair and slapping on a smile can make a huge difference.  Everyone, whether  they’re chairing or a delegate, is being watched constantly.  Perhaps we should occasionally look like it.

I get that being smart is what matters.  But if you’re a good enough delegate to be around the table at Nationals, you know that how you couch somehting, the window dressing, the rhetoric, matters.  And in the Arab League, it matters in a very big way.  So why doesn’t the same principal apply to our bodies as to our national policies?

It just reflects poorly on you.  It distracts from your message; it detracts from your credibility.  You wouldn’t swear in committee, so why are you so disheveled that it’s vulgar?  Bust out the good vocabulary as well as an iron, and you’ll make a better impression.  Wear comfortable shoes on the long days and more fanciful things on the shorter ones.  Cover all the bits your grandmother or boss should never see, and treat your body like it’s more than just a vessel to carry your massive brain and/or ego.

Buy clothing that fits.  Don’t wear a backpack over your suit–it’s really just killing the image.  Take even a small fraction of the time you used to prepare your research or your team, and use it to make yourself look as good as you will sound.  And for crying out loud, don’t be the millionth person in identical navy or black clothing.

My Perfect Souvenir

I try to make the most of what I buy.  I’m generally pretty frugal, with occasional bouts of Target, Old Navy and H&M madness.  I’m also secretly a hoarder.  As in, at almost 22 years of age I still own clothing from middle school.  Now that I finally can’t fit into it all anymore, I’m actually starting to get rid of it.

So how does an aspiring minimalist (I can hear the eye rolling from here!) buy good tokens from abroad, especially if she makes it a habit to travel?  Well, here are my guidelines for giving travel gifts to yourself.

  1. Give yourself an experience and a memory, instead of a thing. Riding on horseback through the Sahara, Hidalgo-style, at an ungodly hour of the night was one of the bets things ever.  We sang, we laughed, we fought, and we huddled around a great bonfire in galabiyas.  Some scoffed at how much we were spending (I don’t remember how much–apparently it wasn’t too tragic) but it definitely cost me less than all those extravagant dinners some of the scoffers were eating every other night.  I wouldn’t trade that night for the world.
  2. Stay away from tchotchkes. They are cheap, expensive and prone to break.  They also mean basically nothing, other than being proof that you went there.  Or to China, where they were made.
  3. Buy decorations. I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool adults who have a house full of foreign awesome, like Dan Hanson’s house.  His parents have all this great artwork and sculptures from far away lands, filled with stories and mystery.  How much cooler is that than a plastic Eiffel Tower statuette?  Besides, you’ll be able to use that decorations longer.
  4. Buy clothing and jewelry. I’ve gotten so many miles out of my bootylicious Egyptian skinny jeans, and I love being able to tell people where they’re from.  “Cairo,” just has a much better ring to it than “The Gap.”
  5. Go handmade, go local. People can always tell my stuff from Benin.  The crazy patterns are a dead giveaway, although strangers assume it’s from Ghana.  I love that my dress was custom-made, just for me, and I was able to stimulate the local economy (even if it did involve child labor.)
  6. Get something that everyone around you has. In Paris, that meant an ultra-cool black jacket.  In Cuba, it was an Industriales shirt, for Havana’s baseball team.  It means something to you, it can often be a bit of insider knowledge
  7. The unexpected things. One of my favorite souvenirs is a ring a stranger gave me in Cairo.  She and her boyfriend happened upon us: five hot, tired, thirsty, lost Americans.  With everyone’s language skills together, they took it upon themselves to bring us to a great local koshery spot.  They sat and talked with us, and even brought us around to a juice bar.  They knew we were from out of town and made it their personal mission to give us an amazing day.  So when she took a ring off her finger and put it on mine and said “it’s yours,” in Arabic, I made her repeat it just in case I misunderstood.  We all exchanged hugs, pictures and a few more tokens, and I will never see her again.  But that ring is a reminder of the attitude of the Cairenes I met, and how welcoming and sweet they can be.

What’s your perfect souvenir?  Do you even buy them?

The Nature of Being White

This is not as polished of a piece as I would like, but that’s because it’s not an argument or a research paper; this is a collection of thoughts and unanswered questions.  Feel free to leave your thoughts, answers and musings at the bottom as well.  As always, this is a safe place, and I won’t tolerate bad citizenship.

We are really weird about race, and often in our own special way.  We’re some of the only people on earth who think darker skin is more desirable.  Unless, of course, it gets too dark.  In my travels I’ve really enjoyed seeing how other cultures deal with the legacy of the slave trade.  Many are far more frank, using highly-descriptive adjectives quite bluntly.

What about Arabs?  The stereotype is a dark-skinned man with a big nose, mustache or beard and a turban.  Yet, on the US Census they are counted as white.  Nevermind that they lobbied for that classification, because at the time the options were white or black, and nobody was hoping to be treated the way blacks in America were being treated at the time.  Also, my favorite tidbit: being anti-semitic doesn’t specifically mean anti-Jew: Arabs are semites as well.

What about light-skinned Lebanese?  Standing next to some tan neighbors across the Mediterranean like Italians or Greeks, they look downright pasty.  But they’re Arab.  So does that automatically make them brown?

I think we need to come to terms with the fact that we don’t just come in white and black, and that maybe adjectives are just a physical description, not an ethnic, political or social distinction.  Why can’t we just use descriptors like olive, chocolate, porcelain and light brown?

What about someone who, like the fictional Bobby of Jack and Bobby, was raised white (whatever that means) looks white, but unbeknown to him, is actually Mexican?  There’s a great episode describing a pivotal point is his career, wherein someone asks why he’s never identified as latino.  Not that he should necessarily avoid it, but in that scenario, why would he?

I’ve been told (or just read the faces) that it’s surprising I use words like “black” and “brown” to describe people.  People think it’s insulting, and that I’m sensitive to issues of race and prejudice, so how could I be so cruel as to say the guy who came in to see you during lunch was tall, black and wearing a red shirt?  I find this sort of national racial/emotional baggage really interesting.  It is clearly remnants of horrible mistreatment before, during and after the slave trade, but so many other countries handle it differently.  If someone ever told me they were offended by being referred to as a black person (or white or brown or olive or whatever) I would do my best not to say it around them.  But I see it as an adjective.  I don’t like saying African-American.  It assumes two things that aren’t necessarily true: 1) that you and your family are from Africa, and 2) that you are an American.  It also leaves the speaker ill-equipped to describe those who don’t fit the bill, like Haitian-Americans or Nelson Mandela.  And yes, I have heard numerous people refer to him as African-American.

I think we lack adequate vocabulary for our country’s racial missteps and realities.  There’s a whole lot of nuance and fear keeping us back.

I’m also intrigued by the anecdote about the origins of the term African-American, which I have written about previously.  It was meant to be derogatory, as in Africans who are just sort of here in America, and need to go back.  What a gross, post-bellum term.

I think a lot of the time, we’re just trying to do right by each other and we get a bit bogged down in watching for the land mines.  You can always tell when a white person is describing a black one, because they hesitate a lot.  The most obvious descriptor of a person is their largest organ, along with height, hair color, and any scars, tattoos, piercings or bodily anomalies.  Of course, we never describe white people as white, unless they’re interacting with non-whites, or doing something that is not stereotypically white.  How weird is that?

Even the title of this post focuses on being white, and, “poor use how do we keep from looking dumb and racist?”  Does the title accurately describe the writing that follows?  If not, why on earth did it immediately come to mind?

WebLove Wednesday

Here’s a great list of 100 awesome signs from the Sanity/Fear rally.  I particularly love the Dr. Horrible, the moderate muslims arrow sign, and all the people repping bears.  Via WorldHum.

TSA, always terrible and rarely useful (by its own admission!) is now going to grope you, or threaten to, to make you get in the big, naked body scanner.  Well, you don’t go in naked.  But there’s suspicion that they may as well know you in the biblical sense by the time they get through with you.  Fun times.  Funnier story

This lion is awesome.  And I want one.

I wish I were good enough at packing to bring only check-in luggage on a long trip, or even better, to do the No-Baggage Challenge!

And my perennial favorite: women’s clothing.  This time, from the perspective of a reporter covering the Middle East extensively and spending a lot of time in Saudi Arabia.  Well worth the read, and such a great perspective.

Finally, in light of the litteral bell-ringing last night at Model NATO, a typographic animation of a poem that champions speaking with conviction.  I will say, we are more aggresively inarticulate than he knows: at conference as in real life, people become uncomfortable with a certain level of certainty.  I find it is best and easiest to gain their trust and seem “normal” or “likabley unapprised of anything in particular” by adding likes, ums, uhs, justs, and ya knows.  This window dressing is even more important in instant messenging and emails.  The same people who tell me I sound smarter without “like” in my speech also feel I am angry whenever I email without such verbal static.  And that’s coming from the smart kids. Via Open Your Eyes and the Rest Will Follow

Veil Vocabulary

I know it can be overwhelming as an outsider to understand all that is going on with Muslim women’s clothing, so here’s a little glossary to get you started.  If anybody has additional terms or corrections, let me know!


(1)this is the most basic piece, and is a scarf worn around the head.  Accompanying this can be skull caps, pre-style pieces etc., sometimes in ornate styles or coordinatng colors.  The face is fully visible, but the hair and neck are not (if it’s styled correctly).

(2) Hijab is also the concept of overall modesty.  Often you will heasr women refer to their overall modest mode of vestments as “my hijab.”  For men, hijab is the belly button to the knee.  For women, it’s open for debate but is generally considered to the ankles and wrists, with covered hair.


This is the “hood” that covers the whole face and leaves eye-slits.  It often comes down to the middle of the upper arm, and is worn with an abaya.  Another version just covers the front of the face, and can be tied on before a hijab

Chador (sometimes called chador namaz):

This is a one-piece that covers the hair down to the ankles, but leaves the face exposed.

Mantau chalvar:

With mantau coming from the French manteau, this is basically a knee-length coat worn over loose pants and accompanied by a hijab


This is the basic dress-like garment that is warn over clothing.  Depending on the crowd you’re with, many women will take off their various outer garments when alone with each other.


The oft-discussed garment is a head-to-toe covering, often accompanied by elbow-length gloves.  It has a full-face veil built in, often with mesh over the eyes for viewing/protecting purposes.


Many women, regardless of whcih level of modesty and ornamentation they prefer, add other bits as well.  These can include gloves, additional neck/collar bone covering, the skull cap to insure that if a hijab comes loose nothing will show, and little coverings (perhaps tights?) for feet, so that ballet flats may be worn without exposing skin.

In Egypt, I saw many garments that combined a few of these together.  There are also great variations–in some countries or neighborhoods (the Gulf, anywhere that tends to be more conservative and more poor) will feature more covering, and darker garments with little to know ornamentation.  In Egypt on the other hand, there were hijab-friendly bathing suits, sparkles on everything, and skin-tight long-sleeved shirts with revealing shirts over them.  There are also numerous fashion lines and shows for hijab-friendly customers.

Raul is Not Fidel

Just after Obama was elected, Raul delivered a shocking message: the only thing not on the table was Cuba’s sovereignty.  The only thing.  That’s usually the absolute last statement any diplomat is willing to say, since it means you’ve lost all other ground.  But for Hillary Clinton and Raul Castro, this means having something to talk about and somewhere to go.  It means congress has been working to reverse the ban, until the mid-term elections of course.

If you don’t believe me, check out the recent news–52 political prisoners are being gradually released, something that’s been a point of contention since their imprisonment in 2002. There’s also something more recent than July: the longest-held prisoner of this era is being released as well.

The first Catholic seminary since the Revolution is opening.  I hope that maybe now people will start to wake up to the fact that religion is not illegal in Cuba.  In fact, it thrives, in many different forms.

The most important of all: Raul cut 500,000 jobs.  Yep, so much for the paternity complex.  Cuba is incapable of taking care of all of its citizens the way we imagine they do or should.  And the pragmatic amongst them claim they’ve never tried to, just to help their citizens more than the rest of us do.  But it’s getting increasingly difficult to do even that.

Don’t confuse one Castro for another.  And don’t forget that Raul has been in this thing since the beginning–he was about 17 when he started as a freedom fighter, one of the youngest of the bunch.

The Perfect Souvenir

Guess what?  I give up on finding it, especially for others.  I got two lacquered boxes with mosaic-style tops for Miss and Eena, the two aunts who I would totally run away to live with if I had a car at age 12.  Actually, I kind of did that to Melissa’s house in high school, but unfortunately my whole family came with me.  Bummer. 

So these ladies always deserve a little something special.  In Paris it was pretty scarves, and in Egypt, these jewelry boxes.  They get special gifts at Christmas, and I confide in them.  They’re like bonus moms who don’t yell at you (sorry, mom.) 

Little did I know, this would cause major drama with every female I know.  Apparently they were the best gifts (they were nice, but seriously, I got my mom a hand-painted papyrus scroll.  Seriously!)  EVERYONE wanted a little jewelry box, or something else with a similar design and style.  Good lord people, I only have so much room in a suitcase, and apparently no ability to judge your tastes at all. 

So for Cuba, I saw screw that.  I bought a smorgasbord of things, with virtually no plans for who was getting what.  I was blissfully greeted at the airport by my parents, brother and boyfriend.  I talked a mile a minute, as is my way (even more so after a long trip) and made them watch me take out every single gift I bought.  Those four got priority, so I told them to just shotgun whatever they wanted.  It took my mother noticing my dads eyes of envy, though, to ensure the cuban domino set ended up in the right hands. 

And now?  I have weird piles of Cuban gifts I never managed to hand out. 

Le sigh. 

I have no clue how to please people.  Luckily, they have almost no objects in Benin, and I was therefore pretty much exempt.  If you wanted something and didn’t get it, I have delicious organic soap.  Hit me up. 

How do you determine gifts?  Do you even bring any?  For me, this is the one part of travel where I actually feel major pressure.  Do you spend more on yourself or others?  Do you shy away from certain types of souvenirs?