Saving While You’re Spending: Self-Care with Meredith Graves

Meredith Graves is constantly inspiring. She’s articulate to a pulse, persistently engaged with her diurnal observations. As an astute Virgo, she can give language to feelings that are so ephemeral, making thoughts tangible. Her ability to ascertain her exact feelings and then relay it poetically is magnetic. Her video on Stylelikeu was deeply affecting for many reasons—but primarily because she was able to dissect so much of what was causing her pain, which has/had been my singular pursuit, well, for a while now.

After this talk I considered a lot of things. Again, she left me thinking, feeling, searching for answers. There was one thing she said in particular that I’m still trying to grapple with: she said that she doesn’t care if she’s beautiful, because she doesn’t think she is. It struck a chord—if Meredith could say with such steadfastness that beauty didn’t matter, why was I so concerned with it? What was wrong with me that I was so obsessed with the idea of beauty, too concerned with mine, or my ‘lack of,’ sometimes? I’m still processing it, still coming to terms with it, almost everyday I’m engaging with what she said, and it keeps shifting. Did she say that? Did she mean this? This is her power: she makes you think.

There’s been an impulse in my mind since the interview to tell her: but you’re so beautiful! Which is whack because I’m aware that what I think about Meredith doesn’t matter. What matters is how Meredith thinks about Meredith—and how she navigates this world with that. Her addendum to the beauty point was that as a privileged person—someone who is cis, able-bodied, tall—she had to reconcile the truth that she felt ugly sometimes, and that was okay. That was her reality. And in order to be true she needed to accept the contradiction. Needless to say, I admire her completely.

What Happens If You Put Placenta on Your Face?

“It’s, like, gooey.” “Yeah, dude, that’s the placenta.”

After the incredible success of our first foray into the placenta-powered world, Jaya Saxena and Jazmine Hughes decided to go one further. We learned that putting placenta in our hair made it a little bit softer and smell slightly of cornchips (which men LOVE)—what would happen if we put it on our faces? Enter the Placenta & Collagen Premium Facial Mask Pack, available on the well-known site Amazon.com for as little as $5.95.

Here is the only information that the Amazon listing gives:

- Placenta & collagen mask pack with placentl liquid will give you a fantastic beautiful treatment - Also gives your tired skin moisturizing effect and beauty effect - Our placenta & collagen mask pack contains green tea, aloe, licorice, seaweeds extracts and so on.

Green tea! Aloe! Licorice! Placenta! All things that sound very chill and normal to put on your face. We were excited! Then we read some reviews:

I just apply the mask after I wash my face then apply the mask and keep it on for about 15-20 minutes, rub in the juices lol

It comes drenched in the baby sheep juice,so as long as you seal it up and don’t leave it sitting out in the air, it will stay moist.

Helpful and gross! It is far better to just stick to the official company description.

Undeterred, we opened the masks — Jaya was right; they were, indeed, incredibly gooey, and it was at that moment we realized what we were putting (placenta, if you forgot) onto our beautiful faces. We put on our masks and looked at each other. “You look like you’re a robot trying to convince someone they are, in fact, a real human.” “You look like Hannibal Lecter.”

Here’s how it went.

The Middle-Classism of Teen Movies

There’s a scene in Allison Anders’ Gas Food Lodging where sisters Trudi and Shade slouch in a truck stop diner booth. Nora, their mother, a waitress, is covering two stations. Trudi (played by Ione Skye) won’t eat because she’d rather starve then risk “smelling like grease and fish.” Trudi hates her town, the trailer park where she lives, and the busboy who spills a soda on her lap. She blames her mother for all of her bad choices, but mostly for her mother’s bad choices in men. She lashes out at her mother and her sister, but really, it’s the world that’s at fault.

The scene captures what we take for granted in teen movies—not the indignant teen, but the frustrated parent struggling to pay bills, who sometimes has to work two shifts, or double shifts, or the graveyard shift. Even in smart teen movies like Mean Girls or 10 Things I Hate About You, there’s endless money for all the fries and Cokes and movies kids want. The kids are sheltered; financial realities simply don’t exist or aren’t addressed. And understandably so—who wants their teen movie filled to the brim with our parents’ problems? Even Charlie Brown dismissed adults as background noise.

Except teen movies—and movies about teens—in the ‘80s and ‘90s, like Gas Food Lodging, delved into some heavy socio-economic plots and subplots. There was John Singleton’s groundbreaking Boyz n the Hood about three black teenage boys living in South Central Los Angeles and the demoralizing effect gang life has on them. There was the exhausted single parent in Whatever. There was the no-parent household in The Outsiders. There was the money-is-tight-let’s-move-across-country subplot in The Karate Kid. There was the parent moving to the rich suburb so his kids could go to better schools in Slums of Beverly Hills. There was the rough coming-of-age of three high school seniors in Girls Town, in which the tag line read “This ain’t no 90210.” There was the my-stepfather-is-a-lazy-piece-of-shit-drunk-who eats-all-of-our-food-while-mom-works-her-ass-off subplot in River’s Edge. There was Mi Vida Loca, about Latino teen girls living in gang-riddled Echo Park. There was the I-want-to-be-seen-as-more-than-just-another-black-girl-on-the-subway in Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. Even John Hughes, the king of rich white kids, tackled class warfare with Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink, a romantic who lived on the “other side of the tracks,” and Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson’s characters in Some Kind of Wonderful were poor artists/drummer/mechanics.

Fast forward today and the middle class struggle is hardly touched on in films about teens. There are 50 million people living in poverty in the U.S., according to the 2013 Census report, but we’ve only seen a tiny sample of contemporary teen movies (Thirteen, Precious, Beneath the Harvest Sky) even attempt to grasp those topics.

The Top 1000 Movies I’ve Never Seen

(In no particular order.)

  1. Titanic
  2. The Princess Bride
  3. The Blair Witch Project
  4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  5. The Sixth Sense
  6. The Matrix
  7. Avatar
  8. American Pie
  9. Moulin Rouge
  10. Gone with the Wind
  11. Dumb and Dumber
  12. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  14. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1
  16. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2
  17. The Exorcist
  18. Almost Famous
  19. Jaws
  20. Free Willy
  21. Dirty Dancing
  22. Casablanca
  23. Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century

Rose Bertin, The First Celebrity Stylist

The first celebrity stylist predates Instagram by a long shot. Thanks to reality TV and larger-than-life personalities like Rachel Zoe, celebrity stylists have become famous in their own rights. This phenomenon has pulled back the curtain on a formerly behind-the-scenes role, allowing us to see just how responsible stylists are for creating the looks we associate with our celebrities. As a career, it seems somewhat recent: a red carpet necessity that developed with increased paparazzi, media attention, tabloid fashion sections and social media. But the origins of the job actually go all the way back to the eighteenth century.

Rose Bertin was born as Marie-Jeanne Bertin in 1747 outside of Paris. As a child, she became obsessed with having her palm read by a fortune teller in her town. Her family had barely enough money to scrape by; she starved herself in order to pay the palm reader with her own food. According to Rose Bertin: The Creator of Fashion at the Court of Marie Antoinette by Emil Langlade, the palm reader told Bertin that she would “rise to great fortune, and one day wear a court dress.” An ambitious hard worker with a new specific goal in mind, Bertin set out for Paris when she was 16 and became an apprentice at a millinery shop.

During her apprenticeship, Bertin was sent on an errand to deliver dresses to the Princesse de Conti and spent some time chatting with someone she thought was a chambermaid. That chambermaid turned out to be the princess, and while Bertin was mortified, the princess found her charming and called on her to work on the bridal trousseau of an upcoming royal wedding.

Wedding Town

My mother first saw my namesake in the OBGYN waiting room—a model in a bicentennial bikini smiling from the wrinkled, worn pages of a magazine.

“She was pretty,” my mother told me. “Her name was Allison.”

That was the entirety of the name origin story. Nothing terribly meaningful or symbolic—a pretty model had my name before I did. By the time I learned this I was deep in my gawky adolescence, already realizing that “pretty” wasn’t necessarily something a girl was but rather something she did.

Bewildered, I watched as my girlfriends—who had once rescued half-dead robins, obsessed over the difference between Arabians and Clydesdales, who could quote whole pages of Watership Down and Black Beauty—became suddenly fixated on the distinction between gloss and matte, ivory and off-white, sheer and opaque. They could do “pretty,” and while I sensed this was important, the urgency was lost on me. Pink or coral? Red or rust? Who cares? There were more pressing matters, like what the fuck are we going to do with the fetal squirrel that died in this shoebox?

Of course, my female friends’ interest in color schemes, powders, perfumes and nail polish had just about everything to do with boys. They wanted to be liked and noticed by boys, but considering how the boys snapped our bras, leered at us, and catcalled, all I could think was, They notice us too much.

Excerpts From the March 2015 Vogue, Presented Without Commentary

Then again, during the entirety of the three-day affair, sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s, white and black tie were the easiest dictates of a quartet of dress codes that included Gaucho and Tango Smart.

The arrival of the bride, meanwhile, who emerged on the bow of the wooden speedboat like a living figurehead, veil whipping in the wind, was mirage-like, for even the most jaded fashion folk in attendance. Her Valentino couture dress, which required 1,800 hours’ worth of bas-relief pearl and crystal embroider, forsook the traditional bridal white for pale chalcedony tulle that blended seamlessly into the soft gray of the beach and the murky green of the Machete River beyond.

And so the bride and groom, who have homes in New York and Paris, selected a series of venues that represented Sofia’s own history in the region and revealed the most pristine and epic vistas of untouched nature, from the foothills of the Andes to desolate lakeside beaches.

For the wedding lunch the next day, sixteen whole lambs were cooked on weeping willow-branch crosses.

The Last Player in The Game Wins

So!! Once upon a time there was a very determined man and there were a lot of odds against him, but he just couldn’t be held back by “The Man,” and he pulled himself up by those bootstraps we’re always hearing so much about, and he figured out a totally honest and admirable way to make himself rich and provide a service that people really, truly wanted, and everything was great and cool forever and ever. That is the story of a book I would never want to read. But, I mean, nobody really needs to write that kind of book anymore; we all know that story like the back of our capitalist hands.

In 2009, Mary Pilon was writing for The Wall Street Journal and wanted to include a line about how we all know the story of Monopoly—the classic origin tale of Charles Darrow, an unemployed and broke man who sold his board game to Parker Brothers during the Great Depression, just the kind of uplifting rags-to-riches story people love to hear. Like so many other stories that fit into archetypal narratives, it was total bullshit.

Charles Darrow was, perhaps, the last person to create the game Monopoly as we know it, but the game had been invented by a woman named Lizzie Magie in the early 1900s. Magie was a writer, an inventor, and an outspoken feminist, and she invented something she called “The Landlord’s Game” and patented it in 1904. Her version included both a “monopolist” set of rules and an “anti-monopolist” set of rules, and it became kind of fashionable with certain prominent public figures like Upton Sinclair.

People made their own boards with their own set of rules and started casually referring to the game as “the monopoly game,” like the Quaker community of Atlantic City, who created a board to reflect their neighborhoods. One such Quaker invited Charles Darrow and his wife over to play their board, and, I mean, I’m sure you can see where this is going: Darrow copied their board, sent it to Parker Brothers, complete with a perfectly packaged revisionist mythology that just so happened to suit the values, aspirations, and beliefs of American society at that time.

Magie’s story might have been lost if it hadn’t been for Ralph Anspach, an economics professor who tried to make his own version of the game called “Anti-Monopoly.” His goal was to have a “better” capitalist board game, one that encouraged players to produce better goods as governments destroyed existing monopolies. Parker Brothers sued for an unauthorized use of the brand name that they owned, but as Anspach and his lawyer quickly found out, it wasn’t even their brand name to begin with. What happened after that? You’ll just have to read The Monopolists, in stores today, to find out!!!

Mary and I spoke about the five years she spent writing this book, the importance of telling Lizze Magie’s story, and—whoops—how much I hate Monopoly.

Looking The Part

A few months ago a friend of mine contacted me about doing a project together, saying she wanted to write with more “women of color.” I didn’t know whether to correct her or not. Are you allowed that title when your color fades?

I am not white. It has taken me years to be able to say this out loud, and I still mumble through it, or qualify it with “sort of”s and “basically”s and “not really’s.” Because despite my Indian immigrant father and my non-white name and my ability to do the sideways head nod gesture that seems to only be a thing Indians can do, I have rarely been treated as anything but white and American.

When I first began understanding the realities that many people of color in this country face, I aimed to become an ally. It made more sense than considering myself part of the group, since I assumed the title of “person of color” had to come with certain things: namely, a struggle stemming from a lifetime of mistreatment and microaggressions. I mistakenly associated the POC identity with its most publicized experience, one which I didn’t think I shared: I’d always made friends of lots of different backgrounds, and sometimes we talked about them and most of the time we didn’t; I had no problem seeing myself in the white protagonists that saturated the media I consumed. But the biggest misconception I had was that to be “of color,” my skin actually had to be one, and that it had to stay that way all the time.

When I was a kid, I assumed my “natural” skin color was a deep tan. Maybe it’s because summer is when most photos of me were taken, on the beach with my white cousins, them in brimmed hats with freckles and flecks of sunblock still on their skin, me wild-haired and brown brown brown, always exposed. I worked backwards from these shots, using them as yearly proof of what I “really” looked like—thick black hair, big eyes, a flash of beauty I hoped would become permanent by aging out of frizzy bangs and overall shorts, and brown skin.

In a grade school worksheet I was asked to describe myself, a quick lesson in bodily features, and I dutifully took these images to write my truths. “My name is Jaya Saxena. I am eight years old. I have black hair. I have hazel eyes. I have brown skin. My favorite color is red.” They were natural statements to make, things that there’d be no point fabricating. But in the winter I’d find myself staring confusedly at my reflection, wondering where one of those truths went, and what happened to my “natural” state.