Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Now 40% More Mayrav To Love!

I had a perfectly lovely time with Maayan and her daughters. Food.
Friends. Lots of toys for the kids to throw around the room. It was
great. Maayan, I thought, looks wonderful for a woman who had given
birth less than a year ago.

I, apparently, do not.

When I got home, I had this e-mail waiting for me from Maayan: “So … are you?”

I? Am I what, mortified? Yes, yes I am. I am horribly mortified. I
wrote Maayan back to assure her that I am not pregnant. She gave me a
very Israeli shrug of an apology.

“Oh, I'm sorry,” she wrote. “You look it.”

true. After 14 months, I'm back into all my pre-pregnancy clothes, but
I have a little paunch that doesn't seem to know the party's over. I
curse this paunch.

When Mom asked me if I was pregnant a few
weeks ago, I didn't flinch. Women grow accustomed to quasi-competitive,
inappropriate jabs from their mothers. But a girlfriend? Girlfriends
know better. Maayan wouldn't have said anything if I didn't really,
really look like I'd picked up a fetal hitchhiker.

My ever-helpful hubby tried to cheer me up. My belly isn't so bad, he said.

“But Maayan said I look pregnant.”

“She is probably just referring to your acne.”

I plan to start speaking to my husband again in 2008. In the meantime, I IM'd Leslie. 

she wrote. I could practically hear her sigh. “I'm about to spell out
your future for you. Are you ready? For your future?

“You will
go to the gym with me three to four times a week. You will cut out
sodas. And you will lose your rather microscopic paunch in about two

“In the meantime, you will continue to enjoy your tiny
little jeans and your tiny little birdie arms and your perfectly
sculpted shoulders and whine from your perfectly pouty lips about how
ugly you are.”

Sometimes I think Leslie reads to me from a magic quote book called “Say All the Right Things Right Now!” 

I didn't very much like the future she foretold. The sodas I would
abide. I shouldn't drink that garbage anyway. But the gym?

used to be a regular gym-goer. There was a time, in fact, that I went
every day. In my early 20s I contemplated getting a side job as an
aerobics instructor. But then one day, quite randomly, I remembered an
example my professor used in a lecture about cognitive dissonance
theory: “I can say I go to the gym because I enjoy working out. But
maybe it's that, because I go to the gym, I just think I enjoy working

“Hmm,” I thought, while marching repetitively in place on
a machine coated in the thick barbecue sauce of hundreds of strangers'
sweat. “You know what? I hate this.”

That was several years
ago. So when I laced up my running shoes to meet Leslie at her gym,
they were well preserved. Problem was, they were also a half size too
small. I forgot my feet grew three years ago (who knew feet can grow in

I treadmilled. I stationary biked. I stretched. I even watched Anderson Cooper on closed-caption TV.

I did not do is feel the endorphin rush promised me by the Ghost of
Workouts Past. Nor did I feel like doing this three times a week could
have any effect on my abs. I didn't feel anything, really, other than
uncomfortable and silly for wearing too-small shoes. 

When I ask
myself if I hate what I look like more than I hate exercising, the
answer is yes. But will I work out as a result? No. First of all, my
shoes don't fit. Also, I'm so paunchy I don't like the way I look in my
workout clothes. It's a vicious cycle. A vicious, potbellied cycle.

Leslie is adamant that exercise is the answer to everything from the
blues to scabies. So she looks at me funny when I fail to share her
enthusiasm after our workout. 

“Don't you feel great?” Leslie asked, as she bounded out the gym door.

“No,” I said. 

But I can't say the excursion was a total bomb: My feet hurt so much, I forgot about my gut.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Some Notes Are Too Touching

I have lost touch with people very dear to me and grieved after parting with people I truly love. I've gone years without hearing from those who have inspired me.

But I can't seem to shake my real estate agent.

It's been six months since we sold our house, and we're still getting postcards from Real Estate Lady – not to mention letters, bookmarks, beach balls, suggested summer reading lists, magnets and notepads.

I can't say that I mind this too much – who couldn't use an extra notepad? It's just kinda weird. I don't hear from my sister as often as I hear from Real Estate Lady, and I have to wonder: What gives?

The obvious answer, of course, is money. By keeping so loyally in touch, Real Estate Lady will no doubt embed herself deep in my frontal cortex – so that when next I need an agent, hers will be the first name to come to mind. This trick has already worked. The notepads and calendars she left on our doorstep in the four years before we sold our house made hers the first number we called when we decided to move.

But we've moved out of her "coverage area" with no plans to move back – she knows this. Still, here we are, receiving her glowing review of "Shadow of the Wind," by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. So emphatic is her reading suggestion, she has tucked two bookmarks (with her company's logo on them, of course) inside her note.

Which makes me wonder whether this really is about money. Is this shrewd or pathological?

We all know people who make an art of correspondence – people who learn calligraphy and own fancy rubber stamps. They maintain pen pal relationships that span decades and have steady, practiced signatures. They slip a card in the mail, thanking you for a lovely dinner party, before they've even gotten to your house. They are always chipper. They never forget a birthday. They periodically forward e-mails that include cats doing something cute.

They scare me.

I am trying to figure out what, exactly, disquiets me about Real Estate Lady's compulsive networking, when I get a call from Lisa.

The last time I talked to Lisa she was on a bus, yelling into a dying cell phone that she was going to call me when she got home. That was two months ago. This time, she dials me up while resting in a hammock that was part of an art installation in San Jose. She had a few minutes to talk, as she waited for a friend of hers she hadn't seen or spoken much to for two years.

"I have a $100 flight voucher; it expires in December, and I want to use it to visit you," she says, before running down a list of reasons why such a visit would be impossible. The sentiment would sound insincere if it didn't add at the end, "You know what? Why don't I transfer the voucher to you and you can visit me up here."

That's when I understood. Keeping in touch is only meaningful if … well, if it's meaningful. Consistent correspondence doesn't say anything other than "I hate trees." When someone really reaches out to you, it doesn't feel like junk mail; it feels like a sincere invitation to play ball on the beach or hear about the good book she's reading.

\Maybe on some unconscious level I'm just trying to make an excuse for being bad at calling and writing people, but I don't think so. Real Estate Lady can send all the postcards she wants. Some of the people who love me the most are the ones I hear from the least.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Slice and Dice to Look Nice

I will not age gracefully.

I plan to nip and tuck and slice and suck myself as far away from the crypt as I possibly can without looking ridiculous. I don't listen to the argument that plastic surgery is fueled by our culture's pervasive degradation of women and media brainwashing. The argument is true, mind you, I just don't listen to it.

I also don't listen to Ashlee Simpson. Not to her music. Not to her sister. Not to what she has to say about self-esteem. So forgive me for coming to this a bit late, but what's all the fuss about?

Jessica Simpson's lip-synching little sis did a nice little interview in the July issue of Marie Claire, in which she chirps, "Everyone is made differently, and that's what makes us beautiful and unique. I want girls to look in the mirror and feel confident."

Shortly thereafter, she got a nose job.

Now Marie Claire readers are all up in arms over the lip-syncher's hypocrisy, and other media outlets spent a few days batting her about like cats with yarn. I don't begrudge anyone for making fun of Ashlee. She's a walking commodity created by bizarre parents and expensive lighting. Her purpose in life is to remind the rest of us why we don't really want to be famous after all.

But I do take issue with the idea that hacking into one's flesh is bad. I've never had plastic surgery, but like I said, I fully intend to. Why not?

It's not a sign of weakness. It's the ultimate sign of control. Are you the love child of a horse and a rhinoceros? If you can make it work for you, then you're probably a truly beautiful person who can light up a whole room with your smile.

But if you can't make it work for you, lose the long face and chop off your schnoz. Victory over DNA. I feel the same way about people who get sex-change operations. Honey, if you were born in the wrong body, then get yourself in the right one. Where's the scandal?

When hypochondriac Hubby worried that he would one day lose all his teeth, I shrugged and said, "So? You'll get new ones."

And I mean it.

We live in a time when we can carve entirely different looks out of the clay molds of our bodies. In his youth, Donald Rumsfeld looked like Dick Sargent. One skilled scalpel, and he still could.

I have friends who disagree (actually, I'm hard-pressed to find friends who agree with me on this). They bring up Michael Jackson, which is like bringing up epidemic obesity when a 90-pound woman glances at the dessert menu.

They say that women, particularly young women, are pressured into believing they have to be perfect in order to be beautiful/accepted/successful/loved. But my friends who rail against cosmetic surgery all happen to be beautiful, accepted, successful and loved. It's very difficult to have perspective on the myriad reasons a woman (or man) would go under the knife if you look ravishing with unwashed hair and no makeup.

Besides, the whole hubbub over Ashlee is as misplaced as Mel Gibson at a bar mitzvah. Society's big mistake is holding a dimwit like her up as a role model, not with her choice to (let's face it) make herself look better.

And yet, Marie Claire is expanding the letters section of its Aug. 15 issue to allow for many of the more than 1,000 notes of protest readers sent to the magazine.

Since she is a role model (sigh), some of her detractors say she not only shouldn't have made the hypocritical statement, but she shouldn't have gotten the plastic surgery in the first place. Plastic surgery is the devil's work, plain and simple. A sign of insecurity and low self-esteem. Proof that women simply can't be trusted with control of their own bodies.

If rolling one's eyes causes wrinkles, I'm going to need a lot of Botox some day.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Doll Face

Growing up, I believed there were two kinds of girls in the world: girls who were blond, and girls who were ugly. Not being blond, I figured I fell into the latter camp.

There was very little out there to dissuade brown, Jewish me from my conviction. Barbie? Blond. Cinderella? Blond. Evil stepsisters? Brunettes. With large noses. I was too young to know that a Jewish woman created Barbie dolls and that self-loathing was a cultural birthright. All I knew was that dolls didn't look like me, and, therefore, I was ugly.

Not anymore, I ain't. In fact, I'm a doll.

I just caught on to this cultural phenomenon, but if you're an 8-year-old girl and your parents mistake toys for love, you are likely the feudal lady of global doll fiefdom. You, my friend, are an inhabitant of the American Girl Place.

Much has been written of American Girl dolls, and I've ignored all of it. Never mind that more than 12 million dolls have been sold or that travel agencies book vacation packages based around visiting the country's three American Girl Place stores. I'm not a little girl. I don't have a little girl. I didn't see a need to know anything about little girls' dolls.

Oh, what I've been missing!

When the American Girl Place opened at The Grove in Los Angeles in April, Leslie told me I had to go see it.

"It's like a cult," she promised.

She said the girls all go in as normal people and come out wide-eyed and Kool-Aid drunk. What transpires inside the two-story doll mecca, she couldn't say. She herself was afraid to step foot in there lest she get bitten on the neck by Samantha or Jess and end up sold in a box, gap-toothed with polyester hair.

So I told her I'd scout it out first.

As the doors parted, so, too, did the clouds. And the angels did sing. Two whole floors of dolls. A museum. A café. A photo studio. A theater. A dolly hairdresser. A dolly doctor. A clothing store where you could buy matching clothes for you and your doll. Matching clothes!

But wait, it gets better.

Adults can argue embryonic stem cell research and human cloning all they want. Any red-blooded American Girl can tell you clones already exist. Duh. They're called Just Like You Dolls. And – here's the greatest part – they look Just. Like. You!

At the dolly hair salon, 8-year-old Shannon, of Seal Beach, was gingerly handing over Elizabeth to a hair stylist. Shannon had light brown hair. Elizabeth did, too. Shannon had blue eyes and the sweetest freckles around her nose. Elizabeth did, too. Shannon had her hair up in a ponytail with a pink ribbon. Elizabeth did, too.

Shannon said she'd had Elizabeth for a year and had never before been here and had never before had Elizabeth's hair professionally styled and was, gulp, nervous. She looked nervous. Eerily, Elizabeth did, too.

I backed away from the girl and her proxy and headed upstairs to find my own Just Like You Doll. Her name, according to the box, is GT26 G. Medium skin, curly dark brown hair and amber eyes. And, oddly, she comes with a toy dog that looks a lot like Sketch. For $102 I could have my own little effigy, a book and the dog. And for an extra $24 I could dress her in an outfit that looked strangely like the one I was already wearing. How did they know what I'd be wearing that day? And what's with the dog?

My throat suddenly started to constrict and fill with the very strong taste of focus group. Had I been studied and classified and categorized into a type?

As unhealthy as all my blonde worship might have been as a child, at least I never thought of myself as a type. Standing in that store, I finally realized that I shouldn't have envied the blond girls their Barbie look-alikes. While I was being subliminally told that I was ugly, they were being brainwashed into thinking they were far worse – not unique.

It's a life lesson that American Girls today will likely never get. Now everyone is not unique. Everyone is classifiable. Only time will tell if they're worse off for it. I put GT26G back on the shelf, tiptoed past Shannon and her voodoo doll and walked out of the store.

I'd rather be ugly than a type.