Thursday, July 22, 2010

80s Hair on a Four-Year-Old's Head

I must confess, a guilty pleasure for me and my family is the TLC show "Toddlers and Tiaras." It's as addicting and evil as crack cocaine, but still completely legal. In the same revolting-and-can't-stop-looking vein as "My Super Sweet 16," "Toddlers and Tiaras" revolves around bratty girls and their psychotic mothers. The show follows girls (and sometimes boys) from about birth to 10 years as they fight their way through the pageant world.

Like nutrition and appliances on the porch, pageants are worse in the South. The hair is bigger, the makeup heavier, and the number of contestants living in double-wides larger. See, the crazy thing about pageants is the cost - whether it's "low glitz" or "high glitz," pageant dresses (some of which are no bigger than a large babydoll) run from $500-$2,500. The average pageant requires three outfits, but that's just upfront expenses. Pageants (even for little three-year-olds) typically require: entry fee (usually over $100), pani/medi, fake tan (it just makes them pop onstage!), eyebrow waxing, hair styling (curling irons, straighteners, curlers, HAIRSPRAY), hair pieces/full wigs, flippers (retainers containing a full set of teeth - the perfect gift for the little girl who only wants her two front teeth for Christmas ... or this Saturday), make-up (mascara, eye shadow, eye liner, fake eyelashes, blush, powder, etc), often a coach, to choreograph "routines" and demonstrate where a background in pageantry can take you, as well as cases to carry everything.

There are several shocking aspects to this. First, look at that list. Remember it's for a girl who probably doesn't know her times tables or how to write her name in cursive. Then throw in that all this work goes toward about 30 seconds on stage - if you have three events (beauty, swimwear, and outfit of choice, traditionally), you're up to a whopping minute-and-a-half. Assuming a smaller entry fee ($100), one big dress ($700), one smaller dress ($400), one fairly plain swimsuit ($100), a mani/pedi special ($35), a free fake tan (nice friend, someone who left their fridge on your porch, etc.), just tweezing, one cheap hair piece ($50), no flipper, mom's make-up, and no coach, you've cost yourself $1,385 for 90 seconds - in other words, your daughter's walk across the stage cost $15.39 per second. For each moment she spent onstage, you could have had a reasonable family dinner for four - and you were probably mocked for not going "full glitz" like you should have. Sure, you can re-wear the outfits, which are your biggest expense, but it's still a huge investment (and few girls only have three outfits).

What's shocking is that for the most part these girls don't come from lots of money - lots live in trailers, most in small houses with minimal decor. Your average middle-class (sometimes low-middle class) families are spending huge amounts of money to put their daughters in an environment that encourages reckless spending, outer beauty, extreme selfishness, and mood swings. In other words, most of these parents are paying to create holy terrors. Sure, some of the girls are sweet, but by and large they are terrifying, and that is why we watch.

From an economic point of view, it makes as much sense as copying Rihanna's hairstyles. From an entertainment point of view, it's pure gold.

I spent my money on:
Brown menswear capris, brown empire waist, belted shirt, purple and gold bead dangle earrings, gold owl necklace, and brown beaded ankle-laced espadrilles.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

War of the Greens

Tonight, my family went to Sweet Tomatoes, a salad bar restaurant, for dinner. Sweet Tomatoes is a precarious balancing act in a lot of areas. It's rather pricey, but is set up buffet-style with salad, soup, baked potatoes, bread, pasta, fruit, jello, baked dessert, and ice cream. In other words, Sweet Tomatoes lets you gain the "freshman fifteen" without ever writing a paper or living in a dorm!

Buffets are great ones for that, as they employ economies of scale against you. See, you pay the same price at a place like Sweet Tomatoes whether you eat a single piece of lettuce, or enough food to make a "food pyramid" that would make Giza jealous. So, in order to get your money's worth, it makes more sense to eat more (and of course, there's no sharing). However, for dieters and those who like fitting through the average doorway, eating your way to a bargain has a lot of negative ramifications.

True. It's a salad bar. But no one in that restaurant is stopping at one cup of spinach, with some grilled chicken and veggies. No, this is the land of deliciosity - pre-made salads, cheese, sunflower seeds, and dressing. Then there's soup, which can be fairly light (vegetable) or fairly dense (cream of cauliflower made with American cheese - pleck). Baked potatoes are really just serving pieces for butter, cheese, and sour cream. Bread - sourdough, indian grain, blueberry muffins, cornbread, specialty muffins, and focaccia are "bred" to be diet-ruiners (ba-da-chhhhh!). Their pasta tends to be somewhat bland, but there's always a cream-sauce option - sometimes two (out of three).

After-dinner, the fruit and cafeteria-style desserts aren't too bad, as long as you like unripe honeydew and sugar-free jello mousse. Really, the perfect cherry on top of a calorie load is some artificial sweetener. There's always a special baked dessert - from chocolate lava cake to cherry cobbler, as well as brownies, because nothing says "just like mom's" like the next dress size. They also offer soft-serve "non-fat frozen yogurt," but if you put it on top of the baked dessert, and add syrup, toffee, peanuts, and cookie crumbles, you capsize the fat-free lifeboat. On top of this, they have nice people walking around with baskets of chocolate-chip cookies that they deposit on your now-groaning table.

See, Sweet Tomatoes is a hard restaurant, because it pits money against calories in a battle that few of us really want to fight. Sweet Tomatoes rewards the uneconomical, those really in touch with their stomachs, and, let's face it, the people who really want to eat. It tricks you into feeling good about yourself, because obviously, twenty servings of something served along with salad isn't bad for you. Granted, though, most other restaurants gleefully pile on unwanted calories without a thought - there it's a pay-as-you-eat system, though, so it's less tempting for us economically-minded friends. I don't want to bash Sweet Tomatoes, as I really do find it tasty, but it requires a lot of self-control and weighing the calorie/dollar ratio.

We ran into my aunt, uncle, cousin, and cousin-in-the-womb that night, which was quite fun - and for my toddler cousin who eats like a teenager, Sweet Tomatoes presents absolutely no dilemma.

I planned my Sweet Tomatoes attack in:
Grayish-brown pencil skirt, deep teal cowell-necked baby-doll sweater, purple veined disk earrings, big green ring with white and red accents, and gold giraffe wedges with turquoise piping.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Equality 7-2521

Today, my sister came back from a two-and-a-half week music camp/missions trip in the Czech Republic. Though I didn't get to see any of it myself, the stories she told me reiterated that economic policy matters - a lot.

None of her campers lived in houses - they all lived in nearly identical flats left over from communist rule. If you want something a la Brave New World, Anthem, or 1984, try looking at a fairly large city where everyone lives in identical gray cement buildings. For a more homey feel, many own "weekend cottages" in the mountains that offer a change from the monochromatic abodes. Still. It sounds like something unworldly, something that could never happen. Yet it did. Happily, the Czech Republic came out of communism and is one of the more stable countries to have done so. But can a weekend cottage really make up for a week of living in a very real reminder of communism?

Is there any reason why an economic system that smacks of dystopian ideals and has failed multiple times should be tried again? Is there any reason why the US, a bastion of liberty and individuality, is moving steadily left, toward such a system? Whatever fine differences between communism and socialism you want to bring up, it certainly seems the United States is moving in that direction. Perhaps in 100 years, Czech teenagers will be coming here to see sights like the outdated Declaration of Independence, and our spin on identical gray cement dwellings.

I appreciated freedom in:
Grayish-brown pencil skirt, short-sleeved, striped gray jacket with ruched middle, gold leaves & glass flowers asymmetrical necklace, pearl studs, and pink satin slingbacks with bows on the top and hemp wedges.