Universe-al Follies

Last Tuesday evening, I was out on a patio in the Distillery District with some friends, minding my own beeswax, when – through my slight sun-and-lemon-tea-beer haze – I glanced up in time to see an enormous group of young women stroll past the patio.

I wouldn’t have paid them any mind if not for the fact (a) they were doing their best “Queen Elizabeth” waves and (b) the lone guy among them said loudly enough for us to hear, “Miss Universe Canada contestants”. You know, in case we were wondering.

Of course, the declaration prompted me to take notice of their white sashes with red lettering.

While I merely half-gazed, my friend chose instead to give the passing contestants some sage advice.

Half-scowling (in a joking sort of way), she repeatedly stage whispered, “Eat something!” while pointing in their direction.

I nearly fell over, clapping my hand over my mouth to hide my grin and muffle my guffaw.

I didn’t look at any of the young women for their reaction. But I’m guessing, if they weren’t pretending not to hear my friend and looking elsewhere, then they might have tried giving her stink-eye (but only half-heartedly, since they were probably worried about wrinkles).

So, yeah. Apparently beauty pageants like this still happen in the 21st century! Who knew?

And the funny thing is, since that chance sighting, they’ve been landing themselves some press coverage. And not the good kind.

June 11: During a talk at an Oshawa high school, one of the beauty queens spoke about body image, explaining that to enter the competition, she actually had to gain weight. Which would have been great. EXCEPT that in trying to convey that pageant organizers didn’t want them looking unhealthy, she stepped in it by saying she didn’t want to look “like some little African child with the ribs going on.”

I’m sure the word she really wanted to use was “anorexic”. Except she … didn’t.

Aaaaaand, it gets better. (By which I mean worse.)

One of her fellow contestants (a) is African-born and (b) had JUST finished describing her experience in a Rwandan refugee camp. So one could understand when she was upset by the remarks and had to be consoled by another contestant.

So having put both dainty size-9s in her mouth, what did the 26-year-old Miss Universe Contestant – a filmmaker who runs her own production company – have to say for herself?

Well, aside from what she meant to say (again, boys and girls, the word is ANOREXIC), she blamed it on being half-asleep, due to having gotten up at 5 a.m. that morning.

Huh.

June 13: A second contestant not only landed herself in hot water, but got her skinny behind bounced from the competition, when it came out that she did some ads for Ashley Madison. The funny thing was, the ads were never broadcast. But someone with either an axe to grind and/or some exemplary investigation skills dug them up.

A lesser woman would have seen the optics of the situation and bowed out. Not this one.

She was asked to quit. She refused. She tried to go to rehearsals, but was blocked from entering, told to go to her hotel room, and pack her bags.

She was then driven to the bus station, where she was offered a paid fare back home. Again, she refused. So they left her at the station with $100.

Um, yeah.

It’s great to have dreams and ambition. But if you’re going to expose yourself in such a public forum as a beauty pageant, remembering, OH WAIT, I was in some racy ads in lingerie, should have you thinking about the scrutiny you could find yourself under, should you decide to enter said competition.

Look, I’ve heard how smart and poised pageant contestants are supposed to be – that they’re not just Barbie dolls in evening wear and swimsuits. Heck, as it turns out, I’ve worked with a couple.

But with a small but growing list of incidents in recent years, the optics make the current crop of hopefuls look pretty bad and the evidence in favour of “beauty and brains”, threadbare.

If you’re a supporter, you’re entitled to defend these girls all you want.

But just remember these two words: beauty fades.

Good looks are great to have, and it’s the first thing people notice. But because there are perceptions and stereotypes that accompany that, you gotta stay ahead of the game and cover your butt, so you don’t continue to feed the long-standing perceptions – that’s part of what “having a brain” means.

‘Cause I shudder at the thought of gaggles of future would-be beauty queens entering competitions and dribbling out stuff like this:

Just. Sayin’.

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The G-20 Blues

It’s one of the biggest international summits of the year.

It will play host to representatives from 20 of the (more or less) most prosperous countries in the world.

It’s 10 days away.

And it’s already making me tired.

G-20. Arrrrgh.

Lately when I hear that phrase, I have to fight the urge to let my eyes roll back into my head.

But I’m not the only one. It’s driving a lot of people crazy, for many different reasons.

The security precautions, for example.

As I left work Sunday night, workers were already busily erecting the linked fences that will comprise the security barrier.

Two Fridays from now, countless Toronto police and RCMP officers will watch for suspicious persons and check us mere civilians who either live or (have to) work within the high-security zone. A number of us will have to get special ID if we want to get around.

There’s also that list of dos and don’ts during the summit. The Globe and Mail’s special G8/G20 blog has it in its entirely. Or at least the highlights.

Some of them, I get. Others are completely ridiculous. Rocket launches? Parachuting? Kites?!

REALLY?

I know they’re taking precautions against potential terrorists, extreme crazies and whatnot, but still.

The price tag for Fortress Toronto: $1 billion.

Hand in hand with that are all the different groups and individuals that will be here to protest.

Originally, they were going to plop them in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, in the heart of Queen Street West, amidst neighbourhood homes and small businesses. Not sure who made that bone-headed decision, but the location was eventually changed to the huge lawn outside the Ontario Legislature.

I’m skeptical that this will necessarily make a difference. I’m sure some people will try their hardest to make their voices outside of the designated area.

I don’t mean to sound disdainful, but here’s the thing: It’s not the folks peacefully speaking their minds and hearts with whom I have a problem. It’s the shit-disturbers and self-named anarchists who will break and deface stuff in the name of being anti-establishment.

(Pssst! Hey! Anarchists! Explain to me HOW EXACTLY your disruptive antics help the African women looking after her grandchildren orphaned by HIV/AIDS or the humble farmers in India and elsewhere, trying to eke a living. ‘Cause I’m dying to know.)

It’s fine to be anti-corporation/bank/government/whatever. But when people channel that sentiment into damaging property, it’s not necessarily big, bad business that will be the target. Some of those stores and storefronts belong to small business owners who, by the way, WON’T be compensated by any governments or authorities if some people decide to defile them in the name of protest.

Speaking of governments: why IS it that they won’t help the businesses that generate revenue for this city … but they’ll plunk down $1.9 million towards a fake lake in the middle of a $23 million international media pavilion?

I understand, for security reasons, why no one will be allowed within 10 feet of the real lake that’s just next door.

And the government’s industry minister says they just want to show off the country.

But, as a colleague deftly pointed out to me on Sunday evening, there are tourism press junkets available to international journalists, for precisely THIS reason. They COULD HAVE done some advance junkets for people wanting to know more about Canada.

But, no. Instead, the cultural institutions that COULD show off Canada, will be closed. And we have a fake lake.

(A freelance journalist friend of mine the city’s mass consternation over the “lake” hilarious. She’s hoping to cover the summit and, if successful in getting accreditation, she’s threatened to spend her time in between interviews hanging out in the “lake”, floaties on each arm and a drink in one hand.)

The only thing that could potentially make this interesting, is if the “lake” was filled with vodka instead of water.

Sigh.

Sadly, I’m not one of the lucky people who have elected to flee town to avoid this circus.

So, I wait … both for my special security ID … and for this crazy global meeting to pass.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

“Bizarre last minute question,” began the message on my Blackberry, “but ru (sic) busy tonight? I have an invite to a spa launch + wondered if u would like to join me?”

I gazed bleary-eyed at the screen, reading and re-reading the note, and groaning inwardly.

I’d just awoken from a long nap about three minutes earlier. So processing the impromptu invite from my friend (author of Play Anon) – and the personal logistics to make this happen – took a bit longer than usual.

I asked her about the time and dress code. She responded … and asked me if I’d be ready for 6 p.m.

That’s less than 45 minutes from now, I thought. Knowing how slow I move, especially after sleeping, I didn’t think I could get ready that fast. Plus, I didn’t think I was in the right frame of mind to be around other people.

I wrote her back, asking if I could I pass on the invite.

She was persistent – offering to pick me up at 6:30 p.m. instead. And, I relented.

Reflecting upon it today, I’m glad she was. Besides getting out of the house, I spent some time catching up with my friend. And, that wasn’t all!

The spa we went to was launching a new service: foot massages on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. On the way home from work with tired feet? Or, getting ready for a night on the town? Get a foot massage.

Besides meeting some people, sipping a little prosecco and nibbling on some very tasty appetizers, each person who attended the event got a free, 20-minute foot massage … which was absolutely fantastic!

I returned home later that evening with relaxed feet, thank-you cookie in hand (see above) and in a happier state than when I left. I inwardly chided myself for initially resisting the invitation. I honestly can’t imagine what my evening would have been like, had I stubbornly dug in my heels and refused my friend’s invitation.

Oh, but wait – I can.

And that has me thinking about how I should make the most of my summer.

Unlike previous years, I’m not taking a vacation anywhere. Not out of town, province or country. I’m not even really taking any vacation days – I can actually count the number on one hand (minus fractions). I’ll probably be working every weekend the entire summer.

With the weather well into double digits, the battle to balance my social life has already become more of a challenge. Because of my upside-down schedule, I’m socializing on “school nights”, when I should be sleeping, because when will I see my friends? And I don’t fully enjoy myself because I’m constantly watching the time.

Conversely, on my days off, I live almost hermit-like, because I know very few people who also have weekdays off. So most of it ends up being spent indoors, looking at other friends’ Facebook pictures of that awesome deck party they went to the weekend I was working. And then it makes me resentful, so by the time I return to work, I’ve already worked up a sulky mood to last the next four days.

So this month, my goal is to rectify this. I need to make an effort to be a little less of a sucky baby and find those friends in  similar work situations – and make the most of my “weekend”.

Go for brunch more often. Go shopping. Take a long walk somewhere. Do something I don’t normally do. Hopefully find friends who have dinner parties and deck hangouts on Monday or Tuesday nights. And just do fun summer stuff when people are stuck in their office cubicles, whining on their Facebook statuses about how they wished it was Friday.

And, while I’m at it, I need to get out of town at least once this season.

If I can do any – or all – of this, then perhaps I can successfully cling to my sanity for the long – and hopefully hot – work days of summer that lie ahead.

D’s Loquacious Late Spring Reads, 2010 Edition

Hey, kiddies. It’s been a while.

Can’t believe it’s June already! Hopefully this hot, new month will spawn some creativity that was lacking in May.

In the meantime, here are some my most recent reads:

Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

I’d heard good things about this memoir by Azar Nafisi, in which she recollects her life as a young university English professor during the Revolution in Iran.

The book certainly opened my eyes – at least, to the way she saw the events unfold around her. I liked how she paired the works by her favourite authors with anecdotes from the rapidly changing world around her – a life in which the very love for her livelihood and for English literature was threatened. I learned how it was her love of books that kept her sane.

Come to think of it, this book reinforces for me – as a lifelong reader – how astounding the power of words can be,  how books play such a huge role in regimes and periods of oppression … and how the written word seems like a threat to those who try to control.

In any case, I encourage you to give this a try, if you haven’t already.

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga

I didn’t actually plan on reading this one anytime soon, especially so soon after reading Midnight’s Children, which took me a dog’s age to finish. And after feeling disappointed, the last thing I wanted was another long, winding yarn.

But I took a chance after an impr0mptu visit to the library … and I’m so glad I did YES! THIS is what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

The White Tiger takes on the form of a very long letter to the Chinese president, from a self-made entrepreneur in Bangalore. But it’s not too long before we learn the secrets of the protagonist’s so-called success.

The book is dark, with punches of humour to match. And life portrayed in the book is rough and tough from start to finish. Is it realistic? I can only place my trust in the author that it is, to some degree.

That aside, once I started reading, I made fairly quick work of devouring The White Tiger. I highly recommend it.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

I was drawn to this book, not by anything I’d read – because I hadn’t – but simply by the cover. Who was Oscar Wao? What made his life so brief?

It literally was months before I got my grubby hands on Oscar Wao. And all I can say is, well, wow

If you like books written from a nerd’s perspective, in a sci-fi/fanboy style, complete with footnotes about Dominican history and generous helpings of Spanglish, this might be a book for you.

Oscar Wao is a thick chronicle of the de Leons,  dyfunctional Dominican-Americans with a rough family past. But a huge portion of the book is, obviously, dedicated to the title character – an obese young man with both a desire to make it as a fantasy writer … and no game whatsoever, when it comes to the opposite sex. The novel isn’t narrated by Oscar, but mostly by Yunior, a family “friend”, and some narration from other family members who give scarred flesh and bone to the family’s backstory.

Some people may not like the footnotes at the bottom of a number of the pages. But I actually found them helpful and loved the sharp style in which they were written. 

But, still. Consider giving this book a try before either putting the book down or ploughing right through it. And I hope that if you do, that you’ll end up doing the latter.

The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, Hal Niedzviecki

It’s perhaps coincidental – or uncannily relevant – that I’d just happened to complete my read of The Peep Diaries last week, amidst all this talk about Quit Facebook Day to protest the site’s new rules on privacy settings and whatnot. 

In his tome, Niedzviecki explores the realm of Peep culture – think of it as The New Voyeurism in the age of Facebook, Twitter and reality TV, amongst other things.

Through his conversations with YouTubers, bloggers, reality TV show participants, and even performing his own experiments, Niedzviecki tries to wrap his head around why people are obsessed with seeing, as well as being seen by, others. He ponders the different ways in which people watch others, whether it’s relevant, and and whether sometimes it simply crosses the line when it comes to issues of privacy … if lines can still be drawn.

Everyone’s got their own perspective on the matter, so that might colour what you think of the subject matter in Niedzviecki’s book. But if you’re like me – or the millions of other people spending hours online – it’s a good attempt at making you take a step back and soberly think about the times we live in.

Sorry this took so long to put out. I blame an enormous lack of motivation, paired with procrastination. But until I blog again, enjoy!