As part of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve vowed to read the hundreds of books I already own. Last night, I started and finished Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story by Jeanne Córdova, which I received last year courtesy of a giveaway from Danika Ellis, a book blogger who runs The Lesbrary. Córdova’s 1990 memoir is compulsively readable—I couldn’t put it down. She writes about her decision to join the convent fresh out of high school, her growing unease regarding church politics, her deep friendships with her fellow postulants and secular students alike, and, eventually, her decision to leave the novitiate. Córdova is well-known for her 2011 memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, which describes her political work and LGBTQ community organizing in the 1970s. She was a force for good in the West Coast queer community. She edited a lesbian magazine, created an LGBTQ business directory, and even organized the Gay and Lesbian caucus to the Democratic Party. Sadly, Córdova died a little more than a year ago. I wish I could have met her.
In the two years since I compiled the first installation of “The Lives of Nuns,” Autostraddle wrote about queer nuns in history, Racked shadowed (fake) nuns growing marijuana, and The Huffington Post reported on a nun’s murder and the students who want the truth. Those stories and more are included below. Seclude yourself and read. Read more…
My makeup routine is nonexistent. I wore mascara to a presentation on my birthday last week, and before that, I had my friend apply my red lipstick in an Au Bon Pain in New York City. I’m uncoordinated, anxious and fidgety—my idea of hell is eyeliner application. But I appreciate the artistry that goes into the creation and execution of gorgeous makeup. I’ve watched tutorials, and I’ve watched my friends draw wings on their faces. They enjoy it, and I am glad for them. Beauty criticism analyzes the ways we can subvert a society that would have us subsumed by self-loathing. We use the tools we’ve been given. Makeup, then, can be a weapon. And it can be damn fun. Read more…
When I was 17, in my last year of high school, I took a statistics class. Notoriously bad at math, I braced myself for a semester of angst. Instead, I found that I understood the course material, loved my classmates and had great rapport with my teacher. Encouraged, I signed up to take the Advanced Placement statistics course and corresponding exam the next semester. My parents were understandably wary; they’d witnessed a decade of temper tantrums and failed math tests. But, I stood my ground. I wanted to take this class, and I did. The class was tough, but not impossible. I passed the exam. Now, almost a decade later, this is one of my proudest moments. No one thought I could do the thing, and I did the thing anyway.
My recent fascination with hiking is ridiculous: I am an indoor kid. I love Netflix, snacks, sleeping, that Bubble Spinner game and owning a thousand books. Sweating makes me panic. I have never gone on a run for fun. I’m scared of bugs and the dark. I’ve never peed outside. What possible success could I have on the trail?
I want to prove to myself that my soft, pale, weird body can do hard things. I want to rise to the occasion of living. I want to learn to love the outdoors before I get some life-altering injury, or become too addicted to my phone, or die, or something else. I want to be able to say, I did that. I can do that, too. I am strong. I am capable. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m stable or hardy enough to learn to love hiking, but I want to give it a fair shot. I owe myself that much.
I can’t hike right now (excuses, excuses) because I’m out of town for a wedding. So I’m reading about hiking. Below are seven stories about the outdoors, outdoor apparel, hiking buddies, bodily transformation, body image, abuse and sufferfests. Read more…
It was a typically brutal Maryland summer, and I worked for a small music publishing company. I was often alone, collating or alphabetizing or organizing something, armed only with my iPod. I alternated between Belle & Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit and Keane’s first two albums. When my workday was over I’d walk the half-mile to the church on Main Street where my mom was a secretary. Or I’d go to the local library, its silence so different from the tense quiet of the publishing office. With my soundtrack, these walks became existential adventures. Even now, as I hit play on “Another Sunny Day,” I am still walking down the sidewalk, my sternum swollen with something adjacent to love.
I like thinking about this time in my life. I think I am still looking for something that feels like those walks. They felt endlessly, stupidly romantic. I didn’t need anything except a charged battery. It’s unrealistic that my entire life should feel like a two-mile radius in the town where I had a dissatisfying part-time summer job. I think what I miss is a path with a destination. Then, I could take as long as I wanted on my walk or try a different route, but I knew where I was going. I don’t know where I’m going anymore. That’s what this part of my twenties is about, and that’s okay, but it’s deeply unsettling. I’m too anxious to take in the view or to consider an alternate path. I am desperate for news of the future.
When she returned from a month-long trip, Rachel Monroe’s cat, Musa, didn’t want to be near her anymore. He avoided their apartment and stayed outdoors for long stretches of time. Distraught, Monroe did something she never thought she’d do—she called a pet psychic to see if she could repair their relationship. Read more…
Cora Harrington, bra expert behind The Lingerie Addict, has seen both sides of the issue blossom as a consumer and consultant to brands. As a black woman operating as a blogger in the lingerie industry, she has a particular investment in the success of the one brand that is producing bras for her skin color. “Fast fashion always offers a discount and it makes people think sales are the norm. There’s a secrecy in the American market: you should get whatever you want, this should be on sale, the customer is always right. That’s not the case in lingerie. Let’s stop this trend of penalizing minority businesses because they don’t have access to the same resources as majority-owned corporations. If your budget can only stretch to Target, petition Target to carry bras in a range of hues. Ask Wal-Mart to carry some brown bras. Hit up the H&M Facebook page, and start tweeting at Forever21. But while we’re being honest, let’s talk about what’s feasible for a new brand, and acknowledge the business reality that cheap bras are something only a few global conglomerates can actually afford. Independent design is a different world, and the story is so much more complex than it’s given due.”
— Beauty writer (and lover of lingerie) Arabelle Sicardi writes at Racked about the small, independent designers and boutiques struggling to provide quality underthings in the face of climbing costs and customer entitlement.
Don’t call them alternative: Missy Suicide carved out a niche online for “the sexiest, smartest, most dangerous collection of outsider women in the world”:
She called the site Suicide Girls: “I hated the word alternative. Nobody lived in these John Hughes compartmentalized sects of people anymore, with the squares and the punks and the goths. I felt like alternative was the worst — like, alt to what?” She adopted the phrase “suicide girls” from Chuck Palahniuk’s book Survivor, where it’s used to describe “girls who chose to commit social suicide by not fitting in.”
Photo sets are the site’s centerpiece and consist of anywhere from 40 to 60 photographs. They must start with the model fully clothed and end with them fully nude; nudity begins in the first third of the set. Sets have to be consistent, with the same location and concept throughout. But what makes them particularly unique is that the models, not the photographers, are the ones quite literally calling the shots.
“I used to say we had a thousand applications a month,” says Missy, “but about six months ago I asked if that was still right and was told it’s actually 25,000 a year. Just the other day, I heard it’s about 30,000 now.”
In “Kay, Zales, and Marketing Diamonds to the Middle-Class Man”—a recent feature for Racked—Chavie Lieber wrote about Signet Jewelers, the parent company that owns such household names as Kay Jewelers, Jared, and Zales. Signet became the largest specialty jewelry company in America by targeting the midmarket jewelry segment, knowing their customer base, and doing some serious marketing. Trust also plays a major role in jewelry purchases, and Signet has honed customer trust via an unlikely strategy: store location.
Location is another incredibly important factor in the company’s success, says Angie Ash, executive vice president of jewelry marketing firm Fruchtman Marketing. Stores for Signet’s three largest brands (Kay, Jared, and Zales, which make up 41, 21, and 14 percent of the brand’s sales, respectively) are strategically placed. Most Kay and Zales storefronts are located in suburban malls populated with shoppers, while Jared storefronts are “normally free-standing sites with high visibility and traffic flow, positioned close to major roads within shopping developments,” as per the company’s 2015 annual report.
This emphasis on location not only correlates to sales, it also helps build brand recognition among shoppers.
Echoes Ash, “A customer that walks past the same mall jewelry brand every single week is going to eventually feel comfortable enough going when he’s ready to buy something. These mall jewelers also don’t have many barriers. They are an open storefront where people can go right up there and talk to an employee. In most cases, they also have price tags so shoppers can easily look at the items and see what they can afford.”
The company is meticulous when it comes to product development, particularly for the BeForever line. “It takes about three years to launch a new character because you do a lot of research,” explains Opland. The BeForever books tackle a range of difficult issues—Addy Walker is an escaped slave, Samantha speaks out against child labor—and so American Girl enlists historians, museum curators, and linguists to carefully craft each character’s narrative. Research trips are taken (to Santa Fe for Josefina, New York’s Lower East Side for Rebecca) and advisory committees are formed.
In the case of Kaya, a nine-year-old Native American girl in the Northwest, American Girl worked with the Nez Perce tribe to ensure that her story, as well as her appearance, were as authentic as possible. As a result, she’s the only American Girl doll without her two front teeth showing; the tribe explained that Kaya would have never shown her teeth like that, as it’s considered a sign of aggression in the Nez Perce culture. They ensured that everything from the positioning of her braids to the patterns on her “pow-wow outfit” were historically accurate. A visit to the Rocky Mountains’ Lolo Trail also contributed to the development process.
In the credit card blogging community, the main objective is to amass travel rewards. Consumers can opt for other alternatives, like receiving cash back or purchasing gadgets from their credit card company’s overpriced catalog, but rewards tend to weigh out in favor of travel perks. The value of a first class ticket to Seoul on Korean Air, for example, is $13,000, but can be bought with 160,000 miles—miles that can be earned with a few of the right credit cards.
Most credit card obsessives align the hobby with a love of travel; they tend to suffer from strong cases of wanderlust or want to see family living abroad. As Emily Jablon, who runs the blog Million Mile Secrets with her husband Daraius Dubash, puts it, “We’re able to travel to places we’d never have gone otherwise, and we’re making memories that will last a lifetime. We’ve taken my parents on a world trip, we visited my grandmother in Florida before she passed away. Just in the last two years, we’ve gone on $220,000 worth of trips and we didn’t pay anywhere close to that out of pocket.”
— At Racked, Chavie Lieber investigates the dedicated—obsessive?—credit card users who rack up millions of points and thousands of dollars to travel first-class and score the best deals, as well as their busy, blogging mentors.