Embracing a Full Mastectomy

After years of fearing the worst, culminating in a diagnosis of breast cancer, Michelle Cottle says, “Good riddance, girls.” In fact, she calls removing her breasts the culmination of a wish.

Sexy Feminism Excerpt: Feminist Beauty Companies

To celebrate the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible! 

Consider these feminist-minded companies the next time you need to  stock up on your favorite products.

PeaceKeeper Cause-Metics: Founded on the principles of nonviolence and truthfulness, this company gives all of its after-tax distributable profits to charities that support women’s health and human rights. It  sells only products that come from companies that practice fair labor policies and do not test on animals: Iamapeacekeeper.com.

MAC: A favorite of stage actors and drag queens, MAC launched its line of VIVA Glam lipsticks and lip-glosses in 1994 to contribute to HIV/AIDS research and treatment. The MAC AIDS Fund has raised more than $250 million worldwide through sales of VIVA Glam products, which are often endorsed by sexy feminists such as Christina Aguilera, Cyndi Lauper, Mary J. Blige, and Lady Gaga. The lipsticks are freaking gorgeous and they last longer than most. So splurge—and save lives: Maccosmetics.com.

The Body Shop:Long gone are the days of hemp oils and patchouli perfumes (though you can still get those here). The Body Shop has a complete modern line of face, body, and beauty products—from mango body butter to mineral makeup—all derived from natural ingredients and sourced from communities around the world to help sustain them. The company also has active campaigns to stop sex trafficking and domestic violence and to raise awareness of global HIV/AIDS: Thebodyshop-usa.com.

Pre-order your copy of Sexy Feminism today!

Sexy Feminism Excerpt: Plastic Surgery — Can You?

Leading up to the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, on March 12, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible! Here, a portion of our chapter, “Plastic Surgery: Can You?” 

In May 2011, a young mother sat down for a TV interview to defend giving her eight-year-old daughter regular Botox injections. She said it was the edge her girl needed on the ultra-competitive beauty-pageant circuit. Those mussy lines on her face just wouldn’t do. According to her mom, this eight-year-old’s lips were too weak as well, so she added Restylane injections to the child’s regular beauty routine, which also included spray tanning, teeth whitening, and virgin waxing—waxing the child’s body (legs, arms, armpits, labia) to permanently prevent hair growth. (See chapter 2 for more on that.) In June of the same year, the mother of a seven-year-old embarked on her own media tour to defend a gift she’d recently given her daughter: an IOU for breast implants.

Weird plastic-surgery stories are nothing new. For decades, there have been tales of “cat women,” women so addicted to plastic surgery that they’ve erased the humanity from their features. But at least these are grown women making choices—choices that have feminist consequences, and we’ll get to those in a bit. But little girls don’t know their faces have lines, that body hair is ugly, or that their breasts will be inadequate unless someone  feeds them this message. What have we done to women that their idea of beautiful is so twisted it  causes them to subject their children to needles and scalpels? Alas, dads are doing it too. In a 2011 episode of the talk show Anderson, a male plastic surgeon defended giving his teenage daughter breast implants and a nose job. Sigh.

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Sexy Feminism Excerpt: Making Over Feminism

To celebrate the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible! 

Expression through makeup can be exhilarating. “One of the things that defines us as women in a positive way is we get to enjoy the colorful aesthetic—and the fun—of beauty,” says Vivian Diller, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change and What to Do About It.

The millions of products on the market today mask imperfections, smell delicious, and make us sparkle, and on top of that, they’re literally playthings—eye-shadow palettes in gorgeous cases with rhinestones; lip-gloss samplers in a rainbow of shades and flavors; bronzers with retractable brushes; nail polish in hologram hues … These items have become our favorite accessories, and with them we can paint our own identities and assert our uniqueness. They allow us to express our internal selves to the world just the way we want to or  change the way people see us with the stroke of an eyeliner pencil. Just ask trans women, many of whom have mastered this easy, accessible method of self-expression.

Buying makeup can also be a feminist act if you support the right businesses. It’s one of the few industries largely populated by female entrepreneurs. Most businesses that became beauty powerhouses were founded in the kitchens of women and turned into international corporations. Estée Lauder, Mary Kay, Avon, Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden, and Madame C. J. Walker still dominate the $10-billion-a-year industry nearly a century after the companies were founded. Though men now run many of these corporations—still, sadly, how business goes—women are often the pioneers, and the revolutionaries. Just a few of them:

  • In 1968, magazine editor Carol Phillips consulted with Park Avenue dermatologist Dr. Norman Orentreich for a Vogue article entitled “Can Great Skin Be Created?” The article caught the attention of Estée Lauder, and Phillips was brought on board to help create the first dermatologist-developed skin-care line: Clinique.
  • Bobbi Brown founded her makeup and skin-care line in 1991 on an aesthetic that’s pretty darn feminist: enhancing—never masking—a woman’s natural features. Her muted skin-tone-based cosmetics and bestselling books and web tutorials taught millions of women how to apply makeup correctly (trust us, we weren’t doing it right before) and master the art of “less is more.” She was also one of the first to use African American models regularly in makeup ads and show them as brides, a practice until then unheard of even in the late twentieth  century.
  • Leslie Blodgett became CEO of a small company called Bare Escentuals in 1994. (It didn’t hit QVC and every woman’s makeup bag till the late 1990s.) The mineral-based line that addresses problem skin made headlines:  Blodgett was committed to having real women represent the brand, and she hit the road to recruit American women throughout the United States. The ads featuring average Janes across the country helped create trust and loyalty for the brand.
  • Maureen Kelly was a mom who wanted better makeup—chemical-free, easy to use, and cool-looking—when she founded Tarte Cosmetics in 1999. It’s now one of the fastest-growing brands in the business and donates part of its proceeds to charity.

Sexy Feminism Excerpt: What Cosmetic Surgery Really Means

Leading up to the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, on March 12, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible! Here, a portion of our chapter, “Plastic Surgery: Can You?” 

Extreme cosmetic procedures also happen to be a serious threat to  health. To understand why plastic surgery is a feminist issue, we need to look at what it is—the ugly, bloody details. Imagery surrounding plastic surgery more often than not focuses on the “after.” Women showcasing smooth, tight new parts are shown smiling and dancing, usually on a beach. The reality of what they must endure to achieve the end result of smoother, tighter, younger (and happier?) are details usually confined to the doctor’s office. Here’s what the most popular procedures entail:


What it is: The good old-fashioned nose job is now so common, it’s often used as a comedic aside in film, TV, and standup acts—and the butt of the joke is always a woman. Remember poor Jennifer Grey’s ribbing and effective ousting from the entertainment industry after she got the nose her agents and managers no doubt talked her into? Here’s what they’re laughing at: After the patient is sedated, her nose is cut free from the cartilage so doctors can get to work sawing and hammering it into a new shape. Advertised recovery time is a few weeks, but most cases require six months to a year, and often a follow-up procedure is necessary to fix any imperfections or complications—including infections, blockages, and trouble breathing.

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Sexy Feminism Excerpt: What I Learned From a Laser Facial Peel

Leading up to the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, on March 12, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible! Here, Jennifer’s “Feminist Confession” about trying a laser peel, one of the most popular cosmetic procedures available.

I spent years with a laser facial treatment on my wish list, but it remained far from possible for most of my twenties and thirties, thanks to the prohibitive $2,000 cost. But when I got my first book deal while I was still working at a well-paying full-time job, I found myself flush with disposable income. Regular taxis, luxurious dinners out, and overpriced designer jeans became part of my new reality, and I decided I would also choose one big-ticket indulgence before socking the rest of my newfound money away in my savings account. The winner was a laser treatment to smooth away the evidence of hard-fought battles with terrible teen acne.

I have a fancy dermatologist, the kind who’s quoted regularly in women’s magazines and who’s worth the hour-plus trip on the subway from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, so I wasn’t worried about safety. The nurse who handles the outpatient cosmetic procedures at the office told me to expect some discomfort. She also advised me to take a few days to a week off work for recovery,  because my face would be a little red, “like a sunburn”—a mantra everyone in the office would repeat often throughout the process. I’ve had sunburn. I could live with that.

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The Debate Over Makeup: Why Can’t Guys Play Too?

The New York Times‘ always-fun “Room for Debate” has a bunch of folks weighing in on whether makeup helps or hurts women, essentially, in the slog toward equality. It’s a topic dear to us — a plank in our founding, really. The debate at the core of this site has always been whether we’re “allowed” to love traditionally feminine things, as well as men, and remain true to our feminism. We’ve always argued that we are. That, in fact, as long as we’re armed with awareness and education, history and intellect, we can rack up points on the Sephora card, love men or women of our choice, and express ourselves through fashion. As long as what we’re doing doesn’t contribute toward oppressing either ourselves or others, we should have the freedom to do as we please.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s kinda sad for guys that they can’t wear makeup in most mainstream social circumstances without being suspect? (“Suspect,” of course, in a variety of ways, depending on the perspective of those around them.) I remember it being a bit of a revelation to me the day in high school when it dawned on me that I could cover up my zits but boys with the same skin problems mostly chose to display their blemishes in all their glory. That’s fine, of course, but some of them might have wanted to dab a little concealer on — I say they should be able to without worrying what others will think of their wearing “makeup.” (And at my Midwestern high school in the late ’80s/early ’90s, this still would’ve been a problem.) I think guyliner is sexy, but most men never even consider it. (Granted, I happen to like the kind of guys who’d wear eyeliner, which is part of it — they’re sexy because they have the confidence in their sexuality to pull it off. Also, rock ‘n’ roll. Pete Wentz, I miss you.) My brother, who is a rock star and a half even on the most normal day, wears lipstick when he performs with his glam-punk band, and I have never heard one person say anything about him except that he’s the coolest person they’ve ever met. I’m still not sure if I’m cool enough to hang out with him, but he’s forced to let me, because of family.

Perhaps more to the point, I adore using makeup myself. And despite having read stacks of feminist texts, I can’t think of one damn reason that’s bad for me or women. Ancillary effects can be harmful: The cosmetics industry needs to clean itself up and stop putting poisons in our products, and stop beating up our body images. But the act of wearing makeup, for me, is a huge part of my self expression. My go-to smoky eyes convey my rock and roll spirit; my recent forays into nearly-naked eyes with red lips make me feel glamorous and grown-up. I don’t feel like I need to wear makeup, and that, girls, is simply a matter of confidence that took until very recently to develop. But I want to — it’s a fun indulgence of my privileged life that I don’t want to give up. And as we tell you in more detail in our upcoming book, Sexy Feminism, the history of makeup is full of women using the stuff to empower themselves and fight oppression.

So when it comes to makeup, I say: Why can’t everyone play? Look into the brands you’re wearing; pick the ones that don’t poison or oppress; and have a great time.

Sexy Feminists Read: ‘Airbrushed Nation: The Lure & Loathing of Women’s Magazines’

We’re sometimes-proud, sometimes-guilty junkies of women’s magazines, so we couldn’t wait to get our hands on Jennifer Nelson’s new book Airbrushed Nation, in which she gives Glamour, Cosmo, et. al. a critical once-over. We talked to Nelson about the good, the bad, the unrealistic, and the terrifying behind the glossies that rule so many women’s lives.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about women’s magazines in researching this book?

I’d have to say what was most surprising was how I hadn’t even noticed that every topic was approached from a “women aren’t good enough as is” mantra. All the articles from relationship pieces to sex tips to dieting, beauty, aging, even health and money stories are approached as though women need to fix something about themselves, or everything about themselves. This is very different than how men’s magazines approach their stories. There, they think men are just glorious as they are, and they simply offer up articles to inspire, inform, provide humor, or entertain them. Women’s magazines call their books “service,” which is supposed to mean that the stories provide advice and a take away for everything you read, but service has really become another word for makeover.

Why is it so important to look at what women’s magazines are doing? Does anyone take them seriously anyway?

Well, yes actually, that’s the problem—women are taking them seriously apparently. Research has found that after one to three minutes of paging through a chick slick, women feel worse about themselves than they already did. And that three quarters of the cover lines on these magazines provide at least one message about altering your body via beauty products, dieting, exercise or cosmetic surgery. That’s a lot of negative messaging women absorb for simply
browsing through the silky pages. Young women and girls seem to be most affected but that’s where it starts—when we’re young. No matter which magazine you read from Seventeen to Good Housekeeping, typically thought of for older women, the message is the same, the mantra that we’re not good enough and that every photo needs to be airbrushed is drilled into our psyche from the teen years and beyond.

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Discovering the Cure to Aging Anxiety

We had just been chastised to keep our voices down—this was, after all, a meditation retreat, and we were supposed to be in silence. But my roommates, two 60-something women named Joan and Linda, and I were amped up on late-night (in this context, that’s about 9 p.m.) girl talk. And I was about to receive the most profound insight I would all week, not from the six hours of meditation we did every day, nor from the spiritually rich talks the teachers would give. In fact, what my roommate, Joan, said next counts as one of the great insights of my life. “Jennifer, just wait until you get old,” she said. “Spending a thousand dollars on a Tempurpedic bed is no longer an indulgence, it’s a medical necessity. Getting old is the best!”

She said this without a hint of exhaustion, self-pity, or irony. I thought: She’s right. I can’t wait to get old! And the reason for that went beyond that moment, beyond a Tempurpedic bed—even though I covet that marshmallowy mattress. For the previous few years, I’d been coming to terms with the reality of aging. As I talked to Joan and Linda, however, I realized that perhaps I finally had come to terms with it, and the way I had done it was shockingly simple and inexpensive. As 9 million people underwent cosmetic procedures last year, I did something else. I hung out with older women.

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The Sexy Feminist Lingerie List

I’ve written before about how the right underthings can make a woman feel confident, sexy and invincible. But it’s also important for us to purchase our lingerie from the right places. A hot pink bra with black lace panties have a way of losing their feminist power if they’re acquired from a company that puts commercialism above all else—including, apparently, the common sense to not be blatantly racist in its campaigns.

Victoria’s Secret’s latest collection called Sexy Little Geisha was quickly pulled from its inventory after immediate, widespread backlash. And for good reason. The “cat woman” image of Asian women basically reduces them to sexual fetish objects (and, sadly, this stereotype is still quite prevalent in popular culture). Dear VS: Women don’t want to be angles, sexy school girls or wear bras with diamonds on them or thongs with chain metal g-strings. They just want underwear that works.

In our forthcoming book, Sexy Feminism, the editors of this website discuss in length the empowering nature of women’s clothing and lingerie. The next time you’re due for a new bra or want to spice up your sex life with a hot new underthing, shop consciously. Here are some brands that get our stamp of approval:

Betsey Johnson. She’s about the coolest lady in fashion,  period. Unapologetic for her sexy-ragamuffin style, BJ has become a fetish brand and a female businesswoman to admire. Her bras, quite simply, get the job done. With underwire that encases the whole breast (none of that tissue-stabbing demi-shaped nonsense), fabrics that conceal and protect, and adorable details, it’s clear these items are crafted as impeccably as Betsey Johnson couture.

Stella McCartney. She’s the daughter of music royalty but has become an empire of her own. Stella founded her brand on principles that protect the earth, and all of its inhabitants—from animals to garment workers. These ideals extend to her swoon-worthy lingerie collection.

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