Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Uniqlo-clad poorhouse

Isn't it sad when a new mother has to pay her nanny (wild how nannies expect payment), and the nanny budget dips into the designer-clothing one, and she's forced to wear Uniqlo and J.Crew? Except... is that even the takeaway of this hard-to-interpret Vogue essay?

In one sense, it's a straightforward tiny-violins plight, complete with the requisite gesture acknowledging the far greater "sacrifices made by less well-advantaged moms in New York City, and across the country." In other countries as well, even, but I guess this was U.S. Vogue, so. As someone whose baseline apparently tragic existence involves a more restrained approach to shopping than the author's crisis-budget one, I should roll my eyes, right? But, in another sense... I don't work in fashion! No one expects me to go beyond circa-2009 Uniqlo! (But oh, I do go beyond it. There's some 2018 Uniqlo in there as well.) The author is in a different situation:

It’s not like I had a wardrobe allowance before the baby, and I wasn’t an influencer receiving bags of free stuff. ... The nanny budget made me feel shabby, especially during Fashion Week, when the unspoken dress code is in-season only and other women in my sphere show up in new outfits that easily tally up in the high four figures. Daily. 
So... maybe the issue isn't so much that she, Woman Clothes-Shopper, simply couldn't resist the latest thing, but that hunting down and purchasing the latest thing - sans reimbursement - is a requirement in that industry? Maybe the problem is an industry where a designer wardrobe is expected, but some entity other than one's employer (i.e., independent wealth, or credit-card debt) is expected to pay for it? A problem both for socioeconomic-representation-type reasons, and for industry workers themselves, who are maybe sort of taught to believe that the thing they have to do for work is actually just a frivolous craving they ought to suppress. It's an extreme version of the gendered thing where a woman can feel guilty for spending that she'd also feel guilty not doing. (We have seen this before.)

Which gets, tangentially, at the second question the essay left me with, inspired by this sentence: "We were about 1 percent shy of the 1 percent and we were broke." If that's indeed the case, and this "we" involves a husband as well, and the wife's job is fashion editorial which probably pays OK but probably not 2%-income-level OK, then... what was the husband spending? Was this genuinely that the wife's clothes-shopping — again, a requirement of sorts for her job — got out of hand? (Was she buying Manafort coats?) The clothes, that is, plus some car payments she mentions, which, again, for people that rich, would be negligible? Or is it possible, given the scale of all this, that he was maybe also overspending, and maybe... by quite a bit?

Or! Was this one of those cases where a childcare budget is viewed as coming from the woman's income? That sort of seems to have been the case, because the sentence, "My husband and I pooled our funds and paid her for that week," comes only after she has insufficient funds of her own money to pay (cash, which is another story...) her nanny's wages. 

Sure, I want to praise the author for resisting overshare, and for not spilling what could be potentially quite dirty familial laundry. But in restricting the story to one her own clothes-shopping habits, the author winds up telling a story that both reinforces clichéd notions of what overspending looks like, and that somehow feels as if it's missing key pieces.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Maternity garb, Part III: for when you're a sphere

As best as I can tell, pregnancy has two phases: the bit where it's hard to know if the whole thing is real, and the one where it's this tremendous effort to get out of bed or off the couch or out of a chair, can't bend over, can't go more than two hours without eating, can't bear the oppressive heat of weather over 65F, and pregnancy feels not only real but eternal. I've gone from not entirely believing I was pregnant to not remembering what it felt like not to be.

This second phase seems to coincide with passersby noting my sphericalness, and accurately noting the cause. It's hard for me to criticize them for this, as the interest has been manifesting itself mainly as concern: the man in the supermarket warning me not to slip on some spilled bulk red lentils.... because. Or the pastry-shop barista glancing at my midsection, then alerting me to the fact that their cappuccino normally comes with two shots of espresso. (I avoided the slippery lentils, and requested a cappuccino with one shot, all the while realizing every other espresso-based coffee out I've been having — not many, but not none — has probably had two.) Concern, or congratulations, sometimes with an "is this your first?", a friendly, small-talk question I don't blame anyone for asking, but one that nevertheless serves as a reminder that I am in fact 10,000 years old. I have yet to be criticized for Doing X While Pregnant, but this could well be because I don't do anything remotely interesting, unless going to a supermarket that sells bulk lentils counts.

But back to the theme of this series: shopping. Parts I and II addressed the question of what to wear when nothing fits. This, the third installment, is about when nothing fits, and you're also incredibly sweaty and uncomfortable. Here's what seems to be working:

-Men's t-shirts. All-cotton, and the cheaper the better. These will do; bought them in black and white, and they seem to shrink nicely but not excessively in the dryer. The main thing is for t-shirts to be long enough. That and not to wear existing now-far-too-tight ones, even if they do kind of fit (as in, are long enough), because "kind of" isn't cutting it, not for the sweat situation.

-The more tent-like of cotton t-shirt dresses. This seemed expensive for what it is but was very much worth it.

-Slip-on shoes. If you can't bend over, laced sneakers are tricky, although I have a pair of running-turned-regular sneakers that can kind of function as slip-ons. Mainly, though, it's either the Birkenstocks or the mules. The plan for colder weather: slip-on Frye boots from 2011, which I've already had re-heeled and de-salted in anticipation.

-Shameful but true: the NYMag recommended Lululemon Align leggings. The cropped in navy, and the full-length (or in my case, "7/8" length) in black. In retrospect I should have just gotten the full-length black ones, since every time it's been too warm for long leggings, cropped have been a bad idea in that regard as well. I did not need two pairs of these.

And here's what hasn't worked, or has proven more daunting:

-Painter's overalls. I don't know. I had this fantasy of finding the (white, industrial) overalls worn by some patissier contestants in a French professional-baking competition, but hadn't quite thought this through, and will be learning how one returns this from non-Amazon Amazon dealers. (They're both enormous and too-small, with an extra added bit of ill-fitting in the chest area.) Because I live in hope, and because they were at last reduced into the cheap-rather-than-moderate threshold, I have gone and ordered a pair of white actually-maternity overalls from an Etsy seller in Latvia. 

-Sweaters? Some blips of slightly cooler weather alerted me to the fact that my maternity garb is all summer-wear, which, living in Toronto, may pose a problem. Of my existing sweaters, a couple seem like they sort of fit now, which means who knows re: a month from now, while the rest either don't or aren't even worth trying.

The wide world of sweaters I don't already own has proven tricky. I became fixated on the notion of a drapey sweater that doesn't close, thereby eliminating size concerns. This led me to a weekend-long (well, part of the weekend) quest to track down the (absurdly-named) Diderot sweater at Aritzia. Sold out! Oh no! Except in the branch where they still had it, and it was... not an attractive garment, at least not once on. It's one of those things where it's not entirely clear how it's meant to be worn. A similarly spacious wrap sweater at the same store was a whole lot better but also $178 (!!!) which is unfathomably more than I'd spend on a regular sweater so definitely not in the cards where maternity's concerned. Then there was the actual maternity store in the mall, which... doesn't really sell sweaters?, but which did have some impressively hideous fitted-track-suit-jacket-type things.

Anyway. I wound up with this, from a millennial-oriented concept shop of all places, because the garment is unquestionably big/long enough, and is sort of pretty maybe?, and because $40 is not $178.

-Baby stuff? This has involved a lot of browsing but, as yet, no purchasing.

-A two-bedroom apartment? This too has involved much browsing but no purchasing.

Friday, August 03, 2018

'Better not risk it'

Sorry, dear reader(s), but I remain fixated on the bonkers Twitter response to the news story of the pregnant woman who got served cleaning solution instead of the latte she'd ordered at McDonald's. I shouldn't, really, when the entire "story," such as it is, is that three (at least; didn't comb through all of it) people/bots in a substantial Twitter thread objected not to the poison served to this woman, but to her decision to go into McDonald's and order a latte in the first place.

Typing this, I realize it's not self-evident what the issue was. Was it that lattes aren't a choice classically associated with McDonald's? No! It was that pregnant women — according to some tweeterers not up on what medical guidelines actually are about this — shouldn't be drinking coffee. For the link-non-clickers: the guidelines are basically, don't drink coffee like it's water, but a coffee or two is fine. It just doesn't feel as if it should be. Why?

What kept coming to mind when overanalyzing this is what would have happened had this woman been served cleaning solution not in a McDonald's latte guise, but at one of those millennial-plant-filled, Instagrammable juice bars. Juice, so evocative of health and purity! Cold-pressed, of course. Except here's the fun thing: unpasteurized but prepared juice is one of the many (, many, many) otherwise consumable items that are fully off-limits to The Pregnant. It feels as if it would be fine, advisable, even. What could look more wholesome than a fresh glass of (green, perhaps) juice? And yet, the latte was (in principle; not that specific latte, clearly) the better choice.

In the great Before, I'd known that pregnant women couldn't have sushi. (Which may not even be the case anymore in the US, but still is in Canada; as compensation, we don't have to give a moment's thought to paying for maternity care or childbirth.) Ha! It is not only sushi. It's basically a full-on impaired-immune-system diet (no runny eggs, dubious leftovers, etc.), with the added twist that certain otherwise-whatever toxins are deadly to fetuses. Cold cuts, undercooked meat or seafood (or fully cooked fish, if it's the mercury-dense kind), any remotely decent cheese, lox, it's all a disaster waiting to happen.

At which your impulse might well be to go vegetarian, or maybe even vegan, just to simplify matters, and given that all the fun non-vegan foods are out. But that's not ideal, either, since you need to get enough protein, not just regular-person enough but even more. That, and salad is also suspect. If you don't know where it's been or whatever, it crosses over into one of those foods. Not least with romaine lettuce regularly swinging between acceptable salad green and bacterial sewer to be avoided at all costs. Eat vegetables! Just not those vegetables, or those, and oh, maybe not those either. And carbs are good! Just make sure you're having multigrain everything, and not too much sugar (she types, looking down at her almond croissant), because you want to gain weight but not too much, and gestational diabetes could be around the corner.

I read Emily Oster's Expecting Better and nodded along in theory to the idea that what matters is actual risk, while at the same time thinking if even minor risk can be avoided, now's really the time. I went into... this entirely prepared to make all the sacrifices. What's nine months? My lifestyle at 34 didn't require any major adjustments (the upside to losing one's alcohol tolerance around 30), and I mostly eat the vegetarian sushi anyway. I didn't (and don't!) find it all that infantilizing if, for actual medical reasons, I'd have to consume a bit more like, well, a child.

What I wasn't prepared for was the system of rules, akin to kashrut or extreme "clean" eating, that came with. Basically anything you haven't prepared yourself is dangerous, because who knows what's in anything? All sorts of seemingly innocuous foods could have secret raw eggs, secret alcohol. I find myself standing at the cheese section of the supermarket, Borat-style, trying to make sense of which cheeses would be acceptable. Confusingly, the hard cheeses are often raw-milk, while the ones with the reassuring "pasteurized" label are often the soft-rind, forbidden variety.

Not drinking, fine. Not ordering the beef tartare that I wasn't going to order anyway, also fine. But where was the option that didn't involve turning every meal into a research project, and at a time when one is meant to be getting enough nutrients? This is an approach that, as a matter of principle, I object to in my regular life, but that here struck me as all-out dangerous.

And add to this the expectation that all women open to the possibility of becoming pregnant act as though they already were, and not just basic stuff like taking folic acid or not smoking, but, apparently, giving up pizza, because god forbid an actually pregnant woman ate garbage like that. So yeah, while I didn't immediately, I now get why the purity requirements grate, and why Oster's book has such a passionate following. It's not, as I first skeptically imagined, that everyone just wants an excuse to drink. It's not even about that, really. Where everything is risk, and still more things feel as if they would be, there's no obvious 'safest not to risk it' option.

So I do what I guess everyone does, in one way or another: I draw my own lines. Alcohol is out, because I can give or take its presence in my life. Max one coffee a day is in, and is the main hope for me consuming the recommended amount of milk. There's enough that's necessary that I find it hard to convince myself to sign on to the things that merely feel as if they might be. That means the whole organic thing is one I'm giving a pass. (If the organic fruit's the one that looks vastly better, it's what I may go with, price depending, same as before.) I'm not picking now as the moment to start on the apparently effective retinol-based anti-wrinkle creams, since retinol's in the Actually A Problem pile, but have not combed through my existing makeup, tossing anything with parabens. I've very nobly held back from getting a gel manicure, something I'd been contemplating but too frugal-squeamish to get Before, but did get highlights in my hair, which, like coffee, appears to fall into the seems-like-it-should-be-a-problem-but-isn't pile.

Put another way: There are so, so many ways, at every stage of the process, for things to go wrong, and for no known or controllable reason. My understanding of this daunting reality does not make me want to grab pseudocontrol via pseudoscience. On the contrary, it makes me a little bit more live-and-let-live, which honestly, in my sober and cheese-researching state, can't hurt.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Women: never the right age, and always shopping all wrong

-When I see Catherine Nichols has a new piece out, I always click, but I especially recommend her latest for Jezebel, about "dead girl" narratives supplanting romantic comedies. The argument itself is compelling (read it!), but it's the rom-com part I seem to have honed in on:

This is the post-pill chick-lit situation: a young woman’s life is not like her mother’s specifically because she can have a job and she can move to the city and have fun with her own money. On the other hand, even with access to this realm of dignity that was, until recently, only for men, she has a new indignity of having to persuade one of her shitty boyfriends to marry her before she runs out of eggs. She’s stuck in this neo-Victorian position of having to advocate for the hearth and home—for family, commitment, cooperation, children—when the promise of the Pill was that she could have other priorities.
This is something I've also written about, from a different (and less precise, I'm now realizing; it really is about the pill!) angle. There's this false feminism of a society that presents women's professional options as infinite, except for the small matter of, the options are to stop abruptly at The Age (exact age varies by region/subculture), at which point pre-feminist requirements not only surface, but get treated as an emergency situation. Meanwhile a woman who sees what's on the horizon and leans out, even marginally, before reaching The Age, is viewed as a regressive throwback, all for doing precisely what would have been demanded of her, from the very same milieu, five minutes later. Women can find themselves in the wrong for being ambitious or insufficiently so, if they don't get their timing just right.

The line that most struck me in Nichols's article was one about women "frustrated or humiliated by the need to find a man to marry before she runs out of fertile years—or, even if she doesn’t want children, fertile-looking years." That second part especially. If a woman does wish to have biological children, then yes, this means accepting that female fertility... is what it is. But this isn't every woman's goal, or priority. Yet all straight women are meant to treat various ages as deadlines, and, I guess, to ignore the fact that people of all ages pair off.

-I'll also belatedly WWPD-plug my first-ever piece for Refinery29! It's ostensibly about a Money Diaries column, from a wealthy 21-year-old student and intern, that went viral. But it's more generally about the temptation to view "privilege" as young women consuming (often fairly mundane, affordable) things, and to ignore the larger-scale (if less tangible) forms of privilege experienced by, oh, certain middle-aged men, many of whom (as several responding to my piece pointed out!) don't even know how much their day-to-day expenditures amount to, because someone else (a wife, say) is handling those trivial matters. Why — I continue to wonder (rhetorically) — do we not hear about how men feel about what they spent on each salad or taxi? Why indeed.

It's not that men can't make the news for materialism or aloofness. It just takes a wildly different threshold. It needs to be Paul Manafort, with his allegedly shadily-purchased $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket. Or Trump not knowing how grocery-shopping works. Meanwhile a woman can scandalize by spending $15 on takeout, or by buying groceries that aren't the absolute cheapest (or, conversely, on those that are; does she think about where her family's food comes from??), or by getting a latte at McDonalds.