Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oscar fashion 2012: Yawn

Rooney Mara looked like the girl with the dragon tattoo who cleaned herself up
to walk down the Red Carpet. Perhaps a departure from her film character
would have been more original? (Illustration: Alice X. Zhang)

So the Oscars is supposed to be the Super Bowl of fashion, right? Well, this year there were no touchdowns. In fact, I think it was one of the most boring displays of Oscar fashion ever. Everyone played it safe. And you know what they say: No risk, no glory. 

I certainly don't claim to be a fashion expert. But as a lover of clothes, shoes, jewels and anything beautiful to the eye (give me glitter, shimmer, sparkle, shine!), I appreciate when a woman puts some effort and inspiration into what she wears. 

"Go for the gold!" is what this year's biggest Oscar fashion offenders must have thought when they picked their gowns. See Stacy Keibler's liquid-gold Marchesa dress, for example: 

"I'm not going home with an Oscar," perhaps Miss Keibler thought to herself. "So I might as well look like one." The former WWE wrestler has a sweet, beautiful face and a killer body. I think she would have looked fantastic in this lavender Nina Ricci number:


And what about Meryl Streep, who took home the Oscar for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady:

Ugh. It looks like tacky gold drapes from a tacky hotel room in Vegas. Sorry Meryl. I love you, but this Lanvin frock has gotta go. I would have dressed you in this gorgeous, beaded gown from Valentino (but without the see-through sheer aspect):

OK, onto Jessica Chastain. 

There's just too much going on in this Alexander McQueen gown. Yes, I appreciate the hand-embroidery. But somehow, the colors don't look right on Jessica. I think the red-headed actress would have looked fabulous in this shimmery green dress by Elie Saab, don't you?

Now, what's not to love about Sandra Bullock? And her choices in Oscar dresses are usually spot-on. But this year, I'm sorry to say that everything about her Marchesa gown was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Ill-fitting and too boxy on top. And again, what's up with the Caesar's Palace gold leafing? Yuck. Sandra, let's try something like this next year (from the Giorgio Armani Spring 2012 collection):

Emma Stone went from up-and-coming starlet to full-force fashionista. But I'm not convinced she lived up to her reputation in this Giambattista Valli creation:

The deep red color is gorgeous. But that bow! The bow is wearing her. She looks like a Christmas present. My pick? This beautiful mustard-yellow gown by Elie Saab:

You probably didn't see Miley Cyrus' red carpet entrance. And for good reason:

The girl is only 19, yet this Roberto Cavalli dress makes her look matronly. Perhaps the Disney darling was hoping to channel an Old Hollywood vibe. But unfortunately, she just looks old. The color is drab and the embroidery looks like cheesy applique. A woman on the verge of her 20s should have more fun at the Oscars (Gucci Spring 2012, for example):

Speaking of having fun, I usually can't wait to see what Zoe Saldana wears to any awards function. She's gorgeous, smart and fierce. This Oscar choice (Marios Schwab), however, was anything but gorgeous, smart or fierce:

The dress is just weird. It wants to be a gown, but had second thoughts and decided to be a shift. And the Swarovski accents on her hips look like claws coming out of her pockets. I would have much preferred this Oscar at the Oscars (Oscar de la Renta Spring 2012 collection):

And lastly, Berenice Bejo. I absolutely hated this sea-foam green beaded dress by Elie Saab:

That color is awful and it makes her skin look orange. Like she got a fake tan right before walking the red carpet. Perhaps this Vera Wang would do the trick and make her look like the Oscar-nominee that she is.

Here are some more gorgeous fashion-forward dresses from the Spring 2012 collections. I would have loved to see some of these daring dresses on the red carpet:

Zuhair Murad


Jason Wu


And finally, Versace

Ladies, next year let's hit a home run. Inspire us, embolden us, and encourage us to take risks. We may not be on the red carpet or catwalk anytime soon, but we sure can find our inner fashionista and strut like one!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Photoshop, meet Adele

"Though she's not conventionally pretty, she still IS beautiful," the
critics say about Adele. In 2012, what counts as conventionally
pretty? Or is that just a euphemism for "thin?" 

I love the March issue of Vogue and then I hate the March issue of Vogue. Let's start with the love: kudos to Vogue's staff for FINALLY putting Adele front and center. It's about time this unbelievably ballsy and talented broad graced the cover. And FINALLY it's not a waify, rail-thin model or actress or musician. Or model-actress-musician.

OK, now for the hate (I'm sorry): why all the Photoshop? I mean, we all know covers (especially at fashion mags) call for copious amounts of airbrushing. But this time, really? (It's an infraction in the same league as that infamous W cover featuring a very Photoshopped "What happened to her thigh?" Demi Moore.)

Adele is gorgeous. She didn't need all that shading, contouring, brightening and sculpting. This cover makes her look too digital, too fake, too perfect.

But what annoyed me more is the inside spread. All the photos (well, all but one) were close-up shots of Adele's face. How come no full-body shots? (The only full shot was the one below, and it really only reveals Adele's face and arms.)

Is Vogue afraid of curves?

Why does every other cover subject (from Angelina Jolie to Natalie Portman to Penelope Cruz) get to parade around half-naked and show off their bodies? Yet Adele-- who doesn't have the stereotypical "perfect body" (read: skinny)-- has only face shots? To me, Vogue is sending a message that the songbird isn't thin enough to showcase her body.

And why did Adele get only four photos in her spread? When Natalie got six (Jan 2001), Lady Gaga got eight (March 2011), and Kate Moss got 11 (Sept 2011)?

It makes you wonder.

This is what I want to see: more women of all shapes and sizes, less Photoshop and more flesh. For God's sake, we women already have serious body image issues, can't we forgive ourselves a bit and celebrate our luscious hips, generous thighs and even a little bit of back fat every once in a while?

Dear Vogue Editors: Next time, let's see Adele in a skin-tight Narcisco Rodriguez dress and some killer Jimmy Choo stilettos. Let's see a normal woman wearing haute couture. A little more real world in the fashion world, please. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Today's front page

I had my morning latte and saw this on the front page of today's OC Register.

Here's the Op-Ed I wrote for today's Orange County Register.

Why is Jeremy Lin Important? She Explains
ANAHEIM – Like much of America, I've been swept up in Linsanity.
Ever since NBA phenom Jeremy Lin burst into the national consciousness a few weeks ago, I haven't been able to stop talking about his unbelievable, meteoric rise. Everything he's done on the court – that thrilling, last-second three-pointer he sank when the Knicks played the Toronto Raptors; the huge numbers he put on the Lakers; all the other great shots and great passes and defense – it's all made me utterly proud to be an overachieving, Ivy League, Asian American Christian – just like Jeremy Lin.

It's bordering on obsession. In fact, I think I'm going Linsane.And this coming from a girly girl who never talks about sports – ever.
Jeremy Lin's story resonates deeply with so many of us, on so many levels. It's the story of the American Dream. It's the "If you work hard, you'll achieve great things" story.
And although Lin seems like an overnight success, his journey is the result of perseverance, humility and great faith. His triumph is erasing a history of being overlooked and proving the naysayers wrong.
Who doesn't want to identify with that?
I love that Jeremy Lin's success is turning people's worlds upside down. He's shattering stereotypes and proving to the world that we (and by "we" I mean those overachieving, Ivy League, Asian American Christian types mentioned above) are more than "Asian Whiz Kids," computer geeks or aspiring brain surgeons.
And now, with Lin on our radar, my Asian American brothers can tell American pop culture, which has historically portrayed Asian males as awkward, unathletic and never the leading man, where to stuff it. Take that, Hollywood!
For the next generation of Asian Americans, the sky's now the limit. It's the first time kids from Koreatown in L.A. to New York's Chinatown can tell their parents, "When I grow up, I want to be a basketball star – like Jeremy Lin!"
In fact, as a child, I wish I had a Jeremy Lin to look up to.
As a product of a Tiger Mom (and a Tiger Dad, for that matter), my parents always reinforced the belief that "You can be anything you want when you grow up." But of course what they really meant was: "You can be anything – as long as it's a doctor, lawyer or engineer."
As first-generation Korean immigrants, my folks aren't at fault for this perspective. For them, there was no Jeremy Lin folklore to share with their children. The only success stories coming out of their communities at the time were in the fields of academia, medicine, engineering and, later, law and business. Becoming a professional athlete (let alone an NBA superstar) was not only improbable, but impossible.
But with Lin's Cinderella story ("Linderella?" Sure, why not), even the seemingly impossible becomes possible. "God works in mysterious and miraculous ways," Lin told reporters following his breakout performance against the Utah Jazz – the game that started all this Linsanity.
Perhaps the most inspiring thing about Jeremy Lin is his faith.
It's not the Bible-bashing, hit-'em-over-the-head, fire and brimstone kind of fervor so often assigned to American Christians. His faith is quieter but deeper and more reflective.
And, at the heart of it, it's humble.
"Thankful to God for the opportunity to be a New York Knick!" Lin wrote in a Facebook post on Dec. 27, before he became a household name. In a culture where ballers are known for their bravado on and off the court, Lin's posture of humility is a breath of fresh air.
I mean, who in the NBA posts Scripture on their Facebook page (Psalm 46:10 – "He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'") or wears his heart so readily on his sleeve ("This team is so unselfish and has so much heart. Love playing with them!")?
Lin's response to stardom has been amazing too. Everyone has an opinion about him, and he's under intense pressure to keep winning. Yet he's handled it all with grace and a lot of class.
His rise has exposed some ugliness in our culture, in a smattering of offensive remarks and racial stereotyping. From sports writer Jason Whitlock's crass remarks on Twitter and boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. claiming all "the hype is because he's Asian," to the most recent transgression – ESPN's racist, post-Knicks loss headline, "Chink in the Armor."
"They've apologized and so, from my end, I don't care anymore," Lin told reporters about the tasteless headline a couple of days after it ran online. "You have to learn to forgive. And I don't even think that was intentional."
Expecting the unexpected – that's what we've come to love about the Jeremy Lin story. Asian American man in professional sports, Harvard grad in the NBA, cut from two teams, then, finally, picked up by the storied New York Knicks only to be parked at the end of the bench until two and a half weeks ago. Then Lin's rise and his status as international sensation – seven straight wins and the victories keep coming.
And to watch him play? What a thing of beauty. To see someone doing what he loves, being excellent at it, overcoming the odds, never giving up, keeping the faith, living out his dream, and inspiring each one of us to do the same – this is what it's all about. This is why Linsanity matters. This is why Jeremy Lin has captured our imagination.
Whether he's Linning, makes you wanna be All Lin (yup, I'm going there), or leaves you Linspired (sorry ... sort of), one thing is certain:
Jeremy Lin is not only changing America, he's changing the world.

Jennifer Cho Salaff is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Anaheim. She's suddenly interested in all things NBA, thanks to Jeremy Lin. You can check out her blog at jenniferchosalaff.blogspot.com.
(Photos by Ana P. Gutierrez, for The Orange County Register)


It's a cheesy shot, I know. But Linsanity kinda
makes you act, well, a little crazy.
(Photo: Ana P. Gutierrez, OC Register)

Friday, February 17, 2012


Like much of America, I’ve been swept up in Linsanity the past week. Ever since NBA phenom Jeremy Lin burst into the national consciousness, I can’t stop talking about his unbelievable meteoric rise; that thrilling, last-second three-pointer he sank when the Knicks played the Toronto Raptors (this coming from a girly girl who NEVER talks about sports, EVER); and how utterly proud I am to be an over-achieving Ivy League/Asian-American/Christian—-just like Jeremy Lin. It’s bordering on obsession. In fact, I think I’m going Linsane.

Jeremy Lin’s story resonates deeply with so many of us, on so many levels. His is the underdog story. It’s the story of the American Dream. It’s the “if you work hard you’ll achieve great things” story. And although he seems like an overnight success, Lin’s journey is the result of perseverance, humility, and great faith. His triumph is erasing a history of being overlooked and proving the nay-sayers wrong. And who doesn’t want to identify with that?  

I love that Jeremy Lin’s success is turning people’s worlds upside down. He’s shattering stereotypes and proving to the world that we (and by “we” I mean those over-achieving Ivy League Asian-American Christian types mentioned above) are more than “Asian Whiz Kids,” computer geeks, or aspiring brain surgeons. For the first time, Asian-American kids can tell their parents, “When I grow up, I want to be a basketball star—-like Jeremy Lin!” And now, my Asian-American brothers can give a big middle finger to American pop culture, which has traditionally portrayed Asian males as awkward, unathletic, and never the leading man (take that, Hollywood!).

Perhaps the most inspiring thing about Jeremy Lin is his faith. It’s not the Bible-bashing, hit-‘em-over-the-head, fire and brimstone kind of fervor that is typically assigned to American Christians. His faith is quieter but deeper, more reflective, and at the heart of it, humble. “Thankful to God for the opportunity to be a New York Knick!!” Lin writes in a December 27 Facebook post. In a culture where “ballers” are known for their bravado on and off the court, Lin’s posture of humility is a breath of fresh air.

I mean, who in the NBA posts Scripture on their Facebook page (Psalm 46:10 – “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’”) or wears his heart on his sleeve (“…This team is so unselfish and has so much heart. Love playing with them!”)?

Whether he’s Linning, makes you wanna be All Lin, or leaves you Linspired (sorry, had to go there), one thing’s for sure: Jeremy Lin is not only changing America, he’s changing the world.

*An extended version of this article appears in the February 21 online edition of The Orange County Register (and in the February 22 print edition).

Check it out at http://www.ocregister.com/articles/lin-341240-jeremy-asian.html

Saturday, February 11, 2012


We had a fun-filled birthday weekend for the Little Princess. A perfect sunny morning at the park, then lunch at Porto's Bakery and Cafe. The next day, both kids made new friends at Build-a-Bear, followed by rides and sugary sweets at Disneyland. 

I think Little Miss enjoyed the festivities. And she's every bit the wonder-filled two-year-old now. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mad world

This breaks my heart…

In Grip of Cold, Afghan Family Buries 8th Child
By Rod Nordland/The New York Times
February 08, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan — The war refugee Sayid Mohammad lost his last son on Wednesday, three-month-old Khan, who became the 24th child to die of exposure in camps here in the past month.
“After we had dinner he was crying all night of the cold,” Mr. Mohammad said. The family had no wood and was husbanding a small portion of paper and plastic that his daughter had scavenged that day. He said the boy had seemed healthy and was breast-feeding normally, though the family’s dinner consisted only of tea and bread. But he kept crying. “Finally we started a fire but it wasn’t enough,” Mr. Mohammad said. By 1 a.m. the boy was stiff and lifeless, he said.
Even by the standards of destitution in these camps, Mr. Mohammad’s story is a hard-luck one; Khan was the eighth of his nine children to die. Back home in Gereshk District of Helmand Province, six died of disease, he said. Three years ago they fled the fighting in that area for the Nasaji Bagrami Camp here, where a three-year-old son froze to death last winter, he said. Like most of Kabul’s 35,000 internal refugees, he fled the country’s war zones only to find a life of squalor sometimes as deadly, even in the capital of a country that has received more than $60 billion in non-military aid over ten years.
Later Wednesday morning, Mr. Mohammad’s sole surviving child, his daughter, Feroza, 10, stared saucer-eyed at her brother’s tiny body as it lay in the middle of the family’s hybrid dwelling, part mud hut, part tent, with United Nations-branded canvas for a roof.
Leaders of this camp say that 16 children aged five or younger have died in the unseasonably cold weather and heavy snow that set in about a month ago, keeping nighttime temperatures in the mid-teens Fahrenheit. Eight other children have died similarly in another Kabul camp, Charahi Qambar, according to camp representatives, religious leaders and families.
Government officials have expressed skepticism that the children could all have died of cold, saying the deaths were unregistered and not reviewed by medical personnel, while at the same time blaming the international aid providers for not sending more supplies.
Private Afghan companies and businessmen and some charitable groups have begun to distribute food, fuel, winter clothing and blankets, tents and cash support in the camps but so far the effort has been sporadic and incomplete.
Other relief groups and Afghan government ministries are still in the process of surveying needs in the camp. As one relief worker said: “Starting an aid program even in a month would be fast work, and by then winter will be mostly over.”
The Nasaji Bagrami camp counts 315 families who fled from war-torn southern provinces like Kandahar and Helmand. Some of their rough shelters had wood to burn in stoves, while others, like Mr. Mohammad’s, had no substantial heat sources at all.
Mohammad Ibrahim, chosen by camp residents as their representative, held up his hand in a visual parable of the realities of inequitable resources. “See my fingers?” he said. “They are five, but none are equal.”
The Mohammad family had two large blankets to share, plus the baby boy’s blanket, a velveteen comforter with designs of teddy bears and bunny rabbits on it. “We didn’t even have enough wood to make breakfast today,” Mr. Mohammad said. A neighbor gave a small packet of potato chips to Feroza, whose name means turquoise, the gemstone.
In the bitter cold, relatives and friends gathered and meticulously followed the prescribed rituals for the dead. Hot water was brought in pitchers from neighbors’ huts. The boy’s body was laid on a plank in the hut’s mud-walled yard, and washed five times with the hot water and soap — a pink bar of Safeguard. A ditch was dug so that the washwater would drain away and no one would step in it accidentally, which they viewed as potential sacrilege. Khan was so small that the hand of the man who washed him covered half of his body.
His mother, Lailuma, peeked from the door of the hut to watch, but otherwise the women stayed inside and apart. But Feroza, in a purple headscarf, slipped unnoticed past the men close to Khan’s washing place, pressed into a crevice in the wall and watched wordlessly.
A clean white cotton bedsheet served as his burial shroud. The available scissors were too dull to cut it, so the men ripped it into pieces with their gloveless hands. After tying the sheet around Khan, they sprayed his shrouded form with perfume, and then they wrapped him again in his teddy and bunny blanket.
For prayers, performed on mats outside, the men removed their shoes — many had no socks. Then they carried Khan, bundled in one man’s arms, in silent procession to a graveyard.
The camp mullah, Walid Khan, pronounced the final prayers. Khan was laid in the grave with his face toward Mecca, and each of the mourners dropped in three handfuls of the hard earth.
Mr. Mohammad had not slept. His eyes were bloodshot. The septum of his nose had cracked from the cold, bleeding a little, and leaving a small red icicle. Feroza stood just to his side and behind him a little, clutching his coat. She coughed deeply and her father started. “Now she is sick too,” he said.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

From my table to yours: Londonport roast beef sandwich

Sandwich heaven.

I love sandwiches no matter what time of day. I could eat one for breakfast (sometimes I’ll even throw in a fried egg); of course at lunchtime (no brainer); and even one for dinner with a hearty soup. For this particular one, I married roast beef with arugula and it was a match made in sandwich heaven! Accompanied by a creamy mushroom-potato-leek soup and now we’re talkin'.


this little piggy ate roast beef sandwich

What you’ll need:

  • deli-sliced roast beef (I recommend Boar’s Head Londonport   roast beef)
  • arugula
  • red onion
  • Provolone cheese
  • French baguette
  • Worcestershire sauce

For horsey-mayo:

  • 1 part mayonnaise
  • 1 part horseradish

What to do:

  • Slice your bread (for a five-star experience, you MUST use freshly-baked French bread); I like to slice it length-wise.
  • Spread horsey-mayo on both sides.
  • Stack roast beef slices (add a sprinkling of Worcestershire sauce in between slices) and Provolone cheese, then add arugula and thinly-sliced red onions. Yum!

Mushroom Potato Leek Soup

What you’ll need:

  • 1-quart carton of potato-leek soup (I like the organic creamy potato leek soup from Imagine Foods)
  • 1 cup assorted mushrooms (button, cremini, etc.)
  • 1 clove garlic

What to do:

  • In soup pot, sautee minced garlic and sliced mushrooms (using 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil). 
  • Cook for about 5-6 minutes, or until mushrooms are soft. 
  • Add soup. Simmer over low heat. More yum!

Monday, February 6, 2012

What kind of parent are you?

What kind of parent are you? Permissive, authoritarian or authoritative?

Who Says American Parents Are Inferior?
By RANDYE HODER/The New York Times
February 6, 2012

Enough already.
A year ago, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from Amy Chua’s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” under the provocative headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Now, in an article adapted from Pamela Druckerman’s soon-to-be-published “Bringing Up Bébé,” the Journal sets out to tell us “Why French Parents Are Superior.”
In both cases, the message is clear: Americans are terrible parents. Our children are overindulged. They misbehave, they’re rude and they have poor eating and sleeping habits. As moms and dads, we are anxious, we shout too much and if that weren’t enough, Ms. Druckerman asserts, French mothers are even skinnier and sexier than their Yankee counterparts (and they never wear pajama bottoms when dropping their kids off at school).
But what is an “American” style of parenting? Can anyone legitimately say there is such a thing in a society as heterogeneous as ours?
American parents are Anglo, African-American, Asian and Hispanic. They are Christian, Jewish, Muslim and much more. They are rich, middle-class and poor. They are urban, suburban and rural. And as numerous academic studies have shown, different cultures and different socioeconomic groups in our country tend to parent their children in different ways. A quick trip to your local playground or to Chuck E. Cheese will reveal all kinds of parents interacting with children in all kinds of ways: some laissez-faire, some more strict, some frenzied, some cool, some by the book and some by the seat of their pants. Within my own circle in Los Angeles, there are parents who more or less fit Ms. Druckerman’s stereotype, but many others who defy it.
The clinical psychologist Diana Baumrind in the mid-1960s came up with what are still widely considered the three prototypical parenting styles. The “permissive parent” consults with children about family decisions and makes few demands of them. The “authoritarian parent,” by contrast, sets a strict standard of conduct, often theologically motivated. The “authoritative parent” provides the best balance, encouraging give and take with children but exerting firm control when it’s needed.
From reading the Journal excerpt of Ms. Druckerman’s book, one could easily conclude that practically all American parents are pathetically permissive, while most French families operate under a superior authoritative model. Ms. Druckerman writes:
After a while, it struck me that most French descriptions of American kids include this phrase “n’importe quoi,” meaning “whatever” or “anything they like.” It suggests that the American kids don’t have firm boundaries, that their parents lack authority, and that anything goes. It’s the antithesis of the French ideal of the cadre, or frame, that French parents often talk about. Cadre means that kids have very firm limits about certain things — that’s the frame — and that the parents strictly enforce these. But inside the cadre, French parents entrust their kids with quite a lot of freedom and autonomy.

In truth, it’s not nearly so simple — at least not when it comes to the American side of the equation (where about 16 percent of the population is Hispanic, 13 percent is black and 5 percent is Asian).
Indeed, numerous analyses have suggested that African-American and Asian-American parents typically aren’t permissive; rather, they tend to be mostly authoritarian in their parenting practices (albeit in different ways). At the same time, the literature also makes clear that painting with too broad a brush is dangerous. Within racial and ethnic communities, all three types of parenting styles — permissive, authoritarian and authoritative — can be seen. As a team from Marquette University wrote in a study published in the Journal of Social Psychology: “Hispanic parents, rather than being characterized by one dominant parenting style, demonstrated a variety of styles depending on their acculturation, education background and income level.”
Other factors also affect how American children are raised. For instance, it has been found that parents are more likely to employ an authoritarian style with boys than with girls. What’s more, “the levels of warmth, conflict and permissiveness children experienced is directly affected by family structure,” noted a 2007 study by researchers from the University of North Carolina and University of Chicago.
In the end, though, I don’t need a bunch of academics to convince me that a work like Ms. Druckerman’s is full of overgeneralizing, about both American and, I suspect, French parents. My husband and I are more authoritative than permissive. And while they weren’t perfect, my own two children (now in their teens) never engaged in the kind of bad behavior that Ms. Druckerman describes as commonplace among young American kids, like throwing their food. My son and daughter have both always eaten their vegetables, and they’ve never had a problem looking adults in the eye, just like French children supposedly do.
And for the record, I’ve never once dropped off my kids at school while wearing my pajamas.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Happy birthday to you

Fierce creature.

This girl is the most beautiful, sweet, angelic, and fierce creature I have ever met. Happy 2nd Birthday to my little warrior princess! I love you. --Mommy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Shattering the lingerie ceiling

More signs of a sea change in the Middle East. Thanks to bras and panties.

Saudi Women Shatter the Lingerie Ceiling
By Thomas W. Lippman
The New York Times/January 21, 2012

A social revolution began in Saudi Arabia this month, and it has little if anything to do with the Arab Spring. Women are going to work in lingerie shops.

The Ministry of Labor is enforcing a royal decree issued last summer ordering that sales personnel in shops selling garments and other goods, like cosmetics, that are only for women must be female. More than 28,000 women applied for the jobs, the ministry said. Anywhere else in the world, it would not be news that sales assistants in shops selling panties and bras were female. In Saudi Arabia, where women have always been excluded from the public work force, it is a critical breakthrough. This is not just about intimate garments; this is a milestone on the arduous path to employment equality for women in a country where they are systematically excluded from retail activity.
Saudi Arabia’s economic planners recognize that if women are going to be educated at public expense, as they now are in increasing numbers, they will expect to work and the country will need their economic output. Society has increasingly accepted the idea that women will work outside the home. They have long been employed in medicine and education. Retail commerce, however, has generally remained closed because such work usually requires interaction with men, which is prohibited. The lingerie shops are breaking that taboo.
One of the oddest sights in Saudi Arabia is that of fully veiled women, hidden from others by their enveloping garments, going into the Saudi equivalent of Victoria’s Secret stores in the many upscale malls and being greeted and assisted exclusively by male sales clerks, most of whom are from South Asia. This absurd situation so embarrassed many women that they waited until they were out of the country to buy their underwear and nightgowns.
The campaign to change the rules began several years ago, and was led by Reem Asaad, a fashion-conscious financial adviser who speaks flawless English and is comfortable with the Western media. It appeared to have succeeded in 2006 when the government ordered that the sales jobs be transferred to women. But social conservatives and the religious establishment objected, arguing that Islam prohibited women from working outside the home and that putting women in retail shops would expose them to the view of any passing stranger. If the sales clerks were female, the shop windows would have to be covered, the opponents said.
Shop owners objected, too, saying that no women were trained to do such work. In addition, the 2006 decree failed to address the transportation problem: if women were going to work in those shops, they would need a man to drive them because they are prohibited from driving. Saudi cities have virtually no public transportation. So the decree was never enforced. Ms. Asaad then used Facebook to organize a boycott of the shops, and arranged for some women to be trained in retail work.
This time, King Abdullah has put his personal authority behind the new decree. Last year he also installed a new minister of labor, Adel Fakieh, who had embraced the idea of employing women at a supermarket chain owned by his holding company. Under the new rules, the country’s thousands of lingerie and cosmetics shops have until June to replace their male employees with women. The feared religious police, who are really the behavior police, have been ordered to cooperate.
King Abdullah generally supported an expansion of opportunities for women, but steps in this direction can’t be traced to any burst of enlightenment within the royal family. They are happening because the kingdom’s women need and want jobs and are learning how to make themselves heard — and because, in an increasingly expensive country, their husbands often want them to work.
Over the coming generation, this is likely to be the farthest-reaching transformation in Saudi society. While women are still constrained by law, religion and custom, more and more are likely to enter the work force. They will be better educated than their predecessors, will marry later and will have fewer children. The range of jobs and professions open to them will expand. The Ministry of Labor is already compiling a list of jobs women will be permitted to hold. It won’t include all jobs — no female miners or construction workers here — but it will be a much longer list than in the past, including some positions in law enforcement.
These changes will meet entrenched opposition, but the economic and demographic forces behind them seem irresistible. The transition would be easier if women were permitted to drive (the 2011 decree failed to address that issue), but that is bound to come, too — if not this year, then soon, if only because growing ranks of employed women will build pressure for it. Thousands of Saudi women have driver’s licenses issued by other countries; they will be ready when the day comes.

Thomas Lippman is a scholar at the Middle East Institute and the author of “Saudi Arabia on the Edge: The Uncertain Future of an American Ally."