The celebrification of weddings

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The realization that personal data is being used in unimaginable ways may have finally awoken a sleeping giant, namely the gazillions of people who have compromised privacy for a sort of celebrification (not a real word but it works) of the important but fairly standard stages of their lives.  Social media has raised the stakes on personal and family rituals and traditions like weddings, births, coming of age, and even vacations.  With the ratcheting up has come a crazy and exponential expenditure of dollars against all these commonplace activities.  People have got married for centuries and only the very rich would typically pour money into the venture, mostly as a means to display the combined wealth (and power) of the families coming together.  In the post social media world of today, average people with average earnings are required to achieve a celebrity-level status of excess so that their Instagram will not look impoverished beside say, Prince Harry’s.

Becoming enslaved to social media personas is dramatically affecting the financial basis upon which couples typically rely to build their family’s financial stability.  It starts early, folks, and if you don’t think it does then you’ve missed one of the most important life lessons.  When I hear about engaged couples planning a getaway wedding that requires wedding guests to donate not just a week of their limited vacation time (and in North America that can be as little as two weeks per year for a very long time), but the full payment of the flight and hotel, add to that a wedding present, plus whatever you have to wear (bridesmaids are particularly on the hook) and you have a significant contribution to a downpayment on a home, investment in a start-up, or contribution to a retirement savings plan.

I would like to see a return to normalcy in all things private and personal – forget the engagement photos – no one cares what you looked like when you got engaged.  We want to see your kids playing and screaming and filthy – not posed and perched with an outfit no self-respecting 8 month old would choose for themselves.

My hope is that the revelations around privacy will bring a collective return to some appreciation of celebrations that are human-scaled and special because they are not the privy to the circumspection of the masses.

And so with that scolding (apologies since it likely came off as just that) here are the 5 things NOT to do when planning your wedding:

  1. Engagement photos – these are so artificial and useless I can’t imagine why they’ve caught on.
  2. Destination weddings – it’s your honeymoon not your family and friends, so get married where it is most convenient for others.
  3. Multiple course meals – everyone just wants to dance so cut the multi-course meal, set-up a buffet and get to the fun.
  4. Receiving lines – these are truly awful!  The wedding couple should make the rounds and say hello and thank you.  People waiting in line to shake your hand and say you look great is just a huge waste of time.  Remember, it’s all about the dancing.
  5. Weddings – forget the wedding and just have the party.  If you’re not religious then what really is the point?

While I am anti-wedding I am not anti-romance.  Let’s not confuse the two.

 

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The great women of Netflix series: The Crown’s Queen Elizabeth

The queen goes first
Netflix’s The Crown – the Queen goes first.

I hope you enjoyed our examination of the Downton Abbey ladies.  We now move on to The Crown though, sadly, not a stellar group much beyond the Sovereign herself.  In fact, what a sad group of women! This is what happens when you have nothing to do but get dressed and husband hunt.  In this final installment in the series  (:)) we have no choice but to focus solely on the Queen herself, and much to learn there.

Hard to imagine the pressure she was under to master all the protocols and responsibilities at the ripe young age of 25.  The expectation to be  perfectly in control, well-informed, forthright in providing direction, not to mention immaculately coiffed and dressed – all this is  daunting and the fact that she managed to pull it off (and still is) shows what an impressive and even masterful woman she is.

Let’s begin by looking at her formidable control – control of emotions, schedules, planning, just to name a few areas.  She almost never says a cross word out of anger – though that doesn’t seem to hold anyone else back. While she self-describes as uneducated, she is clearly brilliant and incredibly strategic.  To get what she wants she carefully considers the options, and while she doesn’t always succeed, she has an excellent go of it. She does get caught out now and then by some wily member of court, and her husband is nothing but difficult, but overall she does a great job of preparing for difficult conversations and then executing.  Something to be learned there, and especially for those among us more prone to flying off the handle.  It will be interesting to watch as she, over the course of this wonderful Netflix series, becomes less reliant on the advice of the establishment, not to mention her mother.

Then there is the business of being the Queen, for which she needs to have a strong understanding of the political issues of the day.  Darned if she doesn’t do that well.  To spar with the hero of the Second World War, a.k.a., Winston Churchill is a remarkable feat.  She also does a nice dressing-down of each of her prime ministers who as she says are either too weak or too sick to get the job done.  She triumphs there, and so let us not be intimidated by those who have gone before and consider themselves superior.  Focus on the facts and give it right back to them.

And just look at the schedules!  Crazy long trips via ships for months on end – can you imagine?  Actually having an injection to release a facial muscle spasm due to too much smiling.  And the daily grind of the business of sovereign which she takes on without a lot of grumbling, meanwhile her husband does nothing but play – endless hours of recreation not to mention affairs.  On top of this, she ends the day hosting state visits, making small talk and basically playing dress-up so people get to meet the Queen.  Exhausting!

Until I watched the series I never fully appreciated just how alone she is illustrated by the fact that the Queen always goes first.  Everyone follows a few paces behind.  There she is time after time, walking first, greeting first, always alone.  That must be an unusual feeling and especially when all the presidents and prime ministers, always have a supportive partner by their side.  But not the Queen – she’s on her own. As women, I suggest we should be emboldened to embark on our own – prepared- yet unafraid to venture forth.  She doesn’t shrink from the entitlement of being first, nor should you.

The series also illuminated the disadvantage of her lack of education.  To be placed in so many situations to engage with experts, brilliant thinkers, artists, musicians and with no foundation.  I can’t imagine how difficult it would be not to feel like a fool.  She has clearly mastered the fine art of asking questions and showing keen and sincere interest in others, which is the only way to survive these encounters.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that suggests the Queen is an idiot.  And so that’s an interesting lesson – curiosity and interest can make up for any lack of knowledge.

Finally, a word on the whole presentation of self.  She is naturally quite lovely and obviously very practical when it comes to clothes.  Though it may have been difficult at times (and a few of the dresses, notably when Jackie Kennedy visited were quite hideous) to host fashionable people while relying on the taste of one or two dressmakers (Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell).  What I do love is her feminine style.  I couldn’t pull it off but it sure worked for her.  And let’s face it, she has stuck with what works for her and it is both distinctive and endlessly appropriate.  Isn’t that what we’re all after, an approach that makes sense for our lifestyle, feels right, and that we can just replicate day after day so it doesn’t consume our time our minds.

Looking pretty gorgeous here!

The queen in 1954 Hardy Amies
Gorgeous in 1954 wearing Hardy Amies

 

So we end this series on a royal note with a story that is still unfolding. How wonderful is that?

Who shall we profile next?  Leave your suggestions in comments or email me at thegreatwomanblog.com.

 

Lessons from the great women of Netflix – Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey

Lady Edith
Laura Carmichael as the increasingly glamorous Lady Edith Crawley

We’re working our way through the Great Women of Netflix series, beginning with the ladies of Downton Abbey.  We’ve discussed Lady Mary Crawley, the icy heiress, then jumped to Sybil, the rebel who broke free of family expectations.  And now we’re on to Edith, the middle child – lost somewhere between the two polar opposites, overlooked by parents, frequently by men, and who, in the end,  outshines them all.

The story begins with Edith as the dowdy, whiny sister, jealous of Mary’s beauty and popularity, and too self-involved to achieve Sybil’s kind detachment.  She is petty, mean, and completely at loose ends.  The poor woman is desperately in search of a purpose and just when she thinks she’s found one, it’s pulled out from beneath her.  But Edith manages to get better with age, and so should we all.

6 Things to learn from the long-suffering Lady Edith:

  1. Take action. Since we’re talking about Netflix it’s easy to refrain from doing something new in favour of spending all waking hours binge-watching. I speak from experience here. Where would that have gotten Edith?  Not a baby, not a publishing business, and not a Baronette or whatever Bertie is.  Edith learned to drive, became a journalist (despite parental disapproval), and held onto that publishing business which I think showed real character. She put herself out there and risked failure, the wrath of her father, and snide remarks from her sister. She filled her days and learned something.  We should all do that.
  2. Grooming is everything. There’s really no excuse to look dowdy unless you truly don’t care and in that case, bless you.  But if you do care, make the most of what you’ve got, and that doesn’t have to translate into a high maintenance routine. It is possible to find a hairstyle that works for your hair type, reducing overall effort and maximizing your natural attributes. In Edith’s case, she lands that gorgeous, coppery bob and the rest is history. Her clothes improved as well which may have more to do with the production budget, but sticking to our theme, she started to dress as a grown-up woman and clothes really can set you apart.
  3. Self-awareness. Edith is well aware of her weaknesses, including her pettiness. She may not regret it but at least she’s aware of it. With her self-awareness comes an endearing candor with men which attracts some very nice men. All of Edith’s men are kind and intelligent people – that’s a good sign. Mary’s only bit of self-awareness was that she wanted somebody rich so she could end up being the Countess of Downton, and look at some of the idiots she attracted, aka Tony!
  4. Stick to your guns. She wanted that illegitimate baby and she held on to her. Then she wanted the baby in the house with her, and she found a way.  And then, she made the worse mistake of all by not telling Bertie about her daughter and almost blew the best chance she had at a happy-ending.  But the baby came first (as it should), and she was rewarded, Bertie stepped up to the plate and the marriage was back on. All that to say, once you decide on your priorities you should not be swayed for the sake of a man or any other distraction.
  5. Take your work seriously and others will too. This is something I love to see (though not frequently enough) – people who approach whatever work they do as a professional. In Edith’s case, during the war when the Abbey was a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, she kept busy writing difficult letters home on behalf of injured soldiers, finding them books to read and running errands. These were not glamorous jobs, nor did they garner her any accolades from the family.  Alas, she was recognized by the soldiers and considered the unsung hero of their recover.  Yes, they loved her!  Now it’s one thing for a person with a professional degree to take their work seriously, but what if your job is not a recognized ‘profession’? Should you still approach it with the depth, focus, curiosity and commitment to outcomes as professional degrees?  Yes!  And when you do, you garner huge respect.  And Edith took that approach time and time again, farming, writing, publishing and whatever you call the work she did on behalf of those soldiers.
Lady Edith on the Farm
Lady Edith taking a turn at farming.  Nice jacket!

I think that’s all for Edith. I loved Edith’s happy ending – the wallflower who blossomed.

Next up – no, not the downstairs women – the virtues of these I think we’re well-represented in the series.  Let’s face it, Anna’s practically a saint, Mrs. Patmore is mom, Mrs. Hughes is the matriarch and probably would be a CEO of a global conglomerate in the 21st century, and Daisy has all that gumption.

Instead, let’s move on to The Crown and take a closer look at the queen bee herself, Queen Elizabeth.

 

 

5 tips from Lady Sybil, Downton Abbey’s rebel, lessons from the women of Netflix

Sybil from Downton
Jessica Brown Findlay plays Lady Sybil Crawley

In this the second in the Great Women of Netflix series we continue our look at the ladies of Downton Abbey.  We began the series examining the finer qualities of the one and only Lady Mary Crawley. I would encourage you to begin with the top dog, so to speak, but feel free to first read these reflections on the Earl of Grantham’s youngest and most rebellious child, Lady Sybil.

We all know Sybil is lovely and to quote Billy Joel (which likely will never happen again) ‘only the good die young‘ and that’s what happened to dear Sybil.

Here are the 5 things we can learn from Sybil: Four good, one a cautionary note.

  1. There is no point in being a snob.  Egalitarian, hardworking, independently-minded, Sybil just cut through the crap.  She could have married one of those boring, rich neighbourhood boys but in the end, would have nothing to do with them.  Friendly, yes, attracted, no.  I’m sure if they’d been decent, egalitarian, hardworking chaps she might have given them a second look.  She had convictions and she stuck to them till the bitter end.
  2. Put your actions where your mouth is:  It’s one thing to talk like a progressive and  quite another to behave like one. Like her eldest sister, Sybil was also very good to the household staff, single-handedly orchestrating a parlour maid’s rise in stature out of domestic service and into business. Go out of your way to give someone a hand up – it will not diminish you in the least.
  3. Be a professional regardless of your qualifications.  It didn’t take much in the way of education in those days to become a nurse, among the most challenging professions to enter now. Regardless, Sybil took her work as a nurse seriously, adopted the right demeanor (serious and kind), actively learned, dressed the part.  You and I may not have all the designations and qualifications we might want or need, but we can always behave like professionals, and that commands respect.
  4. Look for the good in others.  This is a tough one especially when you’re dealing with a person completely opposite to your own character.  Sybil even managed to see the good in Mary when there was very little to be had.  I gotta say though, she did pretty much ignore Edith, but then when Sybil was alive Edith was not at her best.  Edith improved with experience, but more on that in the next post.

And now, the cautionary note:

5. The problem with Sybil was her choice in husband.  I think we’re supposed to like Tom.  He is the ‘every man’, representing the real people like you and me, or at least me.  But he’s an idiot.  While Sybil threw herself into productive and difficult work during the war, Tom drove the family car. He was a conscientious objector – fine – but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t help with the traumatized and wounded.  Even Barrow put his small heart into that.  But not Tom.  And then he whined at Sybil about her really loving him – basically insisting that he knew her better than she knew herself when, honestly, she showed absolutely no signs of caring about him.  He was a handy conduit to get out of the Abbey  but that was about it.  Why she decided to run away with that sorry excuse for a man is beyond me.

And then to make matters worse, the bugger leaves her pregnant in Ireland to save his own skin. Seriously, why she didn’t kick him out after that is beyond me.  And what happened to his career as a journalist? He returns to Downton and mooches off the family business.  Where is his integrity?  Edith becomes a journalist and then a publisher and Tom walks around the estate in tweeds and has lunch at the Grantham Arms.  Nice life.  All that to say, I think Sybil really got that one wrong. Or maybe the blame should fall on Julian Fellowes who wrote the series.  Either way, it does take the shine off rewatching the series for the 10th time because I have to endure Tom saying, “Well, I hope I am a part of this family.”  You’re not and so bugger off.

And so that’s Sybil.  Eminently loveable. Doomed from the start.

Let’s move on to Edith who just gets better with time.

Be sure to agree or disagree with me. I welcome the debate!

downton sisters

6 tips from Lady Mary Crawley – lessons from the women of Netflix

women of downton (2)

I love January.  Despite polar temperatures here in the great, white north it is a good time to set a few goals clean out some closets and drawers and review finances.

Because of the cold, it’s also a great time to settle inside and watch and rewatch some of my favourite Netflix shows.  Sadly, Netflix offers up a lot of content that I can’t watch beyond about 10 minutes because they’re awful.  Bad story, bad acting, the works.  And so I revisit the old reliables:  yes, another round of Downton Abbey, The Crown series 1 – again- and series 2 (now  watching it again, too).  Like rereading Jane Austen, the more I watch these excellent series the more I find to be gained on closer inspection, and much for the great woman to learn thanks to the female focus in both series.

So let’s take a few positive lessons from the women at Downton and Buckingham Palace. This may take a while (more like a series of posts) so bear with me – hopefully, it will be both fun and informative.  First up, the heiress apparent.

women of downton
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley

Lady Mary Crowley

How can we not begin with Lady Mary and her ‘I’m-so-freakin-bored-by-you’ voice. What does she do that the rest of us should emulate?

  1. First and foremost, she’s really nice to Anna her ladies’ maid.  Rather than take a strip off Anna she saves her venom for her peers, like her sister, mother, friends and of course, the men in her life.  Someone in a position of power and authority who lords it over those with less power and status is abominable.  We’ve all witnessed the woman who can’t thank the waiter, takes a piece out of the sales assistant in a loud voice, finding every opportunity to be rude and dismissive over those they perceive as beneath them.  Lady Mary throws her weight against those who can take it, and throw it right back.  This is a key factor in maintaining Mary’s likeability because otherwise we wouldn’t give a crap about her. She also does nice things for Anna like giving her access to her doctor, her house (wedding night in the Abbey!) and time off when she needs it (and Anna spent a lot of time in and around prisons).  Mary is a great employer.

What else does Mary do well?

2. She doesn’t rush for anyone.  Slow and steady is the way she enters a room – good posture, commanding, not to be rushed.

3. Lady Mary never gets drunk – that would diminish her verbal capacity to take anyone down a notch at a moment’s notice – message there – stay in control of your sensibilities and you have control of the room.

4. Importantly, she never breaks down in public.  She has terrific falling apart scenes in private but never in front of the family at large or the household.  She reserves emotional collapse for her grandmother, Carson, sometimes with Anna but she keeps it together everywhere else.  She never uses crying to elicit attention or sympathy, and she does not lose her temper in public.  She may say things that cause even her to feel a twinge of regret.  Though, who’re we kidding – she doesn’t regret much other than having her way with the Turk made tricky by him dying in her bed. That was a low point.

5. She can cook one signature dish – scrambled eggs.  If you recall the episode where the new piglets almost die for lack of water and Mary and that attractive government inspector (who also happens to be heir to something or other and so one of her kind) spend all night in evening clothes restoring the piglets to life.  Then they head to the Downton kitchen for a snack and what does our Mary do but whip up some scrambled eggs served with a decent glass of red wine.  Talk about style.  And, dear friends, you do not need more than the ability to scramble an egg because that works pretty much any time of the day or night.

6. Finally, Lady Mary does embrace work.  She takes on the managing of the estate and certainly doesn’t need that useless wimp Tom (more on him in the next post).

I welcome your views on Lady Mary.  What have I missed?  I’m so interested to know what you think her strengths are as we all know her weaknesses.

Next up, Sybille.  I’ll skip Edith for now because she is so delightfully complex.  And I have a bone to pick with Sybille, as much as I love her.

 

Forgetting to think

I’ve got a weak right leg.  I’m left-handed so it’s normal that the right side is weaker but just how much weaker has been something of a revelation that comes from trying to hold a yoga warrior 3 pose.

Warrior 3
Warrior 3

I can’t do it at all.  It seems to take a lot of muscles to hold this one but the real trouble is the muscle on my upper back thigh, right under my butt.  Have I ever used this muscle?  It appears not.  It makes me wonder, how many other muscles have been ignored over the course of 5 decades?  What the hell have I been doing with myself?  And if there are muscles in and around this body that have remained largely untouched, what of my brain?  How many compartments and capabilities have laid largely dormant for most of my life?  To name a few:

  1. Math – anything much beyond calculating a tip is pretty much asleep
  2. Science – basic chemistry outside of water and oil not mixing has been wholly ignored
  3. Drawing – largely a skill based on objectively observing and studying lines and how these come together to form a whole
  4. Music – haven’t a clue about notes, rhythm and honestly know so little I can hardly write about what I don’t know
  5. Philosophy – that whole area of arguing around pure ideas – I took a philosophy course in first year university and it completely eluded me

That’s just the list off the top of my head. So hardly a renaissance woman.  I think of what Leonardo Da Vinci tackled, carrying his notebook and wandering the streets of Florence allowing ideas and curiosity to guide him and am appalled at my own limitations.  The sitting that I’ve become so good at over the years is the equivalent of the content consumption that has been made so much easier by the internet and access to so many bite size bits of reading and watching.  Like that sad little muscle sitting at the back of my leg, I’ve got to light a fire into those flabby bits of brain.  But the real problem is that I forget to think – I swipe the ignorance the screen inside my head and turn to something I can speculate on with ease, or flip to Pinterest.

Forgetting how to think has got to be truly the worst form of lethargy, and so easy to succumb to as you get older.  I’m not great at new year resolutions but I do think it might be time to push myself into another new routine, one that challenges my brain as much as my body.

If you’re interested in how I’m pushing my body have a look at the videos from Boho Beautiful.  You will need to come to terms with her general gorgeousness, which is difficult, trust me.  But once you do, I think you’ll find these are fantastically balanced workouts which will help you discover muscles you never new you had.

To get there, big, audacious goals are just plain trouble.  I’m a proponent of the Kaizen method – 1% daily improvements – setting micro goals achieves more than those big hairy goals ever will.  A short read here on the Kaizen method, or listen to this Art of Manliness podcast that summarizes the approach.

 

The trouble with gender

GI joe and barbi
Barbie and GI Joe

 

Passing on for your general edification (and hopefully an opinion or two) Mark Manson’s thoughts on feminism brought to you by his website MarkManson.net and entitled What’s the problem with feminism?

And if you want to see the other half of the equation try What’s the problem with men?

I can’t remember a time when gender, transgender, no-gender has  been so debated.  The rights of one compared to the others, the study of gender, the constraints and advantages.  I would like to move beyond gender and do what suits me as a person.  But as these articles point out, we remain largely constrained by ideas of the feminine and masculine, where happiness and success are measured against outdated norms.

I’ve just discovered Mark Manson and hope you enjoy his writing as much as I do.

The question I put to you, are you willing and ready to be truly equal?  Would you miss any of the privileges your gender provides?  Hmmm.