On prostheses, gold medals, dinners, and trolls

She wore not a prosthesis, but four. Quadruple amputee athlete Bebe Vio, 19, who lost her limbs to meningitis at the age of 11 and last month won a Paralympic gold medal in women’s wheelchair fencing, walked on her own two lower limb prostheses when joining Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the State Dinner hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama two nights ago in Washington. And what did she get out of it? Glamour (she wore an evening dress donated by Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior), fun (at least judging from her selfie with Obama), some food prepared by celebrity chef Mario Batali, and a lot of vitriol poured onto her from all corners of the Web. In the last couple of days, online armchair critics have accused her of the most bizarre sins, such as flying to Washington to have fun at the expense of taxpayers, neglecting the plight of the unemployed, wearing an expensive dress by a French brand, being “politicized” in support of the embattled Renzi, and worse. Countless online trolls over the past two days have let out their own frustration against Bebe, as they have in the past against many women who have, for example, spoken out against misogyny in videogames, called for historic women leaders to be portrayed on banknotes, or written about contemporary feminism.

Bebe, who only recently won her Paralympic gold and is not a feminist campaigner by any stretch of the imagination, pays for two original sins. First, she never let herself become a victim. Life gave her a shitload of bitter lemons, and she built a factory of very sweet lemonade: the non-profit she started with her family, Art4Sport, has helped dozens of amputee children practice sports instead of languishing in their wheelchairs. Second, she is a young woman: and women who are proud of any achievement – technology, entrepreneurship, politics, sports – end up being attacked, insulted and threatened with the worst sexist and violent attacks if they so much as dare to share their pride online. The torrent of insults unleashed on Bebe is just the latest example of how the basic rules of civil discourse seem to be suspended when it comes to criticizing women. What is to be done if we are to neutralize poisonous threats against women? One might follow the example of journalist and podcaster Alanah Pearce, whose anti-troll technique became famous after this tweet: “Sometimes young boys on Facebook send me rape threats, so I’ve started telling their mothers.” If you are disgusted by the trolls who attacked Bebe, finding out who their moms are and sending them screenshots might not be a bad place to start.

In favor of wearing whatever the hell you want, part 3

We had our own Janet Yellen moment in Europe yesterday: the third swearing-in of Angela Merkel as Germany’s Chancellor. Just the same way as Yellen “Wore Same Dress Twice, Upsetting Local Idiot” (Jezebel), Merkel was criticized (picture below from the front page of Corriere della Sera) for wearing a very similar outfit to what she wore for previous ceremonies of the same type.

So what? They are smart and practical women. They standardize their looks because it saves them precious time, even if they become predictable. I am sure a lot of powerful men have favorite outfits too, and they don’t spend a lot of time worrying whether they’ve worn the same thing before.

Plus, Merkel has been photographed wearing quite different gear to the opera (see this post in case you don’t remember). So why, why can’t women yet wear whatever the hell they want?


Merkel swearing-in outfit


The Illusionists: Help fund it on Kickstarter

A few weeks ago, I had drinks with a young filmmaker I had started following on Twitter months ago. Her name is Elena Rossini and she lives in Paris. We talked extensively about her feature-length documentary project, The Illusionists. I’ll let her explain it in her own words:

As you may know, in late June I’ve launched an ambitious fundraising campaign for my feature-length documentary The Illusionists, which I wrote and I am co-producing and directing.

Here is the synopsis of the film:

THE ILLUSIONISTS is a feature-length documentary about the commodification of the body and the marketing of unattainable beauty around the world. The film will explore the influence that corporations have on our perceptions of ourselves, showing how mass media, advertising, and several industries manipulate people’s insecurities about their bodies for profit.

The Illusionists’ Kickstarter page has a video teaser and a longer explanation of the project: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1085595579/the-illusionists-documentary-insecurity-sells (its themes, style, and my motivations for making the film).

There are amazing experts already lined up for the interviews, including author & filmmaker Jean Kilbourne (best known for her iconic film series “Killing Us Softly”), psychotherapist Susie Orbach (best known for her books “Fat is a Feminist Issue” and “Bodies”) and Jenn Pozner (author of “Reality Bites Back”; she was recently featured in the New Yorker and on NPR). I’m also hoping to interview Umberto Eco, Gloria Steinem, Oliviero Toscani and Maurice Levy of Publicis, amongst others. 

Thanks to the incredible generosity of friends, friends-of-friends, Twitter and Facebook followers, the fundraising campaign has already achieved some amazing milestones. 12 days in, I’ve reached 43% of the total funding goal, with over 110 backers and more than 1,100 Facebook “likes” of my Kickstarter page. In short, I’m on cloud nine. But the road ahead is still long… if I don’t reach 100% of the funding goal by August 5th, I will lose all the pledges made so far.

On Kickstarter, I am offering “regular people” pre-sales of the film and various other gifts as rewards for donations:http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1085595579/the-illusionists-documentary-insecurity-sells (the column on the right). I’m also developing a special package for sponsors whose mission is aligned with the message of the film that would offer exposure on the site, in all press material, and in the end credits of the film.

If this is something that resonates with you, go to Kickstarter.com and fund it. I just did.

My new favorite fashion designer

Last weekend, an advertising image (among dozens and dozens of full-page ads in a magazine) caught my eye.


Yes, she is advertising a fashion brand. Yet, look at her.

She is not squeezed into a corset or stuck onto stiletto heels. There are no animal prints, no lace, no fur, no patent leather. No chains: she is not wearing any jewelry. No sunglasses. No handbags. Normal, healthy hair.

The clothes play with her body – concealing some features, showing others. She’s comfortable. She’s not constrained.

She may be dancing. But she’s dancing for herself – not for a male gaze.

The designer’s name is Martino Midali. I haven’t had a chance to wear his clothes yet, but based on this image alone, I think we need more designers like him.

In favor of wearing whatever the hell you want, part 2

carme-chaconHere is Carme Chacón, Spanish defense minister, in a supremely elegant suit by Spanish designer Purificación García, presiding over the troops’ Pascua Militar parade on January 6th (photo: EFE). The suit had been previously vetted by officials in charge of royal protocol, yet Chacón was criticized (mostly by men, obviously) for not wearing a dress.

Women across the political spectrum defended Chacón’s untraditional choice. Esperanza Aguirre, a leading member of the opposition, said: “Como mujer que se dedica a la política, me indigna que sea motivo de discusión lo que nos ponemos, cómo nos peinamos y cómo nos cortamos el pelo, eso no pasa con los hombres.” Minister of Equality Bibiana Aído said: “No se nos ocurriría comentar la indumentaria de un hombre.”

Human capital

View from Pont de la Tour restaurant, London

I am back from two days in London and still thinking about the experience. This was a different trip for me – no museums, no galleries – just long walks, some shopping, some dining, some warming up at the fireplace in the lounge at the hotel. I must not have noticed before, but this is what hit me this time: everybody we dealt with was on top of their game. I think this means if you’re very good at something, you go do it in London. Some outstanding people were:

  • The Albanian head sommelier at Gordon Ramsay’s at Claridge’s. We had very good conversations, both about wines and about Albania.
  • The South Asian saleswoman who sold me two pairs of jeans (Hudson and 7 For All Mankind) after having me try on about a dozen to find, in her opinion, the perfect fit.
  • The young pale blonde English woman who took us through the entire range of Jo Malone fragrances until we found the two that were just right.
  • The Italian maitre and staff at Pont de la Tour, where we had a festive lunch and felt at home despite eating turkey and looking out at Tower Bridge.
  • Everybody at 41 Hotel, including a concierge with the fantastically literary name of Adele Coetzee.
  • The hostess at the lounge we used at Gatwick airport, who gave us a most enthusiastic overview of her facilities and truly looked sorry we couldn’t stay longer when it was time for us to board.

This sample is, I admit, biased towards the retail and hospitality sectors, places with brutal competition where staff can’t help but being eager to please in the current downturn. But if this small sample says something about the quality of human capital in London that holds true across the board, then it must be one of the reasons why London is such a great city.