Issue 14

April 2019

Note from the editor, Lesley Jane Seymour

Why Do We Have to Sleep Together?

I have a terrible secret. But I’m going to tell you about it now.

I hate sleeping in the same bed as my husband.

Actually, I hate sleeping in the same bed as anyone! I really treasure my sleep and when I get into bed, the last thing I want is sweaty hands touching me or yanking my pillow.  I especially hate those bouncy old coil spring mattresses that shake my side of the bed every time my husband rolls over. When Jeff and I first moved in together we went through every kind of mattress we could find — from exorbitantly priced horsehair (ouch!–too hard) to cotton-stuffed futons (too thin) — at the rate of a new mattress every three years. It wasn’t until memory foam came on the market that we finally found our bliss.  I’m a light sleeper and when the water buffalo next to me shifts position, I no longer bounce awake. Unfortunately, hotels and Airbnbs present high-risk mattresses.  For that reason, when we travel to bedrooms we don’t know, my husband automatically books twin beds! I guess he figured there’s nothing worse than waking up on a fabulous trip to Italy only to find his wife cranky and ornery from being jiggled all night.

Unfortunately, my inability to sleep nicely doesn’t just apply to my husband. I was never able to sleep with my kids either, especially once they started kicking and flailing around at night. So we put mattresses on the floor in our room right next to the bed instead. After 9/11, both of them slept there for a year.

My sleep habits have always made me feel like I’m falling down on my wifely or motherly duties. But lo and behold, we now find research that says how vital good sleep is to the aging process and we’ve even found a wonderful sleep doctor to interview who says it’s your duty to yourself to pull a Lucy and Ricky and sleep in separate beds (Read Catherine Lefebvre’s “Take a Sleepcation from Your Spouse”). If that water buffalo next to you happens to snore as well, feel free — ahem, you’d best — check into your kid’s old bedroom or the living room couch for a once a week sleepcation!  No more feeling guilty for me.  My weekly exits to the porch couch (did I mention my husband snores really loudly?) are now part of my legal obligation to be a trendsetter for this crowd.

Don’t miss our other fabulous articles in this issue: Diane di Costanzo’s hilarious investigation of all things CBD (“I am CBD Curious”), Katie Weisman’s fantastic report on how to finally find a freaking bra that fits (“Yes, Virginia, There is a Bra That Fits”), and Madhushree Gosh’s lovely essay about why she remained happily childfree (“Why I Decided to Remain Childfree by Choice”). Be inspired by Deanna Utroske’s article on three women who reinvented themselves into the indie beauty business (“3 Indie Beauty Brands Built by Late-in-Life Reinventors”), Kelly Jackson’s hilarious paean to working at home (“The Naked Truth About Working From Home”), Michelle Moskowitz’s investigation of what changing your online profile picture can do for your personal and work life (“What Your Profile Picture Says About You”), and the good works of our woman of passion & purpose, Dr. Jane Aronson (“The Orphan Doctor”).  And last but not least, please read Lisa Rabasca Roepe’s great interview with activist Allison Fine who is creating a network of mentors and educational tools to help all our newly elected female officials navigate the harassment and obstacles that come with those jobs (“Help Elected Women Stay in Their Jobs”). Who knew that getting elected would not be the hardest part of it!?

I hope you enjoy this issue of TheCovey and will add your comments and share the articles with friends. Please email me at lesley@coveyclub.com with any ideas or opinions about what we can do better. We’re also always looking for great stories and great interviews.

And lastly: take your Covey experience to the next level by joining us this Veterans Day at our Civana spa retreat in Carefree, Arizona. We want to meet you and connect you to new friends and business partners who believe this is the most amazing time of their life. We are booking up fast, so sign up now!

Have a great April!

Health

Take a Sleepcation from Your Spouse

Separate bedrooms let you have a divide-and-conquer approach to sleep

By Catherine LeFebvre

Man and woman in separate beds in the 1950s
Photo from 1950 Simmons BeautyRest ad

I love my husband. No really, I do. But wow is he a giant who takes up most of the bed. Who also snores like a beast. And lets the dog sleep with us. And lately — and I have no idea how this happens — I wake up and find the top sheet coiled up into one long strip and wrapped around my neck. I’m starting to worry that he’s trying to kill me.

Homicidal tendencies aside, I know he’s not the only one to blame for our bad sleep. I like to go to bed early and have been described as a “militant cuddler” on more than one occasion. He’s a night owl who gets too hot to touch anything, let alone a human, while sleeping.

The Better Sleep Council reports that, on average, one in three Americans believes their partner has a negative effect on their sleep, so clearly we’re not alone in our sleep saga. It seems like sleeping together night after night isn’t the blissful dream most couples want it to be.

“I do think it’s kind of strange that we have evolved to sleep together,” says Dr. W. Chris Winter, author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It. “I don’t necessarily feel the urge to do other things together, like, ‘let’s sit in the same chair, honey, and eat from the same plate.’ Even our bathrooms have two different sinks.”

To get a little more rest, Dr. Winter recommends taking a “sleepcation” from your spouse. You pick a night or two a week that you decide to sleep apart. That way you can both get a good night’s sleep, and you remove any guilt that might come with storming off to the couch because you’ve been awakened at 3 am.

“It’s a sensitive topic,” Dr. Winter says. “I work in the South, so I get a lot of uncomfortable looks when I bring it up. I almost feel like they look at you like, ‘why? so YOU can sleep with her?’”

The idea is a little shocking at first. Before talking to Dr. Winter, I believed that sleeping together had a direct correlation to the amount a couple loves each other. Can you really sleep apart and still remain close?

Dr. Winter insists taking a sleepcation doesn’t mean you don’t love your partner, or don’t want to be with them. It’s just that people need to sleep and do what’s right for their shut-eye. And what’s right isn’t necessarily to have some giant guy breathing over you. I feel so seen.  

“Maybe Tuesdays and Thursdays you sleep apart. Then every night you’re not deciding how much you love each other — it’s just a built-in thing,” says Dr. Winter. “And it’s also kinda fun on Wednesday night when you get back together again.”

So it turns out Lucy and Ricky had the right idea.

For other help with sleep Join Nest with Covey or Rule the Roost for immediate access to our private chat room in our CoveyConnect app called, “Up at 3 AM”.  For other Covey articles on sleep see: “It’s 3 AM. Why are You Waking Up?”, “4 Weird Sleep Tricks that Work“, “My Sleep Rules” and “The One Beauty Treatment Every Woman Over 40 Needs.”


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The Find

I am CBD Curious

Want to know more about the hottest supplement out there? Here are the best CBD products to try

By Diane di Costanzo

Try CBD Products to Mellow Out
Photo by Ishan

Can you name a substance that counts among its fans both Gwyneth Paltrow and Mitch McConnell? If you answered CBD, you’re probably a — oh, let’s see —human being on this planet, that’s how pervasive are products infused with cannabidiol, to call it by its proper name. And they’re likely to become even more ubiquitous, since President Trump signed a farm bill legalizing the cultivation of “industrial hemp.” 

Hemp plants contain CBD but not tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that gets you high. That’s where fanboy McConnell enters the picture, by the way — a stretch, I know, but he advocated for the bill, which will give Kentucky farmers a way to replace tobacco with a more lucrative crop.

That’s also the first thing to know about CBD: it has zero psychoactive effects. And while the list of benefits it might confer is a long one — most commonly, relief of anxiety, inflammation, and muscle pain — epilepsy is the only condition for which the FDA has approved it as a remedy. Which is why claims made by CBD product manufacturers are a little bit squishy: “The legal way to chill TF out” is how one edible puts it. A clear-headed but pleasantly mellow “body high” is another term often used.

More fine print for the CBD curious: as an unregulated substance, there are no standard dosages. And unsurprisingly, everybody reacts to CBD differently. Put another way, super-user Seth Rogen, who lobbied Congress on CBD’s behalf, would likely have a higher tolerance than, say, I would. Plus, packaging often refers to the total amount of CBD in the product, not the amount a consumer should use, so determining how many sleep-inducing gummies to take is an exercise in crowd-sourcing. “Take, like, one,” said the guy in the shop. “Or whatever.”

Crowd-sourcing is also how I chose the products I tried. My favorites — along with a few recommended by celebrities and an industry organization — are listed below.

SKIN CARE

Lord Jones High CBD Formula Body Lotion; $60

It’s sold as “full-spectrum,” meaning the entire plant is used, not an “isolate,” which is said to be less effective. Olivia Wilde told the New York Times it soothed a sore neck. Mandy Moore raved to Refinery 29 about how the oil version relieved her red-carpet foot pain. Founded in 2016, Lord Jones is one of the original CBD purveyors and is so buzzy that it has a collab with The Standard Hotels: try their limited-edition box of blood orange CBD Gumdrops ($50 for 9 pieces). Yum.

High Gorgeous Plain Jane Medical Cannabis Body Lotion; $40

“Plain” because it’s made from organic hemp and is fragrance- and paraben-free. “High” because, you know. I haven’t tried it but it won a 2018 Best of Cannabis award for best wellness product.

LUBRICANTS

Apothecanna Sexy Time Personal Intimacy Oil; $52

I haven’t tried this one either, but Goop is a fan and, as a rule of thumb, you’ll be much better off taking sex advice from Gwyneth Paltrow than from me. It’s infused with both CBD and jasmine, an (also unregulated) aphrodisiac.

Knob Polish; $24

I don’t have a knob to polish but I straight up just love the name of this one. And for discerning knobs please note that it’s sold as safe for use with latex, as well as being CBD-infused.

FOOD + DRINK

GO BASIC EDIBLES CACAO CBD CHOCOLATES; $7 for 2 pieces

These raw, organic, vegan and paleo-compliant chocolates are delicious. Did I feel happier having eaten one? Yes, but chocolate will do that to a girl, too.

Feelz by CHLOE Coconutty Cacao; $10

An off-shoot of Sweets by CHLOE — which in itself is an offshoot of the wildly popular by CHLOE chain of vegan restaurants — these shops offer standard sweets along with a case of CBD-infused baked (hah!) goods and candy. The packaging is all unicorns and rainbows. Literally: the solid chunk of very good CBD chocolate I bought had both a unicorn and rainbow on its wrapper. There were also CBD cookies sprinkled with edible glitter, which seemed to me to be a dental emergency waiting to happen.

Chillhouse CBD-infused Purple Haze iced drink; $7

This East Village spa and nail salon is fronted by a café selling CBD wellness products, as well as tea, coffee, and iced drinks. I walked in stressing about my SEP IRA (you’ll also want to avoid taking financial advice from me). My Chillhouse Purple Haze was a lovely blend of CBD and herbal tea and it made feel, well, chill. But then I lost my phone and wigged out all over again. Sigh.

WELLNESS

SLEEPY ’ZS CBD Night Time Gummies; $10 for two gummies

I took two grape-y gummies and fell asleep fast. But then had a vivid and disturbing dream about being pursued by a shady dude in aviators. The scene I awoke to: I was safe at home, or so I thought, but when I looked in the mirror, there was the guy behind me, still wearing those dumb glasses. This as compared to my more typical dreams, featuring me sending Outlook invites and emails and the like. Seriously, I dreamed last week that I was emailing Jenna in finance about an account number for coding an invoice. I’d try SLEEPY ’ZS again but at 10 bucks for two little gummies, it won’t be an every-night thing.  

TONIC Chill Tonic; $75

I saved the best — and easiest — for last. To induce a mellower mood, I take two drops under the tongue. Sold as full-spectrum and organically grown, it’s nicely flavored with Ashwagandha, lemon balm, and passion flower. And it was given to me as a Christmas present by my daughter Lily. Thank you, sweet girl.

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Rightsizing

Yes, Virginia, There is a Bra That Fits

Too big? Too small? Our guide to finding a bra that's just right

By Katie Weisman

BRA FITTING STORY
Of love, loss and brassieres. Photo by Pablo Heimplatz for Unsplash

Do your bra straps fall down your shoulders? Does the back strap of your bra ride up? Do you have “muffin top” above the top edge of your bra cup?

If so, you are among the majority of women who are not wearing the right bra for their body.

Finding a bra that fits well should be simple. Instructions for measuring how to determine your bra size are posted everywhere online.

The Elements of Fit

One method is self-measuring. Grab a flexible tape measure and put on your best-fitting bra. To determine your band size, measure the circumference of your body around your rib cage, immediately below your breasts. The tape measure should be snug. If you get an odd number, round up to the nearest whole even number.

Next, measure your bust size by keeping the tape level across the fullest part of your bust and around your back. Your bust size is theoretically the result of the equation of subtracting your band size from your bust size. For example, if your band size is 36” and your bust size is 40”, your result is 4” which translates to a D cup — in US, European, and UK cup sizes.

Measuring for your bra band size
Photo: courtesy, BareNecessities

But this is not easy.

I dare you to keep that tape measure level around your body while measuring yourself. Now, say your band size is 36” and your bust size is 43”, then your cup size is DDDD/G in US sizing. That translates to a G-cup in European sizing and an F-cup in UK sizing. But don’t be deceived. Even among brands designed in the same country, a bra size from one label can fit differently than the same size from another due to the actual construction of the bra, the fabric used, and where it was manufactured.

Bra Size Chart
Image: courtesy, BareNecessities
Sister-size It!

Let’s throw some “sister-sizing” in the mix to make things extra fun. The concept of sister-sizing relates to the volume of a cup’s size relative to the band with the idea that cup volume stays the same though the band size and cup letter changes. Thus, if you are a 34 C but the band feels snug, you can sister-size up to a 36 B. Alternatively, if the band feels loose, you can sister-size down to a 32 D. But again, this is not an exact science and you’ll still be better off trying on the bras rather than assuming that sister-sizing will result in the best fit for you.

There are so many factors working against your chances of  finding the right fitting bra, it’s a wonder that any of us succeed at all.

“Measuring under the bust and across the bust, then counting off the difference to get your cup size, or some such self-measuring system, is so absurdly crude as to be useless. It has no accounting for breast shape, where the bust is set on the torso, how close or wide the breasts are set, or how firm the breast tissue is,” bemoans Jenette Goldstein, the owner of Jenette Bras, a three-store company in the Los Angeles area specializing in D-K cup sizes.

Key to Success: Get Fitted in Person

For that reason, lingerie experts say the only true way to find the right bra is to get fitted in person, and to get fitted every six months. Many independent lingerie stores have expert fitters, including the legendary Town Shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, or Jenette Bras in LA. Dan Koch, the fourth-generation Town Shop owner, notes that more independent stores are opening, increasing the availability of professional fitters across the US.

Inside New York’s legendary Town Shop

Department stores often have fitters who are not part of the same staff as the people who make the sales. At Neiman Marcus you can make an appointment with a bra fitter, as you would with a personal shopper, free of charge. Prepare ahead of time, says intimate apparel buyer Ashley Allcorn, by providing information on what brand you currently wear and in what size, or problems you want to resolve. Depending on where you live, find out what specialty retailers or stores with serious lingerie departments are around you and go.

Try High Tech at Soma

If you are uncomfortable having your naked body measured with a tape measure or having your torso visually scrutinized sans tape measure, as practiced by the expert fitters at Town Shop or Jenette Bras, then head to Soma or www.soma.com, the brick and mortar and online retailer that has just launched the SomaInnofit smart bra. This item, available to use for free in stores, or for $59 to have shipped home to you, is shaped kind of like a sports bra. Using Bluetooth technology, it is connected to an app, and its technical seams sewn in copper take the key measurements to determine a proper fitting bra. (Soma offers a discount on a lingerie purchase after a customer buys a SomaInnofit for home use). But even Soma executive Cathy Devine, vice-president of innovation, says that nothing beats an in-store consult. In Soma’s case, a bra fitter can make sure that you put on the smart bra correctly.

Soma’s Innofit Smart Bra uses Bluetooth Technology to deliver the right fit
Photo: courtesy, Soma
Hidden History of Issues With Fit

The modern-day bra dates to the late 1800s, when Herminie Cadolle of Paris offered one as part of a two-piece undergarment in her corset catalog. The idea was to lend women support while eliminating the full-torso constraints of a corset. Today, the bra is a highly engineered product with at least six components: cups, band, center panel, wings, hooks, and straps. To this mix you can add underwire, padding, seams for contouring, different kinds of fabric, etc., offering different levels of support. This also impacts size and fit.

In addition to the conundrum of measuring, breast shape, and manufacture, achieving proper bra fit can be foiled by women who have preconceived ideas of what bra size they should be wearing. They’ll rely on the size that worked three years ago or can even be scared off by large cup sizes, as if a double-D is racy or taboo, as this size was once perceived to be in the past. Also, women forget that breast size can change frequently due to hormonal fluctuations, weight gain or loss, among other factors.

“What tends to happen is a woman finds a bra they like, she tries it on in a few sizes and ‘settles’ with the option she thinks works,” explains Neiman’s Allcorn. She adds that with the increasingly busy and time-pressured lives women lead, they don’t think they need to give bra fitting a great deal of time.

A lingerie department at Neiman Marcus with a curated selection of brands.

Online VS. Offline

The retail landscape for lingerie doesn’t make things easy for women either.

If you do not have an independent lingerie shop near you, chances are you have a big-box department store where you’re greeted with a tsunami of beige items that look alike but offer a severely limited size range; this is due to stocking space constraints. Thus, you might go shopping, not find your correct size because it’s not on the sales floor and buy from what’s available, putting aside your need for proper fit, observes Tracy Freno, manager of customer service at online intimate apparel and swimwear retailer BareNecessities. Online retailers can offer a wider range of options than a brick and mortar store — such as a wealth of information about fit, and often, fit advisors. BareNecessities serves up band sizes from 28-56 and cup sizes from AA-O.

“Did you even know that was an option? Neither do most women. There are plenty of people whose true size does not fall in the narrow assortment that a department store or brick and mortar retailer can offer,” says Freno.

This is where internet upstart Thirdlove is trying to make a play by offering half-cup sizes. Thirdlove would not respond to requests for comment. Industry executives, however, say that by offering half-cup sizes, Thirdlove is only further confusing a muddled marketplace, making it even harder for women to find their right size.

“Shoes have half-sizes, bras are not shoes,” explains Freno, echoing the sentiment of those interviewed for this story. “Women are confused enough when it comes to shopping for bras and we should be striving to find the perfect combination of band and cup size that will actually work, not some concocted notion of ‘half sizes’ in a garment where there are no half sizes.”

Plus, “It’s hard enough to fit someone when they come in the store!” notes The Town Shop’s Koch.

The Boob-Brain Connection

Bra size can also be a quasi-psychological issue. Once a 34 B, always a 34 B. Personally, during pregnancy my rib cage expanded because my babies were so big in the womb. I would never again be a 34-something after childbirth.

“Sometimes women can get locked into a size whether or not that size is relevant anymore,” says Koch. “They may have gotten measured years ago and stuck with that number.”

Wearing the wrong size bra can make you miserable. If it’s too small, or too tight, it can actually hurt, observes Ellen Jacobson, the founder and owner of Elila, a plus-size lingerie brand. “It affects your mental day,” she adds.

Of course, no amount of measuring or trying things on will work if you don’t know how your bra should fit. Many in the industry refer to “stoop, scoop and swoop” method, or any version thereof. With your bra on, bend forward and allow your breasts to fall into the cup. Scoop each breast forward, notably in front of any underwire, from the back and bottom using the opposite hand and smooth the breast tissue out. If you’ve chosen a bra with an underwire, make sure the underwire holds all your breast tissue. The underwire might seem like it’s reaching back into your armpit to hold the entirety of your breast but that might be where it’s supposed to land in order to embrace the entire breast. And if you want to make sure your bra will fit you for a while, handwashing and air drying is your only option as the heat and bustle of washing machines and dryers can distort shape permanently.

Bra
Courtesy, Bare Necessities
The Bra Plays a Role in Your Well-Being

Kimmay Caldwell, a lingerie consultant, expert fitter, and founder of Hurray Kimmay, feels that a properly-fitting bra is an essential part of one’s well-being. This notion is being embraced by the industry as well.

She observes that many women have bad, shameful memories of getting their first bras.

“Most of us learn how to wear undergarments from [our] mothers but often mothers were misinformed. I was so embarrassed to talk about this, I wouldn’t let my mom come into the changing room,” observes Caldwell.

Caldwell had a terrible self-image that was transformed thanks to years working as a fitter at one of New York City’s top lingerie stores, a job that put her through college as a musical theater major. At school, Caldwell says, everything seemed to focus on appearance. She didn’t think she was pretty enough or thin enough and thought she wasn’t getting cast for productions because of her looks. Something about being a fitter — seeing people in a highly intimate setting and finding them the right bra — caused a change in perception.

“Everyone said something negative while looking at the mirror. But I could tell people in the dressing room to love and enjoy themselves,” Kimmay recalls. “If I could help someone get into a bra that fit well, along with some knowledge about their body — shoulders back! Chest out! Heart leading the way! — that’s the person I want to send out in the world.”

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Breaking The Rules

Why I Decided to Remain Childfree by Choice

At midlife, would she regret her decision to skip the children thing?

By Madhushree Gosh

Empty bassinet
photo by Nynne Schroder for unsplash

It is 1988 and Madhuri Dixit — bubbly, beautiful, and buxom — is the Bollywood actress to fall in love with.

I Find That Learning and Science Sustain Me

I am 18, in college studying chemistry, and in the movie theater with my friend, Meeta, stuffing my face with greasy popcorn. I look up. Madhuri fills the screen, gyrating in a popcorn pink skirt and blouse. She lip syncs to “one, two, three, I count the days as I wait for you, my lover.” She simpers, her smile lighting up the screen.

The crowd whistles when she winks. This is Bollywood, where one grows up surrounded by Hindi movies — where women and men sing at the drop of a hat, lovers have melodramatic fights, fathers are villainous and disapproving, and where, finally, the hero always wins the girl and rides off with her into the sunset on his Yamaha.

“What did you think, wasn’t she great?” Meeta asks as we push our way out of the theater.

“Yes, she was. No wonder the boys go crazy over her,” I say, pretending I really care about the gyrations and simpering.  I don’t. I never did. And at 18, I’m not about to start.

I Have a Serious (Bengali) Mindset

I am a Bengali, after all. Bengalis grow up in families discussing fish curries, Darjeeling tea, music, literature, and politics. My childhood memory is of my sister and me fighting over the newspaper, not dolls. Heaving bosoms, wedding songs, pining for a Bollywood hero to whisk me away on his Yamaha has never been my ambition.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love the Bollywood songs, the intricate dance steps, the melodious music, the unnecessary drama, the sad close-ups.  I love it all.  But in 1998, I already know something else — that I am an anomaly.  I love traditions like Bollywood but know that my brain also functions equally well in computational software, biotech innovation, and literary construction.

1988. I am already a chemistry major. I wear thick jeans and my Baba’s shirts — an outfit to hide my curves and breasts. The only girly thing about me is my long hair. I am my Baba’s son — the most tomboyish girl I know.

Science is most important to me; what I look like, isn’t. Because boys are competition. They are obstacles that need to be overcome in one’s quest for excellence.

All My Friends Run Off and Marry

Meeta gets married to the first “boy” her parents arrange for her to meet. On her wedding day, she wears a pink salwar kameez and covers her head with a sparkly pink dupatta. She simpers like Madhuri when her new husband whispers into her ear and they share a joke as if they’ve known each other for years. I am the bride’s friend, the one at the wedding with henna on my hands for the first time. I wear a sari and borrow Ma’s jewelry.

Everyone says: “Ah, bahut sundar ho! You’re next to get married, no?”

To which I reply rudely: “No, I’m not beautiful and I’m not getting married. I’m headed to America for a Ph.D.”

1993. My friend moves to Florida, cooking and keeping house for her husband, an IT consultant. They play the wife and husband roles that Bollywood has ingrained in young couples of the ‘90s. We lose contact, as one is prone to do when life and goals take us in divergent directions.

My Biological Clock Refuses to Tick

I head to graduate school in New York where the boys are still the competition. I develop crushes — on the impossibly handsome Shahrukh, or craggy old Harrison Ford, even the ‘90s Tom Cruise. Relationships with those impossible-to-obtain celluloid guys are easier to imagine than the nerdy fellow graduate students I am surrounded by.

More importantly, my biological clock does not tick. No second-hand alerts me that the gates to reproduction are slowly closing. No alarms of longing go off when babies wail in movie theaters or gurgle delightfully in airport boarding areas.

I don’t share this fact with anyone.

1993. It’s the era of “You had me at hello!” Where Hollywood encourages young women to quit their jobs and follow their men. To be wooed by Cruise, to have babies, to be rescued, to be a single mother, following Cruise to his next idealistic adventure. Or to be rescued from the streets by an intense Richard Gere.

This is Americanized Bollywood — where every male-female encounter is cloaked in love and romance; being in love is what it means to be American. And in America, as in India, it is made clear that wanting to be childfree is considered odd, even selfish.

I Don’t Need Anyone to “Complete” Me

Once again, I am an outlier in my community.  I believe there are several routes to creation, to sharing, to finding joy. Having a child isn’t one of them. So I conform in silence. I don’t admit that I think that I am complete without children (or a spouse). Admitting that would instantly draw attention to my outlier status. And for a closet introvert like me, it isn’t what I want to do.  

1993. I return to India for a visit. My parents are happy to have me home, albeit for a few weeks. Friends have moved away, and India is morphing into a fast-paced country I hardly recognize. But the neighbors, or aunties as we call them, remain the same — nosy, judgmental, and gossipy. The first one, Ma’s friend for decades, climbs the steps to our home, and with each heavy step, says: “Good, bahut hua, you’ve enjoyed yourself a lot. Now get married.”

“Why, auntie?”

“You can’t live your life alone. No woman should.”

Ma’s other friend, skinny and tall, elegant in her chiffon looks me up and down, sipping the tea Didi makes for her. Then she says: “You’re 28. Isn’t it time you settled down?”

I can’t wait to go home. I am home. I don’t know where home is.

2003. I am in love. He is an Indian immigrant, just like me. He loves my food, my radical views, me. We travel to exotic places, work at high-paced companies, and I cook big meals for friends, families, neighbors in San Diego. I am the career woman, managing home and work, and making it look easy. The in-laws, traditional South Indians, show up every six months.

I Put on Weight— But Not The “Right Kind”

2005. My mother-in-law arrives after a 30-hour multi-flight trip and says: “Madhu, you’ve put on weight, eh?”

“Huh?”

“It’s good,” she says, “you were too skinny. Now to give us some ‘good news’ Madhu.”

I complain to my husband. “What does she mean, good news, eh? Does this always have to be about children?”

He shrugs it off: “Everyone wants children, Madhu.”

“I never did.”

“Well, I thought you’d change your mind, Madhu.”

My radical views of being childfree, which once sounded so revolutionary, are under assault. My views need to conform in this marriage. My husband, someone I so love, now isn’t so sure he wants to remain married to an Outlier Indian.

I try still to make this work.

Love Does Not Conquer All

Love conquers all. Both Bollywood and Hollywood say so. But a career in science and literary writing mean nothing when facing the onslaught of traditional Indian expectations.

2013. The relationship sputters. After 17 years, the marriage collapses — the differences are too vast, the abuse is subtle but clear: my desire to remain childfree isn’t acceptable. The death of a marriage is always sad. But I have not compromised who I am.

2017.  My friend April’s five-year-old daughter runs up the steps to my house near the San Diego Bay.

“Madoo?” she asks. She always calls my name like it’s a question.

“Yes, Raya?”

“Can you make me some eggs please?”

April walks into the kitchen, shaking her head. She is a writer herself, an accidental mother who fiercely guards her hours of writing as fiercely as she loves her child.

“What are you shaking your head for?” I ask.

April says: “My girl eats nothing and waits to eat your scrambled eggs!”  

I crack the eggs into the pan as her daughter sits at the table patiently.

“Cheese?” I ask her.

Uh-huh, she nods, her brown-blond hair shining. She wears a pink dress, her favorite color.

I smile back at her. Her eyes twinkle with love.

I Love the Life I’ve Chosen

This is a life I’ve chosen.

I am a wonderful aunt to many children of many ages, five through 32. I am wonderful to them probably because I don’t treat them as young (and hence not worthy of having an opinion that matters). And probably because I spoil them. My work as a woman in bioscience hasn’t stopped — in fact, it has accelerated. My body still doesn’t have an alarm clock and my clock still doesn’t tick.

My humor sustains me, as do my relationships with my friends — strong men and women, all.

2017. Seven years after my mother dies, I finally have two weeks free from work to go to New Delhi. The place is loud, noisy, fast, polluted, frenetic — and magical.  But now there are multiplex movie theaters and gigantic air-conditioned malls filled with Louboutin, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Gucci stores.

Professional women are the main consumers. These women move faster than we did a few decades ago: Careers are of utmost importance and financial freedom is more important than marital joy. Being an engineer or doctor — instead of marrying one — is the priority. These women, often a couple of decades younger than me, have a child or two. But many more are childfree. Some of them proclaim their childfree status with pride.

Today, happiness can be found in a traditional Indian marriage with children, or with no children, or with no marriage at all.

I still love the city’s pace, the still ever-present Bollywood songs. I also love that very soon, I will not be an outlier.

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Say what?

“That pain is where you find the passion. And the passion is where you find the purpose. And the purpose is where you find the power.”

—Michelle Buelow, CEO, Bella Tunno

Breaking The Rules

Help Elected Women Stay in their Jobs

Trolling. Harassment. Getting elected was actually the easy part of the battle

By Lisa Rabasca Roepe

female politicians harassment
Photo by Monica Melton for unsplash

A record number of women were elected to public office in November 2018, and not just to Congress but also to serve on local town and city councils, school boards, and county legislatures. Many of these women are expected to navigate these opaque and archaic political waters without significant staff or pay, without allies or a meaningful network. Many of them have faced online trolling and threats — locally! Enter activist Allison Fine. She started the Network of Elected Women (NEW) to provide that missing support system. Fine is coauthor of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change and is current national board chair of NARAL: Pro-Choice America Foundation. CoveyClub sat down with Fine to learn more about NEW and its goals.

Making Male Supporters Feel Welcome

CoveyClub: When we spoke before the 2018 election, your venture was called Underwire. Why the name change?

Allison Fine: I loved the name Underwire but it was getting in the way. It wasn’t helpful that every single man I told the name to didn’t get it and we do need men as allies.

CoveyClub: The women you are working with are on town and city councils, school boards, and county legislatures. Why are you focused on local officials? Why not work with members of Congress?

Allison Fine: There are two reasons. When you get to the federal level, you have more resources and you have staff. [Officials] at and below the state level are sorely left underprepared and unprotected. Most of the women we are working with, if they get any pay at all, just get a minimal amount. Usually, they are just volunteers if they serve on a school or county board. Yet, there are an enormous amount of obstacles. They are often the only woman at the table. They might face a significant amount of online trolling and threats, and several women have reported stalkers. One woman here in Westchester reported that an online troll posted pictures of her children in Klan robes. A school board member in Western Massachusetts reported someone following her around town. In order to build long-term political power for women, we need to focus on the local level.

Creating Circles of Women

CoveyClub: How will your program reach women in local elected positions?

Allison Fine: The heart of our effort is “Circles,” local gatherings of 10-15 elected women who meet over time to share experiences, build alliances and learn from one another. We plan to aggressively expand our Circles nationwide over the next two years. We will support elected women by helping them identify their own mentors and access information and training in areas such as alliance building, safety from harassment, fundraising and communications. We will strengthen the ecosystem within which locally elected women operate by catalyzing the power of existing networks of activists.

CoveyClub: Where does NEW currently have Circles?

Allison Fine: There are Circles in Boston and Westchester, NY. These were our pilot sites and we used them to create a Circle Playbook that provides step-by-step instructions for starting and sustaining a Circle.

CoveyClub: How do you plan to grow more Circles?

Allison Fine: We anticipate our circles growing through the volunteer model but also by raising money to fund local organizers in strategic places to start and manage these circles through grassroots organizations in Charlotte, NC, Oakland, CA, and Atlanta. We’re partnering with a number of organizations that help to recruit and train women to run for office. Our partners include Emerge America, Ignite, Vote Run Lead, Run for Something and Higher Heights.

Not Knowing the Rules of the Game

CoveyClub: What is the number one issue facing newly elected women?

Allison Fine: They don’t know the rules of the game. They get very little support and orientation as newly elected officials and they don’t know parliamentary procedure or how things get done in that particular political body. They aren’t given mentors or significant outside help. That is the kind of help we want to be able to provide, being able to connect them with other elected people to help them navigate.

CoveyClub: What’s your background? How did you become interested in this?

Allison Fine: I always worked in areas of nonprofit and public leadership. After the 2016 election, which I call “The Incident,” it was very clear that so many women were running for office and there were about a dozen organizations recruiting and training them but there was no support for them after they won. We are going to waste this wave if we don’t support and train them. You have to invest in that capital you just built.

Making Sure We Are Diverse

CoveyClub: How do you find diverse Circle members?

Allison Fine: It’s so important we talk the talk on including women of color with everything we are doing. One of the challenges of local circles is they can be cliquish if you don’t open them up. It’s about widening our social network and connecting with people we didn’t know before. You have to be very intentional about it. In the Westchester Circle, it was originally women who looked like me and then I had to roll up my sleeves and reach out to the local Black Women’s Political Caucus and a Latina church. I had to be intentional and keep asking and asking. Now nine of 19 members are women of color. It takes more work. You can’t just say they didn’t show up or I didn’t find them. It’s your job, as an organizer, to make sure they are there.

CoveyClub: What is your advice for women who are elected to public office?

Allison Fine: The first thing to do is get a mentor — someone who has been in that position who might be retired from the position so that ideally they have no stake in the game, who can privately share with you this is what’s going to happen and what you need to do to be successful.

I was originally thinking of just finding female mentors but there aren’t enough of them to go around. Finding male mentors and allies is important. The one thing I want to caution about is you want to find mentors who have the same value set as you. Finding mentors who share that point of view is more important than whether your mentor is a man or woman.

We are trying to remake the old boys club by building these relationships among and between elected women. Women have not always been the best allies to each other. Whatever their positions are, they need the strength of other women allies to be successful.

I was recently at a conference of young elected women, talking on a panel about building power. The moderator asked the women there to raise their hand if their number one obstacle has been older women. Every participant raised her hand. We have to stop that. We have to stop talking to younger women about what they’re wearing and saying.

CoveyClub: You are the incoming chair of the national board of NARAL: Pro-Choice America Foundation. Anything you can share on that front?

Allison Fine: For both these efforts, we need to harness the energy of younger women. I want to make sure we are listening to and empowering and raising up the voices and strength and power and fearlessness of young women and women of color. That is the feminist power right now.

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Reinvent Yourself

3 Indie Beauty Brands Built by Late-in-Life Reinventors

These beauty business owners want to revolutionize the industry

By Deanna Utroske

Beauty Business All Stars

Many an iconic beauty brand is named for the woman who built it: think Estée Lauder or Bobbi Brown. Today, however, there are numerous women around the world who are developing products and leading businesses in an effort to better the lives of other women and be their own boss at the same time.  And many have come to beauty from entirely different professions.

So while you have likely not yet heard of Chey Birch (from Sydney, Australia), Nicole Sullivan (from Los Angeles), or Wendi Berger (from New York), these three women have created personal care, wellness, and fragrance brands that are currently altering the course of beauty history.

Don’t Accept Breakfast Meetings

Chey Birch goes swimming every AM — because she loves it and for the physical and mental health benefits.

“Some of my greatest ideas come after a swim!” says Birch.

“I swim in the morning because it gets you ready for the day, and I don’t accept meetings before 9:30 because of that….People work around it. It’s important to do what you love.”

Now 55, Birch has been swimming since she was three years old. Her father was president of the Port Kembla, Australia, swimming and surf clubs in the 1970s. And not only did she swim daily, she surf-raced too. She did it alongside the boys’ surf team (regularly coming in 3rd or 4th) despite the fact that girls were prohibited from competing.

“I was like a little torpedo,” says Birch. “It’s unfair because you’re a woman you’re not allowed to surf in the race. So I was determined to win…It made me even faster.”

Birch seems to have learned everything she needed to know about passion, tenacity, and high personal standards from the water. Oh, and the importance of good skin care too. “If you swim every day you get very dry skin,” Birch tells me.

But her founder story is not exactly a quest for the perfect moisturizer.

Though Birch studied aromatherapy formally, she started blending up remedies for herself and friends as a hobby. All along she was blending her essential-oil remedies in a little bowl with a picture of a black chicken painted inside, which had been a gift from a friend, decades ago. When a spa professional contacted Chey to order her body oil, she (cleverly) replied that she happened to be out of stock. Birch turned to her team — at the financial database marketing firm she owned and at the advertising company she had invested in — for help building a brand.

Chey Birch
Chey Birch, Founder of Black Chicken Remedies

Birch had no intention of leaving her well-paying clients (such as big Asian banks) to sell body oil. But as her new hobby grew,  Birch met monthly with a friend of hers who owns a vineyard and was trying to get a wine business off the ground. After every meal, they resolved to continue their little ventures for just one more month until both women had viable businesses on their hands. Today Black Chicken Remedies is a multimillion-dollar international skin care and wellness brand that offers a full range of skin care, hair care, body care, and aromatherapy products, individually priced between $7.99 and $119.00, and sold sold in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and in the US at Neiman Marcus and jet.com. Her friend Sharlene’s wine business (Optimiste Wines) is doing well too.

“Yeah, we still have lunch,” Birch says. “But we talk about other things now.”

There Are a Lot of Sisters Out There

When Nicole Sullivan decided to return to work after having her first child, she knew she couldn’t go back to film production.

“The hours are really intense,” she says.  “I was never really comfortable doing that work because of how insecure it was. And it didn’t let me do anything else.”

When Sullivan simply couldn’t settle on a next career idea, she told her aesthetician flatly, “I’m 45 years old, what am I going to do? How am I going to start over?” The answer was right there, Sullivan says. Her aha! moment came after her facial that day. “Beauty is the perfect thing,” says Sullivan.

Putting questions to the universe worked so well at the start of her new career that she’s been asking questions ever since — and finding answers in friends, family, and the details of her everyday life. After studying to become an aesthetician and opening a spa in her own home, Sullivan started “running the idea of an organic skin care line for kids past friends.” People really responded to it and “validated my belief,” she says.

Nicole Sullivan
Nicole Sullivan, Founder of SkinBuzz

A friend who happens to work at Sephora suggested the name SkinBuzz. And when Sullivan decided that the brand should contribute to a charity that supports the bees making the key ingredients (royal jelly, propolis, beeswax) in her skin care products, she reached out to a friend in Washington State who works in philanthropy. “I don’t know how to vet a foundation,” admits Sullivan. But there was no need; the friend emailed her the very next day, pointing her toward the Planet Bee Foundation in San Francisco.

While the SkinBuzz brand (which offers skin care and sunscreen products priced from $19.00 to $38.00 and is available online) is very new (Sullivan, now 51, launched her business at the Indie Beauty Expo in LA this January), she credits her success thus far to “being a little older and having so many friends.” That, “and waking up in the middle of the night” with a lot of good ideas and trusting herself to follow through.

“It’s certainly the most passionate project I’ve had in my life…it saved me in a lot of ways,” says Sullivan. “It just feels right, like everything is in place.”

I’ve Built a Whole New Network

“People I knew said a 100% natural fragrance couldn’t happen, or if it did it wouldn’t smell good,” recalls Wendi Berger.

Berger exhausted her professional contacts from years in magazine publishing, and it seemed no one could help or would even encourage her to develop and launch a truly natural perfume brand. Still, “I had been advised not to wear fragrance while pregnant,” she says, adding that in 2013 “green beauty was very limited.” So her idea that has since become Pour le Monde 100% natural perfumes (with three scents — Together, Envision, and Empower priced from $23 to $82 and available at clean beauty shops and sites around the country and at Macy’s.com) was a logical and viable business opportunity.  

Wendi Berger
Wendi Berger, Founder of Pour le Monde 100% Natural Perfumes

“I really thought I knew what I was doing,” says Berger, whose roles in publishing and management included Beauty Manager at Vanity Fair, Executive Beauty Director of InStyle, Associate Publisher at Elle, and then publisher of Fitness and Child magazines.

“My biggest surprise was that I had to start fresh….I knew marketing and sales,” she says, but everything else Berger learned on her own or “with other beauty founders.”

When Berger (then 43) founded Pour le Monde, there weren’t as many resources (such as online graphic design tools and social media groups for entrepreneurs)  as there are today for people starting a beauty brand. Now, says Berger, “I’m a member of at least four different Facebook groups for beauty founders. I’ve built a whole new network….The women in my network, we all share, we all help each other out. We’re really passionate about what we’re doing and [are] transparent.”

“I mentor a lot of other up-and-coming beauty brands,” says Berger, reminding them “that you’re going to be constantly evolving your brand.” But the one thing that hasn’t evolved since day one is her conviction to make fine fragrances 100% naturally. Her perfumes are indeed 100% natural, vegan, and cruelty-free.

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Secrets to Her Success

The Naked Truth About Working From Home

Is working remotely all it's cracked up to be? One woman's quest to find out

By Kelly Jackson

Working from your bed with a sign that say "I will start working when my coffee does"
Photo by Emma Matthews for unsplash

If you’re a baby senior, you work remotely many times a day. When I say to my sister and roommate, Sally, “HEY, I’m going down to check the mailbox,” I’m working remotely, because she can’t hear a damn thing. And, then the trek down to the mailbox finds me temporarily remote from the comforts and safety of my apartment.  

My telephone psychic told me remotely that I would miss being around people were I to choose to work from my home. I often wonder what she really looks like, and how often she leaves her apartment. Luckily, I only pay her $0.99 per call.

I’m focusing on working remotely these days because that just works better for me. In other words, I don’t play well with others. It’s not that I am antisocial…it’s just that there are some people in my office who hold ill will.  I don’t know if it’s because they don’t play well with others either or if it’s because they just don’t like me. I usually get myself in trouble in an office setting, because my mother taught me not to suffer fools, misogynists, arrogant people, or liars.  

Anyone who has worked in an office knows exactly what I’m talking about.

I’m a strong Texas woman, and if I call you adorable, I mean that in the sweetest kind of way, even though a “bless your heart” can be loaded with alternative meanings. It was only when I was chastised for calling a Senior VP adorable that my next thought was a ‘bless his heart’ at his rebuke of my compliment. Office politics can be tricky!

I told my boss recently that I wanted to shift from in-office work to helping him remotely as his executive assistant. Companies are doing this all over the world now, saving wads of money on the physical support of an employee. This isn’t an outrageous request anymore. He told me that I’m the best secretary he’s ever had or will have in the future, so I felt comfortable with this basis on which to build my case.

My speech was eloquent and backed up with statistics showing all manner of productivity from remote workers. He was taken aback, to put it mildly, but suggested that he would check with HR, and let me know what they thought. He is a #9 on the numerology chart; they like to play both sides against the middle and be as noncommittal as possible. I thought, Oh God…the dreaded HR. Those people have neither a sense of humor nor an ounce of outside-the-box thought processes.

I am an impulsive sort, so I wasn’t about to wait around until HR decided that my request was worthy of a response. I was just going to forge ahead, assuming that my proffered notion would be accepted wholeheartedly and was the kind of suggestion that would change company culture. I’ve always been ahead of my time, and this case would be no different.

Off I went to the office supply store to order a desk, chair, file drawer, and floor pad for my home office, even paying for it myself as a gesture of my graciousness and sincerity in saving the company money. As you read this, I’m happily ensconced in my apartment office space, sitting at my lovely writing desk, barefooted, sweat-suited, and obviously productive…just not at my job…but at the job that I want to do, which is to WRITE.

My shift to working remotely turns out to have been a double-edged sword, however, as my boss got back to me recently with HR’s response, which was a big, fat NO! And, for emphasis, they added their opinion that this would set a “bad precedent.” If that were even remotely true, there are thousands of companies that are bad-precedenting all over the place. Even though I wanted to tell him that he could ‘take this job and shove it,’ I waited until I was in my car, dodging traffic on my way home as part of the post-edit of our conversation. Luckily, I was able to vent at the guy in front of me who turned right from our left-hand lane. I also added a “You CAN’T be serious…REALLY!?!”

Because I have a way with words, I actually convinced my boss to allow me to work remotely as I transition out of the company…giving me three months to find a real remote position while still paying my salary, parking, honoring my bonus, fully insuring me, and shelling out my cost-of-living raise. What else could he say but yes, because he also knew that I didn’t play well with others? Truth be told, neither does he, which is probably why we got along so well with each other.

On my last work day, I’m going to tell my office colleague, Sarah, who dislikes me almost as much as I dislike her, that she can close the ‘file’ that she has been keeping on me of all of my malfeasance that she deems appropriate reasons for my dismissal, and I will probably use the words ‘SHOVE IT’ and ‘HOW DARE YOU’ in there somewhere. Or, I may be as nice as possible and save those for traffic transgressors on my way home…like bicyclists!

It’s fair to say that I’m now diving into the deep, remote end of a pool that I am convinced will hold me afloat in the most wondrous ways. I’ve already crossed over emotionally, filled with hope, and expecting to make a gazillion dollars as a writer, but also “keeping my camel tied up.”

I’ve already had my first virtual interview for an EA position, because I do have to pay the bills. Unfortunately, it was a video interview, so the adorable thirtysomething woman, who couldn’t have been nicer, was looking at all of my neck and facial wrinkles (I saw her). This was not part of the working remotely theme that I anticipated, since I had produced lower lighting to filter out such visuals. I should have worn a turtleneck, but that only enhances the jowls hanging low at my jawline. I guess that I thought my interview would take place with an avatar of some kind.

After the interview and what the recruiter deemed an appropriate period of time, I was notified via email that they had decided to “go in a different direction.” Talk about feeling remote! My next article will find me trying very hard to come up with the slightest bit of humor in age discrimination.

My sister…you know…the one who can’t hear a damn thing, provided me with succor and sympathy. And, I remain undaunted during this first full month, not having the remotest idea of what I’m doing…but I know why…I want to write.

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Hot flash!

"We're in the midst of a $22 trillion shift in assets to women, because of longevity, because they'll outlive their spouse, because of divorce, whatever. Second, and related, 9 out of 10 women will be the sole decision-maker in their household on their finances at some point in their life, either due to the death of the spouse, divorce, or because they stayed single over the course of their career….women are absolutely just as good as men at investing when they actually take the step. We've proven that, and they're actually slightly better."

—Kathleen Murphy, President, Personal Investing, Fidelity Investments

Woman of Passion & Purpose

The Orphan Doctor

She went from teacher to doctor to orphan activist and learned the key to changing the world

By Cooper Pillot and Wendy Maitland

World Wide Orphans

Jane Aronson is the CEO of Worldwide Orphans, an NGO dedicated to transforming the lives of children and communities in need. WWO provides education, medical care, and innovative psychosocial support so that children can become confident, competent, thriving adults who will change the world around them. Aronson is also the author of Carried in Our Hearts.

Becoming a Playful Adult

Cooper Pillot: Hi, Jane! Thank you for sitting down with me. The work that you are doing with Worldwide Orphans is amazing and I’m excited to learn more. Let’s start with what brought you to where you are today…You were a teacher for 10 years and then you trained and were a practicing pediatrician. Did you know from a young age that this is what you wanted to do?

Jane Aronson: I think that everything you do in life has to do with who you become in life. I had this lovely childhood that was all about adventure and curiosity. I was a playful child destined to become a playful adult.

A number of things conspired to bring me to teach. My mom was a teacher so I knew that could be a fun and wonderful profession.

The dream to become a doctor began when I was three years old. It was my destiny. I come from a family where there was one particular doctor, Joseph D. Aronson, who was an infectious diseases doctor who took care of American Indians in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. He served Indians in the plains of our nation and then went to Africa and took care of patients in West Africa as Albert Schweitzer did. He served those individuals, focusing on tuberculosis and infectious diseases and many other kinds of infections, like malaria. My uncle Joe was an exotic guy to me and I wanted to be like him.

Growing up in Brooklyn, my father had a little grocery store and I lived there with my family. We would visit uncle Joe and his wife in Pennsylvania and they were incredibly interesting people. He was a man who was of service and traveled and she was a Wellesley graduate and a birder with a great love for nature. They were academics and fascinating to be around.

I’m a person inspired by people. That is important to my story because I really didn’t have the mentors or teachers that probably would have been so helpful to me. But I was lucky that I had my uncle Joe and my Rabbi, Harold Saperstein, and my dad.

From Teaching to Medicine at 31

Cooper Pillot: You decided to go to medical school after teaching for a decade. What was that like?

Jane Aronson: As a beginning medical student at age 31, I didn’t have a lot in common with other students. I’d been out in the world and I had a life. I think much of the difference for me was the fact that I am gay and had a partner in my life. I had already lived an adventurous life.

I always had a strong sense of justice, fairness, and advocacy. From a young age, I was passionate about fighting for what I believed in and being a leader and felt strongly about what I could do in the world as a teacher in the area of autism at a school specifically designed for kids with special needs.

Why medicine was so important to me, other than my uncle Joe, was that I cared a lot about children and had deep feelings about the lack of justice for kids. I felt that poor children depicted on TV as starving were my responsibility. I wanted to do something about kids not having what they needed.

When I went to medical school, I really loved anything that had to do with children’s health care. I pursued all the things that one would need to understand a child’s behavior and psychology. I learned about human development and behavior, which is what Worldwide Orphans is really all about. That laid the groundwork for me to do the work I’m still doing.

Dr. Jane Aronson

From Pediatric Medicine to Adoption Medicine

Cooper Pillot: You then went from being a practicing pediatrician to creating a foundation to serve the needs of children. How did that transition unfold?

Jane Aronson: When I was a pediatrician, it was a historically interesting time for medicine in the 20th century because of HIV infection. My training focused on HIV in adults and children. I took an interest in it because I really loved the study of infectious disease, and that was probably the greatest infectious disease we had faced since tuberculosis.

By the time I finished medical school in ’86, I did a pediatric residency and fellowship. I was chief resident at a hospital in Morristown, where I was exposed to a number of mentors in the area of infectious diseases. I was then able to secure a wonderful fellowship position at Columbia, and it was a great moment for me to be at a very high-level academic institution.

I became board certified in pediatric infectious diseases and for 20 years practiced HIV medicine. I had a clinic for HIV patients at Einstein Jacoby and then I went and recreated something similar at Winthrop Hospital for 10 years.

International adoption was exploding.

There was no infectious disease department for children at Winthrop so I developed a clinic for infectious diseases.

Adopted children from abroad had a lot of infectious diseases, so more and more people were calling me. I got referrals to treat babies being adopted from China, Russia, and Latin America. I started to talk to families who were working with agencies all over New York City, upstate New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Long Island, Queens, even as far as Chicago, California, and Florida. At that juncture, the focus of my practice was more and more adoption medicine and then I started to refer HIV patients to other HIV clinics. That’s when I developed an adoption medicine clinic.

During these years, I traveled frequently and found other doctors like me all over the country. It was then that the American Academy of Pediatrics created a council on adoption and foster care. I was part of the executive group that put together a focus group that looked at the health issues of children adopted from abroad and domestically.

Following The Wave of International Adoptions

Cooper Pillot: What was pushing that increase in international adoption?

Jane Aronson: I think many people were divorcing and remarrying. Maybe they didn’t have a family early in their life and might not have been able to have a birth child. They wanted to have families in their 40s, 50s — a new phenomenon at the time. How were you going to have that family if you could not give birth to the child?

Fertility treatments were just beginning, so what were the choices? International adoption and domestic adoption. People got excited about the idea of taking care of children who were living in orphanages. There were probably hundreds of thousands of orphanages all over the world.

We got rid of orphanages around the ’60s and we replaced orphanages with foster care, for better or worse. It was not great, but it was better than having kids institutionalized for long periods of time. This began the great wave of international adoption.

There was a wave after the Korean War and another after the Vietnam War when GIs from many countries including America developed deeply important long-term relationships with Vietnamese women. Many of those babies born were American-Asian and ended up in orphanages or in the care of single women who were stigmatized.

When the war ended in 1975, those babies were part of the airlift, about 4,000 babies came out of there and they went to Australia, the United States, Canada, and other countries. Those babies, who were adopted by Americans, along with those Vietnamese adoptees, later wanted to find their roots and formed a group together. I became a part of a group called VAN — The Vietnamese Adoptee Network. Then the journey became even more personal.

A Very Personal Adoption

Cooper Pillot: How so?

Jane Aronson: I adopted my son Ben from Vietnam in the year 2000, when he was 4 months old.

I wanted some mentoring so I found myself a very lovely young man who didn’t realize I was going to bring him a four-month-old. He thought I was adopting a four-year-old! But, my little Ben, who is now 18, was mentored by a lovely Vietnamese adoptee who was adopted by a Quaker family in Pennsylvania and that began a whole other area of my education in the area of adoption.

All types of families were really looking at adoption and I saw the plight of orphaned children all around the world. I focused on the tragedy of orphans in institutions where they were warehoused, unstimulated and traumatized.

There’s the trauma of abandonment and then there’s the trauma of being institutionalized, not cared for, unloved, not being fed properly, being exposed to lots of infectious diseases, and having undiagnosed medical conditions.

These kids were really vulnerable and I saw more and more of it when I started to travel. I wanted to learn about those issues. I wanted to go to every country and learn everything about those orphanages. I wanted to study them and gather data. I started to send people abroad.

World Wide Orphans

The Birth of Worldwide Orphans

Cooper Pillot: Tell me about the start of Worldwide Orphans.

Jane Aronson: It was founded on September 11th, 1997. I was lucky to grow up professionally in a time when I could explore international global health and learn about HIV in a very different way. It was just a miracle that we were able to find the virus, understand its structure, and start creating medicines to conquer it.

Now it has become a chronic but manageable disease, but in my early career, into the ‘90s and starting in the ‘80s, HIV was a disease that couldn’t be treated and caused deadly opportunistic secondary infections. This history was a part of my career and it was amazing, but no one had those treatments abroad.

When I started WWO I was able to travel abroad to different settings to see children with HIV. I was invited by different organizations to help kids with HIV and children in orphanages who were separated and stigmatized, so I treated HIV in Ethiopia and Vietnam as part of my foundation’s work. We started sending volunteer students and doctors and psychologists and social workers and nurses.

We called them Orphan Rangers (because I loved The Lone Ranger, a radio and TV program from the ’50s). My first Ranger went in 1998, my second in 1999, and they went off to work in Russian orphanages and many other countries thereafter.

Then The Hague Treaty, which was an effort to stop the trafficking of children, changed the landscape dramatically. There were no control mechanisms to prevent people from taking advantage of vulnerable women with young babies living in poverty, so those babies were often taken, or stolen, or sold.

Cooper Pilot: It sounds like trafficking was rampant.

Jane Aronson: I actually don’t think it was, to be honest with you. What ended up happening with Hague is that it ended up leading to the demise of international adoption.

I feel like the moral code operating around all of that should have moved us to help people to be better cared for and educated in their own countries so that they could keep their babies. That’s really the gold standard, for the country itself to create a social welfare infrastructure like we have here in the US. To get women good prenatal care, allow them to get educated, and enhance the lives of women so that they can have good and healthy families, and keep and love their babies — that should be the goal.

That was the sad part of Hague — the fact that there was no investment in the countries themselves.

World Wide Orphans

Investing in Childhood

Cooper Pillot: Did this impact WWO’s mission?

Jane Aronson: Yes, a bigger part of my mission became the investment in childhood. I reached a point where I could see that adoption was not the only answer to helping orphans. According to UNICEF data, probably already 20 years ago, there were 150 million children living without parental care in the world. Now, there are hundreds of millions out of 2.2 billion children who are in the street or are child prostitutes, or child heads-of-households, child soldiers, trafficked children, and street children, homeless, refugees, or displaced children…all of the categories of the child in adversity: war, conflict, and natural disasters.

Tony Lake, the head of UNICEF, once said that it was unacceptable and outrageous to have children living in any of those categories.

The foundation just took off because I really felt like, “my God, now I have the information, and now I can go into these communities and help those communities!” I wanted to understand the conditions that children lived in because I wanted the families to understand, “this is what you need to help your kid.” If you want to maximize that child’s life, you’re going to need to understand the developmental delays, the medical conditions, the effects of malnutrition, the effects of lack of attachment, reactive attachment disorder, behavioral issues, etc., so I took all that information that I was getting from the work of the foundation and I used it to help my patients.

We saw that the theme for us was about how dedicated we were to healing trauma. We were taking care of traumatized children and adults in these very poor communities. I felt very strongly that the best focus we could ever make was to help people to discover their strengths.

Healing the Trauma

Cooper Pillot: What is most significant about what WWO has done and is doing for the children & families in these communities?

Jane Aronson: We help them in many ways, but it’s really about building capacity. We are capacity builders. All of our programs are run by people born and raised in the countries where the programs are. The country directors and staff are people who grew up in that country. They will grow to become strong leaders and will be proud of the work they did to help children like themselves.

The key is to build strong teams who take care of kids, who may have been orphans themselves, and then to further figure out how to truly reach children in a way that’s addressing the trauma of an orphan: the loss, the abandonment, the hurt, the abuse. It is what we live for.

The vision of the foundation is to heal that trauma and provide services for those kids so that they won’t end up with long-term trauma.

Toxic stress is discussed by great academicians. I saw it firsthand in the field, in Romania, Bulgaria and Russia and many other countries — trauma visited upon children, abused kids left abandoned in the orphanages and institutions, children treated in an unimaginable fashion. It’s emotional for me and makes me just want to do more. That’s what WWO is about.

World Wide Orphans

Change the Adults in Order to Change the Kids

Cooper Pillot: Tell me more about one of the specific programs that WWO has developed.

Jane Aronson: In the late ‘90’s I saw this toy library in St. Petersburg. It was an early intervention institute run by two sisters and a mother; they were psychologists who were using this institute to help very delayed kids, some of whom came from orphanages or had underlying medical conditions like cerebral palsy or genetic disorders. They were teaching parents to encourage development and to play with their children using these toys and other kinds of therapies.

That was the beginning of my interest in Toy Library and our trademarked “Element of Play.”

The piece that’s most important about Toy Library is that we actually train adults. It’s not a parenting program necessarily. You want to come and learn how to play? These are the toys. Put them together. You can play with them. It is more than playing with toys…you’ve got attachment between adults and children.

That’s the theory of change that I talk about. It’s the kind of work where you are trying to rebuild the scaffolding of a community. You’re looking for how do we make this better? This is happening in communities all over the world where there is trauma, toxic stress, children who can’t perform, who are depressed and sad and not doing well in school. How do we change that? Well, I think we need to change the adults, [help them] learn more about their kids, become better parents, become better community members.

Our goal is to change the community so that the community becomes independent and successful on its own. Then, the world as we know it can be transformed. We could really move that needle away from the kind of terribly distressed communities that exist in the world.

World Wide Orphans

Cooper Pillot: What is your dream?

Jane Aronson: I would love to have Toy Libraries everywhere on the planet and the people in the community could manage them. We would just continue to train all the time. We could develop a business model where we would be paid for our trainings, and then that would be the revenue stream that we could then feed into more Toy Libraries.

Cooper Pillot: How can people get involved and help?

Jane Aronson:  Like any business, we need attention and we need investment. I would like help to create a Toy Library investment fund where big corporations can invest millions of dollars with us. They can say that the Toy Libraries, which involve entire communities and actually transform communities, are supported and sponsored by them and by anyone who’d like to get involved! I want more people to hear about the work that we are doing and the difference that it makes in a child’s life, in a community, and to humanity.

Photos for CNN by Bryan Kane and Neil Hallsworth

This piece has been edited, condensed and republished from Atelier

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Second Acts

What Your Profile Picture Says About You

She was a fashion stylist who needed a date. When she saw what changing her clothes and hiring a real photographer could do, she started a business

By Michelle Moskowitz

Alyssa Dineen
Founder of Style My Profile, Alyssa Dineen's before (left) and after (right) profile picture.

Alyssa Dineen appeared to be living the NYC dream — wife, mother, top fashion stylist and art director whose work had appeared in the glossy pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Travel & Leisure, and Glamour. She was also styling celebrities such as Halle Berry, Gwen Stefani, and Emmy Rossum.

But beneath the shiny veneer, Dineen was struggling with an emotionally gripping and grievous 20-year marriage that made her feel trapped and small.

Turning 40 Gave Her the Guts to Do What Had to be Done

As Dineen approached 40, she turned inward, became reflective, amped up her gumption, and got divorced.

Dineen was now free, single, and clueless about how to use a dating app to find a connection (more than 40 percent of Americans date this way).

But her friends encouraged her to get out there in the digital ether. Taking a scholarly approach, Dineen decided to approach online dating as if it were a research project. She began poring over a daunting number of dating profiles to understand what was going on out there. That’s when she realized that many daters don’t know how to present their best selves online. She wondered if she could “style” and “direct” individual profiles into more powerful, meaningful stories that could attract the right mates.

Today, stylemyprofilenyc.com works with clients (mostly women 40+) to develop a deeply individual and authentic dating profile. Dineen chooses the wardrobe, and styles each client personally. Then she photographs them and helps write their profiles. All with some rather miraculous results (see below). Dineen also helps clients determine which sites might work best for them.

Alyssa Dineen
Before, left: This is for Amira Alvarez’s professional profile photo for her website and promotional pieces. She is a life coach and has a commanding personality, which did not show through in this photo: her positioning is unflattering and doesn’t seem confident; her hair doesn’t look neat, and she’s squinting. We knew we could do better!

After, right: After we discussed what Amira was trying to convey to potential clients, we decided she should be wearing a modern version of a power suit. For these photos, she hired a professional photographer, hair and makeup and a photo studio. Needless to say, she was thrilled with the result.

TheCovey chatted with this congenial matchmaker — who for the first time shared the story of her personal strife, which led to her own reinvention.

She Restyled Her Profile Picture to Get Better Results

TheCovey:  Tell us what ignited your initial idea for Style My Profile, a modern-day personal stylist service. Do you work with both women and men?

Alyssa Dineen: At 41, I was thrust back into the dating world and just got right out there. After seeing so many profiles, I realized how many people really needed help, and when I “styled” my own profile, it improved my matches right away.

Women make up 90 percent of my business — but it’s not only divorced women — it’s a range — from 30-year-old women who want to give their profile an upgrade [to] older women (I have had quite few women in their late 60s). Online dating is a completely foreign language to those who don’t know it.

I do work with men, but the reason it’s not more [than women] is because they typically think they don’t need the help. The biggest mistake that most men make is just slapping up a few horrible selfies of themselves in the bathroom or in their car.  Many men even post photos of themselves with other women and then say “oh, that’s my cousin,” [to] which I reply, “how is anyone supposed to know that?” But when a male client signs up with me, they are so ready to up their game, update their wardrobe, their online profiles and commit to doing whatever it takes. They also don’t mind spending the money on themselves, which women often do.

Alyssa Dineen
Before, left: This photo looks like someone took it in his cubicle at work. Not the best background or atmosphere. The fit of his pants and shirt are dated as well as his glasses.

After, right: We updated his look to include well-fitting jeans and some cool new glasses. We also took the photo in his home, which feels more inviting.
Getting Out of an Abusive Relationship

TheCovey: I understand that your life got rerouted following your divorce. Can you share your path of reinvention from the moment everything changed until now?

Alyssa Dineen: It is a big part of my personal story and also how I try to help other women feel more confident in themselves, which makes getting my story out there less daunting.

To be honest, this is the first time I feel compelled to really talk about my story, and the CoveyClub feels like the perfect place to do so.

I got out of an abusive relationship [after] many years of being with someone. I thought [it] was “love” — but it was with someone who put me down continuously.

When I got out of that marriage, I was a shell of a person.

My attitude about myself and my mothering — my whole identity was tied into this view that he had of me. I had very low self-esteem.

So, dating to me became a kind of release as I realized that I was worthy of other people’s attention. Through online dating, I had the chance to have all these interesting conversations with men that made me learn so much about myself.

Giving People the Tools to Reveal Their Authentic Selves

With stylemyprofilenyc.com, I’m not a dating coach, but I give people the tools to get out there themselves and tackle it.

After two years out in the dating world, I met my current partner on Tinder. We actually worked together on the idea for stylemyprofilenyc.com after I teased him that he had only one good picture out of five.

When we realized that this relationship was “it,” I felt that I really attracted the exact person that I needed in my life.  

TheCovey: What mistake do people most often make when creating their online profile and what is the best thing people can do in order to create an honest, authentic portrait of themselves?

Alyssa Dineen: The most common mistake is only putting up one picture (or maybe two) with a really brief bio because it automatically gives people the message that you’re not completely in it.

Have at least four photos if not seven to ten. And have a strong bio. People over 40 tend to write bios that sound like a resume (but that won’t catch people’s attention).  

Don’t say that you like culture and that you’re active — be more specific, like you are part of a hiking group and enjoy salsa dancing.

People really want to get in there with you and it gives people more to approach you with in their questions and text[s]. The more detailed you can be, the better. Make it your story to tell. Also, make sure that you show different sides of yourself — an active side, a social side, etc.

There are so many profiles to go through that as much as you can tell about yourself in that brief moment, the better.

Alyssa Dineen
Before, left: This photo is mainly a selfie gone wrong. She is not focusing on what her expression is in the mirror (a common mistake!) Her outfit could also be more flattering.

After, right: Having someone else take the photo is always a safe bet if you’re not a selfie expert. She has a nice smile and looks very approachable. We updated her look a bit as well.
Biggest Mistake New Daters Make

TheCovey: Do people lie or exaggerate in their bios in order to build themselves up?

Alyssa Dineen: No. The more common mistake is people being really vague and not telling enough. People are hesitant to open up in our generation, compared to the younger generation, which has no problem opening up to strangers.

TheCovey: Tell us about the services you provide. What is the most challenging and what is the most rewarding?

Alyssa Dineen: My specialty is helping someone revamp their wardrobe, as people feel so much better afterward. They get teary-eyed because they feel like a new person in a great way!

I try to encourage people to hire a photographer. (Dineen has a great photographer who makes her clients feel at ease, but with exceptional lighting…but it is more costly to use a professional.)

Many people are now using these ‘dating’ photos for their professional profiles as well, so it justifies the cost. A couple of people that I have kept in touch with told me they were surprised at how many more matches they were getting through great photos.

Other clients hire me to do a profile overhaul, re-do their bio and complete the whole story.

TheCovey: On your website, you say you work with all personalities, sizes and budgets?

Alyssa Dineen: I think people assume a stylist will only take them to Barney’s. I can find things for people in all price ranges.

Clients send me photos of themselves. We do a video call and they show me what they have in their closets and we go from there.

TheCovey:  Have your clients found love online? What is the secret sauce?

Alyssa Dineen: I don’t follow people throughout their dating process — but what I hear back from clients is that the number of matches and dates increases after our work together. The idea is for you to have more matches to select from, that you’re not limiting yourself because you have a so-so profile out there.

Alyssa Dineen
Before, left: This photo wasn’t a great option for a dating profile as she cropped out the child whose hand she’s holding (cropping people out of a photo — another common mistake!). The photo is also grainy and not very clear. She is wearing a bit of a mish mash of pieces, which isn’t great for a profile pic.

After, right: This is such a more dynamic photo. Clear with a great background. She is smiling, wearing something fun and flattering.

*This customer’s photo has been cropped for this article to preserve privacy.
What Makes a Dating Profile Pop

TheCovey: What is the single most important thing people should consider before creating an online dating profile?  

Alyssa Dineen: Have a good attitude about it and look at online dating as something fun. It’s the ones who really want to be in a relationship that get the most frustrated.

A lot of older women have shared with me that it is a really fun way to meet people to get to know or go to the movies with, [since] the pressure to start a family is not there.

TheCovey: What is the best part of your reinvention process and what advice can you give to other women who may be in the process of changing their own personal or professional lives?

Alyssa Dineen: I am trying to convey to women who might have been in the same position that I was, that there is a whole other life out there for you. It’s what you make of it.

I got out of a marriage feeling horrible about myself but it is incredible what you can do with your life by starting over and reinventing yourself. I would run into old friends who would say, what happened to you? I looked like a different person because I was happy again.  

So many women stay in marriages that are abusive or oppressive because they are afraid of what’s on the other side. If someone told me I would feel like this, I would have never believed it.

TheCovey: If you could have a cocktail with the Alyssa from 20 years ago about life, what would you tell her?

Alyssa Dineen: To value yourself and your own needs and then other people will value you also.

Dineen’s expansion plans are to incorporate on-site stylists in other major cities as well as to grow the women’s professional profiles.  

To book your free consult with SMP, visit stylemyprofilenyc.com.

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CONTRIBUTORS

Madhushree Gosh

Madhushree Gosh

Madhushree Ghosh’s work has been published, Pushcart-nominated or a finalist in a number of publications including The New York Times, Catapult, and The Missouri Review. As a daughter of refugees and an immigrant, she is often invited to speak on women in science, gender pay parity and women-related immigration/refugee issues. Previously, she served as Gastronomy Editor, Panorama and International Fiction Editor, Panorama. Currently, she’s working on a memoir-in-linked-essays, titled, Hatke: How Outlier Women Made Me One on her life in oncology diagnostics and as a woman in science who left a mentally abusive marriage.

Kelly Jackson

Kelly Jackson

Kelly Jackson is a single ‘baby senior’ Texas woman who has been blogging and vlogging since 2007. She and her sister, Sally started posting as The Midlife Gals, but now they call themselves, The Midlife Gals Gone Gray. The Jackson sisters currently live with each other in Honolulu because they can. Paradise is rife with comedic content, but then…isn’t everyplace?!

Deanna Utstroke

Deanna Utstroke

Deanna Utroske edits the beauty news website CosmeticsDesign.com, where she covers business, ingredient, and packaging news about the makeup, personal care, fragrance, and wellness industries in the Americas region. Deanna also publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands. Beyond Cosmetics Design, you can find Deanna on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

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