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Note from the editor
I admit that until this year I took my health for granted.
It was like the couch in the living room: Comforting. Constant. Perfectly preserved. Barely noticed. Sure, I had the usual flu and cancer-screening scares. But there my health was every day: solid. Reliable. Unchanged.
Then last February I had a pain in my lower abdomen that wouldn’t ease up. Jeff piled me into the car late Sunday night, and by 3 AM I was on the operating table having my appendix removed. (This was, ironically, two days before Covey launched.) I had never had emergency surgery, and I didn’t realize how much I had overworked myself being an entrepreneur. The likely explanation for the appendicitis was the blood-pressure-lowering medication verapamil that I took as a prophylactic to prevent my cluster headaches (which had become chronic after menopause). One of verapamil’s side effects is constipation. After the operation, the surgeon was so concerned about my gut that he rushed me to a gastroenterologist.
Now, I’m not a shy person and I have no issue with speaking up about difficult subjects (as you can see here). I had told both my GP and my headache specialist that though I was headache free, my waistline was growing. The GP offered over-the-counter solutions which I used here and there but not frequently enough because I feared developing a dependency. I honestly thought I was gaining weight because of age.
So after the operation, I asked my headache specialist if there was a new prophylactic with fewer side effects than verapamil. She put me on topiramate.
After a week I called to tell her topiramate was waaaaay worse than verapamil. I was so foggy I couldn’t edit. I could barely speak. The prophylactic effect had not kicked in, and I was living with an excruciating headache from 1-4 AM every night and now something new — waking up crying from depression. The drug had also altered my sense of smell so that a cloying odor followed me everywhere, making me constantly nauseous. “This isn’t working,” I said.
“Hang on,” she said. “We’ll switch you to a slow-release version of the drug with fewer side effects.”
A week later I went to see her. “I’m so lethargic that I can’t walk up the stairs. The headache pain is, on a scale of 1-10, a level 15, and I’m not myself. It’s been eight weeks of nightly headaches and zero sleep. I need some other kind of pain relief.”
Cluster headaches, which feel like the brain-freeze you get from drinking something too cold but multiplied by one hundred, are particularly evil. They hit just as you slip into REM, meaning you become terrified of sleep. Unless you’re on a preventative, you have to wait till they hit, treat them with a special kind of migraine drug called a triptan, and wait for the pain to subside, usually within an hour. Unfortunately, triptans don’t work pre-headache. So I begged for a narcotic that might let me sleep through the night a few times a week while we waited for the topiramate to kick in. Her solution: Go to bed earlier so I could get more solid hours after being awakened.
A week later I got her nurse practitioner on the phone and told her the pain and lack of sleep was driving me to suicidal thoughts. “All part of the syndrome,” she said, as if she was checking a box. “And you can’t go back to the verapamil. It gave you appendicitis.”
I paused, nearly crying, as I watched the safe shoreline of verapamil fade from my sight. “I have no appendix!” I shouted. “The headaches are driving me into madness. I am not myself. We are going back to the verapamil!”
That cri de coeur finally got her assent and we moved back to the verapamil, which kicked in after two weeks. My headaches are in remission, and I manage my gut as needed. I snuck into the Columbia medical library and have made myself an MD on my syndrome. Yes, suicidal ideation is cited in studies on clusters, although it is said that few patients act on it. But that’s not a reason to not be alarmed. I am changing doctors and going to a new clinic in November that has the words “headache” and “pain management” in its title.
I tell you this because I know from editing many magazines that women are often not listened to by the medical profession. I was just shocked that it was female doctors not listening to me! But it happens. We all have to keep pushing until we have a solution. And if one doctor won’t give you the care you need, it’s time to find a new one. I’ll let you know how my quest goes.
I decided to make the October issue of TheCovey contain a special series of articles on health, which I now know none of us can take for granted. Ever. We start out with Dr. Barb Depree’s wonderful piece about “4 Trends That are Improving Sexuality at Midlife,” plus a fantastic bit of good news on the Alzheimer’s and dementia front from Meg Jordan called “Breakthrough News about Halting & Reversing Mental Decline.” This is followed by an exploration of why every woman over 40 you know is suddenly rushing to get an elective surgery they’d put off (“Breast Reduction Surgery after 40? Yes!”).
I’ve included a comprehensive chart about solutions for constipation in “The Scoop on Your Poop” because, even though no one will talk about the problem openly, every girlfriend who heard my story had to run grab a pencil to write down everything I’d learned.
Don’t miss the other fabulous stories in this issue — from Ines de la Fressange’s wonderful reinvention from model to interior decorator, to Melanie Sheppard’s essay about how buying secret coffees for neighbors taught her daughters lessons about giving, and an upbeat story about “The Women Behind the Women Running in the 2018 Midterms.” It is good news when we can all help each other advance.
Join TheCovey conversation by leaving comments. See you next month.
By Dr. Barb DePree
Now and then I get discouraged in my role as a menopause care specialist because there aren’t enough tools in my toolbox for treatment and there’s not enough solid research on women’s general health, let alone on women’s sexual health — especially on the components of desire and arousal. Many doctors confess to feeling ill-equipped to address women’s sexual health questions, and women admit they’re reluctant to raise the topic of sex after midlife with their doctors. Even when we women talk to each other, we could be more affirming of the individuality of sexual history, experience, preferences, and choices.
And yet, I feel more hopeful now than at any other time in my 30 years as an Ob/gyn, or since 2010 when I launched MiddlesexMD as a resource for women. Why?
Pharmaceuticals are breaking through
There are lots of helpful products women can buy over the counter to improve their sex lives.
Today I’m as likely to recommend a lubricant or a vibrator as I am to pull out my prescription pad. For some patients, though, only a prescription drug will get them past the pain, discomfort, or lack of desire that’s frustrating them and challenging their relationships.
It was flibanserin (called Pink Viagra in the press and commercialized as Addyi) that paved the way through FDA approval for drugs for women’s sexual function, with the first review in 2010 and approval in 2015. While flibanserin was between reviews, Osphena was approved in 2013 and Intrarosa in 2017, both as nonhormonal treatments to counter the effects of menopause on vaginal tissue.
There’s another drug for hypoactive sexual desire disorder now under review; if approved, bremelanotide could more accurately be called Pink Viagra, since it’s taken before a sexual encounter instead of on a daily basis.
None of these drugs will be a silver bullet for every woman. But as a practitioner looking to help women be as sexually active as they choose to be, it’s awfully good to know I have some options to consider and the prospect of more options in the future.
There’s more women’s sexual research across categories
The pharmaceutical companies, of course, rely on research to develop their products, but they’re not the only ones looking to learn more about what works, what doesn’t, and why.
I’m grateful to — and hopeful because of — organizations like The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) and the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health, which publish research reports and recommendations for care with such regularity that I’ll never run out of reading material.
There’s more fact-based information about over-the-counter products like lubricants, which previously women would need to test themselves.
Research presented at a recent NAMS conference points to pH value between 3.8 and 4.5, osmolality (a complex concept that determines whether one molecule gives or takes moisture from molecules next to it), and harmful additives like glycols, parabens, and preservatives. Michelle Robson and the Mayo Clinic (through SkinSAFE) analyze products for ingredients that can irritate or trigger allergies and share all the results.
I’m not sure it’s ever been easier to find products that can help without hurting.
Women are talking about sexual issues
Of course, I see the downside of pharma advertising. It adds to the cost of drugs, and it sometimes convinces women that there’s magic for them if their doctor would only prescribe a certain product.
The silver lining, though, is that advertising encourages conversation. Women may not only talk to their doctors about what they’ve seen in an ad in Oprah, but they may also talk to their sisters or their friends about vaginal dryness or sex after menopause.
Flipping through magazines, our daughters may see headlines that I hope make the realities of menopause less surprising than they’ve been for women of my generation.
And, you know, after a couple of decades of erectile dysfunction advertising, it could be time for men to have a little awkward education about the realities of sexual issues for midlife women.
Women are making their own products
We have a product shop at MiddlesexMD, so my team and I keep our ears to the ground for new products.
Some of our favorite new items were conceived (no pun intended) and developed by women, for women. I remember meeting Rebecca Posten, who has both a medical degree and an MBA, at a conference for physicians. She (and her team) developed PrevaLeaf products because too many “intimate” products didn’t meet her standards for natural and gentle ingredients.
Dame Products is another company where women are working for women. Founders Alexandra Fine (a social worker specializing in marriage counseling and sex therapy) and Janet Lieberman (an engineer) designed, crowdfunded, and are producing vibrators with the features they know women want — because they are women.
I’m a medical doctor, not a business wonk. But my hope is that examples like these, the increased awareness of women’s needs through midlife and beyond, a continued rise of women in STEM programs, technology-based funding platforms that make start-ups easier, and more attention to gender equity in venture capital will all add up to more smart products made by smart women to keep us all as sexy as we want to be.
Yes, sometimes I get discouraged. But on balance, there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful. We only need to keep advocating for ourselves, our sisters, and our daughters.
Women say goodbye to painful shoulders and “military bras” and hello to freedom
After menopause, Judith Dupre’s breasts, which had always been ample, seemed to get larger.
“They took on a significant presence in my life,” says Dupre, a 61-year-old writer and historian. “When I looked at photos, all I could see were these breasts. They were suffocating my face.” And her back hurt. “As a writer who spends much of the day bending over a keyboard, it was uncomfortable.”
Nothing she did seemed to help. She dieted and lost 20 pounds, but, she says, “the breasts did not budge.”
Besides her back pain, her neck ached and she had dents in her shoulders where the very thick straps of the “military-style” bras she wore dug into her skin.
“Summer was just horrible,” she adds, “because I’d sweat, and I’d get itchy rashes under my breasts.”
And then there was the psychological toll. “I felt that my breasts were sending a message about me that had nothing to do with who I was as a person, as a mother, as a scholar, as a writer.” Dupre has written seven books, including Bridges: A History of the World’s Most Spectacular Spans and Skyscrapers: a History of the World’s Most Extraordinary Buildings, and she is the official biographer of One World Trade Center. “My breasts came into the room five minutes before I did. I think that people — especially men — made assumptions about who I was.”
When she was younger, Dupre liked her large bosom. “I always felt my breasts were attractive, sexy, and well proportioned,” she says. “But once I hit menopause, they got larger and larger.” After a frustrating shopping trip to buy unsexy bras, Dupre complained to her sister about her breast problem. “Why not have a reduction?” her sister said, and introduced Dupre to her friend Pam, who’d already done it. “Pam raised her shirt — she didn’t even have a bra on — but her breasts were amazing,” Dupre recalls.
Soon she was back in her hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, consulting with the surgeon Pam had used, and within a few months she underwent reduction mammaplasty, or breast reduction surgery. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in the most recent statistics available, 43,635 American women chose in 2017 to take their G-, H-, or J-cup–sized breasts and make them smaller, an 11 percent jump over 2016.
Almost immediately after the procedure, Dupre felt like a changed woman. Gone were the rashes and the dents and the pain. Just one month after the surgery that removed 1.5 pounds of tissue from each breast and dropped her from a G- to a C-cup, Dupre was overcome with emotion while shopping at her local grocery store. As tears rolled down her cheeks, she remembers thinking, “’Wow. I’m just like everyone else now.’ Right there in the frozen food aisle, I just had this enormous release of anxiety that I didn’t even know I had,” she says.
Having oversized breasts causes many women anxiety, and many doctors know that reducing them can be life-changing.
HAPPY BOOBS ARE HERE AGAIN
“These ladies are my happiest patients,” says Roberta Gartside, MD, a Washington, DC — area plastic surgeon who estimates that she does about 100 breast reductions per year. RealSelf, an online resource for plastic surgery patients, reports that 98 percent of respondents said their breast reduction surgery was “worth it.”
“There’s no question. It’s got one of the highest patient satisfaction results of any procedure done in plastic surgery,” agrees Jeffrey E. Janis, MD, FACS, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, professor and executive vice chairman of the Department of Plastic Surgery at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and chief of plastic surgery at Ohio State University Hospital. “And that’s true for women of any age. I have patients who are teenagers and I also have operated on women who are in their 60s.”
But women over 40 see changes in their breasts. When you’re young, says Dr. Janis, your breasts are filled with glands that produce milk. The tissue is “denser and firmer. As one ages, especially after you’re done with the childbearing years, you get fatty tissue replacement. The glandular portion of the breast is replaced by fat, and that fat can change with weight gain as well.” Add to that the pull of gravity, and your breasts may feel heavier and more pendulous.
Even so, most older women who opt for the surgery have always had large breasts, Dr. Gartside says. “They’ve generally had problems with them most of their lives. As they age, their tolerance for the neck, back, and shoulder pain and the rashes in the folds under their breasts starts to wear on them. They have to layer two sports bras to work out, they can’t wear a sundress, can’t find a bathing suit that fits, and they’re just tired of it.”
That’s exactly how Pam Stevens, a 57-year-old media and communications consultant who worked in three Republican White Houses, felt. She found her way to Dr. Gartside in 2017.
“I was sick of the bras that cost $75,” says Stevens, who is five feet tall and had double D breasts. “I mean c’mon! Double D?”
One year after her surgery, Stevens says she loves buying pretty C-cup bras and wearing button-down shirts and sundresses. Her only regret? “I wish I’d done it sooner…I feel lighter, happier, and my feet no longer hurt like they did before.”
INSURANCE STEPS UP
Like many who have the surgery, both Dupre and Stevens found that insurance paid for their operations. Most insurers will cover the procedure, but many companies are asking for more and more documentation before doing so. Your insurance company may want to see that you have verifiable pain and may require you to try “conservative” management techniques first, which could include special bras, physical therapy, chiropractic care, and even Motrin to relieve pain.
And many insurance companies require the Schnur Sliding Scale, a formula that assesses your weight and height and your symptoms to determine how much breast tissue should be removed. The scale requires at least 500 grams of breast tissue be removed for the procedure to be considered “medically necessary.” However, Dr. Janis says, “There is more recent evidence that these minimum requirements are not necessary, as symptomatic relief is possible even below 500 grams of removed tissue. Therefore, there are many women being denied this procedure based on that older scale who would benefit from it and really should have it.”
Most plastic surgeons’ offices know this, and according to Janis, if you’re denied coverage, most doctors will work with you to make your case to your insurance company through appeal. According to 2017 ASPS statistics, the average cost of the surgery is $5,482.
THE BREAST WAY TO DO IT
To read about the procedure is to cringe at what is surely an uncomfortable experience. Doctors make incisions in the breast and remove skin and the underlying fatty and glandular tissue. Your nipples will be repositioned (in some cases they may be removed and reattached). “They move the nipples back up to where they were when you were 21,” Dupre says. Most surgeries are outpatient, performed in a surgical center or hospital, and patients leave with stitches (either dissolvable or those that have to be removed). Some patients need drains.
“It is a major surgery, done under general anesthesia,” Janis says, “but it’s a lot more well tolerated than most people think.”
Gartside agrees, noting that most patients are pain-free in five to seven days and back to all activities one month post-surgery.
“My recovery was like nothing,” says Stevens. “Zip-a-dee-do-dah. No pain, nothing. No restrictions. My arms didn’t hurt. It was a lot easier than a C-section. There was no trauma.”
There is a risk of loss of sensation or color change in the nipple, though Gartside says these issues are not common. As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection, and, according to a 2011 study in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery women over 50 are twice as likely to develop infections post-surgery. Dr. Janis adds that if you are an active smoker, significantly overweight or obese, or have uncontrolled blood sugars, complications are more likely.
But doctors can work with their patients to make sure the outcome is positive. “This is a very helpful operation,” Janis said.
Betsy Gehring (57) of Falls Church, Virginia, says, “I’m so happy that I did it. It’s transformational in terms of the way your body feels and the way you feel about your body. The difference is huge and significant. And yes, it has improved my sex life.”
As for Dupre, who is divorced, taking off her shirt in front of a new lover was once a terrifying prospect. Now, she says, she’s even feeling sexy. “Living on a writer’s income, I wouldn’t have had this operation if it weren’t covered by insurance. That would have felt too indulgent. Now I know that it wasn’t indulgent at all. It returned me to myself.”
New research offers 6 ways to protect yourself from dementia and Alzheimer's
Without a doubt, one of the most distressing aspects of aging is the fear of losing one’s mental capacities. More people are worried about memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia than the loss of physical mobility. Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death for older adults in the US, affecting more than 5.4 million Americans.
Your risk increases with certain alleles of the ApoE gene, so DNA testing is recommended for families when elderly parents exhibit symptoms such as personality changes, lack of focus, and impaired judgment.
We used to think of dementia and Alzheimer’s as an “old person’s disease,” but unhealthy lifestyles are viewed as chief contributors to an expansion of neurological disorders that has all the markings of a public health catastrophe in the near future. But the good news is that new research in the last five years is seeing promising results in reversing the signs of dementia and memory loss and putting the brakes on mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and early stage Alzheimer’s disease, once thought irreversible.
As a medical anthropology doctor and an RN specializing in behavioral health, I search the world for remedies, botanicals, and even cultural rituals that keep us vital and engaged throughout our life span. While I’ve found a wide variance in the specific lifestyles among the pockets of flourishing elders worldwide, there is always a consistent pattern of eating a largely plant-based diet, engaging in rigorous physical activity, and enjoying close social networks. These lifestyle factors are echoed in the innovative clinical findings of several neuropsychology researchers, including Dale Bredesen, MD, from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the Department of Neurology at UCLA, as they map out protocols to halt and reverse serious neurological disorders that were once thought intractable. As a faculty member of the Institute of Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, I spent time learning the various new protocols and proceeded to examine them in five case reports that I just presented with a clinical nutritionist at Harvard’s Institute of Coaching this September.
A lifestyle plan for optimal cognitive health includes:
If you’re suspecting some memory loss for a loved one or yourself then get the battery of neurological and genetic tests (explore the ApoE gene allele) and begin the protocol right away. If you’re interested in preventive health measures, start with a few aspects of the six points above and make them a regular part of your life.
For more information, I recommend reading The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline by Dale Bredesen, MD, and Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, MD.
The full protocol for healthy individuals to engage in right away requires more explanation. I will be reporting on it at Covey’s first spa getaway at Civana outside Phoenix, Arizona, this November.
Midlife brings medications and lifestyle changes that create constipation. Here's what's safe to get things moving again
Getting older can sometimes slow you down — and the same goes for your digestion. “There’s almost a linear relationship between aging and the frequency of constipation,” says William Chey, MD, medical director of the Michigan Bowel Control Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Becoming less active, changing your diet, developing health problems, and taking new medications can all contribute to this problem.”
While 15 percent of the general population is afflicted by constipation, that number doubles for women in middle and later life.
“Part of it is tied to menopause,” says Richa Shukla, MD, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Hormonal changes can alter our bowel habits, and lower estrogen levels can cause constipation.”
Health problems linked to aging — such as hypothyroidism and the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles — can also decelerate digestion. Ditto many of the remedies we take after age 40, whether they’re over-the-counter ones (such as iron supplements for anemia, calcium pills for osteoporosis, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for arthritis), or prescription meds (such as opioids for pain relief, tricyclic drugs for depression, or beta or calcium channel blockers to address high blood pressure).
The good news is you can make moves to get things moving again. Try foods that are natural laxatives (including prunes, kiwi fruit, and rhubarb). Do Kegels and other exercises to tone your pelvic floor. And make sure to get every sip of water and workout that you need. “At this time of life, it’s more important than ever to drink eight eight-ounce servings of fluid a day; eat a well-balanced, high-fiber diet; and get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week,” says Shukla. “Taking these steps alone is often enough to address constipation.”
Still stopped up? To help move things along try the following common types of fiber, over-the-counter medications, and prescription drugs, ranked in order of their efficacy (and the toll they can potentially take on the body):
Tried these treatments — to no avail? Talk to your doctor about the possibility of changing any prescription medications you are taking that may be blocking you up. Also, seek medical help to investigate whether an undiagnosed health condition might be causing your constipation.
The 61-year-old supermodel on her newfound confidence, wisdom, and love for decorating
Model, designer, entrepreneur, author, mother. Ines de la Fressange, who launched her career as a model in Paris in the 1970s, embraces all these roles. Deploying her quintessential French je ne sais quoi, de la Fressange, now 61, has parlayed her style and energy into lots of ventures, including her new book, Maison: Parisian Chic at Home, with watercolor artist Marin Montagut. Out this month, this tome in the Parisian Chic series highlights 15 Paris apartments, including those of de la Fressange and Montagut, and illustrates with lush photos and joyful watercolors how contemporary furniture, art, and objects can be unexpectedly and elegantly mixed with vintage and other finds.
De la Fressange has spent most of her life in the fashion world. She’s the creative director for the Ines de la Fressange fashion label, relaunched under new ownership in 2015. She ran a signature business in the early 1990s but lost the rights to her name, went through legal hell to win it back but was unsuccessful. Fast-forward to 2016 and rue de Grenelle on Paris’ Left Bank, where she opened an emporium selling her signature clothing line alongside such non-fashion items as her favorite olive oil from Provence. The fashion is sold worldwide, including at The Webster stores in Miami, Bal Harbour, and Houston, and at French in Calabasas, California.
De la Fressange is also the brand ambassador for France’s legendary Roger Vivier shoe label, which was revived in the mid-2000s after being bought by Diego Della Valle (Tod’s). Working with former designer Bruno Frisoni, she did everything from launching a new collection of shoes and accessories and opening a Paris flagship store, to developing marketing and sales strategies. She continues to do much of this today. She has also designed a seasonal capsule fashion collection for Japan’s Uniqlo since 2014.
And yes, she still models. Nearly six feet tall, with impossibly long legs, a joyous and often mischievous smile, and a deep, raspy, seductive voice, de la Fressange personifies la Parisienne – that French woman who has an indescribable ability to always look chic. She knows how to mix luxe with simple, new with old. De la Fressange spoke with TheCovey about Parisian style and why you should “smile before you even have a reason to.”
TheCovey: What do you think is at the core of the American obsession with all things French? It has been going on for such a long time and continues today. Why?
Ines de la Fressange: Good question. Maybe it’s because in France we don’t think that much about “style.” So, free from preconceptions, brands take more risks. Maybe it’s because we are surrounded by so much culture — books, movies, accessories, centuries of architecture and history — so there’s so much inspiration to be creative. Maybe there is a feeling of effortless chic that is attractive to everyone. Maybe it’s because fashion is fed by frivolity, and France doesn’t give the impression that it’s very serious, even if it is! (laughs…)
TheCovey: Can you give us ideas of things an American can do to bring “Parisian Style” into her home?
De la Fressange: In France people make their homes to be lived in every day and for themselves, not to show off with a luxurious living room. Just like in fashion, people mix expensive items with simple, humble things. You’ll see flowers in simple vintage glass milk bottles placed next to a signed designer chair. If you think it’s nice and you love it, it will fit with the rest of your things.
TheCovey: Give us two or three unexpected resources for finding Parisian types of things in the US? Where do we go to shop or order that will deliver to us?
De la Fressange: In my shop! The best is to have a friend [in Paris or any city] who can show you where to discover nice little spots. For those who don’t, I published two guides filled with addresses I like (Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange and Parisian Chic City Guide). For my country house, I found furniture at Cosydar-Deco. In Marseille, Maison Empereur [has] things for the house that have existed forever but are new [reproductions]. I buy curtains at Couleur Chanvre. I love linens and pajamas from Scarlette Ateliers. [ED NOTE: All deliver worldwide including to the US.]
TheCovey: Can you talk a little about your own reinvention?
De la Fressange: I don’t think of it as a “reinvention” so much as an evolution. Evolution means that you listen to yourself more and are able to understand your real taste, talent, wishes. Every day we lose hair, skin, nails, neurons, so once we accept that, we also accept that we are in a perpetual state of evolution. Personally, I think there is one life and many transformations all the time.
My [entire] professional life has been centered around fashion and beauty, so whether I talk about it, design it, give advice about it, or take photos of it, it doesn’t matter; the idea is to work with creative and talented people and to enjoy it. I never think what is supposed to be my job, I just listen to propositions and accept things depending on my feelings and who is asking.
TheCovey: What has been the hardest part of each evolution for you?
De la Fressange: Being an entrepreneur in fashion nowadays is difficult because you are competing with famous brands that have huge advertising budgets and you have none. If [your] brand is successful you need to have financial liquidity to honor your orders. With no fashion shows, no magazine spreads, it’s not easy to make your products known. The only publicity is by word-of-mouth, thanks to the customers.
Also, my name is very linked to Chanel and Roger Vivier, two luxurious brands, so people expect the same quality and service but at lower prices [from my personal] brand. Sometimes people think I only make things for my own height and size! (laughs…)
Personally, people are more interested in asking about my past as a model than about what I am doing today; journalists want to know how it was to work with Karl Lagerfeld. That was more than 30 years ago!
TheCovey: What has been the biggest surprise about your evolution?
De la Fressange: I am a lot happier now than when I was 25! Today, I learned how to avoid stress [by] knowing many things are really not important. I learned how to rest without feeling guilty, how to refuse boring things, how to say “no.” With age, I don’t care about what people think about my outfit, my face, [how] my home is decorated. Being less self-conscious than you may have felt at 25 simply makes you happier. Having the wisdom to appreciate that everything is fine at this precise moment is something you get with age.
TheCovey: To women who are thinking of reinventing themselves, or making an evolution, what would your suggestions be on getting started?
De la Fressange:
1) Take time to breathe.
2) Think that now — at this precise moment — everything is fine, so don’t worry about the future.
3) Take time to wish what you wish for and write it down.
4) Help others and — at one moment in time — it will help you.
5) Smile, even before you have a reason to.
TheCovey: What is the ONE THING that was most difficult to overcome in your professional career and how did you push through it?
De la Fressange: Leaving my children when I had to travel for work. Today, now that they are grown-ups, I realize it wasn’t such a bad thing for them — they are independent, generous, brilliant, and, because I felt guilty, it meant that we always had nice, quiet, and harmonious moments together: we never fought. Having a mum who enjoyed her professional life and was beaming, rather than a frustrated mum, was, in the end, [setting] a good example.
How secret acts of gratitude changed her conversations with her daughters
Three years ago on my 45th birthday, I took a group of my close girlfriends to dinner and had what I called a “celebration of friendship.” I was coming out the other end of a challenging time in my life, and for the first time in a long while, I felt strong and optimistic about my future. As I sat around this table of 20 women, watching them laugh and enjoy each other’s company, I couldn’t help but experience such gratitude for the kindness that each of them had brought into my life at some point. Feeling so fortunate to be in that position, I was also determined never to lose sight of where I had just come from.
The Dalai Lama once said, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” During the difficult period of my life I leaned strongly on the philosophy of Buddhism. Among other lessons, I learned that the gift of giving not only brings abundant satisfaction and happiness to the giver, but it also can create a ripple effect: one small act of kindness can mean so much to so many.
And so I began a 12-month project. I decided that each week for one year I would pick up the bill for someone at a coffee shop and leave before they knew.
This simple act was something I really looked forward to, and it became so much more than just buying a meal or coffee. For me, it was a study in human nature, a break from technology, and an opportunity to let someone know they had been seen. In this fast-paced life of faceless and nameless people, I wanted them to know that — of all the people in the restaurant — they had been noticed.
I often did this at the same coffee shop where the owner knew me and knew the drill. Don’t ask any questions, don’t ever let them know who I am, and don’t tell them until I have left. He would just laugh and shake his head, but the smile on his face and the knowledge that he too was part of this act of kindness added to the experience.
In order to choose who would be the recipient, I spent a lot of time studying people, their body language, and their actions. One time it was an exhausted mum whose child had spilled her baby’s warm milk all over the table, and I recognized that fine line between her calm demeanor and an almighty meltdown. Or the young man who picked up the menu, his eyes immediately darting to the right of the page to check out the prices before reading what was on offer. There was a sweet elderly man who would wipe his upper lip with his handkerchief after every sip of his cappuccino. He sat alone staring out into the park across the road.
Each one of these people had their own story to tell and each one deserved to be seen and validated.
One Saturday I shared with my daughters what I had been doing, and their response was priceless. “Wait, what do you mean,” asked my older daughter, confused. “You just paid for that guy’s meal?” “Yes, and I have been doing this for some time because it makes me feel good,” I responded. Both girls laughed and laughed, not because they were surprised, but because in their words, “that is such a cool thing to do.”
And so it became a family project, but it was also our secret. We would go out for coffee or breakfast and decide together whom we would choose and why. The observations, the conversations, and the link back to humanity were again another wonderful aspect to this project. No longer would the girls be consumed with taking photos of their meals to upload to social media. Instead, we talked. We talked about life, struggles, and why some people find themselves in the positions they are in. We talked about empathy, understanding, and the need to educate ourselves. But most importantly, we talked about our social responsibility to help others when we can.
Our experiment is now over, and I have moved on to other projects — all with the common thread of giving back and helping others. Fifty-two coffees have been given away, and in that moment, 52 people have been reminded that there is kindness in the world. My hope is that many use that feeling and pay it forward to another.
The hottest little boutique in the South launches an exceptional fragrance
Capitol, the luxury fashion store in Charlotte, NC, is one of the most important fashion boutiques you’ve never heard of. Top designers are honored to be chosen for its racks, and discerning clients, often more daring fashion-wise than their Northern counterparts, flock to Capitol for their wardrobes. To help fête its 20th anniversary this year, Capitol’s founder Laura Vinroot-Poole just launched the limited-edition perfume A Flower with renowned British nose Lyn Harris of Perfumer H.
“People have their impressions of what the South is about. But the South is far more layered than people assume, and our clients aren’t simple, sweet Southern belles,” wrote Vinroot-Poole in an email during a flight to Paris for fashion week. “It was exciting to verbalize who we are to Lyn and then watch the fragrance manifest into something so beautiful and nuanced that truly feels, and smells, like Capitol.”
A Flower is composed of Sicilian lemon, Italian bergamot, black currant bud, green leaf, rose, violet leaf, orange flower, jasmine, iris, ylang-ylang, black pepper, myrrh, tobacco, vanilla bourbon, and white musk, among other notes. The blend recalls botanical scents that emerge on a hot summer day.
“The notes of tobacco and white musk particularly resonated with me because they perfectly encapsulate the feeling of a summer in the South — from the smells in the air (tobacco) to the humidity (musk),” Vinroot-Poole noted.
Forty handblown sapphire-blue glass bottles containing A Flower went on sale for $695 at Capitol on September 1, as a set with a travel-size factory bottle, two pocketbook-size atomizers in a wool case, a miniature funnel, and a pipette dropper.
The exclusive limited quantity was chosen to honor customers who have supported the store for the past 20 years, Vinroot-Poole explained. Two decades ago when Vinroot-Poole and her architect husband Perry Poole moved back to her hometown, there was no place to shop in Charlotte, yet there was demand for fine fashion. Vinroot-Poole’s mother and her mother’s friends would make two trips a year to New York or Atlanta to do their seasonal shopping. At the same time, Vinroot-Poole thought with entities such as NASCAR and Bank of America headquartered in The Queen City, there was a big enough population to sustain a fashion store, and Capitol was born. Capitol nearly went out of business due to the 2008 financial crisis (of which Bank of America was a major culprit); scores of Vinroot-Poole’s clients were impacted. She was forced to lay off staff, but the store survived, thanks also to generous payback terms from loyal vendors. Vinroot-Poole responded to the downturn by making Capitol the full-service store it is today, where store stylists travel with clients to dress them for occasions or arrange their local closets by complete outfit (accessories included) and/or upcoming activity, among other services.
Charlotte not in your plans? No problem. You can shop on Capitol’s website or on houseacct.com, an app that Vinroot-Poole launched during the recession featuring fashion from Capitol and over 450 other boutiques.
A Flower available online and Capitol will ship anything anywhere. Just call them at 704-366-0388 or visit their website and order here. You’d better hurry though – there are only about 30 bottles left.
Start-ups founded and cofounded by women are significantly better financial investments. For every dollar of funding, these start-ups generated 78 cents, while male-founded start-ups generated less than half of that – just 31 cents.
Navigating the Sandwich
Sisters duke it out over the spoils from their father's house. Part 3 of our humorous series
“You better hurry up. Your sister’s in the garage!” Dad was sitting in one of the olive drab folding chairs he and my mother had taken with them on their camping sojourns. “She got here an hour ago!”
My sister and I had discussed the logistics of dividing and conquering Dad’s household two days earlier over lunch and a few day drinks. We had agreed to start with the garage and then move on to the attic, the basement, and finally closets. We had said we would decide together (with Dad’s input) what items would be donated, what would stay with the house, and what my father would be taking with him to assisted living. Mutually agreed upon items would be divided between the two of us.
She had already separated the contents of his garage into different categories:
• Things She Wanted
• Things She Didn’t Want But Would Take Because She Didn’t Want Me To Have Them
• Things She Wanted Because She Had Seen Something Similar On Antiques Roadshow That Turned Out To Be Worth Big Bucks
• “That pile,” she wiped the sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her #I’mwithher t-shirt, “is mine!”
She had laid claim to a Coleman® camping lantern circa 1955, a matching cookstove, two WPA canvas tents, a folding shovel from World War II, a pair of wooden skis my father found someplace, a cache of empty ammo boxes, several wooden crates stamped with the logo of a long-gone local soda company, fishing rods, reels, and the tool chest.
It was handmade, not by my father, but by his father. It was large. Wooden. Nothing fancy. Its form followed its function. With its desirable patina, it would have commanded top dollar in an antiques store — perfect in someone’s loft as an upcycled coffee table.
“That’s your pile.” She pointed the neck of her beer bottle toward a piddly grouping of rusted C-clamps, a hook and pulley system my father had used to hoist a dead deer carcass up into the rafters for easy butchering, an angel — both wings broken and therefore grounded, next to Mom’s geraniums — and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in need of facial reconstruction.
I could have succumbed to her Jedi powers, convinced that it was all just stuff, after all. Stuff I didn’t need, but she had to have.
But I wasn’t nine. I was 63. “Hang on a minute!” I said.
She had already loaded everything into the back of her Mini Cooper. Except for one thing, the tool chest. She squinted a Clint Eastwood kind of squint. I was supposed to back down. But yet, I persisted.
“I will allow you to keep all of these things – under one condition,” I said.
“Allow?” she said.
My father offered to act as referee or give first aid, whichever came first.
“I get to pick something out of the tool chest,” I said.
“Something? As in one thing?”
“Sounds fair,” my father said.
I opened the tool chest reverently, gently moving its sacred contents: chisels, planers, hand drills, levels, wood-handled screwdrivers, hammers — any one of them would have been contenders, had I not removed a wooden tray and spotted the metal pattern maker’s tools.
They were elegantly curved. Finely machined. The tiny gears and screws made with a watchmaker’s precision. Score!
She shrugged. She said she didn’t care about them. She said I could have all of them. “All of them?!” I said. Why was she being so generous? I offered to split them with her. She refused. She was doing that thing she had always done after she had been burned — trying to convince herself she hadn’t really wanted the job, or the dress, or the husband.
She said she’d come back for the tool chest, but not before she had taken several pictures of the contents with her phone. Was she afraid I’d stoop so low as to take something? Or was she going to be Googling things to see how much each tool was worth on eBay?
Her Mini looked as if she was prepared for a doomsday disaster. I had to pull out of the driveway first, the tools neatly arranged on the seat next to me. What should I do with them? They’d look good framed. Or just by themselves as sculpture.
I was backing out when I got a text.
It was from my sister.
She had attached a photo of a pair of calipers that looked exactly like the pair I had next to me. A link. Vintage Pattern Maker’s Tool: $209.
You owe me. BIG TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!
Followed by five very angry emojis.
This is the third installment in a series Mel Miskimen is writing for TheCovey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal. Her previous articles for Covey include installment #1, “No Guns for Old Men,” and #2,“Call Me. Maybe.”
Make Your Voice Heard
A record 270 women are running for public office. But also a record number of women are offering tactical support
Women are playing a key role in the 2018 midterm elections, from the record number of women running for office, to the women mobilizing like never before to support other women at the polls.
More than 270 women are running for either the US House or US Senate or for governor, according to Politico’s Women Candidate Tracker. Most of these candidates aren’t career politicians. They’re coming in as moms and military veterans, with backgrounds in medicine, teaching, and nursing, says Tonya Williams, director of strategic communications for Emily’s List, a political action committee that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office. “Women typically run because there is a problem they want to solve. You’re seeing that all over the country. They feel like ‘I can do this, too. I can bring all those experiences to the table and be an effective leader for my community,’ ” Williams says.
Meanwhile, pollsters are finding that female candidates could have an edge this election. A Morning Consult survey shows that Democratic voters favor female candidates over male candidates by a net 19 percentage points. Democrats are also more likely to prefer candidates who are Native American, black, or Hispanic over white candidates, the poll finds. Several other pollsters are predicting a double-digit gender gap, with women more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate running for the US House. To wit: a YouGov survey found that male voters preferred the Republican candidate by 9 percentage points, while female voters preferred the Democratic candidate by 15 points; both the Quinnipiac and Marist polls showed a 24-point gap, according to FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on opinion poll analysis. If these polls are correct, we’re potentially looking at the widest gender gap in congressional elections since 1992, the year that the number of female congressional members doubled.
“Educated suburban women will decide who controls the House,” says Sarah Chamberlain, CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership, a coalition of 80 Republican Congress members. “They could affect the Senate.” While Chamberlain admits that the GOP might be a bit behind the Democrats in getting women engaged in elections, this year the GOP has made an all-out effort to involve women. “Every issue is a women’s issue because women tend to know what their families are facing,” she says. This year Chamberlain has been traveling the country, talking with women face-to-face about their concerns and educating them about what their Republican Congress members are doing to support the issues that are important to them and their families.
It’s this type of face-to-face interaction that experts say helps get candidates elected. “The theory is [that] to win someone over, you have to make contact with them seven times through mail, in-person contact, and a phone call,” says Connie Cordovilla, president of Northern VA NOW. Yet many women are also trying new tactics this election cycle, including creating hyper-local groups of women who are working to get other women elected and getting more people to the polls to vote, especially those voters who sat out the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential election.
FINDING OTHER LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE
When Jen Cox moved from Denver to the suburbs of Atlanta, she initially thought she was the only progressive woman in her neighborhood because all the political signs and stickers supported Republicans. She eventually found a small group of liberal women who met regularly for social events. During a game of Cards Against Humanity, Cox suggested they should stop being so secretive about their political beliefs and show their support for Hillary Clinton by planning a rally before the 2016 election. To Cox’s surprise, about 200 men, women, and children came out to support Hillary in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta on October 23, 2016.
That experience inspired Cox and several other women to start PaveItBlue, a local Facebook group that is mobilizing more than 5,000 women in metro Atlanta to support progressive candidates including Stacey Abrams, the state’s first black female candidate running for governor. “We don’t use our website much,” says Cox. “We use Facebook to get news and to vent and to ask questions. That’s where our audience is and that’s where we organize from.” PaveItBlue members also agreed the group’s leadership would be all women. “We felt like it was women’s turn to be the leaders and at the table,” Cox says. “We welcome men as allies and guests but, as for the talking and the organizing, we keep that to women only.”
Jan Higgins Adams, who lives in Katy, Texas, has had a similar experience finding like-minded, progressive women. Until she found her local Indivisible Katy Huddle group, Adams says it was hard to find other Democrats. Now she is part of a group of about 800 people who come together regularly to support other Democrats. “It made us more aware of everyone else, and we’re finding out there are a lot of people who agree with us,” she says.
In addition to supporting Beto O’Rourke in his election against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz, the Indivisible Katy Huddle group is supporting Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in her bid against incumbent Republican John Culberson. “I think women are feeling very empowered with this election,” Adams says.
GETTING PEOPLE TO THE POLLS
Texas has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation. It ranks 44th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in voter registration, and it ranked 47th out of 51 for turnout during the 2016 election, according to research from the University of Texas at Austin. “We’re trying to change that for our candidate,” Adams says, “by targeting the women who are most likely to vote Democrat but didn’t vote in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 election.” The Indivisible Katy Huddle group sent 3,600 postcards to these women and urged them not to sit out this election. Each member of the Indivisible group also has committed to getting at least three non-voters to register and to the polls to vote.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, where according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the state canceled the registration of more than a half-million voters, groups like PaveItBlue are urging people check to make sure they are still registered to vote. Canceled voter registrations aren’t just happening in Georgia. “Many people are discovering they are not registered anymore,” says Cordovilla of Northern VA NOW. For instance, she says, in Fairfax County, Virginia, if you haven’t voted in eight years, or in the last two national elections, you were probably removed from the polls. The last day to register to vote varies by state but you can check your registration status, register to vote, learn about early voting, or obtain an absentee ballot from a national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition.
To get more people to the polls, Women’s March Chicago is planning a march to the polls on October 13, the first Saturday of early voting in Illinois. “In 2018 we have a unique opportunity to take action by going to polls,” says board member Dilara Sayeed. “We hope to overwhelm the board of elections with the number of people who will cast their vote.”
Rideshare company Lyft is working with groups like Vote.org, Nonprofit Vote, and TurboVote to offer 50 percent off rides across the country and with Voto Latino, local Urban League affiliates, and the National Federation of the Blind to provide free rides to underserved communities that face significant obstacles to transportation.
While all these efforts to get more women elected are great, Allison Fine (co-founder of Underwire, a community of newly elected women) warns there need to be more organizations that support women once they get elected. “We’re about to elect a lot of first-time women candidates who don’t have a way to figure out how to do this job,” she says. “We’re going to waste this wave if we don’t help them once they get elected.”
However, Adams points out, none of these candidates are running as “a woman.” “They are running because they’re the strongest candidate,” she says. “They aren’t playing the woman card.”
Here are three things you can do today to help elect more women:
*Make sure you are registered to vote on Tuesday, November 6
*Learn the last day to register to vote in your state
*Find your polling place and make a plan to get there
"You did not wake up today to be mediocre."
When a novelist falls in love with the character she is writing about, it creates havoc in her real world
I was like every other female English major. I believed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels were written expressly for me. Ernest Hemingway was fine, hunky, and true, but if I’d wanted an alpha male I’d have become a cheerleader. It was Scott — we quickly got to first names — who was my type. I overlooked some of his hairdos and found him handsome, with a nose that belonged on a Roman coin and a height that wouldn’t give me a pain-in-the-neck to hear endearments I was sure he’d whisper.
Though I was nothing like Zelda — I come not from Alabama but from North Dakota, where people say “you betcha,” not “bless your heart”— I still had the feeling that Scott and I would hit it off. Soon enough he’d be leaning over to share a thought. OK, perhaps he wouldn’t say, “Your voice is full of money,” because I doubt mine is. His sentiment would be a point on which we’d agree, like, “Nothing is as obnoxious as other people’s luck.” Because nothing is.
My obsession lasted through sophomore year. Then I met Rob, a tall French major closer to my age (Scott was born in 1896). I graduated, moved to New York, married my boyfriend, and rappelled up editorial mastheads of magazines. Scott got shelved, literally. This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, and the rest of the canon went untouched. Until three years ago.
Magazines had started dying off faster than corner-deli roses. I’d turned to writing novels, and with four behind me, I was sniffing around for my next idea when I ran into my old friend F. Scott in a book about his last years. No longer was my reckless romantic a golden boy or, for that matter, a boy at all. He was forty, regarded as a bourgeois reactionary who’d sucked up to the rich though he himself was deeply in debt, having squandered vast royalties on too many rides on the tops of taxis along with poor Zelda’s fancy sanitariums. Like others in his East Coast crowd, Scott was hitting up Hollywood, because during the Depression — it was 1937 — Louis B. Mayer and the other machers were paying writers thousands of dollars a week for screenplays.
This was a part of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life I’d missed in Literature from the 18th Century to the Present.
I discovered that on one of Scott’s first evenings in Hollywood, he’d attended an engagement party for a blonde-bombshell gossip columnist, Sheilah Graham, who was planning to marry a marquess, no less. For Scott, she might have been the ghost of 1920 Zelda. For Sheilah, he was simply a ghost, since she assumed F. Scott Fitzgerald was dead. Undeterred by the diamond as big as the Ritz on her finger, Scott invited Sheilah to a Sunset Strip nightclub. The man had the moves, and mid-tango she got hooked on Scott — and once again so did I. I’d found my idea for a novel and became consumed by the beguiling Sheilah and — even more — by Scott.
It isn’t unusual for novelists to think of our characters as bossy friends over whom we have little control. “Henry was supposed to be a nothing-burger, but damn if he didn’t take over the book like a mutant crayfish cloning himself.” They’ll tell you people on their pages are so real they dream about them. So it went for me, complicated by the fact that both Scott and Sheilah actually were real people.
We slipped briskly into an intimacy from which it seemed we’d never recover. At films, Scott would offer Sheilah running commentary. My husband and I see plenty of movies, though based on his theatrical snoring, I’ve learned not to bother asking what he thought of most plots. But what did Scott think of, say, La La Land? He and I had so much in common — the Midwest! writing! — though I didn’t let myself think about his indignation at the emojis in my Instagram posts. I was too worried about whether he’d be aghast by my hubris in trying to write a book about him, which required putting dialogue into his mouth.
Scott was really into me. Then, dammit, he had to fall off the wagon. Of course, Sheilah and I had heard the rumors. Yet for six months he’d been a Coca-Cola guy, sober, gentle, funny, self-deprecating, generous, and unwilling to blame anyone but himself for his shortcomings. When he got into the gin, not so much. After a bender, I could chart Sheilah’s cycle, which became my own. Biblical indignation. Silence. Apology, which she accepted. I began to understand how women stood by charming alcoholics, as Sheilah — and I — would fall in love all over again.
As an author, I endlessly rewrite. But eventually, even I know my book is done.
At this point we novelists often miss our characters to the degree that we have a bereavement hangover. So it went for me as I mourned Scott’s smile, his wicked sarcasm and ferocious work ethic. I felt nostalgic for how he twirled a lock of hair on the top of his head while he wrote, a handful of sharpened pencils peeking out of his breast pocket. Then one random day, my husband looked up from MSNBC and displayed his own wicked sarcasm. I took a hard look at Rob who, like Scott, is gentle, funny, self-deprecating, and generous. He is also someone who during the decades of our marriage has been knockdown drunk maybe twice. Since eggnog was involved, technically, it doesn’t count.
A Fitzgerald quote we often read is, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” As I slowly let go of Scott, I realized how grateful I was that throughout my Fitzgerald obsession, I’d not only been able to hold the opposing idea of Rob in my mind, but that it was he who allowed me to function as a writer. The coffee that started my engine each morning? Rob brewed it. Our swing dancing. The way a guy who’s never once glanced at an Amazon rating or listed a book on GoodReads endured my rumination about anesthetizing publishing minutiae.
It had been a great run with Scott, who taught me not only about why using exclamation marks is like laughing at your own joke but about abandoning yourself to both writing and love. As a couple, though, I realized we were done; I’d best leave him to history and Sheilah Graham, a much more complicated woman than I.
It’s fine to have a literary hero whose foibles you try to overlook, but far better to have a flesh and blood husband whose foibles are few. When I need F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, I know where to find him: in every one of his exquisite novels and short stories. Each protagonist is Scott, a man who always knows how to make a woman feel adored.
Sally Koslow is the author of Another Side of Paradise, a biographical novel about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham recently published by Harper.
Women are good at asking for money for others. What’s difficult: asking for money for themselves.
Did you know that of people surveyed for a 2018 SCORE report, 47 percent of women started a business in the past year compared with only 44 percent of men? In addition, more than 11.6 million US firms are owned by women — employing nearly 9 million people and generating $1.7 trillion in sales as of 2017 — according to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).
Yet, although women are adept at asking for money for their favorite charity or for their child’s school, they are often less comfortable raising funds for their own start-up or even for a political candidate.
“We have this societal message that we are supposed to be the good girl and not make people uncomfortable,” says Stephanie McCullough, founder and CEO of Sofia Financial. “We’ve been conditioned to believe that talking about money is unladylike,” adds Karen Cahn, founder and CEO of iFundWomen, a new digital platform that provides coaching for women on how to crowdfund their businesses. “We’re taught it’s shameful to ask for money. And we’ve been conditioned to not be the people controlling the money.”
McCullough says she recently read the book How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith and found one idea really resonated with her: that women are great at nurturing relationships but not at leveraging them. “We worked hard to forge these relationships and don’t want to endanger them by asking for something,” she says.
Ironically, it’s our ability to collaborate and nurture that actually makes women particularly great at asking for money, says Carol Evans, chief relationship officer at Respectful Exits, a new nonprofit that advocates for the rights of older workers. Evans has deep experience raising capital — first for Working Mother magazine and then fundraising for Hillary Clinton and now for Respectful Exits. “I do a lot of asking for money for a lot of different reasons,” she says.
Here are five easy steps for reorienting your thinking about money so you can raise the cash you need.
#1: You’re Not Asking for Money, You’re Providing an Opportunity
Rather than focusing on the fact that you are asking for money, focus on the window of opportunity you are offering the buyer. When Evans was selling candy as a Camp Fire Girl, she says she didn’t think about asking for money. “I saw it as an opportunity to say hello to people and ask them to buy candy.”
Remind yourself that you have an obligation to share this incredible chance to invest — in a hot, new company or a budding new local candidate — with your friends and colleagues. Evans would tell herself, “If I don’t tell this person about this opportunity, they will be upset with me. She will say to me, ‘why didn’t you ask me?’ I always visually imagine someone being upset that I didn’t approach them.”
Even when Evans was raising money for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, she emphasized the social aspect of fundraising. For example, when she told the 2,400 members of the Executive Women for Hillary group she ran to invite their networks to Hillary’s birthday bash with John Legend and Demi Lovato or to brunch with Hillary in Mt. Kisco, New York, she felt she was really offering them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rub shoulders with celebrities.
#2: You’re Fundraising for Your Business So You Can Employ Others
When you’re raising capital for your start-up, your ultimate goal is to raise money to create a viable business that will provide jobs for others. “It’s about being able to make a business flourish so you can employ 100 people,” Evans says. And the facts are on your side: Women-owned firms account for 39 percent of all privately held firms and comprise 8 percent of employment in the US, according to NAWBO.
#3: It’s Not an Ask, It’s a Pitch
Cahn says women often struggle with finding the right words when they’re raising funds. But she says, “You are not a charity. You are asking people to contribute, back your campaign, or buy your product or service.” When you ask for money, Cahn says you need to strike these three phrases from your vocabulary: “help me,” “please help” and “donate.”
Cahn suggests using these nine positive, action-oriented phrases to create excitement instead:
“Invest in the business”
“Back the campaign”
“Support my mission”
“I’m solving a problem”
“Become a founding member”
“Be a beta tester”
“Be an insider”
Likewise, veteran fundraiser Hannah Grove, chief marketing officer for State Street Corporation, says be direct, know your audience, and nurture those who give. Grove, who co-chaired a capital campaign for Women’s Lunch Place of Greater Boston, a day shelter, beat the $2.5 million goal by exchanging softballs like “I’d love to get together to talk about a campaign we’re doing to raise money and I’d love to get you involved” for “I would like to meet with you to ask you specifically for $50,000 to support the Women’s Lunch Place. I’m happy to send you materials. I’m happy to meet with you and tell you more. But I want you to know right off the bat what I’m asking you for.” She says, “People have limited time and tolerance for the warm-up. Make the ask early on.”
#4: Bank Your Calls or Meetings to Create Momentum
If just the thought of making phone calls to potential funders makes you nervous, set up a specific time each day to call. Evans likes to do her calls in the morning so she’s not thinking about (and dreading) it all day. She also makes all her calls during one block of time because, after a few calls, it becomes rote and less stressful. Log your accomplishments on a chart so you are encouraged to keep calling, she says.
#5: Know Your Donors — Intimately!
Before making an ask, Grove says you should use the internet and social media to figure out what other boards your donors are on, what else they have funded publicly, whether they have a history of giving to a similar endeavor, and whether they have access to venture capital funding. “There is nothing worse than being given an ask that is far above and beyond what that person has given before,” she says.
When this happened to Grove, it was a real turn off. “I had given at a relatively consistent level to an organization. A new director of development came in and, after a long warm up, she asked me for $100,000.” Grove says she was taken aback by the request, especially since the director could have easily looked up her prior giving level and presented her with a more realistic ask, say, to increase her annual donation by $5,000.
Don’t forget to nurture those who do give to your cause, campaign, or business. “The people who give today will probably give again at some point in the life cycle,” Grove says. So stay in touch by thanking them, letting them know what their support provided, and introducing them to other supporters. “You don’t want to go back to them right away but you might want to go to them in the future,” she says. And even if they don’t open their wallet again, they might be a good advocate for your campaign or business.
After a long run as the editor-in-chief of McCall’s and other major magazines, Sally Koslow reinvented herself as a novelist. Another Side of Paradise, her sixth book, imagines the little-known love affair between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham, a powerful gossip columnist during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Sally lives in Manhattan.
Andrea Atkins is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in national magazines and on web sites. She lives in Westchester County, New York, where she is an active volunteer and avid tennis player (and grateful for her small breasts.)
Professor Meg Jordan Ph.D., RN, CWP, is a woman who has motivated millions to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. Author, speaker, international health journalist, registered nurse, and a clinical medical anthropologist, Meg is one of the most recognized names in health and wellness reporting. She is Chair of a growing department at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco that offers an M.A. in Integrative Health Studies, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology, Concentration in Somatic Psychology, and a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality.
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