The Times They Are A Changin’?

Gee, what’s this, Curvy Cover Girls? Well, we have Ashley Graham, left, well exposed on one of three covers offered by this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.”I have cellulite. I have rolls,” Graham proudly tells SI readers. I hear ya Ashley! Then a more sedate Barbie strides across a recent Time cover.

Advertisers, such as Swimsuits for All,  weighted in, too, with a page that sneakily looked editorial in the Swimsuit issue. The company featured 56-year-old Nicola Griffin, below, clad in a reflective gold bikini. “People think you lose your sex appeal as you get older – but that’s a myth,” she said in a statement. “I’ve never felt sexier.”
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But one wonders how many buxom beauties, especially those in the 50-and-above age bracket, we’ll start to see on the covers of the likes of Vogue or being lauded by the media in general.

Barbie’s not talking about her body image, but her handlers at Mattel admit it’s time for a makeover. They’re throwing the old Barbie, originally based on a German doll called Lilli, a prostitute gag gift given out at bachelor parties, a few curves. My, what a wholesome lineage!

Time helpfully gives its readers a Barbie timeline that includes a glance at Ms. B pre and post curves, below. Mattel is also adding a tall and petit Barbie.

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Take a look at one inspiration for the 2016 curvy update, none other than that Poster Gal for Curves: Kim Kardashian…

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Now what comes to mind when you check out the first Barbie off Mattel’s assembly line, below left, in 1956? A Berlin streetwalker maybe? I never had a Barbie, craving Madame Alexander dolls, below right, in all their old-fashioned frills. I recently rendezvoused with a high school friend I hadn’t set eyes on in 50 years. We reminisced and what did she remember? Our Madame Alexander dolls!

As I read about Barbie’s new look, I kept asking myself how many girls are into dolls these days, no matter how modern, culturally correct they appear? Kids with smart phones attached get younger all the time. Will dolls add to history’s pile of disregarded play things?

Back to business as usual. Below right you’ll find a photo from a recent fashion spread in T, The New York Times Style magazine. Note the skin-and-bones motif, not to mention sticker shock. This ridiculous “dress” by Balenciaga goes for $11,300 (not a typo). You choose: look like a fool in Balenciaga or cool in the tunic, left, designed by Ines de la Fressange, the chic Parisian, for Uniqlo. No contest.

That’s What Friends are For…

I often reflect on how meaningful my friends are – how buoyed I am by our times together, the thoughts and giggles we share. What they always manage to do: calm  the waves in any stormy seas I’m weathering. The other day I checked two films out of the library that speak to friendship, especially in difficult times.

Released in 2008, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas had escaped me until my good pal Ramen, a former casting director and film maven, recently recommended it. Our friendship stems from Grade One where we cavorted in pale pea green uniforms with matching bloomers.

Based on the young adult novel by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of an unusual, short-lived friendship between two young boys who live in different worlds. Nine-year-old Bruno, seen happily romping with chums in 1940s Berlin knows privilege and freedom; Shmuel, soiled in tattered striped “pajamas,” lives a life circumscribed by a barbed wire fence and  deprivation. His home is called Auschwitz.

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“You’re my best friend, Shmuel. My best friend for life,” says Bruno as the story comes to its climatic close.

When Bruno’s father, a Nazi commandant on the rise, is sent to oversee this death camp the two boys meet. Bruno is lonely and escapes the confines of his new, austere and remote house to seek playmates. From a high window he has a view over the lush greenery that acts as a visual barrier to the nearby camp. What he sees, mystifies him: 

“…All the people in the camp wore the same clothes, those pajamas and their striped cloth caps too; and all the people who wandered through his house wore uniforms of varying quality and decoration…What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”

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The dark, intimidating “uniform” worn by Lieutenant Kurt Kolter played by a very blond Rupert Friend, aka Peter Quinn of “Homeland.”

Bruno makes his way to the barbed wire fence. On the other side, he finds Shmuel forlornly sitting on a pile of rocks. Questions are asked and so begins a tentative friendship that is tested as Bruno tries to understand just what is going on next door. Explaining more would give too much away. 

I also bought the book, my first “young adult” read.  In the few reviews I’ve read the film and the book were criticized: “To mold the Holocaust into an allegory, as Boyne does here (in the book) with perfectly benign intent, is to step away from its reality,” said The New York Times. Sure, the story which Boyne subtitles a fable on the book’s cover does not delve deeply into the horrors of the Holocaust and ends on a more ambiguous note than the film portrays. But should this story divulge the full and deadly scope of camp life for its intended young audience? I feel the story is  an appropriate starting point for a discussion to learn more. A fable is defined as a short tale to teach a moral lesson.

Boyne includes an Author’s Note at the end of the book which touches on the its objective: “Whatever reaction you have to this story, I hope that the voices of Bruno and Shmuel will continue to resonate with you…” They did for me.

The film Julia, released in 1977,  takes another look at friendship, again starkly positioned  during the dark days of Nazi Germany. I  was just as moved by it almost 40 years after I first saw it.

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Lilly and Julia rendezvous in Berlin. Tucked in Lilli’s jaunty astrakhan chapeau: $50,000

It’s based on a controversial story in Lillian Hellman’s best-selling memoir, Pentimento. Critics have doubted the existence of Julia, claiming she was a composite of various people Hellman knew or knew of.

We first glimpse Lilly Hellman’s friendship with the bolder Julia (Vanessa Redgrave) when the two are children. Lilly (a feisty Jane Fonda) is in awe of Julia’s bravery, her rash moves, that always leave Lilly in her shadow. We see the paths each take: Lilly’s relationship with the writer Dashiell Hammett, (juicily played by Jason Robards), as she struggles to be a playwright; Julia’s rise to a full-fledged anti-Fascist  studying medicine in Vienna when Hitler comes to power. Julia is always on a mission. One senses that, as she doles out friendship crumbs such as giving scant praise to Lilly’s theatrical achievements, for Julia their relationship comes second.

But then, as Julia selfishly uses Lilly (I believe), Lilly does her brave thing. Risking her life, particularly as a Jew, she smuggles $50,000 to Julia in Hitler’s Berlin for one of her humanitarian causes. One review of the film noted: “Friendship is profound and mysterious. It defies close examination. In a movie friendship is anticlimactic.” Not necessarily so. Well, the review was written by a male…I believed in this “friendship” on all its complicated, frustrating levels. And I loved Lilly’s clothes!

“…For good times and bad times

I’ll be on your side forever more

That’s what friends are for…”

                            –Dionne Warwick & Friends 1985