In The Beauty Shop: Giving Up Sex Or Gaining 10 Pounds?

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A recent poll suggests that half of American women would rather give up sex for the summer than gain 10 pounds. In the program’s occasional feature ‘The Beauty Shop,’ a roundtable of journalists offer their take on that, and other water cooler stories. Joining the conversation are Robin Givhan, Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion editor at the Washington Post; Ana Marie Cox, Washington Correspondent for GQ magazine; and Jessica Coen, Editor-in-Chief at


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

With all that's happening in the world - in the news, we thought it was time to make another visit to the Beauty Shop, and I also have to say that a number of our listeners were clamoring for one. We want to let you know that we hear you, but a warning that there is some, shall we say, adult content. So, just a gentle warning for those who may wish to turn the sound down at some points.

So joining us this week in the Beauty Shop to weigh in on recent news stories that we thought could use a woman's perspective is Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion editor at the Washington Post. Also with us, Ana Marie Cox, Washington correspondent for GQ magazine. She's also the founding editor of Wonkette, that popular blog. And in our New York studio is Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief of

Ladies, thank you all so much for joining us.

Ms. ROBIN GIVHAN (Fashion Editor, The Washington Post): Thank you.

Ms. ANA MARIE COX (Washington Correspondent, GQ): Thanks.

Ms. JESSICA COEN (Editor-in-chief, Good to be here.

MARTIN: Well, first of all - and you know, I hate to start off with one of these weight-loss stories, but this is one of those things that people are talking about. There's a new poll by Nutrisystem, so you can weigh that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COEN: Take that with a grain of salt.

MARTIN: Take that with a grain of Nutrasweet.

Ms. COEN: Or, you know, yeah.

MARTIN: Asked a thousand people if they would rather gain 10 pounds or give up sex for the summer. And half of the women questioned said that they would go without sex, compared to a quarter of the men.

You know, Robin, I think...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GIVHAN: You turn to me.

MARTIN: We turn to you, no, because you are kind of at that, you know, that intersection of fashion and culture, and this whole question of...

Ms. GIVHAN: Oh, I was waiting - what intersection you were at.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You look fabulous, by the way. So, no need to give us anything.

Ms. GIVHAN: Thank you.

MARTIN: But, you know, you've written about fashion. There's been a lot of stories about the large-size fashion industry and this whole role that the fashion industry plays, and women and their self-image - and things of that sort. I'm just curious what you make of that.

Ms. GIVHAN: Yeah. You know, it doesn't surprise me because how you look, that's so public. And sex, theoretically, is something that's very private. So, you know, no one knows what you're getting or not getting, but we make a lot of judgments about people based on how they look.

And so I think a lot of women respond to that by saying, I don't want to - sadly -lessen my sort of beauty value in the culture by putting on 10 pounds, and particularly not in the summertime when it's all about the body and showing it off. And there's that added pressure. It, sadly, doesn't surprise me.

MARTIN: The only reason I'm surprised by this is that I thought that we were at a point where people were a bit more accepting in the real world of different body types. But...

Ms. GIVHAN: You know, I think we're accepting in theory, but not necessarily in practice. I think if you sat down and you did a survey, and you asked people how they felt about different body types, I think they would respond in a way that was significantly different from the way that they would just respond if they were having a conversation with a girlfriend over lunch, and they were all looking at a piece of chocolate cake like it was poison.

MARTIN: Ana Marie, what do you think about that?

Ms. COX: One thing I wonder about the - surveys are notoriously difficult to get the truth from people. So I'm actually very curious whether or not these women would actually give up sex. I mean, it's an interesting judgment about our culture that we would rather be public.

Ms. GIVHAN: Well, I'd wonder if they were getting sex to begin with.

Ms. COX: There you go.

Ms. GIVHAN: They may be giving up nothing.

Ms. COX: It's also an interesting judgment of our culture, that you would rather be more public about giving up sex than you would be about getting food, I guess. In our culture, it is more noteworthy to say that you'd rather be thin than to get sex, except for men. I mean, that's the...

MARTIN: Well, that's I wonder, whether it works the other way for men, if they can't admit that.

Ms. COX: Apparently did not.

MARTIN: Because I'm often wondering, particularly because three of us are in the Washington area, where male appearance I mean, women in public...

Ms. COX: Male appearance in Washington doesn't matter as much as it should.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, but I wonder if it actually does - because then why would some of these politicians be getting hair plugs and things of that sort, that they do get? That they do get.

Ms. COX: Yeah. I mean, I think men are judged on a different frame of references when it comes to their appearance. You know, women typically are judged on weight, and whether or not they have a particular body ideal. And men have a lot more leeway in terms of weight.

Ms. GIVHAN: They're judged more on hair than they are on weight. I bet that if you asked the question, would you rather get laid or have more hair, I wonder what kind of different answers you'd get from men.

MARTIN: Interesting. Jessica, what do you think?

Ms. COEN: Well, you know, you're talking about whether or not these guys would choose to get laid versus the hair plugs. And I actually think they would choose to get laid because they have common sense.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COEN: And because the expectation for a woman is a beauty one. But I think men also face an expectation to be more, let's say, carnal beings and...

Ms. GIVHAN: Virile.

Ms. COEN: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Can I ask you, Jessica, how do these stories play on your blog? Because one of the things people like about Jezebel is that people kind of express themselves really clearly about a lot of issues. And I'm wondering...

Ms. COEN: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COEN: Very vocal.

MARTIN: ...on the one hand, is this a story that would be of interest? On the other hand, are people sick of the whole thing and just say if we - maybe if women stopped talking about it, everybody else will stop talking about it?

Ms. COEN: I think it's both. This is the kind of thing that people will talk about endlessly. As long as we have the beauty standards that we have right now in society, it will always be something women are talking about. And I think that Jezebel and our audience and our editorial perspective is very much that this isn't surprising. We are supposed to take the stance that this doesnt matter to us; we have size acceptance, and everyone is okay in their own way. But when you are alone in a room, you are looking at your body in a certain way, and we are so deeply ingrained with these images, and these images of what is beautiful and what a body should look like. And they're not fair images, but you can't ask women, when theyre answering a survey anonymously, to necessarily have the girl-power perspective.

MARTIN: And speaking of another question of - something else thats a matter of what we experience privately versus in the way we talk about it publicly, I want to bring up a pop culture issue, which is this new song by Eminem, in which Rihanna appears.

And I think a lot of us know the back story here, that Rihanna was involved in a terrible situation with her former boyfriend Chris Brown, where she was beaten very badly. And then I think Eminem has also been implicated for some behavior with his wife. I'm not sure if she's still - if they're still married or so -but anyway, they released this music video. It's an extremely popular song to this point. It's called "Love The Way You Lie." And it depicts a very - I think pretty graphic terms, a cycle of violence between this attractive young couple. I'll just play a short clip of it.

(Soundbite of song, "Love The Way You Lie")

EMINEM (Rapper): (Rapping) I'm Superman with the wind at his back. She's Lois Lane but when it's bad it's awful, I feel so ashamed I snap. Whos that dude? I dont even know his name. I laid hands on her. I never stoop so low again. I guess I dont know my own strength.

RIHANNA (Singer) (Singing) Just gonna stand there and watch me burn. Thats all right because I like the way it hurts. Just gonna stand there and hear me cry. Thats all right because I love the way you lie. I love the way you lie.

MARTIN: Jessica, what's your take on this?

Ms. COEN: I think part of the reason the song is popular - I mean, it has a catchy hook, and Rihanna and Eminem are music gold when it comes to pop music. But part of the pull is that they both have a personal investment, or personal experience with what the song is talking about. And, you know, the music video culture is, at this point, so incredibly literal when it comes to what a song is about, that part of the entertainment factor - not necessarily for an individual; it depends on where you stand on these things - but part of the pull of this sort of thing is that you know that the artists actually have some sort of personal experience with what they're singing about. And if they're comfortable creating entertainment out of that, then that's their decision.

MARTIN: Ana Marie, what do you think about this? I mean, on the one hand, I dont know about you, I think it's a pretty great song and the video...

Ms. COX: Mm-hmm. Terrific.

MARTIN: extremely attention-getting.

Ms. COX: The song has a great hook. They're both really talented performers. I'm a huge fan of their - both of their songs and music. But having said that, listening to you sort of recite the story behind it, and then hearing the clip, like I literally felt the bile rise up in my throat.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. COX: Like it's - I think Jessica's right, you know. Its their choice about whether or not they want to make public and a performance out this history that they both have. I still find it deeply upsetting. Like, and I'm actually usually someone who's very much in favor of separating out the performer from their personal history and like, just wanting to take the art on its own terms. But because this is such a personal issue, it's also hard for me to believe that it's possible for anyone that's been a victim of domestic violence to just leave that at the door on their way into the studio.

MARTIN: But maybe she didnt. I mean, that's one of the things I'm conflicted about. Robin, what do you think?

Ms. GIVHAN: You know, I mean, I feel like I have read excerpts from when both of them, actually, have talked about how the idea wasnt really to leave it at the door, but to use the music as a way of talking about what they had both been through - from these two very different sides. And to some degree, I think their contemporaries understand where they're coming from, and what theyre attempting to say in the song.

I mean, in many ways, it's their artistic expression. And there's a long history of artists bringing their personal pain, their personal experience to bear.

MARTIN: One of the things that I liked about it is, I think it helps you see - if you have not been in a relationship like that, or if you dont or think you dont know someone who has - how it happens. I mean, it shows you the cycle of intimacy and rejection, and the mind games and the way all that can work together, and how it can be explosive and intoxicating at the same time, and to sort of see why people stay in it. That's something that a lot of times, people have a hard time with, it if hasnt been part of their lives.

But it is interesting to me that a music video still is powerful, right? Because I thought we saw it all. We saw Lady Gaga with nothing on and, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GIVHAN: You know, I think we have gotten to a point where there's an incredible amount of cynicism about - from all of us when anyone does something like this. So, yeah, I mean, I think it's shocking that there does seem to be an element of honesty that comes as a surprise. But it also kind of takes me back to, you know, the earliest days of gangsta rap and, you know, more intense kinds of rap, where it really wasnt about just kind of putting on a cynical show. But it was really - the music was really coming from a very deep and pained place in the community. And it's almost like it's come full circle, a little bit, with this particular song.

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having a visit to the Beauty Shop. We're speaking with fashion editor for the Washington Post Robin Givhan, blogger Ana Marie Cox, the - tell me again, the...

Ms. COX: Washington correspondent for GQ magazine.

MARTIN: Washington correspondent for GQ magazine. That sounds very...

Ms. COX: Grown up. That's up what I think. Yeah.

MARTIN: Grown up. It does, sounds very grown up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COX: It sounds very glamorous.

MARTIN: And Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief of

Ms. COX: I'm here from a men's magazine.

MARTIN: I know.

Ms. COX: And that's interesting-ish.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: It is interesting. You know, one of the reasons I was interested in - is that picking up on Robin's point, that a lot of the news around music videos was male. And it was that hyper-masculine, you know, gangsta rap type of...

Ms. COX: Well, Eminem.

MARTIN: You know, Eminem and Run DMC. And I'm wondering whether - is the news now -what's interesting to me is that the people who are making news with these videos are Lady Gaga, and I'm just wondering whether that - what does that mean, if anything?

Ms. COX: Well, you know, but when you brought up Lady Gaga, it made me think of how the women who have been sort of the most news-generating and the most provocative have come, generally, out of popular music. And it's been in that sort of like - children of Madonna, I call them. You know, they're all these women who have sort of embraced...

MARTIN: I get that.

Ms. COX: Embraced their sexuality, and sort of taken on this very kind of aggressive, flamboyant style. And that all seems to come out of, you know, the world of popular music as opposed to the world of hip-hop, where it seems to be so much more about swagger. And the women who have, you know, the Lil' Kim's and, you know, people like that have seemed to kind of struggle with sort of embracing female sexuality. But then there's always been this kind of weird, distressing element of- kind of masculine object.

MARTIN: Yeah, female subjugation. It's like it's all about my value as being a sexual being, as opposed to being myself or doing what I - being the protagonist in my own story.

Ms. COX: Right.

MARTIN: That kind of thing. That's interesting. So speaking of swagger, Ana Marie, I can't let you go without asking about Maxine Waters and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COX: She's got swagger.

MARTIN: She got swagger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, what's interesting and in the same week - and, of course, there's the whole racial politics...

Ms. COX: Right.

MARTIN: ...of these ethics investigations and whether African-Americans are being specifically targeted, and there are people who feel that way, and there are people who feel, well, actually no, it's Democrats. And then there are people who make the argument, well, Democrats are running the Congress right now, so there's that piece.

Ms. COX: And so the truth, the Congressional Black Caucus has a lot of power. That's the group that's been investigated - Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters - one of the most powerful, you know, sort of groups within Congress, and it deserves some scrutiny. I think neither Charlie Rangel nor Maxine Waters has gotten scrutiny that they dont deserve. I put too many negatives in that sentence, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COX: I think they're...

MARTIN: Because why? Because they're powerful, or because you think their conduct merits it - or both?

Ms. COX: Well, both. I think they're both powerful and Charlie Rangel, especially. I think Maxine Waters, it's a little more questionable about what lines were crossed. But the instant you get elected to office, you are deserving of scrutiny. And the sad thing is that the Congressional Black Caucus has gotten away with sort of operating outside the boundaries of things. But...

MARTIN: Youre saying as a group or as individuals?

Ms. COX: As individuals, I should say. But...

MARTIN: And how do you know that, more so than other people?

Ms. COX: Youre right. Okay, not more so than other people. But they...

MARTIN: Well, because the reason that it arises is that there were at one point, eight active ethics investigations, and they all seemed to center on African-American officials.

Ms. COX: Right.

MARTIN: And given the conduct that's being investigated, nobody's talking about, you know, suitcases with money in it. There are those who argue, okay, well, wait a minute, if this has to do with blurring the lines between public authority and private gain, are these really the only people?

Ms. COX: They're probably not the only people. I mean like, I mean you - we all live here. And unfortunately, like, the behavior of members of Congress is probably not scrutinized enough, especially by people in their own districts.

MARTIN: Let me ask Jessica, because Charlie Rangel's in...

Ms. COEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...she's based in New York, and Charlie Rangel represents Harlem, of course, longtime lawmaker. What's your take on this?

Ms. COEN: You know, from my perspective I find it incredibly embarrassing for New York's politics. He's still, despite all these things, he's still, with his constituents, extremely popular. And that, to me, raises the question - I mean, Ana Marie is exactly on point when it comes to how much scrutiny should these individuals be under. And then you see how very popular he is with his constituents and do they care? Do people really care who these individuals are, so long as the individuals actually - so long as their representatives do things for their neighborhood?

MARTIN: Robin, what do you think? I'm interested in your take on how these two public officials have handled this scrutiny to this point.

Ms. GIVHAN: Well, I mean, I dont think that anyone would describe Charlie Rangel's speech on the House floor as necessarily his finest moment. But, you know, I tend to just sort of go back to sort of, why these people; why now? I mean, we also have to think about, you know, we tend to scrutinize those who have the most power.

And this is a moment when there certainly is a perception that black men - or black people in general - black politicians sort of have an advantage, that they have clout, and they're under the microscope. But that said, I mean, I dont necessarily think that you could argue that the scrutiny is unwarranted. But I dont necessarily think that the choices of those who are being scrutinized is a coincidence.

MARTIN: How do you think Maxine Waters did in her speech? She gave a press conference last week where she kind of went through the charges against her and gave her answer.

Ms. GIVHAN: Well, I mean, I didnt get a chance to actually - to see Maxine Waters' press conference, but in reading some of her comments, it definitely - I think she makes a very strong argument that her case is a bit fuzzy, that what she actually did, how far over a line she may or may not have stepped, is not clear. And the fact that at some point in the process, she herself sort of raises the issue and says, I'm in a bit of a pickle - you know, so to speak - I think speaks greatly to some of the defensive comments that she's made.

With Charlie Rangel, just in terms of perception, he comes across as sort of the guy who's protesting too much. And I think that's a very dangerous place to be because oftentimes, it's not so much the crime or the alleged crime, it's the way that you respond to it.

MARTIN: Robin Givhan is the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion editor for the Washington Post. Ana Marie Cox is the founding editor of the blog Wonkette, and she's chief Washington correspondent for GQ magazine. They were both here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. And Jessica Coen is editor-in-chief of She joined us from our bureau in New York. Ladies, thank you.

Ms. COX: Thank you for having me.

Ms. GIVHAN: Thank you.

Ms. COEN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Lets talk more tomorrow.

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