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Living my dreams through Vanity Fair’s Tina Brown


What could be more enthralling than reading someone’s diary, especially someone who regularly rubs shoulders with the rich and famous? It feels forbidden, furtive, even a bit titillating. We’re discovering that person’s innermost thoughts, opinions and impressions in the context of their daily life. And when that life is one lived in the rarefied circles of Tina Brown, editor of Vanity Fair magazine from 1984 to 1992, it’s delicious beyond words. Which explains why I binge-read her book Vanity Fair Diaries in three or four-hour bursts until my eyes wouldn’t focus any longer. Brown is responsible for those avant-garde covers of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore and a moonwalking Michael Jackson.

Tina Brown is an upper middle-class British-born baby boomer, educated at Oxford University. At the age of twenty-five, she was hired to revitalize that famous British magazine, Tatler, which she did with skill and originality. Five years later she was bored and started looking for new opportunities. Across the Atlantic, Condé Nast in New York City was looking for someone to breathe new life into their ailing Vanity Fair magazine. After a six-month mating dance, Tina Brown was hired. Along with her husband Harry Evans, former editor of The Times of London they moved to New York, found an apartment, bought a weekend retreat on Long Island and began the dizzying life of news makers and reporters. She systematically dismantled the old VF staff and rebuilt on new foundations with creative people she knew could produce and deliver her vision.

Tina Brown’s husband, Harry Evans, a media star in his own right, was a strong supporter of his wife’s ambitions.

Naturally, any shakeup in business involves casualties. The politics and behind-the-scenes psychological games required to get a successful magazine to print involve a mind-boggling complex skill set of business smarts, networking connections, branding, marketing, creativity and ego management. Any senior business manager will confirm that one of the most difficult aspects of the job is handling the personnel issues and this is particularly true when dealing with sensitive creative types. Toss ego, personal wealth and power into the mix and it’s a volatile brew.

The name-dropping in this book is unavoidable and reading her accounts of interactions with famous people over the years is fascinating.  Her descriptions of daily events range from educational and informative to bitchy and salacious with wonderful and rather prophetic observations sprinkled throughout the book:

On observing the working women in the office of her real estate agent: “Looking at all these tense New York women, a little frayed, a little underpaid,  enough to keep them hooked on their career  path but not enough to finance escape. I felt they are the new prisoners of the American dream, always working harder than the guys and dealing and redealing the paperwork.”

On trophy wives: The perennial irony here is that men still have all the cards. “They can be driven bastards for years and ignore their kids. Then when they mellow out they can have a younger wife, a new family, and all the perks of a fresh start.”

On the pursuit of acquisition: “Without any market research he has crystallized the current longing for tradition and what he describes as the ‘lack of loveliness in the rootless, unbeautiful lives of the modern American woman who knows that deep down all the running is leading every day to a lesser life.”

With daring photos by Annie Leibovitz, Vanity Fair covers broke new ground.

On dealing with male entitlement: “On the Washington shuttle on the way to Kay Graham’s seventieth birthday party . . . I am sitting across from the Wall Street investor and CEO of CBS, Larry Tisch. He asked me to reach up to the overhead compartment to get down his jacket and I tipped it upside down so all his money and pens and credit cards rained down on his bald head, and he had to grovel around under the seat and retrieve them.”

On working mothers’ quality time with children: “Quality time is a myth. Babies want slow, wasted time together, not intense nose-to-nose ‘involvement’. There is no comparison.”

On (prophetically) reading Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal in September 1987: “It feels, when you have finished it, as if you’ve been nose to nose for four hours with an entertaining con man and I suspect the American public will like nothing better. . . Marie has been able to establish such a pattern of lying and loudmouthing in Trump that it’s incredible he still prospers and gets banks to loan him money. . . He’s like some monstrous id creation of his father, a cartoon assemblage of all his worst characteristics mixed with the particular excesses of the new media age. The revelation that he has a collection of Hitler’s speeches at the office is going to make a lot of news.”

On technology: January, 1990: “By the mid-nineties computer owners will be able to buy everything from their home offices and retail marketing will become a dinosaur.”

On the importance of political skills in business: “Having political instincts is always underestimated as a requisite for hiring. In fact, calling someone ‘political’ is usually pejorative, implying manipulation and distrust, but many jobs are impossible to succeed at without political skills.”

On being patronized by male superiors for “throwing money around” :” As if I am some ditzy girl run amok with the budget . . . instead of acknowledging our 63 percent rise in circulation and tripling of ad pages from 431 in 1985 to 1,193 today (April 1989). So fuck all the naysayers. I am so over being patronized by know-all guys.”

Brown is candid about money issues. She started working at Vanity Fair for a salary of $130,000.00. She’s forthcoming about her real estate costs, raises and salary negotiations. Like most women, she toiled for years earning less than men in her profession who oversaw magazines with smaller circulation, less ad revenue and generating less profit than VF. We’ve all been there, but Brown eventually made the smart decision to have a professional third-party negotiate her compensation package.

Is my future life destined to be editor of national magazines? Maybe I should stick with my own one-person band, Boomerbroadcast.

I’ve always envisioned being reborn in my next life as editor of national women’s magazine. Not the kind that gives you tips on how to cope with the crush of holiday entertaining or how to ensure your kids get into the best Montessori schools, but the other kind, like VF or MORE magazine, that beacon for ‘women of a certain age’ that was sadly discontinued a couple of years ago, first its Canadian edition and finally by its American publisher. MORE was an intelligent mix of business advice, fashion, current events and general interest pieces for mature women with interests beyond hearth and home—sort of a VF lite.

A few months ago I read The Price of Illusion by Joan Juliet Buck former editor of Paris Vogue and having just finished Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown, I’m reconsidering my career ambitions for my next life. I must say, Vanity Fair Diaries is a guaranteed page-turner. It’s not a memoir reflecting on times past, but an actual diary written in real-time. It reads like a time capsule allowing us to compare how things and people turned out over time. While being editor of such a glamorous and relevant magazine may seem like a dream job, there’s a lot of hard work involved. The constant churn of political manoeuvring, business strategizing and networking is physically, mentally and emotionally stressful and the demands on personal time make home and family life challenging.

Like most women, Brown constantly struggled with the demands of combining motherhood and career.

In the midst of all this, Brown had two babies, one with developmental challenges resulting from premature birth, and she still managed to maintain her love affair with her husband. She constantly struggled with the bilateral demands of trying to be the best mother she could be and the best magazine editor she could be. That’s a tall order for anyone. I must admit I might not be up to the task, much as I think I would like the job. Perhaps I’ll have to settle instead for living the life of editor of a national magazine vicariously through reading books by wonderful, talented women like Tina Brown and Joan Buck. In the meantime, I’ll just stick to blogging with my staff of one (me), my limited and precious readership (you) and no politics, ego or money involved. Well, maybe a bit of ego (mine) but that’s the joy and benefit of being your own boss.

Stay special mes très chères.

Click here to read my earlier review of The Price of Illusion by Joan Buck

To order Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown from Amazon.com, click here.

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What do you do when the lights go out?


Have you experienced a power blackout recently? It’s been awhile since we totally lost power but a recent day-long loss of television and internet service (thanks to Ma Bell) resulted in some serious introspection about our marriage. I was reasonably occupied with reading on my iPad and sleeping, two activities at which I excel, but my honey was completely lost. It’s scary to think what life would be like if we lost the services we take for granted and are so much a part of our everyday lives. How would we cook our meals, heat our homes, communicate with our fellow human beings?

Our resourceful ancestors managed to keep busy when the sun went down.

Early pioneers were constantly occupied with the mundane everyday chores required to keep everyone alive in the days before Edison—chopping wood for the fire, feeding, killing and plucking the chickens to eat, bringing in the hay for winter feed and growing crops to feed the family over the winter. They also went to bed earlier (who wouldn’t when there’s no TV) depending on when the sun set as the oil to keep lamps going was expensive and wasteful. That also explains how our ancestors ended up with fourteen kids, although they came in handy when it was time to harvest the crops and milk the cows.

Attacking our power grid would be the ultimate bloodless war. We wouldn’t be able to survive without electricity and would capitulate to our enemy within a couple of hours. Perhaps Putin has already thought of this. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the conveniences we enjoy, despite the usurious charges we pay for electricity each month. But that’s a political issue to be addressed at the ballot box.

Obviously, we should always be prepared for a power failure—candles, matches and the usual precautions. But what steps should we take to preserve our relationships when we’re deprived of television, internet or phone service? That’s another facet of the survival dilemma. We could and should use the time to engage in real conversation with our partners, or wash the floors, get to know our neighbours better over a glass of (warm) white wine, clean out closets or weed the gardens. More ambitious and creative people might use the time to write, paint or meditate. Others might take the dog for a walk, exercise or play cards. When we’re stuck within four walls alone with those we love without electricity, our love can be severely tested. Our dependence on communicating with our fellow human beings via cell phone or on-line leaves many people conversationally crippled.

I don’t know what you would do but I’m afraid my own preference for taking a nap during a power outage, while not very productive or honourable, is my default activity. Our household would have been in our glory during pioneer days when everyone went to bed at sunset. While sleeping is something I enjoy and for which I seem to have a particularly strong aptitude, it doesn’t get the floors washed, the cows milked or the dog walked. I’m going to have to be more proactive about being productive the next time we lose our television, internet, telephone or power service. In the meantime, let’s hope Putin doesn’t march his armies across the North Pole into Canadaland and blow up our power stations.  I don’t think most relationships could survive such an apocalyptic power failure.

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Will 2018 be the beginning of the end of oppression of women?


Stephen, please be one of the good guys.

I am a feminist and not being a feminist is a sign of ignorance. I love men and there are a lot of good ones out there. I’m married to one. My friends’ husbands are good ones—in fact, the majority of men are good ones. But the bad ones are now being exposed for the scum they are. Predators are dropping like flies. Stephen Colbert recently joked that he’ll soon be the only man left on television—keeping our fingers crossed that he’s earned that privilege, as I like Stephen Colbert.

Every day we read the growing list of men being toppled from their pedestals by accusations of sexual abuse. While it’s gratifying to see how the mighty have fallen, the current exposures do not begin to address the level of silent abuse that takes place every day in businesses, communities, homes and relationships.  I believe most of the good guys out there are not fully aware of the pervasiveness of the problem and we all have a greater responsibility to the silent victims to keep this dialogue open. It’s not just pretty women in high-profile jobs who are victimized, although we do appreciate their coming forward to raise awareness for all women.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if 2018 became the historical tipping point for a complete reversal in attitudes toward women? Since the beginning of time, insecure men have suppressed the accomplishments of women in the workplace, at home, in sciences, arts, religion, literature, politics, financial institutions, business and every other area of life. Imagine what the world might look like today if women’s inventions, music, art and other accomplishments had been allowed to rise and see the light of day. Imagine religion without rigid patriarchy and how our spiritual lives might have benefited from leadership with equal input and participation by women. Lindy West articulated the effects of this systemic suppression eloquently in a recent Sunday New York Times essay as “the invisible ripples of confidence lost, jobs quit, careers stalled, women’s influence diminished, men’s power enhanced”. Well stated.

The tiny country of Iceland is a microcosm of what can happen when women take over. After decades of male leadership the country was poorly governed and broke. In 2008 the corrupt bankers were indicted (unlike in the United States where they were paid enormous bonuses for their corrupt practices) and banished to a remote prison away from their families. Women took over parliament and rebuilt the country’s economy which is now prospering. What would have happened on Wall Street if the testosterone-loaded financial decisions made behind the closed doors of the old boys’ clubs had been balanced with equal input by women. We can only speculate. If only those misogynistic old white men in Washington had taken Anita Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas seriously all those years ago, we’d be further along our continuum today.

Women and seniors have specific needs in relation to safety and convenience for public transit.

I would also like to suggest that such everyday things as public transit would be infinitely more efficient and productive if managed by women. There are so many financially challenged single mothers who depend on public transit to get to their underpaid jobs, who have insights SUV-driving men will never understand. Ancillary services like moving sidewalks, access and egress, lighting, security, train or bus connections that were more accommodating of strollers, wheelchairs, bundle buggies, small children and even fares would be better designed and more efficient. Women would be loathe to start wars; we have no interest in seeing our husbands, sons and daughters sent off to die for a slice of foreign dirt. We’d put the kettle on, make a large pot of tea or coffee, crack open a box of cookies and get down to the business of resolving our differences. The only boots on the ground would be suede or comfortable patent leather together under the kitchen table.

It’s tragic to think of the thwarted artwork, literature, scientific discoveries, medical advances, technological advances, community support programs and social services that might have improved our way of life if women had been allowed an equal voice over the centuries. We only won the right to vote within the last hundred years and are still fighting for pay equity and equal recognition in the workplace. The macro-level abuses are obvious but the smaller, everyday struggles by all women who do not have the visibility of a business executive, a celebrity or a politician need immediate and serious attention.  I’m haunted by the story told to me by a professional friend about someone she knows who is subjected to sexual abuse every day by her employer in her workplace.  The victim is an immigrant with poor English language skills working at a minimum wage job in a factory. She needs the pay cheque to feed and clothe her children. If she complains, she will be fired, and in another example of blaming the victim, because of her cultural background her husband will divorce her. There are thousands/millions of women like her and they need everyone’s help to overcome these abuses. They need our voices to be heard.

Abuse is not always physical and we must be vigilant for signs from those in need of help.

Domestic or sexual abuse is not about sex. It’s about power. Abusers bully others to exert power, often because they feel insecure or inferior themselves. It’s not complicated. Until we call out the bullies, make them accountable and change the current psychology, we cannot change the world. I’ve had to address some of my own prejudices and misconceptions on the issue. After a lifetime of conditioning on such concepts as ‘degrees of abuse’, I’m reconsidering many of my own positions and opinions. I once thought women who dressed provocatively were inviting trouble. I’ve now rethought that issue and realize that regardless of how a woman is dressed, no one has the right to attack or invade her personal space without her permission.

‘Locker room talk’ that demeans women is not funny. It’s disrespectful and perpetuates the negative psychology. It’s not always about physical or sexual abuse. Bullies have an entire arsenal of methods to attack the vulnerable including financial, verbal and emotional.  Many people, women, men, seniors, minorities, children, anyone can be the victim of abuse. We have an enormous job ahead of us and it would be wonderful to think we are witnessing the beginning of change. Centuries of suppression and oppression cannot be turned around overnight but we can take the first step in a journey of a thousand steps. We are not advocating against men, just the bullies. All women want is true equality and inclusion which benefits men and women. Now that the problem is out in the open we have to formulate a solution. I’m working on myself to better understand and advance women’s issues and as we go into the new year I hope that you will do the same.

Click here to read I’m a witch and I’m hunting you, an essay in the New York Times by Lindy West.

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Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas this year is . . .


Enough already!

For the most part I’ve been a very good girl this year, more nice than naughty and I’ve generally tried to be a better person throughout the year. By Santa standards that should qualify me for plenty of loot under the Christmas tree but the truth is I don’t want or need a single thing. I’m incredibly lucky and the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. This was not always the case. In fact, it’s the bumps in the road of life that make us truly appreciate the good times. Boomers are now reaching the age where we’re losing friends, partners and family members at an increasing rate. Where we once spent a lot of time and money attending bridal showers, lavish weddings and baby showers, we now attend too many ‘celebrations of life’. Which is why I’m celebrating the life I have now, every single day.

Over the years, holiday arrangements with family and friends gradually evolved toward less gift-giving and more sharing of good times. I’ve even heard about parents withholding some Christmas and birthday gifts from the grandchildren because they already have too much and don’t appreciate it. We still remember the younger grandchildren in our family with gifts from Santa but that’s only until they’re launched. Everyone has more than enough in material goods and we no longer need to populate landfill with our accumulated and discarded frivolous consumption.

Within the last couple of years, the final vestige of gift-giving for birthdays among my circle of girlfriends was finally abandoned in favour of a group lunch which is ‘way more fun. We don’t need or want any more tchotchkes and prefer a funny card and ‘ladies lunch’ with a glass or two of lovely wine (depending on who’s driving). It’s a luxury and a privilege to have the time to do these things now. And not having to troll the crowded, over-heated stores and malls for questionable gifts that will only end up at a charity shop has been incredibly freeing. No more Secret Santa exercises and no more heart attacks and bouts of depression when we get our January Visa statement. Not only do we not miss the gifts, we now have more money for those lunches. And, how much does one really need when we have each other? That’s more than enough by anyone’s standards.

So, to wrap up, dear Santa, here’s my wish list for this year:

  • Love, caring and an end to the violence for all victims of abuse.
  • A warm, safe bed and home for the homeless.
  • Free medical care for the sick and ailing.
  • Plenty of healthy food for the hungry.
  • Hope for the hopeless.
  • Love and a safe environment for all the world’s children.
  • Peace on earth . . .

. . . and to all a good night.

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My Christmas bonus this year? No decorations


Every year I love to watch the Griswold’s celebrate Christmas. Cousin Eddie is my favourite character.

There’s no rational explanation for why I hate putting up Christmas decorations. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, Christmas was everything we boomers have come to identify with the perfect Christmas. Red and green crepe paper streamers were twisted diagonally across our diningroom ceiling, anchored by a red tissue paper bell hanging from the light fixture. We always had a ‘real’ tree that filled the livingroom with wonderful spruce or pine fragrance. Single-candle wreaths glowed in our windows  at night and huge, noisy family Christmas dinners were, well, you get the picture. As kids we attended Christmas parties at the Legion, the church, parties for mill workers’ children at the Masonic Temple and at school. The wonderful parties with little gift bags and cheap chocolates were never-ending.

I truly enjoy and appreciate what others do to decorate for the season; just don’t expect much from me. I have friends who absolutely love every aspect of the season. My friend Gail dresses her table legs in colourful red and green velvet elf socks. Even her powder room is awash in Christmas spirit. Walking into her home is like entering a Christmas fairyland and being embraced by the spirit of the season. Her tree is decorated in red bows and strings of pearl garlands with an illuminated top hat on the top and twinkling gifts under the tree. Another friend loves Christmas so much her extensive collection of decorations goes up at the beginning of November and remains in place until well into the new year. I really do enjoy the decorations that have been lovingly arranged in friends homes. In fact, I’ve already done the house tour to see the Christmas lights in my community and marvelled at the imagination displayed by so many homeowners. One house had a spot light on Mrs. Claus hanging Santa’s red suit and long-johns out on the clothes line while Santa sat by in a lawn chair smoking his pipe. Such creativity.

Boomers all love and can relate to Ralphie in A Christmas Story narrated by author Jean Shepard.

I’m not hosting Christmas dinner this year, so I’m off the hook for putting up much in the way of Christmas decor. My husband has more Christmas spirit than I do and dutifully put our outside lights up, hung a wreath on the door and dragged the Rubbermaid bins down from the shelves in the garage for me to pick out what I wanted to put up. I hung a wreath on the front door, some candy canes around the lamp shades and propped up a sad little fake tree on the table inside the front door, but otherwise, nada. I’m not even putting lights and decorations on our ficus tree this year which traditionally has been the closest I get to decorating a tree. I know I’m not alone. Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who shares my lack of enthusiasm and we enjoyed a laugh about our hap hazard attempts at getting into the spirit. The beauty of our plan is there’s hardly anything to take down after the festivities. In fact, I usually yank everything down on boxing day. No fuss; no muss; no tangled strings of lights attached. Is there anyone out there who shares our wicked ways? Am I a bad person?

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The Girl With Seven Names had nine lives


If someone on your Christmas list enjoys books, I have a great recommendation and it’s not too late to have it delivered from Amazon. The Girl With Seven Names is the true story of how a young woman, with no foresight or planning escaped North Korea and became an international advocate for human rights. The book is a beautifully written, first-hand account of life for the average person in North Korea by someone who later came to experience the world beyond the Kim Jong autocracy. During her escape and resettlement, Min-young assumed a series of seven different names as part of the strategy needed to hide her past and create new identities to protect herself and her family still in North Korea. Hyeonseo Lee is the final name she retains.

Min-young was born and grew up in Hyesan, a North Korean town on the northern border with China. Hyesan was separated  from Changbai in China by a narrow river. Locals could wade across the river in waist-deep water or over ice in the winter when border guards on both sides were looking the other way or were sufficiently bribed to look the other way. This arrangement resulted in a brisk black market trade of superior Chinese consumer goods and food items coming across the border that were unavailable to most North Korean citizens. This trade supported Min-young’s family.

As a rebellious teenager of seventeen, Min-young made a decision to cross the river one night to visit the Chinese side, planning to return a few days later. Because of her age and naivety, she gave little thought to the gravity and consequences of her decision. If she had been caught coming or going, she and her entire family would be executed or at the very least deported to a labour camp. A series of decisions resulted in her being unable to return to North Korea. She traveled to visit distant relatives on the Chinese side who provided her with accommodation and help. She was constantly under threat of being exposed as an illegal immigrant which would result in her deportation and execution. An arranged marriage with a Chinese national seemed the only solution but Min-young got cold feet and fled. Over the next few years she assumes various identities and moves across the country trying to stay one step ahead of authorities, criminals and traitors. Through a complicated set of manoeuvres, Min-young eventually manages to escape to South Korea where life is not as she imagined it would be.

Who doesn’t love finding a good book under the tree? For you or a book-lover you know.

Most of us think we live in the best country in the world. Canadians are certainly entitled to feel we won the lottery being born in Canada. Americans have traditionally considered the United States to be the best country in the world, although, in fact, they fall further down the list. Canada consistently ranks as number two and the best is Switzerland, Germany or Denmark, depending on the source of the research. Citizens of North Korea have also been indoctrinated by the Kim-Jong regime to think they’re living in the best country in the world under the benevolent leadership of three generations of the Kim family. Despite famines, starvation and deprivation, North Koreans have no sense of context to compare their lives with the rest of the world. They grow up worshiping their ‘Great Leader’ or ‘Dear Leader’ as a god and their source of life. Those who escape quickly learn that things in the outside world are very different from what they’ve been told.

I absolutely could not put this book down. The author employs a literary J.R. Ewing cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter that further induced me to push on which I often did into the night. Hyeonseo Lee as she is now known has achieved local, national, then international acclaim for her human rights advocacy work, sharing her experiences to help others in similar situations. To be able to view life in North Korea from the perspective of someone who grew up there and compare it with a new life in a once-forbidden world is a rare insight. It’s a harrowing story of injustices suffered by citizens who live in countries without the freedoms we take for granted in Canada—a real eye-opener that will make you further appreciate our Canadian way of life and values. There wasn’t a single page of this book that I didn’t love and in view of the current tensions between the United States and North Korea it’s a timely read.

To order The Girl With Seven Names from Amazon.com click here.

 


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Are baby boomer women becoming less invisible?


Is it a mirage or are we gaining ground? The October issue of Italian Vogue, The Timeless Issue was dedicated to ‘mature’ women and featured Lauren Hutton on the cover. I was hoping to share some of their wisdom and bounty with Boomerbroadcast readers but I tried everywhere and couldn’t score a copy so we’ll just have to take their word for it. The good news is that when I was in Chapters/Indigo in October I did spot the British magazine woman&home (which sounds rather mumsie but is actually refreshingly ‘broad’) and it was all about us. Yes. It’s true. A magazine targeted at and about our generation—the smart, educated and hardworking demographic with a bit of experience under our elastic waist belts and some disposable change in our purses to spend on fashion and lifestyle. Imagine my delight. If you can find a copy of the October edition of British woman&home I assure you it’s worth the hefty $9.99 price tag as it was cover-to-cover full of relevant material for baby boomer women.

Lauren Hutton’s back on the runway and from time to time I see great fashion coverage on the internet of Ali McGraw in all her boho splendiforousness. I don’t normally look to celebs for fashion and style inspiration but Diane Keaton is a major exception along with the amazing Helen Mirren. Maye Musk is high-profile these days and although these ladies are all stick thin (which most boomers are not), the recognition is definitely encouraging.

Kudos to CITY-TV’s CityLine and CTV’s The Marilyn Denis Show for including mature and normal-sized women along with the requisite skinnies in their fashion presentations. Seeing an amply proportioned mature woman confidently walking out in stylish fashion is inspiring and gratifying. Blogs and websites for women our age are proliferating. I enjoy perusing these sites and try to share the good ones with Boomerbroadcast readers. It’s where I get most of my personal fashion inspiration since magazines are totally bereft of anything we can relate to. If you come across something you like and would like to share, please do so. We’re all in this together. Stay beautiful mes très chères.