the female gaze

I needed some photos of me working for a thing. They needed them by tomorrow. So, a few weeks ago—when I was still working and not ensconced in this postage-stamp cottage, watching the sun rise (trying to keep my jet lag going for when I go back to work) and listening to the screaming wild chickens all around me and wondering which beach we should go to today, and if I should have a papaya or a lilikoi (passionfruit) or banana from the back yard to eat for breakfast—we took some photos.

And that was the day I realized that someday I will die.

None of the photos came out right.

We were in the middle of the busiest holiday season of our lives. I had roped in all the employees I could find, Jacob plus any of his family members who happened to be circulating the area at the time, and even passing friends to help with the deluge. “Do you have a second? Can you put packing tape on that box and put that stack of boxes in the car? Then if you wash your hands and put on gloves and put those truffles that Pippa’s making into those red cups, you can eat as many of them as you want.”

That’s pretty much how my December went. I didn’t sit down for a meal for the entire month, and I remember vividly thinking that undoing my belt and pants and long underwear and underwear underwear was way too time-consuming and I should just get one of those things David Sedaris got so I could just pee in my pants.

It was a very successful month. But it didn’t allow much time for elaborate photo shoots. And we don’t have any professional lights or anything, our one trick for taking good photographs is to move the thing you want to photograph to the chairs by the window and remember to shoot it in the 4 hours between getting the shop open and the sun going down. But when someone says they need photographs of you, you give them photographs of you, because it’s for a good cause, and it’s good for business, and all that. So I brushed out my hair and hoped that everyone seeing the photos would know IT WAS ONLY DOWN FOR THE 10 MINUTES OF THE PHOTO SHOOT, and put on lip gloss, and Maresa fixed my skirt so it didn’t look bunchy, and then she and Casey and Pippa did work out of sight and giggled at me and I told them to shut up or I’d kill them, and Jacob took the photos.

We looked at the first few after we took them, and everyone agreed: they sucked. My favorite was the one that only showed pretty people, like Maresa and my friend Nelly.

Everyone else agreed that the lights on that center island, which I myself designed particularly for chocolate-making, and which are super eco-friendly and dimmable and otherwise great for *work,* are just awful for photo shoots because they cast terrible shadows on a person’s face and make everything a bit sallow and yellowy. Also my ensemble, which I had hoped would look sort of Mary Tyler Moore vintage-work-lady, looked dowdy and blah.

But mostly what I noticed is that my cheeks are atrocious. Why were they creating that horrible line on my face? Why were they so puckery, so chipmunky? I kept saying, “Hold on, my face is being weird.” because IT WAS. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror.

Truth be told, friends, I’ve always been on good relations with my body. I’ve mentioned this before. I’ve had (here comes the standard lagusta-blog sob story…) some hard times in my day, and my body, my self, my innermost and outermost two beings, were always there for me. When I was a kid and things were bad, I sat in my bedroom and hugged my knees because, truly, my knees were the only huggable, lovable, friend-able thing in my life. We had to stick together, this body and me. We were all we had. So, mercifully, I didn’t go through that awful thing most girls go through during puberty, where their body becomes an other to be hated. I didn’t mind, terribly, anything my body did. Hairs and blood and all that, what can you do. We’re still in this together. My body has always been my pal.

But looking in the mirror that day I realized that I’m going to get wrinkles, and my skin is going to sag, and everything is just going to shit, and this photo shoot is the demarcation line between something pure and wonderful—my relationship with my beloved body—and THE FUTURE, which is going to be hell.

And of course I stopped myself to ask myself what the hell was wrong with me—I’m some kind of feminist, even if I was being a horribly shallow one that day. Older women are beautiful! Don’t I love older women? Aren’t I friends with so many of them, look up to them, make them my mentors and my confidants? Yes yes yes. But they are—older women. It’s OK for them to look, ah, older. They are. But me, I’m just this little kid, messing around with chocolate, and I shouldn’t have weird cheeks that I can tell are going to get paunchy when I get older…

…What the fuck? Right about here is where, still looking in the mirror with everyone working in the kitchen all cramped because I was hogging the center island and Jacob holding the camera in one hand and playing Words with Friends on this phone in another and packing up boxes with his third arm, I realized I’m more insane than I thought. A kid? Is that really how I think of myself? I’m 33 years old. I have three mortgages. I own the building I was standing in.

I need to make my peace with growing older. That’s what those damn, annoying, yellowy, chipmunk-ckeeky photos taught me.

I put back my hair. I put my apron back on. I tried to smile.

I changed my hair again. I put on a necklace.


I did weird little dances.

I stood up straight.

I took off my work apron and put on the cute vintage apron that matches the kitchen that Veronica found for me at the vintage shop where she works. I tried to make sexyface at the camera.

I stood up straight, pushed my boobs out, AND did sexyface.

It was all getting to be too much. I was starting to get loopy.

No matter what we did, those photos just did not look good.

We tried again the next day, even though the photos were due right away.

My face still didn’t look like what I ordinarily recognize my face as, but I kept on plugging away.


I put on lipstick. It made me look garish. All that work I’m doing? It’s real work. I needed to get all those boxes finished and shipped off in like, 1 hour. But we kept on keeping on.

I was getting desperate.

We didn’t get anything we loved, but Jacob tried to do some Photoshop fiddling that helped things slightly. It wasn’t his fault, but my face still looked pasty and shadowy and strange.

I sent them off because they were all I had, and I’ll point you to whatever comes of them when it comes of them, but I’m not holding out much hope for intense awesomeness. My contact at the place who wanted the photos very adorably tried to get the graphic designers to use this little number instead. I hope he was successful.

And now I’m hiding out on my annual sabbatical, and I’m realizing what I re-remember every year: Jacob looks good in winter clothes, and I look good in summer clothes. I can’t work a cowl-neck sweater the way that man can, that’s for sure.

But for a 33-year-old who couldn’t do a pushup if you forced her, I can work a bikini with a pair of short shorts like nobody’s business.  A little sundress—yes. Tank tops and tiny mini skirts? I stockpile them like gold. Salvation Army girls’ dresses repurposed as swim coverups that don’t quite cover my ass but I’ll wear them to a post-beach lunch because a child’s dress is the only thing that makes my boobs look poppin’ and bikini bottoms are basically pants, right? I AM THAT ANNOYING PERSON.

In the winter climes I look schlubby, let’s just admit it. To look good in a sweater you’ve got to wear a bra, and that’s where I draw the line at how much I want to look good in winter. I refuse to be cold, so I wear (amazing! organic!) long underwear from September-April, which means I can’t wear my beloved tight jeans, so there goes my lower half. Once in a great while I get up the energy to pull on leggings and leg warmers and my beautiful Hunter boots and a long sweater dress thing and a “statement necklace,” as the ladymags say, and that’s about the best I get in cold temperatures.

The other day, as Jacob and I were heading out for our every-other-day (bi-daily?) hike, I asked him, half-jokingly, “How long do you think I can maintain my good looks without doing anything whatsoever to keep them up?” (Yes, we were hiking, But our hike is a quickie, just 45 minutes round trip, and after that I spend the entire day lazing on the beach, eating Mexican food and drinking what I horribly now refer to as “margs,” reading food magazines on the beach for a few more hours, then going home and spending hours cooking and eating lavish meals inspired by those food magazines—as well as drinking concoctions made from farmer’s market fruit and sake, or vodka, or champagne, or all of the above all mixed together. That’s my day. The hiking is not exactly the focal point of the day, let’s say that.)

Jacob said, half-jokingly, “Hmm. You’re 33. Ten years or so, most likely.” And we laughed and made our way up the mountain. But it’s true. In ten years he will be an accomplished curly-headed dude, with a lot of grey in his 44-year-old hair, but with a pleasantly craggy face and rather professorial mien.

And I will be a middle-aged woman.

No matter how much feminist work you do, no matter how much you pretend not to care what the fuck the patriarchy says about you, you’ve got to admit that in the mainstream of our culture, there’s pretty much nothing worse than being a middle-aged woman. Young women are worshipped, old women are ignored. Middle-aged women are MILFs, if they’re lucky. I, of course, don’t live in the mainstream, and will no doubt continue being just as incredibly rad at 43 as I am at 33. But my long legs will get veiny, and my cute arms will get saggy, and my chipmunk cheeks will turn into permanent creases.

My feminist training tells me I can’t care, but as a women who moves through the world that actually exists I know that’s ridiculously impossible not to care.

That day in the mirror I saw it all. The decline and fall of my little civilization.

First time, friends. First time it’s happened to me. Mortality.

That’s some deep shit, that right there.

A week or so later I went on vacation, and brought with me a painfully ludicrous stack of books to read. One of them was a book I wasn’t even going to mention here because of its insane non-vegan-osity, but it’s SO GOOD I have to.

Blood, Bones, and Butter [I have restored the title to the proper, Oxford comma-containing grammar I find more pleasing, yes], while not only boasting a title that will freak your fellow vegan friends out on a level heretofore experienced, is, easily, the best food memoir I’ve read since the astonishingly wonderful/touching/teaching/fascinating/pleasesleepwithmeGrantAchatz Life, on the Line by my pretend boyfriend Grant Achatz.

[Oh god. Every time I think about Grand Achatz and that book I feel guilty for not cooking more, for not writing a cookbook, for deviating from my mission of putting my stamp on the world for even five minutes. Grant wouldn’t be sitting here on his ass writing a stupid blog post! Lets wrap this up.]

Back to Gabrielle Hamilton!

Gabrielle Hamilton is the new pretend BFF of every cheffy woman in the land these days, but she’s my pretend BFF most of all. Except for a very few parts a vegan-type of person has to elide containing unfortunate descriptions of things having been done to animals unnecessarily, her approach to the cooking profession most closely resembles my own—in short, do your own thing, and fuck what everyone else is doing. She’s another woman-loving-woman-sleeping-with-a-man (hey, I recognize that kind of woman!), and she had a difficult upbringing, and she’s a kickass woman making her own way in the world. It’s a good book.

She opened her restaurant when she was older than I am now, and the food world is insanely obsessed with her. She’s a middle-aged woman! It’s possible.

I’m glad I read the book when I did. It made me realize that the photo shoot wasn’t the beginning of the end.

It forced me to step away from the mirror.

Go to the beach, you with your short shorts that don’t cover your cellulite as much as you pretend they do, you with your margarita-powered muffin top and stubbly legs. Go for it. It’s your body.

You’ve got to love it most of all.

13 Responses to “the female gaze”

  1. Dustin Rhodes

    #1: now I feel terribly guilty for asking for a photo (which is, as I write this, at a printer being duplicated 5000 times).

    #2: True beauty — the kind you possess in infinite abundance — does not die. Or fade.

    #3: You have the other kind of beauty, too. The kind that does change, and then eventually becomes something else altogether. But I think it’s pretty safe to say: you’ll always be in possession of that, too. Because #2 ensures that #3 is magnified — despite all the gross things that happen as we age.

  2. Joshua May

    y’know, even though you didn’t get shots that you loved, there’s still something ridiculously special about seeing someone immersed in their passion. that oozes through here by the bucketload. I love it! and despite anything else (youth, wrinkles, whatever!) that is an amazingly beautiful thing.

    and, well, I wasn’t looking at you anymore by the time I noticed the stupid quantities of TCHO that you’ve got ;)

    (speaking of, and total tangent: do you have any thoughts on the list at ? I contacted them asking why TCHO was not to be recommended, and it’s because they’re not certified fair trade, blah blah. but from all of my dealings, they seem to give a shit well beyond any accreditation?)

  3. lagusta

    Aww, good point! Thanks.

    That was like 1/10th of the Tcho we used in December. It was INSANE!

    We use a ridiculous amount of their organic 66%, and it’s f/t certified:

    And I trust them a TON more than other companies, because, just like you said, they actually walk the walk (and document it, heavily). When I talk to their sourcing manager, he’s been to all their farms for weeks at a time each year, and he can tell me all about them. When you talk to larger companies, I get the feeling they just got the f/t certification, which we all know is riddled with problems and potential loopholes, etc, and left it at that. I understand that sites like the one you pointed out need some guidelines, and certification can be one…but I just don’t think it’s always a truly reliable indicator of what’s really happening. It’s something though, and that’s good!

  4. lagusta

    Having looked at that list more: I think it’s pretty freaking disingenuous. It’s so much more complicated than “they responded to our survey.” They’re OK with ASKINOISE!!!! Man, dudes, do some research on issues other than slavery, will ya? And Newman’s Own??? That’s hilarious.

    And I wish they’d just put the raw “chocolates” into their own category called “raw chocolate that will never taste good no matter what but is perfectly ethical”

    I wonder what’s wrong with Liz Lovely? Pretty sure all her choco is organic and f/t, but maybe I’m wrong.

    Very interesting about (awful disgusting) Tropical Source. I always thought their stuff was all good from an ethical perspective.

    Um, there’s an entire book written about Green & Black’s relationship to f/t…they could have read that (Bitter Chocolate).

    Oy! But…it’s something. I’m just a bitch when it comes to stuff like this. A happy bitch!

    • Joshua May

      haha :) I think I agree with pretty much every point (though, what’s with Askinosie?). I just dug up the email I got when I enquired:

      > TCHO didn’t make our list as they are currently getting their cacao beans from Ghana. Unfortunately, child labor has been found even in the fair trade fields in Ghana (to their credit when it was found they pulled the children out) and because of this, we do not currently recommend any company that sources their beans from Ghana or the Ivory Coast as it seems slavery is endemic there.

      so that may explain some of the others being on the no-fly list? because, of course, it’s that black and white.

      it’s reassuring hearing you saying such nice things about TCHO though, truly. I’ve very much learned to feel the same way (though! I was utterly heartbroken when they started toying with dairy. the nerve!). I stumbled upon them after seeing you rambling about them here at some point. I managed to get along to the factory when I was in SF for a conference too, which was lovely. I had good chats there with various members of staff around sourcing and processing. aaaand then I emerged with one of the 5kg boxes of the 60.5%. I managed to get through a good deal in the two months I still had in North America, haha :) I’ve again relented, and have a shipment on its way now (USPS flat rate international saves the day!). we’ll see how well it holds up in transit!

      • lagusta

        Hmm. I’m about to go out and can’t do the research now, but I thought the majority of their beans came from South America, I didn’t think they got any at all from Africa, but things might have changed. What I like about Tcho though, is that they don’t use middlemen–all their plantations are theirs, or they buy directly from co-ops or small farmer-owned plantations. I was sad about them using dairy, too. Still am. But Taza is still a vegan company! We use a lot of their stuff too.

        I won’t get into the Askinoisie thing now…if you want pain, just do a search of it on this blog. Oy, what a mess. I was an asshole, his people came after me, the whole thing was unpleasant.

      • Joshua May

        their ‘Chocolatey’ bar is sourced from Ghana, which explains it all. and yes, agreed. I like that they invest in the communities, too – it not only benefits the community directly (yay!), but improves the quality and efficiency throughout the rest of the process. it’s completely win/win.

        I’ll go waste some time digging through your blog archives :) sounds like a story worth knowing. thanks!

      • Joshua May

        aha, yes. point taken. when it’s dropped in your lap like that, how can you ignore it? I’d seen some ‘lawyer’ results when I was googling for ‘Askinosie scandal/drama/ethics’, and figured it was just coincidence (as they’re all very vague terms). but wow. this is definitely good to know.

  5. Doc Kane

    You’re hilarious, silly, and gorgeous in these pics … Jacob, should he be the likely target of your affections, should consider himself fortunate! It’s crazy how a random click via the NGI led me to your site … keep up the great cooking and great writing! Oh, and the shots are fabulous, no need to fret! ;-) Beautiful!

  6. Jordan

    I was thinking before I saw this post, Sometime last week, That you always look 33 going on 19. I often think of how even those who are soooo pretty still have the same hang ups as everyone else about cheeks and lines.

    Every time I see photos of Selma cooking away wearing great outfits I always find her breath taking!

    Lastly I think I like picture #2 most, That skirt is spectacular! Oh also I tried to see what the top book is on the 2nd stack to the right?? What is that book?


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