Brand Teen

Photo by stockimages

Photo by stockimages

We live in a superficial society, so I suppose it was inevitable that the image consulting business would eventually expand its horizons to teenage girls.

It must be tough to be a teen today.

In addition to padding their 9.5 grade-point-average resumes with mastery of tennis, Mandarin, water polo, texting under the table, and ballroom dancing—not to mention the 9,000 hours of community service that top colleges look for-girls are now looking to upgrade their images to give them that much-needed competitive edge.

Wardrobe, hair, and makeup used to be things that mothers and daughters would fight about. Apparently now there are third parties to help settle those battles. But why?

At first I was horrified when I read about “minor makeovers” in the Washington Post. According to the story, by Cathy Alter, “…a dozen D.C.-, New York- and Los Angeles-based image consultants and personal shoppers all report an increase in their number of clients who are minors, despite the flagging economy.”

Wow. Are we really so concerned about looks that we need to make girls feel even more self-conscious when they look in the mirror? Whatever happened to developing their inner beauty? Since I don’t have a teenage daughter, I decided to ask around.

“I’ve never heard of this, but it doesn’t surprise me. My initial reaction, knowing nothing about it, is a negative one,” said Charlene. “Part of growing up is experimenting with your image and identity. I don’t like the idea of paying someone to tell my kids how they should look.”

Renee had an even stronger negative reaction: “I think this is disgusting. With our culture already way too focused on the superficial, the last thing we need is for that process to start earlier in life. … Do yourself a favor, instead of investing in ‘looks,’ think about spending some quality time with your kids, enroll them in some art or theater classes, or go on a volunteer vacation in a foreign country. You’ll get way more bang out of your buck and your kids will no doubt be healthier and better human beings.”

“My kids are so gorgeous, stylish, confident and well rounded that they could be consultants to other teens. It is a shame that parents are hiring someone to alter who their teens are to be what is portrayed in magazines and such. What ever happened to individuality?” said Dina.

“I want to belly laugh really loudly at this notion of image consultants for kids,” said Linda. “EEEEW! Like they are not already self-conscious enough? Leave them alone for god’s sake! It will increase their body obsession and make them even more paranoid. What a bad idea.”

But not everyone agreed.

Thousand Oaks-based personal image consultant Connie L. Gregory says she has had a few teenage clients. No big surprise, it turns out mothers and daughters don’t always agree on what constitutes “fashion.” Gregory once worked, through the Make a Wish Foundation (which grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions), with an 18-year-old young lady who wanted a glamour makeover. Even under those circumstances, she still had a mother who wanted a more conservative and more modest look than the daughter did.

“I must say, part of me thinks this image consultant for teens idea is cool, the other part of me is scared sh-less,” said my friend Nan. “What if our teens all end up looking like droids when they go out into the world? Wouldn’t image consulting be better for after college?”

When directly related to entering college and the working world, the idea of image consulting for teenagers becomes more palatable for many.

“It’s tougher for girls to get in college than any time I can remember,” said my friend Lisa, a prep school college counselor. “As much as it turns my stomach to have to advise them to place so much emphasis on looks, sometimes acing that personal interview is the most strategic thing they have in their arsenal.”

I guess she had a point. Now that the college entrance scales have flipped against women, I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad to help them out a little.

While this may be big on the east coast, my friend Sally was the only one I could find who admitted that she and her teenage daughter went to an image-consulting seminar together. But mom reports, “It was really boring for her.”

My favorite response of all came from my sister. “I have never heard of this kind of image consulting thing. I kind of thought that building my girls’ self esteem was my job. However, I guess if your kid is not feeling good about themselves, I am all for whatever works.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tell Leslie what you think about image consultants for teens at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 31, 2009.

Fig Leaf Schmig Leaf

Photo by by photostock,

Photo by by photostock,

Summertime means bare feet and bare arms, but does it mean bare buns?

A recent New York Times article by Julie Scelfo about parents’ clashing sensibilities concerning nudity among young children (cleverly titled “When Do They Need a Fig Leaf?”) got me thinking about how much times have changed.

When I was a kid in the 60s and 70s, there seemed to be naked children everywhere and nobody gave it a second thought. I remember when I was about five, my Grandma Etta crocheted me an orange and pink bikini, and I couldn’t wait to wear it in the ocean at East Beach. Of course, being made of stretchy yarn, the suit was down to my ankles by the time I caught my first wave. I kicked it off and stayed in the water the rest of the afternoon. I doubt my mom even noticed, given how prevalent naked kids were on the beach in those days.

Today it would be a different story. For example, a friend of ours recently returned from river rafting with a bunch of other families, and among the notable memories of the trip were the four and five-year-old girls who spent most of their vacation naked.

The fact that this was commented on at all tells us how far we’ve come. As Scelfo wrote, “For many parents, allowing a child to run around naked at home is perfectly natural, an expression of physical freedom that represents the essence of childhood, especially in the summer. But for others, unclad bodies are an affront to civility, a source of discomfort and a potentially dangerous attraction for pedophiles. These clashing sensibilities can create conflict, even when the nudity in question takes place at home.”

My son never particularly liked running around naked, so this wasn’t an issue at our house. But I’ve heard other mothers express concern, especially about their daughters’ eagerness to drop their drawers at the drop of a hat. There’s such a fine line between wanting to be protective against perverts and wanting kids to feel comfortable with their bodies. I do believe that parents who are overly paranoid about nudity are setting their children up to feel ashamed of their own bodies. Then there’s also the social factor. As a matter of common courtesy, you don’t want to make other adults-or even other children-feel uncomfortable if your kid’s running around in the buff.

So where do you draw the line in the summer sand?

Is it at a certain age? (Three? Four? When they start elementary school? When they start puberty? My husband says 27, but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.) Every family is different and that’s okay. Ultimately, I think it’s okay to teach kids that they need to take situational peculiarities into consideration when it comes to their state of dress, or undress.

Sometimes different situations call for different outfits-and that includes birthday suits.

Which side of the fig leaf do you stand? Email For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 24, 2009.

Yogurt Culture

Photo by Rakratchada Torsap,

Photo by Rakratchada Torsap,

I’ve been spending a lot of time in yogurt stores lately. You can’t cross the street without bumping into a new one, so they’re kind of hard to avoid. In fact, the last time I was at Yogurt House in the Yogurt City pavilion, construction workers were putting up the walls for a brand new Yogurt Pantry inside. I tried to go home to avoid it, but they were busy installing a Yogurt Heaven between my kitchen and the living room.

They’re scaring all the cupcake stores away.

I hear they’re even chasing Starbucks out in some towns, though thankfully, not in ours-at least not yet. But it only takes a short stroll down State Street to see froyo fans of all fashions digging their pink and green plastic spoons deep into quadruple latte sized paper cups. Clearly frozen yogurt has regained its cool.

The Restaurant Guy” John Dickson attributes the yogurt store invasion to the huge success of Pinkberry, a tarter and tangier version of the frozen treat, which first came to California in 2005 and opened in Santa Barbara in January.

There’s no doubt that the popularity of tart, healthier tasting yogurt has spurred some new business, but I have some theories of my own about this new yogurt culture.

Theory 1: People like frozen yogurt because it’s a treat masquerading as health food.

Yogurt stores throw around buzz words like “organic” and “probiotic” and “active cultures,” but let’s face it, the real selling points for most of us are the toppings, which give us the chance to eat Captain Crunch, Heath Bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and still feel like we’re being virtuous.

Conclusion: Or maybe that’s just me.

Theory 2: It’s all about self-service.

While not all of these new stores let customers serve themselves, a lot of them do. There’s something decadent about being able to fill your cup to your heart’s content with flavor combinations you would never order over the counter.

Conclusion: Peanut butter, root beer, and cheesecake anyone?

Theory 3: You can tell a lot about someone by watching them fill up a cup of frozen yogurt.

My nine-year-old son likes to add things like gummy worms and Froot Loops to his yogurt; really anything that leaves candy colored streaks in his chocolate flavored yogurt is yummy in his book and disgusting in mine. He also likes to stir it to milkshake consistency, at which point he decides it tastes bad and he wants a new one.

Conclusion: Little boys like to make a mess, and if they can gross their moms out at the same time it’s even better.

Little girls tend to pick their topping and yogurt combinations by color. They like to combine multiple flavors with a variety of toppings, especially sprinkles, M & M’s and jimmies.

Conclusion: Little girls like to accessorize.

I’ve noticed that teenage boys also fail to note the delicate differences between fruity sweets (which are a waste of calories to me) and actual sweets. They like to layer the yogurt and the toppings parfait style, and are not at all concerned with food faux pas like mixing Irish Mint yogurt with Nerds, Cappuccino with Kiwi Lime Sauce or even Cookies and Cream with Ketchup.

Conclusion: Teenage boys will eat anything.

Teenage girls tend to be yogurt purists. They know what they want, since they frequent yogurt stores almost as frequently as they text. In general, they stick with fruity flavors like mango or strawberry topped by actual fruit or granola, or go for the gusto with Cheesecake yogurt and brownie bites or Chocolate Decadence and Carmel sauce.

Conclusion: Teenage girls know everything, so of course they know exactly what they want.

Their moms are the same way. It seems there’s no middle ground when it comes to frozen yogurt, it’s either healthy or diabetic coma inducing.

Conclusion: Moms are good decision makers.

Hmm … should we go to Yogurtland or Yo Yum Yum this afternoon? Clearly this frozen yogurt trend is not going to be melting anytime soon.

Share your favorite yogurt combinations with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 17, 2009.

The meaning of marriage

© Lissdoc | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Lissdoc | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I’m ambivalent about marriage in many ways.

I’m not a religious person, so the church stuff isn’t meaningful to me. Zak and I lived together for almost six years before we got married, and most things didn’t change after we tied the knot. He got fat, and I started denying him sex-otherwise, status quo.

Granted, we had two sets of china and enough barware to serve 50 different drinks to 50 people, but certainly our feelings for each other or our level of commitment were not really different on March 13th 1994 than they were on March 12th. We loved each other; we wanted to spend our lives together. We had a great party, said some nice things, shed a few tears and then we still loved each other, and still wanted to spend our lives together.

The thing that did change when we got married was how other people treated us. Zak’s parents were much warmer to me. My sister finally admitted that the relationship wasn’t “just a phase.” I immediately became “Aunt Leslie” to the nieces and nephews I had already spent years growing to love.

Some of our friends also treated us differently once we were married. A few of my high school girl friends insisted on addressing mail to “Mrs. Klobucher,” even though I never changed my name, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t trying to invite my mother-in-law to their baby shower.

The bank treated us differently too, and so did the government. It seemed almost everyone had an investment in marriage, although it meant different things to different people. My friend Susan said she felt “ten thousand times more secure in her relationship” after walking down the aisle. Joe said getting married made him feel “like a grownup,” and Tammy said it felt a lot like joining a sorority, “till death do us part.”

Older generations have a very different view of marriage. Greg said getting married made him feel like he “had this huge burden of responsibility for his wife,” while Connie said, “I felt like I was leaving my parents and joining a new family.”

Marriage can mean a myriad of things to individuals and couples, but it’s clearly hypocritical to pretend that it’s a sacred part of our society as a whole. Just look at the state of our unions in the last month, with Mark Sanford’s Argentine disappearing act eclipsing Jon and Kate’s primetime split and Sandra Tsing Loh’s marital implosion on the pages of The Atlantic.

The government’s definition of marriage is a legal union. That’s the one and only part of marriage that seems pretty simple and straightforward to me. Being able to marry who you want to seems like a basic human right, along with matching china and a great big party with all of your friends and family looking on.

It’s up to each of us to interpret what marriage means to us as individuals and couples. Men and women, women and women or men and men, all of us should have that right. Even though none of my gay friends got married when they had the opportunity-most of them felt more commitment than an actual marriage would confer, and they wanted to stay skinny and keep having sex-we all knew that they at least deserved the choice.

Tell Leslie what marriage means to you at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 10, 2009.

Greeting the Grunion

I couldn’t help but giggle as I watched the silvery fish wiggle into the sand to lay their eggs. These mesmerizing creatures are only found along the coast of southern California and northern Baja California where they lay their eggs on sandy beaches just a few months out of the year.

Growing up in Santa Barbara, my parents took us “Grunion Hunting” at East Beach. I remember the thrill of being up and out on the sand hours beyond my usual bedtime. My sister and I would catch the Grunion in our hands and then throw them back to sea, not really understanding anything about the fish except that they were our tickets to dance around barefoot in the moonlight.

It had been decades since I’d thought about Grunion-until I wrote a story for Seasons Magazine about Santa Barbara Channel Keeper, a local nonprofit that works to protect and restore the Santa Barbara Channel and watersheds.

One of Channel Keeper’s programs, in coordination with Pepperdine University, is “Grunion Greeters,” where volunteers monitor Grunion behavior on local beaches during spawning season. As soon I heard about this I called my Dad, and we volunteered to be “Citizen Scientists,” the title the program generously bestows upon participants.

After one night’s training at UCSB, I was presented with my “Citizen Scientist” tiara and a spawning schedule in a surprisingly moving ceremony. Okay, maybe I really just got a free bag and a pen, but they called us all “scientists,” which is a crowning achievement I would love to report to my college physics professor, if he were still speaking to me, and if I actually took physics in college.

So science isn’t really my academic forte, but citizen science is fun. Unlike many fish, Grunion spawn completely out of the water, so you can actually watch them lay their eggs in the sand, which looks a little like the “Shake Your Booty” dance my son used to do in preschool.

Koss did a delighted version of the “Funky Chicken” along with some excited yelps the first time he saw the Grunion, and I was right back in my own childhood mode. We were lucky to spot Grunion right away during our scheduled monitoring time, 11:20 p.m. While the Grunion can be spotted shortly after high tide on specific nights, our trainers warned us that we wouldn’t always be able to see them-although sometimes the beaches are covered with thousands of Grunion dancing on the sand. The popularity of Grunion runs in some places means that some nights there are more people lining the beaches than Grunion in the run.

That definitely wasn’t the case at Leadbetter Beach, where we did our monitoring last week. We only ran into a few other people-some more interested in human spawning than animal mating behavior-along with a couple who had happened upon some Grunion the night before and were there for an encore, and some tourists who were enchanted by these strange silvery fish. “Whoa, Dude, that was awesome. What were those things,” they asked.

“Professor” Dad and I explained that they were Grunion there to spawn. Providing human or animal predators didn’t intervene, the eggs would remain buried in the sand for their incubation time of approximately two weeks. Then the larvae would hatch and the eggs would be washed out by high waves during tides before the new and full moons.

“Radical man. And to think we just happened upon them during one of the few nights of the year they’re in Santa Barbara. Totally awesome,” was their response.

It is totally awesome, and totally fun. The last expected Grunion runs of the season are at local beaches next week, on July 8 (Wednesday) at 10:40 p.m. and July 9 (Thursday) at 11:10 p.m. I can’t wait.


Some tips for Grunion Greeters:

Nature doesn’t always follow our schedule. The scheduled times are for high tide when the runs may begin, but keep in mind that they typically occur within a two-hour period and plan accordingly.

Bring a flashlight but use it sparingly, as less light means more of a chance that the Grunion will spawn.

It can get cold at night, so wear layers and shoes that can get wet.

If you decide to catch the Grunion (Grunion Greeters discourages this) you may only use your bare hands; no nets, hooks or gear are allowed.

For more information on this program visit

Share your Grunion adventures with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 4, 2009.

Giving Back: The Hutton Foundation

logo_hpOne of the biggest obstacles facing local nonprofits is the high price of real estate in Santa Barbara. Luckily Hutton Foundation is helping to fill that gap.

One of Hutton Foundation’s most significant efforts is its Under One Roof program, through which more than 30 local nonprofit organizations are housed in 12 Hutton Foundation-owned and managed properties. “One of the things local nonprofits struggled with the most was finding high-quality, affordable office space,” explains Pam Hamlin, the foundation’s executive director. Hutton Foundation rents the buildings to nonprofits at far below market rates and signs 10-year leases to help give organizations financial stability.

The organizations sharing space run the gamut, from Community Environmental Council to Santa Barbara International Film Festival, United Girls & Boys Club, Alzheimer’s Association and Camerata Pacifica, to name just a few.

The foundation’s broad areas of interest are a reflection of its president, Tom Parker, a Santa Barbara native who returned to town 12 years ago to start the Hutton Foundation, after serving as president of Hutton Companies-one of Southern California’s leading real estate developers-from 1985 to 1995.

“It’s my fault,” says Parker, with a twinkle in his eye. “What happened to me was I was doing grants and I thought, Here’s the homeless shelter, there’s someone who is hungry that needs help, here is an arts organization that is opening children’s minds to music and art and things that will make their life so much better. Who do I donate to? How do I value the two? I realized I couldn’t.”

Consequently, last year Hutton Foundation gave away $4.4 million in grants, donations and assistance to more than 100 local nonprofit organizations.

“We want to be in this community to help the process, to help nonprofits be more effective no matter what their mission-so long as it’s a mission that makes sense,” Parker says.

One thing that made sense, not just to Hutton Foundation but also to the Orfalea and Bower Foundations, was grouping services together to help children arrive in kindergarten better prepared to learn. The three groups are collaborating on an early childhood education and family resource center in Carpinteria. Opening in January at the former site of Main Elementary School, with a Community Action Commission/Head Start preschool at its core, this project represents the next evolution of Hutton Foundation. The foundation also recently made a deal to purchase the former Washington Mutual Bank building in downtown Santa Barbara, and is now evaluating which type of collaborative center will best serve the community.

Parker expected he would be semi-retired when he started Hutton Foundation, but he admits that when a great opportunity comes along he just can’t help himself. “The nonprofit sector intrigues me because there’s so much to be done,” he says. “You can really make a difference in this community.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine