My Only Vajacial
Negotiating Maternity Leave
Working Out in Your 20s
Coney Island Confessions
Ashley C. Ford
Laia Garcia here, welcoming you to our fourth issue. As our associate editor, I handle all our social media, commission all the illustrations and collages that accompany our stories, and have single-handedly brought “garbage” into the everyday Lenny-team vernacular (you can pronounce it gar-bah-zh for a little more panache).
Let me tell you something: I LOVE MY JOB! I walk to the office every morning, get to write about fashion, style, and second-wave feminists, and get to work with incredible artists every week. When I’m not on official Lenny duty, I enjoy doing karaoke to excess, watching too many episodes of Bojack Horseman and Bob’s Burgers with my cat (although she doesn’t watch, she just sleeps, on top of the computer), and always having the perfect GIF response for any and all interactions. I feel like I just filled out my Tinder profile; should I be nervous no one is going to swipe right?!
This week’s issue is really good, and I’m not just saying that because it’s my job. Back in July, when Lenny was in its theoretical phase, we thought it would be great to have the genius Jenny Slate review a Vajacial (which is a facial for your vagina). But when Jenny’s piece came in, it was way better than we could’ve imagined. It was funny, sure, but mostly it was beautiful and empowering and made us emotional. (What was hilarious though, was overhearing our EIC, Jess, on the phone making the appointment for the Vajacial and having to say “Yes, a Vajacial,” twice. VAJACIAL.)
But wait, there’s more! In the first installment of “Lenny Does It,” Jess has written a really handy guide to negotiating your maternity leave if you work for a small company without a policy in place (the thought that almost 25 percent of working moms have to go back to work two weeks after giving birth makes me rage). We have a lovely piece by artist Maira Kalman about a sink she saw during her travels. If you know Maira’s work, you know that she can make anything magical, and if you don’t, The Principles of Uncertainty is a great place to start.
Fitness guru Tracy Anderson shares a short and easy workout with us. Listen, I used to be as anti-exercise as they come, but after jokingly starting yoga this summer “to avoid dad bod,” the joke was on me, because I got really into exercise, and you probably will, too. It’s nice to dedicate some time to your body and not look at your phone for an hour. Also, health. Being healthy is good.
Our last story this issue comes from the writer Ashley Ford, who tells us about her experience of going swimming in the ocean for the first time. It’s an uplifting story about love, and firsts, and sharing your life with someone. Now that it feels like I am sharing my life with all you Lennys (and you with us! Don’t think I don’t read the comments!), Ashley’s piece is the perfect way to end this issue.
Love you, all my Lennys!
No One Needs a Vajacial, But I Got One
By Jenny Slate
I love bathing. I love soaps, bathtubs, bubbles, clean washcloths, good sharp razors for leg and armpit shaving, and other things like breezes through the bathroom window while the bath is going on. I’m interested in weird old-fashioned stories about people who only bathed once a solstice or something like that, and I’m thrilled by how gross everyone’s bloomers in Sense and Sensibility probably were. (Very, very gummed up; a complicated mystery to their wearers.) My mother always says that it’s rude to give people soap as presents, because you’re insinuating that the person has a noticeable hygiene issue. I think she’s wrong about this one, because I love having lots of different soaps, and I love putting them in my linen closet to make the towels smell like soap, and I love myself for these preferences.
I’ve always been afraid that someone will tell someone else that I have a bad smell. This stems from overhearing those high school boys who want both to have sex with a vagina but also to disparage one. I remember a dumb asshole talking about how he finally “ate Ashley out, because it just needed to happen, so I just fuckin’ held my nose and went for it, and then I put in a whole pack of Trident,” as if he were a young hero whose dear grandmother had dropped her diamond ring in a toilet full of shit, and he had bravely bobbed for it and retrieved it, face first. It makes sense that even though I’d never been afraid or ashamed of my vagina, when I heard vaginas spoken about this way — I was 17 — I got scared that maybe my vagina was against me, that it had a mind of its own and a bad attitude.
This is what I was thinking as I drove myself to get my very first-ever, and probably only-ever “Vajacial.” The Vajacial is billed as a facial, but for your pussy. I wasn’t sure how major it was going to be. I enjoy getting my face cleaned, and I like the idea of deep, weird dirts getting taken out of my face skin so that I can have a clean face to show everyone. But my vagina is, well, not a face. I don’t prefer to show it to everyone, and I do enjoy bathing it without any help.
The fact that The Vajacial exists seems to insist that we need it. And although nobody can intimidate me about my vagina anymore like that 17-year-old boy did in the ’90s, I started to feel intimidated by the creeping unknown of: “What if there is something off about me and my body and I don’t know about it? And my happiness is about to be ruined?”
I had to say to myself, “You are a cheerful volunteer today. You are not just a hungover lady who is driving to a fancier neighborhood to get her pussy cleaned. Don’t do that to yourself.” I calmed myself down by focusing on how nice it is to have open windows in the car. It took me a while to find parking; my anxiety spiked. I worried about a sudden attack of crotch B.O., which I don’t think is a part of my life, but an ex-boyfriend of mine suffered horribly from it, and it was shocking, like having a growling pet that lives in your house without permission.
I had chosen overalls for my outfit, and my hair was cut into what I think is a lovely, curly globe. I have made an emphasis recently to dress in a way that makes me feel privately pretty. Perhaps The Vajacial would make me feel very privately pretty. Maybe I should have worn a dress? I thought, but then decided that I was right to wear overalls: hiking your dress up to have someone else clean your vagina seems like something a hemophiliac princess would do (in some moment of last-ditch vagina care, done to her by a cousin who is her lady in waiting, all in an effort to prep her royal vag before she is married to her much older brother or something). Whereas taking off your overalls for a vagina experiment seems much more like a thing that a chill candlemaker, a smart sheep farmer with good names for the sheep, or a modern witch would do.
“Hi! I’m here for a … I’m Jenny. Hi” was about what happened between me and the receptionist. She was very smiley, looked in her computer, saw what I was there for, and said, “It’s a great treatment. You’re really going to love it.” I said, “Thanks,” in a weak way, because I could tell that nobody cared about anything that was going on. There were lots of gilded mirrors and patterns of fleurs-de-lis. Jessica, a tall woman with long blue hair, showed me into a small room. One wall was painted lavender; the other, closest to the table I was to lie on, was covered in a fuzzy silver wallpaper that I wanted to touch but did not.
I shyly explained to her that I had volunteered to get “The Vajacial” and asked her some questions about it that I thought I should ask. “Why do people do this?” Answer: to get rid of ingrowns; to decrease pigmentation; to make themselves feel good; out of curiosity. “Will this hurt?” Answer: ha ha. No, but if you need tweezing, I will do some tweezing. “Is stuff going to go inside of my vagina?” Answer: no. (And then a little laugh, which I appreciated.) Before leaving the room, she instructed me to undress from the waist down, just like a bikini wax. I removed my overalls and underwear and again thought, This is for sure better than just pulling my dress up. That’s obscene. This is direct. Also, once I was alone, I touched the fuzzy silver wallpaper. My newest secret.
Jessica came back in, and we proceeded with The Vajacial. First, she powdered me like a baby, which made me want to leave. Then she applied a cleanser. She wore gloves and really kept away from any vagina parts of my vagina. The whole thing was only “frontal.” What a gross sentence! Next came an exfoliant peel that was supposed to soften the skin on the bikini line and help with any bumps. Then she toned my bikini line. I chatted with her throughout this first part, which took maybe a total of seven minutes.
Then she pulled out the tweezers and tweezed two ingrown hairs on my bikini line. I was deadly silent except for a lot of deep breaths, tiny little poodle yelps, and, after a minute, a truly anxious and dumb statement of “I’m really quiet right now.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “This is the part when people usually stop talking.” “Oh, really?” I stress-whispered, as she finally took the tweezers away. Tweezers even near my vagina is a really big “No, thank you” for me, but I volunteered for this, and I was going to do it completely. After the silent tweezing, she toned again. Then she gave my vagina a “modeling mask.” It was a white, clay-like mask; she put it on and then said, “Just lie here and relax. I’ll be back in 5 minutes.”
It started to harden and looked like a tiny diaper. I never got a real idea of what this mask did, but I enjoyed texting and emailing at least six different people to say, “I’m lying in a lavender-colored room with a mask on my vagina. Not a masquerade mask.” Jessica came back in and said, “This is the fun part,” and she was right. I guess if there was a “fun” part of what was swiftly becoming a bland experience, this was it: even though I couldn't tell if the mask had done anything, I truly enjoyed that it had become a solid, that Jessica peeled it off the way that you peel dried glue from your palms after an afternoon of gluing macaroni to paper plates, that it didn’t hurt in the least, and that, most important, she liked doing it so much. I felt happy for Jessica and her satisfaction level.
Jessica told me that the final step would be a lightening cream. I told her that I didn’t want to lighten my skin, and I was wary of this, but she said it was just to even out the pigment, so I let her go ahead and put it on. She did. Then she took it off, and, with no ceremony at all, The Vajacial was complete. Jessica left the room, and I looked down at my vagina. It looked the same as before, and there was some random powder on my thighs.
When I volunteered to do this, I imagined writing a piece that was bouncing with crazy, or maybe inane-sounding, facts. I can’t really offer that right now? I do think that this treatment would be helpful if you have frequent and bothersome ingrown hairs. I do. And Jessica was very kind and is a good esthetician. Maybe this would be exciting if you’ve, I don’t know, never let someone else see your vagina? I guess I was generally excited to show my vagina to a new, nice, nonpredatory person, so there’s that. It’s A-OK to try new things for your body and to be curious about the world of grooming, but would I suggest a $70 “facial” for your vagina? No. Do you know why? It’s more trouble than it’s worth. I could have done all of that stuff to myself.
What isn’t great about this treatment is the potential for useless questions and self-doubt to pop up in your sweet, smart head. Why start up an internal, anxiety-based conversation that doesn’t serve you, one that was maybe started by an ignorant male teen who has not been taught how to be in a world with women? That ignorant person does not belong in your head, in the present. The Vajacial is harmless compared to the tons of bullshit that is peddled around by people looking to make money off the fact that we live in a society that tells us that we, in our natural form, are not enough, that our form is not naturally easy to understand or connect to. I don’t recommend the Vajacial because I simply don’t think we need to spend our time in that marketplace.
Listen, I often walk around feeling that I’m an impostor adult. I make a ton of mistakes, and if my feelings were a person, that person would have messy hair like a bird’s nest (there might even be birds in there), skinned knees, and crumbs in her pockets, but also vibrant powers. I have a lot to work on. I know I must try to learn more about how to serve myself and to lessen the amount of self-abuse. But I understand with pride that I like the personal and daily ceremony of bathing my body, and I love my vagina just as it is. This is what I thought of as I sped away from the fancy neighborhood, with my window open, back to my little house where my clean towels were waiting for me, smelling like the soaps that my mother thinks are very rude gifts.
Jenny Slate is an actress, a comedian, a New York Times–best-selling children’s author, and a human woman.
How to Negotiate Your Maternity Leave at a Small Company
By Jessica Grose
I was at a wedding this past weekend, and I ran into a heavily pregnant acquaintance. I asked her how she was feeling, and she said the worst, because pregnancy can be a miserable heartburn-and-sciatica-filled horror show. I also asked her about her maternity-leave situation, because I have reported so frequently on parental leave, and because I am nosy. She told me it was paltry. There was a deep eye roll, a sigh, and an explanation that she worked for a start-up.
Many start-ups, because they’re trying to run so lean, don’t even have HR departments. And even if it has an HR department, a company with fewer than 50 employees isn’t legally bound to give pregnant workers any leave at all. That’s the fine print on the FMLA (the 12 weeks of unpaid family leave granted to new parents in the U.S.): if you work for a very small company, it doesn’t apply to you. That leaves out two-fifths of the workforce, because it is a garbage law (compare U.S. leave policy to the policy of basically any other country in the world and weep).
The three leading Democratic candidates for president all want paid family leave at the federal level, but unfortunately, we’re quite a ways from enacting it. In the meantime, what do you do if you’re in the family way and you either work for, or want to work for, a start-up? I asked Phoebe Taubman, the senior staff attorney at A Better Balance, an organization devoted to advancing the rights of working families, for her advice about negotiating a leave at a company that doesn’t have to give you one at all.
If You’re Pregnant and Applying for a Job
Though it might seem squirrelly, Taubman says that you should not disclose your pregnancy until after you have the offer in hand. “There remains a fair amount of bias in the workplace based on pregnancy or motherhood,” Taubman explains, so if you tell them you’re pregnant while you’re in the application process, they may not hire you at all. (Pregnancy discrimination is so rampant, a new website called Pregnant Then Screwed has emerged so women can share their stories and raise awareness about it.) While pregnancy discrimination is illegal, it’s very hard to prove, so wait until you’re discussing your benefits package to ask about maternity leave.
How to Negotiate Your Leave
If you’re already working someplace and you’re in need of leave, first, do your research. Even though the FMLA might not cover you, there may be state and local laws that do. For example, New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island all have paid-parental-leave laws, and Iowa expands unpaid leave to companies that have four or more workers. A Better Balance has a full list of state-by-state laws here. If you are in a union (unlikely for employees of very small companies), check your union laws. If your company has an employee handbook, look there as well.
Let’s say you live in a state without coverage beyond FMLA and your company seems to have no policy in place for parental leave. As part of your research, you should discreetly ask your coworkers what kind of leave was given to people for other kinds of disabilities. Maybe Dave over in IT broke his leg skiing and was given a month of paid leave and another month of unpaid leave. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is a little murky on this point, but it does say that women affected by childbirth “shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits … as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” Taubman cautions that this isn’t a sure thing — you might not be entitled to the same leave ol’ Dave got — but “it’s worth looking into and poking around a little.”
What if your company is only a few years old, and no one has taken leave yet for any kind of reason? Then, Taubman says, look to state and federal laws to inform what you ask for. Doctors and insurance companies say the recovery period for a vaginal birth is six weeks, and for a C-section it’s eight weeks. So you should ask for at least that period of time unpaid, if not the 12 weeks given to workers by the FMLA. If your position in the company is very strong and you have enough leverage to ask for paid leave, you can look to the standards in California, Rhode Island, and Jersey, where the state provides six weeks paid (though not always at your full salary). You can also ask people who work at other companies in your field what kind of leave their employers provide as a kind of benchmark to bring to your bosses.
Only you know your employer. If they’re a generally progressive type that just hasn’t thought about parental leave, it might be an easy sell. If you think it will be an uphill battle, come armed with research and a game plan. Research such as: according to a 2014 report from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, “a survey of 253 employers affected by California’s paid family leave initiative found that the vast majority — over ninety percent — reported either positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, turnover, and morale.” A game plan would consist of who would cover your work while you were gone and how you’d make the transition seamless.
Now I’m Going to Bum You Out
In a just world, your employer would congratulate you on your growing family and give you everything you asked for. In the real world, your employer could give you no leave whatsoever, and you’d have no recourse. For example, Taubman referred me to a story in Babygate, a book she cowrote, about a woman called Helena who was pregnant with twins and was offered two nonnegotiable weeks of leave by her small employer. She needed a C-section and understandably wanted more than two weeks to recover. She ended up “choosing” to leave that job, but it wasn’t really much of a choice at all.
Employers like Helena’s are why nearly a quarter of working mothers in the U.S. go back to work within two weeks of giving birth. This is criminal. At the first Democratic presidential debate, Bernie Sanders called America’s lack of paid leave “an international embarrassment,” which it is. It’s also holding women back. Women who get paid leave are more likely to stay in the workforce, and have higher-paying jobs, than women who don’t. There’s nothing more inspiring than a pissed-off pregnant lady, so get motivated by the women like Helena who are going without leave, and start lobbying your elected officials.
Jessica Grose is Lenny’s editor in chief, and was once a pissed-off pregnant lady.
Maira Kalman’s newest book, the illustrated memoir Beloved Dog (Penguin), will be available Oct. 27.
Why You Should Start Exercising in Your 20s
By Tracy Anderson
(Pulling Lunge and Stretch)
In your 20s, you become free. No one can tell you what to do. You are fearless, experimental, competitive, looking for love, looking for identity, and even looking for your HEART AND SOUL!
While coaches can shout at you to sprint in high school and doctors can warn you of the impending doom of middle age if you don’t keep moving as you get older, in your 20s, no one can make you exercise. Science and medicine all point to its contribution to your health, fitness, and physical welfare, but let’s be honest: this is the age in which pretty much all of us will engage in some form of self-destructive experimentation.
Exercise is a way to mitigate that experimentation. It’s the one thing available to every one of us, regardless of economic status. Those of us who exercise regularly in our 20s will increase our fitness, our health, our pride, our self-satisfaction, our capacity to lead by example, our development of self-discipline, our sense of priority, and the likelihood that we will continue to engage in regular exercise as we grow older.
(Kneeling High Pulling Arms with Reaching Arabesque)
Waiting to exercise later in life, when our metabolism slows down and being fit requires more work, is no longer an option. Women today aren’t prepping for days of bridge club and knitting circles — they are running marathons, running international companies, and running for president. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of anyone else. Even if you are a metabolically and genetically blessed 20-something, that doesn’t mean your body can’t become unhealthy from a circulation standpoint. Your health and mental capacity depend on remembering to nourish your physical self.
When we are young, like my little three-and-a-half-year-old, Penny, we are driven by curiosity and adrenaline. If Penny wants something at the top of a jungle gym, she is going to try to get it. Once we bump our heads a few times and learn we can fall, we start to become aware of cause and effect. Our brains, which were firing signals faster than R2D2 in a marathon when we were toddlers, start to calm the more our intellectual selves develop, and we learn that certain climbs may be dangerous.
Then we move into other activities like sports, dance, and playing outside with friends. If we get made fun of or benched for lack of “size” or “talent” a few times, we start to denature our physical selves because our emotional selves have been bruised. Then the hormonal changes begin, and unless our inner athlete has been showered with positive encouragement, we start viewing moving as a chore. The lack of a real gym-class workout curriculum doesn’t help us create long-lasting habits once we’re out of high school.
(Kneeling Weighted W-Arm Press)
When we don’t move regularly, strategically, and effectively year after year, other symptoms may arrive: depression, anxiety, obesity, fatigue, and many other things we like to blame on hormones, chemical imbalances, or shitty relationships. Our bodies are complex systems that have to be treated as such — but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it. If we have a good, natural, honest talking-to with ourselves about this ship of ours, we can learn to drive it with integrity and consistency.
Our bodies want to be rested, moved, and fed naturally. Our bodies don’t want to drink the Kool-Aid of trends and quick fixes, to inhale a vat of chemicals condensed into a pill, or to live every day in Spanx. You are how you move, you are what you eat, and you are how you balance being healthy with enjoying the treats in life. Making sure to show up for your exercise routine daily and to focus inward on your overall health, and not simply on your outer appearance, allows for there to be personal freedom — you can enjoy the experience of cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate on a crisp fall morning without sacrificing your health.
Exercise affects our heart and soul; our heart contains our pride and our effort to accomplish all we can, and our soul contains our character, which is built on doing what we as individuals believe to be best. The development of our heart and soul is in every exercise we do, and the more regularly we exercise in our 20s, the more our hearts and souls will thrive for the rest of our lives.
Click here to see a basic workout routine Tracy created just for Lenny at Cosmopolitan.com!
Tracy Anderson is a fitness expert and creator of the Tracy Anderson Method, a revolutionary fitness methodology that has transformed the lives of millions of people across the globe with customized training, DVDs, and more.
Confessions at Coney Island
By Ashley C. Ford
In the last week of August, Kelly rolled over in bed and said, “Let’s go to the beach.” It was a Monday morning, our bodies were damp from an oppressive heat wave, and the far end of Coney Island was certain to be uncrowded. Conditions were perfect for a day by the water. The more he thought about it, the more excited he got. We could get food from Nathan’s, people-watch, and swim where the Atlantic touches Brooklyn. “We’ve never gone swimming in the ocean together,” he said. “It’ll be a new first.” I smiled, nodded, and tried to remember where I’d stuffed my bathing suit. He leaped out of bed to get dressed, but I lay there a bit longer wondering how or if I should tell him that our beach day would include more than one first.
The first beach Kelly and I ever visited together was in Santa Monica. This was not a swimming trip, nor was it a day to lie by the water. It was 2013, and we were in Los Angeles for my first Thanksgiving with his family. It was my second visit to the city, the first having been the previous August. I was then 26 years old and had the means to travel west of Missouri for the first time in my life. I’d left my first trip feeling pretty “meh,” but the second trip — the Thanksgiving trip — made me believe I could live there. The sun seemed warmer, the people seemed more interesting, and I was falling in love.
We rolled up our jeans, took off our shoes, and walked into the Santa Monica surf. He held my hand and told me stories about all of the adventures he’d had at this beach. I closed my eyes and tried to picture them.
* * * * *
My family is made up of working-class Hoosiers; almost all of us live in the same city, and most of us are afraid of driving on highways. On the rare occasion that we traveled out of state, it was in caravans on our way to family reunions; we also took one trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and a trip to Disney World when I was a toddler.
At Thanksgiving, I learned that Kelly’s aunt, our host, was a retired president of LACMA, and that he had spent every summer in LA with her from the time he was seven years old until he was 21. They’d taken boats down the Nile together, ridden bikes around Versailles, and jumped off the back of sailboats in the Pacific Ocean. Quite suddenly, I was embarrassed to admit I hadn’t even learned to swim until I was 23, that I had never traveled abroad, that I didn’t even have a passport.
Kelly is three years younger than me, and he had seen the world in ways I could only imagine. His family clearly valued the wanderlust I experienced, but I had never had the chance to physically express it. Did they worry about that? They’d deliberately raised a man who prioritized adventure. Did they think I would hold him back? Would I? That night, in bed, I whispered my insecurities. Kelly said, “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. My family loves you. And think of all the things we’ll get to do together for the first time.”
I did not know how to describe the sadness of knowing they would be firsts for only me, not him, without sounding melodramatic. I kissed him instead. We tried not to keep secrets, but not all secrets are created equal. Some you keep because you don’t even know what the truth is or how to tell it just yet. Others, no matter how small, damage the key to whatever binds you together. It’s hard to know which is which until after the tides of consequence roll in, and the secret, inevitably, rolls out.
* * * * *
Nearly two years later, we stuffed his backpack with books and my tote with a blanket borrowed from the neighbors, and we set out for Coney Island. Kelly read on the train, and I wrote in my journal about my reluctance to tell him this small truth: I’d never swam in the ocean. I had been to the ocean before, I had even put my feet in the water, but I had never worked up the nerve to dive in and swim. Every time I thought, I should tell him, I’d picture him jumping off boats as a 10-year-old, and I’d picture me in a pool at 23 learning how to float. Logic told me there was no reason to be ashamed. The other part of myself fixated on those incompatible images and thought, This is why you’ll never see the world together, and he’ll always be showing you where he’s already been.
It wasn’t until I had stripped down to my bathing suit and stood at the edge of the ocean that I got nervous about the actual swimming part. Kelly ran into the waves chest first. I went in up to my waist before muttering, “It’s too big. I don’t know what I thought this was going to be like, but the ocean is too fucking big. I can’t do this.” Kelly, now farther into the water than I’d ever been, yelled for me to come closer. Finally, I squeezed my eyes shut, dove into a wave, and let it buoy my body forward. I flapped my arms, kicked my legs, and, before I knew it, I opened my eyes right in front of him. He wrapped his arms around me and smiled. I licked my salty lips and asked why my eyes didn’t hurt. He said, “Well, it’s not chlorine.” I ducked under his arms and dove back into the water before another wave hit. My body felt powerful, light, and like it had become part of the ocean. Every bit of insecurity floated away. I was swimming in the ocean for the first time, beside my favorite person in the entire world, and I was not embarrassed. I was celebrating.
We splashed around for an hour. I learned that if I jumped into the waves, they wouldn’t slam into my body, and that eventually, salt water would burn my eyes too. I was practicing floating when Kelly swam over to me. He gathered me in his arms and asked, “What are you grinning about?” I turned and faced this man who moved from Seattle to live with me in Brooklyn, who makes a point to read everything I’ve ever written, and who introduced me to his family as the love of his life. I realized he had never thought of me as someone who was catching up with him. He just saw his partner. I pulled him back to the shore and toward our blanket. When we sat down, I took his hand, and a deep breath.
“I have something to tell you.”
Ashley C. Ford is a Brooklyn-based essayist who grew up in Indiana.