Every few months there’s another finger-wagging piece about models in the fashion industry. Generally, the topic is weight: the epidemic of anorexia; the efforts underway to mandate a minimum weight; praise for more robust models (more robust meaning a few pounds above malnourishment).

The other topic that crops up is age. It was recently reported that some runway models are as young as 13. This hardly seems surprising. If you search “Teen Models” online, you’ll find pages of agencies geared to this group.

But what exactly is the problem with very young models? Is the issue one of child labor? Plenty of teenagers work in theater and play sports in front of large audiences. Those activities don’t warrant outrage.
More… “Face Value”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.


I recently realized that the Metropolitan Museum of Art, possibly the greatest museum in the world, has put clothes not only literally but figuratively on a pedestal. It’s interesting to think that crowds that once exclaimed over artifacts exhumed from King Tut’s tomb now gawk at dresses extracted from deceased socialite Nan Kempner’s closet.

“Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.” Through August 19. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. I love clothes and am always interested in looking at them (though, to be honest, I prefer wearing them). But I am fascinated by the phenomenon of how fashion in the past decade or so has been elevated to the highest reaches of cultural respectability.

Arguably, this can be traced back to changes in the nature of the museum itself back in the late… More…

So the royal wedding has come and gone and I saw enough to give me fodder for a few musings. Yes, I am a sucker for the spectacle and back story, but even I was surfeited. At some point, as Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters blathered on with help from Tina Brown (who was taking a break from saving Newsweek), I became a bit weary of it all — though, no doubt, I will return soon enough to drink from what promises to be a very deep well.

What struck me in watching this event was less the event than its coverage — a swaddling of commentary so dense as to practically smother the spectacle we all tuned in to see.  This was owing in large part to the plethora of close-ups. I do not recall as many close-ups of dresses, hats, and, most importantly, faces in any previous royal… More…

The forthcoming royal wedding is a boon to the chronic insomniac. What better way to sooth the sleep-deprived psyche than with endless detail on the air-brushed lives of Kate Middleton and Prince William? Documentaries on the subject of this couple usually turn up in the small hours of the night on one of the more obscure cable stations. If not, one can always consult the Royal Channel (the official channel of the British Monarchy) available via YouTube for a 2 a.m. update.


Even without insomnia, I confess to having an unquenchable appetite for royal pabulum. I am drawn, for mysterious reasons, to that Grand Guignol cast: Princess Diana, beautiful but overexposed (not to mention dead); Prince Charles, every day more like a cartoon courtier from Beauty and the Beast; his disheveled and vaguely menacing second… More…

There was plenty to look at. Mostly reptiles, of course, but also people who buy and sell reptiles, a colorful bunch that you wouldn’t want to quarrel with, but that, in the context of the Reptile Expo, were very friendly.


At a table near the entrance, a mother-daughter team sold lizards — bearded dragons, to be precise, arranged in basins according to age, from month to about a year (full grown). I joined a small group who were comparing the babies, tiny whippet-thin creatures, to the adults, Yoda look-alikes with mellow dispositions. The mother-daughter vendors were explaining how sweet these lizards were, and I have to say, stroking the bearded dragons under the chin (the way they like), I did find them sweet. I even considered buying one were it not that I’d have to clean the cage…. More…

So I’m walking up to Fifth Avenue from Madison on my way to see another one of those modernism shows at the Guggenheim when I find myself confronted by a gathering of women in designer jeans and LV handbags hanging out in the middle of the block. It’s not your usual museum crowd,  so I peer around and see that we’re in front of Cooper-Hewitt, the National Design Museum, which occupies the stately Carnegie mansion between Madison and Fifth on 91st Street. Looking more closely, I make out the placard in front of the building announcing what has brought out this particular demographic. The featured exhibition is titled: “Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels.” What can I say?—given a choice between exploring modernism once again and gawking at diamonds and rubies, there is no contest. I go inside.

My friend Bob took me into his basement the other day to have a look at his hobby.  This was not a stamp or coin collection; there was no woodshop, pool table, recording studio, or S&M chamber, for that matter. Instead, the room was taken over from one end to the other by a model train village. Bob had worked on this village with his now-adult children since they were very young, and the hobby stretched back even further to his own childhood, when he acquired his first train set. What lay before me was thus a kind of embodied landscape for my friend’s development into the person he is today. There were the old trains and the newer ones, there was city hall (the city named after his daughter), the county seat (named after his son), his parents’ pizzeria, his wife’s dress shop. He could tell me when and… More…

I had initially intended to visit the National Museum that abuts Tiananmen Square, but someone informed me that it might be closed. When I spoke to the concierge in my hotel, he suggested the Capital Museum, which had apparently opened in its present location in May 2006, and so, being relatively new, was not as well-known.


Let me digress for a moment and note that the title “concierge” was an incongruous one for this hardly post-pubescent youth, obviously a recent arrival to the big city from the countryside. All the workers in the hotel, which was located in the north of Beijing away from the tourist areas, were startlingly young and lacking in English skills, which, since I am even more lacking in Chinese ones, made communication difficult. Questions such as, “Can you do something about the strange… More…

Although I have always considered myself a fairly unconventional person, I wanted a diamond ring when I became engaged to be married. To please me, my fiancé visited the Diamond District in New York City and (with the help of his mother) picked out a round, 1.5-carat diamond with a yellow gold band. I wear it as I write, 28 years later.


In the early years of my marriage, some of my female students would come up to me after class and compliment me on my ring. I don’t know if it was the diamond they were admiring or the fact that I had managed to get myself married. In time, the compliments diminished. Whether because my ring was less impressive or because marriage seemed less of an accomplishment to the new generation is hard to say.

The… More…

I have never known my husband without his beard, a fact that disturbed me in the early years of our relationship. What was he hiding: a weak chin, a saber scar, a slothful nature, a psychological need for a barrier between himself and the world? But as time passed, I no longer felt the need to ask these questions. I now know my husband, and the beard is part of who he is. This seems to me to relate to the question that the anthropologist Gregory Bateson raised about the old man with the cane: Where does the one end and the other begin? Impossible to say, Bateson concluded, since the two cannot be functionally separated. A beard may seem less functional than a cane, but the choice to grow a beard has a function, though it may not be singular or simply articulated.