Lines of women in high heels – that's what I've been looking at all week. But my last night of Fashion Week was spent looking at, and listening to, very different kinds of models.
Models for our future.
There they were, lined up in high heels and cocktail frocks looking chic and stylish. As guest speaker Christine Quinn (currently Speaker of the New York City Council) quipped, fashion was not lost on this lot.
But these 5 young women were not there representing a designer. They were at a pivotal point in designing their own futures.
Because L'Oreal was awarding each of them with a grant to continue pursing their passion: Science. Christine Quinn admitted she didn't really understand what they actually did — the women being honored represented disciplines ranging from anthropology to physics — but Quinn noted that she herself was the first ever female speaker of the City Council, and the beauty of this award is that it allows the possibility of firsts for these women of science.
Because, as Rebecca Caruso, executive vice president of Communications for L'Oreal USA, pointed out, the statistics are not good.
Cosmetics IS Science
The L'Oréal USA Fellowships for Women in Science Awards have been going on, and growing stronger, since 2003. Since then, 45 women to date have been awarded with grants to pursue their field of study. Not to mention the midcareer award – L'Oreal doesn't forget the midlifers! I wrote about last year's North American Laureate, Dr. Jillian Banfield and will be telling you more about this year's awardee, Dr. Bonnie Bassler, a professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton, shortly (stay tuned).
But it's not just a PR stunt. As Caruso and some of the awardees noted, L'Oreal was founded by a chemist, Eugène Schueller back in 1907, and their commitment to cutting-edge technology has continued for over 100 years. I visited their labs in New Jersey a few months ago and was fascinated by the scientific minutiae I learned there. The lab coat they gave me as I was leaving is one of the more prized items in my closet.
Mama, Do Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Biologists
Something I noticed during the speeches: the women often came from families where science was a focus – one admitted to getting calculus problems in the mail while at camp!
When I taught a class at the Columbia Scholastic Press Assoc. last spring, I told the (mostly) high school girls who hope to be fashion and beauty journalists that I had learned more about science in my recent years covering beauty than I ever would have anticipated. I recalled my pre-teen days investigating toothpaste and shampoo with my own microscope. It's too late for me now (although not according to Dr. Banfield!), but it's not too late for our daughters.
We see models and actresses all around us, from shows like American Next Top Model to red carpet events. You model what you see. I don't want to create a hierarchy – that's not fair; fashion and beauty have been avenues for female financial independence long before other careers were even open to them.
But now it's possible to see a wider range of role models! L'Oreal created a window, well, a bunch of windows — a website designed for girls 13 to 18 to show them just how cool, fun, exciting, and yes, fashionable science can be.
It includes amazing women – like Hedy Lamarr, always one of my favorites – whose heads were into science and lists of jobs and careers in the sciences (I'm sure it includes spots at the L'Oreal labs).
I can't wait to show it to my 9-year-old niece.
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