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Saturday 15 October 2011

Kaz Cooke: Q & A - Women's Stuff

'Women's Stuff' is the new book by Australian author Kaz Cooke, a comprehensive guide on all things relating to women.

And I do mean all things: from confidence, body image, eating, health, boobs, hairy bits (yep), love, heartbreak, sex, health, wrinkle creams, cosmetic surgery, friends, sleep, home, false eyelashes (essential!) - it's all here!

And here is a very upfront, honest Q & A with the fabulous Kaz Cooke:

What kind of ground is covered in your new book Women’s Stuff ?
It's not a bossy or shouty "guide to how to live your life". It's more like having a best friend in the cupboard who knows everything about everything – so you can consult it for independent advice whether you 're wondering if you're really in love and he's the one to whether your shampoo is ruining the environment, what Botox actually does to you, how to find a job, or leave one and how to cope with feeling down, how to get more sleep, win a wrestle with troublesome hormones, or what to do if you find a lump in your breast. Or, how to tell a busybody to sod off without saying ‘sod off,’ how to recognise a dodgy friend, how to get out of debt or get the sex life you'd rather have.

What was the biggest challenge writing Women’s Stuff?
That it was such a big task. Just knowing that it was going to take a huge amount of research to identify what women needed to know, then to find and check with experts and present it in a way which isn't daunting, but helpful, trustworthy, and fun. And to do that in a world where most information given to women is controlled by commercial interests trying to sell us something, or special interests who want to push their own agenda. On a personal level, the challenge was working out how to honour more than 7000 women who contributed to the book through a questionnaire. Every one of them had a hand in what I decided to write about… I felt like I was having a conversation with thousands of women.

Did you discover anything for yourself while writing Women’s Stuff?
I am certainly much better informed now than I was 3 years ago! And because of that I do feel more confident about facing any challenge or change. I found out I was Vitamin D deficient and in reading though all the comments of thousands of women about appearance, and ageing and body parts they hated or liked, I realised that it truly isn't about what's on the outside. Some beautiful women hate themselves, some with big bosoms are desperate for small ones, while many women with small bosoms are sure their lives would be better with bigger ones. It’s how we feel about ourselves that makes the difference, not actually what we look like. So I worry less about me bits, now, thank you.

Will Women’s Stuff appeal to all ages?
Yep, I reckon it will. Women's Stuff takes you from nose rings and tattoos to having grey pubic hair, from your first flirt through to how to argue with a partner, to being happily single. It really is for every stage of life. And I think more importantly, for every kind of woman - it's just as useful for ladies who love rummaging in their make up bag, and those who think a lot more about world politics (or both).

How many women replied to the Women’s Stuff survey?
More than 7000 women responded – by far the most from Australia, and New Zealand, but also from 64 other countries! The only continent not represented is Antarctica. All in all, more than 490,000 questions were answered.

What was the oddest fact you uncovered… Perhaps the get-thin-quick-scheme from the late 1900s involving a jar of sanitised tapeworms?
I know, hilarious – but is it really so different from the people claiming to be able to "Fat Zap" your weight worries away with radio waves? Or claiming that a special drink will cause you to gain a better figure? Some of the stuff that shocked me the most was a scary level of ignorance or belief – like the woman who said she wouldn't get cancer from her constant sunbaking because she ate organic food, or the woman who said the best people to give you advice about skin products was the people selling them because that made them experts – things like that. There were also many surprising things that women told me. That they'd never had an orgasm in 10 years with their partner but they didn't know how to stop faking; or how women in their 50s and 60s were still basing their negative body image on a comment from a schoolyard bully when they were 6, or 9 years old.

What was the funniest reply you had to your survey?
The honesty of a 21 year old who says she likes walking round the mall carrying shopping bags because it makes her feel rich, or the fashion worker who said her job used to be sewing size 10 labels into size 12 clothes. Some of the answers to "Is there a pattern to your choice of partner?" were pretty funny; "Three Davids, two Johns, three Peters and two Richards" and "they've mostly been wankers" made me laugh out loud.

You must have had many moving ones too?
Yes, there were many truly affecting stories about people living with illness, or dealing with grief, or giving other women advice about how to escape an abusive relationship. It is truly extraordinary what some women have been through. Some comments are heartbreaking, or inspiring, or confronting in a more mundane but still awful way, like the hundreds of women who were targeted as children, and often all their lives, for being 'fat', by their own mothers or other relatives.

This seems to be an age of excessive and conflicting advice – what sets Women’s Stuff apart from other advice based books?
I have to be totally upfront about this. I haven't got a secret theory of life, and I didn't go to Italy or France for a year, wonder what it was all about and have sex with a Spanish movie star. Nope, this is just advice and independent info that's been researched, with lots of input and checks by independent experts – I consulted all sorts of medical specialists, counsellors, and others. I checked out the claims made for stuff like anti-wrinkle creams and cosmetic procedures, and I'm not afraid to say what I found – sometimes the results are downright shocking. And the book provides recommendations for other books and websites that readers will be able to trust, on each individual subject, whether it’s mental health services or dandruff treatments.

You use humour very effectively in your book – do you recommend it as a tool to handle life and its crazy twists and turns?
I suspect if I'm really honest I have to admit I have a short attention span, and laughing helps me stay interested in anything. It's really just how I see the world.

Are women better off today, more equal, better informed than 50 years ago or are there some age-old problems that have never gone away?
Both! Many women are better off – all of us now are more fragrant and comfortable than even the Queen of England was in the 1500s and there are much better treatments for mental and physical health available now. But we're still dealing with rampant discrimination against girls and women, the threatening of their lives, sexual enslavement and in some countries, refusal to educate them. Meanwhile we still are pressured to care more about our hair style than our vote. Women still do most of the housework, worrying, and the emotional and physical work of the home.

In Women’s Stuff you write that women have never hated the way they look more than they do today – any theories as to why?
I think the rise of commercialism and advertising is a big part of it. The prevailing culture tells girls they are too fat when they are still in kindergarten – they see it on TV, they watch their mums talking about it and criticising themselves. The bizarre domination of porn-related culture has also "told" women they need to be "hot" and look sexually available and primped (hence the Brazillian craze) and now cosmetic procedures and surgery are seen as an ordinary option for some. I think women are being shouted at all the time that they're not good enough the way they are.

There’s a section in Women’s Stuff on the body image struggle, have you ever struggled with your shape or looks?
Oh good lord, some mornings I look in the mirror and wonder if I should start waxing the ends of my moustache into jaunty curls. I still draw my eyes in and whack on some lippy but I've usually eaten or smudged it by 11am. If I tried to hold all my bulgy bits in with "shapewear" I'd be wearing a wetsuit. Like most women I am entirely aware that I will never be mistaken for a young Sophia Loren. But you know, I'd rather worry about not laughing more than laugh lines. I'd rather be comfortable and stridey than wear hurty high heels. I'd rather get on with things and be busy than look long enough in the mirror to find the next wrinkle coming. I do want to be fitter and that's my next "project".

What did the survey reveal as the biggest challenge for today’s women?
Finding inner confidence. Absolutely everything else will follow from there. That's what the first part of the book is all about.

After all the research you did for Women’s Stuff, what is the single best piece of advice you could give to a woman nursing a breaking heart?
Be careful and kind to yourself while you heal and later, remember what the relationship and the break-up have taught you.

What would you say to a woman at breaking point, juggling her desire to stay at home and look after young children and her desire to have a career and use her brain outside the home?
You can do both. Just not always at exactly the same time. Enlist as much support as you can both at home and with the kids, and at work. Don't feel bad about not being superwoman. You can't be good at everything all the time so give yourself permission to take some time out from one side of your life for the other.

Do you ever ignore your own sage advice and stuff up?
All The Time. Remember, I don't write advice books because I'm brilliant. I do it because I need the advice. My talent is knowing how to find out things (all that journalism training!)

You’ve been described as being like a straight-talking Aunt, others see you more as a modern-day guru – which is most accurate?
I am a nosy-parker who likes toast and doesn't mind ringing up more than 100 Australian and global experts and convincing them to help me write a book.

What has been the most difficult stage in life for you as a woman?
The teens were really hard because I had a lot of pimples and apple-green bedroom walls. My 20s probably the hardest because although I was earning money and didn't have to wear old ladies pants from the op shop any more, I didn't realise that I could influence and choose things that happened in my life. I was too busy responding to what turned up in front of me and because I did so many stupid things; drinking like a Russian mobster, smoking like a damp pile of leaves on a campfire and sleeping with reporters. In my 30s I settled down and started a family. In my 40s I did the juggle. I'd say it's a toss up between the first two years of motherhood, and my 20s.

Whom do you rely upon for advice now and when you were younger?
Now, it's my friends, and any of the more than 200 lovely experts I consult for my books. I am afraid that when I was younger I probably would have taken advice from any old bonkers baggage who offered it, because I didn't know anything.

What do you do to freshen up and take a break while writing?
I curl my moustache. Or drink Madagascan Vanilla tea (I don't think it really is from Madagascar but I like the idea that lemurs have waved as it went past).

'Women's Stuff is available now, RRP $59.95 (though I have seen it onsale this week for far less - snap up a copy now!).

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