Showing a Different Way

danica mckellar Getty imagesDanica McKellar (the actress who played Winnie in that show The Wonder Years that many of you might remember) has been working to try to encourage young girls to go more for “Cute and Smart”, as opposed to “Cute and Dumb”. Bottom line: Less Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton, and more…. well, Danica. (I’m sure there are other Tinseltown examples here… can I have some help?).

Danica sets an excellent example of why the two (being considered attractive on the one hand, and smart on the other) are not mutually exclusive, while not suffering from the “geek” or “nerd” label that is attached by the entertainment industry to certain groups of people who enjoy using their brains a lot. She trained as a mathematician, in fact, doing her undergraduate work at UCLA so well that she did rather good published research work (NPR piece here Update: It is actually more of a theoretical physics problem, it appears.). This is from someone who struggled with the subject in sixth grade. Why is she in the news? She’s written a new book “Math Doesn’t Suck”, the aim being to encourage girls to avoid the (social) barriers to getting into mathematics. Excellent title. (I wonder if they’ll change it to “Maths Doesn’t Suck” if they publish it in Britain? “Suck” British kids have adopted from the USA cultural juggernaut, but “Math”? Not yet.)

danica mckellar math doesn't suckActually, looking at her website, I see that the full title appears to be “Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail”, which is more of a mouthful, a bit less zippy, but oh well. It’s all very Clueless, in a good way. Here’s a link to the book’s site, and it is due out tomorrow.

There’s an article1 on her recent Newsweek quote at CNN, from which I grabbed this:

“When girls see the antics of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, they think that being fun and glamorous also means being dumb and irresponsible,” the 32-year-old McKellar told Newsweek for editions to hit newsstands Monday.

“But I want to show them that being smart is cool,” she said. “Being good at math is cool. And not only that, it can help them get what they want out of life.”

but you should go and read the whole thing, by clicking here. [Update: Better article here by Corey Binns in Good Magazine. Extract:

“The book hones in on middle school’s trickiest points-––like fractions, ratios, and percentages—and presents them in a style that’s appropriate for the cool kids’ lunch table. Figure out your “type” in boys and you’ll understand greatest common factors. All of those iced lattes celebrities drink make multiplying fractions tasty. Plus, savvy shopping requires killer decimal skills.”


Go Danica!

In other news, I learned2 that particle physicist Lisa Randall (author of the popular book with the curious title “Warped Passages”) appears in Vogue this month. Lisa Randall is also a member of the Aspen Center for Physics, by the way. She’s given a number of well received public lectures on particle physics here in Aspen in recent years, as well as coming just to do physics research. In fact, I saw her here the other day, but there was no time to chat – perhaps she was off to sign copies of the magazine or something.

brompton case by pinel pinelWell, this will give me an excuse to go into a magazine shop and look through Vogue to see what the article says (I can find nothing online). The last time I had a good excuse to do this was last year3 when -bizarrely- the Brompton (and a rather fetching (and expensive) travelling trunk for it by French chic luggage maker Pinel & Pinel4) was featured in a short piece on hip must-have items. Go figure. As proof, I’ll put a picture I took of it at the time to the right (no disrespect to Lisa, of course) and you can even read the article if you click on it for a closeup. (The German case I recently got for my Brompton is not as as chic as the French Pinel & Pinel design, but is still aesthetically pleasing to me, and I bet it’ll last longer.)



  1. Spotted at Diary of a Black Mathematician. [return]
  2. Spotted at Life as a Physicist. [return]
  3. Thanks Jean Chuman! [return]
  4. Oh!! I love the front page of their website!! [return]


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