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Debunking myths, with enthusiasm

Author's survival tips for women: All you need are 'Three Black Skirts'

Anna Johnson covers life and how to get it together in "Three Black Skirts"  

In this story:

'Arty glamour gigs'

Love and no marriage

Do as I say and not as I do?

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(CNN) -- If you were marooned on a desert island, what would you need to survive? A Swiss Army knife? Toilet paper? Moisturizer? According to Australian writer Anna Johnson, all you need are three black skirts.

Well, maybe not on a desert island. In real life, however, they're key elements to a woman's survival, says Johnson in her new book.

"Three Black Skirts," Johnson's so-called survival guide, covers dating, money, career, style, sex, nutrition, home decor, body image, friendship and of course, the anchors of any woman's wardrobe: three black skirts -- "one to seduce, one to succeed, one to slob out in."


The 34-year-old Johnson, who would "like to turn 34 again" on March 10, admits in the introduction that she didn't write the book because she's "spiffingly together and pregnant with worldly wisdom." So, why take her advice?

Because "experts are too good at what they do," says Johnson in an e-mail interview. "Amateurs are always striving ... This book is based on my mistakes as much as my accomplishments and I do not claim authority, just enthusiasm."

"Pure emergency" was the inspiration for the book, she says. "Every aspect of my life needed help, so writing 'Three Black Skirts' was a sort of self-enforced boot camp."

Johnson had no difficulty finding topics to cover. "Stuff that was missing from my life went in first," she says. "Time management, office skills, punctuality."

Some of the topics, though, proved challenging, like the chapter on spiritual wellness. "I didn't want to sound glib in my approach," she says. "I kept it short because all I could present was what I know. Better a small idea about a big subject than none at all."

'Arty glamour gigs'

Among Johnson's advice for shopaholics is to learn the difference between want and need
Among Johnson's advice for shopaholics is to learn the difference between want and need  

Johnson has been writing for magazines for 15 years -- articles for glossies like Vogue Australia, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair and Elle. Then there were the "arty glamour gigs" at BBC Scotland and most recently, the Australian design and architecture show, "By Design."

"I did the craft/home design and groovy decor bit of the show," Johnson says. A possible American version of the show is in the works. Johnson is also working on her own Web site, where, she hopes, there will be "a lot of great information being exchanged between women."

Fashion and design genes run in the family. Johnson's father is an abstract painter; her grandfather was a fashion illustrator and her grandmother was a landscape/still life painter.

The subjects of Johnson's magazine articles range from beauty and fashion to travel and relationships, as well as the occasional off-the-wall topic. "I once spent five days in a casino wearing Versace dresses and investigating suicides in the car park (parking lot) and other seamy facts about gambling," she says.

Love and no marriage

Johnson offers tips to keep your fancy tickled, including going to a movie in the middle of the day
Johnson offers tips to keep your fancy tickled, including going to a movie in the middle of the day  

"Love exists, but it is never the love you read about or expect," writes Johnson in the chapter titled "Love: Myth vs. Reality," in which she attempts to dispel what she calls the 15 myths about love with blunt practicality. Myth No. 7, for example, is "Love is blind." "You don't have to be," adds Johnson.

Johnson, who is single, pointedly left out chapters on marriage and weddings, calling most information on relationships "thinly disguised propaganda urging women to be decorative, toe the line and marry (rich)."

That's not to say she's not curious. "I wonder what marriage does to a woman," Johnson says. "I worry about role playing and loss of confidence and having to enact weird domestic rituals in order to be a good wife."

Johnson admits that her matrimonial clock is ticking: "My bridal urges really peaked at 28 and now I care a lot less," she says. "Weddings and babies hang above my bed posts like a gigantic lace question mark. I have a boyfriend. Picture him dozing inside the question mark."

However, nothing gets Johnson's dander up more than other people trying to answer the question for her.

"When people tell me to 'get started,' I think they are being incredibly blunt and presumptuous," says Johnson. "Not everyone has their planets lined up for marriage and kids by their mid-30s and why should there be a stampede of bad choices because of external social pressures and bald biological fact?"

The principles of modern courtship are examined with a look at happy hunting grounds, classic first dates and sexual etiquette
The principles of modern courtship are examined with a look at happy hunting grounds, classic first dates and sexual etiquette  

Do as I say and not as I do?

Johnson says her book is different from the self-help articles in most women's magazines because she tries not to "patronize or bully" her reader.

"Women's magazines punish us with their gorgeous photographs of Cameron Diaz's ass and snappy diet ideas on the next page," says Johnson. "I deliberately illustrated the book with generous thighs ... and women in track pants. I speak to the pear-shaped goddess and the perfection-crazed workaholic."

So, does Johnson follow her own advice?


"I do all the klutzy stuff (anything involving nudity/hot baths/pajamas/Jungian dream work) and not enough of the hard stuff (plumbing/driving/keeping accounts)," she says. "I'm working on the nuts and bolts ... and I'm finally going after my cellulite with more methods than just wearing Lycra and praying."

To get motivated, Johnson recommends doing "one thing for yourself a week, no matter how small."

To motivate herself, Johnson "uses everything in the world that is dark and sticky to get myself going (fear, competition, anxiety, apathy, doubt, debt, self-loathing, restless boredom, envy, rage) and then try and turn it all into light."

Johnson stresses that "Three Black Skirts" is not the definitive guide to getting one's life together, but rather a "jump start."

" 'Three Black Skirts' is supposed to function like a small flower in a much bigger bouquet," she says, "or a buzzing bee that leads you to the nectar."

Workman Publishing

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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