Image Consciousness

Warning: Streams of Consciousness Ahead; Author is blogging
before bed after a long day, Thoughts may be jumbled.

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     When I woke up yesterday afternoon and weighed myself, I was 142 lbs. I was kind of happy about it and felt I deserved some hard won take out pizza. (Papa John’s 3 Cheese, if anyone cares) I posted about this on Facebook, along with debating whether or not it was “worth it” to get said pizza. Among the comments I got was one from a friend (straight, male) which inferred that I am already “sexy”. The intention behind this was all positive, I assure you, he’s a pretty solid friend (and I hope I’m not making you feel bad by discussing it in my blog, I actually want to thank you for bringing up an important topic). However, as well meaning as he was, it made me start thinking –

  • What is really motivating me to be on this diet? Am I in it for health reasons or something else? Can’t I have multiple motivators? Is my motivation any different now than it was at any time when I tried to do the gym thing before?
  • Does it matter whether someone else finds me physically attractive? Is it inherently anti-feminist to feel good about a non-skeevy compliment like this? Should I even give my boyfriend any influence on how I look – I obviously want *him* to find my attractive?
  • Do I care about how I look? Is there something wrong about admitting that I care? Does that make me shallow or vain now?

Then, after admitting to myself that, yes, I am partially motivated by wanting a particular image, my mind wandered even more –

  • In 2012 when the boyfriend wanted me to go to the gym with him (and yes, saying I could be “more toned”), I stubbornly refused (and was moderately offended, because I already felt I looked good, wtf?). So why did I start going to the gym pretty hardcore last year (I mean, I was doing the personal trainer thing, I thought that was hardcore. For a woman that nearly flunked PE in High School, that was hardcore).  How much of that was me and how much was because of a one time off-hand comment? Does the fact that I even remember the comment signify that it carried any weight (no pun intended)?
  • A large part of my motivation was general health – wanting to avoid health issues my parents have and realizing I had a more sedentary life that I’d had in 2012 (I did tell my trainer that I was mostly just working off my pizza addiction since I wasn’t doing it at work anymore). Is this considered wanting to lose weight? Or maintain it?
  • In reality, a large part of my motivation was fangirling over Stephen Amell as Green Arrow and wanting to emulate him (I never did finish that series on emulation I meant to do a few years back, did I?). Watching Oliver Queen work a salmon ladder over and over and watching Amell’s personal workout videos on Facebook really kind of made me want to be badass like him. I wore his “Fuck Cancer” tshirt to the gym a lot of the time and bought the Arrow soundtrack to listen to.

  • Then last year, I also got my Lammily doll, which sent me on my dolly craze. And I got pulled into internet battles over whether or not dolls contributed to body image issues. Of course I’m going to fully defend and champion my precious Lammily! I don’t know how much dolls influence these things, but if there is a chance she can help some kids, isn’t that a good thing? And what is wrong with some dolly diversity?
  • Is it possible that I’ve been influenced myself this past year from all the dolls and all of these things I’ve been made aware of because of this new found hobby? Even if that were the case, why would that be any more shameful or wrong than admitting I was driven to the gym because I wanted to emulate a comic hero?
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The day Stephen Amell actually responded to one of my comments and gave me encouragement. Made me feel a bit self-defeated when I needed to quit going to the gym due to too many other things going on in life that needed my attention. Still need to reach that pull-up goal. 

I really don’t know. It’s likely a mix of everything, honestly. At the end of the day, though, whatever my motivations, I am making a decision about my life and my body because it is what I want. As long as I am comfortable with and feel good about myself, that is all that matters.

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Stop Telling Us What to Wear: Mini Rant

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Yesterday, while I was at the library, I picked up a copy of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing our Daughters from Marketers Schemes by Sharon Lamb, Ed.D and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D. I’m only about 40 pages in so far, but it’s already been something of an eye opener. I’ve been aware of rampant consumerism and the way the clothing industry tries to push people (not just girls and women) into the little categories it wants us to be in (male/female, preppy/rebel/geek, “urban”/”rural”, etc) for awhile and I’ve been aware of the brand-worshiping aspect of consumer culture for as long as I’ve been scratching my head over the importance of wearing clothes just because there was a certain word or logo on it (that happened around age 9, when I moved to a new school and everyone seemed to have to wear stuff from The Limited or Limited Too and if you weren’t wearing those clothes then ohmygodwhatiswrongwithyou?). However, it turns out that there’s a little more than I ever wanted to admit going on.

What I have gotten out of this book, thus far:

  • There is always this push to make girls want to be older, faster. This is nothing new to me, but, they’re marketing “bras” and pretty underwear and bikinis to 4 year olds now. *4*!!
  • Girls are being pushed into camps from a early age
    1. Camp 1: pink, the classically feminine color is soft and sweet (which there is now a bit of a split in the pink camp, with the pastel hues reflecting innocence and bolder hues (or pared with black) reflecting a bit of a sexier edge.
    2. Camp 2: red, a bold and assertive color.
    3. From the book, “The red girl is the girl who is not like the other girls can develop into not liking what makes those other girls who they are, putting them down for being too girly and weak. The girl wars mentality we see in the media is often between girly girls and tomboys, between what we fear starts out as the pink girl and the red girl.”
  • The same items are marketed to 6 year olds and 13 year olds.
  • The hetero-normative push into what is supposed to be the most important thing on a girl’s mind: Boys! (which, even I fell victim to with the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync when I was 12-15) Stores are happy to sell all manner of trinkets and shirts that espouse love for whatever male teen star is hot at the time… and this is marketed to 8 and 9 year old girls as well as teens. Why would 8 and 9 year olds be concerned with the cuteness of boys? When I was 8, I was still listening to what my parents listened to (and Michael Jackson).

Like I said, I’m only about 40 pages in. However, while I was scrolling through teh internets, I came upon one of those stupid “what you should/shouldn’t wear” lists. From LifeScript: Healthy Living for Women (I’m already laughing, folks), is an article telling me the “Top 10 items [I will soon be] Too Old to Wear” Here are some of my favorites:

  •  I can only wear my beloved Tshirts that say stuff for another year and a month. According to this article, I have to retire my tshirts at 30 because, “the freedom to express yourself via your wardrobe is part of the teen and 20-something years… but beyond that?… ‘The message tee boom was fueled by Young Hollywood… it’s mostly a way for people to express frustration.'”  So, I guess I’m only allowed to express myself for another year, then I need to shut up and hand it all over to people younger than me.
  • Not that I like to expose my cleavage, but I am now aware that after 50, it’s no longer an option for me. That’s because, according to the article, “‘An older woman shouldn’t feel she needs to show it all off. Anything below the middle of your [bustline] has got to go,’ DeMartino says. ‘A little goes a long way,’ writes Krupp, who in her book bans excessive ‘boobage’ past the age of 40 and warns readers not to display too much sagging skin.”  That’s right, women who are 50+ need to cover up because they have “too much sagging skin” [read: not attractive anymore; gross – read: younger *should* show cleavage – read: women are to constantly be aware of, and compliant to, the male gaze]
  • Now, I don’t do much with my hair beyond a simple pony tail, because I don;t like it down and I’m too lazy to do anything else with it. BUT. If I feel like putting something cute in my hair (it happens), like my tshirts, I’m only allowed to don these items until I’m 30. Because, “whether it’s flowery scrunchies, banana clips or your daughter’s plastic kiddie barrettes, whimsical hair accessories are not fitting for a fully grown woman.”  For the record, my grandmother, a woman in her 60’s, wore a pretty red hair gizmo over the holidays -the first time I’ve seen her wear anything in her hair in my life – and I thought she looked fabulous.

Dear Internet, Marketers – Kindly stop telling us what to wear or not wear and stop pushing us into boxes. I’ll wear what I want, how I want, for as long as I want.

 

 

 

Re-Domestication: Are We Re-Claiming the Feminine or Being Herded Back into the House?

I read an article in Forbes this morning entitled, The Redomestication Of The American Woman. It really struck a chord and I have so many things spinning through my head as a result. I will try to organize those thoughts as best as possible.

DIY Marketing: Targeting the wants/needs of the current generation

For those of you who aren’t already familiar, the last decade has seen a bit of an explosion with DIY (Do-It-Yourself)/ crafting. There are numerous concepts and ideas tied into this explosion – wanting to go green, wanting to be less dependent on/ fighting against mass consumerism, wanting to save money, hoping to make money, wanting to create something – the list is rather long, and different people come to DIY/ crafting for different reasons. I’ve seen a lot of books and sites that market themselves on taking traditional activities (sewing, crocheting, etc) and bringing them up-to-date/ de-grannifying them. (My favorite line from The AntiCraft’s AntiFesto: Never again would we be forced to gleefully execute a sweater of intarsia puppies.) I actually got a book from the library yesterday titled, The New Granny Square, which boasts that the patterns in the book “are not your granny’s granny squares!”
Of course we don’t want to do the same things our mothers and grandmothers did! But… why? Why does this marketing work and what is it saying? Is it as simple as new generation, new wrapping paper? Is it really even new wrapping paper? There is an excellent article in the Fall 2007 Interweave Crochet magazine, “Crochet Heydays”, that discusses the cultural role of crochet in the 1960’s and 70’s. From the IC article:

Crochet was play, but in the late sixties it was also political as a highly visible communication of a generation’s radically different values. Crochet was one way to express the young generation’s need to craft its own image and identity and to move beyond conformity and the status quo.

So much for being different from our parents and grandparents, huh?

Who’s Space is it Anyway?

Handicrafts such as knitting, sewing, etc. have traditionally been considered to be feminine. Because women were homemakers for so many years (and in many parts of the world, still are), there is a kind of social tendency to associate these activities with femaleness. Do we still feel this way as a society? I’ve seen a handful of knitting books and blogs geared toward men (See: Knitting with Balls and a similarly titled blog Knits with Balls that I follow), 6bdf47c13bd10525354272ea646edfccbut these still seem to be novelties to me. By and large, most books and patterns are still written with women in mind. But at least we’re starting to acknowledge the fact that men like to pick up hooks and needles too.
I can remember going through a phase during high school/ my first couple years of college where I was steadfastly tomboy and wouldn’t give the time of day to anything traditionally deemed “feminine” or “girly”. I considered myself to be a feminist and, at the time, I was convinced that somehow wearing men’s cargo jeans and working on cars with my Dad was somehow superior to wearing a dress, carrying a purse and cooking or fashion. Of course, I eventually realized that what I was doing was still giving power to men/ maleness/ masculinity and denying myself things I would come to love. (I am reminded here, of the song “What it feels like for a Girl” by Madonna, where she intros, “Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, cause its ok to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, cause you think that being a girl is degrading.”)
So, as I read the Forbes article, I can certainly understand her concern that, “scratching at the organically-sanitized surface … is the haunting notion that the pro-creativity movement is in bed with strong societal forces to bring women closer to procreativity (and ideally “full-time” motherhood) …” However, I think, so long as we are aware of what is going on, aware of our own interests in these activities, and we’re not choosing to engage or not engage in them based on what society’s ideals for us are according to what we have between our legs, I think we’re safe. The important thing is having options, knowing what they are, and making our own choices. (I suddenly want to watch Mona Lisa Smile for the millionth time. Re: The part where Julia Stile’s character tells Julia Roberts’ character, “This *is* what I want.”)

T-shirt Memes, Humor, and What They Tell Us About Ourselves.

I was scrolling through my Facebook this morning and came across a link one of my friends had posted about a former TV star speaking out against certain t-shirt JC Penney had been selling a few months ago (they have since stopped). Here is the link if you’d like to read it yourself: Former “Blossom” Star Speaks Out About Controversial T-shirts

This is not the first I’d heard about these shirts, and it really isn’t just JC Penney. I can remember, maybe a year ago, while sorting through clothes at the second hand store that is my current day job, I came across a woman’s t-shirt reading “Why do I need brains when I have THESE?” written across the chest. I couldn’t tell you where it originated, but it could honestly have come from any number of stores.

The T-Shirt Meme

It wasn’t until after WWII and into the the 1950’s that t-shirts as we know them really came onto the scene. Before that, the t-shirt was really nothing more than underwear. They started off rather plain and nondescript. While I don’t know exactly when, I can peg it to sometime in the 60’s when these simple pieces of clothing started to evolve into the forms of art and expression we know them to be. Tie-dye, the iconic Happy Face and a wide range of other designs were to be found.

”]Amid all this decoration and corporate advertising over the last half century, it’s really hard to truly pinpoint when we started designing these shirts more to be read than just gawked at. Some pages claim it was the 80’s, some the later part of the 90’s. Having been a child in the 80’s, I can remember wearing shirts and dresses with slogans on them, band tees and Disney characters with the occasional adorable caption. I also remember a lot of home-made fabric paint/ applique artwork as a child. Applique ::shudders::
I didn’t really start noticing t-shirts with no other designs aside from the one-liner until I was in High School (of course, I wasn’t yet working and thus able to actually shop for myself before then). Whenever they began, it seems to me that we are becoming increasingly hooked on all these encompassing one-liners (and the occasional paragraph). Our t-shirts are reflections of ourselves, our personalities, our beliefs and convictions. They make bold statements about political issues or just make us laugh with witty remarks on everyday miscellany.

What’s So Funny?

The biggest question that Mayim Bialik is trying to ask in her statement is why do we find this phrase to be humorous? Indeed, when we try to actually understand why we find a thing funny, we are learning about ourselves and our society. There was actually an entire section on this subject in one of my Linguistic Anthropology classes at UIUC, and I suddenly find myself wishing I had kept those textbooks. We use humor to make statements about our world and how we fit into it.  We use jokes to address difficult subject matter in a way that connects us to others and helps us cope. Comedians look to culture and society to find their material and similarly, we can turn the mirror around. So when we read the phrase, “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother does it for me”, why would we find this even remotely funny? Our cultural history has long placed women and girls as these creatures who are valued by their beauty.
You find it in artwork hundreds of years old, in the traditional archetypes. Women are glorified as chaste and beautiful goddesses or maidens, or chastised for their tempestuous sexuality, or mocked for their lack of physical beauty. It has only really been within the last 30-40 years that we’ve started to see women entering the workforce and daring to do jobs traditionally assigned to men. Before that, if a woman hoped for a relatively well to do life, she needed to find and charm a successful man to marry her. The idea being that if you’re attractive, you’re more likely to have a better life. For men, the jobs that brought about more prestige and more money were those jobs that utilized their brain-power more than their brawn. (Your classic blue-collar/ white-collar distinction). So, the successful man was intelligent and clever while the successful woman was physically appealing. Even once we started seeing more “smart women” archetypes, they tended to be dowdy or plain and usually single. (Note Daphne vs Velma from Scooby Doo)  The idea here is that, pretty women don’t have to resort to using their brains because they can find a successful man to provide for her. We still see this idea as a driving force in our popular culture today. (Hello, Desperate Housewives?)

Despite advances women have made in Western society to be considered equal to a man, we’re still living in a half-changed world. It is this tipping back into lingering archetypes and gender roles that makes the shirt both funny and offensive. Some would even argue that it’s funnier _because_ it’s offensive – a resistance to change and a satire of the recent cultural conscience and awakening.
While I am glad to see JC Penny has removed the shirts, I know that this is the tip of a large iceberg.

Some of my t-shirts

Fitting for the tone of this post...

Now 10 years old and falling apart, I bought this shirt with my first paycheck at age 16.

From CafePress.com, this is my first internet only tee.

Made by the artist, Mary Tumulty.