Stop Telling Us What to Wear: Mini Rant

biteme

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.

 

 

 

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Emulation: Part 2

What is a furry?

Trying to define exactly what is furry is actually quite an undertaking, despite my familiarity with the subject. You see, furries and the furry fandom are quite complex. From a very basic standpoint, a furry is an anthropomorphic animal, either a human dressed as an animal or an artistic representation of an animal taking on somewhat human characteristics (sometimes –but not always – bipedalism, speech, primate-like hands, etc). From this definition, Mickey Mouse would be considered a furry, as would the guy dressed as the Easter Bunny in the mall every spring. However, it’s not quite that simple. The furry fandom (the over-arching community of people who consider themselves furry, or who appreciate furry art) isn’t even in total agreement as to exactly just what constitutes a “furry” and what is just some guy in a bunny suit.

The Costume

When you look into the wardrobe of the furry community, you’ll find a wide range of selections from a fursuit that covers the entire body and face, to a simple collar. As aspects of furry culture enter the mainstream culture (mostly by way of anime), it is becoming more common to see people wearing mittens that look like paws or hats with ears on them. (In fact, I believe one of the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch books has a pattern for knitted cat ear hats.) However, as these elements become more acceptable and more mainstream, is it still “furry”?

My friend, Emily, in a knitted hat with cat ears. Yes, she made that 🙂

A Shared Culture

It seems to me, that what really sets apart a furry from a mall employee in a bunny suit, is a shared culture or sub-culture. Tygerwolfe, the author of Furry Logic (source 5), did some Freshman level ethnography of sorts on “Prancing Skiltaire” furries. Noting the demographics, she found most of the group (whose human forms could be visibly observed) were Caucasian and males predominated. In asking some of the furries why they chose to become furries, the responses were along the lines of respect for/ wanting to emulate their chosen animal and wanting to not be human for awhile. Indeed, being a furry allows for actions such as nuzzling or grooming which are inappropriate as a human, but are perfectly acceptable while one is “in character”. I can definitely see the allure of this… even as humans we have a need to feel loved and accepted, and physical closeness/ touch can be hard to find in everyday life sometimes. Several of the furries she interviewed also stated that they dressed as their chosen animal to feel closer to it somehow.

Mental Shifts

A mental shift is simply what the name implies, your mind shifts focus.  As Vexen Crabtree (author of source 3) points out, a mental shift itself is a normal thing, “Rugby players performing a dance before a game are enticing a mental shift. Some football fans hype themselves up to the extent that they undergo a mental shift whilst attending a game. Certain forms of martial art train and entice adherents to perform mental shifts during meditation or training…” In this context, the shift is from the human self to the animal (furry) self. There is a large overlap of furries and therians (people who feel such a deep connection to their animal that the animal is a part of who they are, or that they harness the animal’s spirit or power – similar in concept to having a spirit guide, but slightly different) and so, for some, becoming furry can be a near spiritual exercise.

In Closing/ Food for Thought

I first became acquainted with the term “furry” around 2005. I was looking up pictures of foxes (I’ve always been fascinated with them… they’re just gorgeous creatures) and chanced upon the artwork of Justin Pearce. Though, in a sense, I’ve been drawn to furries since I was a small child, long before I even really knew what they were. I can remember, as a very little girl, pretending I was cat. I used to try to curl up and sleep on the arm or back of the couch like our cats did. I would lick the back of my hand to wash my face and try to have conversations in cat-speak with our cats, as if I had some inter-special link to them that no one else had. Many children, actually, mimic animals as part of play. Even as adults, animals still hold importance and power for us. The Ranting Gryphon (source 4) wrote an interesting post that discusses the use of animals as symbols/ communication/ language. He cites company and team names incorporating animals in the names:

Without our animal symbols, the Miami Dolphins would be the Miami Intelligent-Yet-Very-Quick-And-Elegants. You would no longer own a Ford Mustang. It would be a Ford Wild-Majestic-And-Powerful. We use animals to capture the essence of their character in our communication, and in doing so, we add a fanciful and whimsical flair to our society and our human world.

He has a good point. Animals do carry cultural significance and symbolism/ connotations, so many that we would come up lacking if we erased them from our lives. It also makes sense considering how important animals have been to us in the past. Animals were the central subject matter of cave paintings, some of the earliest gods were animals, or part animal-part human. From a certain standpoint, furry-ism, if you will, is really just a re-boot of some very old concepts.

Sources

1) Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furry_fandom

2) PeterCat’s Furry InfoPage.  http://www.tigerden.com/~infopage/furry/

3) An Intimate Exploration of Furry Fandom.  http://www.humantruth.info/furry.html

4) The Ranting Gryphon. http://ranting-gryphon.com/Information/whatisfurry.htm

5) Anthropology 100 – Furry Logic. http://www.tygerwolfe.com/?page_id=344

6) Furry Psychology 101: Types of Furry. http://skuffcoyote.livejournal.com/70336.html

Thoughts About: Embroidered Textiles by Sheila Paine

A couple of posts back, one of my readers gave me what has been perhaps the nicest compliment I have been paid to date. She commented upon the amount of thought and research I put into my posts, and that really made my day.  I am always reading and doing research on different textile traditions, DIY procedures, symbolism, etc. I thought I might give an overview and share a few of my thoughts on what I feel are some of the more influential works I have encountered. I will henceforth call this category of posts “Thoughts About”.

The last couple of weeks I have been reading Embroidered Textiles: A World Guide to Traditional Patterns by Sheila Paine. I borrowed a copy from my local library, but after having read it, I will certainly be purchasing a copy to add to my bookshelf for continual reference.
This book is full of brilliant, stunning photos and information about embroidery from around the world. She breaks the information down into 4 chapters.

The first of these is “Guide to Identification” which breaks down major traditions by region and points out key identifying elements of the embroidery work. I have to give her props for including a brief mention of Hmong (which she refers to as Miao… which is indeed another name, but by and large they prefer to be called Hmong) and their work, which I wholeheartedly admire.

Chapters two and three, “The Decorative Power of Cult” and “Religion and its Patterns” respectively, deal with symbolism within embroidery as it relates to the divine and otherworldly. Both chapters look at meanings and how some of the representations have changed through time.  The only real difference between the chapters is that “cult” refers to earlier objects of worship such as the sun and the goddess and significant events like hunting, whereas “religion” is meant to refer to major religions as we know of them them today with their rules and structure, such as Christianity and Buddhism.

The final chapter, “The Magical Source of Protection”, looks at decoration as charm or talisman. Locations of stitchwork, beads or trinkets that are added into the embroidery, even the colors used all have a function and a meaning.

I love this book because it is such a rich source of information on symbolism and communication within textiles around the world… everything that I am interested in and that this blog serves to discuss. I will likely be referencing this book again and again in the future. 🙂

The Original Lord of the Dance (Stand aside Michael Flatley)

Last week I talked about the Batman quilt I am making for my brother, and I mentioned how it all started with that center panel. Well, I have an idea for my next quilt, and the concept is similar. I have another centerpiece that I need to design around. I don’t know where it originated, but I stumbled upon it at the Goodwill in Champaign, IL.

This is the Nataraja. The name comes from the words nadanam, meaning “dance” and raja, meaning “lord” or “king”. The image is of the Hindu god Shiva dancing tandava, which has the power to destroy and re-create the universe.

Now, I am not Hindu, in fact, the only thing I ever learned in High School about Shiva was that he is “The Destroyer” and is part of the trinity in Hinduism (Brahma – The Creator, Vishnu – The Preserver, and Shiva – The Destroyer) and that he pretty much just tore up the universe and was this destructive force. I have, however, done my own research and reading since then.. and I find the legends and the stories fascinating, and just because I may not worship a particular deity, does not mean I shouldn’t treat it with proper respect.
And so it is that while wanting to incorporate this Nataraja panel into a quilt, I feel I should approach the design with that respect in mind. What kinds of symbols are important? Are there any mantras or poojas (prayers) that belong to him that would be appropriate to applique somewhere? Being the script lover I am, I think it would be beautiful to try to work some text into the design.. but I want to make sure it’s appropriate before I just do it. So, I’ve been trying to do some research this afternoon, trying to learn more about Shiva and the tandava dance.

Here are the basic characteristics of the nataraja, according to Source 4:

Though there are minor variations, the characteristic features of Nataraj are as follows: he is shown with four hands, two on either side. The upper left hand holds a flame, the lower left hand points down to the demon Muyalaka, who is shown holding a cobra. The demon is being crushed by Shiva’s right foot; the other foot is raised. The upper right hand holds a drum, the lower one is in the abhaymudra, ‘be without fear’. Shiva’s hair is braided and jewelled, but some of his locks whirl as he dances; within the folds of his hair are a wreathing cobra, a skull, and the figure of Ganga. The entire figure stands on a lotus pedestal and is fringed by a circle of flames, which are touched by the hands holding the drum and the fire.

There is so much symbolism in that image alone, and because I do want the image to be the central focus, I want to be careful not to make the background too busy.  Here are a couple of very simple concept drawings:

With this first concept, I am considering the fact that Shiva brings about both creation and destruction. One corner begins as solid blue and increasingly breaks apart (becomes destroyed) as it moves closer toward the center (where Shiva is). As it progresses onward toward the other corner, pieces of pink begin to form, solidifying more as you arrive at the bottom corner (something new has been created). I chose the colors blue and pink not only because they are present in the panel and will look nice, but also because Shiva in one sense (Ardhanareeswara)  is also both male and female.^3   I have also put columns on either side of the main panel where I might be able to incorporate appropriate text (depending on space, this could be appliqued or embroidered).

This second concept incorporates some other symbols related to Shiva. Specifically, he has a crescent moon on his head from which the Ganga (the Ganges River) is supposed to flow. According to source 3:

Shiva bears on his head the crescent of the panchami (fifth day) moon. This is placed near the fiery third eye and this shows the power of Soma, the sacrificial offering, which is the representative of moon. It means that Shiva possesses the power of procreation along with the power of destruction. The moon is also a measure of time, thus Crescent also represent his control over time.

The other symbol is the snake, which Shiva wears as a necklace (though in the nataraja images the snake is around his waist). This is supposed to signify that:

Shiva is beyond the powers of death and is often the sole support in case of distress. He swallowed the poison kalketu for the wellbeing of the Universe. The deadly cobra represents that “death” aspect that Shiva has thoroughly conquered. The cobras around his neck also represent the dormant energy, called Kundalini, the serpent power. The snake curled three times around the neck of Lord Shiva depicts the past, present and future time. The snake looking in the right direction of Lord Shiva signifies that the Lord’s perpetual laws of reason and justice preserve natural order in the universe.

As yet I am not entirely satisfied with either of my concepts, but it is a starting point. I’m now more interested in doing this quilt than I was previously… I have always been keenly fascinated by duality- good/evil, creation/destruction..    and I find it a fitting link to the fact that a lot of the textile work I do involves creating new projects from old clothes or other fabrics.. destroying several pairs of jeans to cut out small diamond pieces and shaping them into a star, tearing apart an old dress and re-inventing it with some lace.

Sources

1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bksp8mpTeYY – A basic intro video about Lord Shiva

2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nataraja – The Wiki article about the Nataraja (Shiva in his dancing form)

3) http://www.mahashivratri.org / – A very informative site with legends and festival info as well.

4) http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Religions/Avatars/Natar.html – The main site itself provides a wide variety of information about India, on everything from religion to social issues to history to the diaspora. Very good, and created by a History Professor at UCLA.

5) http://www.deeshaa.org/tandava-shivas-cosmic-dance/ – A blog post which breaks down Shiva and Nataraja in such a way that it is easily understandable by someone not totally knowledgeable about him (i.e. Me).