Monthly Archives: May 2013

I Suppose I Must Look Like Something

by Tova Kardonne

francesca-woodman-300x292

image by Francesca Woodman

The process of blowing one’s nose is fairly magical. Or maybe it seems to be so to me,  because of what I like to call my Vortex Zone. Bring anything too close to my head,  like a tissue, and it disappears into an unobserved void. I have this whole elaborate faith requiring that the tissues and things are still there, even when the evidence is merely inferential— the same goes for my neck. I have only indirect evidence of my neck. As my fingers approach the spot where I believe my neck to be, THEY disappear, too. Very convenient, no? I should rather say my reputed neck. My alleged neck. Sure, mirrors are interesting devices. But why insist that only the flat ones tell true? New-fangled demontoys. They can be conned. I’ll never know what’s really down there.

One goes through one’s day—tum-te-tum-te-tum— seeing everyone else with their nicely attached head, no obvious Vortex Zone in sight. I could be the only one with a discontinuous bit from the mid-chest on up.

Beauty and beauty-concealing modesty have a similar quality of fictitiousness to me, yet there is this one thing that makes immediate sense about covering the hair, parts of the face and back; it prevents other people from seeing more of me than I see of myself. I like that idea. Knowing that other people are more familiar with those parts than I am, I can’t help but feel a little sad. O! Dear cheek, with whom I will spend my life in intimate contact, thou shalt remain forever a relative stranger. I may write lovelorn epistles to my adam’s apple, as we are never destined to meet.

I sincerely hope we are never destined to meet.

Sigh.

Bodies are such long-suffering bystanders. Twisted personalities can, and often do, inhabit otherwise perfectly well-meaning elbows, scalps, and buttocks. Sometimes, I see a fist about to come down upon some object or person and I think, such loyalty from all those fingers. They stick together; they toe the line. The agitated goon inside says, “punch!” and they, the working-class digits, all unknowing of the consequences, do as they’re told. After all, that’s their job. But they do it out of love, more than anything. That, and an implicit trust that it’s for the greater good. The very skin cells that hold us together each have their own little legs. It’s true! Each individual skin cell on your hide could just up and walk away, if it really wanted to (and was relatively close to the surface, or had the consent of the skin cells which might hinder its exit). The rest of your body would be up the creek without them, but skin cells, given some rare-but-not-impossible conditions, could go la-de-da and wiggle merrily away with never a backward glance.

Frankly I don’t know why they don’t. It’s not a democracy in here, inside a human body. Sure, back room deals are made, and various parts have more say than they’d ever let on, but it’s hardly “one wiggly-bit, one vote”. This is, for all intents and purposes, a
dictatorship. If the Brain says suicide, it’s suicide for all, no matter how delighted with life some out-of-the-way, back-woods mole might be feeling. Only love can explain the solidarity, the committed togetherness of all the billions of independent wiggly-bits who clearly have very few common interests.

But to return to my original point: the Vortex Zone. I conjecture that the Vortex Zone is all the fault of the eyes. Obviously, this is another matter of faith. The Eye Hypothesis, though sketchy, allows me to go on believing so many other things I hold dear—the belief that I can tell when other people see me, for example, simply by observing their eyes; a belief that is moreover completely unprovable— that I cling to it with a blindness and a passion to rival the zealots of the late Roman period. Weak though the evidence may be, I believe that the reason the Zone is located just where it is has to do with the fact that I, like several other people whom I have properly observed, have eyes, and that the location of my eyes in my head blocks them from observing some bits that are so intimately tied to my identity; like my mouth, or the reputed source of my hair… even my eyes themselves. I fervently believe. The real source of my visual field, whatever it truly is, feels like a centre. The Vortex Zone feels—I apologize for all the intolerably fuzzy language—like the central location of me.

From whence I must need trespass into the political.

Does it not strike you as massively unfair? How DARE they? The hubris, the incorrigible pride of eyes. How dare that one measly organ fancy-shmancily set itself up as the locus of my own dear self? A famously elusive person. But what a muddled creature I am! To invent a mythical being, My Eyes, and then get mad at it for the characteristics I insist it have!

There must be another way. Can I not keep my Myth figure, but re-invent the mythology?

It almost never succeeds. Except for in Mythology.

Alrighty then.

Once upon a time, I had Eyes, located in the Vortex Zone probably known to others as my head, but of which I myself have no direct experience. These Eyes had no greater influence on my sense of presence than any other, less Mythic part. They would regularly consult with my fingers, for example, in ascertaining the shape of objects, and their distance from the rest of my body. As helpful-but-not-tyrannical organs, I liked them very much, and I inferred that any information they pass me about other people must similarly not be allowed to have too much importance.

There. That’s better.

Gargalesis (Do We Not Laugh?) by Kristan Saloky

Gargalesis (Do We Not Laugh?)
by Kristan Saloky

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The Makeup Question

By: Amorina Kingdon

Put down that palette! Unhand that undereye concealer! (or is it corrector?) Leggo the lipstick!

Do you know why are you doing this? Because, objectively, ‘this’ is a bit silly. It’s face paint that will prohibit you from swimming, eating, drinking or sweating. It can go wrong so easily, it must be constantly managed but never acknowledged.

Do you consider your face a canvas, are you exultant when you create successful illusions of whatever side of your personality landed face-up today?

Or do you trudge to the vanity believing your visage is too offensive to bear, eyes bugged and dark, pinched lips subsuming back into the creased and cratered skin from whence they came?

Whichever it is, tarry a moment and consider your makeup in the here and now. First consider what it’s costing you; and then, why you’re doing it in the first place.

Can You Afford It?

Time and money wise, ladies are already at a bit of a disadvantage. We make less; we have less disposable income. And time-wise, you’re likely pulling a little bit of double-duty after work with respect to housework.

However, studies also show women who wear the right amount of makeup are considered more likeable, competent, and trustworthy, and ultimately earn a higher salary in conventional workplaces. (While the study was funded by a company that owns several makeup brands, one might also say they were after low-hanging fruit.)

So what price likable?

Lets say you do the bare minimum; skin, lipstick, mascara, concealer. There’s ten, maybe fifteen minutes a day. But what if you want to maximize ‘trustworthiness and competence?’ Foundation, concealer, blush and bronzer will take ten to fifteen minutes. Eye primer, eyeshadow, and eyeliner, fifteen or twenty. Lips in five. Add five minutes for mistakes. Forty-five minutes a day.

What about money? For a basic routine, (or mild ‘competence’), foundation is fifteen dollars at the drugstore, every month. Mascara, ten; lipstick, twelve; concealer another ten. Let’s say that modest makeup is a modest cell phone bill. At a high-end store, the same modest haul will set you back at least a hundred dollars.

But if you want to maximize your competence, the drugstore will run you about a hundred for skin, eyes and lips. High-end stores will take you into multiple hundreds, excluding brushes, cleansing cloths, eyelash curlers, and other tools. What price trustworthiness?

This may seem like a trivial question, but if a women wants to break glass ceilings and earn equal salaries, it’s really not. It’s true that not all occupations have these gendred expectations of appearance: in media or entertainment, men and women alike wear makeup, while in many trades makeup is required for neither. But the sorts of jobs that do – finance, marketing, IT, service and so on – are many woman’s most realistic path to financial independence. And on this path, they must consider makeup: an ostensibly optional task that requires the sacrifice of what amounts to a cell phone, a daily heart to heart with a friend, and day-long maintenance with potential for ridicule if it goes wrong.

And that is without considering what else is sacrificed alongside: anything outside a strange homogenous female mask in these workplaces. Men are certainly held to some standards of appearance, but they are never quite so Revlon-ColourStay-#2-Buff-esque as the almost interchangeable Professional Woman. On paper, summed up, makeup seems like a shit deal.

And yet most are willing to pay. This testifies not just to strong social pressure, but to the fear of very real losses if women don’t play along. Will you ever know if you were really passed up for that sales rep job because you just weren’t that ‘likeable’? Do you seem ‘competent’ enough to be an effective project lead? Do you just not seem ‘trustworthy’ enough to manage a branch?

Do these words sound familiar?

(The study also found the women wearing the most makeup were the sexiest but least trustworthy. Walk the line between asset and liability well, ladies.)

Makeup: Must We?

And all this when we might actually be having fun! I mean, it is socially acceptable for adult women to wear face paint! We used to pay for that privilege as kids, for fun! And some of us still do…do you do it when no one is watching? Have you, some bored evening, gleefully experimented with cat-eye liner and bold red lips? If that sounds familiar, go nuts! Fuck the PO-lice.

But it’s never that simple. Before it has a chance to be fun, it’s medicine for the disease of being a unique, flesh and blood female, and there is something especially poisonous about the idea that your face needs adjustment to be acceptable. This is why, for the vast majority of my life, I flatly refused makeup.

Bare-faced Lies

Nine: Homemade green and purple figure skating dress.

My mother was, blessedly, not like the other rink mothers, in big fur coats in the cold bleachers, anxious and competitive. But even she knew that no girl could skate a competition without heavily applied makeup.

So I sat in a hockey dressing room while she swabbed Cover Girl on my budding zits. It crusted, and matched my mother’s darker skin, not mine, making the blemish more obvious. It came from a bag my mother seems to  have a love-hate relationship with. All I really know about makeup is that she will not leave the house without it, and is always the last to be ready because of it, yet she takes no apparent pleasure in it.

Seeing myself in the cracked rink mirror, a piebald, cake-faced doll, I cement my opinion: Makeup is stupid, holds you up, and makes you look ridiculous.

Fourteen. Christmas. The uncle who took me on huge hikes, who taught me to climb a tree and how to pace myself, hands me a gift bag. Inside is a makeup palette. My brother receives a carbon steel hunting knife.

Seventeen. Birthday. I receive a massive pallette of eyeshadows, blushes, lipsticks and mascaras. “Ooo”, everyone choruses.

“Thank you,” I force out through gritted teeth. Have they ever seen me wear makeup? No, and I suspect that is the point. It all goes in my closet, unused, until it starts to smell of crayons and I have an excuse to throw them out.

Something changed between eight and thirteen. The women in my life, friends and family as a one, decided I needed makeup, that I should take in interest in it, and that if I hadn’t yet, I would. On occasion, as I brushed my teeth, my mother approached from behind, concealer already on her finger, and snaked an arm about me, trying to cover up blemishes (she is only trying to help, so I don’t feel embarrassed walking down the street, and I don’t need to get so mad.)

I was mad. It seemed absurd that they expected any other reaction, given how annoyed makeup seemed to make them. I knew that women wore makeup not because they liked it but because they hated how they looked without it. And considering that the idea ‘appearances don’t matter’ is a ubiquitous childhood mantra, (not to mention that makeup is often shorthand for “ditzy shallow girls with nothing better to do”) their obsession with makeup seemed at best confused and at worst hypocritical.

And there was another, darker side to my anger. One I am ashamed to acknowledge. The makeup my friends and family bestowed upon me was not a quality tool for a specific purpose; it was the cheapest they could find. They never asked my skin tone, or the shape of my eye: it makeup for makeup’s sake, the rink all over again. And truthfully, I doubt those who kept buying it for me knew or tried to learn any techniques beyond rubbing foundation and brushing mascara. My fellow females did not want me to Look Good; they wanted me simply to Wear Makeup, to labour under the same yoke, and it bothered them that I did not. You could fairly hear my friends wondering: why isn’t Ami ashamed to go out without makeup like the rest of us? When will she finally feel bad enough?

And here we come to it: in their frantic machinations, in silvered eyes and drugstore steals, I sensed the simmering anger of their own grinding obligation to smear, to daub, to contour. Did I not start to get a hint that generic, obligatory makeup was a self-abnegation, a neutering, that came from some deep well of irrational shame of their own individual face; a sort of self-administered tarring and feathering? Was it something that purportedly made them unique and beautiful but actually felt like the opposite to them, and that was why they did it?

And so I was angry, and I wore no makeup.

And then, quite recently, that changed.

I wandered into an online forum a few months ago, because someone had posted a striking picture of iridescent green eyeshadow on an image board. Rather than looking like Mimi from Drew Carey, it was – artistic. It was clearly a work of skill, and more, it looked fun. I kept clicking, and slowly found a community – men and women – who clearly espoused two values, previously alien to me, that have changed my mind about makeup: They did it solely for themselves, and they valued quality and skill. Some worked in theatre, others as professional makeup artists. Some just loved to play.

And I finally admitted something to myself. I do want to play with makeup. And I mean play. I just refused to accept the self-loathing that seemed to go along with it.

So one spring day when cherry trees were blooming and the skating rink was a lifetime away, I bought a quality brush set, pigmented shadows and bold red lip stain. And instead of fretting I was doing it wrong, I painted my eyelid like a full peacock tail, aggressive and eye-catching. And for the first time in my life, it didn’t feel like it was smothering anything. It felt like…a tool.

Slowly, I tried other things. Curled brows. Scarlet lips.

The childhood mantras about appearance weren’t wrong in a close-knit community, but they were oversimplified, especially in a big city. You meet hundreds of people every day and the only thing they can possibly know about you is what they see. Rather than a time and money sink, a tool for self-loathing and homogenization, when you see it as a tool, makeup can be fun. Something that can give energy instead of take it, showcase a personality and not erase it.

I dream of world where we can all do this.

A Celebration of Fat

Suddenly, it went from winter to summer. Suddenly, we feel almost naked without our winter wear, our coats, our hats our scarves. Suddenly, all eyes are upon us. This month, the Blasfemmers tackle beauty– what is it, what does it mean, what do you do with it, what do you do without it, is it even real? The post this week is a story and a musing on FAT with an F by Amy Medvick.

It was a year ago— no, a little more— that season when no matter what, you feel chilly outdoors but hot indoors.  A friend wanted to meet for drinks. I felt reclusive but the duties of friendship roused me, made me drink tea and dress. The liminal weather made it hard: pants or skirt’n’tights, sweater or jacket? My desire to hide, which ebbs and flows, was strong and further complicated things. At times I am filled with the irrational sensation that I am expanding, that my ass and belly can’t be contained but desperately need to be else I separate into blobs and float apart like water in the vacuum of space.

 Actually, I’ll be a little more forthright: it’s called a Fat Day. It’s that day when you wake and wonder how you managed to fit in your clothes all those days before, when someone asks if you are pregnant because, despite having lost 25lbs, you couldn’t cope without crawling into that maternity-wear-looking thing you wear on Fat Days. That day when you imagine that everyone is distracted and off-put by your sudden sprouting of belly or double chin, when you remind yourself that you really need to stop eating bread, like, forever, starting tomorrow.

 There are two ways to deal with a Fat Day—you either Let It Flow or Rein It In.

 If I’m just going to work or staying home, or joining the company of family, close friends and/or hippies, then Letting It Flow is just fine. Leggings with elastic waistbands, loose blouses, empire-waist dresses, those magical drapey sweater-things that don’t do up at the front but just dangle ambiguously. These clothes don’t always feel like me, but they are comfy and so I’m not constantly reminded of myself.

 But if I’m going out, knowing I’ll be seen and assessed, perhaps recognized from a gig, and ever carrying that secret wish that tonight I’ll attract a mate, then I simply have to Rein It In. That corset of skinny jeans and tight black t-shirts, that examining of myself in the mirror until I find the one posture I deem flattering, resolving to only stand that way all night, my back muscles protesting at the thought.

 BUT. I do have one article of clothing that is a lifesaver: The Blazer. A simple black blazer, two buttons, no frills. It is one of the most useful things I own, on par with a good kitchen knife or a computer. It’s professional enough to wear to work, but with a bright coloured dress has a confident casualness that I can take to a party, no problem. It has a way of flattening the belly, accentuating the bust, but also squaring the shoulders, saying Yes, I am shaped the way you want a woman to be shaped, and I also mean BUSINESS!

 So, on that night of liminal weather and fluctuating body image, I donned The Blazer, shielding from scrutiny that uncomfortable line where my pants meet my shirt, and went to meet my friend at our local hipster watering hole.

 Now, I want to stop for a sec, because I have something to say. If, perchance, you are an ignorant asshole, you might be thinking, Shit, this fat chick talks too much. I bet she never gets laid. If you are a compassionate person, you may be thinking, Someone needs to tell this girl she’s beautiful just the way she is, inside and out or She will be so much happier when she stops judging herself by impossible supermodel standards.  Well, you’re both wrong. The first, because you are an ignorant asshole. The second, because I can tell you: I’ve heard and done and been all that. But, it’s just not that simple.

 See, strip away the clothing—not to mention the scrutiny of our fat-hating society– and I actually think I’m pretty hot stuff. My legs are short but have an excellent shape, my ass is a nice intermediate size that can satisfy a wide variety of tastes in ass-size, my skin is freakin’ soft, one big silky sense organ, and my tits, though smallish, are quite frankly perfect, and always get rave reviews at their unveiling. The only thing I’m not sold on is my belly, but hey—what can you do, eh? No one’s perfect. But all in all, when I look at the naked ensemble in the mirror, I think, Damn, I’m like a really short Greek goddess. If we still wore the clothes women did back in those days (and most of the world’s cultures that don’t share the West’s Fat-o-Fobia still do), then I would the ballin’ belle-of-the-ball.

 But, I live in a world of skinny jeans and quadruple push-up under-wire bras and waist-cinching belts to give you that hourglass silhouette (except they don’t, it just looks like I have a thing there around my non-hourglass belly). These clothes just don’t fit my body. If I wear the clothes that do fit me, I can’t fully participate in fashion the way my creativity and role as a “hip musician” require me to. I can almost smell the judgement that labels me as some sort of muu-muu-wearing pariah when I Let It Flow. So often I Rein It In, squeezed into wired bras and tight pants, uncomfortable and failing at a contest I never wanted to win, so that I look plugged into pop culture, the kind of girl you want to hang with, whose band you want to go see. I cling to those rare pieces that are hip, render me acceptable looking, and are actually comfortable, and I think, If these people could only see me NAKED!!!

 As for where a thin body will get you with men, well… that’s all malarkey. My Year of Promiscuity was undertaken at a size 10 on a 5’2” frame. I’ve suffered prolonged sex-droughts at a size 6. I’ve taken many lovers, men with many wonderful traits. Some were beautiful themselves, others great appreciators of beauty, and most have thought me beautiful and said so. I haven’t always agreed with them, but I’ve had to conclude they were sincere. The alternative is that they were all in on an elaborate conspiracy to make me feel beautiful when I’m not, which is a scenario that I’ve actually considered and then dismissed as being unlikely. The simplest conclusion is that there are very desirable men out there who think I am beautiful, whether because of my fat or despite it, I don’t know.

 But alongside those men are others. The perfect example is a guy who was ostensibly the most physically unattractive man I have ever taken to bed. I was nonetheless attracted to him because, until the following occurred, I was enjoying his company and hadn’t given a coherent thought to his looks. It just didn’t impact the value I assigned him as a human being or one-night lover. He was telling a story about meeting a girl at the park: “She was beautiful, really beautiful, you know, skinny, and she came and started talking to me.”

 He told me how the universe answered his prayer and let him talk to this dream-girl, her only qualifiers being “beautiful” and “skinny”, and wasn’t he lucky and wasn’t that proof of miracles, and blabitty blah, tossing the word “skinny” off as if it was a currency that I was universally bound to accept as legal tender for beauty. I was too angry to even begin to articulate all the things wrong with that. Like, why, if the only word you can find to describe beauty is “skinny”, did you bother hooking up with me? Why am I supposed to be OK with you reminding me I don’t fit our cultural model of beauty right after we just fucked? How is it that you have no compassion for my unbeauty when you are unbeautiful yourself? I called him on it and he got all insulted: how could I think he was that kind of guy, and this is more likely something in myself that I need to work on, and blah, blah, blah. Inside, I was screaming: It’s not me, it’s our CULTURE! I work on it plenty! Its our fucking culture, which means yes, it’s in me, but it’s in you too, asshole! It’s something in YOU that YOU need to work on!

 When I recall these interactions, and the impact they had on my sense of self, positive or negative, I have to think: why does my fat or my beauty even fucking matter?!? It’s a stupid game that says nothing about what I can offer the world or another person. It’s a rendering of myself into a decoration instead of a human. FUCK all this beauty NOISE. That’s the place I have to get to, if just for awhile, before I do the things during which I will be really looked at, like climbing on stage in crazy costumes and singing my guts out, or hitting the beach in that bikini I bought in Ipanema because damn if I’m gonna stay home. I have to get to fuck that beauty noise and just deal with the fat, man.

 So this is where we live: a world in which we all know that fat does not always equal ugly and beauty does not always equal skinny and none equal value, but yet there is a conspiracy (the real one, to make us feel ugly when we’re not) in which we all pretend it does. If I want what’s out in that world, like oodles of men and commercial success, to a certain extent I have to play along because everyone else is. That means if I can’t be thin myself (and believe me, I’ve tried, but it conflicts too much with my fondness for sustaining my body with food), then I have to at least acknowledge, via deferent behaviour and compensatory clothing, that it would be better for everyone if I were. Which it wouldn’t be. But we all pretend. Conspiracy!

 SO. Like I said, on that Fat Day in early April 2012, The Blazer and I went and met my friend at our little bohemian café-cum-bar. She and I were usually there amongst our own circle, where the girls are mostly twiggy and petite, and we two would exist as the reminders that not all women are shaped that way. But that night, we knew no one. The place was, unusually, packed with almost only women, and this group of women seemed to pretty accurately represent all varieties of bodies. There were some very femme women, and some more androgynous ones too. Trance music made the walls, which were more used to Indie pop, pulse rhythmically. We theorized that we had stumbled upon a lesbian dance party, and there was only one thing to do about it: hit the floor.

 I danced with that kind of abandon that comes when you’re not being watched, not caring much what I looked like since these weren’t the folk I normally try to attract. But before long, I grew uncomfortably warm in The Blazer. And though there were no men around, and indeed this seemed like a more accepting crowd than most, I still didn’t want to take it off and admit that I do have a belly to all these people that didn’t already know.

 

Venus of Ipanemandorf

Venus of Ipanemandorf

I asked myself why not, since the range of bodies clearly asserted that I was among the small. Indeed, two girls dominated the place, veritable Venuses of Willendorf dressed in nothing but tight body suits and bright-coloured nylons, absolutely unashamed of their abundance. But I already knew that the why didn’t matter, what mattered was that it would feel bad to take it off, bottom line. Instead, I followed my friend outside when she went for a cigarette.

 We stood in the chilly air, cooling down and catching up. Other women were out too, talking and smoking, and before long a Venus joined them from inside. She talked and laughed joyfully, shivering in the minimal coverage of thin fabric. As she went back inside, my friend, without any tone of judgement, asked her, “Why are you dressed like this? Aren’t you freezing? Is it a costume or something?”

 She paused, with a sparkle in her eye and an impish smile on her mouth. “Tonight,” said the Venus, “is a Celebration of Fat!” Her voice was full of laughter as she gaily and gracefully skipped back inside, light of heart as any sylph.

 I stood there, feeling like the rug had been pulled out from under me. A Celebration of Fat? What a temptingly liberating thought! Not demonizing or being neutral about or even fetishizing, but genuinely celebrating fat?

 I was filled with a potent mix of feelings: that I was perfect and finally in company with strangers who knew it; that I wasn’t fat enough and most certainly overdressed; then the paranoid worry that somehow my moderate fat would be the Fat that Offends. And my blazer? It was reduced from an endlessly useful scrutiny-shield to an odd personal quirk.

 You are likely wondering: did I take off The Blazer and dance, revealing myself and letting my fat be adored? On that Fat Day last year in April, I wasn’t ready. Now I would be, and I wish I could return to that party in Nearly Naked splendour to celebrate what we all have at least a bit of but what is rarely celebrated. I wish I could feel that Venus’ joy in knowing that in this place, for this night, she was loved more the less she hid.

 I want to go back because I know that is the real reality, that wild celebration of human variability; but in the meantime, I have to live in this world that fears and despises fat, that requires me to either Let It Flow or Rein It In because Being Naked is still too much for it to deal with. Yes, I live in this conspiratorial world, but in the meantime I will also strive to make sure the people around me know: as for me, whatever you show me you are, whether I like it or not, I will never say you should have remained hidden.

 So, maybe sometime soon I will throw my own party to celebrate our fat, stop participating in the conspiracy, and pull the rug out from under an unsuspecting woman trapped in a perpetual Fat Day. Yes, I think I will; and of course, everyone, whatever shape or size, will be invited.