You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘welcome to the patriarchy’ tag.
Saw this article on feministe this morning and it made me think of Eleanor. I’ve deleted some stuff because it’s pretty long, but you should go read the whole article. The link to Melissa McEwan’s article about Larry Crowne is worth a look, too.
I wanted my first-year film students to understand what happens to a story when actual human beings inhabit your characters, and the way they can inspire storytelling. And I wanted to teach them how to look at headshots and what you might be able to tell from a headshot. So for the past few years I’ve done a small experiment with them.
It works like this: I bring in my giant file of head shots, which include actors of all races, sizes, shapes, ages, and experience levels. Each student picks a head shot from the stack and gets a few minutes to sit with the person’s face and then make up a little story about them. I wanted to know:
- What kind of story or genre do you think of when you see this person?
- What character are they playing in the story?
- Is there a specific role or type that comes to mind?
- What is their job?
- Maybe describe an environment, or period, or style of dress that you associate with the person.
The students then show off their actor’s photo and pitch their stories to the class and then we talk about the results. I’ve run this experiment a few times, and the students are very excited and creative with stories/genres and have a lot of fun with it. “I picture him in a Western. He’s the lone cowboy who rides through town and gets caught up in the trouble that’s going on there.”
However, some troubling shit always occurs.
Namely, for white men, they have no trouble coming up with an entire history, job, role, genre, time, place, and costume. They will often identify him without prompting as “the main character.” The only exception? “He would play the gay guy.” For white women, they mostly do not come up with a job (even though it was specifically asked for), and they will identify her by her relationships. “She would play the mom/wife/love interest/best friend.” I’ve heard “She would play the slut” or “She would play the hot girl.” A lot more than once.
For nonwhite men, it can be equally depressing. “He’s in a buddy cop movie, but he’s not the main guy, he’s the partner.” “He’d play a terrorist.” “He’d play a drug dealer.” “A thug.” “A hustler.” “Homeless guy.” One Asian actor was promoted to “villain.”
For nonwhite women (grab onto something sturdy, like a big glass of strong liquor), sometimes they are “lucky” enough to be classified as the girlfriend/love interest/mom, but I have also heard things like “Well, she’d be in a romantic comedy, but as the friend, you know?” “Maid.” “Prostitute.” “Drug addict.”
I should point out that the responses are similar whether the group is all or mostly-white or extremely racially mixed, and all the groups I’ve tried this with have been about equally balanced between men and women, though individual responses vary. Women do a little better with women, and people of color do a little better with people of color, but female students sometimes forget to come up with a job for female actors and black male students sometimes tell the class that their black male actor wouldn’t be the main guy.
Once the students have made their pitches, we interrogate their opinions. “You seem really sure that he’s not the main character – why? What made you automatically say that?” “You said she was a mom. Was she born a mom, or did she maybe do something else with her life before her magic womb opened up and gave her an identity? Who is she as a person?” In the case of the “thug“, it turns out that the student was just reading off his film resume. This brilliant African American actor who regularly brings houses down doing Shakespeare on the stage and more than once made me weep at the beauty and subtlety of his performances, had a list of film credits that just said “Thug #4.” “Gang member.” “Muscle.” Because that’s the film work he can get. Because it puts food on his table.
So, the first time I did this exercise, I didn’t know that it would turn into a lesson on racism, sexism, and every other kind of -ism. I thought it was just about casting. But now I know that casting is never just about casting, and this day is a real teachable opportunity. Because if we do this right, we get to the really awkward silence, where the (now mortified) students try to sink into their chairs. Because, hey, most of them are proud Obama voters! They have been raised by feminist moms! They don’t want to be or see themselves as being racist or sexist. But their own racism and sexism is running amok in the room, and it’s awkward.
The students aren’t stupid or malicious or evil for automatically slating the actors they way they did. They aren’t doing anything that casting directors don’t do every day. They are just reflecting the world they’ve seen on screen since they were born, the one where white men with strong jaws are the default human and everyone else is “other.”
The casting director and the studio will say “It’s just business. We’re trying to do what sells and give people what they want.” Let’s say you get to direct a big budget studio action film. Daniel Craig is interested in starring in the project. But you would love to cast Chiwitel Ejiofor, who is also great-looking and athletic and brilliant and who can definitely carry a film and even has a British accent! Both would do a bang-up job with the role, but with one actor you are guaranteed a certain box-office return and with one actor you are not, so you now have to talk your investors and the studio into shouldering more risk (and probably cutting your budget significantly or even un-greenlighting your movie or firing you, because what kind of idiot would turn down such a proven moneymaker?) So you think, I know! I’ll cast Craig as the lead but Ejiofor can be the partner (the one who dies horribly and inspires Daniel Craig to punch everyone in the world as revenge). The film will be good, everyone will make their money, no one is trying to be evil. Problem solved, right?
If you want to talk strictly aesthetics vs. politics, I think movies that are populated only with skinny under-25 white people with perfect teeth and hair who try to find love within the same 10 square blocks of New York or LA (with maybe some charming ethnic neighbors or whatever) are just… boring. Movies that star THE WALL OF DUDE + 1 TOKEN HOT LADY are boring. And then…did anyone see the trailer for Larry Crowne (as described by Melissa McEwan)? Watching that piece of mediocre bullshit before every single movie I’ve seen this summer, I can’t decide if I’m angry, bored-angry, angry-bored, or bored-bored. The sad thing is that the filmmakers are probably patting themselves on the back for not having an all-white cast and those actors are happy to get the paycheck and work with Tom Hanks.
So what I want to say to Hollywood industry folks is that you have so much power to change the way that people see themselves and the world, and if you would just dream a little bigger, we would follow you. While everyone likes looking at gorgeous people, there are a lot of definitions of gorgeous. The way we are represented on screen hold meaning and power and consequences for us. You can take risks and still be commercial. IfMachete can pass the Bechdel Test, so can you.
And for my talented and lovely students, who will make the films we’ll be watching years from now, it’s important to me to get this out in the open right at the start. Take the Red Pill, students! In school, when you’re not making commercial work and you’re not beholden to anyone for what you do, why bind yourself to reproducing what you’ve already seen?
Because if this semester I have to watch 75 films about able-bodied middle class white guys with good abs being white at other white guys, relieved only by the occasional “hot chick”, “mom”, “love interest” ,”thug”, “maid”, or “black best friend”), I’m sure the writing will be sharp and the camerawork will be skilled and the acting will be good and your grade will be fine. But you’ll also be sending me and everyone else a message that you’re happy with the world just as it is. And the prospect of that makes me just a little angry-bored.
In unrelated news, last night I had a dream that I got to craft camp only to be told that it was for a whole week, not a few days. Which was great, but I then spent the rest of the dream trying to change my flights and finding someone to water my seedlings. Still, if that were the option, I’d take it.
People seriously think it’s ok to compare food, which WE NEED TO LIVE, to drugs?
Ok, McDonalds isn’t exactly the fountain of youth. We all know this. And don’t even get me started on the many conflated ideas in the slogan ‘Childhood Obesity: Break the Habit’. (Being fat is just a habit, you guys, if I were just more organised, I’d remember where I put that Thin I know I had just a minute ago… wait, let me check behind the couch.) And don’t get me started EVEN MORE on the classist assumptions buried in this. If you are cash or time poor, fast food is actually a pretty good option, sometimes.
Look, I’m not saying we should be encouraging junk food. But basically this ad is saying that junk food is bad because it makes you fat. So it’s ok for thin people to eat junk food, is that right? Just so we’re clear? It’s only REALLY bad for you and dangerous, and might kill your children in a creepy, forcing it on them way, if they are hideous and FAT. No?
I don’t think I can emphasise this enough. WE NEED FOOD TO LIVE.
One of the phrases that is used alot in the feminist blogosphere is ‘performing femininity’. Or gender, or sexuality, or anything. It’s one of those phrases that can start to sound pat and meaningless, but it’s one that sticks with me, that I think about all the time. Performing rather than experiencing. When is performing good and fun, and when are we obliged to do it for society’s sake, making it often tiring and oppressive?
Don’t get me wrong. I love to femme it up. And butch it up, frankly, as my weekend’s experience with power tools showed. It’s just that, more often than not, I cannot be bothered. I do not naturally fit the modern day requirements for femininity – as most people don’t. Well, I have shapely eyebrows that don’t require plucking. But that’s about it. I have dark hair, I have a shadow moustache and my legs look prickly an hour after I shave, my hair is naturally limp and uninteresting and if I wear eyeshadow my eyelids itch and I rub it all over my fave in ten minutes anyway. And while I am enjoying longer hair and the opportunity to do interesting things with it, I am also constantly cheesed off with it – at how much time and effort it is to make it do what I want it to. And then I can’t, like… move my head quickly or whatever. Which is boring. So it does, more often than not, end up in a ponytail. That’s a compromise I’m happy with. I now own both a hair dryer and a curling iron, although I have admitted that they will be used once a month at most. When I want to perform. Which is not every day. I think that’s part of the reason I like having blue hair – it always looks like I’ve put some effort in, however minimal. And it takes me out of one performance category and into another.
I haven’t shaved my legs in about a month, though. Today I am wearing knee socks, and you can see my heairy knees peeking over the top. I wore shorts all weekend (with birkenstocks, no less, hello new stereotype). I didn’t do this on purpose – it was winter and I couldn’t be bothered, and then I got some eczema on my legs so I thought I’d better not. And before I got around to doing anything about it, I read this post from definatalie. And I started to think about it. Why do I shave my legs? Lots of reasons. I think I have decided not to shave my armpits or nair off my moustache anymore. But the legs? It’s confronting.
The week after I read Definatalie’s post, I said to S ‘I think I might stop shaving my legs’. He said ‘ok’. Like you might say if someone told you they thought their favourite colour was now blue instead of green. I mean, that was pretty much the reaction I expected, and I don’t need permission anyway. But it’s nice to be validated, I guess. His response, when pressed was ‘well, you’re a mammal’. Which I think is an excellent phrase that I might need stitched onto a cushion. (You’re a mammal. Get over it.) His other contribution, when I said I wasn’t sure if this was a Thing for me, was that I don’t have to decide. I mean, obviously. But I feel like I have to. Like I am required to pick which team I belong to, or something. But I am not sure, yet, whether this is a ‘I NEVER shave my legs’ stance, or a ‘I don’t, unless I have a reason to do so’ or even ‘I do it whenever I feel like it’. Fine distinctions, maybe. But somehow I feel like they’re important.
I think it’s because I feel like people make certain assumptions, if your legs are not shaved. Not all of those assumptions would be wrong about me, but I am not sure I wish to place myself so heavily in whatever camp that puts me in. On the other hand, who cares? They’re legs, I’m a mammal, people can either get to know me and work out which assumptions are right and wrong, or not. It’s not like I’m not going to get a job because I have hairy legs, or people will refurse to serve me at shops. And, anyway, I already have blue hair. I am CLEARLY a freak (I love my blue hair). Then again, and this is more relevant, I feel a bit… ungroomed. Scruffy. I pretty much live in skirts, although not recently since I got too fat for them – but then my jeans have all worn out in the thighs, so I am back to skirts. And skirt mean exposed legs. And to me, exposed legs mean smooth, clean shaven legs. I have yet to work out if this is because that is what I have been taught, or because it’s what I like, for myself. I almost shaved this weekend, when I knew it was going to be warm and I’d be in shorts. And then I decided to wait and see. Because maybe I am just unused to looking at it.
I feel a bit daft, writing an angsty post about my leg hair. Like, welcome to the party, young one. Also, get over yourself. But I think it’s not too frivolous (almost, though) because my main sticking point is what it makes me look like. To others, and also to myself. I’m waiting to figure out what that is, and how I feel about it. Meanwhile, my temperature is better regulated, and I have more time in the mornings, so I’m sort of happy with that. Also, no stubble! That bit is great.
In a semi-related note, you should go read Frances’ post about her bikini. And look at her fabulous, kick arse photos. I want to give her a big hug because of that last photo. Fabulous! I am determined to buy myself a bikini this summer. I have a sensible swimming one piece, that is thick proper material and holds all the bits in appropriate places. But I was a bikini so I can go to the beach and just hang out. S burns in about 30 seconds (seriously, we went out yesteray and I could SMELL his head burning. It was pretty gross), so I forsee many twilight swimming sessions. So I’m not worried about skin exposure and cancer, in my bikini. And I REFUSE to have any body hang ups about this. So there. Do you hear me? REFUSE. The last time I had a two piece (actually, the first time, too) I would have been 13. And about five adults told me ‘well, good for YOU’. Which I found confusing, because I hadn’t realised it was a Thing, yet. Anyway. The point is, I am going to get my belly out this summer. I just have to deal with the expense. Oh, nice things. Why do you cost so much, always?
To quote at you. From Garland Grey’s post on Tiger beatdown..
Being a feminist is about fighting complacency within yourself and others. It is waking up every morning and knowing that something you do will be shitty and full of privilege. For guys, it is about repeating “If it’s not about you, don’t make it about you” a million times until you understand that it isn’t. That is the process that we all go through to be allies to one another.
This is why it is ok to suck, sometimes. Because it’s impossible not to. And it’s important to accept that you will suck. You should still try not to. And when someone says ‘hey, that thing you just said? It sucked’, you say ‘hmm, I see your point, I’m sorry I said that sucky thing, let me think about that’, not ‘no YOU suck!’.
Craf camp photos on flickr and blog post here this weekend I hope. I’ve been sick and have been sleeping instead of flicking. The short version: it was awesome. I made stuff. Other people made stuff. We ALL said ‘vagina’ a lot (I think I might be a bad influence).
First, let me tell you a story. I promise it will be relevant later. Twice! (Photos unrelated, except that this is a post all about ME. And so are the photos.)
When I was a kid I did ballet in a little hall in a nothing much town in the hills. I wasn’t very good at it, but I would only have been about 5, so that wasn’t really the point. I didn’t love it, but it was fun. I wasn’t super enamoured of the dances we did and clearly these were all Neat Girls and I was the scruffy one, but I got to be a woodland animal, so I could deal (they already had too many fairies – fine by me). I didn’t like the attention being on me and being watched physically doing things that I wasn’t very good at (still an issue - I HATE going dancing or participating in other activities where I might be physically embarrassed) but it was ok. I did it for almost a year and I quit just before the major performance.
I quit because of the stockings.
I had what I now realise were minor sensory issues, mostly around my feet, which is really common for kids, although I also couldn’t handle anything around my neck (as in, I would have a minor breakdown, couldn’t handle.). I could not (still can’t) handle having the seam of a sock pulling on my toes or sitting under my toes. Can. Not. Handle it. I will take my shoes off on the bus to fix this. I really should just start wearing my socks inside out.
I can’t handle it when socks get long and baggy and pooch out at the heel and there’s all this extra fabric. I cannot handle shoes with tongues, especially on my right foot. I have to tie them SUPER tight so they are snug around my feet, and then I have to stop every five minutes or so and adjust the tongue of the shoe so it sits just right. Even if it was already sitting just right. And I HAD to do it, even though I was aware that it made me look ridiculous.
I would have screaming arguments with my mother over socks. I fold them down. She wanted me to pull them all the way up. I was not ok with this for two reasons: they then got all saggy and poochy and they also constricted my ankle. And I hated it as much as you would hate it if someone got a piece of hot metal and wrapped it around your leg. That is the level of discomfort I am talking. So I would fold them down. And then we would argue about it. SCREAMING ARGUMENTS. And we had the same ones about stockings. It would take me forever to put them on. And then they would always be twisted. And then they had to have the same tension all the way up my legs. And then of course we would be late and my mother would be cross because she didn’t even WANT to take me to ballet, she was DOING THIS FOR ME and WHY COULDN’T I PUT ON MY DAMN STOCKINGS and ARE YOU DOING THIS ON PURPOSE?
I am wearing stockings today, and it took me about 10 extra minutes to get dressed, while I took them off and put them back on again, trying to get the legs on straight. I am 26. It takes me 10 minutes to work out stockings.
This is not a diatribe to tell you how broken I am and how you should pity me (SRS I promise, it becomes relevant. Twice!) It’s just that as an anxious 5 year old, that was not a fun thing. Add to that the thought of being put on a stage to do something I didn’t think I was very good at and have lots of strange people looking at me? Halfway through one argument, I sobbed that I didn’t want to do ballet anymore. And so I didn’t.
And so, on to the cookies!
Cookie the first:
Is me. I am one. A smart one.
I have about three half-written blog posts about how bad I am at accepting compliments. Accepting compliments is something I have actually been working quite hard to get better at. First up, you should go to this post on the Pursuit of Harpyness and read the links there that give some excellent background on how I have been trying to think about this stuff lately. And I don’t do too bad. When someone says ‘did you make that? It looks great!’ I say ‘thankyou, I worked really hard and I like how it turned out’ and I try really hard not to say ‘well, the sleeves are a bit short and it fits a bit funny in the waist, and there a gajillion other ways in which I am IMPERFECT’ or ‘are you mocking me ARE YOU MOCKING ME???’. If someone says ‘I like your hair!’ I say ‘thanks, me too!’ and if my boss says ‘you’re doing really well learning your new job’ I say… ok I admit it, I said ‘well, I haven’t fucked anything up too badly yet’. But I’m trying.
So, ok, lapses aside I don’t deflect or argue too often about things. I am sometimes really uncomfortable NOT qualifying a compliment, but with a few notable exceptions in particular areas I usually resist. Those areas appear to be: being a Good Person, and being smart.
I constantly tell people that I am a bitch. I do this for lots of really complicated reasons that I haven’t untangled yet and probably will never get to the bottom of, which is why it is still a behaviour I engage in. The most obvious is that it lets me off the hook from a lot of social niceties that I think are dumb. And in fact, it allows me to own OTHER good things about myself without apologising – because I have already said I am a bitch, so people can’t be surprised that I am not being ‘polite’ by insisting that actually, everything I ever do is shit.
I do it because I don’t like to lie. As a kid I lied a lot. This is related to being smart (smart kids lie better and earlier) and also related to the fact that my mother was emotionally abusive, as you might have gotten a hint of from my lead-in story. This fact (the emotional abuse) is something I have only gotten ok with putting a name to recently. There is another heartfelt post about that for you to look forward to, as well. Anyway, kids of emotionally abusive parents lie. They lie a lot. They lie by default, even when there’s not an obvious reason to lie, right now. They lie to make the world a better, safer place for themselves and also to make their unpredictable parent more predictable, to play damage controller. But I don’t like lying, it takes too much energy and also it sucks, so I don’t. So if someone says to me ‘do you like me’ and I don’t, I will probably say ‘no’. I wouldn’t walk UP to someone and say ‘I don’t like you’. I would consider myself a passive bitch rather than an active one. But still… apparently it is not nice to admit that sometimes you don’t like certain people.
I also tell people that I am a bitch because I was taught that I am. I was taught that I deliberately disregard what other people need and want, because I am selfish and ignorant and arrogant. This is plainly not true. But as the sock story illustrates (see! Relevant!), my mother considered her subjective experience to be far more important than mine. And folks, let me tell you, her subjective experience? Was fucked. When her five year old daughter couldn’t manage stockings, it wasn’t because said five year old daughter hadn’t quite managed the concept of long weird stretchy tubes and inserting them over her legs. It was because her five year old daughter was DELIBERATLY BEING STUPID in order to spite her. When said daughter reacted strongly to having socks pulled up, it wasn’t because she had a legitimately negative experience, it was because she could NEVER DO ANYTHING PROPERLY.
This is only a minor example of all the ways in which I was taught that I was not good enough, and that I was a sneaky horrible child and that I should apologise to everyone around me for what essentially amounts to being a human being with flaws and subjective experiences.
So, the POINT of that is, I am trying to stop doing it. Pointing out that I’m a bitch, I mean. Because, whatever. It’s boring. People can figure out what I am or am not by themselves, without me putting a label on it. I don’t need to fear that they will reject me once they really figure out who I truly am, so I don’t need to cover that fear by telling them that they should reject me first, to take the sting away when it inevitably happens (as my subconscious tells me it will).
Remember how this all started with me saying I am bad at accepting compliments? (You remember Alice? It’s a song about Alice?) I am really uncomfortable being told I am a nice person and people like me for me. We have traced that back to my mother (I mean, mostly. It’s not like everything I don’t like about me is her fault. Just MOST things. ). I am also really uncomfortable being told I’m smart.
So, I mentioned before that I’m seeing someone. This has meant a lot more compliments than I am used to. And folks, it’s weird. It’s weirding me out. He thinks I am the shit. And while I don’t disagree, and tend to think that, actually, that is a good prerequisite for someone I am in a relationship with, it is CONFRONTING. The other confronting thing ties in to the smart. S is trained as a teacher. He’s currently working as a teacher’s aide. He focused, in his degree, on learning difficulties, and on gifted children.
So, every now and then he’ll say something. For instance, I mentioned something about the tights and socks saga (relevant! Twice!) and he said ‘yes, that’s very common among gifted children’ and then when I opened my mouth he gave me The Look. You know the look. The ‘I know what you are about to say, and you’re wrong, and you know you are wrong. Why don’t you rethink it before you embarrass yourself’ look.
He has a point. I am smart. I have always been smart. I went to a small primary school, with combined year level classes (ie, R/1, 2/3) and I was always doing the work of the year above me. I was in extension programmes. I got good grades. I did all of this without really trying – year 11 was a bit of a shock because suddenly I had to WORK at things. I enjoy thinking and making patterns and working things out. I am and always have been curious about and engaged with the universe, while at the same time having a rich internal life. There is a lot of evidence that I am, in fact, one smart cookie. And yet I am SUPER uncomfortable even typing this.
I mean, I’m certainly not saying I am the smartest ever. I am very smart in some ways, and not in others, just like most of the population. I’m not saying that being smart makes me better than anyone, or that smarts are enough in isolation. But given that I value all the smart people around me, what is it that stops me from valuing it in myself? I guess girls aren’t supposed to be too smart, and even the smart ones shouldn’t talk about it too much.
Well, fuck that. I am smart. No qualifiers. So there.
(WHY was that so hard?)
Cookie the second:
Cookie the third:
I think I might have posted this before. But I LOVE EET
I have about a half a post written about language and how fuzzy it is, and in particular as regards women’s bodies. I think it’s akin to the way the word ‘socialist’ and ‘liberal’ has been hijacked by the right in America. They now mean things completely divorced from the original, specific meanings of the word. I’m sure there are plenty of more Australian or general examples, but those are the two that jump out at me all the time, since I find them so jarring. Especially since we have the big-L Liberals over here.
I think mostly it’s all tied up in the weird morality games we play with bodies. Salad is ‘good’, pizza is ‘bad’. (As one Shapely Prose commenter put it ‘it’s pizza for lunch, not genocide’*) Fat doesn’t really mean fat – it means ugly, disgusting, unhealthy, unlovable, unworthy. It doesn’t refer to how much we weigh, or our mass or our hip measurements, it’s about how we look – which is why a skinny girl can say ‘omg I am so fat!’ (code: I look ugly) and in the next breath assure someone like me ‘but you’re not fat at all!’ (code: but you are perfectly attractive!).
Pretty does not mean good to look at, it means fits a certain group of characteristics such as looking innocent and pure and also probably white. Beautiful is reserved for people who are not virginal and aren’t trampy-sexy but who you’d still bang. Sexy does not refer to people that you personally would like to have sex with, it means someone who has the required body shape and has spent the enourmous amounts of time neccessary to fit patriarchal standards of feminine beauty and is wearing appropriate clothes and shoes. (Many times I catch myself thinking ‘yeah, she’s hot. I don’t find her attractive, but she’s hot. What does that even mean omg.)
And most present in the last few days, ‘flattering’ does not mean ‘makes you feel good’ or even ‘makes the most of what you’ve got’. I means ‘fools people into thinking you are closer to the ‘ideal’ figure, ie tall, thin, hourglass, than you actually are.’ Already Pretty just posted today about different body shapes and how they look great and how, sure. Minimize your hips if you want, but you don’t have to. I can wear a flowey tunic dress that doesn’t accentuate my waist, if I like. So there. I don’t care about your abitrary rules, patriarchy/whoever else would like to become involved. But likewise, there are things that other people can rock that I can’t – and that is awesome. Why shouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t we have options.
I mean, in reality we do. But how many times have you heard someone say about someone else ‘that dress is so unflattering on her?’. By which they mean, doesn’t hide her stomach, or you can’t tell that she has as much waist as she does, or it makes her boobs look MASSIVE. Well, why shouldn’t it? ‘Flattering’ should not mean ‘slimming’. We already have a word for that!
Anyway. In a completely random aside, I was reminded yesterday of the ‘Yes, we can’ mashup video. And I watched it today, and it still made me emotional and hopeful. Sure, things never turn out that neat or easy. Sure, America is fucked and K Rudd isn’t the messiah. But I dare you to listen to that speech, to watch those artists, and not feel a bit of a tear in your eye and joy in your heart. I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU:
*I really really love Shapely Prose and the comment ecology over there. It shifted my whole view of the world I live in, and I sort of feel like it’s the centre of my part of the internet, now. If you have never read it, I genuinelly encourage you to at least go have a look – it’s not just for fatties!
I’m what is known in FA (fat acceptance) and fatshion circles as an in-betweenie. This means that I am somewhere in the range of an aussie size 14-18. It means I have big-girl issues with clothing (weird fit, darts hitting me in the wrong places, inappropriate styles available) but I can still shop in straight sized stores, although what I can find there may or may not be extremely limited, depending on the store, the season, current trends, how stretchy the clothes are or how willing I am to wear skin tight things.
I was listening to fatcast last night and they were discussing what a plus size actually is. They said it might start at maybe 14, but really their cutoff is about size 18 (depending on locale and other factors such as height and general body shape – it’s harder to find nice flattering things if you are large and live in China, or are a body shape that the fashion world dislikes). I thought ‘but wait! I’m a fat girl! Why don’t you count meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’. I’m used to being told ‘don’t be silly, you’re not FAT!’ but usually by people thinner than me, and as code for ‘but I don’t find you repulsive! And fat people are repulsive!’ I had a really strong reaction to being told by fat people that I couldn’t join that fat people club (which was not what they were saying, btw). And then I had to look at my Thin Privilege. Yes, yes I just said the P word, and also refered to myself as thin, IN THE SAME SENTENCE.
Right now, fads are doing me kind. There is a lot of jersey and a lot of loose fitting, which means I can get into medium sizes a lot of the time, if there isn’t a large. And tghe larges fit comfortably. They don’t fit me the way the designer intended them to, but since the designer generally does not want to acknowledge that people my size or bigger exist, I am not particularly fussed about this. Case in point, last week I went into Cotton On (being the only clothes store in town that is open after 5:15pm) and spent what I consider to be quite a lot of money there. And then I reflected that actually, I spent less than the price of a dress I was looking at on the City Chic website, which I really liked but was clearly made out of some horrible acrylic fabric. So then I felt better about that.
Let me put this another way. I went into a trendy store, which caters for young people who want the latest trendy thing. And I tried some stuff on and I bought a lot of it, because it looked good on me. This is something that many fat people just cannot do. Ever.
I bought three jersey pencil skirts – one in black, one in navy and one in black with little rosebuds on. Tres trendy, and also reminds me of a dress I owned when I was five. (Apparently the eighties are back. Again. Why won’t they die?) I bought two tank dresses, one black and one navy and white striped. (BIG HORIZONTAL STRIPES oh noes don’t I know that’s against the rules??) I bought two light jersey cardigan thingies and four 3/4 sleeved tops in varying degrees of stripes and spots, with ruching on the sleeves so they have sort of eighties shoulders. The things I bought were a mix of XL, L and medium. This upped my wearable, work appropriate wardrobe by about half. The only problem being that I need to get some fat girl stockings, because I generally only wear stay ups and knee highs, having been traumatised by going to a catholic girls school and the horrible brown tights (but was fortunate enough to learn the undies-on-the-outside trick for keeping them up). But the skirts are really to short to wear to work without stockings, and the ones I have technically fit, but are mighty uncomfortable, and gusset hoiking is generally frowned on in public.
And here we are back to being in between. A lot of stuff technically fits, for which – do not get me wrong! – I am eternally grateful. If I went on holiday and my luggage got lost, I would not, as the lovely ladies on fatcast point out, be fucked. I could walk into a store and buy something that fit me. Even a gift store. It might not be sartorially elegant, but I wouldn’t have to fashion a toga out of a beach towel or two. There are clothes that fit me. They are readily available. They are affordable. Sometimes they are even trendy or beautiful at the same time as being affordable and readily available. I can shop in op shops and it isn’t that much more frustrating than for the average punter. I can avoid ‘big girl’ clothes which are often badly made with a poor cut, from terrible acrylic material.
I’ve been looking at ASOS, which has a very lovely plus size section, much of which I covet. I also covet most of their straight size section. According to their size charts, I am smack bang between an 18, their last straight size, and a 20, their first plus size. This is making trawling the site very annoying, because most of the time the top and bottom sizes are sold out. And sometimes the straight sizes go up to 20, sometimes they only go up to 16. If it’s something stretchy, I probably want an 18, and it isn’t I’d want a 20, but I have to look in two seperate sections so I can’t just pick one dress and choose the size.
Ok, so it’s annoying. That’s a pretty low bar, I’m not saying that ASOS is oppressing me or anything. And I really, truly do not want to underemphasise that I can go on a last minute shopping trip and find clothes that fit. This is super important. Plus, my proportional ‘hourglass’ body shape (apart from my annoyingly long waist) is the shape that about half of commercially available clothes are designed for (the other half being for people built like a pole) so that helps.
However. If we’re taking the fatcast cut off of a size 18 as canon (which they wouldn’t endorse, they fully admit it’s subjective etc) my recent weight gain has put me over the top, US sizes being a bit bigger than Aus sizes. I believe I would now be a US size 20. And I would absolutely say that there is a line, somewhere in the middle of a size 16. When you are a 14 or a smaller 16, you can buy things on sale. You can buy BRAS on sale. You can buy bras with lace and colours, you can buy bathers, and more styles are open to you because things that are designed to be baggy are. If you want to be ‘on trend’, you can, although depending on the trend it may be inadvisable as you will possibly look like an egg with two rubber bands around it. But if the thing of the moment is tshirts with sparkles on, you can probably find one that you fit into.
From Married to the Sea
Once you hit a high 16, bras come in beige, beige, ‘bone’ beige and off white. There are never any in your size left by the time the sales roll around. The clothes that make the sale racks are all cut in a way that does not do your body any favours. Things designed to be baggy are tight, even in your size, and things designed to be tight are TIGHT. Things cling in the wrong places, darts are in weird spots. Things get sized up without the proportions being revised, so they get weirdly massive in strange places.
Buying clothes can be a challenge for everyone. Besides the venturing out into public and the spending of hard earned dollars, there is the social aspect of it. What you wear says something about who you are. They do – even if that thing is ‘it’s Sunday, and I’ll wear my uggboots to the shops if I damn well want too’. Sometimes it’s hard to find the things that accurately represent you to the world. That gets harder as your size gets larger. Not least because when some people look at you the first thing they will see is a fat person. It’s tempting to dress to be invisible. To be non threatening and part of the background. Which is fine – frankly it’s relaxing. But I find myself shying away form certain things, not because I think they will make me look bad, but because they will make me look FAT. Not ‘unattractive’, which is what ‘fat’ is code for, more often than not. but that if I show a bit of leg, people will see that it is a fat leg. Because, you know, they couldn’t have guessed that it was going to be a fat leg just from looking at the rest of me, no matter how covered that leg might be.
I don’t really think I should end this with another ‘FUCK YOU IM FAT AND IM NOT TAKING IT ANYMORE’ because I did that last time, and that’s not what this is about. What this is about is ‘whatever. This is my leg. It’s fat. It’s sexy. I will show exactly as much or as little of it as I choose. Goodbye.’
I’m still not really ok with the nuggets I get in front of my armpits, though. I’m working on that one.