Thursday, April 11, 2013

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Friday, January 4, 2013


As recent as last year I could not stand the word "Pussy" and I did not use it. I would always use the word "Vagina"or "Yoni"; however people always told me that "Vagina" sounded too clinical and I quickly got bored with the word "Yoni".  "Yoni" is cool but it doesn't quite evoke any feelings in me. And I must admit that after hearing so many empowered and sexually confident women use the word "Pussy" I have grown to love it.
Perhaps if more women saw more images of other women's pussies/yoni's then we would realize that each one of us is unique. Like precious flowers, no two are exactly the same.  I have a private facebook group for women who are working with the cosmic yoni egg and there seemed to be a wave pussy posting empowerment  photos that developed from somewhere. Women felt inspired to share photos of their precious flowers and so many women began to discover how different we really are. And then, I heard through the grapevyne about a group of women who were in the group who were some place else speaking very negatively about the photos that were being posted. They even went so far as to call them "ugly." But yet, the few men who were privlidged enough to see the photos kept assuring every woman that her flower was gorgeous and that they had never seen an "ugly" one.  I found this interesting because it was a clear cut example of one of the many times that women can actually be more discouraging to each other than men. Sometimes, men can be more empowering than our fellow "sisters." This is one reason why I think as we women awaken our Inner G (Goddess) that we do not close out all of the men. The ignorant, ridiculous restrictive patriarchal men...YES. But there are men who truly understand and worship the Goddess.Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dressing Up - Fashion and Feminism

The words ‘fashion’ and ‘feminism’ may share the same initial letter, but according to some they are just too opposite ever to be reconciled. With all due respect, that’s rubbish. They might be on different sides of the coin, but there is (or at least should be) nothing stopping a feminist from being interested in and engaged with fashion. As I've mentioned before, I define myself as a liberal feminist – believing primarily in equality between the genders. For me feminism is about challenging various archaic expectations and assumptions. It’s what I like to refer to as a choice and a voice (for a more extended definition, please see my piece How to be a Woman). I’m also a great fashion lover. It can be a strong means of empowerment – not only a confidence enhancer, but also a way of defining personality and revelling in display. Writers from Colette to Angela Carter have picked up on the ability of costume to conceal and reveal, rightly noting that what we wear and why is a fascinating topic of discussion.  
However, traditional feminist rhetoric has often painted fashion merely as a way of controlling women. See how the slavish masses follow trends! Watch them spend squillions on handbags! Look at the frivolity they are mindlessly trapped in! In among the hyperbole there are some sparks of truth. There are morally questionable areas of the industry that do not easily sit with those interested in equality, body image and women’s self worth. But the more positive aspects bear evaluation too. Alice Blackhurst has spent the last few years researching the intersection of fashion and feminism in France, and she very kindly agreed to furnish me with some incisive observations and opinions on the links between the two.

When talking about fashion, it is assumed that only one of two views can be adopted. Either the industry can do no wrong and people who don’t like it should just leave it alone; or alternately fashion is at the root of many modern evils – including (but not limited to) anorexia, rampant capitalism, cruelty to animals, fear of aging, human rights abuses and general vapidity. What is needed somewhere between these two starkly contrasting judgments is a little nuance. The psychological impact of advertising and editorials, particularly in the wake of Photoshop’s popularity, should not be brushed under the rug. Neither should the glorification of youth and skinniness over all other forms of beauty (see Mirror, Mirror). These are very real and serious issues that do deserve more attention.  Nonetheless, an awareness of these problems should not stop anyone from loving other elements of fashion or enjoying dressing each day. As Alice notes: “Whilst the fashion world is far from perfect, current responses intent on combatting the ‘unrealistic’ fashion image feel a little patronising.  Presuming that women are hysterically sensitive to what they are shown in the media, it suggests our inability to appreciate fashion shoots’… vision and to turn the page, fully aware that what we have been party to is fantasy.”

I recently saw the Tim Walker exhibition at Somerset House, and wandered from room to room entranced by his imagination. It was a magnificent insight into hundreds of visions and ideas – from dolls to spaceships, stately homes and skeletons – with some very gorgeous clothes involved. Walker transcends reality to provide the purest and most glorious form of escapism. It is quite obvious that his photos are fantasy. Walker is at the more outlandish end of the scale, but we generally accept that fashion shoots do not attempt to portray reality. They are narratives and stories, not photo-journalism. However, this does not provide a ‘get out of jail free’ card to those who claim that the body size of models is beyond scrutiny – particularly if, as a feminist, one is interested in the impact of such a homogenised, super-slender ideal.

And yet, the Internet has increasingly allowed for a wider range of aesthetics and looks to be celebrated. Perhaps the relationship between fashion and feminism bears re-evaluation in the ‘digital age’. Alice observes that current criticism of fashion’s capacity to restrict and suppress women “overlooks… our dizzying ability to curate personalised style profiles online which stand their ground against and alongside the glossies.  As well as the unstoppable influence of street and self-style blogs, the collage aesthetic promoted by sites like Tumblr and Pinterest means that fashion today is as bespoke and customised as the suits and dresses it inspires.” This process of creation and projection has always, for me, been at the heart of my love for style. It covers everything from deciding that pink and turquoise is a delicious combination for an outfit for college, to choosing a drop-dead fabulous green satin dress for a vintage ball. Being able to showcase some of these style decisions online through my blog has been, and continues to be, wonderful. It provides an additional reason for choosing my clothes carefully, and really forces me to focus on the visual power of what I wear. Alice also acknowledges that “Rather than remaining slaves to fashion, we increasingly have the power to engage in an active process of self-fashioning.  We can… choose how we present ourselves to the world, move towards controlling our own self-image.” The Internet has often been referred to as a platform for ‘democratising’ fashion. I’m not sure if this is the right word – for even among blogs there is still a hierarchy, with those featuring high-end clothes and high street finds often finding the widest readerships. However, the spectrum of style has certainly widened, taking in everything from Vintage Vixen’s simply brilliant seventies get-ups to Barbro Anderson’s luxurious layering. When put together, the range of blogs I read encapsulates style in its diversity, rather than in its similarity – with each blogger choosing how to present themselves to their audience.

Alice continues: As well as encouraging us to tailor our individual tastes and sensibilities, fashion in the context of the Internet encourages communication.” This reminded me of a piece I read by Elizabeth Wilson in the book Chic Thrills in which she observed that “Dress… is the material with which we ‘write’ or ‘draw’ a representation of the body.” By Alice’s definition, clothing can also be used to ‘write’ or ‘draw’ our personalities – communicating aspects of our selves to others. These are ever shifting aspects though, summed up in her claim that “Fashion… at its best would understand ‘identity’ as a work in progress.”

It was Alice’s final point that struck me as the most pertinent. She argues that: “In their mutual concern for new forms, new structures, and new ‘modes’ of expression in society, feminism and fashion might be allies.  But first, she says, we might have to re-define feminism – replacing ‘Feminism’ with a capital F with plural and diverse ‘feminisms’. Feminism encompasses numerous areas requiring different approaches and solutions. It is like a kaleidoscope - multi-faceted. New perspectives emerge all the time, and these must be recognised. That kaleidoscope analogy is appropriate for fashion too. Clothing has varying functions and purposes: to be sensuous, to be practical, to provide a uniform, to be outrageous, to blend in. But for me it's the dressing up, the donning of a costume, that thrills the most. 

Thanks to Alice for the fantastic and thought-provoking quotes. The shoot is one I've been wanting to post since it took place over the summer holidays. The stunning model is my friend Caitlin - who is now  illustrating for Rookie.  She also made a feminist zine a while ago. I thought it appropriate to illustrate a piece on fashion and feminism with a series of images celebrating dressing up and running wild. All clothes are from my wardrobe: a mixture of second hand, vintage, family owned and gifts. I was vaguely inspired by the idea of what Kate Bush might look like were she clad in pastels and rich fabrics.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Singin' in the Rain

No rain - but a vintage umbrella! And water, though it just happened to be in the lakes rather than falling from clouds. My homage to Singin' in the Rain was composed of a vintage, fringed dress recently brought from the fantastic Oxfam branch in Camden, a sash from the dressing up box, shoes from a flea market and a swan brooch from my mum. My hair, thank goodness, was only temporarily bobbed - pinned up at the back to create a 1920s style look. 

“I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again!”
The first time I watched Singin’ in the Rain I was lying in a hospital bed about five days after spinal surgery. For small, sweet moments I was transported – the agony in my back reduced to a dull ache as I focused on the highly intricate movement of feet or the flash of sequins. But other sequences were just blurs of colour as I sank back into my pillow, unable to keep up with the fast paced numbers. Finding the film for the first time during such uncertainty and pain meant that it remains in my head as a completely vivid hour or two. Blame it on the morphine if you will, but to me this cinematic delight remains elevated to technicolour heights of glory: bright costumes, sets and voices ringing through my mind.

I’ve watched it many times since - reveling in the umbrella twirling, puddle splashing and spectacular high kicks. From Cyd Charis’ sensuous solo during ‘Broadway Melody’ to Donald O’Connor’s comedic and extraordinarily performance in ‘Make Em Laugh’, each number demonstrates equal skill and beauty. I jokingly claim that I’m a failed ballet dancer at heart, so maybe this accounts for my fascination, but there’s something very special about witnessing the way that humans manipulate their bodies through dance. Whether the mood is one of elegance, drama or slapstick, the accomplished dancer expresses something almost beyond words. They draw the audience in, each extended limb or curled hand like a comma beckoning our full attention. It’s another form of communication, spoken in movement.

Like any form of art, dance is characterized by a huge amount of hard graft and practice. Each perfect spin is the result of numerous failed attempts – in much the same way that the ideal novel builds upon all that has previously been written. ‘Perseverance’ is certainly a word that could have been extended to the cast of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. Gene Kelly performed the titular sequence with a high fever over two days, Debbie Reynolds’ feet bled after accomplishing ‘Good Morning’ and Donald O’Connor found himself in hospital on completion of ‘Make Em Laugh’.  But all we witness on screen is the end product, the culmination of many months’ work and perfectionism. We are offered escapism and enjoyment.

If some of those dance sequences took two weeks to film, then I can only imagine how exhausted the performers are at the end of each night of the stage adaptation. I was recently invited to see the version currently playing at the Palace Theatre in the West End, London, taking my friend Merlin. He was a ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ first timer; I was keen to see how the narrative transitioned from screen to stage. Producing a theatrical version of a much loved film makes sense commercially, but can be tricky creatively. How to recapture the original atmosphere without becoming a mere facsimile, a shadow? How to ensure that the actors retain the brilliance of on-screen predecessors without being mirror images? The answer, it seems, is to pay homage while still retaining individuality. Ensemble dances, outfits and the order of events were all tailored to the stage, while filmed sequences momentarily transformed the theatre into a cinema. Katherine Kingsley’s Lina Lamont was pure high camp – all diamante and nasal whining – while the main trio played off each other’s energy to thrilling, glorious effect.

But even though reviews had built up my expectation of the rainstorm sequence, the visual impact of watching 14,000 litres of water pouring over the heads of the performers below was simply jubilant.  Although this water is recycled every night, I noticed a fair few puddles' worth flicked in the audience’s direction (the front few rows of the stalls were furnished with rain capes!)

We left the theatre floating on the afterglow of song and dance and walked along Regents Street, shop windows and streetlamps lighting our way. Those moments after the performance, when the last dregs of colour and spectacle were still clinging to our clothes were really quite wonderful, ones to be celebrated and cherished –  moments of being utterly alive.

It wasn’t raining that night, only a faint mist of drizzle settling across London. A shame really. There’s something very raw about tilting your face up towards the sky as it pours. It’s a liberation –  revelling in getting drenched, in demonstrating (and more importantly, feeling) a sense of recklessness. It’s not so much singing in the rain but dancing in the rain that appeals to me. Perhaps it’s just a childish delight akin to squelching through mud or returning home covered in grass stains, but if so then I’m glad that the euphoria of such an activity is never lost.

Singin' in the Rain is on at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London. You can see details on their website here. Big thanks to Frankie at Premier Communications for such a lovely night out. 


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stories of Suffolk

We emerged from inside, towels tied over swimming costumes and trunks. We crossed the garden, slid down steps and headed for the estuary. I was hesitant, tempted to return to the sluggish warmth of bed. Here it was crisp, a bite in the mud beneath my feet. For a last minute I lingered, offering a single toe to the water. Early morning stillness was broken by dad as he flung his towel over a grounded canoe. He waded along the partially submerged jetty and crouched down into the water. I followed, shivering but determined.
There is always a moment before yielding to the cold when everything feels foolish. There is a barrier to cross, a line between land and sea. But when it is broken, and the far-off town seems to be floating on the horizon of soft water as you swim, it is entirely worth it. More than worth it – worthy of celebration, of being alive. Submersion allows the world to be seen from a different perspective, sky and shore framed by every stroke. The boat anchored several meters out is now a target to be reached. Planks rear up and away from the water and frayed rope is passed whilst arcing back to land.
Dad and I were swimming in Suffolk. It was the third day of our family summer holiday and we were feeling brave. We reveled in the smell of salt and the smooth, fabric sheen of the estuary. Coffee and bacon waited back in the barn. It had been rented for the week. We were marking our brief territory: in the sand that returned with us on our feet and in our hair; in the books and papers we scattered on sofas; in the toothbrushes in the bathroom. My parents had decided to return to an area they had loved and visited when they were newly married. The names of towns were remembered and revisited: Aldeburgh, Snape Maltings, Southwold, Orford.
The last on that list offered the location for these photos. Orford Ness is a shingle spit sitting a short ferry ride away from the coast. It is some ten miles long, with a striped lighthouse crowning the outermost edge. It is an otherworldly place combining beauty with extreme bleakness. Desolation may be traced to the spit’s tangled military history. It used to be property of the Ministry of Defence, with the site used to test radar methods during WWII and, in the Cold War, atomic bombs. Echoes of this heritage are not just gleaned but actively amplified –explanations offered in the information center, with most of the original buildings still in place. Many are out of bounds, but their presence is enough to unsettle. The National Trust has left them to decay. Roofs sag and moss grows as entropy eats at history. As brick and metal subside, visitors follow the carefully marked paths around the island. We spent several hours exploring. Where soldiers and scientists had trod we now followed. Charcoal clouds were overlaid with sunshine, light and dark co-existing in much the same way as the stories of the spit. See Robert Macfarlane's piece for further meditation on the place. 
Across from Orford Ness sits Shingle Street: a coastal hamlet we had already visited one evening. While there, we had noticed the glow of gaslights through the windows of a lone house on the beach. It was a pilgrimage – a return to the place we had stayed at twice when I was first baby, then toddler. It had been easy to be washed to sleep by the sound of waves on stones. I have little memory of the place beyond the yellow swimming costume I wore to paddle in. Dad filled gapped recollections with accounts of the walks, the writing, the laughter that had taken place there. It was a location rife with the resonances of extended family – of my grandma joining us on hliday, of my uncle (who died before I was born) spending time there with my dad in the late eighties. Together they had sought out the best food in Suffolk. We followed similar routes this time, with plenty of googling and research leading us coffee and lunch all over the county. Pump Street Bakeryranked high on the list, while numerous flat whites were tried in the course of the six days. The week was full of golden moments: hiring bikes and coasting through the countryside, walking along the paths that criss-cross the mud flats, wrapping newly bought smoked fish and cheese to carry in backpacks, taking photos, eating freshly cooked Thai food in a pop-up street cafĂ©. We created our own memories and moments. The images we hold of Suffolk now have double exposures: new overlaying the old.   

The outfit is best summed up as impromptu - merely being what I had decided to wear on the day of visiting Orford Ness. All items were second hand, dug out of my suitcase as I wass being told off for not being ready sooner. But in some ways I rather love the way that the landscape took precedence over the outfit. Dramatic colours and shapes were not needed when facing the expansive, extraordinary location.