Monday, March 17, 2014

Blogging: Eh?

I'm getting older. And so are my eyes.

As I wander around the Internet, I more and more often find websites with little tiny print, so that I have to resize to be able to comfortably read the posts/articles/whatever.

My own blog has become one of those websites.

So I wanted to ask: Is it just me, or do others think that my blog could benefit from the post text being a little larger?

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Beauty: Feminism, single standard, and haircuts

You know how you run into one mention of a topic, and the topic keeps popping up everywhere you look? That's been happening to me with regard to fashion and feminism and femininity and beauty and such things.

I recently participated in a forum discussion about beauty. In that discussion, it became apparent that some participants--a small subset, admittedly--felt that runway models were the ultimate definition of feminine beauty. Not one possible definition--the definition.

Now, the specifics of the definition were a little fuzzy--for example, I'm not sure if those advocating runway-model beauty were aware of the relatively small chest size of most runway models. I suspect that these men might have been dreaming about the actresses who depict models in movies, rather than the actual models. They also seemed reluctant to accept the idea that those women may not look, when they step out the front door to get the paper in the morning, precisely the same way that they look in movies and magazine covers.

But those are nitpicks. What struck me was the idea that there is a single definition of feminine beauty, and any other beauty is not merely different, but inferior. That women who don't strive for this particular brand of beauty are failing to make the most of themselves and resigning themselves to a miserable man-free existence, and that men who don't want this specific kind of beauty in a woman, who want something else, are deluding themselves, or "settling", or so weird that they don't count statistically.

This was accompanied by the idea that when women strive for beauty, they are of course striving to please men and to gain male attention. The idea that a woman might want to take joy in her own appearance, might have her own idea of her own beauty, seemed to be...well, simply not there.

On that topic, The Reluctant Femme led me to The Brainy Femme which led me to Felicia Day's blog post about the reaction to her cutting her hair which led me to "Why Patriarchy Fears the Scissors" from The New Statesman. The writer of that article referred in part to yet another article, one about women who (gasp) cut their hair, the message of which she summarizes as:

The essential argument is: men like long hair, and what sane woman would ever want to do anything that decreases her capacity to please men?
Yes. That, yes, is what I was getting from that small percentage of the men in the thread: The incredulous reaction, somewhere between indignant and pitying, to the idea that a woman would have any priority--in particular any priority with regard to her appearance--other than the priority of pleasing men.


You know, I seem to have veered. The idea that women are frantically working to please men, and that women who have other priorities are deeply disordered, is certainly one that makes me indignant. But that one doesn't seem like as much of a puzzle--I can see the motivation behind it. People in power want to believe that the people not-in-power adore them and want to please them. They want to believe that the powerless are content with the power structure and are striving to fulfill their assigned role in that structure, rather than trying to change it. It's a happy comfy belief, one that could logically be held by some men, hopefully a steadily shrinking number of men.

It's the idea of a single definition of female beauty that I'm curious about. What, exactly, makes that a happy comfy belief? I think that people believe what they wanna believe, so I think that the happy-comfy has to be in there somewhere. Who benefits from the idea of one and only one definition of female beauty?

I suppose that such a definition means that more women are not beautiful. If we accepted tall-and-willowy beauties, and short-and-curvy beauties, and round-faced beauties and long-faced beauties and all kinds of beauties, more women are beautiful. And more women are close to beautiful. And more women can choose which sort of beauty she wants to emulate, or even (gasp) declare their own kind of beauty.

And that would give those women power. Is that it? Is that all? Is it like corporations that try to keep every employee convinced that he's not good enough? Confidence and security leave an opening for reaching for strength and power?  But I see a little too much planning there. I find myself wanting to quote that quote about malice and stupidity--I see too much effort put into malice. I think that comfy beliefs are usually about ego or reducing anxiety, and I don't see that here.

But, and ah, then we've got advertising. Advertising does benefit from, and actively work to encourage, insecurity and not-good-enough feelings. Advertising can convince women that they're not good enough, and then, not necessarily even by intent, convince men that they need the premium product, the woman that fits the single definition of female beauty. And so then both sexes see just one definition of female beauty.


Image: Wikimedia Commons.

(Edited to clarify that the folks advocating a single standard were a small percentage of the men involved in the thread, not, as the previous phrasing might have implied, a small number but all the men.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fashion Writers: My Bad

I owe fashion writers an apology.

I imagined them as Mean Girls all grown up, perching in tiny chairs next to the runway and squealing "Ooh! Ruffles!" Nodding in approving unison as they see that the models have gotten even more skeletal this year, and whispering and tittering when they see a colleague wearing a skirt that's eight millimeters too long.

That's bad enough. But worse, I slipped and fell into the idea that primarily-feminine interests are superficial and airheaded. Well, not all of them, but with regard to fashion. It's related to a trap that digs itself rather frequently--the idea that women can be as serious, as intelligent, as worthy "as men". That idea sounds vaguely empowering for an instant, until it becomes clear that it makes men's worthiness the standard. Men as norm, men as yardstick, women as the deviation struggling to return to the norm. If men are the standard, then that leads dangerously to the idea that women have to give up anything uniquely feminine in order to be worthy, or at least normal.

And, yes, I know that there are no new thoughts here. Feminism has been fighting over traditional femininity since, well, forever. Whether to embrace it as part of a proud identity, whether to reject it as a male-imposed standard, and any number of other positions in between and scattered around, including the position that it's men, in being deprived of things like, oh, a glorious scarlet crystal-pleated skirt (I still don't like ruffles), who are being suppressed by a patriarchal society.

The point where I owe fashion writers an apology is in assuming that they're all trying to undermine the power of women. Actually, the bigger point where I owe fashion writers an apology is in assuming that they're stupid.

I'm sorry.

Now, this doesn't mean that I've seen any specific fashion writer as stupid. In fact, that's where I should have seen the fundamental wrongness of my premise. I've never encountered a stupid fashion writer. I just assumed that the writers that I encountered were all exceptions, intelligent people adding worth to a subject that has no inherent worth.

Linda Grant, author of The Thoughtful Dresser? Exception. Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed? Exception. The writers of the articles in Fashion Projects magazine? The fashion critics that they write about? Amanda Stuart, the author of a biography of Diana Vreeland? Diana Vreeland herself? Every blogger that I've encountered in the perfume-blogging and sewing worlds who's written about fashion? Exceptions, exceptions, and more exceptions. Josephine Picardie, the author of My Mother's Wedding Dress? The final exception.

Why final? Well, reading My Mother's Wedding Dress was the point where I finally and firmly realized that when you can't find an exception to the exceptions, the rule is wrong. I think that this book did the job because I couldn't say, oh, well, she just happens to occasionally talk about clothes as a way to address bigger issues. The author worked for British Vogue, and many of the essays in the book come out of interviews that she did in covering fashion. She's a fashion writer. She's a fashion critic. There's no getting out of it. And she's very smart, with things to say.

Yes, she uses clothes to address bigger issues. I realize now that they all do. Fashion criticism is not all about ruffles and hemlines, any more than perfume criticism is all about analyzing the notes or movie criticism is all about special effects or camera angles. The narrower subject has inherent interest, yes, but the subject also has plenty to say about the rest of the world.


Why didn't I know this? Why didn't I assume that an area that fascinates so many women must also have something to appeal to intelligence? Why, when I know that people giggle at the phrase "perfume criticism", did the very phrase "fashion criticism" strike me as vaguely funny?

Again with the sorry.

I feel as if I owe someone a nice fruit basket.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rambling: More, and bubbly, rambling

When I take a bath, I often find myself thinking--along with reading and sometimes drinking something fizzy and having a snack (there was that haiku about chips in the tub, after all) and, oh, yes, bathing and washing my hair. I just had the idea of starting a blog series titled "after the bubbles", but that would add a work ethic to the bathtub, and it wouldn't be long before I started bringing in a notebook along with the snack, and plotting ways to safely bring in the iPad to start the writing in the presence of the bubbles. So, no series.

Sometimes when I catch a flash of my face in the bathroom mirror I think that I'm pretty, especially when my hair's up after a bath. Then I look again, and I analyze, and my nose looks too round and dumpling-like, and the rest of my face is merely workmanlike-functional, and that's that for the pretty until next time.

When I started this clothes thing I focused--not particularly by intent--on the clothes that I had never experienced before. Little black skirts that expose my calves and even, gasp, my knees. Silk. Jewelry. A coat that isn't the same as the coat I wore yesterday, and the same for my shoes. A bra that fits. A shirt that dips toward the bra-that-fits instead of hugging my neck. Contented puttering around holding this shirt against that skirt, though not without moments of frustration when I realize that that corn-colored silky sleeveless top that I paid too much for goes with absolutely nothing at all.

I'm already shifting to a new phase--for example, realizing that the novelty of exposed knees wears off and I really prefer a long, slim skirt that flirts with my shoes, though maybe when I find one I'll look for walking ease in the form of a slit that occasionally shows my legs rather than a knit fabric that hides them.

My, that was a long sentence. Blame the bubbles.

And the skirt could be something rich, sometimes, maybe tapestry-like with a silk-satin lining in a color. Sagey green woven in leaves and lined with emerald silk, let's say.

My fingers are pruney.

And that is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Rambling: Rambling

I'm overdue for a post. I was doing so well, too. For a little while, there. So I ramble.


Rambling requires a topic. I don't seem to have a topic. I'm thinking about ice cream. And the fact that St. Cupcake in Portland has stopped selling cupcakes. Well, mostly stopped. As I read it, one of their other stores will eventually serve a very (very) limited selection of cupcakes.

On the other hand, Blue Star Donuts is good. Really good.

On the other other hand, I'm supposed to be reducing sugar and carbs again.

To continue with joyfully destroying one's health at Portland restaurants, Tilt has astoundingly good bacon. I don't think they serve it as bacon; I seem to recall that it came in a sandwich and was so perfect that I extracted it from the sandwich for maximum bacon focus. There's also the praline bacon at Screen Door. And the maple bacon donut at Blue Star, which I think is better than the maple bacon donut at Voodoo Doughnut.

Also, the charcuterie at Gruner. And the charcuterie at Little Bird. And the marrow bones at Little Bird.

I'm sure that Portland has green food. I don't eat much of it. Except for the sliced fried okra at Bollywood Theater. And the strawberry balsamic ice cream at Salt & Straw next door contains fruit. That's health food, right?


I feel fat.

That is all.

Image: By Steve Morgan. Wikimedia Commons