Saturday, 26 September 2015

On Kerry McCarthy

It's been making headlines recently that Jeremy Corbyn, as the new leader of the Labour party, has elected a vegan as agriculture minister in his shadow cabinet. Not many of those headlines have seemed too pleased by this news.

And, going on gut instinct, I didn't think it was such a great idea right away either, I understood why people were sceptical. There are a number of vegans - enough, generally, to tar veganism with a bad reputation - that act like snobs. The people who act like martyrs because they've made this decision, the people who act like they're better than non-vegans on whatever moral or healthy grounds they might choose.

But obviously not all vegans are like that. To begin with, I didn't know enough about Kerry McCarthy to say whether she was that kind of person or not. The 'treat meat eaters like smokers' line that a lot of papers are running with suggests that she might be.

Although, five minutes of reading suggests she's probably not.

In fact, in an interview with BBC's Farming Today, she spoke about how she understands that people depend on the farming industry in the UK and that what she wants for it is for it to be more ethical and to put more emphasis on animal rights. Which isn't an awful idea. Farming in the west can be pretty horrific.

When you really think about it, putting a vegan in charge of farming could be a really good idea. A vegan who understands that it is their own choice not to eat animal produce and who respects the decision of people who chose differently would be fine in that position. The choice to be vegan is not one made lightly and it's usually based on morality.

I've always thought that's kind of a strange way to go about it. I've always thought that a better way to go about changing things would be to buy produce from ethical farms and hope that, eventually, a lack of business will put the crueller ones out of business. As long as the people who care about animal welfare are refusing to buy any animal products, the people who don't care will happily buy the cheapest produce that was farmed in the most inhumane way and they might never even know.

Having a vegan in charge of agriculture suggests that the person of agriculture has thought about the moral implications of farming, of animal welfare and also of the health of the people who will be eating that produce.

I've done a little bit of reading about Kerry McCarthy as a politician. She's not perfect. But she's stood up for some worthwhile things. Generally, her political opinions tend to be based on compassion. And I think that's important.

And I'm prepared to give her a chance to improve to this country's agriculture.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

A Note on Ariel Winter's Boobs

I really enjoy Modern Family. Not just in the "this alright, I'll leave it on" sort of way. But in the way that I'll watch each new one as it is released. So it would be silly of me to pretend not to have noticed how puberty his Ariel Winter.

Although it seemed like the kind of celebrity gossip I'd usually ignore, I was intrigued by this article about her decision to have breast reduction surgery.

My gut reaction to it was, Well, if that's what makes her feel comfortable, good for her. It's her body, let her so what she wants with it, her logic seems sound.

But after a further moment of reflection, I found myself feeling less position towards it. I still completely and wholeheartedly support Winter's right to do whatever she wants with her own body. I also think that, as far as surgical body modification goes, it doesn't seem like the kind of procedure likely to herald the start of a vanity-fuelled lifetime of dangerous surgery. It's not like she spent $86,000 trying to look like someone else. Even if it was, it would still be her body to take those risks with, her right to make those choices.

Her reasoning is actually very reasonable. It's common in women with larger breasts to experience back pain, which she describes as being horrifically bad: "I had a lot of back problems. I really couldn’t stand up straight for a long period of time. It started to hurt so bad that I couldn’t take the pain. My neck was hurting so bad and I actually had some problems with my spine."

That's a very good reason to get body modifying surgery. It, along with full-body burns and mastectomies for breast cancer sufferers, is one of the main reasons breast remodelling was invented.

But it's not the only reason she gave.

In her interview with Glamour magazine, she talked about not being able to find clothes suited to her body shape. She spoke about not being able to dress in a way that was considered "appropriate" for a 17-year-old because there simply wasn't anything she could buy that suited both her figure and her age. She spoke about people talking behind her back about whether or not her breasts were real or fake from the age of 14. She talked about having to pretend to be confident with her figure because "we live in a day and age where everything you do is ridiculed". She talks about how she didn't feel respected for her work as an actress because so many media outlets focussed so much on her breasts.

"It made me feel really uncomfortable," she says, "because as women in the industry, we are totally over sexualized and treated like objects."

I, in no way, have any objection of Winter's decision.

I do, however, object entirely to the kind of society that puts a young woman under that kind of pressure.

It's reasonable to see why those things would make her feel uncomfortable, especially as it's all happening in the public eye.

But, beyond the medical benefits it offers her, I don't think it's Winter who needs to change here.

I think the attitudes of the media and the fashion industery need to change. Photographers and journalists need to stop making objectification the primary function of stories about and images of women. Clothes need to be designed with every body type in mind, not just the contemporary 'ideal'. These aren't difficult changes to make, especially compared with the number of womn - young and old, famous or not - who feel the need to resort to surgery to conform to unrealistic standards.

I don't understand why people think it's not an extreme measure to resort to invasive surgery because it's not fashionable to be big-breasted or wide-hipped or round-bellied or short-legged. It's not okay to marginalise people with normal and naturally-occuring body shapes that don't meet increasingly unattainable expectations of beauty.

I want Ariel Winter to be comfortable in her body. That means, I want her not to feel pain that occurs naturally but can be avoided through surgery. It also means that I want her to be able to look her natural self, or whatever self she chooses, without being judged for it, or ogled, or objectified, or labelled, or reduced to nothing but her looks because of it.

I want every human being to feel comfortable in the skin. I want them to feel that way without having to undergro dramatic and unnecessary surgery to feel that way. I'd like to live in a world where everyone can find clothes they feel comfortable in and where no one feels like their natural or chosen body, for whatever reason, is drawing unpleasant levels or kinds of attention.

And I don't see why this is such a controversial or unpopular opinion. I don't understand why people are preapred to accept that they're not good enough in the body they were born in, for any cosmetic or non-medical reason.

Well they are good enough

You are good enough.

Regardless of whatever part of you is too big or too small or too puffy or too saggy.

What is not good enough is the culture that tell you this is not true and, worse still, makes it actively difficult for you to believe it.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

An Open Letter to British Voters

Dear supporter, begins Liz Kendall’s Labour leadership campaign video, simultaneously both presumptuous and grovelling, You probably think I’m writing to ask for you vote in the upcoming election. And I am.

Well don’t.

I know that asking for what you want may well be the best way to get it in many cases. I know that saying ‘please’ and being polite will get you a lot further than being rude or making demands or even just assuming people know what you’d like them to do for you.

But my decision in this election will not be based on who has asked the most nicely for my support. Frankly, that’s not what I’m looking for in a leader.

Nothing you produce in the brief build up to the election is going to sway my decision. Just because this is the time when people are scrutinising you a lot more closely than unusual doesn’t mean that’s what should be the foundation for this kind of choice.

My vote is going to be based on my judgement of the attitude, behaviour and actions of each candidate throughout their entire political careers. I’m going to be looking at voting records, I’m going to think about the things you’ve supported, the things you’ve fought, I’m going to think about what your impact has already been on my country and what changes you are likely to make, if elected, based on your history.

I don’t want you to persuade me any other way. I don’t want you to tell me that you’re the best candidate for the job. I don’t want you to show me all the flaws that the other candidates have because they’re human and they make mistakes. You are biased. I don’t need your help.

I am an adult, the same as everyone else with the legal right to vote, and I can make this decision of my own accord.

I have registered to vote in this year’s Labour leadership election because I care about the future of my country. I think that there is a candidate who will have a positive impact on Britain’s political future, who I would like to support. Infer whatever you will from that, but I’m not going to tell anyone that I definitely know best. I’m not going to act like my unique reasoning has got me to the only correct decision.

I know that, like any individual, I have a limited world view. I can sympathise with, but never truly know, other people’s experience of life. I can – and do, and will – read other people’s stories and I can understand, to an extent, the impact of governmental decisions on their lives. But, still, the views I hold on these stories will be my own conclusions. They, too, will be somewhat biased because of my personal worldview. I am aware of this.

This is why we have democracy. It’s why I’m not going to tell anyone that they should vote for the same person I plan to.

But I hope that people might consider their vote in the same way that I do. Seriously, thoughtfully and keeping in mind the serious consequences this decision can have for our country.

When I cast a political vote, I try to think as comprehensively as possible about the situation my country is in at the time. I think about what I want from my next leader, MP, government and I try to figure out which one is most likely to fulfil those wishes. I think about the problems this country faces and what I think would be the best way to go about fixing them. I think about what needs to be changed, about why and how. I think about what makes me proud of my country and how I think those aspects can be maximised to its fullest. I think about what is already working well the way it is. I think about how I want my country to grow over the next however long it’ll be until I get another say. I think about who I trust with the responsibility of running my country in a way that I feel will benefit as many of us who live here as possible, who will treat us fairly and will use the resources at their disposal to consistently do what is best for us.

I try to think about what each option will mean for me, for my friends, for my yet unborn children. I try to think about the impact they’ll have on the future. I try to base my projections on the information I have about their past and their promises.

I think about what I’d like to see my government do, in the short term and in the long term. I think about what would be a good first step on that path.

I critique politicians and political parties quite harshly. By voting for them, I’m saying that I trust them with a lot of power, with my country, with my rights, with the laws that govern what I can or cannot do as a free adult. As unnecessary as I think it is, I will wade through all their carefully crafted advertising, all the rhetoric they’ll inevitably spout prior to an election.

I think about the kind of person that I am trusting with this kind of power. I think about the things that they say about their opponents – whether they are fair and sportsmanlike, or if they (or their supporters) condone mud-slinging and petty childishness. I think about the candidates who have threatened to abandon their party, their supporters, their dependents if they don’t get their own way.

I think about the promises they make – not just in terms or whether or not they appeal to me, but also whether or not I believe they’ll keep them. Whether I think their promises are realistic or if they are being made by people who are na├»ve or overly optimistic, or outright lying about their intentions for my country. Whether I trust that those promises will be kept or if they are little more than crowd-pleasing BS that we’ll never hear of again after election.

I’ll consider their political career so far – have the promises they made in the past been kept? Has their voting record shown consistently held views that still correlate with their plans for government? Do I agree with the decisions they have backed or battled? Do I think they’re ready for more authority?

It’s a lot of thinking to do. A lot of people won’t do it, whether that’s because they can’t be bothered to vote at all or because they picked a party twenty years ago and have voted the same way ever since, regardless of any changes in the party’s ideology or the country’s needs.

But I do it. Every time I get an opportunity to have a say in the way my country is run, I make sure I do it. Because it’s a huge thing to trust a person or a group of people with, because it’s not a decision to be made lightly.

I don’t mind if other people don’t come to same conclusions that I do. I know that I might be wrong, that what I think is best might have terrible consequences that I haven’t considered.

But if everyone puts in a reasonable amount of thought, if everyone cares enough to put in that effort, then together I believe we can come to a decision that will work out for the best.

Dear voter. You probably think this another one of those annoying letters – or emails or phone calls or text messages or blog posts you’ve already seen so many of – trying to tell you what to think in the imminent Labour leadership election. But it’s not.

All I ask is that you do think. Thank you.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

No, No One Thinks You Have to be Fat to be a "Real Woman"

Recently, there has been a slew of articles about a photoshoot of women who aren't models - popularly dubbed 'ordinary' or 'normal' or 'real' women - wearing Victoria's Secret swimming costumes. The photos they took were placed next to the ones in the catalogues, in which the suits were worn by models.

As it got thrown around social media, this was the photo that most often accompanied the headline:

Which is a perfectly valid example of a non-model wearing one of the swimming costumes the models wore. And most of the people I saw sharing it accepted that.

But I saw a handful of people making comments about it as if they were offended. Comments like:

Oh, so in order to be a real woman you have to be fat?

I see loads of women who could be models, why are they making such a big deal about it being unrealistic?

Comments that seemed to miss the point.

The point wasn't that she was fat. It was that she was the kind of woman who isn't typically photographed weaing revealing clothing, outside of pictures taken by friends and family.

It also showed they hadn't bothered to read the article before judging it. If they had looked at it, they'd see that only two of the six women involved were noticeably overweight.

Including those two women showed exactly the kind of diversity that the media, generally, doesn't. And that advertising and catalogues and other such outlets rarely do either. The difference in the shape, size and look of all of the women in the non-model photoshoot was designed to exeplify how ridiculous it is to expect all women to conform to such rigid standards of beauty as are projected in the mainstream media.

The main differences between the models and the non-models is not size. It's the wide variation between the women featured. They're not all the same shape, they're not all the same colour, they're not all perfectly tanned or waxed.

But they still look good in their swim suits, the way women do when they buy a swimming costume that suits them. They look confident and they look like they're enjoying themselves takng photos on the beach.

The point of the photoshoot isn't to show how unreaslistic the body shapes of typical models are, but to reflect the lack of diversity in mainstream modelling and to show how unnecessary that is. By taking many different kinds of women - including some whose photos aren't all that different from the originals - and not airbrushing their imperfections out, they show that modelling doesn't need to be so exclusive.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

I Miss Dawn French in Chocolate Ads

I can't remember a time when there wasn't a fair amount of hullaballoo about the kind of women used in advertising. Whatever they're promoting, they're usually models of some description designed to make the target viewer either want to be her or want to bang her. Using these idealised and, when in print form, airbrushed women doesn't make for a realistic advert.

It's just something I've become used to.

But it's also something I don't really understand. I think a really good example of this is in chocolate advertising.

A lot of chocolate adverts make it out to be a luxury item that beautiful, successful women indulge in from time to time. And that's great. Really, chocolate should be a luxury item. It's not the kind of thing you can just eat and eat and eat and not have to deal with some consequences. Presenting it as such is probably for the best.

But that doesn't make for fun advertising.

So they make it sexy, they make it naughty. They, like most other advertisers, show a typically attractive-shaped woman enjoying it in a sometimes worryingly sexual way. They're enjoying it almost too much.

Flake ad, 1991
I understand that the idea is that viewers will want to be that successful, attractive woman who still allows herself indulgences from time to time, so why wouldn't they pick that same choice of luxury sweet?

But none of them have ever resonated with me. Those adverts have never been the reason I have chosen a particular brand of chocolate over any other. Largely because I don't tend to pick my food based on advertising anyway. But also because all those very similar adverts don't make an impact on me. I care so litte about those stuck up bitches who treat chocolate like masturbation.

For a chocolate ad to impress me, it should make me feel like chocolate makes me feel. Yeah, it's an indulgence, so after I've had some I feel satisfied and happy.

Kind of like I feel after the Dawn French Terry's Chocolate Orange adverts.

They were a special kind of clever.

They used a woman who didn't look like a model. It wasn't an unattainable goal to be like her one day. She looked like a normal woman, who enjoyed chocolate enough to have the authority to comment on what good chocolate. She looked happy, too, with her Chocolate Orange. She didn't treat chocolate like a dirty little secret. She treated it like something that enhanced her quality of life.

In those ads, at least.

And they were funny. Which is probably why I remember them so vividly from my childhood. I like funny things a lot. I haven't seen an advert for anything that I've enjoyed quite so much in recent years. What makes it good advertising is simply that I remember it so well, and still find it funny, so long after it was broadcast. I have fond memories of the Terry's Chocolate Orange ad from when I was seven years old.

It helps that I really like Dawn French anyway. But I could also identify with it, especially as a chubby kid who did horde chocolate when I had it.

There are simple reasons I still like this ad. Largely because there's not a lot like it any more.

It's an advert that shows how real people treat real things and can still make its product look good.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Shaving Ads and Sexism. Kinda.

I remember a little back, there was a bit of controversy about this waxing ad:

I understood the objections. While it doesn't go out of its way to persecute or belittle any specific group of people, I can understand why it could be considered sexist or homophobic. I understand why people might take offence at it and I understand why people disliked it.

But I also dislike most shaving or waxing ads. Anything that makes body hair removal look like a necessity rather than a luxury feels somewhat off to me.

In the same way that the now infamous 'beach body ready' ad inspired controversy, it belittles body types other than those depicted as being desirable and it is considered likely to upset people who have existing issues with body image. And so on and so forth. The key issues with it are going to the same as the ones that you could raise about basically anything that promotes unnattainable standards of beauty and expects ordinary women to strive for it.

But, at first, I didn't there was going to be a way of making a body hair removal ad that you couldn't find some kind of issue with. If you think about, most of the taglines and main selling points in those adverts are based on the assumption that women must get rid of their body hair. Probably not all, but off the top of my head (and I admit I haven't studied them in particular depth and I don't even have a TV box any more) I can't think of any that don't embrace that attitude.

And I think the problem is that it's not seen as a luxury. Hair removal is presented as a necessity. And that's why people take offence.

And it's easy to see how, without that pressure to conform, those products won't sell anywhere near as well.

But with a bit of creative thinking, there are plenty of ways that you can eschew those uncomfortable insinuations and still make an effective ad. They just have to embrace what is good about shaving for women. What, specifically, makes it a desirable luxury for the people removing their hair. Instead of making them feeling ugly or unattractive for not doing it.

Even just thinking about it, it sometimes seems that the benefit of shaving is for the people around the shaved person, rather than that person herself. For whoever looks at her or touches her. She, really, won't notice it all that much because, if she conforms to the expectations of these ads, she will be perpetually smooth. She won't experience any other way of being.

But I know a fair amount of people who hold feminism close to heart, but still shave their legs. Because it is their choice. Some of them choose not to shave their armpits, though. And considering the difference between the two areas is where you find what benefits shaving actually has for the woman doing it.

Because that benefit, simply, is luxury.

When you shave an armpit, it remains an armpit. A part of the body that, no matter how you decorate it, remains basically the same. It might get a bit more ticklish bald. But that's it. Otherwise, it's still a kind of boring and fairly unsexy part of the body that is best known for being sweaty.

When you shave a leg, though, the way you experience it changes completely. The wind feels different against it. It feels nicer. You can feel it so much more clearly. It's cool and pleasant, brushing directly against smooth skin. The same can said of lots of things - of warm sunshine and long grass and clean bedsheets. It feels different on a smooth surface than a furry one. In a positive way.

With that as the focus, I'd be far more inclined to buy hair removal products. The way that I will enjoy the world because of it, when I choose to experience that luxury. I don't want to be told that I have to shave my legs every day in order to be accepted.

But I do like having the option of going out as smooth as possible in short shorts on a sunny day and appreciating how different the world feels that way.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Why I'm Not Into Fashion, Unless I Am

I was asked at a job interview recently if I was into fashion. I didn't answer the question well.

I wasn't expecting it and I gave dithery "Um, not really. If it's doing something interesting, I suppose." My attempts to elaborate did not go well either. I explained that something unique or quirky or different will interest me, but that I'm not interested in keeping up with whatever might be new at H&M. Every year, it'll have something for when it's cold, something for when it's warm, something for going out, something casual and something professional. And they'll be basically the same as last year's lines and I won't buy any of them because I already have loads of clothes.

I stick by what I said. But I realise that while I spoke enough about what I don't like, I didn't really cover what I do.

I like seeing people do interesting things with their clothes. And I mean, something really, really unique and different and unlike as much of the rest of the world as possible, in a way that still compliments their character and form.

For instance, I have this friend who... I have this friend:

This is Hollie Would. I have never seen her looking anything other than fabulous. She does clothes well. Very well.

She used to regularly host a variety night full of people who also did clothes well. Performers including singers and jugglers and burlesque dancers and drag acts, all of them really imaginative, with their performance and with their look.

They looked interesting, they look intriguing, they looked like the kind of people I wanted to pay attention to.

People like Odelia Opium, a burlesque dancer who incorporates her costume into the dance. While I have seen burlesque dancers who do the same dance in a different outfit and call it a new act, she's different. Some burlesque performers get their gigs just through the price tag of whatever they're throwing on the floor. This one makes her clothes work with her movement. They match the theme of her dance, they are an integral part of each performance. She does burlesque a credit in the way she uses her outfits.

And it is part of what makes her consistently brilliant.

Then, there was the Middle Aged Mermaid, a drag act that presents the relationship of Ariel, the Little Mermaid, a decade or so after she left the sea to get married. It's a funny act - parodied Disney songs about the high price of living in London. And the clothes are fantastically imaginative. The Middle Aged Mermaid wears a dress made of Oyster cards with a gauze tail flowing along behind her. I have no idea where the idea came from, but I love it, and I've enjoyed chatting about it to the Mermaid herself and others about how quirky and original it is.

It's that kind of weird innovation that I enjoy about the things that people wear. Even though it is just a dress, I think it makes a huge difference to my overall enjoyment of the act.

I like that kind of oddness. I like seeing when people make dresses out of Pokemon cards or Lego or bottle caps. My friend Jan went to MCM Expo this year wearing an outfit made entirely of beer cans. I have a T shirt that, while rarely worn, is cherished hugely because it changes colour as the temperature changes. In the summer, it shows off any and all sweat stains, but I think it's an incredible piece of fashion technology.

That is the kind of the fashion titbits that I enjoy. I don't keep up with what comes down catwalks, because I don't care what you wear as long as you're comfortable in it. I'll enjoy it all the more if you wear it well, if you wear it with confidence. But if you feel good in it, that's all that matters to me.

My housemate is a comedian. This is his act:

He made that mask himself. He's working on a new one. He fiddles with the costume as he gigs more often. His outfit is brilliant. It creates a character so unique that you can't help but remember him. If clothes are supposed to make you stand out, I'd come to Neuroses before I went to basically any high street or designer clothes store. We'd go round the charity shops, chop up someone else's hand-me-downs and make something of our own. We'd be creative with it. We'd make something unique and original, something that reflects us.

Which, I think, is the point of fashion.

Not to say what is good and that everyone must wear it. But to show off the way people have chosen to reflect themselves through their clothes, for other people to emulate or improve on or ignore, depending on their reactions to it.

I like the things that surprise me, the things I don't expect. The things that pique my curiosity, not because I wonder where they were bought, but because I'm wondering where the idea behind them came from. Because I want to know how they were made, why they were made, what else can be done with them - how far we can run with this idea and what more we can do with it.