Archive | September, 2011

Weekend Open Thread: Dieting edition

30 Sep

I love feminist kitteh. Feminist kitteh does not like to diet. Why? Well, feminist kitteh is a personal friend of mine, and she told me why: It’s because when you are dieting, there is no room for apple pie punch, and you can’t have cookies for breakfast. That, my friends, is unacceptable.

Friday means semi-topical open threads, so let’s talk about food, shall we? Talk amongst yourselves – I’ll give you some topics:

  • Do you remember the first time you “went on a diet”? How old were you? What inspired it?
  • What’s your relationship with food like? Has it changed as you’ve grown up/gotten older?
  • What do you do when you’re tempted to cave in to the pressure to be thin/muscley/whatever-it-is-society/fashion magazines-tell-you-you’re-supposed-to-be-for-your-gender?
  • How do you draw the line between keeping yourself healthy (avoiding bad-for-you-foods and remembering to get exercise now and again) and straight-up image obsession?
  • If you have children, how do you/did you go about teaching them to have a healthy relationship with food? If you don’t, how would you? Or what was your childhood relationship with food like? What did you learn from your parents/family/friends/boob tube?

Stick figure families, chill’uns and dolla dolla bills, yo

29 Sep

There was an excellent post over at Sociological Images yesterday on the topic of those stick-figure family bumper stickers/window decals you see on the backs of automobiles nowadays. One of the illustrations for the post is a comic from XKCD, which I enjoy thoroughly:


Yes, yes, yes, I know that children do not equal money (except, you know, statistically). It’s still funny, especially because these stickers drive me bonkers. “Look at me!” the stickers seem to shout. “I’m a cisgendered able-bodied person in a heteronormative socially-sanctioned relationship with an appropriately structured nuclear family unit! I feel the need to proclaim my privilege with a set of pseudo-personalized stickers, because my luxury minivan is not enough of a status signifier for the strangers driving past on the highway!” Of course, even in the comic version, man + woman = the norm, although I suspect that was chosen for contrast more than anything else (the comic would’ve been a different sort of commentary had the cartoonist chosen to swap out additional standard-issue family members).

It’s also funny because, every once in a while, when friends/acquaintances/coworkers email me unsolicited pictures of their children, I get the urge to respond with an unsolicited picture of my paycheck, or something equally inappropriate and totally unrelated to whatever it was we were emailing about. It’s one thing if I ask, “So, how are the kiddos?” and get a photo in response; it’s another thing entirely if we are discussing, say, the political climate in Uzbekistan and the response is something like:

“I don’t know about those Uzbeks, but aren’t my kids just too cute?!”

Yes. Your kids are cute. And so is my paycheck (zing!). But let’s have appropriate segues, okay? There’s no excuse for non-sequiturs in email communications.

The Evolution of Dance: Part One

27 Sep

I, like millions of other little girls, grew up dreaming of being a prima ballerina. I wanted to dance so badly I could taste it. As soon as I was able, I began checking out the same three books about ballet from the library over and over and over, poring over each page, each photo, each dance step tutorial. My favorite was about a deaf girl who danced, keeping the beat of the music by feeling the vibrations through the floor. I kept reading, and soon I had every position memorized and practiced, knew that my toes were well-constructed for one day going en pointe, and began using my dresser as a ballet barre. I begged my parents to send me to lessons – reasoning it was only fair that I take ballet, as my brother took baseball and we should each be allowed to have one extracurricular hobby.

I loved everything about ballet: the dancers’ strong, long limbs; their high, tight chignons; the grand pianos in the practice rooms; their romantic performance skirts; their utter fanaticism – skipping high school to study dance, shipping their preadolescent selves off to Russia to become the very best at a dying art, eschewing the pubescent party scene to practice plies and pirouettes.

Little did I know that while Little League is nearly free, ballet lessons are expensive. I took a single year of classes before my parents gave up the budgetary ghost, during which I learned many useful facts:

  • Pirouetting to the left is harder than to the right
  • Tights + leg hair = itchy
  • I am more flexible than the average person, but not more flexible than the average ballerina
  • I have a perfect point
  • If part of your Halloween costume as Pippi Longstocking involves wire hangers in your braids, and you don’t have time to change before class, your braids will scrape the wall during your barre work, and probably leave a mark

The most important lesson I learned, though – imparted to me personally by Madame Instructor herself, a wizened old woman and an expedient disciplinarian – was that I simply did not have, and would never have, the “body type” of a real ballerina. It’s hard to fathom how the teacher could have possibly drawn any conclusions about my suitability for – or interest in – an adult career in professional dance based off of my 9-year-old body, but there you have it. And thus one of the many seeds of body hatred was sown in my innocent little mind. I was not thin enough, not rich enough, not good enough for the one thing I wanted more than anything else: to dance, dance, dance.

… to be continued

In order to lighten the mood after that depressing little tale (to be continued at a later date, I promise), here’s some darn good dancin’ muzak, which is very likely among the songs I was listening to right before I rocked the mic like a vandal and wrote this:

Appropriately schoolgirl-y, no? Interestingly, I had no idea this song was a) popular, and b) had a video until I tried looking it up for this post. I’m still not sure if the above is the “official” video or not, but the one about the underdog soccer team winning a game seemed a bit more appropriate for y’all than the one of the strung-out ladies mooning over men in suits while writhing in lingerie.

So, were there any evil grown-ups in your childhood life that tried to squash your dreams for no good reason? Did you ever wear a Halloween costume to ballet class (what was I thinking?! But how awesome is Pippi Longstocking? Answer: 12 on the 10-point awesomesauce scale.)? And do you remember a particular moment when your self-image (body- or otherwise) was thoroughly cemented in your wee childlike mind?

Lopsided relationships

22 Sep

(Or: How I learned to love micro-power dynamics)

Ever noticed in human relationships how often one person or group of people have more power than the other?

It’s true on a macro level – in the US, whites have more power than others as a whole. Men have more power than women. Adults have more power than children. The rich have more power than the poor. The Global North (first-world nations primarily located in the Northern Hemisphere) has far more power than the Global South (developing nations primarily located in the Southern Hemisphere). And so on.

But it’s also true on a micro level – one neighborhood’s residents have more power than another’s, a manager has more power than an employee, etc. The power dynamics populate on down to the supermicro level – in one-on-one human relationships. You all know what I’m talking about. The relationship power struggle can be romantic – she changes her tastes to suit his or he swaps his social group for hers – or platonic, where one friend makes the decisions about where to go and what to do, while the other simply tags along.

Among friends, who often keep up a pretense of not “keeping score,” it can be seen in who extends the most invitations. Who goes to whose house? Who is put out the most the majority of the time? Who crosses bridges and rivers to visit the other? Who chooses the movie, the bar, the restaurant? Who leads the conversation? Who do the two of you talk about the most? The power dynamics often fall along class lines – when there is a class division in a relationship, whether it be romantic or otherwise, the member with the higher class gets the power. Usually without much of a struggle.

You can read some of this
highly worthwhile book
at the New York Times.

I first learned of this phenomenon when I bought a book called “Class Matters.” There was a whole chapter on marriages formed of two people from different classes and the power dynamics of their relationships – those of the upper echelons controlled the couples’ finances, among other things. It’s interesting, once you know about this, to observe how your own friends’ and acquaintances’ backgrounds affect their personal dynamics. An inherently outgoing friend may become shy around certain others because of his or her perceived inferiority, or a naturally quiet type may become bossy and outgoing around friends whose perceived socioeconomic status is lower.

Fascinating, I tell you. Sick, but fascinating. Have you ever noticed this in your own life? At work or in a romantic relationship or a friendship? What do you think would happen if you tried to bring it up in conversation? And, to my sociologically-inclined readers, is there an official word or phrase for this phenomenon?

The five people you meet on the internet

19 Sep

I like to sign up for random stuff on the internet. Even better if whatever I sign up for results in me getting stuff in the mail. Who doesn’t like receiving things in the mail? The same people who hate puppies, that’s who! And Nazis. Nazis totally hate mail.

This is pretty much the sole reason why I am an IMPer, and why I had loads of fun with the book “High Weirdness by Mail” as a dorky preteen. It’s also why I recently signed up for a penpalling site. I figured it would be a good way to make new friends in interesting places, who I could then go visit. Specifically, I would like to make new friends in New York City. You see, I visit New York a lot.* And when I am there, I know approximately .75 people.**

Knowing less than one person while in a city of more than 19 million is kind of depressing. I am sure that, out of that 19 million, there are probably at least five or six really rad people that would totally think I was rad, and would eat dinner with me or maybe know of a good bar to go to. And the sort of people who can pull their shit together enough to write a letter, put it in an envelope, and add a stamp? Well, they tend to be the types that are better at follow-through than, say, your average Facebookian. Right? Wrong. Well, at least so far.

Thus far, I have met five types of people on the penpalling site:

  • Sideways hat guy: This guy is really skinny. If he is wearing a shirt, it is a too-big tee shirt with a stretched collar. His cap is on sideways, because he is COOL. He says “Wassup GURL!?” on your profile. He may or may not have a gold tooth. He is sometimes making a gang sign in his photo.
  • Middle aged guy: Hi! Your smile is so bewitching! You may think I am young because of my command of hip slang, but OH NO I AM OLD! HA HA! But oh-so-mature. I will treat you niccceeeee, Clairisssse. And by “nice” I mean I will buy you a bandage dress from Wet Seal and then expect head as payment.
  • Scammer guy: I hope you don’t mind friendship. CLICK ON LINK to win!!!
  • Large-breasted, scantily clad, headless girl: CHk oUT my PICXXXX!! thx! Click here! xoxoxxxoooo
  • Toothless people: I try not to judge based on appearance. I do, I really do. But teeth, they do not reach this state of rot by natural means, OH NO. There is only one way they get that way. And it is by abusing a drug featured in countless public service announcements. Meth heads in real life scare me plenty, thanks.

*Furthermore, I may be moving there a year from now and it would be cool to know people then, too.
**Curious about the math? Well, here is how it adds up to .75:

  • .25 person: The son of one of my mom’s work friends, to whom I was introduced solely because he lives in New York. Had dinner once. May one day have lunch.
  • .25 person: A delightful lady who I know through a work vendor relationship. We could be friends, if she wasn’t always trying to sell me something.
  • .25 person: An old friend from college, who has since acquired a wife who is threatened by my presence, which I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know about anyway. Can you say skeezy?

Mindless sartorial waffling, part II

16 Sep

It’s been a week of nattering about appearances, hasn’t it? First we learned how to lesbonify ourselves, then we learned that to some people, “femmes” are invisible, and to others, heavier women are worth less. That’s a whole lot of Serious Contemplation about The Presentation of Self, innit?

Did I mention it’s on sale?

But it’s Friday. It’s time for fluff and open threads. So! In the spirit of the week’s theme, let’s talk about this awesome-looking pencil skirt! Should I purchase this delightful confection? I do so love job skirts. My über-fashionable friend D says yes, and so does the first fashion plate I ever knew – my mom – so I’m leaning toward yes. Weigh in in the comments!

If you’re stuck for topics to discuss (other than, of course, weighing the merits of various types of houndstooth), try these on for size (GET IT?! Try them on! For size! Ahhhahaha. It’s a wonder I’m not a professional comedienne. Solid gold, I tell ya.):

  • When did you first become aware of different modes of dress and what they signified, culturally and otherwise?
  • How has your style evolved over the years?
  • Is there any style or fashion that you find completely unacceptable? Why?

Happy Friday everyone! Keep on being awesome.

Fat dudes up, fat chicks down

13 Sep

Commenters! This week’s unicorn award for best comment goes to… every last one o’ ya! Why? Because y’all made me think Very Hard Thoughts on a Sunday.

Here is a smattering of observations from readers:

I feel more stigma now for my weight than anything I wear. 

… society continues to undermine women, despite our (relatively) newfound career freedom, by severely objectifying our bodies – fatness being the ultimate stigma.

But of course everyone knows that only women who are capable of keeping their bodies in check are capable of anything beyond the most rudimentary tasks. If you can’t keep yourself thin, you can’t do anything, can you? -Nanifay

Turns out, this issue has ACTUAL SCIENCE behind it. Did you know, for example, that overweight women earn less, while overweight men earn more? How is that fair? Answer: It isn’t. No dice if you’re “average weight,” either – you have to be RAIL THIN (25 pounds below the median, to be precise) in order to reap the salary benefits. If I lost 25 pounds, I would no longer be able to support the weight of my own head. But hey, I’d make an extra $16K!

And lest we forget, it’s not just women’s weight that is policed by the patriarchy Gestapo, it’s also our faces:

I recently learned that not wearing make-up was making people thinking of me as less professional. Sad face. – Kate Dino

Sadface indeed. We all know that having wrinkles, acne, uneven skin tone, flat eyelashes or mussed-up hair is directly correlational to job performance. AMIRITE, ladies? Who here finds it hard to think when her lipstick shade is a bit off? Can I get a hell yeah? Ugh.

Meanwhile, there are definite benefits to looking the part (besides being seen as professional and getting paid more):

Most of my life I’ve tried to appear as anonymous as possible, probably following the example of my Communist Dad who thought you should dress for rallies and demonstrations in such a way as to give you time to dodge a blow while the cop was momentarily unsure if you were a dirty Red or a respectable bystander. – John Burke

Smart thinking, those Red Diaper babies. I get pulled over way less now that I have brown hair instead of pink. A friend of mine quipped that when she quit driving a hippie car, and started strapping a baby in the back, she was harassed a heckuva lot less by the coppers. Although it’s not surprising, it’s still kind of shocking. “Racial profiling” is in the news a lot, but that’s clearly not the only kind of profiling that goes on.

Thanks for being a bunch of smartiepants, guys! And keep those comments coming – I get a wonderful surge of a feeling I can only describe as “validation as a human being” every time someone comments.*

*Unless you are a crazy person who is threatening me ‘cuz darnit, who told ladies they could have opinions anyway?! Then I just mock your poor grasp on grammatical conventions and picture you drowning in a lake of fire.

Femme invisibility

9 Sep

OK, so remember my absolutely lovely guest blogger, Mel? And all our whinging about being picked on by “proper” queer women? Well it turns out there’s an official term for our mutual dilemma: It’s called “femme invisibility.”

I learned this because a friend of mine sent a link to a most hilarious and awesome blog*, that defines the problem thusly:

Femme invisibility is a lesbian phenomenon in which a feminine-looking lesbian has difficulties in convincing the dyke world at large that she’s gay, or being seen by other lesbians at all.

Naming things is so cathartic, innit? The mere existence of the above definition makes me feel better and a titch less like a whiny little freak. Since it’s Friday, howzabout a little Weekend Open Thread action? Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Ever been alienated from your peer group because of the way you look or present yourself?
  • Ever been alienated from the general public for same?
  • Ever changed the way you dressed or looked in order to better “fit in” with a group?

* Link is NSFW. Also there is a very long intro before you get to the femme invisibility stuff, but it is so worth it to read the whole thing.

K-Y features lesbian couple in commercial

8 Sep

Today’s post is brought to you by “personal lubricant.” Check out the lesbian marketing action:

I am pretty excited to see gay ladies in an advert like this, being marketed to like any other self-respecting consumer demographic (and not even in a PSA!). Now all we need is to see lesbians, gay menfolk and transfolk featured in commercials for things that AREN’T implicitly about sex, and we’re golden. I’ll start holding my breath in 3, 2, 1…

Today’s post brought to you by the letters F, A and G

7 Sep

Years ago, when I was but a young budding queer lady, I worked quite hard on my queer getup. As a long-haired makeup-wearing be-skirted member of the female gender, previously in possession of a beloved boyfriend, my street cred was constantly in question. I showed up to parties populated by lezzies and received cold shoulders and withering stares – one alpha lesbian would often ask, very much within earshot, “Who invited her?”

Not being accepted by my own damn peer group was a new and deeply unpleasant experience, so I immediately set to work lesbonifying myself. I remember one outfit in particular that was a hit – army green shortalls (crotch cut out so it was more like a minidress with a bib), ripped fishnets, green combat boots, tube top. Even when attempting to be butch, I still couldn’t stop myself from adding things like tights and tube tops to the equation.

I no longer have to prove myself in this way, partly due to the fact that I’ve been dating women for so long that everyone has accepted that I am not some kind of Benedict Arnold. But the rejection I experienced still smarts – and it still exists in gay communities everywhere for non-mainstream queers. Just try changing your gender, or being bisexual, and watch as your previously-accepting social circle turns their backs.

Melanie from silly wrong but vivid right* has smart things to say (and good advice) about lesbian fashion, and how mandatory aesthetic conformity is just plain backward, so read on:

Hey, Sarah’s blog friends :) so you may remember, a short while ago, Sarah wrote a guest post on my blog. Well, here I am, returning the … I was going to say favour, but actually it was a privilege to have Sarah write a blog for me, and it’s a privilege to appear on hers. I’ve known, and admired the lovely Sarah for her writing for many years now (how time flies!) and am excited that our wee blog worlds can cross like this.

I was a little stuck on which angle to go with, and so asked Sarah for a little guidance, and this is what she said:

“How does being “femme” change your lesbian identity? (or something like that). You know, how do you deal with people who assume you are straight, or other lesbians who questions your “street cred” because you dress in girly getups, etc.”

So here’s my attempt at a response:

“I need to go shopping” I said to my friend Jo. She is the leader in all things fashionable, and she’s one of my few straight friends. Actually, she’s the fiancée of my Very Best Friend Ever, Chris. What I believe Americans would call a BFF? I learned that from Paris Hilton. Already, I’m digressing. I shouldn’t write blogs on Monday mornings.

So for the short while that I lived with Chris and Jo a few months back, I was well dressed. Jo works in events and so therefore ‘knows’ all the right people, and often attends fashionable parties in the city on roof tops with hot tubs. She wouldn’t ever wear the same dress twice. Her wardrobe is immense! Whenever I was off out for the night, she’d send me in to it to pick something. Thanks be to the lord that we are the same size.

I often try to manufacture my look a little too much, rather than just going with instincts. Quite often, while getting dressed, I’d ask her opinion:

“Jo, do I look too lesbian?”
“Melanie, you are a lesbian.”
“Jo, do I look too girly?”
“Melanie, you are a girl.”

It’s hard work, being a girl, and a lesbian all at once.

Back to the original point though – over cocktails one night a few weeks back, I mentioned that I needed to shop. She waited for me to suggest a time and place, and I had to tell her that this wasn’t one for her. The intention of this shopping trip was to lesbonify myself.

Manchester Pride (also known as ‘Gay Christmas’) was fast approaching, and just a couple of nights before I’d had to defend my lesbian status to a gay guy, in a bar called G-A-Y (!!) who then went and retrieved one of his ‘proper’ lesbian friends to get confirmation that “this one’s straight, yeah?” The girl with the Ice-White-funky-Mohawk/Mullet-combo confirmed. Despite my shaking my head at her in a very disapproving manner. She was hot – but she pissed me off.

I think I may have been born without the chip that sets other peoples gaydars off, and the fact that I like to wear makeup and pretty clothes doesn’t do a lot to help this. I should mention that my gaydar is finely tuned, and quite often I spot the ones disguised as ‘real girls’.

But, for Pride, I intended to get chatted up. I was going to give in, and put on the uniform. Jo was having none of this, she didn’t want to hear my protests, and told me that I shouldn’t ugly myself up to get a girl. Her words, not mine. Chris also chimed in with a little wisdom; “Mel, dress for your personality, not your sexuality.” I know, I know. I hate it when other people are right. Because to be honest, I’m not going to feel myself, or beautiful, wearing clothes that aren’t my style. I walk taller, with a straighter back and my legs look better in heels. In stompy boots, I stomp, I swagger. My tummy looks bigger. Stop laughing, it’s true.

Years ago, I had a big drove of babbling gay boy friends, who I used to go out and misbehave with every weekend. I was often assumed to be their Fag Hag. I bought myself a little black vest top, and some iron-on diamantes, and emblazoned the top with the letters F, A and G. People didn’t get it.

This seems archaic to me, to write all of this. Lipstick Lesbos (ugh, I really, really hate that term!) … beautiful lesbians, have been around for so long now, they exist in hoards, I know loads of them, they are everywhere. Lesbians are no longer only overweight butchies with crew cuts and neck ties, who will only ever be seen darkened in bars far off the beaten track. We now exist in the form of beauties such as Portia de Rossi (who I’m pretty sure the world is still waiting on to get over her ‘phase’.) Shows such as The L Word and Lip Service show us lesbians in the image that they really are – diverse. So I can’t work out why it is that my own community have a problem with accepting my sexuality without me wearing it like a badge. Straight people, although often with a flicker of surprise, don’t seem to have the same problem when I reveal myself to them – but the gayers; they just don’t get it.

I get the cultural/sociological thing; that people need to ‘belong’ to their group, that their identity is as a part of that group and that they want to wear this on the outside, to be recognised by others for their ‘belonging’ – but surely we’ve moved on from that? Surely with the ‘out and proud’ diversity that exists in the more civilised parts of the world today, we can all just be who we are without having to learn secret bloody handshakes?

Sexuality should be about just that; sexuality, not fashion. There is only one thing that makes me gay, and that’s the fact that I’m attracted to women. I’ll keep on with that line of thought in that hope that others will too, and that this changing world will continue to evolve in to something that allows us to remain the individuals that we are.

And wear high heels.

* My mysterious and hip British pen pal – she sends me handwritten letters! That means, among other things, that she is nearly single-handedly propping up the US Postal Service, for which we should all be grateful.

Additional VERY IMPORTANT but completely unrelated footnote:  It is exactly one month until my birthday. AHEM. Just so you know.


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