Saturday, July 15, 2017

Beyond the Bone

As a ballet dancer in my youth I was naturally obsessed with my weight and did some pretty extreme things to keep the weight off, including eating nothing beyond breakfast for six days of the week and binge-eating on the seventh, as well as using laxatives when I broke this strict diet even with just a spoonful of food beyond breakfast. And I exercised more or less all day. I weighed 37 kilos from when I was 15 to 17. I loved my hip bones and my thigh gap, though I wanted more of a gap, as well as bonier shoulders and arms.

To the Bone
This extreme dieting kind of worked for me at the time, as it does for many ballet dancers - and models and actresses - which is a problem for these art forms and one that is reflected, with slightly less intensity, in the wider experience of growing up female in a culture that values the aesthetic of female thinness and bones.

If I'm honest I still value this aesthetic to a degree, though I have not dieted - nor been thin - for many decades now, and I think my values have changed somewhat since I was a skinny teen. I can see that Keira Knightley is too thin here. Much too thin.

The Netflix movie To the Bone tackles this issue head on, with a story featuring a girl struggling with anorexia who is played by an actress who is clearly too thin (she lost 20 pounds for the role), and who has suffered from eating disorders in her past, as have the women who wrote and directed the film.

It's a pretty common female story to be sure, and for this reason it should be told in film. But the fact that the actress had to dice with this disease by losing so much weight when she was thin to begin with and had experienced eating issues in her real life, is rather problematic, as it kind of suggests that the disease is not as serious as it is, if you can just come in and out of it like that, an assumption all too easily made when the cure seems to be to just eat.

But the disease kills a high number of sufferers and the cure is far from simple. Indeed the only real cure is prevention, which is the opposite of easy as it means undoing all those messages that tell us in Western culture that thin girls are prettier than not-thin girls.

The film's inclusion of a not-thin girl as one of the patients in the clinic for treating eating disorders was a progressive - if slightly awkward - move in that it helps us to see that thin and fat are really the flip sides of the same disordered, food-preoccupied mind that is the reality for so many western girls and women, a perspective that shows, indeed, that eating in itself is no cure.

I don't think I have been a particularly good mother to my daughter in her struggles up and down with weight, no doubt partly because of my own weight issues and preoccupation with bones as a young dancer, but I think I am getting better at seeing it is preferable for women to be overweight than underweight, or at least realising that this mental adjustment is the first step towards developing a healthier perspective on women and weight.

To the Bone is, on balance, a story worth telling on film, largely because it shows the unattractiveness of being a thin and bony woman, in contrast to its usual glamorisation, without simplifying the cure or blaming the thin woman - or deflecting blame, either. There is no finger-pointing; 'blame' is diffuse and shared, a novel concept in itself.

I hope this cutting-edge, female-centred film helps anorexic girls and women - indeed all girls and women - to move beyond anorexia and other eating disorders, including bulimia and obesity. It has helped me already.  





  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Make me

So I was in our local department store (Farmers) recently trying on a black woollen skivvy because my existing one has lost its elbows and at my age you need elbows, and the lights in the changing room were so harsh white they were practically racist.

Indeed these lights judged my skin as cruelly as white-pink skin ever was judged, which might be fair enough, if it wasn't for the fact that it was clearly aimed at women of a certain age, and our skin has had more than its fair share of harsh judgement.

You can't enter these giant glaring glamour stores, most of the stock of which is aimed at 'older' women, without passing through a gauntlet of white-lit makeup stalls staffed by an army of heavily made-up and uniformed women who glare at you as a drill sergeant might glare at his (her) soldiers to see if their kit is up to muster.

Only soldiers sign up for that level of scrutiny, we don't, and it is our skin wrinkles, the work of mother nature, being judged wanting, not our clothes wrinkles, the work of sloppy laundry. There is only so much we can do to improve the situation, and whatever we do is only a stop-gap measure, and a bloody expensive one at that. So we have much more to lose than to gain by going down that made up road.

And the only reason I can think for why they continue the glaring lighting beyond this vast cosmetics gauntlet into the changing rooms where it simply cannot improve your response to the clothing tried on there, is that the money to be made in convincing middle-aged women they need a full facial cosmetic upgrade is so much more than they can make in selling clothing that they are actually willing to sacrifice their clothing sales to sell cosmetics, by reducing your self-esteem far enough in the changing rooms that on your way out, back through the gauntlet, you succumb to the pressure and stop to ask one of those heavily made-up manikins to make you up a face. Then, once you see your made-up self in the mirror, there's no going back to the old, low-resolution, blurry, blotchy you.

And after flinging my skivvy in disgust at the assistant on my way out and telling her: 'Those lights in there aren't helping!' refusing to buy the thing on principle even though it fit, I passed through that glaring cosmetics gauntlet and despite myself found my feet hesitating: perhaps just an eyebrow pencil? But no; it's a slippery eyebrow slope.

So its no eyebrows or elbows for me for now. However I do fear that as I am trying to return to the stage at a rather advanced age, it is only a matter of time before I do go down that slippery eyebrow slope. But not yet.

   


Monday, July 3, 2017

Animal sex?

Not as animal as all that
When I read recently about the female star (Emily Watson) of the latest BBC drama series Apple Tree Yard having ‘hot, animal sex’ on screen with a stranger at the age of 50, my first thought was: what do they mean by ‘animal’? 

Unfortunately I was unable to find out because this so-called 'animal' sex occurred in the first episode that we missed on account of attending the comedy performance Feminists are Funny. Clashes do happen, sometimes they are a little ironic. 

The performance was great; feminists are funny indeed, but even so I was disappointed to have missed episode one of the series that I had planned to watch and have since watched subsequent episodes of (no animal sex in those, at least as far as I could tell).  

It's not that I wanted to watch 'animal' sex especially, only that I am curious about the term, because, as it happens, during the course of my advanced political research, I have had occasion to watch sex between creatures we more routinely describe as animals, if not as the king and queen of the animals, namely lions, and the sex they had was not what I would call 'hot' or 'animal', indeed. Very little heat seemed to be involved, it was all but perfunctory and over in less than ten seconds, though often repeated in the course of five minutes, and each time it was the female who initiated it - by squatting down on her front - and ended it by roaring over her shoulder to get her chap to look lively and hop off (he would otherwise have stayed there all day and fallen asleep; that bit seemed quite animal, actually) so she could stretch her legs, circulate his semen, and begin the whole sequence over again.

My second thought was: 'Is she really younger than me?' Emily Watson, that is, not the lioness in the video. She was definitely younger, having animal sex five times in five minutes. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

On being both - and much more

It was Virginia Woolf who 100 years ago wrote that it was not enough to be man or woman, that we have to be both, but it is Ali Smith, no doubt with the added vision of someone who lives a non-heterosexual life, unlike Woolf, who has given that idea contemporary teeth in her extraordinary body of work, not least her 2014 Women's Prize for Fiction winner - How to be both - that tackles the issue directly,  if very creatively, and which I've just finished reading having only recently discovered Ali Smith - better late than never.

For Smith it is not just about being male and female at once but also the idea that those who die live on in us, as does their art and many of their traditions, while we all play many roles in our lifetimes, indeed more and more, and that that is how it should be and we need to embrace that idea of 'being both' much more than we do.

I won't say I understand all that Ali writes on this challenging idea, but I think I understand enough to say that she gets at the crux of what it takes to have effective experiences living in, behind and beneath all the moments of our lives, and especially in living in relationships that are not based on preconceived polarities but allow us to experiment more with open feelings and deeper connections with each other, between the generations and across cultures, as well as the sexes, which is surely the challenge of the modern age, if not of all ages.

I am heterosexual, as far as I know, but in my marriage I believe I am in a way both woman and man, as is my husband in return, and then we are neither too, or in being both we are neither as far as any kind of preconceived notions of what it is to be a man and a woman go. I mean not entirely, but in essence we are kind of both. He is a university librarian and blues guitarist (to name but two of his roles), I am a political theorist and dancer, to name but two of mine.

By contrast, reading recently about the Uber CEO and general company practice of being aggressively greedy and bullying and sexist, in other words classic macho male behaviour, it seems to me that the problem with that situation could be described as men being too male - a problem not unique to this 'man's world', indeed that which defines its essence and essential problem.

Equally, but with a little more complexity because in a man's world women's choices and options for getting ahead are generally more constrained than men's are, Kim Kardashian could be said to be too female in that she has built an industry around her appearance and the hyper-sexualised display of her womanly assets and nothing else, as if to be woman is just to be, and always to be, on show.

Thus I think the Uber men and the Kardashian women alike could learn a thing or three from Ali Smith's idea of being both, and also neither, in moving beyond the heterosexual gender extremes of learned behaviour that accentuate the innate tendencies and weaknesses of both sexes. Instead we should try to develop different tendencies to overcome those weaknesses and in doing so, it's possible that homosexual and transsexual insights can provide clues as to how we might better do this.

To being both and much more than the sum of those polarised parts.

  

 


Monday, June 19, 2017

24 years ago today


Face to face for the first time.
Photo taken by the midwife.
It was twenty-four years ago today
Following thirty-five hours of pain
That the doctors said at least you tried
But baby's had enough, baby's tired

And giving me a form to sign
To waive responsibility if I died
A needle took the pain away
As the midwife took out the razor blade

Which was guaranteed to raise a smile
When she shaved off a mole and cried:
'You didn't tell me you had a mole, child!'
And I said: 'I forgot, I've got a lot on my mind'

But what's a bit of blood between wives
In the best cause of furthering lives
And the mole was forgotten in a flash
When to the surgery we did together dash


For the show to end all shows to begin
Applying the weapons of mass reproduction
Under bright lights with a tug and a cry
He did emerge finally, he did arrive

And they said I'd like to introduce to you
Your firstborn babe, he's bloody but brand new
And it certainly was a big thrill
Though I was shivering all over with a sudden chill

Then a week later, it didn't take too long
They said: you can take him home, go on, go on
And so we did twenty-four years ago
And today he still lives at home

Which is fine
We're all good with that
When we go away he looks after the cat


Happy birthday, Conor James, there's no pleasure without labour pains.









  




Friday, June 16, 2017

Handmaid hope

So I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn't make it through Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale, though I had enjoyed several of her other books before that, not least the brilliantly named - and written - The Edible Woman.

But Handmaid's I found not only unnecessarily bleak but too heavy-handed in its depiction of the dominating female characters who perpetrate most of the day-to-day suffering inflicted upon the handmaids, at least in the first third of the book that I read. Even the institutionalised rape of the handmaids seemed to be blamed more on the wives who watch than on the their husbands who perform their role in a perfunctory, almost reluctant way.

So I was a little reluctant to invest time in the TV series based on the book and again nearly gave it up after the first couple of episodes that did nothing to relieve my original misgivings. But I persisted, and I'm more or less glad I did, for the story ends on a note of some hope, with the women collectively refusing to stone their fellow handmaid to death - 'They should never have given us uniforms if they didn't want us to be an army' and the wife, an almost entirely unsympathetic character to that point, standing up to her husband when he tells her 'You answer to me; now go to your room!' by raging at him that he is weak and because of his weakness - the usual infidelities with his handmaids, plus scrabble - God has made him infertile, the ultimate insult and impotency in Atwood's dystopian world (if not the ultimate real-world fantasy).

And although it doesn't really give us anything to hope for in terms of resolving the real-world gender oppression and conflict that undermines the pursuit of those values of love, equality and freedom on which the happiness and health of all depends, the message of female collective action is empowering and the creative exposition of the gender corruption and crap that lies at the heart of all patriarchal religions is effectively done if, at times, all too real: there but for the grace and graft of those who resist fundamentalist religions go each and every one of us.

But I am recommending the series and thinking about re-reading and finishing the book; I just might have to wait till Trump is impeached first; it's a little too close to the bone right now. Hopefully Melania watches it and realises she is little more than a handmaid herself then files for her freedom and the public humiliation is enough to bring on the ultimate Trump tantrum that finally reveals to the world what a sorry excuse for a man he is. Now that would make for a good fantasy novel.




Thursday, June 8, 2017

Standing up for Her (Bridget Christie)

The world has done something right at last!

In fact the world of women has been doing a lot right lately, even more so than usual, and better still, they've been doing it MUCH more publicly than ever before, giving sisterly support to women of all stripes and strides across the globe, so that we might all stand up for Her in numbers never seen before to improve the world for women and with women that means children, and oh look; some of those children will grow up to be men, so that means men too.

Hurrah! The world's problems fixed by handing women the mics! (pronounced mix). Indeed the answers aren't blowing in the wind anymore, they're blowing in the women... Okay, that joke still needs some work. I'm not quite ready for my own Netflix special.

But BRIDGET CHRISTIE most definitely is, and last night she proved this to me, my husband (who is a man) and many thousands, perhaps millions of other women and men around the world in her new Netflix special Stand Up For Her the first global-release Netflix stand-up special by a British woman and possibly the first ever global-release Netflix special by a mother of any nationality, for she is a mother, unlike the majority of female stand-ups, though of course fathers abound. But times are a changing.

I had not heard of Bridget before, I confess, slightly to my shame, but living 10,000 miles away I hope I might be forgiven, this being her first internationally-released show. But it most definitely won't be her last, as it is one of the best stand-up specials I have ever seen -- and I've seen a fair few now -- and pretty much the only one that tackles sexism head on, a major challenge for a comedian.

But it's a mark of Bridget's talent, as well as our times, that feminism can be brought to the international stand-up stage and be wildly relevant and funny. For example she takes on Stirling Moss, the racing car driver, who said publicly he thought women had the physical capacity to be racing car drivers but not the mental acumen, even though his own sister is a world champion racing car driver and he once stepped into an empty lift shaft, fell three flights and broke both his ankles, something Bridget suggests, to brilliant comic effect, shows a slight lack of mental acumen on his part.

We are all special, of course, but some of us are more special than others, and Bridget Christie's Netflix special is as special as they come. I look forward to her world tour; suggested title: Mothers On the Move.