Category: culture

I’ve been thinking about your body. Have you been thinking about mine?

Bodies have been on my mind. I read two very interesting posts this week on bodies thanks to the savvy Clementine Ford who shared a great piece by Whitney Teal and then wrote her own response. Both pieces are on the idea of the “right kind” of body, or the idea of what might be deemed an attractive body by society, marketers, the media or anyone who wants to register bodies to be good, bad, better, worse or unacceptable.

Each of us have a concept of what we want our bodies to be and what we think our bodies should be. That might be related to size, shape or level of perceived attractiveness. They can be considered in relation to labels of gender and sexuality. For some bodies might be a considered as to how they operate; able, disabled, healthy, sick, strong or weak or even the ability of our bodies to give life to others, take life away or be built upon in some form of cyborg, more human than human capacity. Bodies can be discussed in relation to numerous academic disciplines and intellectual perspectives and the dialogues that happen around this issue are rich in debate and detail.

Like most people I have my own ideas and issues around bodies; my body. As mentioned in the article by Teal, I’ve found the recent popularisation of the hour glass figure problematic. While I have a body size that generally meets societal acceptation, there remains plenty of other ways I can deem myself to be lacking or unacceptable by imposed standards of beauty and or femineity. The “real women have curves” tag line was long a point of contention as a formerly skinny up and down teen. In recent years the hour glass figure “trend” in fashion has seen shopping for clothes become frustrating as my body’s curves are apparently not in the appropriate places. When talking about bodies and beauty, one woman’s empowerment can be another’s dismissal (of course this issue is not resigned to women only).

I’m not anti fashion; I understand the drive of marketing and advertising it’s just become apparent that I may not be part of the key target market for fashion and beauty products. The images of models doe eyed and mouths pursed in a breathless shape confuse me. I don’t want to channel the 1950’s as a dolled up housewife or alternative sexy pin-up. I don’t want to be Miranda Kerr, Kim Kardashian or Beyonce (I’m sure they’re all nice enough). Many of my clothing choices these days come down to comfort – will this be suitable for sitting at my desk all day and comfortable enough to walk across campus to my car? Can I eat a large bowl of pasta without having to undo a button? How quickly can this be removed in the heat of the moment?

I recently had a conversation with a male friend about female appearances and in particular makeup. In a conversation about our respective love lives I mentioned being at a bar with my person of interest aware that I was probably the only female in the room not wearing makeup. My male friend sounded surprised at my barefaced choice “you didn’t wear makeup?!” I explained to my friend that while I do like wearing makeup (I trained in makeup artistry many years ago) I no longer feel the need to wear it often. Interestingly enough, he went on to tell me he thought one his person’s of interest wore too much makeup and that this in part was a deterrent for him. So even though he himself does not find heavily made-up faces attractive he still held belief that makeup was a protocol of the dating ritual. Tracey Spicer delivered a fabulous talk on the ideals held about women’s personal “presentation” in the workplace that I’d highly recommend. Ritual and representation plays a key part in our thinking about bodies, beauty and presentation. Comparison and evaluation of worth is part of that ritual for many of us.

Our bodies can directly impact our sense of worth. The academic discourses around bodies are often raised in relation to my work. When discussing self-injury words like embodiment are used; lines are drawn to the patriarchal impact on women’s bodies and the idea of the “skin-ego”. This work has its intellectual place and may be more relevant to some people’s experiences with self-injury than others. As I see it self-injury is self-worth impacting on the body (as opposed to the other way around). The self-injury body relationship is a strange one and likely varies due to the underlying issues and experiences of the individual.  The experience of the scarred body is subjected to conventions of beauty and expectation of presentation. In online discussions on self-injury many who bare scars discuss their choice to “wear my scars” while others may choose to try to cover or conceal theirs. Some express that their scars are not significant enough and the same processes of comparison and value that occurs in relation to body size, shape etc can play out in relation to the severity of others scarring. I found that when my PhD shifted to the topic of self-injury many were surprised asking if I actually had scars, or exclaiming that my scars did not look any more noticeable than any individual who had an adventurous childhood. Is there a perceived “right kind” of self-injury body?

How I should feel about my self-injury body has at times been imposed on me by others. Many years ago I had a boyfriend who insisted on scrubbing my scars with harsh methods of exfoliation and tried to “help me” find the best potions and lotions to reduce my scars visibility. Before these experiences I can’t recall being bothered by the marks on my skin. I had another experience when I was chastised for not concealing my self-injured body. This individual claimed that by not doing so I was attempting to wear my self-injury as a “badge of honour”, the accuser drew a parallel to his sexuality “I’m gay but I don’t come in here wearing arseless chaps”. If these are the ideals placed upon the self-injury body then the assumption is that scars must be of a thick keloid appearance to be warranted as sufficiently damaged, self-injury bodies must also be kept out of sight to avoid imposing upon others and that self-injury bodies should be seen as in need of repair.

I’m not planning to offer solutions to any of the ideas or issues raised here. We each have our own choices to make when it comes to bodies and the expectations and conventions placed upon them. In my mind when it comes to our bodies, they are nobody’s business but our own.

Can you feel it? Yes, I can!

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. In that time I’ve done a little bit of work on my PhD creative piece. I started fresh, at a different point in the story than I’d previously intended too, and while the words at the moment are coming at a snail’s pace I’m feeling better about the foundation that I’m laying.

The chapter that I have been working on involves the protagonist running. As I was writing, or trying to write, I was struggling with some of the descriptive work. Questions of “how do I describe that sound” and “how does that feel in the body” arose. It occurred to me that I’ve been doing much too much thinking and not enough doing.

Recently I’d been very focused on doing work as opposed to actually doing. In thinking about my novel and my writing (or lack of writing), I’ve been neglecting two crucial writing tools, observation and experience.

Have you seen A Place for Me (also titled Stuck in Love)? It’s a film I really like. It’s about love and writing and stars Greg Kinnear… these are all things that greatly interest me (oh Greg, swoon!). I bring it up because there is an excellent line in the film:

sum of their experiences

The novel I’m writing draws heavily from my own experiences. I had been so preoccupied with how to use some of my past experiences in the work that I’d been forgetting the importance of continued observation and experience. To put it more bluntly, I’d stop paying attention.

Being present is becoming more challenging in our hyper connected word. Mindfulness based techniques and approaches to therapy are rising in popularity as the antidote to our obsession/reliance on new communication technologies which see us ever contactable but rarely available. I don’t wish to cry foul over smart phones and social media, quite the opposite, I’m very interested in embracing new technologies and see them as having great potential to assist us in numerous ways. However, we must learn to use these technologies as opposed to being used or sucked into the connected but unavailable vortex.

With this in mind, I’ve been striving to experience and observe the world around me over the past couple of weeks. When I order coffee rather than look at my phone I’ve been taking a moment to people watch: how many sugars do other people put in their coffee? How are other people dressing? Where do they stand as they wait for their coffee, in front of the lids and spoons, further away, right in front of the bench so others have to squeeze past? This might sound dull or even a bit creepy to some readers but it is these details that all writers need in their tool belts – awareness of how others be, do and exist!

In addition to my increased observations I’ve also been getting out of the office and away from my PhD to have some fun. I have been to dinner with friends, taken a road trip to visit family, gone to dance performances and also gone to see some live music. Each has been a rich and varied experience which has indulged a variety of senses and more importantly, reminded me that I’m more than a PhD student and life is bigger than my thesis alone.

The most recent of my adventures, was going to a gig with a friend. It was his first small gig (having only gone to large music festivals or big stadium style shows) and was at one of my favorite venues. Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do, so much so that I often go by myself. Any hint of loneliness or awkwardness felt going solo to a gig is usually outweighed by the delight of the music and sheer thrill of a good live show.

There were three acts, each being an Australian hip hop artist and I was very aware when I bought the tickets that the majority of the crowd would be younger than me. My friend had told me he would probably just chill by the bar and let me do my own thing. Off course, as I suspected, like me he was digging the vibe and hung out with me near the stage and speakers. The first act hit the stage with thumping energy and my friend and I responded by dancing, cheering and whooping. Around us, others stood, still.

I’m increasingly noticing, that the older I get, the more I care about enjoying the moment and the less I care about what other people think of me while I’m doing so. For the younger crowed at this gig, the opposite appeared to be true. They slowly warmed up but as the night wore on and the temperature climbed, I noticed more and more that those around me were experiencing the evening in a different way.

The younger faces in the crowd captured the moments via their smart phones. Experience has taught me that photos or footage taken at gigs is 1) rarely viewed at a later date, 2) generally shit-house. I understand the desire to take a snap to show a friend or to add to a social media site for posterity but I don’t share the desire to continually do so again and again at a gig. Perhaps there are simply more young music journalists at gigs than I’m aware of? Rather than sweat and dance and experience the music via the body, the younger set were more inclined to capture the moment in a non tangible representation.

The other sharp difference in experience was presentation. This gig was stinking hot! The humidity was high and both crowd and performers were dripping in sweat. As a live music fan living in Queensland, Australia, I am very used to this. I still put thought into my outfit and dress in a way they I enjoy and hope is pleasing to others… i.e. yes, I like to look nice. Yet ultimately I’m well aware that things will get messy. Comfort and practicality are the key concerns. I feel comfortable when I dress nicely but also practically, in a way that will allow me to make the most out of the evening… dance, drink, get among it etc. I told my friend there would be girls in high heels. He was skeptical. Through-out the evening, I pointed them out to him… “heels, heels, heels”. Fair enough if those individuals were comfortable but if you’ve ever been on a cramped dance floor next to someone wearing heels you will understand that their pain often becomes your pain… “ouch, you’re standing on my foot!”. Bless their little midriff’s and carefully applied faces – yes, it is hot and yes, your makeup is running off your face… who cares. These poor little petals were more concerned with their presentation than their participation. Thus, another vortex to avoid.

Over the last few weeks, as I’ve been trying to be more present, another shift in my awareness has come into play. I’d wanted to visit my therapist but had to wake two weeks to get an appointment. Despite feeling better by the time the appointment rolled around I still went. Before starting the session I fill out a computer survey, a psychology test that gives my therapist an indication of where I’m at mentally before I enter the room. When he started the session he informed me that my score was the lowest it’s ever been and we talked about why now, despite my thinking that I was feeling better, that the numbers were saying something else. The conclusion reached was that presently I am actually experiencing my emotions. In the past I’ve employed numerous techniques to avoid negative emotions. While avoiding these emotions may at times allow me to function short-term, the feelings are still there, accumulating and collecting interest. Therefore my efforts to experience and observe are also coming into play in regards to me emotions. Rather than be numb to my emotions, I’ve been experiencing every rotten, yucky bit of them.

Experiencing emotions is important, even if they are unpleasant. Life isn’t a non-tangible representation, its ripe with texture and variables and consequently the creation of art reflects this. It is through art that we explore life’s’ inconsistencies and seek to create meaning and understanding of both ourselves and others which in turn furthers our ability to participate and evolve.

Can you feel it?