Queen of Your Own Life!

Kathy Kinney (best known as Mimi on The Drew Carey Show) has co-authored a book with a publishing exec I’ve never heard of named Cindy Ratzlaff – the book’s website states: Ratzlaff is a publishing executive, who created marketing campaigns for more than 100 New York Times best-selling books, including The South Beach Diet, as though that’s something to proud of – entitled Queen of Your Own Life due out soon.

In my opinion Queen of Your Own Life is yet another vaguely prescriptive tome of the “You Go, Girl” variety. While I found its premise – though not necessarily all the actions prescribed – not entirely terrible, but still ultimately riddled with lots of problematic analysis of why folks struggle in their lives.

From the book:

By letting go of things like self-doubt, fear of being judged and worry about how to look younger, we were setting ourselves free to admire who we were right now. We were overjoyed to discover that we did admire the women we had become. We were two strong women, who brought with them to the second half of life courage, wisdom and, most of all, the knowledge that they could survive anything with their dignity and humor intact.

Now on the surface this appears all well and good; finding the path towards self acceptance. However, it’s a bit presumptive and problematic to flatten various life experiences so individual blues are somehow analogous.

Since Ratzlaff is in fact a marketing maven, she has taken the message to Oprah. Take notes, kids – 90% of effective marketing is targeting the right audience for your product; well she’s hit the jackpot.

Even the seemingly altruistic article posted on Oprah’s site reads like a thinly veiled infomercial for the book, which is certainly their prerogative, but I mean we can all be the queen of our lives if we’ve got access to Oprah’s powerful platform! And what a glorious platform it is!

I opted to rearrange the list in 1 – 10 order rather than utilize the Casey Kasem top ten format seen in the article. Mostly to illustrate there’s nothing new here, even if one hasn’t read the slew of happiness related books currently blanketing the market, from The Happiness Project to The How of Happiness.

  • 1. Pass it on. “Hear ye, hear ye,” says the queen.
  • 2. Place the crown firmly on your head. You queen up well.
  • 3. Learn the simple trick to finally being happy. As we say in the Midwest, “It’s time to poop or get off the pot.”
  • 4. Set strong boundaries. Mean what you say and say what you mean.
  • 5. Build and nurture trusting friendships. Face life’s joys and challenges with a friend by your side.
  • 6. Admire yourself. Give yourself a Windy Mountain Moment so you can appreciate who you’ve become.
  • 7. Language matters. The words we choose to speak to ourselves and about ourselves are important.
  • 8. Claim your beauty and power. End the mirror’s reign of terror.
  • 9. Keep. What do you really like about yourself? Identify your strengths and decide what you want to keep from the first half of your life that’s still working for you.
  • 10. Banish. Let go of a thought or action from the first half of your life that is no longer working for you.

My problem with the book or others of this zeitgeist genre is not with concept of action steps folks can take to better their outlook on life, but rather the notion that faithful application of said action steps ought to result in finally getting all the things one believes they so richly deserved. These books are often framed from the premise-behind-the-premise folks have the right to be “happy” and “fulfilled” – a worldview I simply do not support. I don’t even wish to open the can of worms these books present from a privilege/oppression standpoint, though it’s chief among my quibbles. What happens if you follow the instruction to the letter and find that life does not dramatically change or unicorns do not magically appear on your lawn, prancing about? Do you then attribute such failure to your inability to thoroughly grasp the concepts? Do you get your money back? Do they parade you through the streets wearing an “I am the court jester of my own life!” t-shirt? The book did not guarantee anything in writing the way – say Midas guarantees its mufflers and the work by its mechanics – but there is an implicit suggestion that any failure to make the magic happen can be attributed to the reader. I can imagine the “If only…” rebuttals readers who aren’t able to rule their queendom in style have in store for them.

[sarcasm] Good, victim blaming times, indeed.[/sarcasm]

If I sound a bit harsh – though, honestly I don’t think I do – I attribute it to longing for something different from the book, which had me at…Kathy Kinney. I was looking for some of the wit and astute observations I’d noticed in interviews and what I believe I observed in her portrayal of Mimi, which I found in a few instances to both trade in and subvert fat tropes simultaneously.

And before you – the editorial “you” – jump in to tell me maybe I could use a little “happiness” literature in my life, I should tell you I am quite satisfied with my life. Is it perfect? HELL NO. Do I expect it to be? HELL NO. I am dazzled each day by the things in my life that are going well. I am grateful for the wonderful family, great friends, meaningful work, agency over 75% of my time and loving partner I have. Do I feel entitled to any of this?

Nope.

I believe you do the best you can and you get what you get; it’s all fine to work to dismantle systems of oppression, but in the meantime you have to live your LIFE in the here and now. Hmmm, maybe I should write a book and get mine on the shelves in time to profit from the inevitable happiness lit backlash.

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A version of this entry previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine.

Cultivate Your Inner Samuel L. Jackson

Can the owner of this many Kangol hats really be that mean?

I have no idea what Sam L Jackson is like in real life, but I sure admire the way many of his characters navigate the world. Not really feeling the excessive violence or the Pacino like shouting, but I do enjoy the indignation and the decisiveness in his responses to mellow harshers. There’s a whole lot of chow chow in our culture about politeness and decorum. Lots of noise about “not making a scene” or “stepping on toes” and all kinds of colorful ways in which folks get told to “suck it up”.

Excluding situations where not sucking it up could result in physical violence (I strongly encourage folks to suck it up until they are safely out of the situation) I can’t think of any legitimate reason one should – you know – suck it up.

People close to me often call me a “bad ass”, which while flattering is not entirely accurate. I don’t stalk the streets, narrowing my eyes and asking strangers if they’re feeling lucky and watching a movie like Silkwood just makes me tired. What they are probably observing is my directness and emotional discipline – neither of which are exactly the domain of the bad ass.

Pop psych frames verbal self defense as though we’re all outgoing, flashy extroverts, possessing heaping amounts of privilege and devoid of fear or ties to our community. Oh yeah, you can get away with their version bad assery once if you’re lucky. Ever notice how many bad asses (as framed in our society) end up chased out of town or dead?

Well, we’re not looking to become subjects of a bio-pic, portrayed by actors who complain about having to gain weight to play us. We’re looking to keep emotional bullies, Grabby Hands Christian Andersons, Concern Trolls and unrepentant close talkers from harshing our mellows.

Look, I do not cut an imposing figure. I have to get up real early in the morning if I want to spend much of it above 5’0.75 (yes that quarter inch matters). I don’t have a big booming voice or command of a lasso. And while I’m hardly shy, I am not an extrovert, flashy or outgoing. But I do a good job harnessing my inner Sam Jackson and here’s how I do it.

1. Decide

I don’t how many hours your day comes with, but mine only has 24. So at some point you really have to decide what exactly are your “Rosa Parks” moments and let the rest go. You can’t eat all the eggs or fight all the windmills.

2. Commit

okay, so you figured out where are your lines in the sand are. Great. Now own it. Don’t diminish yourself by thinking your lines are petty, picky or foolish. That might well be the case, but who cares. Hey, I blast off into outer space when people don’t use coasters. Even if the table isn’t wood! That’s just me. I own it.

3. Plan

While you’re not going in search of mellow harshing situations, you still need to come up with a response plan. Or as Nathan Muir (Redford) said in SpyGame “When did Noah build the ark? BEFORE THE FLOOD”. Grab your list of Oh no they didn’t-s and for each one write exactly how you want to behave if faced with the situation. Again, NO JUDGMENTS! Yes, walking away IS is a viable option. Write your response plan in detail, including any theatrical hand gestures or props you might need.

4. Practice

My hair. Lots of bandwidth has been used ranting about folks playing Indiana Jones in some black woman’s head. So let’s all pretend that we’ve read them and agree with the premise it’s WRONG. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m raging home grown or store bought, people like going all ST: The Undiscovered Country on my head! I’ve done the ragey/stabby/verbal body slam thing and I’ve done the suck it up and just be all passive aggressively pissy thing. Neither worked for me.

Now if I get the question I ignore it. I ignore all its overbearing out of town relatives, well intentioned neighbors and pushy supervisors. If I feel a hand about to storm my head like Normandy, I physically MOVE the hand and give the look. It’s a cross between the look my mom used to give us when we were cutting up in church and the look DMV clerks have perfected. But it took practice. A lot of practice. At first I was still alternating between ragey/passy, but I just kept repeating steps 2 and 3 and now it’s just something I do. I don’t even think about it. And, see, it didn’t involve any shift in my personality or lots of processing with people with summer homes and dreamcatchers dangling from their office windows.

5. Consistency

Stick to the response plan. Even if you feel silly and regardless of what they do/say (with the physical violence caveat still in place). Don’t waver. See it through. Particularly with a repeat offender. You have to keep doing it every time they do that thing that you isolated on your list. The reason you practice is so it feels natural even if you don’t feel natural doing it. You know your script, you know all the blocking and you’re just giving a performance. And seriously, most of these ass clowns don’t deserve your improvised efforts! Even if the situations themselves don’t get better, most likely, you’ll feel better and that’s all we’re aiming for. Assclowns don’t stop being assclowns merely because you’ve mastered the force.

This doesn’t come with a guarantee and it won’t be applicable in a lot of situations, but hey it sure beats coffee table rings.

Okay, that was such a clown horn ending.

Guest Blogger Mean Asian Girl: Oh? No! Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

You may remember friend of SP Mean Asian Girl from her previous guest post, The Fantasy of Being White. We loved that post so much that we asked her to weigh in on that most vexing of seemingly innocuous little internet games: the Facebook celebrity twin meme. Thanks, MAG! — Sweet Machine

Oh? No!

Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

By Mean Asian Girl

(with a little help from the SP crew)

When I first heard about the Facebook celebrity doppelganger meme, my first thought was, “Where do I find a picture of [Asian woman most recently and/or frequently seen by whomever I’m speaking to]?”

See, because I’ve been told I look like several different people, the most recent being Sandra Oh. Most of you don’t know what I look like, but suffice it to say, not like Sandra Oh. My friend Charles, who is black*, and happens to think Sandra Oh is hot, doesn’t see any resemblance at all. Then again, Charles’ opinion of Oh may be in the minority.

OK, let me digress for a moment. I googled Sandra Oh, expecting the first thing to pop up would be her IMDB profile. Before I finished typing, the first suggestion that popped up was “Sandra Oh ugly.” Which was where I found that Asian Bite website. So maybe the whole idea of anyone trying to pay me a compliment is not the case. I am tempted to start a discussion of whether people think Oh’s very Korean-ness is what makes her ugly. Maybe some other time. I’m a bit too stunned at the moment.

But anyway, years and years ago, someone told me I looked just like the girl in “Karate Kid II,” who, if you notice, does not look very much like Sandra Oh. In fairness, I probably look more like Sandra Oh than like Tamlyn Tomita.

As it turned out, the very cool women here at Shapely Prose were having their own discussion of the racial/ethnic-fail aspects of the doppelganger meme and were kind enough to invite me to join in.

Eventually, we touched on how Janet Jackson and Kristy McNichol have the same face, Elvin from the Cosby Show, the appropriate celebrity doppelganger for Kate’s husband Al, and a staged reading of The Big Lebowski, but prior to that, we made some more serious observations about white privilege and doppelgangers.

And first, we agreed that I look nothing like Sandra Oh.

“This seems like one of those Facebook exercises that’s mostly about a certain kind of girl getting to wank about how hot she is without looking conceited,” Kate said. But fair enough, I guess. If someone told you you looked like Anne Hathaway, or Blake Lively, or, for that matter, Penelope Cruz or Halle Berry, wouldn’t you want to tell people?

Problem is, if we’re talking about Hollywood stars, or even prominent women known by most U.S. residents in general, the pool gets awfully shallow if you’re not white. Kate told me, “I can think of like four Asian-American actresses off the top of my head, and none of them, except possibly Keiko Agena**, have characteristics I could see as part of a recipe for you.”

Part of a recipe. Sure. But we can’t do collage profile pictures. Or at least I can’t. So I have to settle for what other people think. Because, really, what most people see when they look at me is that I’m Asian, I have epicanthic folds over my eyelids, flattish face, black hair, etc. And what do you know? Sandra Oh also has epicanthic eyelids, a flattish face and black hair! So does Tamlyn Tomita! Though, actually, based on the Tamlyn Tomita comparison, they’re not even paying particularly close attention to my hair.

At some level, it’s a version of the “All you [insert racial/ethnic group here] look alike.” I once worked at a news service with two African-American women, Robin and Debbie. Robin was probably 5-2, close-cropped hair, round face and very loud and outgoing. Debbie was 5-6, longer hair, thin face and quiet. They did not start working there anywhere near the same time, nor did they cover the same beat. Yet, they constantly got called each other’s names. I guess they did have similar skin tones. Any of you who do not have similar stories have either never worked with more than one minority or have worked in remarkably enlightened workplaces.

Of course, it’s not just about skin color and ethnicity. Kate knows a couple of dark-haired fat women who wanted to go as Pat Benatar for Halloween, but didn’t because everyone would assume they were Beth Ditto. I mean, you’re fat, you’re a rock chick … duh. Fillyjonk mentioned how people told her she looked like Kate Winslet when Winslet was in her relatively fat*** state

I am in no way saying there was malicious intent behind the doppelganger meme, and clearly, as oppression goes, it ain’t exactly Jim Crow. I’m just saying, well, maybe I should point you all to Sepia Mutiny for a little more perspective. If I may digress a bit, the line “If only you weren’t so dark, you’d be so pretty,” is horrifying. But maybe I’m still hung up on the “Ugly Sandra Oh” issue.

If you don’t feel like reading through that whole post, try Fillyjonk, who puts the matter pretty succinctly for a privileged white girl:

“Getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color and body type is bad enough,” she said. “But getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color, period, elides your actual features even more.”

To take that a step further, when someone – inevitably white — says, “I don’t see race,” if much of society sees you only as race, then they don’t see you.

*I mention this for no reason other than to wonder if perhaps this is a white thing. I’m not sure any person of color has told me I look like Sandra Oh, including, obviously, anyone Asian.

**Though I had seen “Gilmore Girls” once or twice, I had no idea who Keiko Agena was until Kate mentioned her. I am old compared to the SP crew, esp. when you consider that I saw “Karate Kid II” when it came out in theaters.

***i.e., Hollywood fat

Fashion without hatred

There was a time, when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, when I used to think about fashion the way The Guardian‘s Tanya Gold details in a recent article: that it was a foolish realm of fantasy for people who would never give me the time of day.

The oddest thing rescued me from fashion. It was that I got fat. Never mind why; that is a story for another page. But I got so fat that even fashion wouldn’t pretend it could fix me. You can get so fat they don’t actually want you in their clothes. It is bad marketing; if very fat people wear their clothes, thinner people won’t buy them. There was no point rattling through the rails any more, seeking a satin redemption – nothing would fit my unfashionable bulk. I was consigned to M&S smock-land, across the River Styx. And it is lovely here; no heels, no stupid dresses-of-the-moment, certainly no thongs. Fashion has died for me, with an angry little hiss. Ah, peace.

I can look at the clothes on the catwalk now and laugh at their imbecility. They are not for me.

I can’t speak for Gold, but when I felt like this I wasn’t really angry at the gods of fashion, though I felt that “angry little hiss.” I was angry at myself for being insufficiently thin, insufficiently feminine. I was angry at my body for growing too much hair and too much flesh, at my feet for hurting in pointy shoes, at my hands for not being deft enough for perfectly applied eye makeup. This is not to say that I didn’t recognize the harmful practices the beauty industries — including the ones Gold describes, which so many of us have experienced — but my anger was still not borne out of a sense of being harmed psychologically, but of being rejected physically. Why bother, well, bothering when I was clearly never going to succeed? The idea of failing and succeeding at looking a certain, very specific way completely permeated my attitudes about fashion.

My dislike of fashion basically ended when I started taking baby steps toward accepting my body. The more I liked what I looked like, the more interested I got in adorning myself; getting dressed was no longer about correcting my supposed deficiencies but playing with my self-presentation. FJ and I spent some fantastic time in college hitting malls, thrift stores, army surplus stores, anywhere we could get our hands on clothes that spoke to us and fit our bodies, “too fat for fashion” though they may be. Eventually I moved to the Pacific Northwest, where feeling like a freak was as point of pride for many people, and the fashions reflected that. I dyed my hair bright red not out of rebellious angst (as I had done in high school), but because I loved having a dash of red near my face. I got glasses that stood out on my face instead of blending in. In other words, I built my own style, and even became known among my friends as having a strong fashion sense — words that my younger self would have furiously disbelieved. Fashion started to seem less like an enemy conspiracy and more like an artistic world that, like other art forms, has elite circles, everyday practitioners, and a lot of people in between.

In fact, despite the notorious anti-fat norms of most of the fashion world, it was an interest in fashion that led me to live body acceptance in my everyday life rather than just giving it lip service. I joined the Fatshionista community on LJ, got voraciously addicted to outfit posts, made several incredibly stylish and intelligent friends, and realized that the politics of fashion weren’t only something that happened to me without my consent when I put on clothes.

All of this is basically a long-ass way of introducing a wonderful response to Gold by a fashion blogger I think is just phenomenal, Tavi of Style Rookie. You may have heard of Tavi; she’s been getting a lot of press lately because she is a popular and charming style blogger who is also 13 freaking years old. 13! What were you doing when you were 13? Granted, I am 100% positive that if blogs had existed when I was 13, I would have had one — but I can guarantee you it would not be fashion-positive, much less fashion-forward. (It would have featured a lot of terrible poetry, is what it would have done). Here’s part of Tavi’s response to Gold’s lament:

Ms. Gold speaks about how she discovered fashion at 13 and then dressed in a way she knew she was supposed to dress. “How I enchanted. How I belonged. I thought I looked just like the effortlessly beautiful girls at school. Except I didn’t. And, very soon, I realised that I didn’t. All that weekend job money and childish angst and still I looked like me. That was the first seduction – and the first betrayal.” I don’t believe Ms. Gold “discovered” fashion; she discovered middle school and teenagerdom. She said that before that, she dressed as Andy Pandy and was happier.

I find the idea of dressing as Andy Pandy pretty awesome. It’s creative and it’s fun, and that sounds fashionable to me. What Tanya Gold and many others, including myself, hate is the everyone-has-to-look-the-same-and-also-sexy philosophy, which is NOT fashion.

This is by no means written with the intentions of a personal attack on Ms. Gold, but rather, a kind of response to this idea that I see coming up often. I think that the problem with fashion isn’t fashion, but how others decide to see it. The same “fashion” magazines that offer advice about pleasing men might decide that fashion isn’t for overweight people, but it’s Tanya Gold’s fault for believing it, and if she really wanted to have fun with clothes she could. Same goes for the idea that clothes HAVE to make you look sexy. Not if you don’t want to! Isn’t that amazing!

Don’t you wish this girl were your niece or your friend’s daughter? She’s seen through the sexyface plastic facade of fashion advertising — the part that uses the desire to conform to sell you things — to the part where people get to have fun with their own looks, and all before starting high school. Instead of desperately apprenticing herself to grownup sex appeal, as girls are pressured to do younger and younger, she creates an outfit (to pick just one recent example) as an homage to Edward Gorey.

T is for Tavi, whose hair is now blue as a Na'vi

My friend Coco perfectly summarized Tavi’s great appeal for feminist fashion-lovers: “What I love most about Tavi – and I’ll be heartbroken when it changes, as it will most certainly change – is the fact that she is still very much a child who is enjoying her childhood. She dresses like a 13 year old girl with fantastic and interesting style, as opposed to a miniature version of an adult woman. She rejects the notion that fashion is for making us sexier and rejects that being sexy is the objective in womanhood at all. In today’s culture where we make thongs for 8 year olds, and “boyfriend jeans” for toddlers, this is positively radical.”

I agree. While I have great sympathy for Tanya Gold’s rejection of the mandates of fashion, I think Tavi is a great face for personal creativity and self-respect in style. Fashion is not just about what gets pictured in “women’s magazines,” which are by definition handbooks in compulsory femininity. Style blogs are, I think, a great antidote to the orders “to buy a dress, and a bag and then perhaps some stupid, unnatural shoes and feel a kind of brief, bright burst of self-acceptance, which always evaporated as soon as I was home,” as Gold puts it. You don’t have to buy those things. You don’t have to be sexy. You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t have to look like everyone else — in fact, you don’t have to look like anyone else but your own damn self. You can wear a character from My Neighbor Totoro as a brooch and look like a million bucks. You get to decide what fashion means to you.

Guest blogger Volcanista: Of boobages

Volcanista is a Friend of SP, geologist, and LOST evangelizer.

So, over the holidays I took a badly needed holiday vacation, and because I like warmth and the tropics, I decided to go to Chicago and hang out with Sweet Machine, Mr Machine, and their most excellent cats. I read books, watched Lost, took naps, cuddled with the kitties, and took a hot steam bath next to their radiator every time I went to the bathroom. It was quite excellent, and my suitcase will never again be entirely free of cat hair. But we did venture out into the cold a couple times, expressly to hemorrhage money. We both needed some self-pampering and both had noticed our bras weren’t fitting quite right, so one day we made appointments at Intimacy and went downtown to have our breasts handled by professionals (after making a necessary stop at Lush for the post-holiday sale and far too many new bath bombs).

When the saleswoman asked me if I thought I was the same size as before, and I said “No, I think I might be a C cup now,” she said, “I’d say a C or a D.” !!!  Shapelings, moving to a B cup was a big change for me last year. In response to a college house questionnaire, I once named my breasts “Small” and “Equally Small.” As I later said to SM and Kate, every time I go into Intimacy, I come out a cup size larger (SM: “You should be in their ads!”). Anyway, SM and I spent too much money and spent the next 24 hours staring at our own and each other’s amazing tits, but that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that I am almost at the high end of my normal size range right now, and it’s making me reflect on how much my breast size has fluctuated during the past decade. I have been this big a couple times now, though with much less well-fitting bras — the first time I went on the pill in my early 20s, that time I tried the birth control patch (I haven’t gotten quite that big again since, but it actually turns out that three steady months of morning sickness are not worth it for boobies), and once or twice over the course of my normal weight fluctuations since then. So if properly sized, I would say I range from an… A? (never properly fitted at the low end, but they are little) to apparently at least a C, normally within the span of a year or two. I should note that I am on the short side and very petite, and when I gain or lose weight it seems to go and come entirely from my rack. The convenient part of this is being able to shop straight sizes and not having to buy a whole new wardrobe when my body decides it’s time to be 10 pounds heavier for 6 months; the inconvenient part is that those changes routinely — and dramatically — affect the size of the most expensive part of my body to clothe. Now that I have a salary I allow myself a once-annual indulgence in one or two lovely, perfectly-fitted, exorbitantly priced bras (which means we are up to three nice ones to date, one of which fit 3 months ago and two which fit today) and fill in the rest of my week with cheap purchasesfrom the internet to get me through with minimal pokage. So my breasts could still be happier, but they feel wonderful (and look HUGE!) a couple times a week. Like today! The girls say hello. To everyone. Loudly.

The upshot is that my body kind of acts like a one-woman case study on boob size. Because the rest of my body doesn’t really change outwardly, I have more or less isolated the breastage effect on social interactions. I spent a couple years after college living in the Land of Entrapment. I went on the pill there for the first time when the weather was warm, which bumped me up probably (in retrospect) from an A cup to a C cup over about a month of warm weather. Furthermore, the local social culture there is such that men are a lot less subtle in checking women out than back east, so there’s no mistaking it. It was very easy to notice changes in how I was treated between month A and month C.

I was certainly blatantly checked out and hit on a lot more. That isn’t too surprising, because, hey, I’m here to be eye candy, right? But I wasn’t used to that kind of treatment so it was weird. And frankly, while sometimes it felt weirdly flattering (hey, I was 22), being sloooowly checked out on the street is pretty damn objectifying. It’s bad enough when men think (somehow) they’re being subtle! I bet the men in this video thought so:

But what caught me even more by surprise was how much friendlier people were — men and women, friends and colleagues and strangers. Most of those people probably were not even particularly interested in sleeping with me or deliberately hitting on me (hard to believe, I know!). They were just… nicer. I didn’t have to wear anything especially revealing for that to be true, either. Bigger breasts just meant better treatment in general, and while some men were creepy and deliberate about it (see above), for most people it seemed to be unconscious. We are heavily socially conditioned to react favorably to breasts.

Honestly, I like my breasts in general and think they look nice on my body at all of the sizes they’ve been, but I’ll admit that I like them a bit better when they’re larger. Clothes look sexier to me and I feel damn hot. I don’t dislike the girls on the small end, but I will certainly sometimes wear some padding or pushing-up items to keep the clothes looking the way I like them to. Frankly, I don’t feel bad about this. It’s one of the many conscious concessions I make to the beauty ideal (see also: shaving legs; bleaching upper lip; and wearing v-neck sweaters, high-heeled shoes, dresses, and variable quantities of make-up). I don’t dislike my body or the things about it I alter for cosmetic reasons; it’s just a hell of a lot easier to do those things, and I consciously choose to do my femininity that way. Besides, I can’t undo all of the training that has taught me what to find attractive, so I pick my battles. For me, in part because I’ve been taught big breasts are better, and in part because of my own [highly scientific!] personal experiments and observations, the portrayal of the rack is part of how I present myself. It’s not even that I consciously display the ladies for personal gain — in terms of skin and cleavage I actually show pretty little, and I am not very interested in deliberately manipulating the people around me* — but I like to look nice and girly and so I go with it.

But I think there is nothing wrong with not going with it, with refusing to play up my breasts or hunt for clothes that create the appearance of that hourglass figure. There would be nothing wrong with refusing to do that as a personal fight against the beauty ideal; or with just not giving a shit; or with deciding it’s too much of a stretch and too much work to be worth it. I mean, the beauty ideal is impossible to reach, but as people go I definitely have it on the easier side, because I am thin and a little hourglassy to start with. When my tits are bigger I have to do even less work (though it’s still a conscious effort). If you don’t want to work for that, I mean, who the hell cares?

Well, okay, a lot of people care, but what they care about is policing you, not attraction. Otherwise they would just happen to not find you attractive, and that wouldn’t be offensive to them, and they wouldn’t care about how you looked. Except that it is your obligation and role as a woman to be attractive to all men, of course. Besides, I can attest that many people are attracted to women with small breasts. While I have been treated very differently on the street based on my breast size, my statistical ability to actually attract real dates/lays are unchanged across my full range of boobages.

Summary of long-winded post: People treat you differently when your breasts appear different sizes, mostly because our society is fucked up. But we should present our breasts how we want to present them, fuck anyone who gives a damn**, and not let the girls hold us back from enjoying our lives, dating, dancing, or taking luxurious Lush-bombed baths. Oh, and we should make a conscious effort to be equally friendly to the small-busted ladies, to counteract that unconscious conditioning that makes us act just a bit friendlier to the chestier among us.

*This is a lie. For instance, I deliberately distracted SM with my breasts so that she would request a guest post, because I deeply covet her internet-fame.

**Not literally.

Cross-posted at Volcanista.

Ranty’s Machine

I originally posted this on my own blog

I received an email the other day from a reader named Alice – whose daughter a chubby teen – had her first real brush with the unbearable fatness of being.

My daughter received so many clothes during the holidays and decided to sort through and sell a bunch of them to our local Plato’s Closet. I don’t know if you are familiar with them [I am and more about that in minute], but they are consignment store which features trendy clothing for teens and 20somethings. I dropped her off and ran some errands. When I picked her up an hour later she sat on bench next to the door clutching the bags she brought with them and sobbing. Snarky, it broke my heart to see her like this and best I can tell one of the salespeople rather dismissively picked through her items and then stated they were too large for sale. Now my daughter is a size 12 who shops at Hollister, American Eagle and pretty much every other trendy store in the mall and I know she takes excellent care of her things. I am at a loss as to what to say to her and very angry. Any thoughts?

I emailed Alice and we spoke on the phone briefly. I was pissed too. I then got the number of her store and I gave the manager the business end of Snarky’s salty tongue – respectfully of course.

My own dealings with Plato’s Closet have been mixed at best. As an inbetweenie, (ranging from 12s to 16s and standing 5’0.75″) my closet houses jeans and tops from some of the retailers mentioned in the email and I’m a grown ass woman so I know I take care of my stuff. I have had perfectly au current – for them anyway – things picked over as though they were trash and watched as the salesclerk grew increasingly annoyed at having to handle all those fatty articles of clothing, as though she could catch teh fatz merely but touching my size 14s.

The first time it happened, I’ll admit, I was thrown for a loop. Normally, when confronted with a clear case of -ism asshatry I tend to immediately put the person responsible in check. But there was this overwhelming feeling of shame coupled with a slow drumbeat of you’re not good enough which caught me off guard.

Do my tears surprise you, Sir? Yes, even strong Snarkys cry.

When I told my friend Barbie about my experience she snatched the bag from me and an hour later came back to my place armed with an empty reusable Home Depot bag and a check for $129.04.

Same stuff. Different, thinner, whiter seller.

This of course pissed me the fuck off. I immediately wrote a scorching email detailing my experience and received NO response. I called the store and requested to speak to someone who could explain the inconsistency of their buying policy, which is not TRANSPARENT and requires far too much interpretation from folks who clearly have lots of knapsacks to unpack.

Having said that, I sent Barbie in there armed with my fatty clothes about five more times and each time she returned with a wad of cash and an empty bag. But in case you don’t have a thin, conventionally attractive white upper middle class friend handy here’s what you do:

DON’T FUCKING SHOP THERE.

It’s not worth the sanity points to try to do outreach with the company as they don’t seem to think their policies are inconsistent or if they are, they don’t seem to think there is anything problematic with that.

To Alice’s daughter:

As much as you’ve been hurt by someone else’s flaming lack of fucking decency, I believe in channeling that energy into something made of chicken fried awesome. Like, for example, donating those fabulous designer duds to a women’s shelter since they are always, always, always hurting for non shitty clothing in sizes 10 and up. That’s what I do now with mine.

I don’t mean to be snarky, but do shelters and community closets seriously think the only people strutting into their establishments are going to be size 6 and 8? C’mon now.

But I digress.

My heart has been broken a million times and in a million different ways by the cruelty of others and the only thing that comforts me in those raw ouchie times is thinking about all that is awesome and amazing about me and cling to it.

There, you got a rant out of me! You win!

Also, thanks to Alice for letting me use a portion of her email, because I have like been pestering her about it for nearly a week.

Fat Visibility in YA Fiction

Shapelings, let’s talk fatness in young adult fiction. YA fiction often positions fat as shorthand for countless negative qualities the writer is too unmotivated to develop – like presenting bullies as fat kids, which reinforces fatness as something sinister and deserving of scorn – or as the genesis of a butterfly story, which reinforces fat as a quality one must jettison to uncover the true self (which naturally is thin and beautiful). Of course there are other ways in which fatness is portrayed, but those two immediately came to mind.

In Blubber by Judy Blume – which I strongly advocate avoiding; it isn’t worth the Sanity Watcher Points – fat bodies are used as a learning opportunity for others, devoid of input of those with lived experiences.

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger is a fairly sympathetic and complex exploration of fatness, despite the protagonist being problematically framed as “smart, but overweight”.

The marginally empowering messages presented in The Cat Ate My Gymsuit go completely to hell in its follow up There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, where the protagonist realizes the FoBT complete with popularity and a cute boyfriend.

Other books off the top of my head:

Fat: A Love Story by Barbara Wersba
The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Me and Fat Glenda by Lila Perl

Have you read any of these titles? What do you remember about how fatness was presented in the YA fiction you read? How did the portrayal of fatness or lack thereof inform your relationship to your own fat?

Relax, He Wants You to Maw Down and Wear Cheap Chonies

couple macking on the beach According to Glamour, there are seven reasons why your “man” adores you as is. I have a bit of a problem with the concept of “as is”. I associate the concept with final sale sweaters with ink stains not coverable by a cabbage rose brooch, not loving relationships. But then again, I’m still doing cabbage rose brooches like it’s 2000. so I might have missed a few things.

John Ortved writes:

It’s not your boobs. Or your butt. Or even your bank account. Sure, we men like all of that. Ultimately, though, we’re in it for exactly one thing: you. As a sometimes sucker of a boyfriend myself, I’m well aware of how tempting it is to try too hard. But I’m tired, and I’ll bet you are as well. So consider this a to-don’t list, and chill.

Holy mansplaining, Batman. I was laboring under the delusion that loving relationships work best as a partnership rather than a dictatorship. I stand corrected.

The article goes on to list seven reasons why you can chill including such gems as:

No need to inhale a steak on a man’s account, but we love women of all shapes—with bodies and legs and soft things to hold on to—and it takes food to get that way. (By the way, your ribs? They’re meant to protect your organs—please don’t make seeing them a fitness goal. Thanks.)

Despite giving the appearance of embracing body diversity, the concern trolling about eating habits and body shapes is rather disgusting. The message is still: I dictated the terms of desirability based on what behaviors, aesthetics and fitness goals I deem valuable.

Then there are quotes from male participants providing supporting evidence of just how open minded and progressive this is article for women.

Charles, 28, from Boston: “My girlfriend was really into trying this move from the Kama Sutra. In order to get it done, all of my focus turned to balance, abdominal clenching and other nonsexual, lifesaving things. Not fun.”

Thanks, Chuck! Clearly the fault lies squarely with the girlfriend who was trying too hard. Ever heard of the statement, “Hey, this ain’t working for me.” Try it. It works!

And forget downstairs grooming. Turns out, it’s unnecessary because he says so!

Let’s be real: At the end of the day, it’s your vagina, and you should give it whatever haircut you want. But “extreme maintenance” should be the name of a reality show on TLC, not something that you do to your body. Men have a range of tastes, everything from full monty to landing strip to a grown-out seventies bush. If it’s that important for your guy to be with the ridiculously clipped, stripped and shaved women of online porn and you’re far from interested in going there, simply point him toward the computer and tell him to feel free to help himself.

While I appreciate the freedom to dress my vagina in corduroy and denim, I don’t need anyone to grant me permission to make my own choices.

“No-frills cotton underwear says that a woman knows she’s hot and she doesn’t have to convince me of it.” —John, 29, Gainesville, Fla.

My hackles go up every time I read this sentiment expressed in articles. A person’s choice of underwear is simply another fashion choice, dictated more by personal tastes than anything else. Maybe, now I know this sounds ridiculous, just maybe, a person rocks sexy chonies because it makes THEM feel sexy, without regard to other people’s opinion. My personal philosophy on chonies comes from Erika Lopez who wrote (I can’t find the exact quote, but this is a pretty good approximation) “Panties would just get in the way of everything we’re trying to accomplish here.” I wonder if I should get some “No-frills” cotton chonies. I don’t think so. If there are chonies to be worn they have got to be show stopper chonies. But that’s just me.

I’m not snarking on the writer, but I am questioning why we need another article telling women in a rather patronizing tone what to do to make relationships work. Placing the responsibility squarely on women gives the appearance of agency when the opposite is the case.

The Embiggening

My first post here was about a radical bodily change I was undergoing (drastic weight loss due to an undiagnosed medical condition) and how it made me think about myself, my body, and my visibility as a woman. I shrank, quickly and unintentionally, and the experience reaffirmed my commitment to FA, because people praised me so lavishly for something that was both not under my control and actually a symptom of, well, misery. I was constantly reminded of the strange world of thin privilege: my clothes no longer fit, which was dispiriting and embarrassing — but when I walked into a store I could just buy a skirt, right off the rack, just like that! (That first skirt, I’m telling you, I am still amazed over two years later.) My body felt different in certain ways (chairs felt different; I got cold more easily) but not in others (my rack still got in the way of everything; I still had the same proportions, only narrower). I had crossed the line of cultural acceptability (as I had before in my life, but without the perspective of feminist theory and FA); I was through the looking-glass, almost literally.

Now I’m back on the other side. For the last year, a change in medications has both improved the state of my rebellious organs and caused weight gain as a standard side effect. I’m back around where I started, in the inbetweenie range, with an “overweight” BMI and a cartoony-sounding bra size. And you know what? I’m happy about it. Because I feel so much better than I did when I was thinner. Any negative thoughts I start to have about my fatter body — and we all have them, because we’re trained to — are outweighed by the positive thoughts I have about, say, being able to eat cheese again without dire consequences.

This is not to say that there haven’t been things that were difficult about gaining a bunch of weight. I want to make it very clear that here I am speaking from a position where, “overweight” or not, I still retain a lot of thin privilege: doctors still listen to me (so far), people don’t demonize me to my face or on the news, I can still shop in some straight stores (to give just a few examples). Interestingly, the only person who’s commented on my fatter body so far (as contrasted to the people constantly commenting on my thinner body) is a good friend who knows why I was losing so much weight before — and her comment was that she was glad to see me looking healthier. (Okay, to be fair, Mr Machine has also commented that my rack has gotten, uh, more substantial.) The point I’m trying to reach, here, is that between my still-not-that-fat privilege and my gradual shedding of weight-obsessed or non-feminist friends over the last few years, people haven’t given me shit for gaining weight. (I’m sure my grandparents would have had some strong opinions, but dead men tell no tales, right?) I will tell you exactly what has caused me the most grief in the process of fattening up: my bras. Oh, and my boots. And my pants and belts. In other words: the clothes, the manufactured things, the objects. (But I have been patiently updating my wardrobe to keep up with my hips — and this week, I finally got some new bras (thank you Figleaves clearance!), and my world is suddenly a hundred times sunnier.)

Here’s what was not difficult or irksome about getting fatter: my body. My reflection. My shape. Losing sight of my hipbones. Noticing a fold of flesh return to my back. Watching my profile change, take up more room in the mirror. Feeling more of me moving around. I like me. I don’t mind having more of me, as long as I can afford to clothe more of me. There is no absolute value to any body size. There is no line on your mirror saying “If your hips touch this, your body is wrong.” My body’s not wrong now, and it wasn’t wrong before. It’s my body, and now that I live with respect for it, I don’t dread or thrill to its changes in size.

In that first post, way back when, I wrote this:

Right now, I’m a lot thinner than I’m used to being. Temporarily, I’m feeling a disconnect between the “real me” and the “representation of me.” But maybe I’ll stay at this weight, and I’ll realign my self-conception; maybe instead of a chubby healthy person, I’ll be a thinnish person with a medical condition. I’ll adjust. I’ll be good to myself. Maybe my health will improve again, and I’ll gain back those 20 pounds and more. I’ll adjust. I’ll be good to myself. I’ll remember that this body I live in is me and not a container or disguise or symbol for me. How will I do it? I’ll start right here.

Thanks for helping me be good to myself, Shapelings. I drink to you tonight.

No more “fat talk”

We’ve been deep into Advanced Feminism and Fat Acceptance the last few weeks, but sometimes it’s good to get a reminder of the basics and why we have to start there. The most important step of FA — and the one that often hardest to do — is to stop talking shit about yourself. This is Tri Delta’s Fat Talk Free Week:

(The video soundtrack is just music, for those of you watching without sound.)

What I really appreciate about this campaign is the focus on how fat talk isn’t just about you — every time you put yourself down, even if you really, truly are thinking only about yourself, you are also adding to the toxic environment that your loved ones live in, too. Self-shaming behavior implicitly shames others.

The Fat Talk Free Week campaign says “Friends don’t let friends fat talk” — what are your tried and true ways of resisting fat-shaming conversations?