Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pretty is a Set of Skills

UPDATE: This piece was published on Bitchtopiathe Huffington Post, and Jezebel


Burlesque performer and fan dancing extraordinaire Jezebel Express once shared her realization that "sexy is a set of skills." While I wholeheartedly believe this, I think it extends beyond sex appeal. Pretty, too, is a set of skills.

In a recent conversation with high school girls about body image, several spoke up about their own preferences in females (specifically ones they might be attracted to) -- for them to wear no makeup. I couldn't help but think of two related comics by Alexandra Dal and Kate Leth, respectively:











My friend Caroline would always say that people would ask her if she was sick when she didn't have any makeup on, and I had a hard time believing her until I crashed at her place and found myself asking her the same question in the morning. The "natural" look is not natural at all, as evidenced by the copious amounts of "no makeup" makeup tutorials on YouTube. It is rare that a woman without any makeup at all is complimented on her looks. (A cat call is not a compliment.)

Pretty isn't about how my face happens to look due to my genetic makeup. Pretty is about what I do with that, about my skills in the makeup department. Finally mastering the art of the false lash, I've noticed that the longer the pair I don, the more compliments I garner. "You're so pretty!" "It's just these lashes. They're amazing!" We learn how to apply eyeshadow and mascara. We learn how to use concealer, lotions, foundation. We master the liquid eyeliner cat eye, we pluck or get our brows shaped to both complement our features and appeal to the fashions of the times. We gloss our lips up, and when we feel daring, we paint them red. 

But it doesn't stop with makeup. Pretty is also about hair. When I was in middle school, it was fashionable to have long, straight, shiny hair. My hair is naturally curly, but I hadn't had a proper haircut until I was 12 so I hadn't realized it was anything more than wavy. I was determined to get my hair to be just as beautiful as the popular girls at school, so I stood at the mirror in the morning blow drying my hair with a barrel brush. I looked like Alice from Dilbert. I achieved the straight part, but I had terrible triangle hair. 

It wasn't for a few years that I learned what products to put in my hair to work with it and not against it, to emphasize its desirable features while hiding frizz and puff and other unsightly characteristics. A suitable cut can also affect "pretty." I found, rocking a shoulder length curly 'do during my sophomore year of college, that my hair made me feel pretty enough that I didn't need to put any makeup on. I also found, rocking a shaved head during my senior year of college, that my lack of hair necessitated an increased amount of makeup, as well as large jewelry. There is a certain level of "pretty" that I feel comfortable expressing myself with, and changing my hair up created a need to find balance. 

Pretty is also affected by dress. It's a pain in the ass to find clothes that fit nice, especially pants. The low rise pants, that have been fashionable since I've been of age to shop for them on my own, squeeze my fat in a decidedly un-pretty fashion. I have learned that certain cuts of dresses look more pretty on me than others. My body looks best in dresses that are fitted from right below the breast to just below my belly button. I have also learned the trick to getting a more "pretty" boob-belly ratio: wearing a push up bra. Heels are uncomfortable, but they make most every outfit a bit more pretty. It's remarkable what a change a pair of heels will make to a tank top and leggings when compared to a pair of running shoes.

Posture makes pretty. A world of body woes can be washed away by learning to properly stick your boobs and butt out, put your shoulders back, and your chin up.

Pretty is artifice. Pretty is a construct, and a social construct at that. Pretty can be fun to do, to learn, to practice, to hone; but pretty can also be damaging. When I worked at Ben & Jerry's during undergrad, I noticed that on days I wore makeup, people were nicer to me. Our society ascribes value to women based on how well they've achieved this artifice to suit current trends and values. A woman's appearance is often discussed before or / and more than her personality, beliefs, passions, or achievements. Especially when those passions and achievements have nothing to do with creating this artifice. 

Women are constantly down on themselves, comparing their mental image of what they look like in the bathroom mirror in the morning to what other women look like fully costumed in Pretty with pretty lighting and pretty scenery to boot. I recall a friend wallowing in sorrow and cyber stalking the new girlfriend of her ex. As she clicked through MySpace photos (this was quite a few years back), she would complain to me that she was ugly and his new girl was beautiful. I had to point out to my friend that this girl had scores of makeup on. She, too, could put makeup on. This girl was not better than her. 

I love this example from Philly burlesque performer Hayley Jane.

She says: "what I look like 75% of the time & what I look like 95% of the time people take photos of me."

Pretty is like good design. It is a skill, or rather, a set of skills. You may be attracted by the aesthetic, but, like wandering through Target and picking up beautiful kitchen gadgets of whose function you're wholly unaware, it is important to remember that such artifice holds no intrinsic relationship to the value of the person, or the gadget, it adorns. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

If you're on welfare, you shouldn't be able to.

In the laundromat I overheard a guy saying, "If you're on welfare, it should be illegal to own Jordans." I tried to vocally express my disapproval of this statement, but he didn't seem to hear me. He continued, "That kid's got nicer sneakers than I do!" 

So I said, "Do you *know* he's on welfare?" to which he replied with a slight laugh, "Yeah, I do." and then sounding mildly annoyed: "I don't make assumptions like that." #makingfriends

I've never heard anyone say "if you're on welfare, it should be illegal to..." and finish that sentence in a way that wasn't RIDDLED with assumptions.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ladies Survey



My friend Amanda tagged me in this beautiful video. A few years ago I made a tag response to end all tag responses (and by that I meant I was no longer going to accept being tagged anymore) but in a tweet Amanda expressed that she was interested in my responses, so I'm going to talk about the questions here. I'm not sure I'll have something to say for all of them, but here goes:

1. Who are your favourite female YouTubers?
I like this because I was actually able to become friends with a lot of them. LizzieRadio, ShesSoMickey, elffia, gemllama, genericfirstname, georgieBOOM, HatticusRex, Nerdfighteratalie, supersharayah, TheHill88, losergoescrazy.
2. Who are your favourite female athletes?
I don't really follow sports at all. Like, not at all. I guess my friend Jackie who defeated Hodgkin's Leukemia and runs marathons would be it.
3. What is your favourite book written by a female with a female protagonist?
This is hard for me because I don't read a lot of fiction, and a lot of what I have read is the white male selection they make you read in school. 



















My friend posted this picture on facebook with the caption: "Read. Repeat 6 times and claim your english literature credit." I thought that was relevant.

That said, I do read a lot of comics written by women, a lot of autobio stuff. I think my favorite is probably Liz Prince.
4. What is your favourite film written by a female with a female protagonist?
It probably doesn't count, but Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. Again, hard to find something that fits.
5. Who is your favourite female fictional character?
Daria
6. What is the biggest problem facing female creators today (and any solutions)? 
I don't know that I feel confident saying it's the "biggest" problem, but as I'm reading The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, I can't help but think of the way a woman's appearance overshadows her content in a way that doesn't hold true for male content creators.
7. Do you think youtube and online video in general are better or worse suited than television for tackling the problems and prejudices women face in the workplace? 
In some ways it's better, and in some ways it's worse. As Amanda said, online video allows women to present themselves the way they please, as both the star and the creator of the content without a panel of assholes to answer to. BUT content online puts the creator in direct contact with the viewers which opens up new channels for misogynistic harassment.
8. What do you pledge to do to make the internet a better environment for all creators?
I pledge to call out misogyny when I see it.
9. Tell us a story/secret whatever featuring women!
In her video, Amanda talks about how women are brought up to be in competition with one another, and I have to say that I haven't felt this as strongly as I have with Jenna Marbles. I watched some of her videos and immediately hated her because she is the impossible combination of desirable to dudes, beautiful AND funny. I expected that I wouldn't be alone in this feeling of hatred toward her, but then all of my female friends who would normally understand where I was coming from expressed that they really like her. It drove me nuts.

I hate that I have to compete with other women, but I've never found myself in a secure position to where the competition wasn't horribly real. When I was in undergrad I dated this guy who I got along with better than I ever expected possible. He was sweet to me in genuine ways that indicated to me that he really understood me. But then a strong willed friend decided she hated me, but still liked my boyfriend and my roommates. I was allowed to hang out with everyone still, but after getting home from the studio or work, staying up late to spend time with my boyfriend and my friends was an effort rewarded by a horrible tension created by the strong willed friend. Soon my boyfriend broke up with me, stated the reasons we'd always said would lead to our demise, and started sleeping with and dating my roommate (literally the next day). They dated for two years, one of which she was still my roommate for.

As a part of my healing process from that situation, I moved to the next town over to get away from everything. As I was doing so, my best friend who-I-was-in-love-with from high school told me he also  was moving to that next town for very different reasons. I was convinced that it was "God's Plan" for us to finally end up together this way. We went to the same church and the pool of available bachelors was frighteningly small. I felt way more comfortable being friends with married ladies. One night at a quilting group, I decided that I should stop seeing other single ladies as competition and befriended the only other single lady there. Around the same time, my best friend who-I-was-in-love-with befriended her too. I'd make extra effort to hang out with everyone, but it soon became really awkward for me and I learned that they were dating. I told my best friend I wouldn't be able to handle hanging out with him anymore, and soon enough they were married. I spoke to him a few times since, very briefly, but I declined the invitation to his wedding.

I had been hoping that befriending her would prove my feelings wrong, but instead it just confirmed them.  I hate it.

10. TAG PEOPLE!
No.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

(any kindergarten is) Too much kindergarten.

Kindergarten again today.

If there is anything I hate more than tying shoes, it is being poked or tapped repeatedly. I made a quasi-teasing announcement in the beginning of the day asking kids to not ... touch me essentially, but some of them just can't break the habit of standing beside you or behind you and tap tap taping or poke poke poking your side and saying "excuuuussse meeeee, excusssseeee meeeee" until you turn around to learn about how Jayden stole Lisa's pencil. Or something.

These kindergartners were practicing songs for their graduating-from-kindergarten ceremony. There was a song about the flag. For some reason any school practice that encourages blind patriotrism doesn't sit  well with me. Luckily, there was only one such song. The others were a little more granola, including a song about bumblebees buzzing and having names and a song that provided an opportunity for 25 five and six year olds to flap their elbows simultaneously and shout "A BIG FAT HEN!" in unison. It was more satisfying to see than it sounds.

At one point I was sitting in the center part of a horseshoe table overseeing a group of students using scissors to cut out little graduation caps that they had colored in. I chatted casually with them as they worked. One girl stopped and asked me, "Why you talk like that?" and when I asked her what she meant, she gestured to her mouth with the business end of her scissors and clarified, "like something's in your throat."

I never realized I talked so funny until kids everywhere felt the need to point it out. But, on second thought, I think I emphasize my monotone with them, and I think they needlessly pick apart everyone about everything. There's probably some euphemistic explanation for this having to do with developmental psychology. I just find it annoying.

Another little girl started bragging about being homeschooled next year. She seemed really excited for the possibility to go to museums if she and her brother "did everything good." I wonder if it's a purely personal choice or if they've had problems with the school.

As I was enjoying the last 5 minutes of my (legally mandated half hour) lunch break, two students walked into the room. They explained to me that they had finished their lunch early and that the principal had sent them back.

I know it seems like a really small thing, but I find kindergarten especially taxing and I need every minute of solitude I can get to recoup. And, legally, doesn't that count as giving me work during my break? I told the students that if they were going to be in the room they had to just sit quietly. One immediately started talking to me and trying to tell me about whatever she was excited about. I reiterated my direction, and she sat down.

I know I'm horrible.

Monday, June 11, 2012

YOU'RE not the boss of the SCHOO-OOL.

Today I subbed in Kindergarten.

I hate kindergarten.

These children are almost first graders, but they were the worst behaved group ever.

One little girl, as I tried to gain control of the class by asking individual students and small groups of students to quit certain behaviors took it upon herself to stand up against my authority. When I told the students to stop talking or put books away, she would counter that they didn't need to put books away, that they were allowed to talk. When she began to comply with my directives, she began yelling at me to "leave her friends alone" and made sure I knew that I'm "not the boss of the school." In her most amateur (and perhaps adorably misguided) move yet, she started taunting me, trying to make me jealous because THEY get to go on the PLAYGROUND later and IIIIIII dooooonnnn't.

At different points where she attempted to bully me or fight with me, I engaged her in conversation about the thing she was saying. Asked her questions and acted genuinely excited for her.

I highly recommend this tactic. It worked like a charm, diffusing the situation as well as giving me a release of my frustrations in an imperceptible display of mockery.

Later a student complained to me: "He called me a liar!"

From behind her another student called out, "I did not!"

I tried to explain to them the irony of this exchange, but I think it might have been just over their heads.



Somehow, I managed to only tie one pair of shoes.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bullshit

"You're too beautiful for that buuulllllllshit," he says to me.

The 'bullshit' being his misguided interpretation of a facet of my most sacred emotional bond.

This 'bullshit,' determined after having known me for less than a day. After accusing me of lying about every personal detail I shared.  After questioning me about banal objects and accusing me of hiding some sentimental truth.

The only bullshit here, sir,  is telling me my business like you know me.

... and if you really understood me, you'd realize it's bullshit to determine what I deserve by my physical appearance.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

One Day I'll Be a Respected Educator

I thought that once I lost some weight I'd stop getting comments about how young I look. I was convinced it was the moon face that gave me a student-like appearance, but I've lost 25 lbs and I'm certainly not free from the offhanded comments that grit on me so.

Today I started a long term sub position in my favorite elementary school. It's only one day a week, because someone else is working the rest of the days and can't do Thursdays I guess. I wouldn't complain (as it gives me something to put on my resume) except that I've lost tooo many leave positions on account of not being able to be somewhere for 5 days because of grad school. Of all the days for the rest of the school year, I only have uncancelable duties on one! I could have done this entire leave position. Oh well. 

I decided to start each class super positive. Instead of telling the students what I wanted them to do, how they should behave, what I don't allow, I just told them how much I like working at that school and how respectful and quiet and polite all the students are and how much I was looking forward to working with them and having them follow directions and seeing what sort of awesome artwork they'd come up with. (Perhaps you've heard of the experiment in which two groups of students are given candies and one is instructed on how they need to be more cleanly while the other is praised for being cleanly. The latter group ends up throwing their wrappers neatly in the trash can while the former tends to litter quite a bit. This sort of idea.) It was working pretty well until one class started piping up about how not quiet or good they were. I had to switch on my stern teacher voice and be firm about that I expected they would do their very best to be. 

Enough pedagogy.

I'm in the middle of teaching a lesson about how to draw a barn (I was informed at 10pm the night before that I had to make my own lesson plans, so we do something uncomplicated) and I'm walking around the room checking that all the kids are in the right spot when one pipes up: "YOU LOOK YOUNG!"

You know how much I hate to be told that. Especially from people who are questioning whether or not they should respect my authority. Especially when I'm teaching at a public school. 

I shut her down with a "are you supposed to be talking right now?" and the question did not come up again. 

Later in the class I'm demonstrating simplistic barnyard animals. I've drawn a cartoon chicken and two styles of simplified pig. I tell them that they're free to draw any other animal that is farm appropriate that they'd like. A student asks me to draw a horse, but I was never one of those horse girls, I never spent a lot of time looking at horses or caring about horses and so I can't really whip out a horse without having one to look at. And I don't have one to look at. 

"I can't really draw a horse, " I say, and then proceed to draw this crappy horse head with all the other crappy animals I've drawn: 



A girl on the other side of the room calls out, "So you're not an art teacher?"

Not only am I an art teacher, but for the rest of the year I am HER art teacher. MFA and NYS Certified. I. Am. An. Art. Teacher.

"I am an art teacher," I respond with feigned confusion.

"But, like, not a real art teacher."

"I am a real art teacher."

"But not a FULL art teacher."

"I AM a FULL art teacher."

At this point she sort of sighs and is becoming visibly exhausted with me. It seems as though she might think I'm daft or that I'm messing with her. I launch into a diatribe about how drawing things from memory is NOT AT ALL what makes someone an art teacher, an artist, or even a good drawer. I find cause to mention not having been a horse girl nor having drawn lots of horses as a child nor spending time looking at horses, but add that if I had a horse to look at I could draw you a picture that looked very realistic, and went on to criticize my other animals, identifying them as stylized.

I don't even think the horse head that I drew was that horrible.

But anyhow, I think the takeaway here is that Drawing Horses is a key skill.

Maybe someday I'll be a respected educator.