Wednesday, March 30, 2011

FFB: Food and Feminism and What I Learned

(Desserts at Nova Albion.)

This is yet another post I'm doing with Fashionable Feminist Bloggers community; roundup post is here.

I want to talk about things I learned about dieting. Body positivity and fat activism have been perceived as feminist issues, and they are. Yet, I often feel dissatisfied with such discussions, partly because of the persistent "everyone is beautiful" nonsense, but partly because they rarely go past the effects of advertising on body image. Sure, yes, advertising does things. But the root of the problem is much more pernicious: since 1950s, we knew what food deprivation does to people (thank you, Minnesota Starvation Study): it, also known as dieting, causes the following symptoms: "[the patients] became nervous, anxious, apathetic, withdrawn, impatient, self-critical with distorted body images and even feeling overweight, moody, emotional and depressed. A few even mutilated themselves, one chopping off three fingers in stress. They lost their ambition and feelings of adequacy, and their cultural and academic interests narrowed. They neglected their appearance, became loners and their social and family relationships suffered. They lost their senses of humor, love and compassion. Instead, they became obsessed with food, thinking, talking and reading about it constantly; developed weird eating rituals; began hoarding things; consumed vast amounts of coffee and tea; and chewed gum incessantly (as many as 40 packages a day)."

Considering that it is primarily women who are encouraged to diet, it seems pretty clear that the agenda behind it is not about health. It's just one more way of exercising control.

And speaking of exercising: time and time again celebrity trainers keep telling us how to get a "dancer's body". Because dancers are tiny. You want to be tiny, don't you? No, don't lift those weights -- you might bulk up! And, god forbid, with increasing strength you might actually stop caring about being thin and start caring about being strong. You won't spend your days calculating how many calories were in that salad dressing in your lunch salad but might instead eat a healthy diet that will allow your body to be strong instead of frail. And if you don't care about being thin, well! What will you do instead?

Emphasis on dieting, of course, does another terrible thing to women's bodies: calorie restrictions cause loss of muscle mass, so every time you lose weight, you lose muscle, and when you stop dieting and gain back the weight, you will gain more because there's less muscle. Loss of muscle mass is one of the very few ways of altering set point of a person's weight, and dieting next time around will be harder and less effective, but still you'll lose more muscle mass. So dieting is not only a way of control, it's a way of perpetual control, designed to keep you in that wheel forever, away from things that matter. To keep you physically weaker. To keep you hating yourself because your body cannot live on 800 calories a day.

I was lucky in that I never dieted: recently I made some changes to the way I eat (more vegetables, more protein, less starch), but I was mindful to not make any changes I couldn't sustain forever. Moreover, weight lifting being is my preferred activity. And for me, being strong is an acceptable alternative to being thin.

It is remarkable how talking about this to other women elucidates the overall patterns: the confluence of marketing pushes, of the diet industry, of the patriarchal media machine that wants us weak and insecure and obsessed with carbs. And how getting stronger changes our perspective: time and time again, I hear about women picking up exercise. Sometimes they lose weight, sometimes they don't, but making yourself stronger, giving yourself higher endurance always changes the way you perceive your body -- from esthetic to functional. And food too changes from enemy to sustenance. And most importantly, ditching the culturally-mandated obsession really does free up a lot of time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Updatery and Appearances

Next week, I'll be attending Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition in Santa Clara, CA. If you're around, please say hello. I'll be participating in a panel on Victorian modesty and body image, doing a signing, and generally hanging out. Also, Heart of Iron ARCs will be available there. I will have very limited quantities, but this is the only way to get this book before its release in July. Come to the signing if you want one!

(There also might be impromptu readings at the bar. Consider yourselves warned.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Would a Feminist Wear?

(Main post here, with links to other participants.)

Such a seemingly simple question, such an impossible answer. Not to say that there is no relationship between feminist beliefs and clothes, but rather that relationship is fairly complex, indirect, and impossible to elucidate in a few words. So please don't hate me because my answer will include a bunch of links to old posts.

1. For me, ethical fashion is a necessary attribute of feminist fashion. That is, if we believe in equality, we must also believe in fair labor practices (it's not a coincidence that so much of early women's movement and unionization were tied with the garment industry).

2. Also, I believe that personal style is there to be manipulated in order to project a desired effect. I wrote a little back about the male gaze and ubiquity of it, the fact that women are always judged based on what they wear. Opting out is impossible, and catering to expectations is not always wise (although occasionally one might choose to); however, creating a desired effect with intention is the best option there is. I wear heels a lot because at 5'4" I appreciate the extra height as it helps me to project a little more authority. I wear a lot of tailored clothes because I like the play with proportion they offer.

3. Recognizing that femininity as well as masculinity are social constructs rather than inherent qualities is also a necessity for a feminist, since the very notion of equality is predicated on rejection of biological determinism. As such, a dress or a three piece suit say nothing about me as a person, just about my sartorial choices -- and that I am not committed to performing a specific gender. I think there is value in that.

4. Finally, "flattering dressing" -- that is, dressing to create an idealized female shape -- has its place. But it is only one of many options. So I will happily wear sack dresses as well as dresses tailored to accentuate my waistline, long skinny pants or slouchy cropped pants with pleats, heels or flat oxfords, based on what particular image I want to project. Clothes have meaning, sure; so learning these meanings and using them to bolster oneself rather than mindlessly perform gender in a way one is expected to seems to be important.

5. And here're some of my favorite clothes, from on of my favorite designers. Because well-tailored jackets are important.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Links a la Mode -- IFB

A very interesting Links a la Mode this week! Great range of topics:

Making it Your Own
Edited by Vahni of Grit & Glamour
Wow...I'm a Links à la Mode editor...can you believe it?! So thrilled to have the opportunity to discover new blogs and compelling posts to share with all of you. That said, give me two minutes in the pulpit, and my "better blog" sermon starts welling up, totally involuntarily. So allow me a moment to share what I am looking for when I review submissions. It's pretty simple: Be creative and original, tie your post into beauty or fashion, use proper grammar and punctuation (spellcheck and proofread before publishing), and credit your photo sources. Always.
And on to the list...bloggers were in deep thought this week, pondering ethical fashion and feminism, male gaze and Marthettes. But in case you need to escape the heavy stuff, there is: denim! Happy reading, and as you peruse and comment on this week's posts, why stop there? For every comment you leave, why not check out the blog of the person who commented above you and comment there too? It's a great way to expand your mind—and your readership.

Links à la Mode: March 10th

  • ALinetoZ: An Open Letter to High-Waisted Jeans
  • Arash Mazinani: How ethical are you when it comes to fashion? A look at the hypocrisy often involved in being ethical in fashion.
  • Beyond Fabric: Men's daily essentials—inside one man's bag holdall.
  • Corinne Monique: Cellissimo: a music-meets-fashion photoshoot inspired by high fashion ad campaigns.
  • Dress With Courage: Are you more likely to buy something if the model looks like you?
  • Designed By Ann: Reading glasses are suddenly fashionable—so here are makeup tips for girls who wear glasses.
  • Free Honey: On moving to 5 must-know tips for new bloggers.
  • Fishmonkey: On The Man Repeller, the male gaze, and its role in shaping fashion choices.
  • Grit & Glamour: Klout: What it is and Why it Matters
  • Holier than Now: Spring's Most Beautiful Lace Looks—5 Ways for < $50

  • In Her Stilettos: How to organize your jewelry while traveling—cheaply and stylishly.

  • Made-to-Travel: Asos Africa—the incredible ethical makers of this gorgeous line—oh! and it's on sale!

  • Melina Bee: Life and style tips inspired by Sophia Loren.

  • Obsessive Coolness: On the relationship—or surprising lack thereof—between talent and success in fashion blogging.

  • Oranges And Apples: Thoughts on Marthettes, blogging about 'feminine' stuff, and perfection.

  • Pretty Shiny Sparkly: A chic and easy way to wear the double denim trend.

  • Sidewalk Chic: Six ways to showcase accessories in outfit photos.

  • Sugar and Spice: Natalie Portman is effortlessly eco-chic at an Oscars after-party—in an inexpensive dress that hits H&M next month.

  • Trés Awesome: The weather may be crappy but that didn't stop people from being out and about with their bright and beautiful umbrellas.

  • Try It On Me: The resurgence of the denim shirt—not just for cowboys!

Shopbop Jeans: Citizen's, Seven's, Juicy, Joe's, Hudsons, Paige, James Jeans, Vince, True Religion, J Brand, & Siwy

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Man Repeller and the Male Gaze


This is the second of a number of group posts from the Fashionable Feminist Bloggers community. This group, begun a few weeks ago by a number of fascinating bloggers, examines the intersection of fashion and feminism. If you're interested in becoming part of the group, request an invitation at the Google group linked above. This week, no topic!

So I assume you all know about The Man Repeller, an often funny and always incisive look at high fashion as something that is emphatically not designed to get male attention. The Man Repeller posits that proper high fashion will actually be abhorrent to hetero men, due to its affinity for things like harem pants (check), athletic socks with high heeled sandals (check) and jewelry that looks like weapons (double check). In fact, many designers make clothes that are definitely not about showcasing female sexiness.

The Man Repeller was widely mentioned as a feminist blog, and there was a debate on Jezebel some weeks ago about whether the blog is indeed feminist -- the author is clearly wealthy enough to afford some awesome designer duds, so the class criticism was raised. Another thing that was mentioned was the idea that subverting the male gaze is essentially the same as catering to it, because both modalities make the clothes about the male gaze. To which I have to say, hold your horses, ladies. We LIVE in the world of male gaze. Pretending it doesn't exist and we live in the environment where it's all about individual choice and all choices have equal consequences, is naive.

Male gaze is so pervasive that the female body itself, naked or half-naked stands in for sex -- that is, in order to suggest sex, advertisers insert female bodies into their commercials, and we are programmed to read female bodies as inherently sexual (even Lady Gaga is frequently mentioned as a sex symbol -- no pants is being read as sexualized, even though she might be smeared in blood). I would argue, however, that subverting this sexiness (like The Man Repeller and Gaga both do, like Isabella Blow and every fashion icon worth her salt used to do) is an act both rebellious and necessary. Ignoring the female objectification in hopes that it will go away and pretending that wearing a corset with a mini skirt or a pair of harem pants with several layered sweaters are essentially the same in terms of choice is, in a word, foolish.

Choice is difficult under the patriarchy: first, some choices are rewarded (having family, raising children) while others are vilified (working in technical fields, wearing grandpa trousers); second, as much as we would like to fall back on the preference and choice thing ("But if I CHOOSE to wear fifties silhouette, than it's perfectly feminist!"), preferences are not shaped in a vacuum. In fact, they are probably shaped in large part by the whole patriarchal reward-punishment system. It is always interesting to observe discussions on the internet, and how male commenters often frame their remarks in term of their sexual preference ("I don't think Gaga is sexy" or "I like clothes that make women look sexy, and this is why Tom Ford is awesome") -- it does not occur to them to interpret female behavior or dress outside of this context of trying to get male approval; and they bestow their approval or criticism whether unasked, because implicit is the assumption that male approval is important. When women blind themselves to this pervasive context, they are putting themselves at disadvantage.

I mean, I get it -- I know why one might consciously decide to appease the patriarchal norm. When one lives in an oppressive system, it is exhausting to rail against it all the time; it helps to have means and influence to do so (Daphne Guinness, Lady Gaga, and, to a lesser extent, The Man Repeller). For those of us who have to fit in, capitulation is often necessary. But let's not pretend that it's a choice freely made: I like my pencil skirts and I love my grandpa trousers, but I know when wearing the latter would be counterproductive. So I make my choices, uneasily at times, all the while glad that there are women out there who don't have to -- and who don't pretend that male gaze doesn't exist.

Anyway. Remember that Star Trek episode where there was a planet inhabited only by women, wearing short skirts and go-go boots? Yes, exactly.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

New Anthology

(Picture from "Alexander McQueen -- The Savage Beauty" editorial)

I'm editing another anthology for Prime, and am now open for submissions.

"Bloody Fabulous:

Lace. Leather coats. Open collars over exquisite collarbones. A single red drop on paper-white cuffs. Each fiction genre has its sartorial signifiers, and urban fantasy is no exception – from the brocade extravagance of the Unseelie courts to the ubiquitous leather of supernatural detectives to the old-fashioned good taste of wealthy vampires, we are as familiar with them as we are with the supernatural attributes of the protagonists. However, despite the prominence of clothing in urban fantasy, fashion is usually a supporting actor. In this anthology, we want to give it a center stage (or a runway). Let the tales of tormented designers and well-dressed vampires strut into the light, and finally get the attention they deserve. BLOODY FABULOUS is a collection of urban fantasy tales, featuring vampires as well as other supernatural creatures, but focusing on the world of fashion and its intersection with the uncanny. Get ready, get set, get fabulous!"

Now, to the specifics: just like last year, I will be making my selections in December, so there is a good chance that I might be sitting on your story until December 2011 -- keep that in mind if submitting early. The official deadline for submissions is December 1st 2011. I always want reprints (1c/word) and originals (5c/word); please feel free to suggest reprints by other people, if you think of something that fits the theme. 1,000-7,500 words is the strongly preferred range.

Some other particulars: for this antho, you should probably know something about or have interest in fashion. I don't want stories about anorexic models -- generally, body snarking is not welcome. Cliches are best avoided; satire is generally tricky. If you do satire, make sure that you do know a LOT about fashion industry. Submissions should be sent to my contact address: katsedia at hotmail. Queries are not necessary. If you have questions, read this.

Feminist Fashion Bloggers roundup

I was amazed by the variety of fashion icons represented in these posts -- I am still reading through them. I'm very pleased to participate in this blogging effort, and am excited for next Wednesday.

Christine Lagarde– Rags Against the Machine

Cindy Sherman - Mrs Bossa Does the Do

Claude Cahun - Cervixosaurus

Diane Von Furstenberg – For Those About to Shop

Elizabeth Smith Miller – Techie Style

Ellen Page – SK{ru}SH

Frida Kahlo - La Historiadora de Moda from Fashionable Academics

Frida Kahlo – Knitting Up the Ravelled Sleeve of Care

Gloria Steinem – Ef for Effort

Gloria Steinem - What If No-One’s Watching?

Gloria Trevi - Feministified

Grandmother – The House in the Clouds

Griselda Pollock - Magic Square Foundation

Hedy Lamarr - Adventures in Refashioning

Marjane Satrapi - Jean of all Trades

Joan of Arc – Interrobangs Anonymous

Julia de Burgos – Mad Dress Game

Margaret Cho – What Are Years?

Oroma Elewa - Fishmonkey

Rachel Carson – Aly en France

Siouxsie Sioux - Yo Ladies

Sydney Fox - My Illustrative Life

Vivienne Westwood - Seamstress Stories

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Oroma Elewa -- Feminist Fashion Icon

(Photo of Ataui Deng by Oroma Elewa)

This is the first of a number of group posts from the Fashionable Feminist Bloggers community. This group, begun a few weeks ago by a number of fascinating bloggers, examines the intersection of fashion and feminism. If you're interested in becoming part of the group, request an invitation at the Google group linked above. Our first topic is on Fashionable Feminist icons: each of us was asked to write about a woman who, to us, is a personal feminist/fashion icon (which could be, for example a feminist with great style, a fashion person who also works on behalf of women).

I love fashion editors: Diana Vreeland, who was the subject I first intended to write about, was a fashion icon and a free spirit, a person of contradiction and taste. But there's much written about Vreeland and her rouged earlobes, so instead I wanted to talk about a much younger, newer editor: Oroma Elewa of Pop'Africana. I was super excited about this magazine because of the representations of Africa in the West are severely lacking. In the world of fashion industry, they are either non-existent or limited to shameless appropriation of "tribal" esthetics (and boy, I can talk a lot about the awful "tribal" trend and its ontological cousin, the animal print - so African! So exotic!)

Thankfully Pop'Africana has an online presence, and it is edited by a woman of Nigerian extraction, who not only edits but blogs eloquently about her world in fashion and her personal history: "When my mother is happy or playing with me, she calls me by my full name - O r o m a m a y a t u n a h i a - it means my mother's home cannot be bought in the market. My grandmother, her mother truly gave meaning to this name because her love, her spirit and her home can never be bought Period."

Fashion industry in the West often has an exclusionary air about it -- a shortcoming, I feel, too often shared by Western feminism, when most of the world is ignored, and they're concerns and problems are overlooked. To many westerners, Africa is a large monolith of Third World (a term too problematic in itself) suffering, and they only look to it for "inspiration" -- that is, stealing textiles and esthetic movements, appropriating them without giving back, focusing on how these experiences are beneficial for Westerners' individual growth and enrichment. (I already spoke a bit about one-sidedness of African representations in literature here.) Women's issues are similarly ignored, under the assumption that the generic Western feminism IS about all women, even despite its continuing failure to engage with issues other than those of white and middle-class western women. Meanwhile the role of Africa and African diaspora as movers of fashion and feminism rather than its passive objects is rarely discussed.

Well, Oroma Elewa is editing Pop'Africana to affect a change. Her photography is beautifully idiosyncratic, her articles are incisive, whether she is talking about music or fashion or deconstructs representations of Africa. Her role as an editor of such a forward yet fashion centered magazine assures her role as a fashion icon; but what about feminism?

I believe that the third wave feminism with its focus on intersectionality of oppressions -- that is, the complex and non-linear interactions between gender, class, race, nationality etc. -- was meant to remedy the unfairness of focusing exclusively on Western issues. Voices like Elewa's are necessary, and hers is clear and assured. Rather than speaking for people who can speak perfectly well for themselves, we need to listen and to pay attention. Oh, and buy an issue or two -- Pop'Africana is an amazingly vibrant magazine, with a great editorial hand.