Tuesday, May 31, 2011

According to trends, I am too fat and too short.

What do you think of when you think of the standard beautiful woman? How tall is she? What race is she? What's her build like?

Teen Vogue December 2009
The answer depends totally on who you are talking to and when. My generation is brainwashed by ads and current clothing trends, to be a beautiful woman, you must be tall, skinny, and lack any curves. However, Mom grew up where it was acceptable to be an Audrey or a Maryiln. Maybe you think Mom's generation was nicer to women; but Audrey and Marilyn did have one similarity: race.

Current issues of Teen Vogue show models of great varieties in race. (Non-teens: think United Colors of Benetton ads). When I look at photos like this, I try to pick the "me" in them, with no luck. Sure, there are white brunettes but, they certainly do not have my build.

With whatever is considered "pretty" at the moment, at any time in history, some type of person will always feel ugly and excluded. Much of mainstream fashion and advertising works simply like "nice looking person using a product will make viewer buy product". "Nice looking" depends completely on what trends of the time are. Maybe you've seen the Carl's Jr. ad below on television lately (way too often, in my opinion, but I do watch a lot of TV). A woman dressed as a Carl's Jr. employee walks in a room full of skimpily dressed women eating burgers and says "We believe in putting hot models in our commercials; because ugly ones don't sell burgers." Thanks, Carl's Jr., I was so offended by this, it isn't likely I will eat at your restaurant again (not that I have much. no vegetarian options).

The interesting thing about trends is they change. I hope for a future (preferably near future) where not just skinny or white or blonde women are considered beautiful but all women are. It's been skinny models in magazines for a while, but over time, you may see me, looking "beautiful" on the cover of a magazine.

Books and Time

I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book. -- Groucho Marx

When we started this blog, Lucia asked me to fill in the profile where you list favorite music, movies, and books. That sounded easy. Yesterday, she asked me if there was any art form I'm not interested in, and off the top of my head the only thing I could come up with was opera. As long as it doesn't involve over-the-top singing while dying, I'm definitely an arts geek. Favorites? Oh, God, I could talk about my favorites for hours.

I thought.

The hardest part of filling in the music section was whittling my list down to a reasonable number. I like music. A lot. And I listen to hundreds if not thousands of different artists. I had a little bit harder time thinking of movies, but when Lucia reminded me of a couple of movies I'd said I loved, dozens started tumbling into my brain. Books? I typed in "To Kill A Mockingbird" and then my mind went blank. I thought that was very strange, because I've always loved to read. Why couldn't I think of books that I especially liked? I've always defined myself as something of a bibliophile, if not quite a Groucho Marx-level devotee (if I'm watching House, I'm not going to abandon it for a book). Was that self-definition untrue?

Maybe my failure reflects the nature of different art forms. Songs are relatively short. Because I like so many different kinds of music, I don't tend to listen to the same few songs over and over the way many people do, but nevertheless, there are many songs I've listened to hundreds of times, and many artists I've heard thousands of times over decades. My list leans heavily on people who began (and, in most cases, ended) their careers long ago (in some cases, before I was born) because even though I like a lot of younger musicians (and will probably, little by little, add them to my list), they haven't had time to gel. Ray Charles is done, and I can look back at his body of work and see that even though he may have churned out some schlock (and a few gems) at the end of his life, he began by revolutionizing popular music, and went on to create works that can break your heart and then heal it again in three minutes. He can make every fiber of your being dance. Bob Dylan isn't done, but not only did he crack open the possibilities of what could be done with lyrics, not only has he written probably half of the hundred best songs written in the past century, he continues, at 70, to do brilliant, brave, challenging, soul-lifting work. I love Amy Winehouse, and wouldn't be surprised to see her grow into this generation's Billie Holiday. She has the same raw honesty to her voice, and the same fearlessness. But she could also be Carole King -- someone who makes one jewel, and is never able to duplicate the miracle.

My point is this: Because popular music is a short-form art, you can easily tell the difference between a cute song that worms its way into your brain for awhile, but doesn't hold up over time, and something that really means something. Movies are longer, but I've seen every movie on my list more than once and know that there's something about each one that is special. It didn't just provide a couple of hours of amusement, or even a brief intellectual challenge. It gave me something I needed to come back to -- even if that something is as slight as the weird ability to laugh at the same joke I've laughed at several times before. I think if a work of art is truly great, you keep finding something new, something worthwhile in it, every time you return.

Books are more complicated. Because it takes many hours to read a book, and there are so many books I want to read, I don't re-read books very often. When I think of books I've loved, I wonder if I would love them as much if I re-read them. I have a vivid memory of adoring Catch-22, Johnny Got His Gun, Flowers For Algernon, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Jude The Obscure, and many other books as a teenager, but I haven't come back to any of them. Was there something about those books that appealed to a high school girl, but couldn't reach a middle-aged woman? I just don't know. There was a period when I read everything Raymond Carver wrote. I think I had an Ann Tyler decade, when I read each new work she brought out, searching through her back catalog between books. That decade overlapped with my Nadine Gordimer, Margaret Atwood, and Toni Morrison obsessions. But would I love the books the second time around? Who knows. I recently finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I loved, but I think I got everything out of it I'd want to, and I doubt I'll ever especially want to read it again.

Books are paradoxical: You spend more time with them, so they embed themselves more deeply in your soul than other art forms, but at the same time, their effect can be more transitory. For all I know, Flowers For Algernon might just have been a teenage crush for me.

All my life, I've had a long list in my head of books I want to read -- these days it's in the "samples" file on my Kindle. But writing this post has made me want to return to some old ones. Are Vonnegut and Heller as good as I remember them being? Do I still adore some of the lesser-read Dickens novels? (I never want to go near Great Expectations again, but I have fond memories of Hard Times, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend.) (Although I think only a very strange person could say she has "fond" memories of Bleak House.) For that matter, wouldn't I probably appreciate Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and George Eliot more now than I did when I was twenty?

I think I'd like to find out.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Smartability & Practice

I've had this strange addiction of watching Jeopardy during the past month or so. I love correctly answering a question, because it makes me feel smart. (Notice, I'm not smart enough to come up with a more intelligent and mature word than "smart".) I don't get many correct, but the few I do, make me happy.

However, between my parents (I do love you but...) what seems like every other question gets answered correctly. I understand they are older and wiser (cheer up, I could have just said older), so really this post is just me being a complaining teenager, and making a few cheesy jokes. 

Mom and I were talking and realized we were in different situations with this blog. Her's being, she has plenty of things she wants to write about, but limited time. I feel like writing often but the end up writing something boring like this, because I can't come up with what I believe to be an interesting subject. My hope is that after a few boring posts like this (bear with me, or just skip 'em), I'll be side-tracked to something interesting. In seventh grade we had to write 500 words a week about anything, just to practice writing. I remember wondering could I write about writing? Apparently I can, but it isn't interesting.

Going back to Jeopardy, I sometimes knit while I watch, and pretend I'm an eighty-year-old widow with several cats, living in a cramped apartment, knitting sweaters for my grandchildren, and answering every Jeopardy question correctly that comes out of my two-decade-old television. (Get it? because old people like Jeopardy...and knit?......I'll do a post later about why stereotypes aren't a good thing.)

(PS: this is the first result when you search google images for "knitting old lady".)

Sitting in Limbo

What makes Forever 21 such a dispiriting, soul-sucking purgatory?

I admit I have a grudge against the place. I have mixed feelings about whether high fashion is an art or a scam (I think it's probably a little of both), but I balk at creative people's work simply being stolen outright, and Forever 21 thrives on stolen ideas. Far worse, for me, is the way they abuse workers. Cheap clothes aren't really cheap. If the price is low, it's probably because someone else is paying the cost -- someone who really can't afford it.

But I was in the store with Lucia over the weekend, and I wasn't thinking about the big issues. I was just sitting down, watching people shop, and I couldn't help noticing a couple of things.

First, almost everyone in the story looked alike. There are two or three basic teenage girl styles and virtually every girl wore one of them. The store is enormous, and packed with clothes. You would think that would inspire some variety, but you'd be wrong. It inspires mind-numbing conformity.

Second, no one looked happy. Even the mannequins in all their bright colors look pissed off and bored. The customers were worse. I saw several women my age whose arms were loaded with clothes as they traipsed behind girls I assume were their daughters. Neither seemed to be enjoying themselves. No one goes to a trendy clothes store because they desperately need new clothes. It's an indulgence. But what's the point of indulging yourself if it isn't even fun?

I doubt there's any connection between the big issues of honesty and justice, and level of depression the store induces, but maybe there's something karmic going on.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Again. Again? Again.

I am a victim of fashion blogging. All the possible combinations, colorful fabrics, and fascinating shapes clothes have to offer put me in a rut. I have tried to try to be, a fashion blogger and it failed...twice.  I decided to drop the 'fashion' in my title and try just blogger.

My issues with fashion blogging consist with the both depressing and interesting fact that fashion is about looks. I am passionate about putting together outfits, but as a barely five-foot four chubby kid, I feel self-conscious about showing off my creations on myself. I wouldn't complain about styling, or designing clothes for the "standard beauty" in the future, but as a sixteen-year-old I don't have the resources, money, or experience.

On my previous blogs, I felt like my best posts were the ones where I was actually writing about stuff I had opinions about. When you post pictures of yourself, while you're explaining boring stuff like why you chose that hat, there's the nagging thought in the back of your mind that someone will reply saying that you look stupid. On the other hand, I don't really mind people criticizing my ideas or thoughts, because it sparks conversation. But, if you say I am fat, I will cry, or insult you, depending on my mood.

The good part of having a co-author is support. The good part (of many) of having a mother is support. On my other blogs, I only had the mother support, which is good, but this, I'm expecting, will be great.


As of today, there are more than 162 million blogs clogging up the internet -- a fact that can make a person feel rather useless (why add to the noise?) or nonchalant (more than half the people in the country have blogs, why shouldn't I?)

The truth, of course, is that blogs aren't universal; they're just easily started and abandoned. 162 million people have not started blogs. A few million have started a lot of them. I think I'm personally responsible for at least a half dozen. If the internet is a highway, there's a lot of litter along the side.

I started my first blog in 2002, and kept it up for several years. It was mostly about politics and religion, particularly human rights. I ventured into art, books, and music occasionally, mostly on days when I got up in the morning and could not face the prospect of thinking and writing about the terrible things human beings do to each other, no matter how important I thought the subject was. I gave up the blog because it got to be too much work. I had a lot of readers, and, because of that, I felt obligated to post every day. I also needed to get things right (an odd compulsion for a political blogger, I know), which meant doing a lot of research. I enjoyed doing the blog, and still miss conversations with some of my readers, but I couldn't keep it up.

I've tried a few other blogs with the idea that I'd write about anything I felt like, and whenever I felt like writing. That sounds simple, but if you don't do something regularly, it atrophies like an unused muscle. I'd write a post. Two days later, I'd write another post. After a month or two, I'd put up a picture, or a video. End of blog.

One more piece of litter by the side of the road.

I know if this blog isn't going to make Iron Eyes Cody cry, I have to post regularly -- maybe not every day, but regularly. I think having a smart and interesting blogmate will help. We can play off each other's posts. We have enough in common to make the whole thing cohere, and enough variety of interests to keep things...um...interesting.

I hope.