Shaping the Body

It’s Saturday, it’s sunny and even better I have a guest post from @jedihamster001. I’ve had my eye on the Shaping the Body exhibition up in York for quite a while now. I’ve been to the city twice in my life; she’s a regular visitor. So when she hopped on the train north recently I added this to her list of things to do. She’s wrong about her “less than perfect” body (*insert Paddington Bear hard stare) and about 99 Red Balloons, but other than that this is an awesome read!


As good and solid a friendship as Exposing 40 and I have, our opinions differ on a lot of things: She’s never seen Star Wars, I’ll never love anyone the way I love Chewbacca. There are entire whatsapp conversations dedicated to which language one should sing 99 Red Balloons in (German, obviously). I once had to pretend it was agave nectar sweetening our watermelon mimosas (sorry about that, E40, but who doesn’t like honey?!).

When it comes to getting our kecks off in front of others, again we’re different: E40 joyfully takes hers off at any given opportunity and invites lusty gazes, whilst I don’t really believe that anyone could, would, or indeed should want to look upon my less-than-perfect form.

So when I found myself on a random weekend in York a few weeks ago, I was really interested to go (at her suggestion) to the Shaping The Body exhibition at the Castle Museum: charting 400 years of fashion, food and life, and how the definition of the ‘perfect’ body has changed over the centuries.

That weekend was almost 20 years to the day since I’d first visited the city before going to college there, 18 years old and with no clue about who or what I wanted to be. As walked through the city on my way I started thinking about how I looked in 1997, what I wore, and how I felt about my body.

I’ve always been a big girl, and as a teen I was painfully aware of my flaws, comparing myself to my thinner friends and batting away any compliments, convinced that I was being at best humoured and at worst, mocked. I had no clue about dressing myself: scruffy student stayed with me far longer after graduating than it should have done and I honestly have no idea why denim shirts were such a big part of my wardrobe. No really. I had THREE.

These days, I use my clothes as my costume. When I need to feel powerful at work, it’s the rock chick look with lots of mascara and big high-heeled boots; to feel demure it’s a flowery dress, sandals and a shit-ton of lip goo that my hair invariably gets stuck in (I said I knew how to dress myself, I never said I was graceful!). My clothes are my armour, making me into the person I need to be at that given moment. Take away that armour and I’m just a wobbly thirtysomething overly concerned about her backrolls.

Shaping the Body works hard to show its visitors that worrying about how we look is by no means a modern phenomenon:

“In today’s selfie generation, it is said that we have become more image conscious than ever before, with the lengths that people will go to in order to achieve the ‘perfect’ look seeming ever more drastic, but the reality is that even before the age of the digital camera, people would go to extremes to conform to fashion, whether through changing diet or clothing which modified the body’s shape,” [taken from the York Castle Museum website]

There’s an interesting trawl through some torturous clothing – a corset that cinched in the waist to mere inches, spiky heels that could easily double as a weapon, and I’m pretty sure I spotted a dress lined with mercury. Century by century and, latterly, decade by decade trends and styles are analysed: I laughed for about a year when I realised that circa 1752, ‘you’re looking thin’ could have been seen as an insult.

All of this was interesting but by no means ground-breaking. What really made me catch my breath was further into the exhibition, exploring body image, how we view our bodies and how we define ourselves with what we wear.

img_2701A clothes dummy covered in labels where people were encouraged to write about how they feel about themselves yielded the header image, and the below brought tears to my eyes – the artist had made a plaque to commemorate the moment the first time he tried on a man’s shirt in public after coming out as trans.

A transwoman had donated the outfit she wore when she felt she first ‘passed’ as female; punks described how they were judged not on their personality but on their hairstyles; fashion students created pieces in response to the theme ‘Identity’ with mixed results – some felt more profound maybe than others, but emphasised that it’s unfair to scoff at another’s insecurities.

It gave me a lot to think about as I exited through the gift shop. I’m not sure I learned anything new but as a resource for teens/young people to combat the constant barrage of what constitutes ‘perfection’, it’s invaluable. My 18 year old self would have loved it, I think. 38 year old me is still laughing about the denim shirts.

Things that made me go WOW

More than two weeks has passed since the WOW Festival and I had meant to write something before now. Where does time go? I went to a couple of really thought-provoking sessions, one on body positivity and one on the politics and socioeconomics of food and will draw some reflection from those together in a longer post at some point over the next few weeks. But before that I wanted to share a few quick recollections of some things that grabbed my attention and that I think some of you may be interested in.

Foreign Body by Imogen Butler-Cole
This was a really beautiful, powerful and courageous show exploring healing after sexual assault. At times it was hard to remember to breathe. The physical performance was captivating but the power comes in the verbal testimonies from the performer, the perpetrator of one of her assaults and survivors of sexual assault. That the perpetrator was included in the show was both powerful and particularly relevant given the festival had bowed to pressure to remove a session where a speaker was to appear alongside the man who raped her.

Many of us know Emily Rose through Twitter or from Eroticon; as Emily Jacob she runs Reconnected Life and was speaking on the panel after the show. Related to the controversy, she made some really interesting points about the need to involve men who assault women in dialogue, saying it will help break down the misconception that rapists are ‘a mysterious monster in the shadows’ – “they are our neighbours, people we know, perceived pillars of the community, and that needs to be talked about.”

Foreign Body is showing at Hamilton House in Bristol on Friday 31st March and Saturday 1st April if you happen to be in the area.

“Your human rights are our human rights”
In her closing address on the Sunday afternoon Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, Jude Kelly, noted that she was speaking to a room of predominantly white women. She called on us to not just check that privilege but to use it where we can to create change.

This echoed the call to action I had heard in two sessions over the weekend where twice speakers had spoken of how the human rights of Asian communities are ignored in the face of white people’s fears that they would be tiptoeing around cultural practices. “Don’t be afraid to speak out because you’re white, it’s not offending another culture.” said Coco Khan of The Guardian in the Sex and the Subcontinent session, “If you see a friend being bullied or abused, stick up for them. Your human rights are our human rights.” That came on the back of a discussion about a young Asian man who after 13 years in a relationship with another man came out to his family, but was so publically shamed by them he committed suicide.

The day before Jasvinder Sanghera, the founder of Kharma Nirvana which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages, told the audience that in one academic year in one local authority in the north of England 110 girls were removed from the school register to be forced into marriage. The police officer who raised it was disciplined. 110 girls removed from schools to be taken out of the country to be forced into marriage and no action taken.

Be each other’s Wonderbras
Phyllis Lyon had never heard the word lesbian when she became friends with Del Martin in 1950. In 1952 they became lovers. On Valentine’s Day 1953 they moved into an apartment on Castro Street in San Francisco. In 1955 they founded Daughters of Bilitis, the first social and political organisation for lesbians in the US. In the 1960s Betty Friedan, then president of the National Organisation of Women, referenced Daughters of Bilitis when she coined the expression ‘lavender menace’ to describe the threat that she believed lesbian associations posed to the emerging women’s movement.

Another woman we heard about was Ida B Wells, the first black female editor of a newspaper in the US and a civil rights and women’s rights activist. Wells had a long running and public feud with Frances Willard a white suffragist and also dedicated a chapter of her book A Red Record to condemning Willard for using rhetoric that promoted crimes against African Americans in America. Apparently, as recently as 1967 black women were told by white women to walk at the back of feminist marches in the US.

These stories were shared in the Badass Feminists from History session. We learnt that throughout history some of the biggest challenges to the feminist movement has come from other parts of feminist movement. Author Kathy Lette called on us to be each other’s Wonderbras and always support each other. The Pollyanna in me agrees with that. But this piece argues that the intersectionality of issues within the movement means there has always been and will always be ‘infighting’ and that debate and argument are inevitable, healthy and make it stronger. I can see both points.

Both the above stories and 50 more can be found in Modern Women: 52 Pioneers.

Postscript: Lyon and Martin married in June 2008 in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court’s legalised same-sex marriage in California. Martin died three months later.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

WOW

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will have seen me tweeting from from the WOW Festival this weekend. The Women of the World festival brings together some of the most inspiring activists in the world and is hands down one of my favourite weekends of the year. Right now I have so much running through my mind, some of which I hope will make it onto these pages over the next few weeks.

Last year at WOW I popped my life drawing cherry and in the process met two awesome women who I am happy to now call friends. On Friday night the three of us reunited, cracked open a bottle of fizz in the ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall and settled down for a night of diversity cabaret hosted by Diva Hollywood looking at gender, disability and body image. I thought my excitement had peaked when the amazing Rubyyy Jones who we saw at Eroticon came on stage, but then we got Glory Pearl, a naked stand-up comedian championing body positivity. Be still my beating heart! Usually Glory performs completely naked but venue rules meant she needed a last minute ‘costume’ change and had to borrow some pasties and a merkin from Rubyyy. One of my new friends was staying at mine for the weekend so this morning, in honour of these two awesome performers, we chopped up some WOW brochures, made our own burlesque accessories and pranced around for the camera! All before coffee…WOW!

Sinful Sunday

Faces, Freebies and Friends!

For Wicked Wednesday’s Meeting prompt and @writtenbyjenny’s Ten Things I Took Home from Eroticon meme…

Faces: I didn’t actually take faces away. That would be gruesome. But I put faces to bodies! I have been admiring the creativity, honesty, vulnerability, courage and downright hotness of my fellow Sinful Sundayers for more than two years now. How wonderful to meet so many of you.

HIV testing kit: You don’t have to find time to visit a clinic or go out of your way to keep on top of your sexual health responsibilities. I’ll be trying Freedoms Shop’s  home HIV testing kit and posting a review here very soon. Eroticon delegates will recognise the name from the generous quantities of free lube and condoms.

Prizes and freebies: The Eroticon tombola was about 100 times more brilliant than the last village fete one I took a chance on. Dodgy talcum powder, strange tinned food or a We Vibe Wish? *Happy dance* Add to that all goodies from the amazing sponsors, the Kinkcraft cane I made and the book I snaffled from Girl on the Net and you’ll appreciate that my inner magpie is very happy.

Purchases: The shopportunities were glorious! A beautiful ceramic dildo from Ceramic Pleasures was the first thing to get me to dip my hands in pocket. And a generous 30% Godemiche discount resulted in a Galaxy Ambit and GOLD GLITTERY butt plug hitting my online shopping basket on Monday. Yes I did say GOLD GLITTER. It’s from the new Effulgence range. Effulgence means brilliant radiance. So I learnt a glorious new word too.

Resolve: For more than 18 months I’ve been chewing over an idea for an essay focused on the role of nudity in political protest. I haven’t got off my arse to research this but I ran the idea past Kate Lister as a potential post for Whores of Yore and she liked it. And now I am saying I will do it here so I will have to.

Ideas: In the opening session the panel referenced the lack of diversity in imagery for sex stories in the mainstream media. I asked the panel what the photographers in the room could do about this. It’s a difficult one; photo libraries pay little and setting up your own commercial library is hard work (I am doing this in my professional life at the moment!). Nobody should have to give away their work. But I am also interested in how we might be able to use the collective talents, body types and identities of those in our community to change visual narratives. Ideas and conversations about this welcome.

More consideration: A month ago I had this conversation with Exhibit A on Twitter. Yesterday ahead of meeting Formidable Femme I had a wander through her archive and read this post. I wouldn’t say my views on wanting to see nudes on my timeline has changed that much and I would much rather people posted the direct links to their nudes so the preview images catch my eye amidst the stock shots (see above point!). BUT I would be much more mindful of consent and a lot less quick with my ‘pah, people should be more open-minded!’ than I was a month ago. As we pottered in Sh! Women’s Store I asked Sarah her view. My blog is about celebrating the beauty of all our bodies and for me hiding my photos is at odds with that. Her view was to still share the posts but tweet a warning before sharing certain images. I am not sure how well this would work when Twitter has an annoying habit of muddling up the order in which we see tweets, but it’s certainly something I will be more thoughtful about doing when appropriate. I think it’s a balance and at the moment I can’t see me offering warnings about joyful silly celebratory photos of a couple of bottoms running across a bridge, but if I am going to post a photo of my vulva then I will probably be mindful that however subtle and delicate the edit looks to me, it may offend others.

A new commitment to pyjama parties: Did Maria, Tabitha and I hotfoot it home early every night to bundle into our pyjamas and open a bottle of fizz? Damn right we did! Did we laugh and cry and massage the tension out of each other’s feet, shoulders and minds. Yep! Did we road test Tabitha’s new nipple suckers? Err… no comment! Never underestimate the value of time spent with fierce funny supportive women. And never put a Doxy in your ear, even if Tabitha tells you to…

Contentment: The deep comforting contentment that comes from time spent learning and in good company.

Admiration: I admired Girl on the Net, Molly and Michael anyway but, well, what can I say? A quite brilliant achievement. Group hugs all round. Actually, no, the fuss might scare Girl on the Net off. Smooches for Molly and Michael and a quick rendition of Climb Every Mountain for Girl on the Net.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked