Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Postcolonial grey hair

Photographer: Vanessa Mills. MUA: Tori Model: me
I was invited to have tea by my son and his girlfriend at their new flat. The conversation at the table took a nice turn. We were talking about body image, as this is what I am interested in at the moment, especially through my connection with All Walks. The Girlfriend told me that by Korean standards - she is from Korea -  I would be a plus size and that my white hair would be 'abhorred'. After a moment of slight discomfort, during which I instinctively pushed the plate with the gorgeous slice of chocolate cake well away from me, lest I took a mouthful too many, I began to process the statement.
I could not get my head around it. Not the plus size - I know Asian women tend to be very slender and petite and on these terms, I am a plus size -  but the white hair bit. Surely going grey affects all ethnicities. Why this horror of grey? I was puzzled.
Later at home I came across an article by Mary Crescenzo in the Huffington Post and that held some of the answers.
Yes, I tend to take for granted that silver hair is beautiful, partly because many of my friends are  involved in  the 'Embrace your Silver' movement.  But a great many people truly do not think grey hair is beautiful. Definitely not. And that goes for both men and women. Here I am referring to our western culture and society and the views that prevail.
My son, for example, is twenty seven and having inherited my genes, is going grey. He hates it and has confessed to plucking his grey hair out - big mistake by the way, because it grows stronger and it multiplies (been there, done that). 'Why?', I asked him. 'Just because' he says, his favourite answer since his teens, meaning 'none of your business'.  But now, having read  Crescenzo's piece I can guess. 'Want to rise in the corporate world? ' writes Crescenzo 'White hair will get you nowhere' - Crescenzo uses 'grey' (in its American spelling 'gray') and 'white' interchangeably and refers to both men and women.
So for educated, go getter women living in Asia, aspiring to go up the corporate ladder, going grey is associated with being a granny and with living in the village. Who wants that image?
Out of curiosity, I scoured the internet for pictures of Asian women with grey hair and the only one I was able to track down, amongst a myriad of "old toothless white haired woman from x village" part of ethnological collections, was  a picture of the incredibly beautiful and elegant Aung San Suu Kyi, sporting some grey at the temples.  Of course Aung San Suu Kyi is a formidable role model, but in a different way. She is a freedom fighter, an intellectual and a martyr. A heroine, willing to sacrifice personal family ties to stand up for democracy. She is definitely not an average woman, by any standard. She also stands up for tradition, so it suits her to have delicately greying temples, wearing traditional Burmese attire.

Aung San Suu Kyi. Google images
Crescenzo reminds us that in our western society 'when men in ads have gray hair, the women beside them do not. Unless you're Mrs. Santa, the mean witch or a kind Grandma with an apron and a tray of cookies, you are cast on your way to the grave...When female stars date younger men, they make sure their hair is anything but white."
And these are the images that are touted globally. So it is no surprise that Asian women not planning to emulate Aung San Suu Kyi, women who feel less heroic perhaps, much prefer to reach for the dye bottle, caught up as they are in the just fight to be perceived as independent, working women of today, equal to men, working in male dominated environments. It's a case of internalising western aesthetic values.
I occasionally worry that the 'Embrace your Silver' movement may remain the preserve of a few middle class Caucasian women,  rather like feminism when it began. However, as Crescenzo reminds us, ageing cuts across social, racial and, to some extent, cultural barriers - even though it remains a cultural construct.  Perhaps it is time to subject 'the Going Gray Movement'  to some postcolonial rethinking.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Lets talk about ...Julien Blanc

Photo by Nagib. Model : me 

Back from a great ballet class,  I sat myself on the sofa and began to read The Guardian on my iPad while lunch was cooking  and came across Ms Hyde's piece for Comment is Free in which she argues that Julien Blanc, the American pick up artist who encourages men to be abusive, should be allowed in. According to Hyde immigration control is worthless,  because his ideas, thanks to the internet, have a global remit. Yes, he should be allowed in, she says, because if he has truly committed any crime he should be investigated, but denying him entry makes no sense, because liberty as a principle is at stake: "the trade-off between liberty and security, in which so-called security has too often prevailed in recent years" should be avoided.
Excuse me?
It's good I had not eaten lunch yet when I read this piece, I was actually about to, but I felt sick in the stomach and had to delay it. I like the French word 'bouleversé' it really conveys how I felt.
No, I truly think that Julien Blanc should not be allowed into Britain. I am so glad Australia curtailed his stay and threw him out. Well done! I have signed the online petition  and I urge you, male or female, to sign it too.
Blanc is racist. He has said in Japan that 'white men can do as they please' so they can force any Japanese girl to suck their cock. The seduction techniques he teaches are abusive and entail forcing women to have sex and endorsing domestic violence, both physical and emotional.
Sorry Ms Hyde, I really cannot condone this. Far too many women have had experience of abuse and even if you have not, please spare a thought for those who have. Some of your closest friends may be among them, only you may not know, because women who have been subjected to domestic violence are loath to talk about it in public. That's my experience.
It is not up to the UK government to investigate Blanc's alleged crimes. He should be denied entry precisely because there are such allegations - with videos and social media statements to prove them.
Even if what he says is meant to be humorous, as someone has noted, this is still unacceptable in the same way that racist jokes are unacceptable. Why is it that when women are concerned there is such a lax attitude?
This is Julien Blanc' s adaptation of a Domestic Abuse Intervention Project chart. Does it not make you sick?

If it is a joke, it is unbelievably crass. If it is real, this man deserves to be given a taste of his own medicine.
But what beats me is that so many men are willing to part with good money to be taught this rubbish. Is this what men believe they have to do to find themselves partners? Is it a believable proposition?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Plus size, normal size

Myla Dalbesio Photo: Lachlan Bailey for Calvin Klein.

There has been a lot of talk about model Myla Dalbesio who appears in a new Calvin Klein campaign. At 5'11 (180.34 cm) she is US size 10 (UK size 14). Compared to other agency models of the same or similar height who wear a US size 4 or less  she has a fuller figure, so she is being slotted in the 'plus size'. The plus size category is rather fluid and it goes up to 18 and 20.
Of course thousands of people have commented that Dalbesio is normal size and absolutely gorgeous. She definitely is. And yes, for her height, her size is perfect. She may be 'plus' in comparison to the slighter models, but she is perfectly proportioned, and her body is toned and athletic. So far so good. If being aspirational is part of what being a model is about, Myla Dalbesio is aspirational in the best possible way.
I am just slightly concerned however that the whole debate on size hardly ever takes height and musculature into account. At 5'11 being size 14 (I am now using British sizes so that no one gets confused, I am writing from the UK) is absolutely in proportion, normal, if you are fond of that very overused word. At 5'1 (154.94 cm) size 14 is not quite in proportion, it is definitely an indication of being somewhat  overweight, especially if the bone structure is light.
What I am trying to say is that being of this or that size is pretty meaningless. It is the relationship between body type, weight and height that matters. Being very overweight is as unhealthy as being severely underweight. If a 5'3 woman says she is size 18 and loves her curves, good for her, but technically she is overweight, with all the disadvantages that being overweight entails, from a medical viewpoint.

Photographer: Jeremy Howitt. Model: me

I love this ad because it does not distinguish between 'normal' and 'skinny'. All the models appear together and the caption under Dalbesio's picture is 'Perfect Fit'. What could be more complimentary than that?
Some model agencies  still put pressure on the girls to lose weight, unnecessarily. A model friend, 5'11, size 8, 60 Kg in weight was told by her former agency she should shed at least five kilos to be a 'regular' model. She quit the agency and found another almost immediately: with her look, still in her early twenties, she can find modelling work quite easily, without losing any weight.
We need to rethink the whole issue of sizes without fixating on the actual number. The whole discourse on body shape and body size should shift to considering the health factor rather than just the aesthetics. The latter is transient and can change, as the Calvin Klein new campaign shows.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Is it really paedophilia?

I am very aware of the fact that sexual abuse is rampant, children are trafficked around the world for sex and subjected to the most horrific tortures for sexual gratification. I am also very aware that children in our culture are sexualised from a very early age, they learn in school about being 'sexy' well before reaching puberty and sometimes people very flippantly would describe a cute outfit for a child as 'a sexy number', forgetting that children should not be seen by adults as sexy, it is the wrong mind set.
But I am at a loss for words to describe how I feel about what happened in Paris a couple of days ago. Photographer Diane Ducruet, an established artist whose work has received much acclaim, saw her work removed from the Gallery that had invited her to exhibit because of some anonymous online accusations of paedophilia and some threats.
This is Ducruet's offending photograph, showing a mother and daughter intertwined, yet the piece is abstract because it is a composite so what you think you might  be seeing  is not necessarily what  it is

Apparently even more offending was the invite where again you see the mother kissing the daughter:

I don't know about you, but I do remember playing a game with my son when he was a toddler - way back, does time not fly? I would pretend to eat him and he would do the same to me, have you never played this game with your children?  I would not put myself in the category of paedophiles for doing that nor would anyone else (I hope!). The point I am making is that  the picture on the invite reminds me of that game.
I can see that what some people may find disturbing is the nudity, real or imagined.  Actually we don't know whether they are naked and here the fact that Diane is an artist does kick in  because art often rests on ambiguities and it's meant to be provocative. It should make you think about what you see.
I do not think there is anything untoward in any of these representations and I personally find the embrace very moving. When mothers are with their very young children they may at times be naked with them. They might take a bath with their toddlers. They might hug their young children while wearing just a bra and knickers or even topless. Nudity should not always be construed as indicative of sexual activity.
The people who objected to these pictures are probably the same kind of people who object to breastfeeding in public. Enough said.
You can read about Diane Ducruet here and also visit her website to see her body of work