Tuesday, April 27, 2010

That Rivers Cuomo Thing...

Empathy is hard—especially, sad to say, when you are fucking someone and it's not going quite so well as you'd planned. If you add in the whole gender thing, it gets even harder. Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together. They do. And then they call each other bitches and cunts and dumb motherfuckers, assholes and alcoholics and overprivileged Ivy League elitist shits, failed writers, failed people, people with daddy issues and mommy issues and control issues and abandonment issues, just Issues, horrible Issues, Issues that cannot be forgiven; they accuse each other of crimes against God and nature and political engagement; they accuse each other of being just like their mothers (never satisfied) and their fathers (2 bold). And some of them have recording careers, so they take it public. Is that so wrong?
My favorite paragraph from this excellent piece.

I know the basics about Rivers Cuomo--the Japanese girl fetish, the weird sex obsessions, his pathetic emo songs. I never was a fan, purely because I didn't like the music. Some of the stuff here is old, some of it is new, a lot just hasn't been posted in this fashion or in such a high-profile (to some) way. But her points are substantial. The essay does speak to a very specific period/demographic. If I had been older, or a different girl, I might have related to it more.

Very well-written article. My favorite of Sady's. (And she links to Emily Gould! Automatic plus.)

We need more criticism like this, more female-specific criticism. I'd like to be the female Chuck Klosterman (I don't even want the idea of female version to be included here, even though music/pop culture critics desperately need some women in their ranks), but Sady Doyle is on her way.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Really? Glamour? Magazine of the Year?

Glamour was recently named magazine of the year.

I'm not quite sure why.

I've subscribed to Glamour for the last year. I only did so because of their 75th anniversary promotion, where I could get a year's worth for 75 cents. Yep, 12 issues for less than a dollar. What the hell? As far as women's magazines go, I actually like Glamour, detesting their nearest rival, Cosmopolitan. Glamour was more real, and I liked that they incorporated recipes and real advice, at least in the back. They had the obligatory "serious story", addiction or do-gooders, now with Katie Couric interviewing some notable female. All well and good.

But after a few months, it was wearying. The topics were the same, of course: men, relationships, food, eating, exercise, fashion, beauty. I wondered how those working at the magazine didn't get bored of the repetition. The advice was usually sound, but repetitive, and occasionally contradictory. I waded through the "girl with the belly bulge" and the Crystal Renn spreads; meh. Crystal Renn is beautiful and not plus sized in the least, as I've noted before. I no longer felt that the magazine was the exception to others in its category; maybe I just got used to it, maybe the novelty wore off. But I also wasn't looking at other young-women magazines, either, so it became just another Glamour. I knew I wasn't going to renew my subscription when I subscribed, but now I didn't care.

But besides the sameness, I was saddened to see that women's magazines "cleaned up" certain celebrities:

Lady Gaga and Rihanna are known for dressing explicitly, in wild getups, but they are stripped of their individuality; whitewashed, you could say. There's no crazy makeup, no funky fashion choices, nothing that should be exposed covered up and nothing covered up that should be exposed. They're not even in fun colors: Lady Gaga is uncharacteristically in all white, or off-white, as if to appear pure, but she looks out of place and strangely bland, since she blends in with the background. It's the text that speaks, not her. Rihanna at least looks happy, if girlish, a woman full of spunk and personality. This might be to offset the serious interview inside, promoting her album Rated R, both which explore her dark and volatile year. But her hair is gelled back; we are not to notice her funky, unconventional style choices, just like we aren't meant to view Lady Gaga as she wants to be seen. Maybe that explains her detached look.

I see this as suppressing both women's natural personalities and style to favor a more acceptable form of female expression, both in beauty and personality. I can understand why a cover picture of Lady Gaga wouldn't have her face covered, but I don't see why she has to appear in such an awful getup, one she would never wear anywhere else. I don't see how prettifying Rihanna makes her ordeal any better, except take away her right to express herself as she chooses.

So Glamour, magazine of the year? You might talk the talk of inclusion of expression, proudly showing off your Crystal Renn glamour shots, but until you really show how real women are, capturing their life as they live it (not as you wish them to see it), you don't deserve this title.

Cross-posted at Dissection and Introspection.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I Know Christina Hendricks is Sexy. Stop Telling Me.

I have nothing against Christina Hendricks, but articles like this make me mad.

The majority of attention Christina Hendricks gets revolves around her figure. Even when she graced the cover of New York magazine, the shot focused on her chest, and the piece inside the magazine was little more than a few paragraphs below an enormous picture of her torso. The pieces on the actress usually mention little more than her role as “the curvaceous secretary Joan Holloway on AMC’s Mad Men”, continuing to extol her beauty and wonderful body.

And of course, she has a wonderful figure, one that, as these articles continue to tell me, isn’t celebrated in modern culture, but was in the halcyon days celebrated in the show she appears in. Her figure is also accentuated very nicely by the character she plays, a sexy woman who is known by her sex appeal, and by the period clothes her character requires. Those foundation garments were made for women like Christina Hendricks, relegating the other females in the cast to look poor and skinny when compared to her.

But the more I hear how wonderful and beautiful Christina Hendricks is, the more sad and disappointed and annoyed I get. I’d like to read more about Christina Hendricks the actress, the person behind the body. I’d like to hear about Joan. But I’d also like to stop hearing about how she makes everyone else look paltry and unattractive by comparison. Even in her Esquire photos (where she is close to unrecognizable), it’s clear that they make her boobs pop even more than what should be considered normal, squeezing her into a smaller size. And Hendricks also has one of those figures that isn’t that common, since she has a near-perfect hourglass figure, perfectly proportioned waist and hips. Of course many girls want to look like her.

Aside from the fact that the Esquire survey in discussion is completely unfair, articles that tout Hendricks' size always have to mention “the competition”—those models and actresses that aren’t built like her, those “thin” ones that apparently get all the attention. I’m not suggesting that thinner girls don’t get their share of attention, but there is always the constant, insinuating put down apparent when one is lauding Hendricks’ body:

Winning one for shapely women everywhere, Hendricks is not an anorexia-induced size two. In the accompanying Esquire article she waxed poetic about pork and deep fryers–when was the last time you heard Kate Moss talk about beer battered anything?
“Anorexia-induced size two.” First of all, as someone who was in the mall today, in fact, looking at some of those “size twos”, I can tell you that they are often bigger than you think. Size twos might be tiny, but it is clothing designers who have consistently made sizes bigger than they should be, causing what is known as “size inflation”. Size twos might be stick-figure thin for models, but in department stores, they really aren’t. By using such a loaded term that connotes disease, the article writers imply that small sizes are automatically bought by women who are sickly. Hyperbole? Maybe a little, but the distinction made—that “curvaceous”, at least the curvaceous that Hendricks embodies, is the antithesis of being skinny—and therefore diseased—is harmful and untrue. Nor is adding that Hendricks is a fan of such unhealthy foods going to bolster the argument that she is practically perfection. If she waxed about cheese or arugula, would that be noted? We’re supposed to take away that Hendricks eats “like a real woman”, and her body reflects this diet (which I seriously doubt. I'm sure she does like those foods, but I bet she doesn’t consist on them, or she wouldn't look like she does.) Is eating pork and beer-battered foods supposed to mean that’s what real women eat, and that the women who don’t (those "anorexic-induced sized twos") are less worthy? That there is automatically a connection, that thin women must be starving themselves if they choose not to eat such “men-approved” foods?

To further add insult to injury, Kate Moss aside, there are plenty of articles about thinner actresses and models that mention what they eat, in these same proud tones. GQ, Esquire’s rival, published a cover story on Hendricks’ costar January Jones a few months ago, and the story opens with Jones professing her love for Chili’s queso, beer and football—all signals that she’s a girl for Real Men. Readers are supposed to note that Jones, like Hendricks, is a fun, unfussy person to be around, and their food preferences obviously showcase this.

These articles, though, at their core, do nothing but make women feel bad about themselves. Women can’t win, as they never fit one standard, and whatever preferences they have about virtually anything can be twisted. I’m tired of hearing, even jokingly, how small sizes are ruining America, of being made to feel like I am less than because I am thin, or that I’m expected to uphold some sort of ideal because of what I look like. I don’t like that I have to go on the defense on this topic, and I don’t like that Christina Hendricks can’t get much press outside of her body. She is a great actress, but we don’t hear enough about that; she is relegated to her fair skin, her red hair, and her breasts. Sure, she uses it to her advantage, and I have no problem with that; I would, too. But let’s stop pretending that she is a womanly ideal and that her very presence demolishes or diminishes all the others who don’t look like her. She is as much of a victim of retouching and the capricious whims of the zeitgeist as anyone else.