Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why I Hate "What Not To Wear"

If you've never seen the TLC show "What Not To Wear," count yourself lucky. It's a cruel show that stereotypes women and promotes judging us based on our appearance. I'm not trying to pretend we live in a world where how people look doesn't matter. But I believe it shouldn't be that important, and it certainly shouldn't be all important for women and only passably important for men.

The premise of WNTW is that women who are "ugly and unfashionable" (on the show, the two are always equated) are transformed, becoming "beautiful, put-together and self-confident" (once again, it seems you can't be one without the others). In the process, the hosts make fun of her old wardrobe, throwing most of it out, and ridicule her shopping choices until she conforms to their dictated "rules of good shopping."

While Stacy & Clinton, the hosts, claim that they tailor their advice uniquely to each woman, I've seen enough episodes of the show to know what a lie that it. They strip the victim of her personality and remake her in the image they like, with all new, often died hair and a professional make-up job. Regardless of whether a woman ever wore heels or make-up, she is by the show's end. Unique advice? Not a chance.

At this point, you might be wondering why I even watch the show if I hate it so much. I don't, not anymore, but half my family still does, and I used to watch it sometimes with them, until it made me so boilingly angry we fought about it. They claimed the show "helps women with low self-confidence." All I could see was an outpouring of the same negatives messages I got from them day in and day out. 

To be honest though, they did have a point. The show features women with huge personal issues who by the end are excited about their transformations. But correlation does not equal causation : just because the show only features women with low self esteem who don't follow fashion, doesn't mean that not following fashion causes low self-esteem. Nice try.

It drives me nuts that WNTW picks women with problems much bigger than their wardrobe, and pretends it can all be fixed by conforming to "the right look". The show
presents fashionable dress as a black and white issue: if you dress like we want you to, you're wonderful. Otherwise, you're obviously hiding deep-seated fears, low self-esteem and/or other tragic personal issues. That's the ONLY explanation possible. While I agree that for some women, a "sloppy" wardrobe might be a symptom of a deeper problems, it's certainly not the cause, and changing how they dress won't change their lives without a lot of work in other areas. 

I want to meet the women who decline to go on the show, the ones who have confidence in themselves without hiding behind their clothes and make-up. I want to meet the strong women, the women who make their own choices, regardless of fashion's dictates. These women might have issues, but they know better than to think high heels and a new haircut will solve them. These women don't exist in WNTW's world.

If I was nominated to be on WNTW, I would be tempted to participate, to show them that not all women who dress differently will break down and admit they always wanted to be "pretty". But in the end, I would refuse to be on the show - I've spent too long acquiring the clothes I have to let anyone throw it all out.

I kind of always thought I was the only one who hated WNTW so strongly. Then last week I googled "I hate what not to wear" and realized I was far from alone. Here's an article about a successful woman who had all her accomplishments denigrated on the show. The comments form an interesting discussion of the issue: http://globalcomment.com/2009/what-not-to-wear-blossom-faces-the-360-mirror/

Coincidentally, within the last week I also found a great quote on Twitter, from @CoyoteSings : 
When your "truth" is applied to someone else, it is no longer the truth. It becomes an "opinion," what you think.
The message found in every episode of "What Not To Wear" is that every woman's "true, confident and successful self" is a carbon copy of the media's image of a perfect woman. That's bullshit. "What Not To Wear" would be a lot less painful to watch if they stopped presenting their opinion as the truth.

(If anyone's actually following my blog, they'll have noticed it's Tuesday, not Monday, when I'm posting this. All I can say is Oops! I was in exams and under the weather and I didn't realize it was Monday until after midnight. Sorry!)

Monday, January 23, 2012

6 Things About Religion

It feels almost like synchronicity, the sheer number of interesting things about religion that have come up in my life this week. So in roughly chronological order, I present my religion-themed discoveries and thoughts of the week:

1.  I was listening to CBC radio and heard a story about Kopimism, a religion that just received official recognition in Sweden. They don't seem to be a parody, but the same cannot be said of Pastafarianism, also known as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Kopimism is based around the sacred act of copying - including acts like illegal online file-sharing. I would love to see their "right to religious freedom" be crushed, so we can demand why other crazy religious "rights" are so untouchable. I also would love to start my own religion to poke fun at established churches and test the boundaries of religious freedom.

2.  The god meme. Basically hilarious, poking fun at the Judeo-Christan God and all his idiosyncrasies.

3.  Rachel Held Evans's blog. She's a Christian writer who is amazingly reasonable. On her blog she documented her "year of living biblically," exploring the many rules in the Old Testament that women no longer follow. She did this to highlight that all modern Christians, no matter how strict they think they are, are selective in their approach to the Bible. This brought to the forefront the interesting discussion about what can be disregarded as "cultural of the time" and what has to be kept up as a command from god.

4.  Same blog. Rachel also regularly hosts conversations with people of different faiths and/or beliefs, for example a gay Christian and an atheist. The atheist had a great line when he was explaining how being an atheist doesn't make you immoral: if your belief in god is the only reason you're not killing, robbing, or raping others, then maybe you need to see a psychiatrist…  I loved that interview in particular, but mostly I just loved the sanity and openness on her website.

5.  Our physics teacher did a survey about our religious background and our personal beliefs. I marked down Christian for my heritage, since I did go to church occasionally as a kid, even though both my parents are basically non-believers. For my own beliefs, I marked atheism. But that's just my logical beliefs. Emotionally I'm agnostic, because I find believing in nothing supernatural way too depressing. Wishfully, I'm a pantheist, because I think having a pantheon of gods to pray to for different occasions would be really neat, without having one all powerful "loving yet vindictive" god. Which brings me to the last point...

6.  A classmate gave a presentation today about the Cathars, who believed in a good god and a bad god. They thought humans and animals were spirits stolen from the good god by the bad god and imprisoned in bodies on earth, which was Hell. They were anti-materialists, pacifists and vegans who preached tolerance and believed women and men were equal. So of course, they got crushed by the Catholic Church. But the interesting thing is that, as far as I know, they were the one Judeo-Christian sect that actually had a logical explanation (the bad god) for bad things happening..

And on a completely unrelated note, putting orange juice and yogurt in the same smoothie is a bad idea. Trust me, it was bad.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Not Nice and Proud of It

Today I'd like to share with you a wonderful article called The Difference Between Being Nice and Being Kind.

The author puts into words what I've felt for a long time, and the reason I don't want to be nice: nice is weak. But she said it in a way that didn't make her sound like a horrible person, which tends to happen when I start to rant about niceness.

See, given the choice between the two, I'd rather walk all over people than be walked all over. It's not the "nice" choice, not the selfless choice I constantly feel like I'm supposed to make as a girl, but I'd rather be selfish than selfless, if I can't be some reasonable and sane happy medium.  

I reject the feminine ideal of the demure maiden supporting all those around her. I'm supposed to be nice and selfless and helpful and compromising... but yech! I want to be aggressive, ambitious, daring, smart and, of course, kind. But there's a big difference between being nice and being kind.

I wrote a poem on this same sort of subject few years back, that more recently won an honorable mention in a contest and was published in an anthology. (For everyone who's screaming "Scam!" right now, the contest was run by my library and was completely above board.)
The Right Attitude
If some guy calls me a bitch
I take it as a compliment
Cause the kind of guy
Who’d call a girl
A bitch
For failing to conform
To his standards
Isn’t the kind of guy
Whose standards
I’d want to conform to
I wrote this after I was called a bitch by a stranger at a track meet. The details are vague in my memory, but the "insult" came because I wasn't playing along with his stupid antics and crude jokes. My best friend was shocked that someone would say that, and expected me to be hurt by it. She thought being called a bitch was a bad thing, maybe even something to be ashamed of, but I was oddly proud of the incident. This poem is the reasoning I finally wrangled from my subconscious.

For those who think my reclamation of being a bitch isn't strong enough, check out this site. Be warned: they don't pull their punches over there.
Earlier, I said I'd make an update on my CYOA progress, so here we go: I'm certainly progressing, but my tendency to want to plan everything out are impeding some of the actual forward motion. Also homework. Anyone have any deep insights into women in France?

Monday, January 9, 2012

And it begins again...

I fell down the stairs at school today. It’s not an important fact, but I thought I’d share for the hell of it. I don’t remember the last time I fell down the stairs, so this was not a good moment. Thankfully, there have been plenty of good moments lately to make up for it.

Some of those good moments have involved practising my Spanish on a language learning website called Duolingo. Yes, that’s an incredibly nerdy thing to do in my spare time, but I spent three years learning Spanish and I’d rather not lose it all. I like being sort of trilingual : English as my native tongue, fluency in French (been learning it since I was four), and passable-ish Spanish.

I heard about Duolingo on CBC radio a month or so ago, and received my invitation to their private beta the week before Christmas. It’s a lot of fun, even in it’s beta state, and the concept is incredibly cool : learn a language while translating the web! Right now they’re offering Spanish and German, but French, Chinese and other languages are in the works.

This past weekend I was at an out of town ringette tournament. Ringette, for the ignorant among you, is a sport that can be most easily described by saying it’s like hockey. But I’ve played both and can readily attest that there are a ton of very important differences. Also, the easiest way to piss off a ringette player is to call her sport “hockey for girls.” Trust me. Don’t make that mistake.

In this tournament, we played three round robin games, and had a loss, a tie and a win. In our win we smashed the other team, so we squeaked into the semi-finals on a plus-minus tie breaker with the team we had earlier tied. In that game, our third of the day, we faced off against the team that beat us in our first game. They’re a local team, both of us having travelled for the tournament, and they’ve beaten us handily every time we’ve played them. But this time, we were having none of that. With a minute and a half left in the game, we scored to break the tie and advance to the championship game.

The next morning, we were all groggy and sore, and had a hard time remembering why we had wanted to play in the finals so badly. But once on the ice, the lure of a gold medal was too great. We were behind most of the game, but it was always by just a single measly goal, and when the buzzer sounded we were tied. Sudden death overtime loomed before us. Our goalie had been playing great, but there’s no pressure like this. We started with the ring… got into their end… shot… rebounded… scored! In a grand total of thirteen overtime seconds we won the tournament. It was a great end to a great weekend.

My other fantastic accomplishment of the weekend was finishing a scarf I've been knitting for my best friend since September. She’s the one who taught me to knit originally, and I hope she likes this as her Christmas present. It’s about six feet long and took me four months to complete, and there are few things of which I’m prouder.

Next I will be tackling a project tentatively titled "anything but a scarf!" Any suggestions?

Monday, January 2, 2012

My January Challenge : A Choose Your Own Adventure Novel

If you've been reading my blog, you've likely already discovered my passion for crazy creative challenges - novel in a month, script in a month, album in a month. I love the combination of goal, deadline, and potential for public humiliation if I quit. Which brings me to January, and Choose Your Own Adventure Novel Writing Month.

CYOA novel writing month isn't nearly as big as NaNoWriMo, but it's an intriguing idea. Despite January being the most stressful month of the year academically, I'm participating. Thankfully, the goal isn't nearly as stringent as NaNo's. If you write some sort of interactive fiction or CYOA story, you win. I think, even with summatives and exams, I can handle that.

It helps that I'm not too invested in the story as a finished product. I want to be proud enough of the .html output to share it with family and friends and maybe even you if I can work out the hosting, but that's not my main goal. Really, I'm using January and my CYOA novel to flesh out a story idea I had a while ago. This will allow me to consider all the possibilities, and discover the many different faces my protagonist might actually wear.

To create my novel/game, because to be honest it feels a lot like the latter, I'm use Twine (http://gimcrackd.com/etc/src/) software designed to make the process pretty painless. Unfortunately due to presumed quasi-abandonment by the developer, there are a few annoying bugs, but on the whole the process is easy, and produces a really neat product for relatively little effort on my part. Other than the bit about designing and writing the actual story, that is...

So far, I'm enjoying CYOA novel writing month (all two days of it so far) I'll definitely post updates, however brief, about tentatively titled "Kingdom Rule" as the month progresses. If you're interested in writing some interactive fiction this January, check out the site http://www.chooseyourownnovel.webs.com/

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that 2011 was grand, and that 2012 will be even grander.