Monday, 23 December 2013

The Hardest Thing

This post first appeared two years ago on an old blog of mine. I decided to move it over here.

I was reading a website recently and a quote caught my eye. Somebody said, 'The hardest thing in this society for a woman to be is not an astronaut or president, it's ugly.'

It reminded me of something said by my creative writing prof. She read us a piece she had written about being seventeen years old, which started with something like 'Seventeen was the year I learned to be ugly.' She told about a boy who would follow her between classes, walking behind her down the hallways, chanting, 'Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.'

I think that as women, we are told so explicitly how it is okay for us to look. At Shakesville, there's a series of posts called 'Impossibly Beautiful', which talk about how even the women held up as rolemodels for us, the women who we are supposed to want to look like, are airbrushed and altered until some of them are unrecognisable.

I think it gets even harder because it's almost never phrased as what we should look like, always what we shouldn't. Don't be hairy. Don't be fat. Don't have birthmarks or blemishes. Don't have wonky features, big teeth, a big nose, small eyes, imperfect teeth, frizzy hair. Don't have hair that's too long or too short, too straight or too curly, too styled or too much left to its own devices, and incidentally, we're going to move the goalposts more or less weekly, so your hair that was too short last week is too long this week, and just when you dig out your curling iron, we're going to decide that straight is back in. Don't be too pale or too dark, don't be too tall or too short. Be thin, but not too thin. Don't be bony. Don't be disproportionate in the relative lengths of your legs and body. Don't be too busty, don't be flat chested. Don't have a butt that's too large or too flat.

We are trained to look for what is 'wrong' with ourselves. We are taught to separate our bodies into parts, to chop ourselves up before the mirror. To identify problem areas, and areas that are not problematic... yet. Areas of our bodies that we can stand to display in front of the world, unlike the parts which we are expected to hide and be ashamed of.

It's not difficult to see who is profiting from women being taught to hate their bodies. Just look at the clothing being advertised when the magazines tell you which body part is unacceptable right now. Look at who is making these clothes to hide the parts of your body deemed too unsightly for society to be able to stomach. Look at the paints and potions sold with the promise that they'll fix what's wrong with your face. Look at the poisons and starvation packaged up for us with the promise that, one day, we'll get thin enough to be acceptable. We'll become thin enough that society won't puke upon seeing us.

It is so hard to be ugly in this world. We are taught that we, as women, are things to look at. We are taught to link our self-worth to our appearance, to the number on the scale. We're told that looking good is more important than feeling good. We're told that ugly is unwomanly. When I look at the covers of women's magazines, I think, why do these magazines pretend that they're anything other than what they are? The headline on each one should be, "Women! Hate yourselves!"

I'm short. I wear glasses. I have hair that's longer than is fashionable, and wear home-sewed long skirts and hand knit shawls with clunky boots. I'm fat enough that strangers ask when my baby is due. I don't shave my legs, or my underarms. I don't pluck my eyebrows or wear makeup. I have an autoimmune skin condition that affects every part of my body with unsightly patches. I am intensely aware of the ways in which my body does not adhere to the way that we are told women's bodies are meant to look. I am also a woman, with my scars and my hairy legs and my jiggly tummy, and not being conventionally beautiful does not change that. I am a person and no matter how many companies have invested however much money in my self hatred, I am not just an object to be looked at. I will not hate myself. I absolutely refuse.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Flash Fiction: Rice

Rather than something handmade or feministy, how about a piece of flash fiction? This is inspired by Drops, by Etgar Keret.


My girlfriend gave me this leaflet the other day. It's about this company in Texas who have found a way to stop you feeling so sad when grieving. It's just a little implant, the size of a grain of rice apparently, and they can fit it within ten minutes. You're out again in an hour and then you're just able to cope a bit better. People have been having it fitted before funerals, specially when family members die. It's not creepy or anything, it just keeps you functional.

Sports coaches are getting it fitted when they lose big matches, and people who are losing their jobs are using their redundancy pay to get it. It just keeps you going. Amazing that something the size of a grain of rice can do that. They put it in your neck and apparently you can hardly feel it once it's in place. Of course we've all seen the horror stories online where people end up with necks the size and colour of watermelons, but that's probably very rare.

They say it's practically painless. It hurts worse to get your nose pierced apparently.

My girlfriend's seeing someone else now. Her name's Isabel and apparently they're very happy. That's fine. I seem to be coping okay.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

It's the most ridiculous time of the year...

Upon reflection, December is possibly the silliest time of year to begin a blog. It's certainly not that I'm not crafting - there's as much of that going on as time and work allow - but that most of the things I'm crafting are gifts and so I'm loath to release them to the internet before they're received by the lucky souls who will be unwrapping them come the solstice.

On the other hand, for a knitter, this is a lovely time of year. For this knitter, anyway. The arrival of late autumn and then the delights of winter heralds the digging out of all of the beautiful handknits which are put away during the warmer months. I can't be the only knitter with a handmade hat for every year I've been knitting, and even I concede that my gloves-and-mittens collection is frankly rather silly, and that's after giving away most of my less worn handknit accessories to friends and loved ones.

So I've mountains of hats and enough gloves and mittens that I could probably wear a different pair every day of the week, and many, many shawls. However, as seems to be often the case, there are a select few that are worn most often, either because they're newer, they coordinate well, or they suit my purposes well.

The Baskerville Hat
This year, my hat of choice is the Baskerville hat (Ravelry link), designed by Karina Westermann and knit in Old Maiden Aunt blue-faced leicester in Something Herbal. I love this hat. It's such a delightfully versatile shape, and can be perched on the head elegantly or (more often the case for me) pulled down over the ears to keep as much warmth in as possible. The colour is beautiful and subtle and it coordinates beautifully with my purple coat. I have the yarn and intentions to knit a cowl and mittens to go with it, but haven't yet managed to find the time. This is the newest thing I've knit for myself, and was completed in October, so it's still quite new.

The scarf I wear most is actually a shawl I knit over a year ago. Also knit from Old Maiden Aunt yarn (you will notice a pattern emerging here), this shawl is 50% silk and 50% wool, making it shiny, soft and very warm. To add to the luxurious feeling, it's also peppered with silvery beads, several hundred of them, making it sparkle and shine. I really enjoy wearing a triangular shawl instead of a scarf, because the point of the triangle tucks so nicely into the open point at the collar of a buttoned coat. This shawl also squishes down very easily and thus goes just about everywhere with me, squashed into my bag. I can't count the number of people who have temporarily borrowed it in the cold office. The pattern is called Sunshine and Pinwheels, and I added the beads because I find it almost impossible to follow a pattern all the way through without changing at least something.

I have a pair of gloves which match the above shawl perfectly, being made from the remnants of the yarn and the same beads, and during November I wore them a lot. The silk keeps them really warm and they fit so nicely, I keep them in my bag all the time. However, gloves are not quite so warm as mittens, and they've taken a bit of a back seat in the last week or two. The pattern is called Eisblume, which means Frost Flowers. Isn't that pretty? By now you will have noticed a certain colour theme to my winter accessories. Purple is my favourite colour, and this definitely shows in my day-to-day existence.

Now that it's that much colder, mittens are far warmer than gloves, and - remember what I said above about finding it hard to follow patterns exactly? - my favourite mittens are a pair of adapted Endpapers. I changed the pattern to be pointy mittens, following the diagonal lines of the motif, and they're delightfully warm. These were knit over 2 years ago, and I never got around to taking pretty pictures of them (the best picture I had was on top of a television - why, Lilly?) so I've photographed them in their two-year-old state. I think they're holding up pretty well.

I do own knitted things that aren't purple, I promise! It's just that they aren't getting quite so much wear right now. Some things are just made for occasional wear; others may be put away for a period of months or years before coming back into the limelight. I hope they all go somewhere they'll be eventually loved, though.