Book Review: “Women in Clothes”

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“We are always asking for something when we get dressed. Asking to be loved, . . . to be admired, to be left alone, to make people laugh, to scare people, to look wealthy, to say I’m poor, I love myself.” — 28 year old participant

 

This book is not at all what you expect it will be. When my friend, Harriet, gave me this book I immediately thought “fashion book” which meant, to me, how to dress either for the (upwardly mobile) working world or the fashion world or, maybe, how to dress like one of those many Housewives of Whatever City from those (so-called) “reality” shows. But when I began thumbing through it I saw that the book didn’t appear to be any of those things. It looked quite interesting. And it is.

‘Women in Clothes,’ by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton and over 600 participating women of diverse nationalities and ages is a collaborative wonderland exploring every attitude, judgement, or question about clothes and our relationships to them that you can think of and some you can’t . The book is 514 pages that passed through my fingers rather quickly because almost everything written in it is fascinating. Some of the content is the result of surveys completed by all kinds of women: artists, writers, mothers, activists, students, garment-workers, soldiers, transgendered women, religious women, and many others. You’ll find essays, interviews, poetry, visual collections, snippets of street conversation, and all kinds of other media. I really feel inadequate trying to describe this book so I’ll share some of the chapters and some quotes I flagged while reading it. That should give you an idea of what’s inside this book.

Mothers As Others, Parts 1 & 2 – Participants share a photo of their mother before she had children and tell us what they see. I loved this chapter.

I Do Care About Your Party by Um Adam – Um talks about her clothing style which is wearing a jilbab (loose pants and a long,very loose shirt) and hijab. She talks about what dressing like this means to her in terms of respect for her body and her religion. She says, “God made no mistakes when He made me. He made me perfect. Sorry if I sound arrogant or overconfident, but I am confident about my appearance. Why wouldn’t I be? I was created by the most perfect – my Lord- in perfection, and I don’t need any man, clothing designer, or makeup artist to tell me what is perfect.”

If Nothing Else, I Have an Ethical Garter – Interview with Mac McCelland, Human Rights Journalist – She talks about the textile industry, warehouse and factory workers, and how her work influences her choice of clothing. She also talks about how she doesn’t like to own much stuff. She says, “Then I have some weird disaster issues, like I lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. To me, things that you have are just things you will lose or could lose, so don’t get attached to them.”

Handmade – Participants talk about making their own clothes or re-purposing clothes. Also about women in their families who sewed their own clothing and that of their families’. I liked this comment by Rachel Kushner (author of “The Flamethrowers”, a book I really liked) especially: “My  mother is a southern Protestant beatnik who wove see-through tank tops on her loom and wore homemade pleather hot pants. No bra, never shaved her legs. She has waist-length bright red hair. DIY was instilled in me, I guess.”

This Person Is a Robot – “A smell scientist sniffs coats in a busy New York City restaurant’s coat-check closet.”  Hilarious!

The Pant Suit Rotation – Interview with Alex Wagner, Journalist and TV Anchor – On the disparity between how men on TV dress and how women on TV are expected to dress.

The Mom Coat by Amy Fusselman – Well, I’m not a mom but I found this essay so interesting and insightful into a world I’ve never inhabited. She says, “The Mom Coat is a sleeping bag you walk around in. It turns you into a pod. I almost cease to be human when I wear it: I am just a shroud with pockets. And, of course, because I have kids, my pockets are always stuffed with Kleenex, hair clips, Goldfish, et cetera. The Mom Coat is like a minivan in that way. You are inside and piloting a receptacle for your kids’ stuff.”

In between essays, there will be chapters dedicated to answers from the survey questions such as “Women Looking at Women”, “Protection”, “Sisters”, and “Do You Consider Yourself Photogenic?” The myriad answers entertained, educated, and surprised me.

There are pages dedicated to a series of items (collections) belonging to individual women such as “Gwen Smith’s concert tee shirts”, “Tara Washington’s knitted hats”, and “Tift Merritt’s handmade guitar straps”. Some of the collections are kind of lame (“floss sticks used over the course of a week” – really?) but most are interesting.

I love that there is no striving for perfection in this book. Every woman is allowed to be herself, to express her own unique style and personality in her own way without apology in this eclectic and satisfyingly original book. It’s like having a conversationn with 639 different women and never getting bored.

“Rompers are not ever going to be on my body.” — Roxane Gay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Susie Price: Cutting Through The Weird Food Codes

For something which everyone has to do in order to stay alive, eating is fraught with way too many social boundaries, judgements about weight and health, strange unspoken rules about what men and women are supposed to eat (or enjoy), and much more. It’s a mess, and everyone knows it, but nobody really talks about it like normal people. The obese get talked about a lot, as do those with eating disorders – not men, mind you, because nobody likes to acknowledge that men suffer from eating disorders as well – but everyone else ends up wandering the desert and speaking in strange codes. Time for some feminism, which seems to be alive and ready to do some kicking.

Dessert Is Not a Moral Issue

Of all the weird food codes, “guilty pleasure” is most insidious. If, like most people, we occasionally enjoy something kind of sweet and not really diet-squad approved, it’s okay to talk about it in public so long as we call it our guilty pleasure. Even yogurt which tastes like it once wandered past lemon cheesecake is marketed as something we ought to feel guilty about enjoying, so the idea of enjoying an actual slice of lemon cheesecake is only acceptable if we claim to feel a little naughty about even having a bite. Suddenly, food becomes a moral issue, something to feel guilty about even if it’s “part of a balanced breakfast”, or lunch, or dinner. It’s easy to say that it’s just a figure of speech, but when we’re talking feminism and the whole messed-up culture surrounding how women are allowed to eat, everything we say on a regular basis tends to run deep. Thankfully, a lot of feminists are now taking a stand against the idea of food-related guilt: “I don’t have guilty pleasures because I shouldn’t feel guilty about my food,” wrote a Guerilla Feminism contributor, which is about as no-nonsense as this kind of thing ought to be.

Our Eating Habits, Ourselves

Quick question: if you’re told about a lazy, self-indulgent, unemployed woman, what does she look like in your mind’s eye? Probably not thin, though maybe not obese – most likely somewhere in between, and definitely overweight. We’re subliminally told time and time again that fat people are slobs, thin people are vain and probably have eating disorders (but are definitely the right candidate for the job), and that there isn’t really a weight or way of eating that doesn’t come with supposed personality traits attached. People suffering from eating disorders are, unfairly, hit particularly hard, with the assumption that they’ve brought their disorder on themselves through vanity or just perfectionism. “An eating disorder is characterized by an extreme disruption in regular eating habits, whether it is eating too little or eating too much,” according to an expert at Psychguides.com, but popular culture would rush to reassure us that what eating disorders are really characterized by are personal failings. However, we all ended up getting painted with the same brush, just in different colors.

Food Doesn’t Need To Be Justified

Ordering dessert – or even just a fatty, delicious steak – in a restaurant can be a fraught moment. Regarding ordering cake when your friends are abstaining, The Story of Telling writes that a “great waiter knows that an emotional decision is being made. He understands that he’s not just there to scribble down an order—he’s there to support the dessert orderer’s choice.” That choice is often justified by ‘well, I’ve eaten well all day’, or ‘I had a salad for lunch’, because society is convinced that we should be held accountable for every small indulgence we grant ourselves. It’s become such a common tactic that it’s now used to advertise cinnamon buns and cakes – something which bemuses even those involved in the diet industry, one of whom wrote that “there’s nothing inherently evil about this or any dessert. Though I would imagine that promises of burning the calories later are more likely lead to weight gain than simply making sure that you eat dessert in moderation.”

This, of course, is the paradoxical heart of nutrition double-talk – not only does it make us feel worse, but it also makes it difficult to have a healthy relationship towards food, and therefore difficult to eat well. It’s a vicious cycle, and one we could all do with getting off.

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NolaFemmes reader Susie Price is now a travel writer, but before she took to sitting at her desk musing on the places she’s visited, she spent a good deal of her life working in the leisure industry in different roles. Now she combines random scribbling with motherhood and is pretty happy with her lot.

Dr. Andre M. Perry on The Consequence of Missed Opportunities

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Perry
The One Son Who Got Away

By Dr. Andre M. Perry

About a year ago, Ms. Chanda Burks met me in my office to discuss establishing a mentoring program for black males through her sorority Delta Sigma Theta.  Ms. Burks brought along her adolescent son Jared Michael Francis to take in the conversation.  One year later, just a few days ago, I bumped into Ms. Burks at a NOLA for Life event.  There, Ms. Burks informed me that her son Jared died from multiple gunshots in front of their home in the hushed neighborhood of Tall Timbers. He died September 15, 2012.  He was an 18 year-old senior in high school.

After hearing this horrible news, I immediately recalled the robust conversation we had about mentoring and staying in school.  I remembered how encouraged Ms. Burks and her son left the meeting.  Ms. Burks in fact told me during our recent encounter that our past chat made a positive impression on Jared.  But, deep down I knew a conversation wasn’t enough.  I missed an opportunity to save a son.

A balance of regret and responsibility motivated me to call Ms. Burks a few days later. I also wanted to get a sense of what happened in between the time we last met.  Ms. Burks told me that he lived the typical life of a middle-class teenager. She saw few negative signs. Ms. Burks acknowledged the presence of one peer that showed a penchant for trouble. No one as of yet has been charged with his murder.  I told myself that a few more conversations could have reached Jared and his troubled friend.  But ephemeral conversations are not enough.

I like many others have abdicated our community responsibilities to teachers, community based organizations and City Hall.  To a fault, we’ve placed undue responsibilities on police and prisons to restore order. Given the magnitude of our community problems, everyday citizens must unlearn how we made disengagement an acceptable behavior.

According to the report, Building an Inclusive, High-Skill Workforce for New Orleans Next Economy from the Greater New Orleans Data Center, 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 in the New Orleans metro are neither enrolled in school nor employed. Disconnected youth is the latest tag used to describe this horrible state of anomie. It means that fourteen thousand youth in the New Orleans metro are adrift and disengaged from the social anchors that could instill the type of character that incite youth to fight injustice instead of producing it.

Jared did not qualify as someone who we deem as disconnected, but those we take for granted are receiving the collateral damage of socially dysfunctional communities.  We cannot escape ourselves.

The overwhelming statistics demand intimate and intrusive engagement that rises above fleeting conversations. But they’re reasons why we don’t get close enough to embrace a young man or woman.  We’re scared. The annual murder counts are more than alarming. Murder creates an environment of fear that facilitates a hands-free ethic of care. Consequently, even the best of us essentially drop in from our collective ivory towers only to helicopter out with deliberate speed.  We never become a part of the social milieu. We’ve become what I often refer to as arms-length advocates.

Arms-length advocacy can’t replace the strong hugs our children actually need. We can’t let fear or disengagement deny ourselves opportunities to prevent the unnecessary loss of yet another Jared. The community involvement we need is so simplistic it’s almost insulting to repeat. If more of us who care are fully present, murder rarely happens. If family members, neighbors and friends displayed the courage and love to take the gun away, report the crime and redirect the anger, we would not be our current situation.  If those who are not expected to save a son took every opportunity to act, the ongoing professional work could gain traction.

Ms. Burks and I simply can’t let another opportunity pass.  If the community character is not present, we must develop it.  Moral discernment must be taught, displayed and executed.  Therefore, we ask everyone who reads this to take opportunities to build our capacities.

Each year for my birthday (October 12) I try to give back.  I’m privileged. Service is the obligation of privilege.  My birthday always seemed like the perfect date to give back.  This year I asked Ms. Chandra Burks if we could become mentors and direct our friends to deeper mentoring opportunities.  She agreed.  Over the next week we are directing people to the New Orleans Kids Partnership Mentor and Tutor sign-up program < http://www.nokp.org/mentortutor/>.

New Orleans Kids Partnership has coordinated a variety of proven mentoring and tutoring programs across the Greater New Orleans region. NOKP made it very convenient for anyone to choose an organization that fits our busy schedules.  They also provide training and guidance on how to mentor or tutor. We can’t assume that everyone can serve as a role model.  Many “mentors” need mentoring. Nevertheless, NOKP and its partners make youth engagement a safe and organized process.

When you sign up, please indicate in the appropriate section that you heard about NOKP’s mentoring program through Ms. Chandra Burks.

As Ms. Burks and I meandered through our discussion, she could not keep straight the number of children she currently had.  She would say, “My three…I mean my two children.”  She may have lost a son, but she certainly gained a brother.  Hopefully, we will soon begin losing track of how many sons we have gained rather than from how many we have lost.

Andre Perry, Ph.D. (twitter: @andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.

When it was possible to fall in love while waiting to buy concert tickets

Today I purchased tickets online for a couple of touring acts soon to be appearing at the House of Blues. For me, this is still an infrequent life event… When I was younger, concert tickets were somehow simultaneously a true splurge and something that I would budget carefully for; now it’s a question of whether or not I’ll have the time to go to the show or if I’m able to make plans that far in advance (life’s just more complicated). And these days I tend to go to see local bands playing in bars or nightclubs instead of going to see big shows — it’s the more flexible option, especially when one lives in New Orleans.

It surprised me that today’s transaction was oddly anti-climactic and distinctly lacking. It made me think about how things change over time and how, occasionally, experiences can be short-changed in favor of efficiency.

I realized that I actually sort of miss the ritual of days past, when one would stand in line at dawn at Tower Records or wherever on a Saturday morning, waiting for the tickets to go on sale. It was never boring! (I can’t say the same about how we purchase tickets now, obsessively refreshing the browser’s window repeatedly as we wait.)

For me, buying tickets in the days before the Internet meant getting up way-too-early, dressing for comfort and the weather, buying a large cup of convenience store coffee, visit the cash machine, then going to wait in line and making friends with the people ahead of and behind me as needed — sometimes I’d even be lucky enough to be the first person in line!

(Frequently I’d get an extra cup of coffee so that I could make an “instant friend” to hold my place for a few minutes’ time during the hours of waiting if needed. Or I’d take coffee orders and make a run to the nearest open place as more people arrived.)

More often than not, whoever was in front of me would agree to purchase an extra ticket for me (that’s why having cash mattered), running our two requests as one transaction (which could be crucial when a much-anticipated show could sell out in mere minutes), or I’d do the same for the people behind me if I was first in line — we’d help each other on the spot. The camaraderie and courtesy became infectious.

(Best spontaneous line party experience? Waiting to get tickets for any Cheap Trick show — singing, fun, and laughter were guaranteed!)

Purchasing tickets was also a more democratic experience in those days. There weren’t pre-sale codes only available to a select few or special access early-bird opportunities for “preferred customers.” Your success in procuring a ticket to the desired event was based solely on either showing up early enough to get a good spot in line or being lucky to get through to Ticketmaster if you opted to order by phone instead. The only advantage one could exercise depended upon cooperation — not which flavor of credit card happened to be in one’s wallet or if one had access to an iThing-only app.

(And if I’d chosen instead to buy my tickets today at the venue’s window? I would’ve had to wait an additional two hours after the time when tickets went on sale online for that opportunity — there’d have been no one working the window until noon.)

All of that said, it’s not the process I miss as much as the experience of interacting with the other people who were there because they also enjoyed the same band/artist: the low-level humming excitement, the concert stories shared, how people would smile as they walked away from the ticket window, and sometimes how a few of us would converge upon a diner for breakfast after as new friendships were formed.

Now it’s automated, isolated, solitary, and perfunctory… a chore instead of an adventure. Check that off of today’s “Things To Do” list and move on.

(Even if we still had to queue up, it’d probably not be the same kind of experience — because everyone would likely be paying more attention to their smartphones or stay resolutely plugged into their iPods instead of noticing and conversing with the people around them. Until someone needed to go find a restroom… there’s still no app for that!)

One of my best days ever started with my waiting in line to buy a ticket for a show at the same just-opened House of Blues in New Orleans almost 20 years ago. I’d bounced out of bed and dressed expressly for comfort — yoga pants, a long-sleeved cropped waffle shirt, sandals. My hair was morning-disheveled in a good way and I was fresh-faced, having paused only long enough to wash the sleep from my eyes and brush my teeth before rocketing out of the house. I was passing the time reading a Tom Robbins novel and drinking my coffee, chatting with the people around me intermittently. I was happy, still slightly sleepy, un-self-conscious, and cheerfully excited.

A guy I’d seen around the French Quarter every now and again for a couple of years had been hired as part of the security staff for the venue — he was there that morning to keep the line orderly. We didn’t have many friends in common, nor did we frequent the same bars or hangouts; I’d admired him in passing and mostly from a distance (although we had, in fact, spoken briefly a few times). It seemed to be a one-sided interest and I was okay with that. But that morning, while we were in the same place for a few hours at the same time and for the same reason, he noticed me.

I’d been reading and, for whatever reason, I glanced up and saw him looking at me. I smiled reflexively. He looked startled as if he’d been physically shocked for a second or two, sort of jumped back a bit as if he’d been hit by something, dropped his walkie-talkie and picked it up, and finally grinned sheepishly. Then he walked over and introduced himself, said “hello,” and showed me the new crack in the walkie-talkie’s display screen.

I remember thinking, “What took you so long?”

(Although I was very much involved with someone else at that time, it was the beginning of a friendship that I still appreciate and a stolen moment in my life that I’ll never forget. In an alternate universe, I’ve no doubt that it would have been the start of one hell of a love affair.)

I strongly suspect that there’s zero chance of something similar ever happening while purchasing tickets via the ether and pixels — this convenience robs us of such opportunities to connect with each other. I have yet to hear of anyone having a shot at falling in love, if only just a little bit, while hitting refresh and waiting to complete a transaction.

There’s a world of difference between the magic of the Internet and that of making simple human connections. I’m grateful for the memories of what I experienced during those hours spent waiting with strangers who shared a common interest — it was never “lost time.”

Compromise – is it worth it?

I’m up in rural Mississippi visiting family. I’m sitting in a room lit up by the sunshine streaming through the window and listening to the lilt of wind chimes right outside. It’s calm and quiet and I’m loving it. It makes me wonder why I live in a city full of noise, long lines everywhere you go and the daily count of dead bodies  by murder when I could be living where the pace of life is relaxed, coming and going is pleasantly easy and the only people who die violently are car accident victims. And that’s fairly rare. But, it’s only Tuesday – I’ve only been here three days – and usually by about the fifth or sixth day I’m missing the vibrancy, the color, the music, the culture, the life of the city. Nothing is perfect in this world and oftentimes we have to accept compromise in deciding our life’s path. Lately, however, I find myself so incredibly angry and saddend by the unrelenting pace of murder in our city, especially when it involves children, and I think about how it wears on one’s psyche and whether it’s worth being exposed to that every day for the other more beautiful aspects of life in the city. I can’t even imagine being a parent and raising a child here and the worry they must live with everyday.

It’ll be interesting to see how I feel on the fifth day this time.

OWS: Hot Chicks Transcending the Label

Whether or not you agree with the politics of Occupy Wall Street you have to acknowledge it as a cultural phenomenom.  The park has become a microcosm of activism spawning similar scenes in cities all over the world and I’m really quite mesmerized by the diversity and the logistics of daily living in the midst of protest.

The video above, Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street. was shot by Steven Greenstreet who admits, “Our original ideas were admittedly sophomoric: Pics of hot chicks being all protesty, videos of hot chicks beating drums in slow-mo, etc.” but he says it evolved into “something more”. I came across the video on Lost in E Minor where the writer says, “I was ready to hate on this video accompaniment to the Tumblr Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street for being sexist, and a lot of people have, but I actually find it a bit inspiring. I think it’s done tastefully, and the beauty of these women lies more in their words, actions, and sense of hope than in their physical attributes.”

I agree. As I watched the video I saw young women working for a cause they believed in and trying in their own small way to make a better world. The initial impetus for the  making of the video may be flawed in some people’s opinions but the result is inspiring. The women themselves elevated the video to a higher purpose. Good for them.