Category Archives: Miscellaneous Musings or Uncategorized Insights

It’s a “Yaeba” dabba DO: Cosmetic Trends in Japan

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Orthodontia and the pursuit of correcting crooked choppers is big business here in the US and Western cultures. While certainly used for reasons other than aesthetics, the primary purpose for seeing an orthodontist is to correct a misaligned mouth.

Yaeba: Another way to infantilize women and sexualize child-like appearances.

Historically, a straight smile was a status symbol, implying that those bearing braces or corrective devices came from families of financial means.The actual word “orthodontia” comes from the Greek word orthos, meaning “straight” or “proper” or “perfect” and odus from “tooth.”

In Japan, dental beauty trends are quite different, where a popular look called Yaeba is desirable. Yaeba means “double tooth” in Japanese and describes a sort of “fang effect” where teeth are crowded to the point of pushing the incisors into a prominent display in the mouth. A multitude of dental “salons” in Japan offer cosmetic procedures by which dentists actually implant artificial teeth to induce overcrowding, forcing the incisors into a more prominent place in the mouth or adhering plastic covers to the tooth to lengthen and sharpen it.

 

The process of crowding the teeth to create this desired look.

This vampire look is cited as attractive and desirable and celebrated by Japanese culture. Celebrities showcase this look and women endure pricey procedures to achieve it. Creating these intentional imperfections is meant to make a woman appear more endearing and approachable.

Naturally, Yaeba occurs in young children and babies whose teeth have not fully developed and who have small mouths. While Western trends eschew overcrowding and aim for picket-fence, pearly whites, our society also idealizes youthfulness. These intentional imperfections are really the same beast dressed in a different outfit: a way to infantilize women and sexualize child-like appearances.

I think it is important to draw the parallel that focuses on infantilizing women, idealizing innocence, and pushing procedures that aim for a more youthful appearance, but I also believe there is a bigger, more basic issue at hand.

I also acknowledge that my own cultural context puts me at a disadvantage in terms of being able to objectively evaluate this trend. It is easy to magnify differences in cultural definitions of beauty. While I appreciate and am fascinated by the measures of attractiveness and standards of beauty in other countries, one thing remains glaringly obvious: Everywhere, women are in the business of changing our bodies and appearance to fit some ideal. This is a transnational epidemic.

Cosmetic procedures that aim to create Yaeba are not too different from breast augmentation, plastic surgery, or liposuction. It is still attempts to alter one’s natural self, subjecting the body to risky and costly cosmetic procedures in the pursuit of perfection, or in this case, imperfection.

 ~ My post originally posted at About.Face.org: The “Yaeba” trend in Japan is not so different from American Cosmetic Trends

Forever 21 thinks our Kneecaps are Ugly

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My newest piece at About-Face.org – Let our Knees Be (Knees!)

Sweatshop famed discount fashion retailer Forever21 is adding another item on the drop-down menu of “body parts to feel self-conscious about”: knee caps.

The website featuring their skirt purchasing options has over 100 items in which the kneecaps of the model’s are completely airbrushed out, or are cleverly obscured so only a hint of curvature is detectable. These photos atrocity is compounded by the fact that they list the model’s measurements, as a very ineffective and pernicious piece of sizing guidance.

As if our consumer culture doesn’t do a good enough job of providing us with an endless stream of warnings about how our organic bodies are inherently flawed, we now need to turn a curious eye to our knees to see how presentable they may appear.

Sure, this idea of feeling insecure about the appearance of my kneecaps seems a tad comical and over the top, but it’s the larger implication that does the most damage. Not only are you forced to come eye-to-eye the unattainable measurements of the model appearing in the photo and her matchstick lower limbs, but a cursory view of the photo itself still lends itself to another way in which we don’t look like the models in the photos, implication being that we are somehow less than. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking anyone whose bodies healthily resemble this model, I’m just calling attention to the fact that every shot showcases similar stems that are highly unrepresentative of the larger whole of consumers that likely purchase these clothes.

Until I read another article that highlighted this oddity, I never really took much notice of the knees of models in skirt shots, but that seems to be the point. It is these pernicious ways in which we are exposed to altered body parts that we unknowingly internalize and contribute to the unattainable and illusory ideal by which women measure themselves against and unfailingly come up short. It’s another bit by which our bodies are shamed for their natural state.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention how horrifyingly unvaried the choice of models are for these pictures. We all know the fashion industry is notorious for reinforcing a specific standard of beauty, but the lack of lower body representation is especially evident in these screen shots. This further reinforces the idea that only individuals that are facsimiles of these models can wear and look good in these clothes. I don’t know that I see many retailers providing lower body diversity while presenting their products online, which just shines a light into another corner of the ways in which the thin ideal is unknowingly reinforced.

In writing this piece, I look down at my own knee-caps, sheathed in ruddy skin,  bearing several discernible scars, battle wounds from youthful adventures. I take a moment of gratitude that they are operational and remember that is how they look. If only we could all feel that way about the totality of our bodies – thankful for all they allow us to do, instead of being constantly exposed to damaging messages about how innately inept we all are. So, Forever 21, I implore you to stop digitally altering your models in this way. Also, your labor practices are abhorrent. (See the clip from the documentary

Made in LA and rethink using your dollars at their fine and fair establishment).

And most importantly:  let’s let our knees be knees, please!

The Trouble With Pole-Dancing…Slight Clarification, Strong Reiteration

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I recently endured my first journalistic lambasting in response to the below piece I wrote for the About.face. It is par for the course in any opined endeavors and with the Internet everyone is a qualified critic. (Myself included!)

The comments section on About-face was awash with ardent aficionados and dedicated defenders, supporting the practice of pole-dancing, or what they would like me to refer to as “pole fitness”.

Many critics of the my piece dubbed my research “lazy” and ignorant, which incidentally, I did spent a large chunk of time researching various studios, course offerings and trends AND – gasp- received information from direct sources!

There were a handful of species rebuttals about the upper body strength and stamina of the exercise being a great energy expeller for kids, citing the climbing and bending beneficial.

While many opinions were expressed and alternate points raised, I feel that my point was largely misinterpreted. I was not attacking the pole-dancing practice. Nor was I was disputing the physical rigors or even the athletic merit of the activity. I was simply exposing the studios that were allowing egregiously underage youth to take part in their very adult-themed classes and calling into question the appropriate age for participation.

My argument is not that the practice itself is exclusively erotic – but that it could be. There is a sexual subtext and symbolism in pole dancing that is deeply embedded and often inextricably linked in the fabric of our society. I cannot be blamed or held responsible for giving voice to an unquestionable correlation. It is a fact. Whether we as members of a society continue to perpetuate the stimga is not up for discussion. The debate that is on the table is not whether or not this link is just. Right or wrong it exists.

Some commentator so aptly compared the issue to thong underwear. There is nothing inherently immoral (yes, undoubtedly some would refute this) about it; it simply is not suitable for young children. I would find few who could dispute that.

While performing my indolent investigation I discovered that these classes are in fact surprisingly progressive and lauded as a sport in many circles. My daily Groupon’s inform me of many local course offerings and I was hardly lacking in the a availability of studios or impressive websites that often courted women with tag lines promising to make one “feel sexy at any age”. Of course not all employed this approach, but a large majority did have this advertising approach. And I’m not surprised by this. The inference of pole-dancing is that in many forms it is sexually explicit. It would stand to reason that feeling sexy would be par for the course, and thus a marketable angle for these classes. Feeling sexy for a consenting adult is fine by me. But for children and even pre-teens, it’s criminal, let along egregiously inappropriate. Teenage participation, is at best, problematic.

I am neither in support or against this choice of a fitness regimen for adult men or women. I consider myself to be a sex positive feminist. I have no problem or issue with sex workers who choose to be employed in their industry. I DO think that poledancing/fitness is a legitimate, physically demanding endeavor. I think it does have credibility as an activity for age appropriate adults and am not questioning its efficacy. The legitimacy or fairness of the stigma is not the topic of this particular post or the inspiration for my article, so I feel it is best left of out of this debate.

Teaching young girls or boys moves that in our culture have sexually explicit messages and connotations inextricably tied to it is the issue at hand. This is never a good idea for youngsters who are trying to develop their individual sexuality and forming relationships with their bodies. I know at that age I was trying to make sense of the tangle of feelings that I had – a yearning to be desired and validated and loved and finding an appropriate way to do so that was aligned with what felt safe. Most young girls are not taught to love, honor or respect their bodies, but to objectify them. Too many don’t have the forethought, language or supportive environment to gain that awareness or have that perspective. The brain doesn’t really have those developed pathways that tell them such things are damaging, let alone dangerous.

A lot of individuals raised the objection that gymnastics and swimming were activities replete with less than conservative garb, as simple par for the course of participation. Obviously, this is not disputed that these are accepted attire for these sports. More of this seems to relate to tradition and necessity (in the sense that bathing suits are used for swimming) rather than actual attire making a statement.

The merits of gymnastics and dance were also raised, as being a point I missed. I could honestly pen a 300 page tome on the dangers of hyper-competitiveness and overemphasis on one’s physique in the crucial physical development years of young girls in boys. I am sure this subject alone would endow me with a tidal wave of angry critics, but it is a cultural point of contention that can be expanded upon in a later post.

Here I only wish to mention that those activities can breed their own brand of harmful and are not without fault. I have come into contact with many young girls and boys who were exposed in their most formative ages to the stressors of highly competitive and physically demanding sports that required an overemphasis on appearance and weight. This focus proved beyond damaging in terms of developing a healthy body image and many resulted in full blown eating disorders and dangerous behavior.

My point is that however mainstream, pole dancing/fitness (it’s really just semantics, folks) largely lends itself to a reflexive association with exotic dancing and provocative poses regardless of whether or not the intent to appear so is present. Society still holds certain aspects of pole dancing to be sexually associative. A child swirling on a pole in subway could garner unwanted attention from an onlooker or dancing (innocently taught in the privacy of a studio) could lead to attention, reinforcing a boy or girl’s experience that their body can provide them with validation or love they seek.

                                               Nope…No sexual implications here. Even with the empowering words, the graphic speaks for itself.
Lastly, I’d like to raise the matter of those who believed I was attacking their chosen fitness style or livelihood and how they responded with a fierce brand of fervor. Sadly, I felt that the responses inadvertently proved my point. My piece said nothing in the way of relating pole dancing to the likes of being promiscuous or as one person blatantly dubbed “slutty”. Even in their defending statements, they felt the need to distance themselves from any sort of sex worker correlation. They automatically offered a disclaimer to combat the stigma, yet at the same time felt attacked by my supposed implications. I feel that in their innocent defenses they proved my point and raised with it, an even more disturbing confirmation that this stigma is so deeply ingrained that those who take pleasure in it feel they need to separate themselves from some seedy stripper life that the practice may imply to the unknowledgeable.  
Unfortunately the good intentions of a professional instructor, an approach of decorum to the subject matter or the ascetic ambiance of a studio have little weight in terms of overriding cultural implications that are deeply woven into the fabric of our society.  Yes, society objectifies and marginalizes women in a myriad of ways and there is certainly a stigma surrounding sex workers and the inatimate objects related to that trade, but that is a separate feminist issue not up for debate in this piece. I’m not questioning the morality of pole dancing/fitness or the physical prowess required to perform it, nor am I stating that the association is a just one. Rather, I am acknowledging its existence and holding that it is an inappropriate offering for children and a questionable one at best for teens/pre-teens.

Trending with Toddlers (and Teens): Pole Dancing

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My newest piece for About-Face.org: Trending with toddlers: Pole Dancing, is already garnering some outspoken critics.

I hope to blog more on this later for further clarification and also encourage anyone to post their comments below.

 

Just when I thought parenting skills couldn’t become any more questionable, I come face-to-face with a new activity atrocity: pushing pole dancing for children, adolescents, and teens.

I almost choked on my morning cereal (Don’t worry, it wasn’t Cheerios – I still can’t get behind their marketing mishaps) when I read a June 2011 article from the British tabloid, The Daily Mirror, about a Northamptonshire dance studio offering a “kiddie pole dance” program, where 3-year-olds and up were schooled in the age-appropriate art of climbing and swirling on a stripper pole.

Dubbed “Little Spinners”, the class consisted of teaching girls how to lift and maneuver their bodies around the pole while “holding their legs in a V-shape.” Thankfully, a recent perusal of the studio’s web site shows that this class is no longer being offered.

While this is good news, the implications that there is a market for it are frightening.Comparable courses are being offered to an equally delicate age group: teens and preteens.

The Art of Dance, a Pole Dance and Burlesque School in Plymouth, Devon, England offers an “i-pole Pole Dancing Class” for 12- to 15-year-olds where this “exercise concept” is touted not only as a way to keep fit, but to socialize. While I was unable to find the course description on their actual web site, the school still offers the class, and a recent delve into their Facebook presence revealed a post from a women interested in having her 13-year-old niece attend an adult class with her.

Although the course offerings available for this age group require parental accompaniment for the initial visit and a signed and acknowledged consent and advice sheet, this posturing paperwork seems to only serve as liability padding.

The Internet is replete with indicators that this “activity” is readily available to youngsters. An entrepreneurial teen who taught herself pole dancing at the age of 16 with the assistance of web-purchased poles and DVDs, opened a controversial makeshift studio in her parents’ living room. Her business endeavor has since blossomed into two highly successful dance centers in England.

Many advocates believe this to be a physical regimen innocently on par with gymnastics. The UK has a lauded pole-dancing community complete with accreditation requirements for instructors and studios, as well as an explicit code of conduct. A British company is lobbying for pole dancing to become a test sport for the forthcoming Olympics, with dreams of it becoming an official part of the games by 2016.

The UK typically allows people ages 16 and older to participate in their classes (with parental consent), while the age cutoff in the U.S. is 18. But how young is too young to expose preteens and even teenagers to this “sport” almost inextricably linked to eroticism?Youth are being taught to contort their bodies into provocative poses: to not understand the sexually suggestive nature of these moves is dangerous.

What is showcased as innocent body bending in the comfort of a classroom sends alarming messages if performed in other environments. Many of the instructors and web sites boast such class offerings as ways to aid the development of self-esteem. This puts our youth at great risk and in some cases dangerously close to endorsing pedophilia. Many teens dealing with confusing feelings and the onset of puberty may see that such explicit dancing garners attention from their peers. It encourages the objectification of the body during a tender time of growth and transformation, when mentoring and a focus on overall healthy and body image are crucial.

The teacher is “helping to battle the stigma of pole dancing at an early age.”

I’m a huge supporter of the expressive arts and firmly believe in teaching kids to connect with their bodies when they are young. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this sort of activity aids in the fetishizing of youth and, in its extreme, could support the horrifying epidemic of child pornography.

To actively allow or encourage a child to be instructed on ways that sexually showcase her (or his) body borders on parental negligence. Undoubtedly, it puts a premium on certain body sizes and encourages conformity at a formative age when senses of self are blurry and bodies are burgeoning.

Plain and simple: Teens deserve the right to be raised in environments that support a healthy development of the self. As adults, our culture marginalizes and sexualizes women, which makes fostering and modeling positive body image for our youth all the more crucial.

Participation in such classes primes teens for the possibility of an antagonistic relationship with their bodies. Attempts to pass off pole dancing as physical fitness and “fun” further encourages the objectification of the body and can lead to lasting negative consequences. Does society have an obligation to limit the participation of teens in these adult-centric classes, or should this be a parent’s duty?

Rockette Revolution?

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The New York Times recently published a piece titled “Rockettes: Rebooted for a New Era” highlighting an attempted shift in the theme of the famed showcase and the function of its illustrious Rockettes.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a well-loved and time-honored tradition for many. With 80 years of performances, the Rockettes have popularized this annual holiday show with their sky-high, synchronized kick line. Making their debut at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1957, the precision dance troupe that performs like a well-oiled machine has become an American holiday institution.

The Rockettes have long been revered as a glorified group of long-legged eye-candy, but recent changes to their traditional dance numbers claim to be challenging the show‘s status quo. Linda Haberman, who took over the show in 2006 as lead choreographer believes she has been taking progressive strides to rejuvenate and modernize the showcase. Her goal is to fit the changing cultural climate that encourages female empowerment and highlight the dancers’ talent. While the token high-kicks still abound and the string of lifted limbs orbiting the stage in perfect synchrony is plentiful, a new twist to the “Christmas Spectacular” boasts reinvention. Stilettos are swapped for combat boots in a techie twist, employing 3D technology and transforming the performance into a videogame-esque sequence. The girls strut about on stage in armored attire, military precision in tact, brandishing swords and side kicks. New story lines include a mother and daughter collaboration to defeat a villain, pushing empowerment. This particular number replaces one in which the Rockettes are infantilized, altering into cute, cavorting Raggedy Ann dolls. The new dance includes less of the concurrent can-can and more kicking with confidence and conviction.Image

 

While the efforts of this remodernization do appear to be skewed towards marketing objectives, the obvious implications and reverberations of the change are welcomed. Many of us characterize the Rockettes as dainty dancers and rarely put them on par with the professionals performing intricate and intense routines in ballet productions such as the Nutcracker. A show that once solely produced an array of replicated high-kickers, bedecked in glittery garb with smiles painted on their faces is now attempting to reveal the athleticism and rigors of the dance world.  While the push for empowerment versus viewing pleasure is a positive step away from the old, any increases in the diversity of body types, genders, races or ethnicities represented in the troupe remains to be seen.

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There is no denying that the RadioCityMusic Hall showcases impressive performers. There is talent and effort required to be a Rockette; mastering the practice of precision kicking, tireless training coupled with the physical stressors is no easy task. While the changes in story line and thematic elements are certainly welcomed, they do not eclipse the reality that this enterprise is inherently structured around and capitalizes on the female appearance, placing a premium on the physical. This still reinforces the age-old idea that women are best used as visual treats. It continues to encourage the one-size-fits all standard of grace, beauty and desirability, ignoring the importance of featuring a variety of sizes, races and ethnicities. The recent changes to the show are a remodeling at best, and hardly a radical overhaul. A true reboot surely requires more than a wardrobe upgrade and trippy technotronics. Perhaps this is as progressive an improvement as we can hope for from this iconic clan. Should this change be lauded at all when its very foundation is fundamentally flawed and embedded in limited beauty ideals? Is it impossible to make changes to an institution so inextricably encased in damaging stereotypes?

In what other areas do you think the Rockettes can modernize their image? Do you think that because the Rockette tradition was built on revering women for their physical appearance and ability to conform and that there is only so much reformation we can expect? 

A condensed form of this piece can be viewed at http://www.about-face.org/can-the-radio-city-rockettes-be-revolutionary/.

 

Flick Chicks

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I like to think of myself as a selective and responsible consumer of media. Given that, I find I am routinely repelled by mainstream cinema. I am a lover of indie flicks and unconventional and/or unorthodox endings. Being asked to view Nights in Rodanthe is about as pleasurable as a pap smear for me. I devour profanity laced television series to the chargrin of my mother who prefers her media moral and conventionally kosher, buttoned up by some quixotic conclusion.

I rail against the confection coated, often gag-worthy histrionics of  Hollywood “happy endings”.  The depictions of achieving self-actualization and fulfillment through male validation/blissful, almost utopian relationships/unity feed society’s appetite for ideals. Even when the ending purports to be less than a dull rendition of the last film, there is always some repeated resolution that still leaves the audience warm and fuzzy. I am all about “feel good” flicks and pass no judgement on those who relish the Katherine Hiegel, Sandra Bullock led casts of gorgeous misfits who inevitably “get the guy”, as if that should be a of woman’s primary aspirations.

Many individuals cite escapism as reasonings behind their preferences for click flicks and their cousins. A study named Family and Personal Realtionships Laboratory at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh revealed that romatic comedies aid in the “unrealistic expectations” people levy on relationships. The conculsion was that fans of this genre possesed a misconception about communication in marriage, suggesting the influence and weight that many people, sometimes subconciously, give such media portrayls.

I do, however, believe that gorging on said genres passes along unrealistic messages to our young ones and teens about the realities of relationships.  This cinematic conspiracy is another topic I could easily rant and rave about for pages upon pages, but wanted to lightly touch upon before sharing a humorous link.

Predictable plotlines aside,  the depictions of women in mainstream movies are generally hackneyed and clichéd, but now even the dutiful attempts at character diversity ultimately evolve into stale stereotypes. Make no mistake, these set of personas are a tad more palatable than the evil tempress or the “good girl”, but they still end up being contrived characters that fall short of reality.

While I can’t join in her affection for RomComs and the like, I believe Mindy Kaling, a la the Office, gives a witty and wry voice to these typecast token females. I find it comical that Hollywood’s attempts to etch out new characters, ultimately end up being archetypes themselves.

Mindy’s book comes out in November and should be a fun read.

Flick Chicks by Mindy Kahling

40/20 Vision

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I adore a blog titled 40/20 Vision, in which women in their 40s dispel wisdom onto their 20 something counterparts.

In this weekly series of “Three Gifts” – a 40-something woman plays a “Forty Godmother” of sorts and whittles down her safe advice into three wishes.

The most recent was so simple, yet strong.

 

Three Gifts for a 20 Something - for October 2, 2011 – via 40/20 Vision:

 

1. A mouth that always speaks your mind.

2. Eyes that look inward and see and embrace your strengths.

3. Ears that don’t hear the word should.

 

As a woman known for being verbose, I found the aforementioned three struck a chord in me this Monday morning.

Thank you to Christina Vuleta for creating such a lovely collection of inspiration.