Friday, 26 February 2010

This Post Has Been Airbrushed

Ok, so this is something that's been rattling around in my brain for a while - the arguments over airbrushing in magazines and the effect that it has on women's self-image.

I think we can all agree that being constantly shown images of perfection which, not only are unobtainable for you the reader, but which haven't been obtained in the first place by the model/ celebrity you're looking at, is a bad thing for your confidence. It contributes to this culture which demonsises anyone above a size 10/12. My concern is with what people are proposing to do about it - which is essentially just full disclosure. People at the moment are pushing for laws that require magazines to put a stamp, or a little notice on the bottom of the picture saying "this photo has been airbrushed".

How is that going to help?

Women (for the most part) are not stupid and/or blind to the world around them (and I wish people would stop trying to pretend that we are). We know that the pictures we are seeing have been airbrushed - we're told often enough at the moment. There are even magazines that have deliberately unairbrushed paparazzi photos of celebs not looking their best held up for women to mock (which is a fairly disgusting practice in it's own right), so we know our idols don't look picture perfect all the time in real life. Women are not stupid, so telling us something that we already know, or could probably guess, is not going to help one iota.

The problem is not that airbrushing is undisclosed - the problem is that people feel the need to airbrush at all. What magazines are doing is promoting an ideal. It may not be a real one, it may not even be a possible one (though women do tend to kid themselves that it is; whether or not they have proof) but it is held as an ideal. I don't care if they're telling me (or showing me) that such body types are achievable, they are telling me that such body types are admirable, possibly even the only ones which are even acceptable. They are saying 'look at these celebrities and models. They were gorgeous to start with, but even then they are not gorgeous enough. We must make them "better", we must, in fact make them conform to our standards of what is beautiful, what women should look like. We must bring them up to scratch, and hold them up before you as the standard to which you must aspire.'

Who cares if that standard is achievable or not? It is still being touted as the standard. In effect, by acnowledging that all their pictures are airbrushed, all these magazines would be saying is that no woman will ever be good enough. No women's bodies can ever be beautiful in their natural state - that all women, in fact, are ugly and sub-par. So we have to air brush them to make them better. Only when airbrushing stops, when real women are lauded for their real beauty (whatever size that comes in) will women start being able to accept themselves for who they are.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Another Reason To Love Margaret Atwood

I got pointed at two Good links for writers this morning by Neil Gaiman, and found this list by Margaret Atwood. I've read quite a lot of "advice to young authors" bits and bobs over the years, but this is the first one that's really struck a chord and made me laugh at the same time.

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6 Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.

8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10 Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

There is some good advice there from other authors, so the rest of the link is also well worth a read. I just wanted to share this little gem.

Friday, 12 February 2010

In Defence of Reading Into Things

Something that I seem to be hearing a lot in comments threads, arguments and discussions of all sorts of things is the accusation that someone is "reading too much into" something, that the original something was "just a joke" or was somehow too frivolous to warrant anything more than a surface analysis.

So when a group of feminists complain about a facebook group called "GTA taught me if you kill a hooker, you get your money back." the response from a lot of people (as well as the usual hate speech from a couple of users who I hope get banned sometime soon) was that the feminists were overreacting, because the group's category was "just for fun - in-jokes", and this was about a game not real life. (Never mind that the title itself uses the wording "taught me"- thus suggesting that this is learned behaviour, and that people take what they have learned in the game into the rest of their life. The title is suggesting there is a link.) But because it's not explicitly saying "go out and kill hookers because you'll get your money back" people feel they can say "you're reading too much into this" - which, reading into that statement itself, essentially means either "there is no context to this, no meaning beyond the explicit, so stop looking for it. This should be taken in absolute isolation." or "I wrote it, so the only meaning in it is what I say there is," or just "there is no ill intent here, so you can't blame us when you get offended when you look at this."

Now, I'm an English Literature graduate. I have done (and am still doing) several degrees, the entire point of which is "reading into things". I have been taught that there is no way you can take anything in isolation from its context, literary, historical or social. I have been taught that one should look beyond the surface meaning - always. I have even been taught to look at a text divorced from what it's original author intended, and my reader response is as valid as that author's intent
(if not more so). Anyone who doubts that last statement should look up a guy named Roland Barthes, and an essay he wrote in 1967 called "The Death of the Author". So naturally, I feel I have to step up here, and defend... well, let's face it, the principle which my entire university education is based on.

I think it's fairly obvious to anyone who visits the aforementioned facebook group that it is full of vile little hatemongering misogynists, who have proved the aformentioned feminists' point for them quite ineloquently, but I'm not arguing the toss over freedom of speech here (I'll save that for a later post) I'm arguing why things that are ostensibly jokes, or otherwise frivolous comments (or called so by their creators) are actually no less meaningful than something meant seriously.

What it comes down to is this: no-one owns the English language. You do not, and cannot claim ownership of words, even words that you yourself say or write, to the extent that you can dictate what they mean. Words are very egalitarian in that respect. They mean what we all agree them to mean, and while that can change, the process takes years of continual usage and gradual change, not one isolated post, or one person suddenly deciding otherwise. You can choose what you want to say, you can choose what words you use, but you cannot choose what everyone understands those words to mean. You cannot possibly divorce words from context, because context is the only thing that gives language meaning in the first place.

What this means is that all the stuff that anyone chooses to read into a text (be that oral or written) is there. The author may not have realised, may not have intended that to be the message they wanted to convey, but that message has been conveyed, whether they intended it or not. The reader cannot help it if they are a better reader than the author is a writer. Essentially, if I get offended by something you say, then I'm bloody well offended whether you meant to offend me or not. You may have meant me to laugh at what you said, but it's not my fault if I don't find it funny.

And if someone does get offended by something you have said, then you have two options; stand by what you say and not care if you offend, or appologise. You can say that what you said wasn't what you meant to say, but what you cannot do is pretend that what you just said doesn't mean what I took it to mean. Because that's not up to you to say. You, the author, are deader than a GTA Hooker. (only joking!)

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

And here endeth the rejoicing

Despite being a Christian, I'm not a Catholic. For several very good reasons. Now I have another one.

I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. And saddened. And horrified. And downright blasphemous; to whit - what the fuck is such a backward, twisted, homophobic, bigoted, insane asshat doing in charge of one of the largest religious communities on the planet???

Ok, firstly the Biblical prohibition against homosexuality is confined to (and correct me if I'm wrong) about 3 mentions total. All Old Testament. I don't believe Jesus said a thing about it. However, He did say an awful lot about discrimination - essentially that it's wrong, don't do it guys, please. The message Love Thy Neighbour is all through the Bible, it's the second most important Commandment that Christians are supposed to believe in (the first being Love God). I don't remember there being a caveat; Love thy Neighbour (but only if he's a straight white male...).

The only thing I can do now is hope to God that the bill is too far through the process of being passed that there's not a damn thing that can be done to stop it.

Monday, 1 February 2010

And the Happiness just keeps on coming

Good for Harriet :)

Seriously, if that woman ever becomes leader of the Labour Party, I'm voting for them.