lolita dress & neon green

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Taking photos in harsh sunlight inevitably results in the dreaded #browfurrow. It tacks on at least twenty years and several blemishes. The parasol was part prop and part downright necessity. But this is just an observation, not a complaint, dammit. I’ve awaited the sun too long to thumb my nose at it now.

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In other news, Kristina of Eccentric Owl is putting together a swap group for bloggers sizes 10-20 (American). Basically Flock Together for the more amply proportioned. There are five of us so far, and we’re salivating for more; contact one of us if you’d like to get in on it.

I can’t wait to start – I mean, I’d need several hands and a few feet to count the number of Kristina’s dresses I’ve shamelessly coveted.

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a striped flapper dress on a rainy day

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I am, dare I say, privileged to be able to dress the way I do in public. I’m the office manager for my family’s business; my boss is my idiosyncratic father, who wears “Eat More Kale” shirts, running shoes, and a ponytail. Our clientele is mostly charmed by my appearance. A few of the older regulars even see their own youth in me, which I appreciate.

Maybe it’s a #firstworldproblem, but I don’t think I could work somewhere that didn’t allow me at least some sartorial freedom. Dressing up is a big part of self-care for me. I get very anxious when my physical presentation doesn’t match how I think of myself. I don’t wear red lipstick every day because I’m in a rut; I wear it because I literally feel wrong without it.

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I’m very fortunate not to have my credibility eroded by the way I choose to present myself. I’m surrounded by people who understand that there’s no inherent connection between physical affect and ability to do one’s job. I just wish more people could come to terms with that.

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As much as I dislike those tumblr-y “destroy that idea that ___” posts, I really do want to destroy the idea that personal life/personal aesthetic is a fair metric of judging one’s ability to do their job. If I’ve hired you to perform a service, then your performance of that service, and only your performance of that service, is relevant. This seems so simple to me.

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I think we as a culture generally have a hard time with the idea that those who serve us are human. You see it in small ways, like yelling at waiters and cashiers for things that aren’t their fault. Like allowing someone’s haircut or tattoos to occlude your impression of their work. And in big ways, like how we gasp collectively when teachers do “kid-unfriendly” things in their private lives and how politicians’ sex scandals end up overshadowing their actual policy. We pay these people to be better than us. Different from us. Fundamentally Other than us. We simply cannot fathom that they are allowed to be human too.

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granny florals, orange tights, & a leather coat

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Two Australian women are currently campaigning against the term (and attendant concept of) “plus-size”. Model Stefania Ferrario writes:

“I do NOT find this empowering. I’m NOT proud to be called ‘plus,’ but I AM proud to be called a ‘model,’ that is my profession!”

Ferrario & compatriot Ajay Rochester claim that “the label is both counterproductive and harmful to young girls’ self esteem”. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here smashing my face against the keyboard: am I the only one who thinks they’re going about this completely wrong?ojVIIIojIII

First of all, I wish more people understood that plus-size isn’t a judgment or a statement on one’s personhood. It’s a garment category. It’s not about the people wearing those garments; it’s a way of classifying cut and fit to easily signal its intended audience. Just as “tall” means “longer inseams”, “petite” means “shrunken proportions”, and “maternity” means “forgiving stomach”, “plus size” indicates that a garment isn’t merely a bigger version of its size-zero equivalent. It means the whole garment has been restructured for a different scale. 64% of women polled believe that “[plus size] should be banned as a defining term, as bodies are bodies, no matter what the size”, which is all well and good politically but ultimately meaningless. Should we also stop measuring ourselves because “bodies are bodies”? More power to you (even if it is a tautology), but good luck finding a bra that way.

The categories you fit into aren’t a measure of your worth as a person. I’d much rather challenge the idea that they do than abolish categories altogether.

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And on that note…I don’t think it’s harmful to young girls’ self-esteem to assess themselves honestly. Abandoning a certain term won’t make me any smaller. I’d rather come to terms with my proportions than rationalize them away. I want to own myself, and I don’t want to keep promoting the idea that being “plus-size”, or “curvy”, or whatever you want to call it is something to be ashamed of. Doing away with the label would broadcast shame loud and clear, and that’s what I find harmful to young girls.

Now I absolutely agree that “plus-size” models and garments are often marginalized, and I’m not in any way supporting that. I just don’t think that bigger models will magically become more accepted if we stop describing them a certain way. This kind of change runs deeper than that.

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plaid, petticoat, & an assault on the eyeballs

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I wore this outfit antiquing on Sunday, and the little old ladies were swooning. “Is that a petticoat? I haven’t seen one of those in years!” I like being their blast from a past they thought was dead and buried. I like the feeling of keeping something once-precious alive.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’d rather be stuck in history than progressing for progress’s sake. I’d rather be rooted than erratic. I’d rather respect the past than barge blindly into the future.

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And during said day of antiquing, I found two of the shiniest treasures ever.

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The first was a 1950s wedding set. Dress, crown, train, purse, garter. In perfect condition, barely yellowed. For TWENTY DOLLARS. “When’s your wedding?” the shopkeeper asked in response to my hyperventilation. “Eventually,” I told her. The dress doesn’t even fit me, and I don’t want to get married in white anyway. But twenty dollars is a pittance for such a slice of history.

The second was an authentic Victorian embroidered coat. Also in perfect (well, almost perfect) condition. For…

TWELVE DOLLARS.

It’s black and ankle-length and fits like it was made for me. I am not sure I will ever wear it, because of course I would fall in the mud two steps out of the house if I ever tried. But it is the oldest thing I own, and I can practically feel the ghosts waking up.

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red polka dots & orange stripes

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I love, love, love square-dancing dresses. I’m not sure exactly how this particular style came to be called so, but I love the immediate association with soft twangs and towering hair. Frills and poufs forever, especially on the first day of spring.

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A very eager girl approached me as I was shooting and asked to help. She didn’t seem likely to steal my camera, so I handed it over and she took the above shot. Pretty nice! Strangers’ reactions to my photo shoots have always been positive. I hear horror stories about deliberate sabotage and snickering behind backs, but that’s never been the case for me. Lots of staring, sure. But I’m kind of asking for that.

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vintage gingham, pink accents, & pure americana

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There is something unquenchably domestic in me. It’s my regressive not-so-secret, my Feminine Mundane: I love fresh linens and birdsong and every talisman of country summer. I love lemonade* on the front porch and bluegrass echoing from eave to eardrum. I’ve always aspired to city slicking, but I don’t think I could sacrifice my Americana.

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We’re not there yet. The trees are still bound up; the wind still punishes. But I see rivulets collecting beneath snowbanks and in sidewalk cracks. It’s coming. And I might as well dress like it. If I can usher in the spring with gingham and bluegrass and brightness and glee, I will do my damnedest to.

We all wear costumes. At least some of us admit it.

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*I actually do not like lemonade at all. But it’s the principle of the thing.

 

polka dots, purple, & pattern-clashing

clashIclashVII’m a creative nihilist. I capture light and pin words to paper because doing so satisfies some atavistic itch, not because I’ve convinced myself it means anything. It’s strange, watching friends and classmates hunt for meaning in my work. My writing process is a “what if?” exercise writ large. It’s pure exploration. The curtains aren’t blue because I woke up on the wrong side of the bed; they’re blue because I appreciate beauty, and who doesn’t like a nice cobalt in the kitchen?

clashIVI don’t think every work needs a deeper purpose. I think beauty is enough. I’m the sort of person who forgives plot holes for a lovely enough turn of phrase. And twisty turny sock-you-in-the-gut stories are the loveliest to me. Give me stumbling dream sequences and nonlinear plots and shambling, experimental prose. Give me an eldritch abomination in ink and paper.

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Give me inverted mythologies and the fabric of our world rent casually twain, for funsies. If all this is my oyster, I want every last slurp. Does eating oysters need meaning? Do you write theses on the significance of each sea-soaked pearl?

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No. You do it because you can.

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vintage florals, spiderwebs, & watermelon

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There’s a somewhat baffling debate going on right now in my other online community (rationalists/lesswrong expats) about the concept of neoteny. prolonged childhood, which detractors claim is evident in the abundance of children’s media and other whimsical pursuits. By this coin, the blurring of children’s and adults’ interests (cupcakes, novelty prints, Marvel everything) is responsible for the immaturity, peter-pannishness, and general adolescent stridency of my generation. And I…don’t understand this viewpoint at all.

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The main thing they’re missing, I think, is the idea that personality isn’t a package deal. There’s a significant difference between entertainment/aesthetic geared toward children and actual developmental delay, and I don’t see evidence that one leads to the other. It seems like the people making this argument are reaching for connections among traits they personally dislike in an attempt to pin their distaste on a single profile. And it doesn’t work like that. I’m the first to admit that immaturity, slacktivism, and a general shit-flinging sensibility are significant problems in media right now, but I don’t think that’s caused by ukeleles and cupcakes.

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The decoupling of neutral traits from the associations they’ve developed is a good thing, I think. It frees up more people to dabble in interesting aesthetics and hobbies without the baggage of an entire lifestyle. Vintage is a great example: there’s nothing inherently socially regressive about pin curls and full skirts. They were popular in a restrictive time, sure, but not to unpack that association would be an insult to a perfectly lovely style.

And I think the blurring of age distinctions is great. Age categories are fluid and socially constructed, not immutable. I’ve never been a fan of segregating media by age, anyway. Art is art. Why restrict your enjoyment?

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I’m all for mix-and-match identities. I don’t think the way you dress or the books you read have to say anything about you other than…you like those things. I know humans pattern-match and profile. It frustrates our lizard brains when we can’t put things into boxes. Given, though, that we’re no longer swinging from trees, I think there’s something to be said for consciously rising above those primitive impulses.

By some standards, I’m hella neotenous. I’m mired in neoteny. I like bright colors and balloons and flowers and omg!hyperbole. I wear Peter Pan collars and saddle shoes. I’m also a pinup, a published author, a student of comparative religion, and a horror fanatic. Someone who didn’t like me might attempt to solidify their distaste by pinning those traits into a “type”, but you’d have a hell of a time with that. People aren’t statistics.

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gingham, spring fluorescence, & freshly dyed hair

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From the delightful chancre on the backside of public discourse that is get-off-my-internets dot net:

“[T]he thing that drives me consistently crazy about [the bloggers we criticize] is that they think because we’re nasty or explicit that they can write us off as haters. Gurl this ain’t Vindication of the Rights of Women, we’re not going to be careful and eloquent. It’s a goddamn internet forum about dull as shit bloggers and none of us have the time or inclination to triple-check our phrasing. You can decide if GOMI’s a negative place or not but what do you expect, polite suggestions for improvement?

…yes, as a matter of fact. I do.

Your nastiness doesn’t make your statement wrong (actually a common fallacy!), but it makes it hella likely that I won’t want to stick around long enough to fully understand it. You cannot bombard someone with harassment and then sneer at them because they decided it wasn’t worth their time to stick around and find the gem in the pile of shit.

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GOMI users are big on personal responsibility – at least, for anyone who isn’t them. When called out for body snarking/name calling/needless speculation about bloggers’ private lives, the defense is invariably “well, she shouldn’t have posted that picture if she couldn’t handle being called ugly.” Which is a pretty impressive goalpost shift. Of course we know you have the RIGHT to say awful things. The point is that perhaps you shouldn’t. If you want to be vicious, then own it. But don’t act as though it’s the natural course of things and you ~just couldn’t help yourself~.

And if your party line is “once you put it out there, you deserve any response you get”, you really don’t get to complain that someone was too put off by your meanness to continue engaging with you. You put the malice out there. You got what was coming to you.

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I am afraid every day that I do not have the stones to be a storyteller. I want to change the world, but I want to do it gently. I’m so out of touch with the shouty self-righteous discourse that seems en vogue these days, and I have no desire to get in deeper touch. I’m not aggressive, I’m not militant, I’m not a radical of any kind, and I fundamentally disbelieve that any cause, any message, is worth abandoning kindness and empathy for.

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Writing is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. But I am deeply, truly afraid of becoming the next Laci Green, Justine Sacco, Matt Taylor, Dan Savage, or Iggy Azalea. Yes, I know I’ll get a dozen messages explaining why the aforementioned public figures are problematic, and no, that’s not the goddamn point. Of course I don’t endorse everything they do or say. But here’s the thing: driving them underground won’t change a thing. Flawed ideas and flawed people won’t go away because you shouted them down. Belittle a person, and they’ll come back in force. Present a reasoned critique, and you just might change a few minds.

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black polka dots, yellow florals, & way too much green

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You know that one Seinfeld episode where Elaine is thrilled to be called “breathtaking” by a potential suitor, only to discover that he applies that word to literally everything? No one wants to be categorized with scrambled eggs and an ugly baby, but saying so makes you the asshole. You’ve seen that one episode, right?

That’s how I feel about my writing class.

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It’s not that I think I’m the hottest shit around. But it’s hard to trust any critique when every. single. story is brilliant and amazing and a paragon of its genre. It’s hard to trust the eye of someone who has not proven any discernment whatsoever. I mean, I get it. We’re all terrified to be the class asshole. Better to keep criticisms light and praise flowing, lest your victims return the favor when it’s your turn. But there has got to be a middle ground between “this is perfect and you are a god” and “who told you you could write?”

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And even if the story is brilliant – what makes it so? What does it stir? Where does the passion hit you? It’s the same failure mode as “everyone is beautiful” rhetoric: when everyone is beautiful, then by god no one is.

I’m leading the charge toward more exacting adjectives. Tell me my work is transcendent and chilling and it hits you somewhere so painfully atavistic you need to lie down for a while. Or tell me it’s maudlin and derivative and you need to go lie down for a different reason. Either way. Your perspective is valid. Articulate it.

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