Personal, Rants

All Made Up: Why we shouldn’t apologise for a love affair with cosmetics

Leaving home/not having to live my life under the strict, identity-crushing jurisdiction of a rural Lincolnshire grammar school has left a whole new appearance-enhancing door ajar for me. Waking up in the morning with a pre-lecture regime entirely at my own disposal has given me leave to step gingerly through this shining portal of cosmetic discovery and go fucking nuts with black eyeliner. An undertaking which has probably given me the need to have a quick sit down to readjust/palpitate more than anyone else.

I feel, personally, as if I had the notion of wearing make-up beaten out of me before I reached an age to really fall in love with wearing it. One of the principle institutions I’ve held accountable for my early-teen perception of make-up as a shitty, shitty thing is (surprise surprise) my secondary school. Although quite a few of us got away with the odd little squiggle of token eyeliner, there was pretty much a zero tolerance policy on all students wearing make-up, which lead to a fair number of grumbling, blazered adolescents being hauled from assembly and marched to the toilets to remove the products accumulated on their visages. The question of make up at school is a difficult one; of course I can see that one’s appearance should not take precedence over one’s principle purpose for plonking oneself down at a desk at nine of a morning – that is, to learn. However, much like the recent dispute over the banning of pole dancing societies at uni, placing restrictions, or totally banning, the casual use of cosmetics is synonymous with a decision being made for a person with the intention of protecting them/the image of the educational institution. However, the bans are also responsible for the increasing preconceived negativity towards the forbidden thing and unjustly demonising or undermining those who take innocent pleasure in it.

For me, it’s all about the fear surrounding the choice to emphasise of physical features an attributes of an individual within the everyday. If a woman, or man, elects to enhance his or her features with a dab of foundation, a common assumption made by the outsider looking in is that the person has done so to sexualise or objectify themselves – image becomes paramount, and attracting a partner a priority. I think the notion that a person may use make up as an extension, a suggestion or a celebration of their sexuality (although, quite often, this isn’t the only or principle case) is unsettling to a society which frequently subscribes to a conservative outlook with a tendency to chastise those who wish to appear desirable, particularly (as ever) in women. Perhaps, like the way removing pole dancing magically removed all sexist attitudes towards women, removing make-up will remove trivialisation, the risk of being targeted sexually as a desirable human being and eradicate potential deviations from study. Outrageously, as we all know, magazines, newspapers, even ourselves in our everyday lives, are just quick to slate someone for lacking make up; those who dare to age, to have blemished skin, to lose sleep also face the wrath of their peers and the media for failing adhere to unreachable standards of beauty. We’re meant to look flawless, yet to use make up to achieve the look we want in order to feel confident is a cheat and a fail.

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I also think the vocabulary we use when referring to make up is pretty damaging and reinforces negative attitudes. I’ve witnessed people frequently judge women by how much “slap” they have on their face, an informal term which carries with it connotations of pain, malice and punishment. In opposition to the “natural” look which I’ve found is praised and basically universally strived for, bronzing your cheeks or choosing a vibrant red lipstick is “fake”, less than human, undermines your identity. There’s even a brand of make up called “Fake Bake”, a name which I’m not quite sure I get; is it satire or inspiring a tut-tutting as people walk past the cosmetics in Debenhams, in a sense condoning the derogatory labels awarded to it? Regarding attitudes to men and make up I don’t have much experience at all; it’d be interesting to learn about the experiences of men who wear it and whether they face similar discriminations to women.

It pains me to think that a younger version of myself subscribed to the belief that the use of make up equated the projection of a “fake” image, and that those who took pride in their appearance lacked substance, even brains. Now, make up gives me confidence, a way to express myself (I wear B I G eyeliner flicks if I’m feeling particularly determined, for instance). When I’m down, it lifts me up; if I feel someone’s gaze drawn briefly to a splash of bright eyeshadow it feels bloomin’ cool – I’m all like “yeah, I do exist, I am worth noticing, my face has colours on it and it looks suave and YOU SAW THAT.” It’s also my most frequent form of procrastination – when my brain is being slowly fried by constant reading and I find all the words on the page are merging into utter gibberish, twenty minutes on my face is refreshing and motivating, particularly when catching sight of myself in the mirror doesn’t reveal a spotty, exasperated face. I see the kind of face I want to, one that’s interesting, fresh, young and intelligent – applying make up is something fantastically easy I can do to make peace with myself, as well as feel really great. It makes me happy. And if it makes me happy, it makes millions of people happy, so I don’t really see how you could justify hating on people who use it to feel its uplifting effects and a renewed sense of self worth every day.

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Personal

Lame Fresher Diaries: three equally lamish outings

Try not to be too taken aback, but I actually left campus thrice of an evening during this last week. As a result I have felt totally irresponsible and am terribly nervous for the fate of next week’s seminars. Needless to say, my newly invigorated free-ranging spirit has played ABSOLUTE HAVOC with my hectic Hallward schedule (coincidentally, a lame yet disturbing thing happened Tuesday eve: I was comfortably housed in my beloved booth 108 when I heard a mysterious, fleshy slapping sound sourced somewhere behind me; sure enough I spotted the chap in 109’s legs jiffling around something fierce in time to the gentle thwacking. Could have been perfectly innocent, yet I am marginally confident that I may have discovered the phantom fapper of the UL…)

Monday night saw my first moonlit escapade to Rescue Rooms, an adorably teeny tiny venue perfect for an intimate gig with acoustic sets. This is precisely what Jake “Music Man” Parnian and I were hoping for in going along to see folk band Stornoway… from Cowley, Oxford. After listening to their album on repeat for about three days in a desperate lyric learning frenzy, we mumbled along to songs about the sea, gulls, boats and beaches which were all very pleasing to the ear. Highlight was definitely an acoustic set of some of their new stuff – those harmonies were poetic and downright gorgeous.

To the keen indie music fan with a taste for reasonably priced alcoholic beverages, perhaps not the lamest of nights. Then BAM, a strict chuck out time of 10pm. Hence, an early Maccers and the 36 home for Jake and me it was.

For Wednesday’s top night in Notts I had Steve, the gargantuan-6’1”-red-Audi-driving-top chap up from Lincolnshire for a night of bants with tickets reserved weeks in advance in anticipation of what promised to be a memorable night in a cracking venue. Stevo, being a courteous gent, treated me to dinner before the two of us (having cunningly collected our tickets before the perilous queueing for this wildly popular night out ensued) ambled over to The Royal Concert Hall for two and a half hours of The Hallé orchestra playing wonderful works of Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss. (NB, Steve is my father.) Another deliciously early curfew for me, meaning being deposited back outside Lenton and Wortley before eleven with the extra bits of food and washing that parents decree so necessary to have bought/done for you. Alas, so enamoured was I by the concert that I reviewed it before retiring, meaning my bedtime was post midnight. Horror of horrors.

Thursday night is best retold in brief. This time, I thought it wise to partake of something a little more contemporary/with people of my actual generation and go to Market Bar for a soiree with the gals. It was all going jolly well until I found double G&Ts to be a true steal at £4.00 and after spending in the region of £30 at the bar I reached the point at which it was necessary to drag myself to the ladies’, watch the room spin for a while before sliding elegantly to the floor to deposit my money’s worth in the loo. What a waste of thirty quid. And how out of character.

It’s good to remember that the first year of Uni, while requiring diligence and enthusiasm in equal measure, also entitles us to a social life, time to find our feet in the city, adjust to being an autonomous human and (in my case in particular) to get the hang of going places, having sufficient amounts of “good times”, and coming home in one piece. So it’s deffo 100% fine to sack off every once in a while to go to a classical concert, to bop along to a visiting band or even for a tactical chunder in Market Bar; it’s all a healthy part of the valuable student experience.

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Reviews

The Hallé, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, 27th November 2013

(My first attempt at reviewing a concert. NB my musical knowledge goes as far as Grade 5 theory and an AS Level. So relatively limited.)

With a highly varied programme of classical gems and a live broadcast on BBC Radio Three, the Hallé’s flying visit to Nottingham was certainly not to be missed. Indeed, the anticipation was tangible as a practically full house applauded conductor Markus Stenz taking his position at centre stage.

The very slightly hiccupping slow introduction to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in which a couple of the entries were fractionally dis-coordinated was more than made up for by the subsequent refreshing, fast paced and throughly enjoyable four movements. The orchestra made fantastic use of dynamics allowing for a high degree of expression; this was particularly effective in the second and fourth movements. My only criticism would be that the third movement was a little fast for my taste; however, it was supremely accurate and well executed (perhaps I could do with broadening my horizons to embrace the pace.)

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, characterised by its long trills, revealed Lars Vogt as a clear master of his instrument. This piece is particularly enjoyable for its juxtaposition of two, fairly rapid major movements with a more sombre minor one sandwiched between. This piece is charming both for its call and response texture and for the points at which strings and solo instrument blended together – something the Hallé did flawlessly not just in the Mozart, but throughout the programme.

The second half accelerated dramatically into the latter end of the Romantic period with much expanded brass and percussion sections and two highly animated pieces by Strauss, Don Juan and Til Eugenspiegels Lustige Streiche. These two pieces have clear narratives, which was reflected in how gloriously varied they were in their instrumentation, range of dynamics, melody lines (particularly in the bold and deliberate brass) and contrapuntal texture; it had us on the edge of our seats. Just before the end of the latter of the aforementioned pieces, the finale, there is a wonderful interlude in the strings which seemed to reinstate the contrast between the two halves of the programme and demonstrate how the use of the strings in the orchestra developed through time.

A tremendously thoughtful programme which was thoroughly entertaining, hugely varied and supremely well played. I highly recommend listening again on iPlayer!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03j9x55

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Rants, Reviews

Women before the lens: Miss Representation and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Let’s not beat about the bush; as far as women in the media go, you’re heaps more likely to get an eyeful of boobs rather than brains. It seems that every single and facet of the media is fascinated by the female body and sexuality, deeming it acceptable to present it as a commodity to be bought and sold by the masses. Sadly, the Women’s Network’s screening of Miss Representation, a documentary which explores the representation of women in American media, only cemented these the ugly truths about modern media, and it’s safe to say I left the SU’s Hub feeling disturbed, angered and vicariously violated.

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It was profoundly affecting to have the powerful brain-washing effects of today’s media unveiled before us, which normalise the implication that a woman’s worth is decided by whether or not she is wanking material – a worth defined by unattainable, inhuman standards thanks to gals’ best pal: airbrush. It was shocking to discover the extent to which I, as a female viewer, had been exposed to the objectification of my own sex yet had somehow missed a trick; so customary is the ubiquitous focus on the female body that it actually took *watching* the documentary for me to fully appreciate what I’d been unconsciously condoning for years and years. The insight was remarkable, but shaming. I couldn’t believe how naïve I’d been; I couldn’t work out of I was at fault for being too ignorant to recognise some of the more minute details, or if the white, male, degree-boasting over 35s who run this TV shit were by showing me my fellow women as commodities since my birth.

Because that’s all we get as youngsters, isn’t it? Even our beloved animated Disney films subject their female characters to being perceived as helpless, beautiful dependants – hell, in my favourite childhood film, The Little Mermaid, the female protagonist doesn’t even have a voice for half the time. It’s also pretty unsettling that Ariel is silenced by a fellow woman, which reinforces a scary notion that women can be oppressors of their own female peers, or even themselves. Miss Representation touched on the idea that women are guilty of criticising other women on the grounds of their appearance, be it in conversation, journalism, news or comment broadcasts which reflects patriarchal conventions; it seems that we too are preoccupied by how old our peers look, how much weight they’ve put on, the amount of make up their wearing. Miss Representation calls for women to be more supportive of one another’s accomplishments, in the hope that it catches on.

What’s more, the handful of supposedly emancipatory protagonists – I’m thinking Lara Croft, Catwoman, Andy in The Devil Wears Prada – in the end are just extending this inexorable pursuit of female beauty; Miss Representation introduced me to the term ‘fighting fuck toy’ for characters such as Croft in her outrageously impractical, undermining outfits. Ambitious, successful women are also treated particularly harshly; Andy’s success in her career costs her her partner, relationships and her sense of self worth.

Miss Representation also pointed out that the stories of the minuscule proportion of protagonists who actually *manage* to be female are almost always directed and written by men. Hence, the portrayal of the female experience is shifted into the bias of a male perspective which begs the question: how can the story of a woman which is written, developed and conditioned by men ever truly be authentic, or reach the *whole* population? A great example of this is the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire, which, coincidentally, I went to see the day after the screening of Miss Representation. Screenplay: written by men. Directed: by a man. Protagonist: female. And yes, Katniss is supposed to be troubled, socially inept and distant by nature, but in Catching Fire she’s just… cold. Cold, at times vapid and a little cruel. As an audience member I was presented with a strong, brave, independent, intelligent woman which should have been thrilling for me, yet I COULD NOT empathise with her. She’s the best example of a female dominating a film in a long time… and I was rooting for her male co-star throughout.

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Something that the documentary touched on that we would perhaps like to have seen developed further alongside the misrepresentation of women is the analysis of role models for young men in the media. Interestingly, hours after watching Miss Representation a friend this clip of a discussion concerning male and female protagonists and the kinds of plots children are presented with in films targeting their age group:

Just as young women absorb messages about their appearance equating their value, so do men see their worth presented in physical prowess, in the car they own, in whether or not they’re a ‘stud’ or a sporting legend. Young people are impressionable; if we’re prepared to admit that young women are conditioned by the media into believing that their appearance is of greater worth than their accomplishments, should we disregard the fact that young men’s attitudes could be warped by their being exposed to multitudinous narratives portraying male protagonists who treat women as commodities? I think there’s scope for taking a step back and wondering if whether the resulting psychological infringement of women which is just accepted as a norm also seeps into the lives of men.

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Personal

Lame Fresher Diaries: Blue Hair

To my mind, a quintessential part of being a fresher is to have a bit of a fiddle around with your identity. It’s a bit like being high on independence – an entire age group countrywide totally belly-flopping into the alien world of making their own pasta daily and operating the iron solo – they literally have not a single domestic higher authority to tell them when to change their socks and it’s enough to make anyone lose a proportion of their shit.

Severing childhood ties with home and parents and asserting yourself as grown up in the world of adults seems to inspire a wish not for total reinvention as such, but for something which illustrates a change in life situation, be it a risky/loud/outrageous item of clothing, an idiosyncratic body piercing or putting a silly colour in your hair that your secondary school wouldn’t allow you to have. For my own personal dynamic transgression, I opted for the latter.

Lame as I am, it will come as no surprise that having blue put in my hair was a highly exhilarating yet deeply frightening experience; after getting all gowned up in the salon and making it VERY CLEAR that I wanted the extent of visible blue to be AS SUBTLE AS POSSIBLE, all that was flashing before me were the cons of the experience. The potential for an horrific reaction to the chemical being lacquered onto my barnet. The various judgements of my peers. The possibility of hindered employment prospects. Looking like a twat. So, sweeping the “women’s interest” magazines boldly aside and fishing out my copy of The Tempest, all I could do was was wait for the dye to seep into my bleached hair.

Reader, I strode out of the salon a new woman. Aside from lamenting the fact I hadn’t worn my Docs to add to the edge, I felt confident in the blueness of my hair – catching sight of it in shop windows on my way to Wilkinson’s to pick up some shampoo for coloured hair WHICH I CAN NOW DO FOR REAL BECAUSE I NEED IT was seriously elating, and I even noticed a couple of fellow pedestrians’ gaze being caught by the shock of blueish strands amongst my everyday brunette. Or they could have been staring at my remarkable, freshly dyed blue ears.

A few weeks later and yes, it *has* gone a bit shitty and green. But do I regret it? Do I hell. It’s encouraged a social interaction (ie “Your hair is blue, it wasn’t blue before”), livened up my otherwise fairly Micky Flanagan hairstyle and, since a vast proportion of my wardrobe is blue, co-ordinated with quite a few outfits along the way. All in all, having blue hair has been rather enriching. And also very much enhanced the hue of several of my paler items of clothing… #semipermenantproblems

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Rants

“Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits”: Thoughts on Lily Allen’s comeback single

Speaking as a strident Kate Nash fan, I properly advocate the riot grrrl punk pop movement. I love that Kate has grown up and found her true identity within her art form. It is true that her Girl Talk is worlds apart from her charty, ‘cutesy London girl’ debut album Made of Bricks and this has tended to put people off her; one grows accustomed to hearing various lamentations such as “why has she like, gone punk?” and “I don’t like her new shouting”. But I’ve simply adored following her over the years, charting her development and sort of feeling like I have grown with her as a feminist. I’ve always looked to her music for motivation in times of low confidence and dwindling self esteem – Kate’s music always seems to have the answer to typical, everyday psychological issues that are fairly universal and prevalent but aren’t necessarily recognised as feelings that shouldn’t ignored or stifled.
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The emergence of Lily Allen’s shiny-new-comeback-feminist-anthem sent me seriously giddy because THIS felt like British feminist music’s first real chance, as far as I’m aware, to finally seep into the charts and align itself with popular ditties, such as that misogynist atrocity ‘Blurred Lines’, in order to challenge and supersede them. It could perhaps even be graced with the massive and diverse audience that Radio One is capable of giving and hopefully start encouraging people to REALLY think about what their favourite tunes are actually saying to them, and whether or not they are messages we want to consider/be exposed to.

The song, Hard Out Here, certainly lives up to expectations. It is a very satisfying listen in that it is both catchy as they come since it conforms to the conventional structure of pop songs (which should get it shitloads of that all important reception). Though not so gnarly as Kate Nash’s brilliant, relevant and downright attitudinal Rap for Rejection and All Talk, Hard Out Here can boast some pretty straight talking as well as exploration of modern social taboo; I especially love the quasi-polite opening lyric “Well I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking.” In fact, the term “bitch” is purposefully over-used throughout the song which kind of makes its use as a weapon redundant and transforms it into a word that is derogatorily defunct. I love the fact that Lily suggests that ANY woman boasting ANY kind of sex life can be labelled a slut in not disclosing her own – she simply sings “If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut”, before asserting that when men boast about their multiple partners, or “bitches”, “no one’s making a fuss.”

There’s also a whole load in there about superficiality and pressurising women into having stereotypically desirable bodies: Lily adopts the voice of the patriarchy, suggesting that women who “aren’t a size six… should probably lose some weight”. This is particularly important since women can’t actually function unless they’re in a relationship or married, so all this face and body fixing must be completed pronto “or you’ll end up on your own”. She does offer a glimmer of hope for women who aren’t “good looking”, promising success is guaranteed if you’re “rich” or “real good at cooking” – essentially Mrs Bennet’s dream daughter. Sarcasm aside, though, Lily also challenges the school of thought that deems feminism futile in this day and age with the resounding middle eight phrase “Inequality promises that it’s here to stay, / Always trust the injustice ’cause it’s not going away”. And she’s got an awful lot of evidence to back it up.

The video, however, isn’t quite the patriarchy-smashing wonder the song portends. Some bits are undeniably fabulous in my opinion; having just had two babies, Lily lies on an operating table in the opening seconds with half a dozen plastic surgeons sculpting her body into something resembling a ‘desirable’ woman again – it’s sickening to think that when a woman choses to become a mother she can no longer transgress that role without having to be surgically reconstructed to some kind of perverted former glory. I also love the direct pisstake of Robin Thicke’s alleged “big dick”; Lily doesn’t need someone of the opposite sex to dance around her proclamations of a “baggy pussy” to promote/glorify it necessarily, she just galumphs around it in a sensible amount of clothing of her own accord as if to say “This is me and actually don’t give a shit.”

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However, I don’t think I’m alone in the qualms I have about the number of extremely scantily clad black woman who surround Lily throughout the video whilst performing highly sexualised dance routines. For one thing these women have obviously be valued by and selected for the video because they have desirable figures which are being exploited by the pointlessly skimpy outfits they’ve been told to wear. This seems to totally undermine what Lily was getting at in the song about the industry being unable to cope with the way motherhood has affected her body and basically writing her off because of it, a contempt which is alluded to at the operating table when her old, tubby, white, male manager asks, disgusted: “How can somebody let themselves get like this?”. If there were allusions to these women going beyond the success they enjoy from being slim and beautiful then there’d be grounds for Lily’s argument that she “don’t need to shake [her] arse for you / ’cause [she’s] got a brain”, ie a woman’s beauty and intelligence can co-exist. However there is none of this, the video portrays the stereotypical pop music spectacles of semi-naked women, alcohol, indefinite money and a gold plated kitchen. The inclusion of a token, white, larger women also holds absolutely no significance or moral/social stance since she’s only on the screen for about half a second, illustrating that even in a feminist video only physically perfect women are deemed worthy of representation. Popular, patriarchal culture still prevails, unfortunately.

I can appreciate that the video does attempt a satirical representation the treatment and perception of women in popular culture, but perhaps Lily is aware that details of her video are questionable, particularly as one of her lyrics is “If you can’t detect the sarcasm / you’ve misunderstood” – sounds to me like she’s trying to cover her own back…

You can watch the video for Hard Out Here by following this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0CazRHB0so

Kate Nash’s Rap for Rejection:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw0Nvav6VRY

Kate Nash’s All Talk:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj1sN9YxGew

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