i try. i tried. i am trying again.

I try hard to be present in the moment but I can’t. Despite my body being present in the here and now my mind is too busy studying myself. I am too self aware. I am talking. Words are coming out of my mouth. Coherent sentences are being formed about topics I am interested in, issues that I am passionate about, books that I have read, opinions that I hold but I am too concerned with how I will be heard. When I’m listening I am too concerned with how I appear when I am listening. When I write my thoughts I am too concerned when how I will be read. When I read my words I immediately cringe because I feel that my feelings are unjustified, my thoughts are scattered, lacking flow, depth and sincerity. When I post my work online I have to fight the urge to take it down because I doubt that I am in the position to write for I think my life is dull and I am gauche. Despite experiencing love, being educated, having a family, travelling to a few places I feel that I still lack the authority to write about it, express it, be someone that others can turn to on the topic. My 30 years of experience I feel isn’t enough. It cannot begin to count yet therefore I should not write because I do not know the topic well enough I hear myself saying. Any compliment about work that I have produced meets me with unease and discomfort, these kind words of praise on twitter are not meant for me. I am just waiting until someone discovers the truth about me and exposes me as a fraud. So I beat them to it. I don’t give them a chance to criticize me, I leave writing up to those who I think do it best. And I read their work. Support them and let them succeed in the realm that I want a take up space in. In a realm that I know in my heart that I can own, I do not make myself known. When I am eating, I am aware that I am eating. I can feel the food in my mouth but I can’t taste it on my tongue because I am concentrated on not spilling it in my lap. When I’m laughing I know that I am laughing and am concerned with how I look when I am laughing. In the midst of all this self doubt I am limiting myself. Letting myself simmer in mild neurosis and I am self aware of that too. I just want to be like how everyone else appears to me and I am aware that I want to be like how everyone appears to me.

Others appear to own themselves, the environment they are in and the space they take up. They’re the captain who not only looks perfect in the uniform they wear but can also fly the plane. All of this is ironic because as I speak about appearance I know that I am an appearance to all those that appear to me, those that I want to be like. But I can’t. I am deeply flawed and can’t entertain the thought that others that appear to me are also deeply flawed beneath their beautiful polished surface. I may look like a captain to them but if they put me in the pilots seat I would not know how to fly the plane whereas they look like the captain and they know how to fly that plane! So I assume. And I am going to leave flying the plane to others because I cannot see myself anything like those sort of people that appear around me.

I need to break out. I have to break out. I have began to realize that everyone is only as they seem to be and they only appear to to me as such because I have created them to be such in my head at my expense. Each time I give up and let others succeed I am preserving the difference between me and them, the insecure self portrait that I have painted of myself and the secure portraits that others have sold to me. Having been too caught up in myself I took a step back and realized that those who I admire are just as deeply puzzled at life, take massive shits that stink up the bathroom, have doubts, insecurities, regrets and sometimes take the shirt they threw into the hamper out, iron it and wear it. I let myself turn my insecurities into internalized proofs thereby validating the pictures that others have created of me. It is now up to me to take this self-awareness that I gave the power to control me, limit me, make me dizzy with doubt to do the polar opposite.

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i try. i tried. i am trying again.

i do not need

do not tell me that
i need to find a man
and get married
to become “whole”.

i was not born into this world
broken, lacking or torn therefore
there is nothing in me to mend.
no missing piece to my fulfilment
i’m filled to the brim
and i overflow with delight.

do not tell me
because i have nothing to escape
only myself to find.

a man will not stand next to me
as my other or better half.
i stand next to myself
as my matchless whole.

when i came into this world
i came with everything i need
within myself.
i was born
complete.

i do not need

1207

I’m not a complicated girl.
All I want is to create meaning
in this meaningless existence
– with you,
while wearing soft fuzzy socks and eating ice cream topped
with colourful sprinkles.
I fancy leaving existential isolationism for a while
to experience intimate intersubjectivity.
Legs tangled, fingers intertwined, glasses off to the side.
To stay in bed for a few moments longer on
a Saturday morning and play with your hair,
while you read to me
a page
from one
of my favourite
books.

1207

tourist

After yesterday’s tour at the Doka Coffee Estate where I travelled to see where the coffee that I sip for granted (always decaf because regular coffee makes me anxious and jittery and is reserved for when I need a laxative and don’t feel like eating a bowl of Bran Flakes or when I really need to stay awake) at a Second Cup comes from and walked through the coffea bean’s journey from shiny, small, round and soft purple-ish red berry to the dry, hard, dark brown roasted bean, I could not sleep all night. My entire night was spent tossing and turning, exchanging direct messages on Twitter and obviously getting up to pee at least four times (because my bladder is 76 years old just like my soul and the men attracted to me) and listening to my father who continues to believe that he does not snore-snore. My sleeplessness was surprisingly not due to the 2 cups of (regular) coffee and handful of chocolate covered coffee beans samples that I had consumed that day but because of our drive out of the Doka Coffee Estate.

After our tour of the Estate we boarded our white, 16 seater Toyota tour bus and began to drive away from the beautifully maintained Coffee Estate. Less than one minute from pulling out of the drive way of the Estate we saw a group of children on our right hand side walking along the lush grassy twiggy hills carrying empty round baskets in their hands. Some carried them on their side, some on their heads while some opted to swing them by their side. They were children with innocent looking faces who appeared to be 8,9,10 years of age with glowing perfect smooth sun-kissed caramel skin, in colourful clothing wearing beautiful smiles. Everyone turned to look at them. How could they not? These children were passing us going in the opposite direction. We were passing them. They looked at us and beamed, radiating genuine raw emotion. These friendly faces made me happy while simultaneously sparking a curiosity in me. Making me wonder why they are walking up a hill carrying a basket at noon on a Friday. Naturally I initiated a wave and each of them smiled big smiles and waved back.

I felt it. At that instant when I waved hello to them with my right hand moving freely and gently side-to-side and smiled through the window of the bus wearing my camera around my neck and my backpack on my lap I was overcome with a feeling of existential worrisome. “Take a picture of them” my dad said. Encouraging me to quickly capture the joy of seeing local children on camera (something he would not ask me to do if we were on the bus passing by children at home or in a more “developed” part of the world). We experienced these children differently. I experienced everything around me differently. There was a distance between me and the children, a distance between myself and where I was. Naturally there was the window. I was sitting in an enclosed bus and they were on the outside walking. But that wasn’t quite it, the distance was much more than our physical circumstances. It was an ontological one.

I was a tourist. I was away from my regular environment. Away from my meaningless, monotonous and boring life (as a fucking brilliant mind full of potential but working at the bank and thereby reducing my brain activity to that of a walnut. No a green pea). I was alienated from my own centre of comfort in Canada seeking an alternative world filled with meaning that I could explore at my leisure while escaping the frigid Canadian cold. I was desperately seeking perspective, meaning and authenticity in the life of others, those who live worlds apart from me, in a world structurally and environmentally different than mine, a world that I continued to believe was “realer” than mine. I was aware of my “otherness” but my awareness of my otherness heightened to a level that was nauseating to me more than my existence is to me at midnight when I am alone in my room with my thoughts.

The people that I shared my existential space with while I was a conscious tourist looked like they could be the people that I share my existential space with on the bus, or in line at the grocery store or at a restaurant except only as a tourist aware of my own alienation I embraced them in a way that I would not embrace those Other to me at home. At home I would have not take interest in the life of the middle aged Brazilian womyn sight seeing alone had she been sitting beside me on the 111 bus headed to Kipling Station but with her I engaged in conversation, asked her questions about her life in Brazil and took interest in the countries she had visited. I would have shrugged those little children off as they were passing by me on the public transit had I been at home. Seeing nothing special in their smiles, dismissing them off as privileged youth of today who will most likely get the world handed to them because they are wearing cool sneakers that my parents did not buy for me when I was their age (yes I am that petty and until this day believe that had my parents just bought me the light-up sneakers I could have been good at math and science and therefore a doctor at the age of 29 instead of blogging on the internet). I realized that I wasn’t the same “me” that I was at home, I was a tourist treating my new environment differently than my one at home. The only difference in me was since I was away from the centre of my own reality I was seeking an alternative to it and embracing others which I would never do at home.

I might have been acting differently, more engaged with Others however I was authentic to my being (albeit a tourist) the entire time, not acting out of a false consciousness despite how superficial my interactions with others may seem. I was my authentic self and aware of my difference in environment and was doing things that I would otherwise not do at home. I was a tourist as “subject” as opposed to a tourist playing tourist which many people who go on vacation become. I was still the low to middle class female that I was at home who hates using taxis (because they are a rip off) and paying service fees and tipping waiters. I would still walk 2 kilometres in the rain to get to a great place to eat and would rather take a picture of socks being sold on the street than myself. Non of my being conflated with my authentic experience of the “real” world I was now situated in for 7 days, I was having fun, conscious of the harm my presence had in Costa Rica, was undergoing healthy self discovery and trying to make peace with my relationship with my dad.

In the midst of my existential crisis while waving to those children my heart immediately sank and then he began to speak. He pointed from the front of the small bus at the children who I viewed as both subjects and objects. “These children are workers” said Alberto (our tour guide) “they are from Nicaragua, children of migrant workers who have crossed the boarder to Costa Rica….they are on their way to pick coffea berries because they cannot find work in their own country…Nicaragua is going to a rough economic time” he went on to explain. My heart sunk to my stomach as he continued to explain their story as if he knew them personally, as if these children were part of our tour, pre-planned to walk past our bus as a part of our experience and education about the coffee industry. “These children are workers” said Alberto. “They are illegal child workers.”

Ih-lee-gu-l. Precisely how the word fell on my ear. Slowly. With each letter and syllable enunciated by Alberto to express the magnitude of the reality of the situation before my eyes. Some how my mind couldn’t comprehend the statement. Of course I understood what Alberto was mattter-of-factly saying. These children had crossed the boarder from Nicaragua to Costa Rica migrating across national boarders without passports or proper travel documentation thereby violating immigration laws of the destination country and making their stay in Costa Rica illegal. Alberto of course did not refer to the children who have immigrated to Costa Rica as “illegal aliens” which would imply that the individual as opposed to the actions of the individual is illegal (obviously no individual’s existence is illegal). I understood that these children are working against the law because they are children (and from what Alberto told us child labour is illegal in Costa Rica but very much exists). The statements Alberto uttered made complete sense to me analytically, what did not make sense to me was how this is a reality. Children who should be walking out of the school lunch room into the yard to play tag, hide and seek had crossed a boarder illegally and were on their way to illegally pick fruit.

I was experiencing them in two ways. As objects, symbols of my experience in South America and ready to take a picture of them and as subjects of my experience in Costa Rica against the backdrop of my morals, social and political views as a Canadian. I wanted to take them to Canada. Away them from the unjust conditions that require them to pick coffea berries and trade a basket full in for $1 USD illegally, an experience that would come to characterize their childhood. I didn’t want them to work and I wanted to upheave my own consciousness at the same time because I was a consumer of their cheap labour. I took 2 planes to get to Costa Rica to get away from home but I could not immerse myself into my new reality, relax and feel like I was on vacation. At times I felt that Costa Rica was providing me, a tourist (who was still her authentic self) a museum-like experience of their country and the sterile impersonal nature made me feel uneasy. I complained that the experience was inauthentic. At other times when the harsh realities of Costa Rica were pointed out to me I felt guilty about being a tourist and about my life that I would soon resume in 7 days. What seemed like an authentic experience made me feel queezy. Now that I am home, back from Costa Rica blogging in the comfort of my bed, drinking coffee that I purchased because of the “certified fair trade” logo, reflecting on my life (that I can’t decide is awesome or lame) I realize that just like life, certified fair trade coffee is still not fair enough.

tourist

how women experience clothing

Image

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Lunch on the Grass) by Édouard Manet. 208 cm × 265.5 cm. Located at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

 

“You are what you wear”, we’ve all heard this before. The clothes that you choose to wear send a message out to those around you. What you wear affects others perception of you and also affects how you feel. This sounds agreeable right? Of course it does. It happens all the time in the movies. The main actress in a romantic comedy has just lost her job or broken up with her boyfriend. She’s dressed in jeans and a grey college sweatshirt, sporting the “natural look” (a polite way of saying that she is wearing no make-up), sitting on her couch on a Friday night looking rather sad and miserable eating ice cream straight out of the box. In front of her is a coffee table full of junk food to make it seem like she’s reached an all time low. Her clothing is stained, she hasn’t left the house for at least a day. She looks like she’s in desperate need of a shower and a makeover.

Surprise! There is a knock on her door. In comes her upbeat best friend who encourages her to get all dressed up to out, promising her that she’ll feel better if she does. In the following scene the heart broken women has showered, is out of her sweats and looks almost unrecognizable. She’s wearing a fitted red dress with black high heels, carrying a small gold clutch. She struts into into a club, talking and giggling with her girlfriends as she scans the room to feel the vibe. A cute guy notices her. He can’t take his eyes of her and approaches her with a clever introduction. She brushes him off at first (only because it’s almost expected, she’s got game) and then caves. Bam! She has a date. What does that tell us? Sweatshirt and jeans does not send he message that you’re sexy and c onfident as a red dress and 6 inch heels. Sweats are associated with being sloppy, it sends the message that you have just given up whereas wearing a brightly coloured dress, heels and carrying a fancy purse sends the message that you are elegant and confident. If you wear a red dress you’re a hottie, if you wear sweats you’re a nottie. How can clothes make us feel this way?

I hate to admit that I’ve leafed through some fashion magazines. I’ve even bought some Vogues in India. There are usually a couple lying around on the lunch table at work showcasing the latest season trends. “Purple is the new black this autumn” it reads. I often catch myself thinking I like what the model is wearing. I can see myself wearing that egg plant coloured top paired with a medium light denim and a mustard coloured black stripped scarf I think to myself. That top would hang loosely off me and the jeans would hug my legs in all the right place and the scarf would give just the right dash of bold colour to tie my outfit together. I’ll look sophisticated yet fun. Smart and also flirty. When I walk down the street carrying my brown bag over my shoulders people will think I’m a graduate student working on her PhD in existential phenomenology. If I wear my glasses someone might think I am a lawyer rushing to meet a client at a fair trade coffee shop. Or maybe, someone will think that I am ready to go out on a first date with a cute guy with the wits of Jean-Paul Sartre and nose of Adrienne Brody! This is definitely a first date outfit. No one will ever never know that I am just a bank teller who is overqualified for her job and spends a lot of her time watching How I Met Your Mother and blogging from her bed.

Why am I picturing myself in these clothes in this magazine? I don’t even like shopping. And I only have 30 minutes to eat my lunch. Who is this telling me to see myself in these clothes? Furthermore who put this model here? He sees me looking at this magazine but I can’t see him. I think he has me where he wants me. I am picturing myself in that outfit convinced that purple is the new black, already thinking of the message my clothes are sending out. I can’t see myself without seeing myself be seen by him. But he hasn’t seen me yet, or has he? Whoever he is, I need him. I need him to there to gain a better understanding of myself, I need him here to unite me and the image I have of myself wearing those fashionable clothes. Make my imagined me a reality. What is going on here! Who am I? Who does he think I am?

I am not whole. I am a divided self. Split. I have two ways of seeing myself. I see myself and I see myself being seen. I am a subject and simultaneously I see myself as an object. I assume the position of the other (the person who sees me) and stand away from my physical self. I try to gain a better understanding of myself through my objectification. The divided self is not particular to how women experience themselves. We all experience ourselves through a split self to build our self and identity. I am not one but two perspectives. The perspective of myself and the other. Who is the other? Whose perspective am I using to judge myself? It isn’t mine. Though it becomes mine.

Why is it that when I am wearing red lingerie I feel sexy and confident? What makes me feel pretty and happy in a long flowy skirt and a simple black tank top? Bold and daring when I am wearing jeans and my sunglasses? What about womens clothing and accessories affect my mood? Or rather, how do I experience my clothing?

In her book titled “Seeing Through Our Clothes” Ann Hollander argues that the meaning we give to our clothes is influenced by pictorial images. From the beginning of time artists have depicted women wearing clothing (when they weren’t busy painting them naked at their bath *ahem ahem Degas* or naked in the park in the accompany of clothed men (*ahem ahem Manet*) or naked holding creepy looking white babies *ahem ahem European Renaissance painters*). Artists from many countries and time periods have captured women and their attire in art thereby anointing these clothing images. Artists have associated clothes with certain situations and personages (Iris Marion Young). “The representation of clothes freezes the conventional into the natural, and people measure women in their clothes in relation to the natural aesthetic created by clothing images” (Ann Hollander). With the invention of the printing press and the popularity of print media which gave rise to mail order catalogues and fashion and beauty magazines, by the 20th century women began experiencing themselves in clothing through the images they saw of women in clothing. Women in print have always been portrayed as taking up minimal space, standing straight like statues, often these women have small body frames to indicate their “femininity”. Women in advertisements have been shown them on the move, walking to work, taking a walk, driving, running, at their office, leaping and their clothing has not caused them any restriction but allowed them the freedom to move around. These images have the narrative of the “average women” performing her daily public and private routine while looking amazing.

We women, Hollander suggests “seek to fashion ourselves in the mode of the dominant pictorial aesthetic”. The models in print advertisements, television commercials and actresses in movies all project images and ideas of how we look, they serve as our mirror and allow us the opportunity to see how we are while also exposing new fashion looks, trends and beauty ideas. When I’m all dressed up walking down the streets of Toronto I love catching my reflection in the window.. I intentionally glance at myself while trying to act nonchalant about seeing my reflection by making myself seem like I am not intentionally looking at myself. I feel like a superstar in a movie with perfect hair and makeup. Sometimes I hope that while I know I look good but act like I have no awareness of myself that a tall, dark and handsome guy bumps into me and the contents of my purse spill! Oh yes, and we both bend down at the same time trying to gather all my belongings and then we both look up at each other and smile. He’ll ask me if I’m okay and I’ll tuck a strand of hair behind my ear and say “of course”. He’ll apologize and comment on how pretty I look and then ask me for my number. Yes, I am ashamed to admit it but scenarios like these play through my head all the time. Why are my clothes giving me these ideas? From movies of course. Where the well dressed and intelligent woman is rushing to get somewhere but it sidetracked because a stranger walks into her. She is now they beautiful damsel in distress.

Now for the serious question. Is this my imagination that is making up these images and scenarios? Is it my imagination that is giving these meanings to pictures?

Although it is my imagination that is entertaining these thoughts and imaging these scenarios, it is not me that is giving meaning to these images that bombard women in society. My imagination is controlled within a patriarchal order which seeks pleasure in the objectified female body. My experience of the clothes I wear, the pleasure I take in wearing certain clothing and the pleasure I derive from looking at clothing and of being seen in clothing is the consequence of the narratives of clothing that are portrayed in dominant print and moving picture such as movies. I am receptive of the stories that are being told in print and movies.

When women watch movies or flip through magazines they do so as subjects who stand at a distance to themselves and objectify what they are viewing, passing judgement on the female bodies in front of them. “Her hair is nice, her lips form the perfect pout, her thighs are too big. Her butt is too flat. I don’t like what she is wearing. Who does she think she is?” Women gain pleasure from both hating and liking what they say. At the very same time women look at magazines and movies as subjects who identify themselves from passively watching without passing any judgement. The gaze in which women view advertisements and movies is not the female gaze but the male gaze argues Young. “If women are to achieve any subjectivity it can only be through adopting the position of the male subject who takes pleasure in the objectification of women”.

So to answer my question that I posed in the above paragraph. Whose perspective am I using to judge myself? The answer is the male perspective, the dominant perspective in our patriarchal culture which creates a certain female ideal and re-creates it in popular media and culture.

Sandra Bartky argues that women internalize the objectifying gaze. She coined this the the “fashion beauty complex”. Women’s subjectivity is masculine, their gaze is masculine and it is through this masculine gaze that women evaluate a woman’s body and their own in comparison. This means that women always permanently stand at a distant from themselves and with the male gaze either approve or disapprove of women’s bodies and clothing, including their own

The reason I feel sexy and confident wearing red lingerie is because I always seen women in print and movies wear red lingerie in bedroom scenes when they are seducing their male lover. Their bodies are toned and fit and their breasts and butts are perfectly held into place in their underwear. These women in red underwear have their man’s attention and the man is willing to do anything for her and both parties seem to be enjoying themselves and each other. Women wearing oversized pajamas and house slippers do not entice men. They bore them to sleep. I desire to be that sexy woman that entices the man. Women want to be that sexy vixen and as a result respond to these images with desire to have female power and develop a willingness to dress in that manner. When I wear red lingerie I feel like that woman on screen that drips sex and confidence. How women experience their clothing and how we experience ourselves in clothing is a consequence of the male gaze that we view the world and ourselves with. I only feel hot in red lingerie because red lingerie is associated with being hot and powerful. When I see men respond to it in the way I imagined it confirms my experience even more. Rarely are women seen sad and miserable dressed up like that! Unless of course they have lost miserable at a game of Strip Scrabble on a Friday Night.

A black fitted blazer worn with a crisp men’s shirt worn over sexy matching underwear makes women feel on top of the world and powerful. She’ll walk with her head held high. We can all relate to her because we’ve seen this moving image before. Man! I feel like a woman sings Shania Twain. This image of the corporate independent woman dressed in masculine clothing is constructed in movies and print ads. I want to be like her! Women often think this or say this as they look at print ads or watch movies not keeping in mind that she is a construction by the male mind.

Men have constructed the narratives of clothing, and of women in clothing. After all men are behind the beauty and fashion industry and are their number one driving force. Therefore women’s relationship to the clothing that they wear or what they choose to wear is intertwined with how men perceive women through her objectification. This consequently affects how we women see ourselves and experience our clothing. I am not suggesting that women lack subjectivity. Not at all. What I am arguing is our subjectivity is developed not with our viewpoint but always assuming the masculine position, always stepping outside of us and looking in.

how women experience clothing