Appearance Makes the World

Being looked at is a powerful, identity-forming experience. Diego Velazquez, Rokeby Venus, c.1647-51, National Gallery, London.

Being looked at is a powerful, identity-forming experience. Diego Velazquez, Rokeby Venus, c.1647-51, National Gallery, London.

So what have I been up to lately? You can spot me most mornings wearing sensible shoes and sporting thick eye bags as I push a stroller—my adorable son is inside—to the café, the spray park, the public library, the grocery store, or the Shopper’s Drug Mart. Much to my surprise, Sebastian  attracts a lot of attention from just about everyone: male construction workers, female baristas, old ladies with boney fingers that like to poke chubby cheeks. Every single day, I hear the following phrases at least five times: “What a beautiful baby!” “Look at those eyelashes!” “What big blue eyes!” He is going to break all the girls’ hearts when he is older!” While I enjoy the first three comments, I bristle at the last one. I do not want my baby to be sexualized and/or hetero-sexualized in this fashion. He might grow up to be gay, trans, asexual, shy, or awkward. At least I hope so. These options are better than the proffered vision of him as an ultra-masculine sex bomb barreling through life, moving from one lady to the next. But I digress, for the main issue I want to discuss today is how this public reaction to my son’s appearance is literally creating his world. Continue reading

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Love of Labour Lost

FFG after a back workout last year. I cannot wait to train hard again!

FFG after a back workout last year. I cannot wait to train hard again!

Hard work no longer gets much respect. That pisses me off, something easily accomplished these days. I am curmudgeonly, quick to anger as I carefully slide my swollen ankles—they are in fact cankles—across the icy sidewalks in Edmonton. Foetor is now quite large, weighing me down while Continue reading

Am I Ugly?

Could gender dynamics be more sadly obvious?

Could gender dynamics be more sadly obvious?

Type “Am I Pretty or Ugly?” into any search engine and you will find hundreds of thousands of videos made by pre-teen girls. These youngsters—some of them seem about eight years old—shyly pose before a camera before hesitantly admitting that they have a question to ask. They simply do not know if they are attractive or not. Some kids at school say that they are cute, but others judge them more harshly. What is the truth of the matter? All of the girls in the videos I saw were wearing make-up and had their hair done. None of them was hideous, but all were vulnerable, asking for help in a way that made me want to cry, despairing at a world that could be so cruel to children.

I then tried to consider the videos in a more positive light. Continue reading

Fitspiration Brouhaha

Tired of looking at this yet?

Tired of looking at this yet?

This month has witnessed a sustained hullabaloo regarding images of “fit” women. First there was the storm of controversy surrounding the photographs of Lea-Ann Ellison, a CrossFit aficionado shown lifting weights while 8 months pregnant, discussed in my previous post. Then things really got heated when Maria Kang, a 32-year-old fitness instructor, produced a poster of her scantily clad self towering above her three young children while challenging the viewer with the taunt: “What’s Your Excuse?” Attracting millions of hits and thousands of comments, many people felt bullied by this picture of a beautiful, young, and clearly fertile woman with washboard abs. Others admired Kang’s chutzpah, declaring that those who criticized her were likely lazy, fat “haters.” Surpassing the media frenzy inspired by Ellison, Kang received international attention, even appearing on major television talk shows. Despite the sheer quantity of dialogue, for the most part it was limited to asking audiences to take sides either for or against Kang. This lack of thoughtful engagement is par for the course in today’s world of unsophisticated journalism. Yet it was also predetermined by the dominant message encoded in Kang’s self-promotional poster. Her aggressive question “calls out” a particular kind of spectator, namely someone who does not work out and therefore looks nothing like Kang. Continue reading

Imagining Freedom

Bags are unloaded directly onto the tarmac in Fort Chipewyan.

Bags are unloaded directly onto the tarmac in Fort Chipewyan.

We like to be free in this country

—Alexandre Laviolette, 1897, Chipewyan minor chief and negotiator of Treaty 8 at Fort Chipewyan

I am sitting on a tiny plane bound for Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, admiring the letter that Alexandre Laviolette wrote to the police authority in 1897, indicating that his people would not stand for any infringement on their hunting and fishing rights. “I think myself a man same as you, and I would not step back for your gun.” Continue reading