Category Archives: digital/online culture

Fashion Blogging Culture: Demanding Substance Over Style

Confession: I’ve stopped reading personal style blogs almost entirely. Not as rejection of the individual bloggers I spent years following… rather, more as a rejection of dominant fashion blogging culture, and how I kept seeing it repeated in the same derivative formula, over and over again.

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking pretty intensely about fashion blogging. I spent a fair bit of the early winter immersed in researching the fashion industry, specifically in a Canadian context, but it lead me in all kinds of directions… questions about consumption, production, ethics, design… none of which I saw explored in the conventional fashion blogging world. I began to wonder: what has made it so that the one most popular kind of fashion blog – the personal style blog – seems to be the only kind (especially with a subject as vast and rich as fashion)? Which fashion blogs get attention, and why? How is a fashion blog/ger deemed successful, and why do countless young people strive towards that singular version of “success?”

These kinds of frustrations came to light in a slightly different incarnation last week, when I came across a few tweets sharing links to Kelly Faircloth‘s article “Fatshion Police: How Plus-Size Blogging Left Its Radical Roots Behind.” The headline itself obviously drew me in, and it is definitely worth reading (RECOMMENDATION: Read the article before you read my disjointed ramblings). Erin over at Zero Style shared it on her Facebook page, leading to thoughtful debate and discussion amongst a few of her followers, including myself. Here’s my take on some of the issues raised in the article:

As someone who spent a fair bit of time lurking on the fatshionista Livejournal communities back in 2005-2007, I think this is an incredibly important conversation to be having. How can your anger and frustrations towards the fashion industry, when you are a fashion lover, be productive? Do the end goals have to be inherently capitalist? It speaks to larger conundrums facing fashion blog culture, which inevitably seems to favour the fluffy over more substantial content. Fatshion culture in particular, as noted in Faircloth’s article, started flourishing in the form of Livejournal communities, fostering discussions and sharing of knowledge and insights and opinions and styles… but now, the vast majority of fashion blogs (fatshion or otherwise) seem to adhere to more of a “LOOK AT THE PRETTY THINGS I WEAR- THE END” like! heart!

Browse the comments on the average popular fashion blog, and no one is surprised to find that a good 75% of the comments are left by new bloggers trying to bring traffic to their (own attempts at) blogs. It’s harsh, but true – it’s even lead to some of the most popular bloggers to close comments altogether. Whatever the reason behind their choice, the overall message is that even the most succesful fashion blogs can be a one-way street: Look at me, enjoy, keep your thoughts to yourself, shop where I shop. The radical potential that the web and social media originally seemed to have opened up now look about as radical as a herd of lemmings throwing themselves off a cliff…

Screencap of comments left on a popular personal style blog. Short repetitive comments are standard, with links to their own blogs becoming the focal point.

Screencap of comments left on a popular personal style blog. Short repetitive compliments are standard, with links to their own blogs becoming the focal point.

Where did the conversations go?

Moving away from discussions and conversations between the real people behind fashion blogs and their readership is just one incarnation of the middle-of-the-road mediocrity facing fashion blogging culture. Focusing on the capitalist-consumer side of fashion – what I often refer to as “shopping blogs,” not fashion blogs –  has brought us to the point where even a passing reference to the word politics seems to strike fear in the heart of bloggers and readers. Certain goals that fatshion lovers were pushing long and hard for have been, to some extent, accomplished: more brands offer clothing in a wider variety of sizes, some designers and magazines feel more comfortable showcasing “plus-size” models, there is more visibility to a certain extent… but where does that leave former followers and members who enjoy fashion from a more political perspective? Where are the dissenting voices, the concerns over the negative impact of fast fashion, the conversations about?

I’m more perturbed by the fact that the success of a fashion blog is deemed by the amount of traffic it gets, by brand sponsorships and affiliations, by numbers of Instagram followers, as opposed to the quality of conversations, the originality and strength of the content shared! This bothers me more than the tendency of being apolitical because you’re either

  1. apathetic or
  2. fearful of ruffling feathers or
  3. not getting brand sponsors.

I understand wanting to make money from your blog. I understand the importance of acknowledging that fashion blogging is work.  I understand some of those bloggers want careers in the fashion industry as it is, unchanged, without a need for upheaval – but that isn’t showcased when you are simply reproducing the status quo in incredible unoriginal ways.

A highly decorated colourful ampersand by Kirsten McCrea (2012) Ink on Paper

& by Kirsten McCrea (2012) Ink on Paper

I also think some of the criticisms and concerns raised by Faircloth could easily overlap with those who call themselves “feminist fashion bloggers” (but maybe that’s just because I call myself one). In reality, it may be more appropriate to describe the aforementioned as “feminists who have fashion blogs” – since they never ever write criticisms of fashion culture from a feminist perspective. Does wearing a barrette with a female power symbol really make you a “feminist fashion blogger” when you don’t care about what kind of labour was involved in making your H&M sweater available for 20 bucks? It’s awesome that you volunteer at a women’s shelter and go to rallies or whatever incarnation your feminism may take, but does that make your “what I wore” personal style blog inherently political? I’m not so sure…

But I digress – there’s nothing inherently wrong with just having a “what I wore” blog, but it is a bummer that some people feel stifled by the format to the point that they feel obliged to simply go with the pack/status quo. Like Erin and many others have stated, it’s fine to be a “fat fashion blogger” and not be a particularly politicized person yourself, but don’t purport to be part of a political movement like fatshion just for the sake of saying it – it takes balls, work, and action to be critical!

Another absolutely essential point raised by Rachel Kacenjar:

I think it’s hard for any intensely personal political movement to see its offspring reap capitalist “rewards.” This is supposed to be ours- we are supposed to harness the power- and then when we hand over that power for free clothing and publicity, we lose the original oomph. We also have lost vast representation. This movement was originally very queer, multi-sized, and from my standpoint, welcoming of POC, and now it seems that the most cherished bloggers are not representative of that. They tend to be on the smaller end of plus, and if not, they are of a mainstream desired shape and size, they tend to be upper middle class, and they tend to be white or light skinned as well as mainstream feminine presenting.

I’m down for all of us getting exposure for all of our passions and I think accepting compensation in all of its forms is a choice. But I totally understand where the vision of our origins and roots are being clouded here, and how that can totally feel disappointing.

After reading that I basically looked like this:

Animated gif of Orson Welles clapping

Animated gif of Orson Welles clapping emphatically

Phew! That covers the basics… and then some.

These aren’t new ideas. These are conversations I’ve been hearing and echoing and sharing for years. In January of last year, Eline shared her thoughts with me about why more radical and critical perspectives will always be pushed to the margins in fashion blogging culture.  Jenny Zhang addressed a lot of these questions in this great interview with Chictopia in April of 2012. Danielle Meder is one of the few bloggers that tackles issues as varied as different illustration styles to insightful analysis of fashion blogging culture without seeming muddled or aimless. Isabel Sloane’s now defunct Hipster Musings struck a nerve back in 2011 with “Why Fashion Blogging smells like raw fish,” the same year as Kat George’s article on the “Un-democracy of fashion blogging.”

These conversations are happening – we just have to look for them. It all comes down to why people started their own fashion blogs in the first place, and what the creators and readers hoped to get out of them. Do we make them because we think we have original ideas and thoughts and style we want to share with people? Or because we want our wardrobes subsidized by brands we couldn’t otherwise afford on our own? Is fashion blogging culture, dominated in large part by straight (in size and sexuality) middle-class females, helping young women develop their writing and photography skills? Are we any better off because of fashion blogs?

Those dissenting voices should show you it’s not hopeless. People like Eline and Natalie who speak not only about the important role fashion plays in their lives, but are open and candid about their struggles with depression and mental illness – not to mention, how that affects their chances to be deemed fashion blog “it girls” and showered with money and career possibilities. We shouldn’t ignore that bloggers with the most press and attention also tend to live in urban centres, in North America, and fit within certain acceptable parameters of what it means to be fashionable and feminine. In the end, the more we look at it, the formula for who is “most likely to succeed” in the fashion blogging world isn’t all that different from any other industry.

2010 Hand-embroidery on cotton by Lauren Dicioccio

50$ (2010) Hand-embroidery on cotton from Lauren Dicioccio’sCurrency” Series

The last elephant in the room I want to tackle is money. “Monetization” has a category all to itself on the Independent Fashion Blogger website. Years back it was, “how do we make money from our blogs?” Today, questions like “Do we disclose?” It seems every blogger either makes money from their hobby, or wants it to seem as though they do.  Do we brag? Do we pretend it’s something we don’t care about to create a nice illusion for our readers? Or do we reject it altogether? and look for alternatives?

In the end it all seems to come down to capitalism – which, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, is a political structure. Whether we be challenging fatshion bloggers, style bloggers, or lifestyle bloggers,  it is an overarching element we can’t take out of the picture. Are we selling ourselves? Are we – dare we even say the word – sell-outs? We want to be paid for our work, but when the only option are brands and companies who pay is in the form of clothes and accessories, it seems we either do it for free or not at all. This isn’t a problem unique to fashion bloggers, though: if you want to work as a freelance blogger, good luck finding regular well-paid work (and I say that from experience).

As I finished writing out these thoughts, I stumbled across this parody of the “carefree white girl” variety of online oversharer. It reads like a comedy skit, but it really is a commercial for a brand of clothing. Even if it’s nice to look at, makes you laugh with its incisive parodying of a pervasive online embodiment of femininity… in the end, it’s selling you something.

What an appropriate note to end on.

FASHION FILM from Matthew Frost on Vimeo.

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Filed under digital/online culture, fashion blogs, Uncategorized

2012 in review

forlorn flapper
january

  • looking like a forlorn flapper
  • adjusting to the fact that all of my very close friends had moved away
  • enjoying the harsh cold québécois winter

recommended reading

  1. Instead of an interview with Xtra by Rae Spoon (Jan 3, 2012)
  2. They is me by Ivan Coyote (Jan 10, 2012)
  3. If the Clothes Fit: A Feminist Takes on Fashion by (January 17, 2012)
  4. Homai Vyarawalla, Pioneering Indian Photojournalist, Dies at 98 by Haresh Pandya (January 28, 2012)
  5. If the clothes fit by Arabelle Sicardi (January 31, 2012)

soundtrack:

tumblr_lzm4ko6gPd1qzvsguo3_1280

february

  • mastering the art of looking – and being – surly
  • went to a phenomenal exhibition on fashion in Québécois art, did a short radio report on it

recommended reading

  1. The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League by Lawrence Lai (February 2, 2012)
  2. Islamophobia in Canada: A Primer By Fathima Cader and Sumayya Kassamali (February 2, 2012)
  3. Honor Codes and Dress Codes by Sharday Mosurinjohn (February 10, 2012)
  4. Better Homes & Bloggers: Are lifestyle blogs a new way for women to compare themselves and come up short? by Holly Hilgenberg (February 18, 2012)
  5. When Anger is all I have and why anger is my feminist stand by Flavia Dozan (February 22, 2012)
  6. The Artists: Notes on a lost style of acting by (February 27, 2012)

soundtrack:

none of dem (robyn) covered by austra

mars
march

recommended reading

soundtrack:

julia and iris

april

  • went out west for the very very first time to visit my best friend morgan
  • visited toronto!
  • celebrated james & rachel‘s wedding
  • aforementioned radio documentary was rebroadcast nationally! on one of my favourite shows!
  • read an awful lot, as proven below:

recommended reading:

  1. She Told Us So: Nafissatou Diallo and Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s New Case by Valerie Jean-Charles (April 3, 2012)
  2. Interview with Jenny Zhang at Chictopia (April 4, 2012)
  3. Trying to understand a tragedy by Mary Burnet (April 23, 2012)
  4. The Colour of the Student Movement – “Maîtres Chez Nous”  by Lee Way (April 23, 2012)
  5. The changing face of beauty: the rise of make-up for darker skin by Anita Bhagwandas (April 24, 2012)
  6. Carmen Miranda’s Ethnic Masquerade in The Gang’s All Here by ShienLee (Apr 25, 2012)
  7. Femme Post III on [real] Cuntext (April 26, 2012)
  8. Resistance is not violence: Putting property damage and economic disruption in perspective by Mona Luxion (April 28, 2012)

soundtrack:

may

may

recommended reading

  1. Femme: In Praise of Higher Expectations by Zoe Whittall (May 5, 2012)
  2. What Fashion’s “Ethnic” Prints Are Really Called by (May 19, 2012)
  3. Women Are Heroes: A Global Portrait of Strength in Hardship by French Guerrilla Artist-Activist JR by (May 24, 2012)

soundtrack

june

justyne, jasmine, julia and myriam. best wedding party ever.

justyne, jasmine, julia and myriam. best wedding party ever.

  • chopped off my hair for the 1st time in ages, felt (and looked!) so good.
  • went to europe for the 1st time as an adult, since i lived there as a kid
  • met amazing people in pamplona, wasted hours in bookstores and art galleries and wandering along cobblestone streets
  • rented a scooter and rode along the atlantic coast in france…
  • headed back to canada in time to be a bridesmaid for the very first time, for my little sister jasmine!

recommended reading:

  1. Une autre raison de s’indigner by Sophie Le-Phat Ho, Kevin Lo, Faiz Abhuani, Amber Berson, Dominique Desjardins, Gwenaëlle Denis, Farha Najah (June 1, 2012)
  2. How To Be A Reverse-Racist: An Actual Step by Step List For Oppressing White People by A.D Song and Mia McKenzie (June 27, 2012)
  3. Life, death and the meaning of a wedding dress by Laura Snelgrove (June 15, 2012)

soundtrack:

july 14

july

recommended reading

  1. Field Notes on Fashion and Occupy by (July 9, 2012)
  2. Turbans on the Runway: What does it mean for Sikhs? by Sonny Singh Brooklynwala (July 10, 2012)
  3. Be a fan, not a jerk at Untitled Teen Mag (July 17, 2012)
  4. Doing Femme: Fiona Apple by iris (July 16, 2012)
  5. Make up, my bane and saviour by Teresa (July 25, 2012)

soundtrack:

self-portrait

august

  • celebrated my 5-year anniversary with simon
  • covered an election campaign as a journalist for the first time ever (was particularly amused by this story)
  • had a nice visit with carmelle
  • did not spend enough time in the sun, did not spend enough time outdoors
  • spent far too much time thinking about/working on election coverage
  • struggled with how to deal with that stress, and how my body was manifesting it…

recommended reading:

  1. How To Talk to People Who Are In Wheelchairs by Monica (August 2, 2012)
  2. Hate Crimes Always Have A Logic: On The Oak Creek Gurudwara Shootings by Harsha Walia (August 6, 2012)
  3. At Least Pussy Riot Won the West by Kriston Capps (August 16, 2012)
  4. Manic Pixie Dream Dissidents: How the World Misunderstands Pussy Riot by Sarah Kendzior (August 20, 2012)

sept-1

september

  • went to visit my family in ottawa
  • thought i was going to have some time off, struggled with the ups and downs of being a freelancer
  • worked on some pitches and ideas

recommended reading

  1. «Nous sommes tous responsables» de l’attentat du Métropolis par Catherine Lalonde (8 septembre 2012)
  2. What can’t be published by Stacey May Fowles (September 14, 2012)
  3. Special Victims by (September 14, 2012)
  4. Accessibility to fashion and the visibility of bloggers by GraceLizaBetty (September 18, 2012)
  5. The Good Girls Revolt: The Untold Story of the 1970 Lawsuit That Changed the Modern Workplace by Maria Popova (September 19, 2012)
  6. Ariel Pink And Beta Male Misogyny by Joe Kennedy (September 24, 2012)
  7. I wrote this thing about Grimes’ “Genesis” and it never ran so here you go by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd (September 28, 2012)

soundtrack:

october2

october

  • got sick
  • went for a hike in the woods
  • thought/wrote a lot about feminism…

recommended reading

  1. What the Girls spat on Twitter tells us about feminism by Bim Adewunmi at The Guardian (October 8th, 2012)
  2. A problem that stubbornly refuses to budge by Reni Eddo-Lodge (October 8th, 2012)
  3. Bullying: It’s not just for kids (October 6, 2012) sidenote: this was also the most popular thing i shared on tumblr this year, with over 7000 notes
  4. Her Body Is Not Your Playground: Why the Photoshopped Frida Nudes Are Not Okay by Mia McKenzie (October 25, 2012)
  5. Trolls and the spaces created by trolling by Nora Loreto (October 24, 2012)
  6. Real Talk: Am I living radically? by Katie West (October 26th, 2012)

soundtrack:

november

  • followed the american elections a bit too closely
  • went to the vintage clothing fair in ottawa with steph
  • spent some quality time with my sisters
  • started working on a big project…
  • took a week off and went on a mini road trip with simon

recommended reading:

  1. Die Antwoord’s revival of blackface does South Africa no favours by Adam Haupt (November 2, 2012)
  2. An Open Letter to the AGO About Frida Kahlo’s Unibrow by Sarah Mortimer at Shameless Magazine (November 6, 2012)
  3. An Unedited Rant About Looking Into Fatshion’s Navel by Natalie (November 11, 2012)
  4. Doing Antiracism Wrong at Jezebel at Postbourgie (November 12, 2012)
  5. Are we becoming cyborgs?

soundtrack:

dec2012

december

  • visited and interviewed my grandparents in valleyfield
  • caught up with karina
  • put together Threads: Fur, fabric and fashion in Quebec for CBC Radio
  • celebrated my 27th birthday!
  • got a really fucking good haircut, as pictured above

recommended reading:

  1. The Natives are restless: Wondering why? by âpihtawikosisân (December 11, 2012)
  2. For the last time, stop conflating violence & mental illness by (Dec 17, 2012)
  3. Foreign Tokens: The Blackamoor Brooch by Rama Musa (Dec 17, 2012)
  4. Parsing the online comments on #IdleNoMore: How Canadians are failing a tolerance test by David Newland (December 20, 2012)
  5. White Men are Not in Decline by Sarah Jane Glynn (December 20, 2012)

soundtrack:

all in all, not too shabby!

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Filed under currently, digital/online culture, links, personal, Uncategorized

currently: recommended reading on feminism

these days, you are far more likely to find me trawling the internet for incisive articles about feminist issues as opposed to seeing me decked out to the nines and taking photos to share with you. so as i was scratching my head wondering about what i should post next here, it came to me: i write about fashion all the time, mention feminism in passing, but hardly ever talk ABOUT feminism. and today, there is no shortage of things to talk about when it comes to the vibrant movement. i’ve been sharing links left right and centre on social media, but i thought it might be helpful to my readers to share some of the best articles here to tide you over as you patiently await a new post about fashion from a feminist perspective. for the most part, these recommended reads omit the “fashion” and focus on the feminism, but i think they will tickle your fancy.

Fuck Patriarchy by Midge Belickis

Dear Patriarchy, Fuck Off by Midge Belickis

lately i’ve been thinking a lot of some of the conversations i come across online or in real life about their perspectives on the voices or faces of feminism. it almost always makes me feel quite uncomfortable, and always gets me thinking: who are my modern day feminist heroes, who i admire and aspire to be like? why are they never in the limelight the same way the “flavour of the moment” famous feminists are? why do i feel so uncomfortable with the idea of feminist figureheads, instead of a vision of an engaged larger group? why do i feel the need to bite my tongue before criticizing aforementioned feminist figures for fear of feeding into internalized misogyny or girl-hate? and last but not least, how do i find a balance between the urge to reject the “feminist” label, since these mainstream feminist figures do not even come clos to representing my beliefs or the feminists i know, and the empowerment and perspective i often get from the very same movement?

"Viva El Feminismo" circa 1936

“Viva El Feminismo” circa 1936

luckily, i’m not alone in these discomforts. lately, formerly highly-lauded self-identified feminists, such as Naomi Wolf and Caitlin Moran, are finding themselves in hot water over head-scratching comments or publications. instead of steeping in their discomfort, many writers and thinkers have been articulating their frustrations in fantastic ways.

Sheila Sampath over at Shameless wrote this fantastic article entitled “The future of feminism?” (October 7, 2012)

I think there is an important conversation to be had around how patriarchy functions in divisive ways, and how this often results in a culture of competition among women and girls. One of the first things I felt I had to do as a self-identified feminist was acknowledge and challenge this tactic in an attempt to overcome it. But without context and analysis, all a statement like that does is say that Wolf isn’t accountable to her feminist community for the things that she says. It’s insulting to critics like Jacklyn Friedman and Laurie Penny, it perpetuates the very beauty myths Wolf herself once wrote about, and it assumes that all of us want to look like able-bodied, femme-identified, zaftig white women. Trust me: we don’t.

Do yourself a favour and take the time to read the whole thing. If you want to read a real take-down of Wolf’s latest book, I think Zoe Whittall puts it best here:

Zoe Whittall tweeting a link to an article entitled "Naomi Wolf's book Vagina: self-help marketed as feminism" suggesting "Maybe read this, and then let's stop talking about Naomi Wolf, forever."

sad to see what one of the first feminist writers you really connected with has come to producing. but! moving on…

another more recent feminist figurehead is Caitlin Moran. a colleague recommended i read her book “How to be a Woman”, and i’ve been seeing more of her words (and face) these days (like in this article i disliked quite a bit). then, she tweeted some stupid shit. many, many times. over the course of a few hours. i try as hard as i can to stay away from twitter shit shows, primarily because i don’t think it is possible to have civil discussions with strangers in short 140-characters-or-less statements, try as we might. but luckily for people like me, there are fantastic plugged-in writers like Bim Adewunmi who offer us insightful rundowns on the situation. What the Girls spat on Twitter tells us about feminism (October 7th, 2012) is one of the best things i have read about the way white feminists often have their head in the sand (or worse) when it comes to questions from women of colour about which women get represented in pop culture:

When we have “heroes”, we look up to them, and feel it especially keenly when they mess up. But even with all of my affection for the series, the omission of black and brown people in non-stereotypical roles was glaring. Is it unfair to ask Dunham to represent all of womanhood onscreen? Of course it is. But here’s the thing: no one did. We merely asked that she take a step back and question the underlying reason for why Girls looks the way it does.

Read the whole thing! Reni Eddo-Lodge tackles the very same question in her article A problem that stubbornly refuses to budge (October 8th, 2012). This sentence says it all:

When feminists can see the problem with all male panels but can’t see the problem with all white television programmes, it’s worth questioning who they’re really fighting for.

A card of a flapper smoking a cigarette saying "I won't stand up for gossip. I prefer to sit down and make myself comfortable."

I Won’t Stand for Gossip.

last but not least, if reading all these posts is getting you feeling like i’m feeding into negative shit-talking gossip, i recommend one last read: On Shit-Talking Your Way Through Life by Michelle over at The Untitled Teen Mag.

My feminism, believe it or not, is wrapped up in shit-talking. The two are intertwined. In one hand, I carry my ideas and aspirations for me and mine; and in the other, a big-ass stick. While I’m working to create new and better spaces for those who are left behind, I’m making sure that those who opt out of helping me and others in our quest will never live it down. My feminism is vicious for those who cannot be. It is loud and ugly and it will laugh in your face if you give it excuses. It will keep your name in its mouth. It will never have a problem with keeping you on your toes where you belong.

let me know what you think! have you read this articles already? what resonates with you the most?

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Une garçonne sur la Garonne

photo by pierre planchenault at festival chahuts

photo by pierre planchenault at festival chahuts, bordeaux. june 18th, 2012.

obligatory blogger apologizing for not blogging intro phrase.

just kidding! i earned some well-deserved time off this month. time off from my job, from my beautiful neighbourhood that is populated with one too many jackhammers, time off from “the real world.”

june has been good to me. i hopped across the atlantic into the arms of my love who was all the way in bordeaux, france. simon was presenting some of productions rhizome‘s work at festival chahuts, and we decided to take time for some adventures of our own, too. we met some amazing people while admiring the sights in pamplona, bilbao & la baie d’archachon. i impressed people with my comfort in french and english, prompting many people to make all kinds of wrong guesses on where i’m from. spanish? italian? cosmopolitan globetrotter? one french parent and one canadian parent? nah, just your regular québécois-abénaki-military brat mess of a person with francophile leanings.

photo of simon and julia by annie lafleur

photo of simon and julia in bordeaux by annie lafleur

little snapshots of my daily life here were captured on film, by new friends digital cameras and scribbled handwriting onpostcards. i’ve been letting the digital aspects of my life fall more and more to the wayside these days, and i must admit it’s been doing me some good. this is due, in part, to the death of my laptop (ironically timed just after i wrote the line “i’ve had this image saved on the three computers i’ve owned over the course of the past decade” in my last post) but also to the fun of getting wrapped up in the real world. i’m not yet a member of the constantly-connected cell phone brigade, but just the feeling of being disconnected from my cumbersome laptop has changed the way i spend my days. [sidenote: back in may i even made a tiny zine about attempting to change my internet habits, so it was nice to put those things into practice in a more concrete way.]

a photograph of some postcards

some of the postcards i sent off to friends and family while in bordeaux.

that said, i was still constantly thinking about the stories and ideas i wanted to share with my readers. scrawled in my tiny travel notebook are notes like, “how wierd is it to fit in, style wise, in a city i’ve never been to before, thousands of miles from where i was born and raised?” it’s funny how, with the exact same wardrobe, haircut, and body one can stand out so much in your hometown and blend in in a city you’ve never been to before. another note, scrawled in all caps was “interview old french men about why they are so much more dapper and stylish than north american men!!!” unfortunately i didn’t interview anyone (journalist on vacation!),  but i did admire men in tweed biking around the cobblestone streets of bordeaux. i’d be lying if i said i didn’t find it tempting to make sweeping generalizations about French people based on my ten days in Europe, though.

my vacation wasn’t entirely spent people watching and idea percolating – i did end up reading for pleasure more than i have in years. while waiting in airport lounges, i read my fair share of tattered copies of french newspapers but was also quite happy to have good books and magazines with me along the way.

recommended reading:

Mythologies by Roland Barthes, specifically “The Writer on Holiday” essay:

What proves the wonderful singularity of the writer, is that during the holiday in question, which he takes alongside factory workers and shop assistants, he unlike them does not stop, if not actually working, at least producing. So that he is a false worker, and a false holiday-maker as well. One is writing his memoris, another is correcting proofs, yet another is preparing his next book. And he who does nothing confesses it as truly paradoxical behaviour, an avant-garde exploit, which only someone of exceptional independence can afford to flaunt. One then realizes, thanks to this kind of boast, that it is quite ‘natural’ that the writer should write all the time and in all sorts of situations. First, this treats literary production as a sort of involuntary secretion, which is taboo, since it escapes human determinations: to speak more decorously, the writer is the prey of an inner god who speaks at all times, without bothering, tyrant that he is, with the holidays of his medium. Writers are on holiday, but their Muse is awake, and gives birth non-stop.

Causette – a sassy French magazine that’s similar to Bitch Magazine here in North America. i had to buy it after browsing it at a friend’s house and reading a shocking article about how France has repealed sexual harrassment laws. terrifying to say the least. on a nicer note, how refreshing it to buy a magazine that says “le poids des femmes” (the weight of women) but isn’t talking about pounds or fat, but instead political clout? can i get a fuck yeah?

i also finished a few fiction books i had on the go, namely oryx & crake by margaret atwood. if you’re interested in what i’ve been reading, i’ve been sharing a lot on goodreads these days. i’ve also spent the last week catching up on great articles published during my downtime. if you’ve seen (or written) anything you think is up my alley, please leave links in the comments.

i’ve got lots of other stories and suggestions to share from my time overseas, but i hope that satiates your appetites for now!

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Filed under currently, digital/online culture, personal, Uncategorized

a tale of tattoos, zebras, and the importance of context

i’ve had this image saved on the three computers i’ve owned over the course of the past decade. i’ve posted it to livejournal communities, shown it to hairdressers before i knew what “fingerwaves” were, invented stories and lifetimes for her, imagined the details of her tattoos. in the end, all i really knew about her is what my (very tattooed) friend ursula told me in a livejournal comment:

the first pic with the zebra, that girl is a circus freak show girl haha, back in the 20’s and 30’s girls with tattoos were pretty rare…

i always admired this mystery zebra-loving stranger for that, and wouldn’t have thought of it that way if someone had not pointed it out to me. sometimes i daydream of having a tattoo of a tattooed lady on me, and when i do, i still see her face, her cupid’s bows lips. to put it succinctly, this image has been pretty fundamental in helping shape my aesthetics and my imagination from the time i was in my late teens until today.

something that has struck me more recently, however, is how despite the fact that i am seemingly obsessed with this image, it’s ultimately one i know nothing about. absolutely nothing factual, or true, or verifiable – vague inclinations and assumptions at best. does that intrigue me somewhat more than if i knew her name, or at least had a better idea of where and when the photograph was taken?  more than anything, though, it frustrates me. it frustrates me because it’s hardly the only image i’ve had these questions about. it frustrates me because it is indicative of an online culture of circulating and re-circulating images, and stripping them of their original context.

screencap of a tineye.com search

while i’m critical of it, i’m part of that very same system. i’ve been using the internet, creating and taking content, for more than a decade. i saw this image for the first time probably about 7 or 8 years ago… but where? i saw it somewhere online and “right clicked, save as” to my desktop. of course, we’ve all done that far too many times over the years to possibly remember where we saved it from, even if there was information about the photographer/photographed.

who is she? who took the photo? is it a closeup of a larger photograph? who scanned it and shared it online? these are just some of the questions that are increasingly difficult to answer in the digital age. it’s not as though i came across the photo while browsing in an art book, and could easily solve these riddles by reading a caption or the anotated bibliography.

screencap of the weheartit front page and pinterest front page on may 5th, 2012

the propagation of visual “pinboards” and “inspiration sites” make it effortless for images to be stripped of their context, history, and original sources. never mind crediting the person who originally shared the image online; we can’t even find the person who created the image to begin with. i’ve spent far too much time thinking about how my post-secondary education (especially as a history student) emphasized not only the importance but the necessity of citing your sources, ensuring the people who made those statements or created those images were credited in as much detail as possible. professors and academic advisors drilled it into my brain that one could not simply use an image without ensuring you listed the date, artist, format, etc. they even explained the importance of why: ensuring artists or authors were recognized or even paid for their work, to share knowledge not just images, and so on and so forth.

but with more people using the internet more often than ever before, online culture moving increasingly away from a model which centers images in relation to their creator, towards an orgiastic internet free-for-all.

this all comes back to my tattooed zebra-friendly lady. when this image came across my tumblr dashboard via tangledupinlace in february 2012, i reblogged it saying pretty much what i’ve just told you: “i love this image, i wish i could find out more.” moments after i lamented this, k (lookuplookup on tumblr, who runs a great music blog side ponytail) sent me a message with a guess of who my mystery lady might be. could it be?

May Vandermark (Ada Mae Vandermark Patton) was a tattooed lady from Scranton, Pennsylvania. She came to New York in 1924 to work as a stenographer. It is rumored that she saw a person with a tattoo of a butterfly on their shoulder while swimming and decided she had to have one as well. She got a tattoo of a butterfly on both shoulders. She met Miss Pictoria, or Victoria James, who convinced Vandermark to become a tattooed lady. Vandermark began getting tattooed by Charles Wagner, who gave her a special price of $150 for a full body suit. She started doing Coney Island shows with the name Miss Artorio and eventually worked with the Ringling show in the 1920s

the satisfaction! after years of wondering, finally i have some answers! ironically, the very same internet tools that stripped this image of its original context made it possible for me to plea with the many internet friends i have to work together and share our knowledge. huzzah! the only other photo i’ve been able to find of her was found via bme zine, shown above. since then, i’ve come across a handful of other vague stories regarding may vandermark, including the two or three names she used. i’ve added amelia klem osterud’s book, the tattooed lady: a history to my must-read list.

The Tattooed Lady: A History

i’ve also spent a bit of time thinking about my fascination with circus babes. part of what i’ve always loved about that first photograph, without a name or history attached at all, was how she was stepping outside the boundaries of what was deemed beautiful or socially acceptable at the time – at least visually. to put it succinctly, i have a very special place in my heart for those who presented an alternative version of femininity at a time when women were trying to find not only visual but material ways to reject the prescriptive gender, class, and sexuality boundaries imposed on them. that said, it’s absolutely essential to look at these things aspects critically (many people – especially people of colour and people with disabilities- were forced into almost endentured slavery type situations in circuses and sideshows like the ones may vandermark was featured in) and not simply romanticize the beautiful parts.

an illustration of may vandermark stylized with more tattoos by nicoz balboa

Tattooed Lady by Nicoz Balboa

unsurprisingly, i’m far from the only person to have been inspired by this image of may vandermark. many artists, like nicoz balboa, have paid homage to this woman who seems so strong, so compelling simply based on the one photograph we’ve seen of her and her zebra friend. as much as i feel disappointed that it took me so many years to try and find out more about this image and this woman, it is wonderful that my internet friends were able to help me find her name.

really, the best thing you can do if you find yourself in similar situations is prevent these problems from happening in the first place. nip it in the bud. when you sign up for the latest greatest image sharing service, get informed. learn how to use it. post images or quotes linking back to the original source where you found them. add simple captions with the name of the photographer, the year, and the medium if possible. when you come across images that don’t have any credit, you can ask your fellow internauts to help you find out. ask, who made this?

some of the most often referred tips i get when lamenting how difficult it is to find credit or sources for random images is to use this website. tineye reverse image search is designed to deal with this specific conundrum, and is pretty trusty. it’s how i found the highest-quality version of this may vandermark, in fact.

but what is most important is to keep this in mind: let’s make an effort to be informed of the narratives surrounding the images we put out there. here’s how Hila Shachar puts it in this interesting post:

Maybe it’s a good idea to start approaching images from a photo-journalism perspective where images form a significant part of a wider narrative, and where there is a distinct relationship between images and words, history and the present. I’m afraid that if we don’t do this, all these “inspiration” pin-boards and blogs will just end up being one big vacuum of nothingness.

yes, my story with may vandermark is specifically talking about context and credit in regards to an older photograph. but as shachar points out, it happens even with the most famous of historical figures and can be a great disservice not only to the consumer of the image, but to the person in it.

as our internet culture rapidly changes and we hop on the bandwagon of the next great image sharing website, let us temper our enthusiasm with a smidge of responsibility. let’s foster an internet space where facts and information remain key, not optional. where independent artists are recognized and rewarded for their work. where the hard work librarians and archivists have been doing for decades is not undone in a single click.

Knock Out (flapper boxer tattoo design) by Quyen Dinh

Knock Out (flapper boxer tattoo design) by Quyen Dinh

recommended reading about credit/sourcing online:

recommended reading about tattooed ladies:

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Filed under digital/online culture, personal, politics

a love letter to internet friends

in an era which increasingly gives the impression of connecting people around the world thanks to social media, i often can’t help but wax poetic of the days before the facebook like button. when i say that, i mean i long for a time when you’d actually have to use words and string together a sentence to express affection for someone, or someone’s ideas, online. or hell, let’s not stop there! i know i’m not alone in finding myself longing for the days before facebook, before 140 character limits… we could go on and on, tracing back to myspace-friendster-livejournal-message boards-chat rooms all the way back to the days of chain letters and pen pals. personally, i like to think i’ve kept a relatively healthy mix over the years, keeping my favourite old fashioned traditions alive alongside the latest, greatest social technology innovation.

we don’t call it “social media” for nothin’. while most would think of twitter and facebook as the first time we began to have online access to people they already knew in “the real world,” more seasoned internauts like myself know that there were online communities long before that. finding that balance between mediating (and valuing) online relationships alongside the ‘real’ ones has sometimes meant breaking “the fourth wall” and shifting some of those internet friendships into face-to-face ones. a little known fact (in our “real life” circles) is that i met one of my dearest friends, iris, via livejournal, and knew each other online for probably a good year before we had the chance to meet. and that’s when we lived in the same town!

there are countless examples of friendships that would have never had the chance to exist had it not been for these newfangled technologies. when i travelled to mexico city in july 2010, i told my friends online and asked for recommendations of what i should see and do. teresa, a livejournal friend who has lived there for the better part of her life, suggested we meet up and warmly welcomed me to the city she calls home. i’m also more than thrilled to be meeting one of my longest online friends, andrea, when she comes to visit canada this fall.

but of course, travel budgets remain limited and the fact that many of my favourite people live all around the world will hinder those ambitions. not to mention that not every online friendship can – or should – become a face to face one.

letter to karina

until there’s teleportation, though, there remains the good old fashioned postal service.

there’s something overwhelmingly wonderful – and slightly surreal – about internet friendships that make jump from digital screens to the more tactile “real” world. when short emails and comments evolve into exchanging bonafide letters in the mail, or even sharing things we’ve made especially for each other. yes, an 8tracks mix can be quite convenient, but i will never be as fond of a playlist on something i have to log into as i will be of a handmade mix cd, with a specially selected cover made just for me, the sharpie ink scrawled in unfamiliar handwriting.

photograph of package from emily

this winter i had more than a few lovely people i affectionately refer to as “internet friends” cross that line, in the best possible of ways.

i can’t recall when emily and i crossed the line from mutual online admiration from afar to full-fledged internet friendship, but it’s been a while. i first came across her music selections shared on tumblr, paired with beautiful found photographs always sourced back to various beautiful flickr accounts.

screen cap of anonymous emily's tumblr featuring a film still of louise brooks

screen cap of anonymous emily's tumblr featuring a film still of louise brooks in diary of a lost girl

i fell in love with some new voices, learned everything i know about gospel hymns, and definitely let my imagination carry me away trying to imagine who was behind the blog. an old grey-haired, spectacled archivist who spends his day pushing paper and longing for the days of the dewey decimal system, but sharing his true love of the music he grew up listening to online? or perhaps someone closer to my age, and more closely resembling me: just sharing what they love online in their spare time.

in the end, it turns out it was closer to the latter. after a while my curiosity got the best of me, and i asked her for her personal tumblr and now we’re friends on facebook, follow each other on twitter & 8tracks. she used to live in ottawa, around the same time i visited often since an old lover’s family lived there. i’m sure we haunted the same vintage shops and bookstores. recently, she opened an etsy store and i fawned over so many of the beautiful dresses. when one showed up in my size, i sent her a message letting her know i wanted to buy it. emily, the thoughtful soul, surprised me with it as a gift! not only a vintage dress, but with a wonderful letter and mix cd.

the dress from emily's etsy shop "the patsy" paired with my spats!

the dress from emily's etsy shop "the patsy" paired with my spats!

a lot of what emily had to say in the letter reminded me of this post, “rescuing garments and the history of clothes,” about an etsy store which placed a fair amount of emphasis on the stories behind the vintage dresses they sold.

receiving emily’s package coincided with another piece of mail i had been waiting for: a package from another precious internet friend, mccall. mccall and i have a very long and storied internet friendship. i vividly remember the start: i shared a polaroid in a livejournal polaroid community, and paired it with lyrics to a cocorosie song. she told me she liked it, and added me as a livejournal friend. we were both active members in fashion, photobooth, and polaroid livejournal communities and actively commented on each other’s posts over the years.

i’ve see her hair long, short, i’ve followed her friendships and loved the way she wrote about sylvan, shares her beautiful stories, photographs, drawings, and collages. any way i try to write about our relationship fails to do it justice, but suffice to say we were long overdue to share tactile things with each other.

untitled by mccall johnson

untitled (mixed media collage) by mccall johnson

the overwhelming sense i got from both of these gifts was the equal parts comforting and unnerving feeling that these people truly knew me. whether that is an illusion or not might never be shattered, and that’s okay. it’s something i’ve been conversing with friends about lately, over the pros and cons of sharing your life with strangers online – most remain strangers, but convince themselves that they do know you based on what you chose to share online. that is a whole other can of worms altogether, but definitely something i’ve been thinking about more and more these days.

livejournal icon for friends-only posts

there are countless people whose blogs i follow who i once shared quite intimate online moments with, largely thanks to more private “locked” options. over the years, i witnessed people thousands of miles away from me change and grow, and i revelled in the privilege of being given permission to come along for part of the ride, albeit in a passive role.

moving from our online journals and diaries to very public blogs has often meant severing a lot of those older internet friendships – intentionally or not. some of us have outgrown the novelty of sharing our lives with strangers online, and disappeared without a trace. but most of us will continue to use the internet in some way, shape, or form to share our lives, our stories, our art and our work.
in my case, i feel like my life is so much richer and fuller because of some of the incredible people i had the chance to get to know online. as grateful i am for my “real life” friendships, some interests that couldn’t really have been fostered otherwise flourished online. wherever i was, as long as i had an internet connection i had a community at my fingertips.

they were some of the people who encouraged me most in all different kinds of my endeavors, both “real life” and online. people who have my blog featured on their blog roll, or who’ll mention me in interviews. i think back to the time a still-unknown stranger sent me many thoughtful gifts when i had been elected editor of my university paper. i’ll always remember the mix cds and postcards people from new york, australia, and portugal sent me when i was lonely and heartbroken in the summer of 2007.

so consider this only part of my love letter to you, the digital part.

olivia, i know i still owe you a decent thank you after that gorgeous letter you sent me last winter.

amber, i’ve got a package and long-overdue letter sitting on my desk begging to be stamped and mailed to you, not to mention hopes of a montreal visit this summer.

meredith, i know upstate new york and quebec city aren’t as far as we make it seem.

and if we haven’t met yet, (i’m looking at you maddie) we both know that an opportunity will present itself sooner or later.

and if it doesn’t?

there’s always the internet.

RECOMMENDED READING/LISTENING:

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Filed under digital/online culture, fashion, personal, self-portraits, vintage