On Beauty: Body

9 Feb

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf describes the phenomenon of the shrinking woman: as her civil rights expand, her body contracts under the pressure of a billion-dollar diet and exercise industry, fuelled by a trillion-dollar retail and advertising industry. Women are required to not take up space (ask anyone in the Fat Acceptance movement what it’s like to step outside that clear feminine boundary), and in order to comply, we must forego food and comfort in favour of fasting and physical exertion. The pressure to self-deny has come in many forms; fitspo and its brethren are just the most recent.

The new fitness movement is a great example of the cyclical nature of the demands we place on women’s bodies. The 1970s and 80s saw a boom in aerobics and gym memberships, with Jane Fonda’s exercise videos rhythmically exhorting her followers to ‘feel the burn’ in pursuit of the ideal body of the time. The 90s, with its heroin chic movement and advent of the supermodel, swung the pendulum away from physical exercise and towards dieting, and rates of eating disorders among young women began to rise. Now, deep into the era of CrossFit, #cleaneating, protein shakes and fitspiration, the pendulum has swung back, this time in an explicit conversation with its predecessors: how many fitness memes have you seen containing the words ‘strong is the new skinny’?

This is an extract from the last column in my series for Kill Your Darlings. You can read the rest of it here


On Beauty: Hair

29 Aug

I haven’t been to the hairdresser in a little over two years, since just before I split up with my previous boyfriend. I remember it because I hadn’t told him I was getting my hair cut, and when I saw him afterwards he looked a bit miffed.

I haven’t shaved my armpits since 2011. I was in Japan in the middle of winter, in a long distance relationship, and I had a sudden realisation that I’d never seen my underarms in their natural state in my entire life.

I started removing my body hair around age 11 (I begged my mother to let me start shaving my legs at nine; she refused). I plucked my eyebrows mercilessly – thank god I missed the peak of the tadpole trend, or I’d never have been able to grow them back. I shaved my underarms as soon as I noticed hairs sprouting there, and I did not stop for ten years. At age 17 I got my first Brazilian wax. It hurt a lot. I didn’t stop doing it until I was 20.

Where do we start when we want to talk about women and their hair? To me, as a white middle-class Western girl, vain and introspective and with little else to do aside from dwell on superficialities, it seems an endless, exhausting conversation; there is so much more going on than just follicles and keratin.

This is the start of my latest column for Kill Your Darlings, and you can read the rest here.

On Beauty: Eyes

26 May

Consider Jezebel: Phoenician princess, wife of Ahab, worshipper of Baal and Asherah, murderer of prophets, wearer of paint. When Jehu, servant of the Lord, came to kill her for her cruelty, she painted her eyes and hands, and looked out a window as he came galloping into Jezreel. She wanted to seduce him. He flung her from her tower window and she perished, her body eaten by dogs – except for her face and hands.

So says the Bible and its interpreters. Jezebel was a priestess and a queen; it’s most likely that when she heard of her impending doom, she chose to greet death with dignity, in her ceremonial dress. But her name has become synonymous with deceit and seduction. That’s what happens when you let straight men write about makeup.

A quote has been circulating online for the last couple of years. It goes like this:

‘when women wear makeup they’re basically lying to us’
I don’t see why I’m being blamed for a man stupid enough to think I have gold eyelids

This is the start of my second column on beauty and the body for Kill Your Darlings, the rest of which you can read here.

On Beauty: Skin

20 Mar

I’ve had ‘bad skin’ since I was ten – at least, that’s when I got my first pimple (I still have a scar from picking at it). Now, a decade and a half later, I get several pimples per month, and my face is dotted with the hyperpigmentation they leave behind. I have my mother’s large pores and oiliness, and my father’s early crow’s-feet. I don’t have severe acne or rosacea or dermatitis or pitted scars, and when I complain about my skin to my friends they tend to look at me funny, but whether my skin is actually ‘bad’ or not doesn’t matter – since prepubescence I have wholeheartedly bought into my self-appointed identity as a Bad Skin Haver. In other words, I am the perfect patsy for the beauty industry. I hate my skin, but I love skincare.

The nature of the Western beauty industry is one of conspiracy: it aims to instil in its potential customers a series of anxieties and insecurities so thoroughly and from such a young age that to be insecure about how one looks feels as natural and true as breathing. We all grow up knowing that in order for a girl to be valuable, she must be Pretty. Even with feminist mothers, liberal schooling, a curriculum of Judith Butler and Toni Morrison, we know.

This is the start of my first column on beauty and the body for Kill Your Darlings, the rest of which you can read here

The Garden

4 Jan

In 2015 I quit my job – a job that ought to have been a Dream Come True, considering I was a Creative Industries graduate actually working in a creative industry, but was in fact a certified nightmare. My plan was to pursue my Actual Dreams: ostensibly things like “working for myself” and “publishing a book”. But it turns out my actual dreams are all garden-based.

I allowed myself a sabbatical after resigning, to try to plan for my uncertain financial future and to shake off the shadow of the year’s stresses. This mainly took the form of sitting on the back porch drinking vodka and orange juice, and occasional bursts of ruthless tree pruning. We have a citrus and a camellia growing next to the back stairs, and they were crippled with sooty mould. I needed to focus on something other than my own anxieties, and the simple task of caring for these neglected trees felt particularly good. As I hacked off the bare, dusty branches with blunt secateurs, I felt like I was snipping off the shit bits of the year, too. I would return to the shade sweaty and calm.

This is the start of a piece I wrote for The Lifted Brow’s end-of-year series ‘Crackers!’. You can read the rest here


1 Jul

Start typing “makeup is” into Google and it’ll finish your sentence for you: “lying”. Click on the links and you’ll find some real gems, whether it’s on YahooAnswers, in the comments sections of DailyLife fluff pieces or on devoted Men’s Rights Activism message boards. According to men, wearing makeup is ‘false advertising’, ‘betrayal’, ‘deceit’, or the charmingly patronising notion that ‘women are putting pressure on themselves to hide their true selves’. On a photo of dramatic lip makeup posted on image sharing website Imgur, one comment demands: “in what occasion would you even consider going out like that if it weren’t for taking pictures of it and posting it for others to see?” A recent online trend of makeup before-and-after photo collages – amazing transformations showing average-looking women magicked into vixens with glowing skin, smouldering eyes and glossy lips – has produced some of the purest forms of outrage. Men are furious that they’ve been tricked into being attracted to women who they otherwise wouldn’t look at twice. “I hate when women wear that crap on their faces,” they say, and in the next breath, “She looks like a dog in the before pic, can’t believe it.” “I think it is deceitful, men go for looks, and for most looks are an important aspect of your potential partner.” One caption of before-and-after screengrabs from a makeup tutorial video reads, “girls like her should be applauded for exposing their witchcraft. So, when’s your last day at evil witch school? We’re just wondering.”

This is an excerpt from my ebook, I Put A Spell On You, which is a collection of essays and short fiction on women and witchcraft. You can pick it up from Spineless Wonders here

Adult Industry

10 Jun

When I walk into the club this is what I see: a long, low room with vinyl-padded walls. Dim red lighting. Low seats surrounding a catwalk with two poles. High round tables and bar stools. Other job applicants already filling out application forms. One elderly guy in a seat by the catwalk. A brunette woman in towering plastic shoes with LED lights in the soles, rotating slowly on one of the poles in a yellow g-string.

I get an application form from the bar and wait while the bartender finds a pen. The woman on stage looks bored as she suspends herself from the pole by her feet, chest thrust out. The old guy is loving it. I look at her breasts.

There are a few tables not claimed by my competition. I take a seat and study the application form. Name, age, nationality, previous bar experience, and three check boxes: bar staff, hostess, dancer. What is a hostess? There is no one else in the bar. I check the box anyway and eye the other girls. Maybe I should have worn something lower cut.

Eventually a guy in a suit and diamante earrings shows up, collects the forms, and starts interviewing at the end of the bar. As each applicant approaches, his heavy-lidded gaze does the slow, familiar drift from head to foot and back. The pole is taken by a blond woman with a flock of butterfly tattoos. The old guy tips enthusiastically.

This is an excerpt from an essay about working in a strip club, published first in The Lifted Brow as ‘Adult Industry’, and later online as ‘On The Heirarchies Of An Australian Strip Club’ by Literary Hub. Read the rest of it here