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Monday, 29 November 2010

On beauty... some further reflections


Yesterday Helen and I went to Villa 32 for onsen. In the female section of the hot spring women of various ages and body types bobbed around naked in the water, lounged in loose robes in recliners, or sat and chatted on the edges of rock pools - relaxed, naked, without make-up, their hair pinned in bathing caps and towels.

Everyone glowed with health and well-being; bodies glistened from the moisture in the air. I thought it'd be a marvelous place to sketch, but that would be against the rules (no cameras, no mobile phones - so drawing other people is probably out of the question as well, though I didn't ask).

What occurred to me is that these women seemed so beautiful in their relaxed and comfortable poses. Perhaps they would wish for (if you asked them) washboard abs or a perky bottom, or simply for the return of taut, youthful skin - but if they felt inadequate in any way, it wasn't immediately visible to me.

Inadequacy is a theme that I've been noticing in beauty marketing. The ploy goes: 'you are so pretty! except this one little thing' - and then of course the product that is just what you need gets introduced. I used to go to a spa across the street for facials and it always surprised me that the women who worked there found fault with so many things on my face. Then I realized that they had to because otherwise I would not feel inclined to purchase their services/wares. It's like a doctor trying to make you believe that you are ill. Except there are objective indicators of health. I remember the women at the spa I used to frequent telling me that I have all these skin problems, and their shock and horror when I said 'Thanks! But I think I look pretty good. So I'll not be buying these.'

I'm not arguing that I (or anyone else) look perfect, though I have to admit that as a young healthy female, I feel fairly good about my looks on most days. Either way, I don't think looking less than perfect on some days detract from my confidence. On the whole I believe that my attractiveness and sex-appeal are linked to things other than appearances alone (not such a radical notion, though not one which the fashion and beauty industry, nor mainstream media, is keen to promote). What are these other things? Well, confidence, for one; at least, confidence and comfort with oneself is something I find attractive in others.

This doesn't mean that I don't consume beauty products or buy fancy clothes (mea culpa), and it certainly doesn't mean that I don't want to be more beautiful than I already am (or believe myself to be). I would be happier though, if I felt that I was being encouraged to be confident & content with my own notions of beauty, rather than feeling as though my opinions are being co-opted and coerced. I'd be happier if the beauty that I saw at the onsen, without social pressure and commercial packaging, devoid of extraneous elements, were were pervasive.

I guess what I'm trying to get across is that we don't need cosmetics or fancy clothes to be beautiful. Again, not a radical notion - but also not one which is often affirmed (based on my own observations) in the society in which I live.

Friday, 26 November 2010

This is Taipei


[A pair of street vendors waiting to cross the busy 忠孝敦化 intersection. ]

Street-vending is nominally illegal. If the police pay a visit while you are browsing merchandise, you are likely to find yourself abandoned by the vendors, standing on a street corner, with the dress you were fingering still in your hands, staring awkwardly at fellow shoppers in the same predicament, uncertain of how to proceed, as the vendors themselves snatch up the majority of their goods and tear away down the street. If they are caught their goods can be confiscated and they may be fined heftily. This is no deterrent though, and every day on the busy streets of Taipei, it's business as usual. The excitement beats the hell out of shopping in a mall, as do the prices.

I like the vitality here - we strive and thrive.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

As ever

對我來說,控制自己是最具有挑戰性的難題。
To me, self-control remains the most challenging of difficulties.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Really?



I think that our perceptions of gender are very socially conditioned.

Tonight at dinner the waitress told me that she thought I was a boy. I wanted to say "is it because Taiwanese boys are so effeminate?" Either that or take a leaf out of my family friend's book and say "瞎了你的狗眼". But I just smiled and walked away. My mother said "This goes to show that a girl should be pretty." I replied "Taiwanese people basically judge your sex by hair length" - because when I had long hair, this was never an issue. My mom still didn't think this was a case of gender stereotyping. My conclusion: "fuck that."

Too radical? Perhaps. But I'm fed up. If you look beyond very superficial attributes (make-up or not, hair length, style of clothing and footwear), it's pretty easy to tell that I am not a boy (no Adam's apple, no facial hair, voice is not deep enough).

Though the way I dress is often considered androgynous even in the West, I still hate the idea that girls should look a certain way, i.e. pretty. Says who? Fuck that.

I am a girl. I've never had trouble finding myself a man. I can be pretty, and I can be ugly. I can be gentle, or I can be strong. I can be demure, or I can be out-going. Because I am a multi-faceted human-being, not a fashion spread mirage. So please don't tell me how I ought to go about being a girl.

I'm not angered by one person's mistake. Rather, I am voicing a complaint on behalf of all those who do not naturally conform to the 'ideal' as formulated by society and media. This is also why I refrained from rudeness to the waitress; after all we are all products of our environment. Yet I also believe that we are not condemned to only be shaped by society without the right to mold it in return. This is why I find it important to speak my mind on such issues.

我覺得我們對性別(gender)的印象受社會的影響很大。

昨天一個人在長庚附近一個人隨便吃飯。餐廳小姐說『我以為你是男生!』。我衝動的想回她『是不是因為台灣的男生都太娘了?』,甚至『瞎了你的狗眼』。但是我沒有,只有笑笑的走出去。我媽說『啊, 這告訴我們, 一個好好的女生, 要弄成漂亮的女生樣』。我說『基本上台灣人只認長髮與短髮而已』因為我從前頭髮長的時候從來沒有這個問題。她仍然覺得這不是性別刻板印象 (gender stereotype) 的問題。我的結論:『fuck that』。

太偏激了嗎?可能吧,但是我受夠了。只要看透了一些非常表面的東西(畫不畫裝,頭髮多長,穿不穿女性化的衣服與鞋子),就可以知道我不可能是男生(沒有喉結,沒有鬍鬚,說話聲音不夠低)。

雖然我的打扮就算在國外也可以算是中性,但是我痛恨有人覺得『女生』就是應該把自己弄成某個樣子,就是應該『漂亮』。誰說女生就是要漂亮?FUCK THAT.

我是女生。我從來沒有找不到男人的問題。我可以要漂亮,也可以要醜,可以要溫柔,也可以要強壯,可以要涵蓄,也可以要自信 - 因為我是個有層次的活人,不是時尚雜誌裡的假象。所以請妳別來告訴我怎麼當女生。

我並不是為了一個人的判斷錯誤而生氣,而是為了媒體與社會將女性塑造成一個死板『理想型』而為所以有天生就不是那個『理想型』的女生打抱不平。這也是我沒有當場跟那位小姐翻臉的原因,畢竟我們都是社會環境的產物。但是我不認為我們只有被社會塑造的份,而沒有反過來塑造社會的權力,所以對我來說發表自己的意見是有這個涵意的。

Friday, 19 November 2010

Perhaps...

this is pms related. Feels like the black dog is sitting on my chest.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

This space is reserved

for a discussion about piracy.

I believe this to be a very topical issue which can lead to some rather raised voices. But I also believe in the importance of dialogue and the benefit of understanding the viewpoints of others especially when I disagree with them.

I feel that the need to dialogue about piracy is especially important because there is big divide between pro-piracy and anti-piracy camps. The situation is that much more poignant because usually the desire to seed something in a torrent stems from admiration, not from hatred or desire for harm. No one (I know of) has ever said 'Gee, I HATE this band. I'm gonna totally do them in by spreading their music EVERYWHERE.') The fact that admiration can spawn anger and bitterness is not a good state of affairs.

I'm not asking anyone to agree with me (yet!), but I would appreciate an opportunity for honest and respectful dialogue.

So. When's this going to happen?

Right now work is behind schedule, and I'm due for a trip away that I have (perhaps unwisely) planned. Also I've aggravated an old injury to my left knee so I can't do yoga and have to take dancing in measured doses. This takes away 2 major sources of relaxation and I'm turning to drink and drunken debauchery of various sorts. Things could be better.

So please bear with me while I try to juggle all these things AND have a challenging discussion with (quite possibly) total strangers.

See you soon, I hope.



Wednesday, 17 November 2010

At home

Some photographs from day to day that I've been saving up for the blog.

...one day before work, when there was good light in the flat.

... a new bowl. Slowly building up my crockery supplies.

Chrysanthemums I bought from the flower market last Sunday. Still going strong.

Today I feel...

Tired and pessimistic.

Monday, 15 November 2010

bows



Am loving the big white bow on this little black dress. Not so much the big hair or anything else. Don't know that bows really suit me though. I am starting to become more resigned to the fact that I can't pull off every style... At least I don't feel like that here - hm, well, that's another train of thought altogether. Over-analyzing is a kind of full-time hobby of mine. [via {a glamorous little side project}]

Selkirk Grace


Some hae* meat and canna* eat, have, cannot
And some wad* eat that want it; would
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae* the Lord be thankit* so, thanked

attributed to Robert Burns

Monday, 8 November 2010

Paragons of Beauty

Since I moved back to Taiwan I've been bombarded by images of "正妹" (hot chicks) and I have to say that I'm heartily sick of it. Sure, they are good looking girls - but not only do they all look the same, but they also seem to embody some kind of feminine ideal which focuses on almost exclusively on the diminutive (sweetness and childishness are the two themes I most often observe).

Growing up I have always been told that I am not feminine enough and that if I didn't conform to stereotypes of femininity, no one would want to marry me. I think I can now safely say that if the choice was to be single forever, or marry the kind of man that could only have that kind of woman, I would just turn lesbian.

What happened to affirming the qualities that we have as individuals, and making girls feel that they are worthwhile for who they are rather than encouraging them to bend themselves over backwards to conform to some kind of doll-like ideal? It's sick.

Another thing I absolutely cannot stand is the unspoken attitude that while it is ok to be beautiful, it's not ok to flaunt the fact, and it is even less ok to think or say that you are sexy. I remember my aunts lamenting that although my figure looks good from the back (I have a very nice ass, and I do say so myself), I am a bit "飛機場" in the front (literally - airport landing strip for breasts - i.e. flat-chested, for those of you who are not of a pictorial mindset). I laughed and told them that I think I look good enough. They looked scandalized. I realize that even in the west there is a notion of feminine modesty. But I still find that the line here is drawn much to tautly to close the women in. Work your ass off to be beautiful, it says - and then don't be full of pride and revel in your beauty - instead, do your best to act aloof, because we prefer modest women. I also find that instead of a sisterhood of encouragement (the 'you go-girl' attitude), most women I have met here tend to be more forthrightly critical of my appearance in a way that I would find rude by western standards. It's almost as though they are themselves drawing that modesty line around ourselves and tightening the reins. Why?

While it's not ok for women to flaunt their attractiveness or glory in it (except in a very innocent, child-like way, which seems to betoken 'Am I not pleasing to you?' rather than 'I love myself and my body, because I think I look good'), what gets me most is that men and male-oriented media (women as well, sometimes) freely use the phrase 童顏巨乳 - literally translates to 'Massive Mammaries, Child-like Visage.' Yes, that's right folks - you heard me. Whenever I mention this term to Taiwanese people and propose its counterpart, i.e. 'Massive Phallus, Child-like Visage,' people are absolutely horrified.

I rest my case.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Caterpillars

Honestly, what's up with all the caterpillars in my gym? Are they working out? What would a caterpillar need a station bike for!?

Elegance Personified


It's something to keep in mind as a comparison when looking at modern paragons of beauty.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Dear Tolstoy

Re: War & Peace. Please stop reporting Prince Andrei's death only to remember later that he is in fact alive. The first time it was surprising but by the second time it begins to seem like a tiresome trick.

Ok, ok - I know we are suppose to be as surprised as the other characters are. But we are not the other characters. We are readers.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Loners

Why does Murakami write so much about loners?
I love his novels but I am afraid of becoming one of his characters.
(thoughts on reading the 3rd volume of 1Q84 - which is not yet available in English)

The True Size of Africa (and ensuing thoughts)


[by Kenneth Field via Yfrog]

I have a talent of reading too much into things - my reaction to 'The True Size of Africa' map is no exception. I will freely admit that geography was never my strongest area (pun fully intended) of knowledge, but more than anything else I was taken by the (intentional or unintentional) implications of an altered perspective.

I posted this on my Facebook and there were two responses (verbatim as follows).
  1. Steve: I noticed Taiwan is part of China.
  2. Chelsea: I don't understand the point of this map@@ just to show how big Africa is? (bigger than China + America + some other western countries) Don't we all know that Africa is big?
I responded to Chelsea as follows (with edits):

I think it's about addressing a power-balance through altered perspective.

There's a term called 'Eurocentric' which applied mostly to the Western world - but we can add China and the US to it also. It means that one (whether China/USA/Europe etc.) often assumes that it is the centre of the world (and big and mighty and important) in its own narratives (as in narratives of any type including news reports, movies, as well as novels etc).

In fact, think of how China is 中國 - the middle country (i.e., the centre of power rather than the periphery), and a lot of China's attitude (past and present) demonstrates of this conviction. Furthermore, projections of maps often play into this self-aggrandizing narrative. For instance, Europe is traditionally centered on a map because cartography started to develop in the age of mercantilism/imperialist expansion in Europe.

To visually see all these 'important' countries surrounded and dwarfed by Africa (which in terms of development and power, is peripheral and diminutive in comparison to the countries placed in its boundaries in this map) carries a kind of visual punch. Of course Africa being the site of so much imperialist conquest (consequently its modern fragmentation and woes) makes this all the more poignant. (That said perhaps considering 'Africa' as a continent again is a Eurocentric perspective a la 'Heart of Darkness' - but that's another kettle of fish).

Taiwan has always been on the periphery of power; especially in the modern day, being engaged in a uneasy relationship with the Centre-Country (中國/China), we are perhaps more keenly aware of our own position as marginal. This is one speculation as to why this map would be less visually powerful from a Taiwanese perspective - what do you think?

Another possibility is that Taiwan's excellent education has made you very geographically informed (indeed, there is nothing special about this map - from a purely factual consideration).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that what matters here is not WHAT is being represented, but HOW it's being represented that matters.

To Steve I replied: Sadness. OTHER than that it's a cool map. Needless to say I am for Taiwanese independence. I tweeted to Mr. Fields: Love the map but is sad to see Taiwan presented as a part of China :(. This morning I found his reply: thanks. map doesn't distinguish PRC/ROC to avoid dispute RT @pseudoangela: Love map but sad to see Taiwan presented as part of China :(

I can understand Mr. Field's desire to 'avoid dispute,' which I interpret as wishing to remain neutral on the subject. However, if Taiwan is represented as a part of China, then surely neutrality is lost because it suggests that there is unity? There doesn't seem to be a way around taking sides on the PRC/ROC (One China vs. China and Taiwan) issue in terms of map-making. Unless Taiwan is shaded in grey and labelled 'Sovereignty in Dispute'?

...If I can slack off at work more later today I may come back to this. In the meantime comments are welcome.

p.s. however much I may read into the implications of this map, I just wanted to point out that the image does specifically state that it was created to combat 'immapancy - that is insufficient geographical knowledge,' i.e. ME - and I am grateful for this interesting means of remedy.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Together Again



I was trying to unbutton Richard's jacket to show you Mr. Squid,
who lives on his t-shirt - but Mr. Squid is shy and wouldn't let me.

Here is what he actually looks like:


What a dashing fellow he is.
[t-shirt by Crownfarmer via Kitsune Noir]

Delicious Shoes



The red one looks a bit like candied apple.