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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Marvel's "Infinity Wars" is Trash and Maybe You Should Skip It

I'll cut to the chase today.

This post is absolutely loaded with

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS


for "Infinity War", which came out last night. Read no further if you are dead-determined to see this movie.

So: first, it does follow the comic storyline, and I am aware of that - but comics are not a golden, unquestionable authority, and previous movies have deviated from or altered the canon as necessary, so insisting that it follow canon religiously is absurd (and not even possible).

Still, at no point does this excuse the fact that the heroes who die are those coded as queer, the less-than-alpha males, the people of colour, and the women - Loki, Gamora, Scarlet Witch, Drax, Black Panther, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and others. Sure, they'll probably be brought back to life using the time reversal in the comics, and yes, there are movie franchise sequels in the works for several of these, but that doesn't make this okay. Bucky and Spiderman do die, sure, but they're "softer" - and coded queer (especially frustrating since Marvel's sacrificed queer representation for the sake of that green, green foreign release money in China and Russia).

While a dictator occupies the White House and trespasses on laws of his land, while ICE agents and police officers haul out people of colour from their homes, while sex workers face persecution under SESTA/FOSTA, and while women live under policies that make it easier to die than get an abortion or reproductive health options, we cannot use genocide as a plot device.

Sure, it's supposed to be tragic, but having Thanos magically genocide half of the universe - the queer, non-white, non-rich, non-male half - is not escapist. It's cruel at best and triggering at worst.

But there's more to this problem. As the writers gleefully and clumsily skip past the actual implications and work of smoothing out the romance between Peter Quill and Gamora, heading straight to on-screen smooching to show progression, Gamora becomes tragedy bait. Gamora is sacrificed and fridged by her abuser, Thanos - making the story she and Nebula have undergone all about Thanos and Peter. Even if her death is undone, the twist here is appalling and irresponsible to survivors of abuse.

The heroes who live are white, male, powerful, and apparently, less disposable. Sure, Captain Marvel is coming, but distracting us with a new toy to make us forget the ones we lost only works on toddlers.

So, no - even though Thor: Ragnarok was exultant and wonderful, even though Black Panther was a revelation, even though Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 was wonderful and subtle in many ways - I'm not sure I can stay with Marvel. To have marginalized people used as trauma porn for the development of the societally empowered characters is too much for me. It throws out the work of those movies.

In short - maybe Infinity Wars won't upset you, and maybe you can enjoy it, but if any of this sounds like it will reduce you to tears or a panic attack, give this one a miss.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Want to Write Better Books? Stop Watching Television

When it comes to storytelling, most of us grow up immersed in visual language. Television and movies and Youtube series can be extremely potent, and tell inspiring stories - but when it comes to translating that storytelling method to the page, they can be a writer's worst enemy.

I can always tell when people have been watching more TV than reading books because there's a similar pattern of errors. Drawing from my own screw-ups and experiences and combining them with things I've learned from reading hundreds of books, I've compiled a useful list intended for newer writers with an eye on publishing.

At the risk of bowing to clickbait with my title, I'd like to make a case for aspiring writers to scale back their television-watching time and spend that on short and long-form fiction. Even fanfiction inspired by TV can help exercise that writing muscle more than watching stories alone, and I've made the reasons why into an easy-to-read list.


1) TV writing is often bad and illogical 


There's no good way to put this - the behaviour of characters on Lifetime made-for-TV movies, criminal dramas, and night-time dramas or medical shows is often exaggerated and vastly distant from reality. The best TV shows and movies do have good writing - but let's be honest; we don't always watch the best of the best. That's not a bad thing, but when it comes to writing, 'you are what you eat' is very much an applicable idiom.

It's hard to write emotionally authentic decisions and ethical debates when paranormal teenagers are fighting in the most dramatic ways possible. Because of the narrative constraints of episodic storytelling, which is the norm for continuing TV shows, antagonists are often thinly written and illogical, and characters who conflict with the main cast tend to be cruel, rude, or selfish in ways that an actual human person would not dare to be when confronted or opposed. Villains and antagonists are an important part of every story, and they're usually the biggest letdown, because their actions are often dictated by whatever inflicts the most suffering on main characters. Shows have to compress as much interest in the problem-of-the-week as possible, while still adhering to the (usually more complex) long-term plot.

The thing is, these are really bad habits for writers to pick up. It's taken me a lot of work to unlearn the villain-of-convenience habit. Antagonists and villains need to have strong motivations - even stronger than the protagonist(s)', at times. Otherwise, their actions make no sense on a fundamental level, and the narrative thread of the story will completely unravel. This is not to say that antagonists and villains have to be "evil" per se - in fact, evil is usually a matter of perspective. However, stories are driven by what people want and the people who want things. If they don't have a thing they want that remains somewhat consistent, or has a reason for changing, the story will sputter and its engine will stop turning over.


2) Visual storytelling and literary storytelling are different mediums


This sounds obvious, but hear me out. In working on a recent project, I saw a scene wherein a character went up the stairs after a party, took off her jewelry, texted her friend - and suddenly, her abusive alcoholic father appeared in her room and started threatening her. The scene was clearly patterned after the classic "jump scare" style.

The problem is that jump scares don't work in written fiction. In order to mimic the effect created by a jump scare, we have to break down the scene and the rising tension created by it. A camera panning around and showing the scene, the slow shot of a character walking up the stairs, and the subtle tension created by having a character do ordinary things without realising that they are in danger may not be conveyed by simply saying that character walks up the stairs, takes off their jewelry, and prepares to use the bathroom. Those words don't express the information conveyed by the same camera shots and edits, or by the creeping shriek of violins or synth music in a score. Words can express that tension - but not if writers take what they see on TV (or computer) screens at face value.

Mimicry is not enough. We have to understand why things happen and why we are shown or given certain pieces of information, and why things are portrayed in certain ways. We must learn to see the framing devices used in fiction of all kinds, not accept them as the way the world works.

3) Hide things from the reader


As the audience, we may not realise that storytelling techniques are being used to convey a story, because we're busy reacting to it. That's okay! It's good to watch or read something and just experience the emotions intended, and enjoy the ride of the story. However, if a book has a deep impact on you, and you admire it, it's worth reading the book at least one more time to try and see the places where it was most effective.

For example, in a tense scene, a character might scan a room, looking for a weapon, and the author or narrator may describe the contents of said room.

In a dingy hotel, a bed covered in rumpled sheets, the bolted-down lamps and furniture and a clunky television may not offer much. As the character looks around, they might notice there are some glasses on the bureau or in the bathroom, and pick those up, hoping to throw them at the assailant pounding on their door.

In this vignette, the words 'pounding', 'dingy', and 'rumpled' offer the most descriptive power. However, we don't know what the antagonist on the other side of the door looks like, what kind of weapons they have, if any, or even what their name is. While there might be a little more context in a book, the very limited scope of this one scene shows that using immediacy and restricting the view and information available to the reader can create more tension.

I often see this problem in longer-form works as well - and I've certainly made the mistake myself: the error of trying to cram in too much exposition in the first few chapters. It's hard not to worry that an audience will get lost or miss something, but audiences just don't need as much information to enjoy a story as authors do to write it.


4) All books are not created equal


Some books are designed to convey a story as efficiently as possible, often to meet the reader's emotional needs - this is the case for most commercial fiction. Some books are intended to please the reader's intellect or evoke more complex emotions, and often take their time in the storytelling or break rules - this is often the case for literary fiction. Upmarket fiction combines both of these needs. That's not to say that commercial fiction can't have moments of beauty, or that literary fiction can't be fun to read, but it's important to know that these two broad types of fiction have different goals - and that both have their advantages and disadvantages.

It's important to know which markets your book is destined for, and to be honest about it with yourself. Do you write weird fiction that kind of straddles genres and has little philosophical narrative kicks? Do you secretly just want to write fun books about sex and guns? Do you like writing about kissing and emotional drama, but crave a good plot to complicate things? There are readers who want books like each of these, and looking for similar books to yours can help you figure out who will want to read it.

It's vitally important not to confuse the people you want to impress with the people who will probably read your book. I've made this mistake. It's hard not to want to change the world with a book, but you're more likely to achieve that goal if you get the book into the hands of people who will like it in the first place - enthusiastic readers will share what they like, and word of mouth is still the oldest and strongest form of marketing.


5) If you're working in a medium, engage with it 


Having a good vocabulary is essential. This seems like a daunting task - how do we learn more words? Where do we even get the words? How do we know which words are better to use? However, it's not as bad as it sounds. Reading non-fiction news articles in one's Facebook feed can help; honestly, just snatching everything with written words in it and picking it up to read it, even warning signs in bathroom stalls or advertisements at bus stops, can make a difference.

Of course, books and short stories are an ideal place to start. Short stories and short story collections can be a great way to work more fiction into your diet. Ideally, it's best to read a wide variety of books. Having favorite authors is fine, and having favorite genres is fine, but both a) reading widely within your genre and b) reading widely in general will help you try new things and expose you to different ideas and inspirations. Have you ever read a western? An old Harlequin bodice-ripper? A modern romance novel? Women's fiction? A techno-thriller? African-American literary fiction? A gay coming-of-age tale? Grab something off the shelf with your eyes closed and start reading - you don't even have to start from the beginning, if you really don't want to, but try to give the strange new book a chance.

The more you read, the more comfortable your brain will become with the storytelling methods, conventions, and styles that authors use. It's not about copying people or being 'unoriginal', although those are okay for practice techniques - it's about fluency. Writing well is very difficult if you don't read!


6) Emotions are important


Just putting in a description of a character's actions doesn't convey their mood, emotions, or what's going on inside their heads. It can - but it's essential to think about why a character is doing something, and which life experiences have contributed to the decision they're undertaking in that moment. People never just do things - and stopping to consider why a character grabs a wire hanger to fight back, whether they'd cower or flee, and whether they'd be able to speak their thoughts honestly are all vital to communication.

In daily life, we may hesitate to speak or act frankly, and that's not always a bad thing. There's something to be said for honesty, but there's also something to be said for respecting the feelings and desires or needs of others. For example, if Manpreet and Cynthia are friends, and Cynthia is wearing a new sweater she just finished knitting, Manpreet may want to tell her the sweater is ugly. But then Manpreet's desire for validation of her opinion will conflict with Cynthia's need for validation of her efforts. There's nothing wrong with these conflicts, nor with learning when to hold one's tongue or put something carefully, and expressing that characters are going through those steps is a great way to show conflict and emotion in a work of fiction.


7) Traditional literature may not be for you 


Frankly, I think more authors should try different storytelling formats just to see if they find one that's a better fit. Books tend to be the default for creative storytelling, but honestly, they're just not for everyone because they don't always skew to people's internal storytelling style. Sometimes books just don't play to people's strengths. People who are dialogue-oriented may find that plays do the trick. People who like visuals that are continuous may want to try out writing screenplays of various kinds. Still others may want to try writing graphic novels, and either hiring illustrators or illustrating work themselves. The trick is to figure out how you think - in pictures? In moments? In words? - and find the medium that expresses your feelings and thoughts most adequately.

Telling a story is an act of communication, and to communicate well requires a lot of effort, practice, and study. New authors should consider this before rushing to publish their first work, because the enthusiasm and fire of the story experience inside an author's head may be different from the experience of the reader from going through content on the page.

Ultimately, writing is hard. There's a reason that career authors, amateurs, and aspiring writers often despair over it. And honestly, that's okay. There's a joy to the process of learning techniques, to finding the right word. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, because it's easier to get appreciation from others if your work is careful and shows skill.


8) Writing a good book means creating a book to be read


This is always the hardest part of storytelling. Do we, as writers, craft stories we want to read and tell, or for our audience? Sometimes a weird cross-genre story works, and sometimes a story pulls from so many different genres and influences and goes in so many directions that it's hard to see who will pick up on it. Many of us may dream of adulation or praise from masses of readers, but putting faces on those masses is the important part. It's okay to want that - but wanting it alone is not enough to grant it, and merely creating something is not enough to deserve fame and praise.

It's not about 'that mediocre book that's doing so well! I could write better!' - it's about writing better than yourself. It's hard, during the honeymoon phase of completing a project, not to feel like it's the apex of creative works in one's native language. If I sound sarcastic, it's because I know this euphoric high, and I know the unfortunate consequences of trusting it too blithely. Simply put, the problem is not even bad reviews - it's crickets. Unless a book is waterproofed beyond the 'good enough' state, it may not be worth reading.

All creative works are risks, and to attain the prizes of money and positive attention, it's worth making sure a book makes sense from an external perspective, and is a satisfying read. Of course, not every friend or person you know will be an ideal member of your reading audience, so finding anonymous or professional beta readers can be very helpful - even if just for the sake of seeing how a book comes across to someone who knows very little about it. You may find that your book is very appealing for a reason you totally did not anticipate.

Above all, writing the book isn't about you. It's about the audience, the characters, or the story itself.


9) Publishing is scary and hard 


It's okay to be overwhelmed from time to time. It's not even that I'm trying to discourage people from putting their books out for mass consumption - it's that I want to help people make sure the books they put out are as good as possible. There's no such thing as a bad book, just an imperfect book; 99.99% of books that have issues can be saved with a good editor or editors, multiple sets of eyes, and a willingness to tweak and revise.

Drafting books is a process. It took me years to get over the idea that one draft was enough, and that I'd get every idea and nuance down in one go-through. That isn't the case, and it rarely is for many authors! Eventually, realising that I just had to get down a skeleton, and that I could modify and elaborate on things when I had the patience for them, was tremendously freeing. Not only have I stopped hating revisions, I look forward to them. When you know in your bones that the scene and the story feels right, few experiences compare to that.

Publishing, however, is a lot of work - getting used to learning about advertising, knowing where to find information about advertising, buying a cover, researching genres, writing a good blurb, finding people to hire for these various services - it can really add up to an ordeal. Still, doing all that work is a little easier and a lot more rewarding if you feel a rock-hard certainty about the quality of the book in the first place - and it can even make the other stuff easier, because you know what to draw from and what to look at.


10) If all else fails, Google is your friend


Just going for a Google safari or searching around on Amazon isn't something most of us do anymore - our 'wasted time' on the internet usually involves going to a website we already know or frequent regularly, clicking through content, and scrolling through various newsfeeds. However, these habitual paths may not yield as much information when preparing to publish. Simply going to Amazon or Google as if you were looking for a new book and entering various keywords in the search bar - things associated with your book or genre, like 'science', 'scientist', 'adventure', 'comet', 'asteroid', 'crash', 'aliens', or other pertinent terms - can be surprisingly fruitful.

You can also look up books (or shows) you admire and see what people read after reading or watching them. The more books you have to compare to, the more readers will understand your book's place in the market or library. Referencing shows and movies in a blurb is not ideal.

At the end of the day, I'm glad so many people take the leap into trying to write, and finishing projects, but actually trying to sell a book to readers isn't the same thing as merely writing for the satisfaction of it. And writing privately for satisfaction is fine! It's just that when a book hits either an editor's desk or the market, it should be as ready for readers' eyes as possible, and thoroughly vetted - even if it's been self-published.

***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible. Catch up with Michelle's news on the mailing list. Her books are available on Amazon, and she is also active on MediumTwitter, InstagramFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. 

Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Success of Failure

Hello hello!

This month, I have an analysis of a friend's beautiful art exhibit. Bonnie Patton is an artist from Edmonton, AB. Originally from North Dakota, they came here for university, and fell in love with Canada. Conceived before Donald Trump's rise, the project has additional layers of resonance now...

 An Analysis of Bonnie Patton’s 1984 Cranes


At the heart of traditional dystopian fiction is a theme of failure.  1984 is a prime example of this: the failure of Outer Party members to resist their training, the failure of proles—thus far—to protest, and the failure of Winston Smith and Julia’s love. At first glance, it would seem to have little in common with the children’s story Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes. Patton’s art finds the links between these books and explores them, creating a poignant visual essay.

Patton started folding cranes from the last page of 1984. Like Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes, the tragedy and appeal of both books comes partly from foreboding and the knowledge that both characters are ultimately unsuccessful. Sadako, who suffers from cancer and hopes the gods will grant her wish of being cured if she folds all one thousand cranes, dies before she can complete her task. Winston Smith fails to resist indoctrination by Big Brother, and ultimately betrays both his lover Julia and himself under the pressure of torture. One character dies physically; the other, spiritually.


Photo credit: Bonnie Patton, used with permission


The fragility and ephemeral nature of papercraft highlights the fragility in the struggles of characters in these books, as well—by reducing 1984 to its very pages, Patton has, in a sense, destroyed it, just as Winston participates in the constant destruction of information and documents, erasing history. His glass paperweight, representing his soul—“so fragile after all” is crushed and broken by the state, literally and figuratively. And yet, because the pages are folded, made into something new, there is an element of transformation and memorial tribute—the cranes are bespoke, handmade objects of beauty, made from a book that is literally about the destruction of beauty by ugliness and industrialization gone awry. The book itself was printed through industrial processes, and Patton has reduced and transformed it into a sculpture, a tribute to the young Japanese girl who wished so hard, she inspired millions to remember her.

Then, too, just as the cranes themselves are symmetrical, there is a dark reciprocity created by the linking of these two books. Oceania wages war against Eastasia (as well as Eurasia). Published in 1949, 1984 was written with full context of the Second World War, and strongly inspired by it. In both Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes and 1984, it is the civilians who suffer. Sadako is one of the thousands of Japanese people who suffered from cancer (and other health complications) as a result of the atomic bombs. Winston, arguably, is one of the people who plays a role in the dropping of those bombs, reinforcing the importance of the constant war and supporting it with his actions. By using Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes to literally reshape 1984, an inherent criticism of colonialism is displayed. It is also a reversal, with the cranes “overpowering” the structure of Orwell’s book—after all, the text can still be read, but the dominant visual impression is of the cranes, rather than the book from which they were formed.


Photo credit: Bonnie Patton, used with permission



Although the delicate cranes—which could be tangled, ruined by a strong breeze or wind—are few in number, and unable to fly, their embodiment of failure is not without a hopeful aspect. In 1984, Orwell writes, “if there was any hope, it lay in the proles.” Winston fails, but also hands over the torch to the bulk of Airstrip One’s population—showing that while his personal revolution fails, it need not truly be the doom of Oceania. The book has become a symbol of the fight against censorship, oppression, and jingoistic wars. Sadako’s cranes have become a symbol of peace across the world, and thousands of cranes are still hung on her memorial every year. According to the book, she herself was unable to fold all the cranes, but many others have done it for her. August 6th has been named International Peace Day in her honour. The cranes, in a sense, show an allegiance to peace and transformation. Though there are only a hundred and twenty-seven, they speak powerfully about two stories that have shaped the world, and connect them across time and distance. A project predicated on the failure of two books and their themes, then, is ultimately a tribute to their success. 



Photo credit: Bonnie Patton, used with permission

***

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Monday, 6 November 2017

In My Skin: Fashion and Fat (a guest post by Katie de Long)

Today I have a guest blog from Katie de Long!

In My Skin: Fashion and Fat


One of my favorite things about fashion is its capacity to highlight the individual in a way few other kinds of self-expression can. The industry has its problems, but for many, fashion can be something that helps them stay afloat in a hostile world, be they a gay cis man, or a fat trans woman.

But with increased eyes on the fashion industry thanks to the body positivity movement come additional pressures. As a fat woman, your desireability and sexuality is in question constantly: you’re desperate, you have no self-restraint, you’re lazy, a host of other judgments. Because of this, for fat women to assert their sexuality through fashion is something that may be needed to reclaim professional stature, or simply to feel that they can look at themselves in a mirror. But this presents a problem, since the most common way of “proving” their worth in a thin-centered world is to hype up their figure and sexuality in a way that thin women do not necessarily have to. We’re on board for fat women- so long as they still have a waist that appears nipped-in compared to their hips, and so long as their weight is carried in an evenly distributed manner, rather than in rolls or cellulite.

This is a problem. It saddles fat women with extra time spent on grooming, extra money spent on clothes that are priced proportionally higher- particularly vintage-inspired clothes that highlight the beauty in curves but that are considered “specialty”, or are priced up due to the additional detail and tailoring of the patterns, compared to drapey, minimalist clothes, simply in order to prove that they aren’t “sloppy” or tasteless. And this exacerbates classist problems that tend to affect marginalized people more strongly. That hourglass wiggle dress might make you seem more ladylike to your boss... but for a black person, would their boss have thought they were unladylike in the first place?

It causes a host of other problems, too, in that it may force people to perform femininity in a way that is toxic to them. Many survivors of childhood sexual assault grow up to content with eating disorders- including compulsive overeating- and many even see the additional weight as a way of rendering themselves invisible to the male gaze that has treated them so violently. By forcing these people to wear tight clothes for their professional or personal advancement, society may be forcing them deeper into dysphoria, or unhealthy mental triggers.

I don’t say that to say it’s always the case. I often joke that my style is “fuck-you femme”, because for me, exaggerated sexuality and performative femininity is liberating. It says that I don’t have to change myself to please people- who cares if my clothes are “frivolous” or “high maintenance?” It says that I deserve to experience my womanhood without gendered violence- something that’s crucial to me as a rape survivor- and without the pressure to hide my womanhood to obtain the benefits we afford those with “masculine” traits. I’ll bowl you over with a list of my achievements if you dare imply that my taste speaks ill of me as a person. My fuck-you femme clothes are a shorthand for the unbelievable pain and soaring pleasure of being a woman.

Many trans or nonbinary people, too, are haunted by these ideals- by sexualized clothes that are not intended to highlight their body shape, by ideas that say that a butch trans woman must not “really” be trans, to present so “masculinely”. Put simply, the idea that fat is okay, so long as you still prize your desireability in the right ways still amounts to a subtle tax on fat people who exist in public spaces. Women already spend more time and money on grooming and presentation, and the growing percentage of fat or obese women who nevertheless must gather goodwill and authority through their fashion choices only weights that balance further.

We’re all individuals, completely unique in how we relate to the world, each other, and the fashion we adorn our bodies with. And in that light, body positivity has quite a ways to go before it’s truly expanded fashion’s inclusivity.

Katie around the internet:
Katie's Facebook Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/696177510494600/
Katie's Twitter: @delongkatie

Friday, 3 November 2017

In and Out of the Closet: A Fat Girl's Personal Style Journey

Content warning: this article deals with body image issues that may be triggering for some readers. Discretion is advised.

I am a member of the Disney Generation. This is hardly a revolutionary claim or point to make, but for a fat femme girl, who's also bisexual, it comes with invisible baggage and fears.

 Full skirts, improbably round breasts, delicate waists, paneled gowns, shimmering fabric, vibrant colours, and jewels shaped my idea of not only desire, but also royalty. Studying history from a young age, I saw rich fabrics, precious treasures, embroidered and lined gowns, and I admired it. Drawing endless pictures of dresses and gowns, often with surprise cut-aways and deep decolletage, I both desired them and wanted to be them. Formal garb was both my ambition and my most secret hope, but it was also something I believe impossible for myself. 

Fat girl life


My mother's body image issues left a deep impact on me, and readily transferred over to my own. I had always been sort of tall, but wished I was taller. Hating my muscles and fat, seeing the curves as proof of a lack of fitness - I didn't grow up within a corset, or with bound feet, but the cage and constant pressure of the BMI chart was just as strangling and hobbling.

In the 90s and 2000s, flatness and muscle and bones were the beauty ideal. I used to daydream about surgery and liposuction and waking up with a body that moved, looked, and felt different. For years, I tried to get by on 1000, 1200, or whatever number of calories per day would work - inevitably failing when encountering food, of course, or when sabotaged by my mother, who'd encourage me to 'live a little' and eat a salty or sweet treat, caving in to her own cravings. But soon, it'd be back on the wheel of nagging to exercise, not for the joy of movement, but to deal with the shame of my flawed body. 

  In this way, I spent my teens and a good portion of my twenties - trying different techniques to shed stubborn pounds that were as good as nailed to my flesh - due, unbeknownst to me to hormonal imbalances. I learned to like certain things, and aspired to climb buildings and corners and walls and roofs, assuming that only by losing weight could I attain those literal high hopes. 

At the same time, in the back of my mind, fashion and clothes I liked were often weighty. Elegant layers, oversized cuts, voluminous skirts, corsets swooping in to hug a waist I didn't think I had - these were things I associated not with femininity alone, but with being regal, imperious, and respected. Later, I became intrigued by swooping, voluminous clothes - Jedi robes, Amidala's gowns, even oversized boxy cuts in music videos. Finding ways to mingle these elements with layers has led to an unexpected but perfect style intersection for me.

#outfit #selfie #clinic #spoonielife

A post shared by SciFiMagpie (@scifimagpie) on



I stopped confining myself to things I 'could wear', and started experimenting with revealing my skin, taking inspiration from slimmer models as necessary and trying out a variety of looks. Overly modest circle skirts, sarongs with jeans underneath, a million skin-tight black turtlenecks, black and white tiered skirts, fishnets and lacy patterned tights, steampunk leather corsets, knitted sweaters and business-like skirts. Eventually, I achieved a more defined and coherent look, featuring cocoon sweaters, leggy wrap dresses, layered corset-cut vests, flowing circle skirts, and oversized scarves - where I'm at these days. Older style elements make their way into clothes, but I dress with more deliberation, strategy, and joy these days, not seeking to hide my shameful corpse under oversized tie-dye t-shirts and baggy jeans or in ill-fitting and suiting button-up shirts. 

The personal is political - pencil skirts included


I've hit a point where I can not only incorporate a variety of influences, but I receive social praise for my skills in doing so. I've begin to feel like I inhabit my own body, that it is not broken, ugly, or in need of repair. The vibrant body-positivity movement has helped this immensely. Then I saw this

At first, I simply ignored it, because I didn't understand it and couldn't relate to it. But after talking about it with a friend, a sort of Pod People-like realisation snapped over me, and I considered that yes, most fat women ARE dressing according to this code. Pretend it's 1950 or face a return to the same old standards and shames. In my retail days, I had to wear carefully coiffed and chosen outfits and makeup, while my very tall, slim manager wore pilling sweaters and got not a word of criticism about it.

Chatting with my friend Katie de Long, who is also both a ferocious feminist and enthusiastic fashionista, I was dismayed and alarmed by the through-line of this pattern. In her words [edited slightly to remove my part of the conversation],

"...There are societal biases that make it MORE needed for fat women to prove their femininity.
No one ever thinks of the "hot curvy girl" as being draped in loose, structural clothes.
They see her va-va-vooming in a waist-training corset and full face of makeup. Anything that "erases" the figure or the curves is seen as undesireable, even if it fits properly and is well-tailored.
I think another thing is that plus sized women are trained to hide their size. We see Christina Hendricks or Amy Schumer's curves as being desireable.... so long as they're in a close-fitting pencil dress. 

But I do admit I'm pretty prey to that shit too. I avoid wearing loose clothes, wear things too tight rather than too lose.... and get really sexual, lots of cleavage, short skirts, slit-up-to-there, etc. I love exaggerated shapes. So I've always hated really drapey clothes, or close-fitting clothes that don't highlight the figure (fuck you, leggings).

Plus, and I know this is victim-blamey, my first semester of college featured a police officer advising the girls in the freshman class to NOT wear loose clothes because it's easier for a rapist to get them off, even without scissors.
So for me, when I wear loose clothes, I have really nasty panic attacks about the idea of someone peeling them off me without my consent. When I wear tight clothes, I feel confident, that they'll have to use scissors, which is more likely to give me an opportunity to either get away, or seize the scissors and take out an eye. As well, my style's fuckyou femme, so for me [as a rape survivor], I feel like my gender and the violence I've suffered because of it is erased when I put on loose, minimalist designs."


What to wear?


At the end of the day, even though clothing choices are fraught with danger and hidden signalling that can be hard to understand, finding a way to express oneself through attire can be very important. From talking to my nonbinary "enby" friends, I've gotten even more insight into this. What strikes me as funny and maybe even uplifting is that my experiences with feminism and trauma have taken me in a circle. Instead of pretending to be a man, or having no identity at all, or seeing my childhood dreams as unattainable, I've been able to make my innermost desires come true.
There's an old saw idea that feminists are ugly, hairy, unconventionally feminine, fat, and basically undesireable. But taking back a sense of inner worth has given me the tools to fight my inner ugliness, wear makeup without feeling as though I'm faking something, and stop hiding my inner exuberance. There is freedom in ugliness and invisibility, and a merit to reclaiming or defying constraints - but at least for me, there is more joy in this new, permissive ground.

Ultimately, I hope that my experiences can make people feel a little better about their own secret desires and hopes. A lot of hay has been made about how 'style has no size', but there's still fierce debate about 'who can wear what'. But simply wearing what one wants isn't as easy as it sounds, and takes time. If you need it, take this as official permission to try out that thing, regardless of your gender. You are not 'too old' or 'too fat' or 'too thin'. 

You are enough. 

And it's okay if it doesn't look right at first. What matters is that your clothing expresses who you want to be. 

Additional reading:

A Nigerian designer using fashion and style to explore feminism and self-expression

Information about the cost of existing in a female body and/or having periods and breasts

The ways we judge women and how it affects their careers 

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