The cups runneth o’er — alas, both do!

Those of you who keep up with this blog know that I (like many other women of the current day and age) have more than one hang-up about my body – and that I recently started going to the gym at long last to try and take positive control over it.  I’m learning how to do that through a program at my gym that involves working with both a trainer and a nutritionist to learn how to combine exercise and eating to transform my lifestyle into one of healthy balance.

Having been “the fat one” for the majority of my life, I won’t deny on any terms the fact that up until now, my life has not been a healthy balance of exercise and eating.  I was never really very good at most of the team sports we were forced to play in PE class all throughout school and I also used food as an emotional crutch of sorts to make up for a lot of things that were going on in my life.

My nutritionist is big on the psychology of food – in other words, what makes us so reliant on food for more than just its nutritional value – and talking with her has illuminated a lot of interesting points in my codependent history with food.  One of the first things I realised was that my negative body image and lack of physical self-confidence is, in fact, directly related to the way I use food.

Funnily enough, it’s all down to my boobs.

Nowadays, I speak of my hefty cup size with flippant and blunt humor, but it has taken a long time for me to learn how to love my boobs.  I know it’s hard to imagine somebody not loving the fact that they have an awesome rack, but try these personal facts on for size:

  • My current cup size is not sold in regular lingerie shops
  • I didn’t reach my final cup size until a few years ago
  • I skipped the whole “training bra” stage, simply because I went from flat chest to a C-cup within a year
  • And, oh yeah, I got that first C-cup bra when I was ten

From the beginning of my school days, I was always aware that I was different.  For the first couple of years at my public elementary school, my brothers and I were among the very few dark-haired non-Caucasians in the student body.  I myself was, at the time, tall for my age (I’m five-none, which is pretty short, but when you’re that height at age nine you’re bound to stick out more than just a little), and while I wasn’t always grossly fat I was pretty sturdily-built.

When mine became literally the only pair of boobs in the third grade, the horrendous trial-by-fire known as gym class became even more of a nightmare.  From hearing the whispers from my “normal” female classmates in the girls’ changing room to the heavy dismay that settled whenever ball sports were announced (because on those days, the boys used to throw all manner of spherical athletic equipment at my chest before the teacher got mad), my boobs stuck out so much that I stuck out even more than I already did with my height and non-Caucasian face.

I had always been a big eater, but not having many friends anymore at school meant that an early childhood of energetic playing with the neighbor-kids was quickly replaced by the more solitary life brought by books, music, and art.  I was also eating more and more out of boredom and comfort than out of hunger and necessity.  Not surprisingly, it was around this time that I started gaining weight quickly.

At first, I was pretty upset about it because suddenly I was actually fat and the meaner ones in my class were pointing that out, too, in addition to everything else.  But all of a sudden I was just “the fat girl,” simply because the sudden growth underneath my C-cups had rendered my breasts entirely irrelevant.  And any woman out there with a big chest will agree with me when I say that having anything render a large cup size irrelevant has to be pretty staggeringly huge indeed.

It seemed easier to me to deal with being larger than everyone else all over than simply just in one specific area, and hiding behind food and my weight became normal for me.  It wasn’t until my long—term health became an actual issue that I actually started facing up to my responsibilities towards myself concerning food and exercise, but even with all of this new and amazing help and all of this strong motivation I have to be perfectly honest.  I have to say that those childhood experiences at school made my psychological reliance on food a lot worse than it would’ve been had I grown up with an age-appropriate body, and that it’s going to be the hardest part of this journey.

Last week, though, I think I was able to get over the first hurdle on that particular stretch.  I was attempting to use the battle ropes in the way my trainer had demonstrated to me and five other women during a group training circuit, and found doing it a hell of a lot more difficult than it looked.  Noticing my struggle, my trainer came up to me and, with a firm but gentle hand, guided my upper body into the correct position.

“Your back has to be straight,” she said.  “Straight, like the way you stand when you’re proud!  And you should be proud – proud of yourself and proud of your body.”

Later on my way out, I found that walking with anything slightly less than a ramrod-straight back made everything hurt even more than it did already, and as I stiffly walked by reception she stopped me and made me look at my faint reflection in the glass doors.

“Stay proud,” she said, “because it looks even better when you’re in normal clothes.”

Reading between the lines and using your grey matter when it comes to Fifty Shades

With its first incarnation being Twilight fanfiction devoured ravenously by Twilight Moms, Fifty Shades was first introduced the world as “mommy porn” – erotica that “primarily appeals to the sensibilities of mothers and housewives.”  I’m not exactly sure that the average housewife or mother is bored or frustrated enough with her own sex life to find Fifty Shades fulfilling on multiple levels of eroticism.  As saccharinely escapist as some of their novels tend to be, the bulk of the Harlequin Empire is made up of books that more than adequately spice up boudoir reading without resorting to the extremely graphic, violent, or manipulative methods that drive Fifty Shades.  All in all, I suppose that what I’m trying to say here is that I find the fact that it is so popular rather disturbing and, quite frankly, horrifyingly telling of the current state of the human condition.

Obviously I am not a fan – in the slightest iota – of EL James and Fifty Shades of Grey, but it’s not because I’m a practising Catholic abstaining from pre-marital sex.  Always a fine example of curiosity killing the cat, I decided to read the book when it came out in order to be able to see what all the fuss was about, and defend my preconception of it as a forest-killing, dumbed-down excuse for a novel.  Already knowing that its origins were in Twilight fanfiction, I was expecting it to be horrible.

That being said, I was horrified at how horrible it actually was.  From its constant deviation from some of the most basic grammatical structures (comma-spliced sentence fragments can be found in abundance here) to the more devastating consequences of its carnally-driven plot, there is nothing edifying on any page.  If any part of it had been marketed as what not to do in a relationship, then maybe I’d have less of a problem with how this book has taken the world by storm.

But no part of this book is marketed as such by any of the powers that put it in widespread public existence, which leads me to question how much of modern humanity actually thinks about what it reads anymore.

I wrote in a previous post about how writing should have integrity, and part of that integrity is doing proper justice to one’s subject – which does not happen here, either with sex or with the characters portrayed.  Sex – vanilla, BDSM, or any flavor in between – is more than just mere entertainment or gratification.  There’s a lot involved in sex on all different levels of human existence, and to disregard any of them is to disregard the entire facet of humanity associated therewith.  There are countless shades of grey in the spectrum of love and sexuality, but in Fifty Shades not one of them is tinted with real love.  Also, although I have no firsthand experience with the sexual culture of BDSM, I do know that it is a much more complex, intricate, and psychologically-driven than the way EL James (mis)represents it in the trilogy.  In Fifty Shades its codes of conduct and etiquette are entirely ignored as it is stripped down to its most basic elements, which are then twisted by and embellished with James’ own half-baked ideas of what a dominant/submissive arrangement looks like…and then tastelessly marketed as “true love.”

Thrust into this morally murky bubble, the main characters lose any kind of edifying traits themselves – which is even more of a shame, in my opinion, because taken out of the context of Fifty Shades and separated from one other there actually might be some potential in both Ana Steele and Christian Grey.  Outside of Fifty Shades and apart from one another in better-written, better-researched novels, they truly could have been different.  If she’d been put through the hoops of heartbreak, doubt, and drastic change by anyone other than Christian Grey, Ana might have become a stronger, confident, and truly independent woman; thus her story could have been a proper coming-of-age.  Christian’s troubled past and sexually psychotic mind, explored by more capable and knowledgeable talent, could have put him in the running for a millennial re-envisioning of a brooding, stormy-eyed Victorian antihero who might have truly been saved by anyone other than Anastasia Steele.

Alas, both characters were forged by a mind that could do neither of them any such justice – and that, in turn, does not do anyone in the real world any justice either.  Ana as the so-called “submissive” not only belittles the struggle of any woman anywhere who has gone through the harrowing experience of an abusive and manipulative partner.  The way she keeps surrendering herself to Christian (and all his appetites), thus allowing him to actually use her for his own pleasure, within the context of EL James’ horribly skewed and extremely twisted misrepresentation of “love” undermines hard-won emancipated femininity.  On the other hand, Christian as the so-called “dominant” adds an extremely unhealthy dose of aggressive misogyny to masculine strength to the point where the male’s traditional role as “provider and protector” is twisted into “possessor and enslaver.”  In him, unconditional devotion is twisted into the skin-crawling id of a stalker; generosity is turned into bribery and guilt-manipulation; and leadership becomes an assertion of both physical and emotional power.

The way Ana allows Christian to use her body without much (if any) regard for her mind or her heart – even though she knows on some level that this is exactly what he’s doing – enforces the erroneous message to women that sex is how you win a man and keep him in your life.  His countless abuses of her, in turn, send the message to men that a woman’s admiration of a man’s strength can be twisted and bent as far as it can go in order to obtain the highest amount of gratification for him.  Her co-dependence on him and her delusions of being his “saving grace” only serve the final end of his sexual gratification, which only comes about after he has both figuratively and literally beaten her to his will.

This is the bottom line of what’s wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey:  the whole “mommy porn” demographic aside, these books have been read by young women who are much, or even exactly, like Ana.  The other part of EL James’ international audience is young, inexperienced, impressionable, and naive enough to fall into the many traps set up by Christian Grey as a horrible misrepresentation of modern masculinity and male sexuality.  There are men like Christian Grey in the real world, but they’re not intangibly contained on a page or a screen out here – and the fact that a whole slew of young women are entering the real world with the expectation or hope of finding their own Christian Grey is frightening in that flesh-and-blood abusers, manipulators, rapists, stalkers, and misogynists are enabled and even eventually legitimised by their uninformed victims’ infatuation with Christian Grey.

Just think about it for a moment:  what Christian Grey does to Ana Steele is abuse, and in some of the worst ways it could possibly be abuse.  In the real world, though many shades of grey do exist between the white of what’s right and the black of what’s wrong, when it comes to any kind of abuse there is no grey area. 

 

***EDIT***

One thing that I did notice when going back to read my text was that I did indeed forget add (and have since rectified) that I read the book to see what all the fuss was about — to see if it actually lived up to its acclaim as the “greatest romance novel of the generation,” and should it not do that, be able to properly defend any preconceptions of mine against the arguments of its fans who would undoubtedly (and indeed, did) defend its “merits.”

I do not mean to criticize EL James for the actual act of writing — all the shortcomings of her grammatical, characterization, and other basic storytelling mechanisms aside, the fact that she wrote something that got published is definitely more than what many other artists may ever see in their own careers. What I do criticize is the irresponsible marketing that went into selling the book, and the subsequent irresponsible consumption thereof.

Sex and anything relating to it — “vanilla” or otherwise — is a volatile subject that, when mishandled in the name of “art,” “entertainment,” or “performance,” can cause emotional and psychological damage on a wide scale. With great power comes great responsibly, and anyone who practises any craft whose fruits become as widespread and globally accessible has a responsibility towards humanity to edify it through their art, not degrade it. If a small group of people had taken Fifty Shades to heart at this scale, it wouldn’t be a terribly huge problem; however the fact of the matter is, it has spurred a whole surge of women — and men — worldwide towards a lifestyle that is not befitting of their dignity as humans. And I’m not talking about the BDSM culture, either: like I said in the original post, the relationship in Fifty Shades is one of extreme abuse that popular culture has now come to view as desirable in real life.

***

If you’re looking for other reads that explore, in more depth, why and how the Fifty Shades relationship is abusive, I highly recommend the following:  “Fifty Abusive Moments in Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Fifty Shades and the Fifty Shades is Abuse Campaign:  Dispelling the Myths,” both by mrsmanics over at The Rambling Curl.

On integrating integrity when I write

About a year ago, I was asked if I would like to write a review of a particular film for the website of an independent cinema here in Montréal. It was a film that had the entire world talking after its premiere at one of the high-profile international film festivals, and this particular cinema just so happened to be one of the first and few in Canada set to screen it. Having my name under its review would have undoubtedly brought me a fair amount of my own publicity, and the potential for increased viewership was enormous.

After a brief consideration of the offer, I declined…but why?

Given the subject matter of the film, I felt that it crossed too many boundaries in all areas of my life.

Morally, the film went against many things in which I believe and by which I try to live my entire life. I was not ready to compromise fundamental beliefs of any kind for the sake of publicity and increased viewership, and am certain I never will be. My values, whether they come from my secular life or my spiritual one, are non-negotiable. The proposal arrived in my inbox only a few months after I reaffirmed to certain beliefs and values, and I felt that accepting it would be a hypocritical step backwards into a lifestyle I had only just resolved to put behind me.

Artistically, I am not yet at the point where I have enough clout to write whatever I want and get away with absolutely all of it. Writing a review for this particular film at this point in my writing career would have probably done more harm than good in the end for a few reasons. A positive review would have meant praising a film whose main attributes went against my aforementioned fundamental values, whereas a negative one would have meant compromising those values anyway to be able to write an actual opinion on the film in the first place.  In either case, none of my efforts would have produced something well-written because there would have been discordance between the writing and my actual perceptions.

Professionally, I still rely on a paycheque from not one but two high-profile industry leaders (one in finance, the other in technology) for my daily bread, and having my real name associated with this sort of thing would have been detrimental to my professional reputation. A person’s online presence can greatly impact their professional life, after all, and I am not in a position to lose either one of my jobs for the sake of an easier road to becoming a full-time writer.

It all boils down to writing with integrity. Whatever the craft requires you to write, I think doing true justice to the art of writing means adhering to your principles when you sit down to write, and not selling out your beliefs and values for the sake of becoming well-known. I have a passion for writing and I want to spend that passion on writing on subjects in which I truly believe and on subjects that I do not feel the need to hide from or justify to anyone in my life.  Of course I dream of becoming a known and acclaimed writer one day, and I am willing to put in the necessary efforts to get as close as I possibly can to achieving that dream. I may or may not ever be paid for my writing, but at least I will be secure in the knowledge that I never compromised my integrity to gain recognition and popularity.