Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Beauty of Just Because

This was going to be a "just style" post, but I'm not very good at that. Instead, I've included some fashion history from the 1940s, and the 1970s into the early 1980s. But, mostly, it's just style, no filter, no cropping.

I'm having a hard time sticking to my resolution to do more "just style" posts. They feel vain, trite, and materialistic. My Quaker, hippie, feminist upbringing fostered such feelings about femininity.  So did the lefty, counter-culture, queer community that continues to be my cultural home in my adult life. When I think more about it, I know that this attitude toward femininity isn't healthy, but it's a hard one to shed.

None of this is helped by the fact that people read my "just style" posts less then they read my "heavier" posts. That might be my fault, though, since I can't bring myself to promote my style posts as much. It's a kind of internalized misogyny, I think, or, if not that exactly, at least an internalized hatred of my femininity. That self-hatred alone is a good enough reason to push myself to write posts about beauty, and to promote them just as much as I promote any of my other posts. After all, my love of beauty helped to keep me alive in a level of child abuse that can and does kill - often. Whatever helped me to survive is something to celebrate!

So, here we go with the pretty stuff, just because.

Dress: ModCloth; Blazer: INC; Shoes: Cobb Hill; Sunglasses: Reitmans; Earrings, brooch, and ring: vintage
This dress feels pretty and grown-up at the same time.

It's soft and fluttery, and looks especially beautiful in motion. Granted, I'm seldom able to be in motion, but there is the wind. It can flutter my dress for me.

With its hem-length, colour scheme, and tailoring, it gives me a 1940s vibe ...

... which I think you can see.

My footwear choice kind of clinches the 1940s feel.

Note the similarity between my dress, and the dress worn by the woman in the bottom right of this 1940s, shoe advertisement. See what I mean?

Photo by Charles W. Chushman
You can see that this woman is wearing similar shoes and a similar hem-length too. 

Mostly, though, I just wanted to show you this great photo of what I think is the lower east side of Manhattan, where much of my Jewish family lived when they first arrived here as refugees from the pogroms. I don't know if any of them were still living there in the 1940s, but I know a lot of them lived there between about 1890 to about 1920.

But I digress. It's hard to stick to this "just fashion" thing!

I think that part of what makes my dress more 1970s and early 80s than 1940s is lightness of the fabric, the darting, and the puffy sleeves ...

... like these blouses from the 1982 Sears catalogue ...

Isabel Sanford in The Jeffersons
... or like Louise Jefferson's dress here. 

See? Not the same but, but definitely similar. 

It's hard to be sure, though, since 1940s style ... 

... was so heavily copied through the 1970s and 1980s, as evidenced in the 1978 Sears catalogue.

Women's blazers were also the rage in both periods.

About 1942.

About 1972? See what I mean? It's redic! (For more on the similarities between the fashions of the two decades, check out The 70s Do the 40s: Fashion History Repeating Itself.)

My blazer isn't as fitted, but it is still tailored for the female body. I'm all for women wearing menswear styles, and sometimes wearing men's clothes works, but, often, clothes tailored for women's frames are more flattering to our figures

Though I think my dress ...

... looks more like office wear, than like dance-hall wear ...

... and the whole, collar-out thing was popular in both the 40s and the 70s ...

... doing this with my collar always makes me think of disco ...

... and polyester leisure suits. Don't you just love this photo? This is yet another batch of long-lost, Jewish relatives I've discovered - in Alabama! From left to right, I'm related to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th people in this photo: three sisters and their brother. And I'm pretty sure I own a pendant just like the one the woman on the far right is wearing. 

But all these historical, fashion allusions aside, what knocked me out most about this dress was the colour scheme.

I like the colour contrasts in the buttons, collar, and waist. And I like the way the wispy purple leaves kind of echo the wispiness of the dress itself. I played up these colours in my lipstick and eye-shadow choices.

Eve Arden and Otto Kruger
The palette of the outfit (and my makeup) is yet another thing that was popular in the 1944s. Feast your eyes on this set from the 1942 movie, Cover Girl. Doesn't it just slay you?

Otto Kruger and Eve Arden again, in Cover Girl, 1944
Here it is again! If I added a pop of teal, and a little beige to my outfit, I'd fit right in.

But I'd say I'm pretty well-coordinated nonetheless. Yes, my bra straps do match my dress. And, yes, my dress does match the flowers. A lot of my friends thinks it's odd or even miraculous that I notice and put energy into things like that. To me, it's natural, easy, and fun, not work. It's as natural as drinking water when I'm thirsty. It's just a thing I do because it's who I am. 

So, while we're sort-of on the topic, let's talk about my accessories. 

The sunglasses? Well, duh! Not only do they match my blazer and the trim on my dress, but they're also in a style that was popular in the 40s. 

As a kid, my grandmother taught me that purples clash with reds, and various reds clash with each other. Sure, this can be true, if, for example, I were to wear a tomato red with a wine red, but, in general, I worry about my grandmother's rule less and less. 

These warm, rich reds, pinks, and purples seem to me to harmonize very nicely. Just for fun, I'm trying to branch out and wear more greens and bold colour combinations, but I do wear this warm combination a lot. I guess I think it's flattering on me.

So, it was my garnet and gold earrings ...

... with my ruby, diamond, and gold ring. Notice that rubies can be much pinker than garnets, which have a browner undertone to them. I do prefer the rubies, but my wallet does not!

I don't think that the difference is that noticeable unless you look at the two pieces side-by-side, and, even then, I wouldn't say they exactly clash. What do you think?

When my no-goodnik father died, and left me an entirely unexpected inheritance, I bought this ring as a bit of an "F You" to the man who abandoned me to abuse so heinous, I'm crippled for life. I knew he would have hated the ring. And I knew I loved it. Petty? Not as much as it is healing, and I wear it a lot, not for revenge, but just because it's so pretty and matches so much of what I wear.

I really don't know much about this vintage brooch. I just liked it so I bought it. I think it's poured resin, but I'm not sure. It's pinker than it looks here.

This gives you a better sense of its colours. 

Personally, I think a brooch is always a classy touch, and a nice homage to the women who came before us. 

My Quaker grandmother, in a dress similar to mine, wearing one of her beloved brooches. I'm thrilled that I've managed to find the same brooch in both gold-tone and silver-tone. 
My Quaker and Jewish grandmothers were very different, but they both loved their brooches.

Incidentally, and even further off topic, I love this spot love for its unexpected contrast between lovely, green, domesticity, and inner city grit. Just a few steps away, there's a very popular, noisy pub. On the corner, you'll find what Beau and I call "The Mall," where local folks, many of them street people and/or drug addicts, sell this and that, including stuff they've found in the trash. A lot of drug deals go down nearby. That bridge you can see is part of one of the largest transit hubs in the city, and the intersection of several bus lines, and two major elevated (above-ground subway) lines. The street intersection itself is also one of the busiest in the city. Thousands of people pass through this area every day.

And yet, here I am, a literal stone's throw away, peaceful and quiet, in a residential neighbourhood drenched with flowers and neighbourly feeling. I know; Beau used to live a few houses down from here.

That is Canada for you. Our cities, even our biggest cities, have real neighbourhoods, yards, parks, local shops... even in their cores, especially in their cores. When I lived in New York City, I thought I'd die just to see a blade of grass, even in a schoolyard! 

By contrast, here, there's a local raven who often sits right on the top of the elevated station, crowing about how this land is still his. By golly, it is!

It's good for the soul ...

... even when the body has had enough. This was a high pain day for me.

On days like these, it's a victory if I get out of the house at all, let alone manage to pose for photos, and get out of the car and walk around a little to pose for them. 

But these flowers! And my dress! Together!

For me, it was worth it. Is that mere vanity? Mere materialism? Mere feminine frivolity? 

So f*cking what if it is! It got me out of the house, didn't it? 

It got me moving! And that is not easy for me!

Applause, please?

Thank you.

And then I return to my quiet little home, as beautifully decorated...

... as I am! Just because.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Short, Round, and Cute: A Distinguished Older Gentlewoman

I've written about women in suits before, so that's not what this post is about. I will say that, in this patriarchal society, I think a lot of us assume that women are taken more seriously when they wear sombre, man-style suits. Our feminine outfits, we think, are seen as frivolous, less serious. This may or may not be true, but, when I looked at these photos of me in a suit, I noticed something different: I think I'm becoming a little old lady, and nobody takes little old ladies seriously, suit or no suit.

This got me to thinking about the difference between the way people perceive ageing men and ageing women. Men become distinguished. Women become doting grandmothers - or irrelevant. Men become powerful. Women lose power. Ageing women are not taken seriously, especially if their ageing naturally.

Ask any middle aged woman, and she'll tell you: mostly, she's invisible.

If ageing women are short, like me, if these ageing women grow plump with age, like me, the best they can hope for is to be... cute. Short, plump, little, old ladies are cute. I'm cute. 

Fine. I don't mind being cute, but, my God, I am so much more than that!

I, dear readers, am a Distinguished Older Gentlewoman.

Vest and trousers: Reitman's; Shoes: Cobb Hill; Blouse: Eloquii; Right hand ring: Birks; Jacket, brooches, and earrings: vintage
When I put this outfit together, I thought I looked smart, well put together, a force to be reckoned with ...

Remington Steele: Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt, Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele, and Doris Roberts as Mildred Krebs
Like Laura Holt, in Remington Steele...

... like the highly educated, English proffie that I am.

Though the 1980s, Laura Holt was on my mind, I'm a particular fan of 1970s tweedy suits.

I was going for that ...

Louise and Liza, by Alix Dobkin
... and the dapper power of it.

I wish I could get away from the feeling that feminine frills hold no power, and masculine tweeds do, but there it is. I don't think I'm alone in this. No matter how femme they are, over and over, I see women throw back their shoulders and adopt the swagger of power - when they dress "like a man." It's no surprise, given the world in which we live.

But, since the last time I wrote about women in suits, I've changed.

I've grown older, and I've gained weight. The two often go hand in hand, of course, especially when they're both complicated by disability.

In general, I hate that I look older and rounder with each passing year. But, in looking at these particular photos, I wasn't really bothered too much by my physical changes. I think I look less professional in a suit than I did (why I feel that is a disturbing question), but I also think I look kind of cute like this ...

Gordon Jump as Arthur Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati
... more of a Mr Carlson on WKRP ... 

Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan on Reminington Steele
... than a Laura Holt or a Remington Steele ...
Richard Sanders as Les Nessman on WKRP in Cincinnati
... Les Nessman, if you will ...

... nerdy glasses and all. These are my reading glasses. My distance glasses are the same, but clear. It's really bifocal... excuse me, "graduated lenses" time, but I'm sure I'd puke if I tried them, especially since, as a disabled person, I'm often in positions most people aren't in while wearing their glasses: the lenses are designed for upright people, and I'm often not upright.

Besides, I'm starting to get cataracts, and they may well lead to a swift change in prescriptions. 

Yes, cataracts! Cataracts! Jesus, I feel old. 

Ed Asner as Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
But back to short, round, middle aged people in dapper vests. Lou Grant might have been a character in a comedy, but he was taken seriously. His age, weight gain and all, connoted a wisdom and power that inspired fear and respect. 

But a similarly ageing woman? Not so much. Ed Asner is in his mid-40s in the above photo, about the age when men start being called "distinguished." I'm 48. Don't I get to be distinguished too?

It really doesn't help that I'm short. This short, round, little Jew...

... is never going to be Helen Mirren in a suit.

Charlotte Rampling in the 1970s
Let's face it, most iconic images of women in suits, are images of tall, slim, white women with Anglo features. There's no getting away from that.

Me, about 4 or 5, about 1975
I was never going to be tall, willowy, blond, and blue-eyed. 

I was always called cute. Like super cute. I was far smaller than other girls my age, I was very feminine, and I had those chubby cheeks, and puffed little belly, exaggerated then as it is today by my sway back.

And I talked and talked. I talked like a grown up, about grown up ideas and concepts. I was very serious about these things. The juxtaposition between my cute little face and body, and the words that came out of my mouth? Cute!

Nothing much has changed. 

Me, about 23, about 1994
I mean, they changed for a while, in my 20s, when I got into fitness and became very slim. In fact, I was tiny

Did people take me more seriously when I was thin? Not really. I was young, feminine, pretty ... and, yes, still cute. Everyone knows that cute, pretty women are vapid and vain, with very little to say that's worth hearing. 

That finally started to change when I got my MA in my 30s. Was it because I was in my thirties and already edging in on my "expiry date" (the one imposed on women by sexist men)? Or was it because I had that MA? I'm not sure. 

At any rate, in my 40s, disability and middle age put an end to slender me, and returned my body...

Judging by the candles and the date, this was my 3rd birthday
... to its original, cute, short, roundy state. 

See what I mean? I'm exactly the same now!

I don't mind being short. I don't mind being cute. Most of the time, I actually like it.

There's nothing wrong with being cute.

I don't think anyone has ever found me cuter than Beau does. At 6'1", and of Germanic stock, he exclaims upon my cuteness several times a day. He says I'm "just little" in a way that makes me sound adorable. He calls me a boo, which he defines as "as short, roundy person." It's definitely a compliment.

He also calls me a "little muffin" ...

... and "a cute, little mushroom."

Farrah Fawcett as Jill Munroe on Charlie's Angels
We've all seen and read the "beauty" tips on how to look younger, taller, thinner, whiter, blonder ...

... but, even so, sometimes I can see what Beau sees in me: I can see that being a little boo is a good thing. 

But there's another problem: I think, deep down, part of why it's hard to see myself this way is because, as I gain weight ...

Presumably my 4th birthday, October, 1974
... I am more and more reminded of myself as a very little girl. I was already being horribly sexually abused at this age, my pudgy little body and object of sexual desire for the many pedophiles my smother invited into my life. Look into this little girl's eyes, my eyes, and tell me you can't see it. Tell me you can't see the agony, the bewilderment, the cry for help. Or do you just see a cute kid?

I was just cute. Any time I tried to tell, or even tried to talk about something serious, something that mattered to me, everyone laughed. They just laughed. Aw, how cute that the little girl is telling tall tales. She doesn't know reality from fantasy. How could she? She's too little, too young, too cute. 

My own appearance was the punchline to everything I said, joke or not.

I wish to God someone had taken me seriously. If they had, I wouldn't be here, now, like this, crippled by the brutality of child sex trafficking, struggling every day with the physical pain of disability, and the mental anguish of complex PTSD.

And yet ...

... and yet, I am a formidable force, not despite it all, but because of it all.

This might sound silly, but my cat, Chuti, has made me think about all this in new ways. She is, by far, the tiniest full-grown cat I've ever seen. She's 5.5 pounds. Ironically, the name we picked for her means "cutely tiny" in Sinhalese. And she is cute, so cute it hurts my heart.

But she's also far and away the smartest, most adventurous, most fearless cat I've ever known. She is, without a doubt, the alpha of our home. Nothing phases her.

Underestimate us boos at your own peril. Underestimate me at your own peril. 

Booishness not withstanding.

I'm well-read, some might say very well read. I'm well-educated. I've got a BA in English, Communications, and Women's Studies; a two year, teaching English as a Second Language certificate; and a top notch, MA in English literature and language. I got top grades in all of these. Heck, I even got top grades in my advanced high school program, while being sex trafficked. I graduated with academic honours.

I have several years of teaching experience, first teaching adult, ESL students, and then teaching university English. In work and life, I'm efficient, well-organized, and clever.

I have a good facility with the English language, and always have. I can write well, in many different styles. Despite everything, I was already managing to earn money as a writer and editor at 19.

I have more life experience than anyone should. By five, I'd seen and experienced things most people can't even imagine. By ten, I'd witnessed a gory murder and been warned that I was next if I stepped out of line. By 17, I was on my own, supporting myself in a retail job, in a strange new city, picking through garbage for clothing and furniture.

I know things about the world, and about humanity that many people don't know. I see the connections between evils that most people would rather not even admit exist.

And I write about it all. I speak out. That makes me dangerous. The other day, Rosanna Arquette said I'm "a force to be reckoned with." That really made my day. I am!

And I'm short, and old, and roundy. 

This body, this cute, round, little body into which I was born, is a big part of why I became a force to be reckoned with. To be a female is to live in constant danger of violence, including sexual violence. Same goes for being a child. Same goes for being small. But to be a small, female child? That's a trifecta of danger, cute or not.

No joke.

In a body like this, I had no choice but to become a fighter, a survivor.

I've survived all the way to 48. My growing belly and bosom, my increasing booishness, are a testament to my survival. My God, I've survived long enough to become menopausal! I'll bet my rapists didn't expect that when I was three and they passed me around, when I was four and they dragged me from behind a car, when I was five and they pointed guns at me, when I was nine and they chained me to a wall, when I was twelve and they tied me to a bed. Charlotte, still here in middle age? Nah.

I'm still here!

A quick aside: No, I don't colour my hair. It just hasn't gone grey yet. But I still get to be a distinguished, older gentlewoman, right?
I, gentle readers, am a distinguished older gentlewoman.

Pierce Brosnan
We know what that looks like in men.

Judi Dench as M in a Bond movie
It's about time we gave some thought to what that looks like in a woman. 

Brenda Blethyn as Vera
I'm smarter now ...

Carrie Fisher as General Leia
... more powerful ...

Judi Dench as M
... more skilled. 
Kenny Doughty and Brenda Blethyn on Vera
And like these short...

Pierce Brosnan and Judi Dench

... booish women ... 

Brenda Blethyn as Vera
... I've got the body weight to prove it. Like greying hair, it's a marker of having made it to this age, with this strength, and this experience.

Take me less seriously at your peril.

Judi Dench and Ali Fazal
And I'm cute and little ...

... and booish. No contradiction there. Quite the opposite. You try going through life with this body and tell me I'm weaker because of it. It sure as hell ain't for sissies. 

There! Now that we've got those fundamental truths out of the way, let's spend a few moments on the outfit, because distinguished older gentlewomen get to wear whatever the hell we like.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a pash for all things tweedy. Maybe it comes from having read so much early to mid 20th century literature from the UK. I don't know.

This vest and these trousers aren't actually tweed, but they're a very decent approximation thereof. The thread of green throughout ...

... were the inspiration for my makeup ...

... my vintage earrings, circa 1930s ... 

... and, of course, my blouse. 

I've always been a fan of wearing man-style vests that are well-cut for the female form. When I was younger and lest busty, I liked how they made my breasts look larger. That's no longer a goal, but I'm fine with it.

This jacket doesn't just look like men's clothing, it actually is a man's jacket. As such, it doesn't button up over said ample chest, but that doesn't matter. Despite the bit of unexpected snow still lingering on the ground, I had no need to button it up.

I think the jacket is a really good match with the vest and trousers. I'm not a big fan of pattern mixing, but these two patterns are so small, and so similar, I think it works well here.

Now to the best part: my brooches.

I'm not really sure, but I think this one might be from the 1940s or early 1950s. I feel that, in some, subtle way, it echoes the tweed pattern of the vest.

I added this brooch because I thought the earthy look of the dentritic agate matched the earth tones of the outfit. This brooch was an incredibly exciting find for me. It's Victorian, so 120 years old, or older, and it was less than $10! The stone itself is worth way more than that. Yay me! 

Helpful hint: When trying to determine how old a brooch is, look at the pin mechanism on the back. See how the pin extends past the stone here? That, among other things, marks it as Victorian. (The nice flash of the gold, combined with the fact that it's worn away in places, suggests to me that it's "rolled gold," a Victorian process similar to gold plating.)

Look at this thing! Isn't it magical? And yet also earthy.

To continue with the earth tones, I wore these favourites. What can I say? They were a really great purchase ...

... and they match my hair.

The colour tones of the outfit dictated my choice of location. This is one of the only New York style buildings in my neighbourhood. There are very few such buildings in the whole city, actually. 

And, yeah, I have lived in New York City. That's another thing I've done in this long life of mine.

It sure as hell hasn't been an easy life. It's still not an easy life. My experiences show in my body, my shape, my size, my scars, my disability. But I'm still here and that's one hell of a victory.

And I'm still cute too, despite it all, because of it all. And I'm still loveable, if my kitty, Ketsl, is to believed.

And so, from this distinguished older gentlewoman to another (you!), I bid you adieu.

Till next time, rest well, do your best, and be proud. 

(I'm sharing this post with Not Dead Yet and Not Dressed as Lamb.)