Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Rhetorical Roar of the Adorned Body

Sunglasses, earrings, and sandals: vintage; Top: Old Navy; Skirt: vintage gift from a friend
This skirt is, first and foremost, fun. It's fun to wear, fun to move in, and has a fun, retro appeal.

As is usual for me, it led me to think Deep Thoughts, in this case about oration, writing, and rhetoric and the body's role in all three. But we'll get to that later. First: the outfit.

It's a skirt best seen in motion. It swishes, it rustles, it flips. As I wrote in my last post with this skirt, it immediately calls to mind ballerinas of yore, when their skirts weren't so short and their bodies weren't so thin. In keeping with this look, I chose to wear a tank top and a very casual, high updo, like a ballerina in rehearsal. 

I just had a much needed hair cut and, as always when my hair is shorter, my little corkscrew curl escaped and took off on its own. I've had that curl since I was absolutely wee, I have a photo of me at about two with said escaped curl.

And check out my eyelashes: I told you I was a natural red-ish head! Even my eyelashes are auburn. I somehow get a kick out of that.

But let's get on to my earrings! Despite my three piercings in one ear and two in the other, lately, I've been really into clip-on earrings from the 50s and early 60s. I love the way they follow the lines of the ear and jawline to create a wonderful, feminine elegance. 

They're also generally quite cheap as so few people want to wear them, convinced as they are that they will hurt. Some do, but many do not. If you're willing to fuss with screw-back earrings, you can get them even cheaper. 

I got this thermoset pair for $10 and was so eager to wear them for my blog (that's you, dear reader) that I didn't worry too much about the fact that they don't quite match the skirt. I figured there was enough space between the skirt and the earrings that the mismatch of colours would not be easily noticed.

Besides, I didn't so much colour coordinate this outfit as choose colours that created a fun, sunny mood, as befits such a whimsical skirt.

I got these shoes from a street vendor for only $10. They're Aerosoles and are wonderfully comfortable on my always aching back. They're very soft on the soles of my feet too.

Yes, I know I'm very white. I've mentioned it before. These feet were in the sun all summer. Really. The freckles on my arms prove it.

Altogether, I think the outfit worked quite well, yes? I'd like more canes in more colours and patterns, but the black one wasn't too bad. It didn't really detract from the outfit, did it?

Now on to the meat of my post, the thesis if you will. Notice how much I've talked about my body in this post? Does it sound vain or trivial? See if I change your mind as you continue reading.

Perhaps because the skirt is so lovely in motion, I was in motion a lot as Beau took these photos.

Marlon Brando as Marc Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
And, when I saw the photos, I reminded myself of nothing more than Antony giving his famous, "Friends, Romans, countrymen," speech to justify the murder of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare's play of the same name.

It's true: I'm a talker. I have been all my life. While I may possess the gift of the gab, I hope that I also possess the rigor of the rhetorician. I recall from high school that Antony's speech was presented to us as a prime example of fine rhetoric: the ability to convince others of your view, by using the fine art of speaking and writing with flourish, beauty, and reason.

Portia in Julius Caesar
But, despite the fact that I've given God knows how many speeches at political rallies and lectures to university students, until I saw these universal, "I'm speaking! Listen!" poses, I hadn't really thought of the role of the body in rhetoric.

Are these poses universal? They seem to be.

Portia used her body to convince her husband, Brutus, of her  own argument -- that she could be trusted with a secret. She stabbed herself most brutally in her inner thigh, then gave no sign of her pain in word or in deed. He was convinced and he told her his secret. 

As someone whose body has been brutalized and suffers terrible, constant pain as a result, I am all for the inclusion of the relevance of the body in all our comings and goings in this world, including or the content and form of our rhetoric. 

This sets me apart from many academics who claim that the body is a social construct. (Don't get it? Don't worry. I think it's a stupid idea.) It sets me apart from many philosophers who see the body as little more than a container for the mind, its sufferings, needs, and pleasures irrelevant to any truly intelligent understanding of the world, politics, and society.

The body is relevant and it is through the body that we communicate with one another. 

Some kind of feminist gathering or conference in the early 70s. Gloria Steinem is smoking on the left.
The body is central to our experience of the world and to others' experiences of us. Case in point: was this woman's voice rasping and her throat sore from all the cigarette smoke in the room? Did her argument suffer as a result? Did it hold more or less credibility because of her raised finger and political buttons?

The body is the vehicle for communication, even when we're writing. When the body fails us, so does our ability to communicate. Just ask anyone with a neurological disability that makes movement, including speaking and writing, difficult or even impossible.

Marlon Brando as Antony
And our bodies seem to want to speak in universal gestures beyond language and beyond nations.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
I is interesting for me to note that some of the public orators whom I admire most were or are speaking against oppressions that are centrally about bodies. Martin Luther King was speaking against the oppression of dark skinned bodies. The woman above was speaking against the oppression of female bodies.  I often speak against the oppression of disabled bodies.

 The body is relevant. The body is central to every aspect of living. It is not merely a carcas in which our souls and voices abide. We are our bodies -- free or enslaved, fit or broken, black or white, male or female -- and we have to speak and write within its limitations, and within the limitations placed upon it by an often unjust society.

So don't forget to enjoy your body too! Speak with it, write with it, listen with it. But also adorn it, love it, treat it with kindness. 

Adorned and vocal, hear you roar.

(I'm sharing this over at Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet.)


  1. This one brought tears to my eyes! Ms Charlotte, you have written a wonderful post. All too often we hear messages about changing our bodies to somehow be more acceptable. Let's celebrate our bodies with all their quirks!
    This is a lovely outfit. I love the jewel colours and the movement.
    As someone who has stood on stage to sing and act, it is always important to work out what to do with your hands. They can underline or distract! :-D xo JJ

    1. Thanks, JJ. I really meant for this post to be a light, fluffy piece about an outfit but it turned out differently. My frustrations expressed here are more directed at academia than at the "change your body" culture, but I think it can speak to lots of people in different ways.

  2. It's a beautiful call, Charlotte! I agree. We need treat our bodies - and the rest of ourselves - with kindness and compassion. I think you look adorable in your so very summery outfit, and the earrings are simply gorgeous. They will go with so many different colors and styles! I have a pair of vintage clip-ons which I adore too.

    I love the idea of different colored and patterned canes. You are so right that it is a part of the whole look, and it can be a very fun looking part and make a great impression.

    Have a nice week and be kind to your body. :) xxxx

  3. I really enjoy you blog. keep up the good work.

  4. Very insightful work. I enjoyed reading this and have many things to ponder, provoked by your writing. Thanks for giving me hope with my own disability. I will surely read more. This is the first blog that I have read. Very inspiring, thank you. <3 Kate

  5. Tomorrow is World Cerebral Palsy Day, and October is Disability Awareness month. Thank you for reminding your readers that we communicate with our bodies, regardless of how flawed or broken they may be.

    I think the earrings go quite nicely with your flowy skirt. They are so very "you". ;-)


  6. Wonderful read, Charlotte! I enjoy the juxtaposition of you and Marc/Marlon. Your outfit, flowy skirt, charming earrings - it's all of a lovely piece. Thanks for sharing with Visible Monday, xo.