Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cupcakes & Jealousy

I'll admit it now, without qualm or reservation, I am a jealous person. I am jealous of the skinny, the musically talented, the blonde, the productive, the confident and the focused. I envy the girls who stole the hearts of all my men and I envy the "it girls" of the world, who manage to garner attention for doing practically nothing. Although jealousy is hardly a valiant emotion, I think it is a noble thing to own up to it, for it is jealousy which is responsible for much of the bullying and intimidation that goes on around us. If we can take responsibility for our jealousy, we can untangle our desires, our motivations and possibly prevent the exclusion of a person who doesn't deserve to be an object of resentment.

I write this, as I recently had a remarkable surge of jealousy. My mother pointed out her picture in some Sunday lifestyle magazine. She was featured as some kind of an "it girl". She posed for a photograph and elaborated upon her kitschy, eclectic style. She mentioned clothes I would never have the bravery to wear, they would either too feminine or outrageous or else incompatible with my hip to waist ratio. When I knew her in primary school, she was a big girl, perhaps the biggest of our group. Since then, she has slimmed down dramatically. She is glowing and ethereal. She is a "blogger".

I visited her blog to survey her purported empire. It was doused in bright, rainbow colours, mixed with vintage hues. There were thousands of pictures of herself, posing. In one picture, she would be thinking of something serious. In another, she would be thinking of something fierce. She poses without doubt or reservation. Sprinkled among her self portraits were cupcakes. Photographs of perfectly designed cupcakes, so perfect that I wouldn't be surprised if they were made out of plaster of Paris. She spoke of making cushions, clouds in New York and her innumerable media appearances. Media appearances? Why? What for? What are you actually saying?

I was confused by the whole business. How could she possibly convey such a positive outlook when her upbringing was so similar to mine? How could she see so much beauty in the world, when she lives a few streets away from me? The jealous, insane part of me cried, it could have been me!, but I know it couldn't possibly have been. My world isn't rainbows, cupcakes, fairies and denim shorts. I do not have the candour of a nine year old child. Quite simply, I do not have the vanity to do what she does. I cannot post thousands of photos of myself online in the belief that my readers see any value in it. I say that in a somewhat bombastic acknowledgement that this is precisely what many of my favourite fashion bloggers do. But as much as I am attracted to their makeshift glamour and self-developed exhibitionism, it just isn't me.

All this makes me wonder if I am truly jealous of her. I think I am. I envy her cohesive visual aesthetic. She appreciates the quaint, the innocent and the beautiful. I am jealous of her remarkable output, even though she doesn't really say anything of great depth, it's great that she can produce so much in such a little space of time. I am perhaps most jealous of her purported fame. I say "purported" because I don't know if it's real. Is she a real celebrity or simply one in her own head? She has hardly any comments on her blog entries, does anybody care what she has to contribute? If she stopped, would anybody accost her to ask why? I wonder if she thinks these things, as I do. I know if she did, she would keep her thoughts well hidden from public view, as she is meant to.

I am certain that I'll likely be jealous of everyone til the day I die. I am becoming progressively more comfortable with this fact. I have to be comfortable with it, because I am forever examining at the qualities and attributes of others. I do not do so for the purposes of resentment. I believe I do it to refine my own values, to establish the personal qualities that I admire and long for within myself. I see a lot of value and inspiration in my old friend, but there are still so many questions left to be asked. As she progresses further and further up the "it girl" trajectory, I have to wonder: is she really the person I knew?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Love Yourself in Two Weeks

I was surprised when my clever friend Jamboshoeshine told me he had learned to avoid advertising in London. It seemed an impossible feat, after all advertising was an incredibly potent presence. Everything from the posters which punctuated the walls of the tube, following the gradient of the escalators, to the glorious corporate lightshow of Piccadilly Circus. I noted the tourist posters, invitations to Kensington Palace and Hampton Court. I recognised the seemingly endless run of West End musicals I would never attend. I also noted the lack of a hypodermic needle effect. I didn't suddenly feel compelled to spend money without due consideration. All I noticed is that I noticed them.

There was one particular piece of advertising that did remain with me. It was a poster in a bus shelter, across the road from Paddington Station. We passed it each day. At night, the message basked in a neon hue, orbited by moths and other insects. It was an advertisement for Special K. It featured an athletic girl, posing to emphasise her hips in the trademark red, one piece bathing suit. Her long brown hair had vague waves and her smile was broad, her mood ecstatic. The tagline proclaimed: "Love your shape in just 2 weeks."

I felt uncomfortable with that familiar promise. It was familiar, as I had seen similar consumer incentives in the past. Just try it! Even for a short time! We'll guarantee you'll love it! The Special K ad was different somehow. It carried a sinister inference of self loathing, an implication that physical pride can only come from weeks of starvation. I could never quite articulate it at the time, but I remember expressing my discomfort about it to Andrew: "Should it really take two weeks?"

It was only when I came upon the advertisement again at the Old Street tube that I realised what it was. This time, the Special K poster had been defaced. "In just two weeks" had been aggressively crossed out, over and over again. A speech bubble had been drawn and from the smiling girl's mouth, she said "you r beautiful as you are". I couldn't help but be moved by the defacement. Not only was it succinct, but it was a rare message to behold. We have grown accustomed to such notions of personal dissatisfaction, but it is never expressed so as to acknowledge the true nature of that core belief. It is an a universal mantra that millions of girls share: "I need to lose weight to be beautiful."

But how much weight do I need to lose exactly? When does that point of satisfaction come? After two weeks? Then will I stop hating my body?

"You r beautiful as you are" defies the traditional tenets of consumer desire. If our own idea of beauty is contingent upon buying a product, losing weight, getting that job, writing that article, making them love us, then we may never have our fill. The original piece of advertising seeks to reinforce the idea that self-love is possible. In two weeks time, no less. It would be remarkable to think that we are enough, that we are beautiful, in this moment, free of art and artifice. That is why I am determined to believe that defacement. After all, I don't want to wait two weeks to love myself. Two weeks is a long time and Special K just isn't that tasty.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

140 Characters or Less

I never thought I would succumb, but I have. One thousand, seven hundred and forty times over.


My first Twitter encounter was at work. I had to register several accounts to correspond with our many splinter companies. It was these splinter companies which would later become the source of the group's financial ruin. Voluntary liquidation aside, I thought it'd be great if I could start a personal account @missy_el, for it didn't seem as reactionary as status updates on Facebook. I had experienced the cruelty of impatient friends, proclaiming that they didn't care how many words I had written or if I had just eaten a truly delicious sandwich. Twitter provided for those momentary thoughts, those passing giggles that would otherwise be too stupid and inconsequential for Facebook. Maybe those thoughts and giggles are too stupid and inconsequential for Twitter, but none of our followers can be bothered to @us to tell us this is the case.

Another allure of Twitter is the prospect of connecting with celebrities we love and adore. I speak, particularly, of @StephenFry, who commands a rather sizeable chunk of my heart. Whenever he expands, explains or elucidates on QI, whenever he smirks knowingly as Jeeves or else dancersizes emphatically on Fry and Laurie, I know I am in love. My passion for his wit, warmth and intellect touches me deep inside. I once dreamt he was my boyfriend and he swooned, "Oh El, you're so clever..." It makes me chortle, the thought of his intellectual giant towering over my low-to-mid range intellectual stature. I would love to talk with him one day. Of course, my Dad would have to be there too, he is the only one I know who could ever compare to Fry. We would drink tea and talk about J. Arthur Rank comedies. This would make me happy.

In spite of these feelings, I try not to tweet him. I refrain from such delirious activities as best I can, but sometimes I cannot help but write a few characters and click "Tweet". You can't expect a response, he receives tweets every few seconds. But even in respect to someone such as Vince Clarke (@thecabinstudio), a person who manages to follow his followers, to reply to every question he's been asked, what could I possibly say? How could I possibly convey the personal consequence of a recording like Erasure's Innocents? In 140 characters, no less (how could you waste a single letter?). I would need pages, books to adequate describe its beauty and consequence and even then I don't think I could do it right. Perhaps I need to edit my thoughts somehow, compress them and make them conducive to a thoughtful response, or else forget the whole idea of making contact altogether.

I find it difficult to let go of the idea of making contact, although. As Stephen faces a seemingly endless assault of vicious personal attacks for what could only be described as an opinion, I feel totally powerless to stop it. What can I do? What can I say? He is not the antichrist, nor is he a misogynist. To even contemplate such a notion ruins me. He is entitled to his views on heterosexuality, as I am entitled to my views on homosexuality. This is completely fine. Misquote or not, irrespective of any defence whatsoever, I still support him wholeheartedly. For all the understanding and inspiration he provides, I could never do anything but support him wholeheartedly and tell him I love him.

I apologise for my heinous display of rueful gushiness, but there it is. I'm sorry I couldn't make the 140 character cut.