Monday, 9 July 2012

Fifty Shades of... Confusion

Hi everyone,
So recently the world and his wife (mainly his wife) have been going on about the 'Fifty Shades' trilogy of books written by E .L. James. Many have claimed they are the acceptable face of women's pornography, others that they contain a beautiful, if erotic, love story and that the character of Christian Grey epitomises what many women in society crave in a partner. Many women have seen a dramatic change in their sex lives which they acredit to the books giving them new ideas or a new, envigorated libido.

After all the hype, I had to join the bandwagon and begin reading. I started this journey on Friday and am now, three days later, already half way into the second book. So do I like them? I'm not sure. I, like I'm sure many others, feel a conflict of opinion for more than one reason.

My immediate impression on beginning to read was that I really didn't want to like them at all. Like many others have said, the quality of James' writing leaves a lot to be desired. There seems to be a fair amount of repetition used in her description of Anastacia's (the heroine of the series) arousal. I found myself recognising similarities, or often the exact same words used, each time there was a sex scene. It made the sex have less impact on me as a reader (which I'm guessing wasn't the aim). Another element that made me uncomfortable when reading was the tendency to firstly villify certain BDSM behaviours as disgusting, out of the question and only for freaks. There are many people in the world who enjoy these very behaviours in a safe, consensual way. They should not be made to feel picked out as perverted. As the book demonstrates, sex is a very individual thing. What is perfectly acceptable for one person might not be for another but it is something which is so individual and personal that there should not be judgement. Sexual fantasies and desires are natural and healthy and should not be discouraged.

However, even noting the book's limitations; parts that I'm sure are meant to be serious but had me chuckling or cringing to myself, I still did enjoy it and am continuing to enjoy the second installment. Christian Grey as a character does captivate me as a reader. His dryness, his sexiness, his controlling and possessive nature. Some have said he's an unhealthy character to fantasise about. Of course, he's completely dangerous. But he is multi-faceted. This intensity is certainly what attracts me to reading about him. Yes, his control and his mood swings are worrying traits that women should steer clear of in partners. Many have said that his need for physical control of his partner is abusive, a view which is referred to in the text. However, James has crafted Grey as so much more, and perhaps the epitome of the classic troubled bad boy who women feel they can make good.

So, would I recommend? Certainly, if you are looking for an intellectually stimulating read with gorgeous use of language this is not it. If you are of the frame of mind that literature should be moral, teach a lesson, or guide on the right way to live, then again, this book may offend you. The young and impressionable or those who notoriously pick the 'wrong' men may want to steer clear. However, if like me you are interested in what the fuss is about, pick it up. I did not think I would be taken under the spell but, for better or worse, I have been. For the last few nights, and the next few to come, Christian Grey is indeed my bedtime obsession.

Have you read the trilogy? Are you avoiding it at all costs?

Frances x

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Can you be girly and hairy?

Hi everyone,

I am starting this new blog to address issues that are either in the media or that happen to appear in my somewhat confused brain. I also write a fashion blog but felt that sometimes it might be a nice (and perhaps even therapeutic) change to log my thoughts and opinions on some of the less superficial matters in life. Not that fashion is only superficial. Not at all.

I do not claim to be the most clued-up and well-read person in the world. All I do claim to be, in fact, is a person in the world. This means that I, and each one of you reading this, have an ability and a right to express opinions on whatever we like. I aim to be inoffensive in all posts I write, however, I do also aim to give my true and honest opinion on topics which either directly affect me or just compel me to put virtual pen to paper.

With this disclaimer and introduction over I would now like to get to the point of this particular post. Last night, BBC 3 broadcasted a documentary presented by Cherry Healey (whom I love) which is part of her series named 'How to Get a Life'. If you are in the UK and want to watch, the link to the show on BBC iPlayer is here. This episode focused on how different people's looks played a part in their lives and whether looks could positively or negatively change a person's life. While there were many interesting stories throughout the programme, the most interesting, and most relatable to me was of the group of girls who go by the name 'Those Pesky Dames' on Youtube. You can watch their incredible Youtube Channel here.

These girls, who all seem to be similar ages to myself, are active feminists who, via the medium of Youtube promote a modern feminist argument that dispells some of the preconceived notions of what it is to be a feminist with fun, insightful and inspiring videos. The reason why these girls were featured in last night's documentary was that they were questioning the reasoning behind the culturally accepted view that it is appropriate for women to have hairless bodies. They themselves had grown hair on their bodies (most notably their underarm hair) and encouraged Cherry Healey to take part too in order to challenge this societal norm.

This part of the programme really got me thinking. At first, I will admit, I recoiled in horror as one girl pulled up her arm to reveal a good covering of hair on her armpit. Personally, I, like Cherry who presented the show, have a less than healthy relationship with hair and hair removal. I have dark hair which, on my head, is often the source of compliments. I also have an olive complexion which again some see as desirable. However, along with these perhaps enviable traits I am also the proud owner of dark hair on the rest of my body and have for as long as I can remember been ashamed of it and tried desperately to get rid. As far back as primary school I can remember comments being made about the hair on my legs and arms, and even my upper lip. At this young, pre-pubescent age I genuinely believed that because of my body hair I was less attractive and more masculine than my fairer haired friends. As I became older and started puberty I was encouraged by my older sister, and was relieved to pluck my eyebrows, shave my legs and underarms, bleach the hair on my arms and use hair removal cream on my top lip. As I did this I noticed even more hair, like along the sides of my face, on my stomach area, pubic hair, even down to hairs on my hands, fingers and toes.

I remember genuinely thinking that I was abnormal for having such obvious hair on my body as a girl. I believed no-one would ever find me attractive. When I began my first relationship I remember being terrified at the prospect of shaving my pubic hair, not being able to confide in anyone as I was far too embarrassed, but also not quite sure on how to go about it properly. At no point did I ever consider leaving the hair there.

Today, years on from the girl that I was then, I still have massive insecurities about my hair. I regularly maintain my eyebrows and the hair on my top lip. I will never wear shorts or a skirt without shaving my legs and I daily shave my underarms. Sometimes I look down at my feet and am disgusted by the hair on my toes, so that comes off too. Although I stopped bleaching the hair on my arms and so they are now left natural, I often worry about what people will think of them. Sometimes I remove the hair on my stomach. And never would I enter a new relationship with any hint of hair 'down there'. Not only do I do all these things, but very often I do them when I have the house to myself and it's not something I regularly talk about with other people. I am still ashamed of the fact that without my intervention I would have noticeable hair in the place where men grow moustaches. I envy girls who have hairless arms and think they look more attractive in short sleeved clothing. I have many times considered and lusted after laser hair removal, which could reduce my hair growth, even if it did cost way more than I can sensibly afford.

Last night's documentary opened my eyes to how ridiculous and damaging many of these feelings are, and how caught up society is in pretending that women are naturally hairless beings. In the documentary, members of the public were asked if they would rather have hair on their legs or underarms (or be with a female partner who did) or break a bone. Almost all of them would have preferred the painful option of breaking a bone to breaking away from their socially accepted hair removal routines and the men seemed to be repulsed by the idea of being intimate with a woman who was hairy. It seems crazy but I empathise with these decisions. Perhaps I too would prefer to break a bone than throw away my razor.

The girls from 'Those Pesky Dames' have really challenged my perspective. Why am I removing my hair? Who am I removing it for? It seems to me that I don't remove it for myself. I don't subscribe to the view that being hairless makes me more hygenic and I have spent periods of time when single (and covered up) not shaving my legs or bikini area. It seems then that I am removing hair to be acceptable to other people, particularly men.

I am horrified that this is the case. I pride myself on being an intelligent, well rounded woman. I am at university studying hard to be successful based on my skills and not on my looks. I see my future with a man who loves me as I am. I want my future husband to love me as much when I don't wear makeup as when I do, appreciate me as much when I'm naked as when I'm clothed - why then do I not expect a man to want to be with me if I am in my naturally hairy state? Why do I spend hours and hours of my time painstakingly removing hair, and pounds and pounds of my money on products to help me achieve this look?

Unfortunately, even after all of this is said and done, I am not brave enough to embrace my hair just yet, but as the programme went on I had more and more respect for the girls who did and found them more and more beautiful as strong, empowered women who had the courage to stick their middle fingers up at society's concept of femininity. I would like to think that in the future, more and more of society will have their minds changed about this topic and give women and girls the freedom to choose whether to leave their hair or remove it, knowing that they are still beautiful and feminine regardless of their decision. I hope that if I ever have a daughter she will not feel reliant on a razor or depilitory cream to be confident, unjudged and gorgeous.

Sorry for this ridiculously long rant in which I may have failed to eloquently express my point. Please comment with your views on this topic. Do you find hair on women acceptable or not? Do you have similar stories and experiences with dealing with body hair? I would love to hear your views.

Frances x