Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Breast Of All

As I was leafing through Entertainment Weekly a few days ago, I was struck my a collage of images from the upcoming fall television season. Nothing special going on: a few waitresses transposed over someone posing with a handgun: the usual pappy "look at us!" kind of schtick that ensures that, by the time the pilot is aired, we're all vaguely aware of what we're going to be looking at here. Waitresses? Yeah, I'd watch that.

But one of those waitresses is the luscious Kat Denning, and guys? She has boobs.

I know most woman of reproductive age have 'em, but let's face it: there isn't a lot of diversity amongst the TV breasts. They're usually high and small, with a little bit of jiggle if you jog (and a little bit of pointiness if you're watching a Friends rerun - they must have kept that set at, like, six degrees), but a lot of the time, the "cleavage" is about as sexy and voluptuous as a frying pan. If you're a little older, or not quite in the bell curve, you could adjust them: either "naturally" through over-exercise, which gives you that alluringly bony sternum, or go discreetly under the knife to pump up your basketballs. Young women, as they're represented in the TV demographic, aren't as likely to be weird-skinny. Their assets just haven't really had time to be anything other than perfect, but their coltish figures take very well to a regimen of baby carrots and elliptical machines if they don't quite conform.

I check out women...constantly. As my (very patient and and slightly amused) boyfriend pointed out today, if I was a dude, I would be one of those construction workers who sexually harass attractive women. I'm a fan of legs: long, lean gams where the short-shorts are short and the thighs don't touch. At 5'1", my legs are muscular, well-shaped, toned and strong. I love my legs, but I don't think of them as luscious, and they certainly aren't long. The same can't be said about my chest: I am very well endowed there. I get a classic hourglass shape when I'm working out, so it ends up being very va-va-voom. Lots of deep v-necks in my wardrobe.

The thing about large breasts is that they don't often work in the real world. I'll give you a for-instance: I hate being warm, so tank tops are de rigeur in my wardrobe. With big boobs, "tank top" equals "revealing." Culturally, large breasts are understood to be sexy, sometimes over-sexed. They're seen as relatively low-class. They're often the hallmark of an ethnicity that white people think of as "other," like Latina. Revealing small breasts is artful; revealing large breasts is pornographic. Think about Dolly Parton and Pamela Anderson. Now think about Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman.

In my quest for body acceptance, I'm trying to come up with some role models I can turn to when I start feeling like I never see myself on the screen. Kat Dennings is totally foxy: she's got an pre-anorexia Angelina thing going on, which I like very much, and her face belongs on billboards. But is she a stick? Nah. She's got curves, man. It's nice to see curves on TV. Just like, when Maw Whitman shows up in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, she's got a shadow of a double chin. Because, you know, she's a human. Doesn't mean she can't kick some serious ass.

Please note that I'm not talking about the carefully curated curves of Jessica Biel or ScarJo: those women, though undoubtedly beautiful, aren't regular humans. Or the "large breasts" of Megan Fox, who, in her newest movie, is the thinnest woman I've ever seen onscreen. Seriously: look at this woman's midsection. Where is it? I recently read an article about why No Doubt didn't put out more music. Between her kids, her fashion line, and her workout routine, she explain, Gwen Stefani just didn't have the time to record new music. The day my workout becomes my actual job is the day that I crawl into bed with a tub of cream cheese icing in order to spend some serious time realigning my priorities. Some exercise is good and it's a great feeling to be fit, active and healthy.

But coming to terms with that shadow of double chin, or absentmindedly rubbing your belly while you wait for the bus, can be a powerful moment. Knowing that other women are out there doing the same thing, even women in an industry that has powerful forces demanding that the chin and the belly shrink away, is reassuring and empowering. I don't know if the Dennings's new sitcom is going to be any good; it's just nice to know that her "normal" body isn't holding her back.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gevinson Me A Break

It's weird to wake up one morning and realize, at the age of 27, that I'm over the hill. Tavi Gevinson, who came to the public eye as a prepubescent style blogger, has grown boobs and launched a new website. As a result, I'm feeling a bit irrelevant. (Taking it personally is kind of my thing.) She's getting major coverage for her new venture - New York is blowing up over it.

I'm fond of Gevinson in a distant way - she's become an unlikely minor style icon, and while I believe that civilians shouldn't have access to designer clothes until they can vote, she clearly started out with a child's fanaticism for the dress-up box. Now, she's got her mitts on some of the designer clothes she gushed about in her more youthful projects, and she's a bona fide influence. Her aesthetic is often the gauzy look of an Instagram photo crossed with the obsessive love of the girls who make shrines to fictional characters. Her love affair with The Virgin Suicides, and J.D. Salinger books is endemic in teenaged girls across the continent (maybe, you know, I was one of those girls?) and she knows how to pose.

Gevinson's focus is apparently going to incorporate some nostalgia pieces, specifically for the 1990s. This is...what's that word? Dispiriting? Infuriating? Am I old enough to remember years that teenage girls now long for as "a simpler time"? Are Empire Records and Hole albums legitimate cultural touchstones? Woe is me. Full disclosure: when I was in high school, roughly the time Gevinson was born, I was making elaborate collages of 1980s pop culture touchstones, obsessively watching Back to the Future, and listening to the Romy and Michelle soundtrack. In short, I was just as annoying.

Call me old fashioned, but I'm not ready for '90s nostalgia. The frumpy silhouettes alone are going to kill me - dudes, have you seen first-season Dana Scully lately? It's all belted/pleated/pegged in there. Or Friends? God, does this mean high schoolers are going to start getting The Rachel? The hairdos of the '90s, which were sleek to the point of self-parody, did not allow my self-dreading curls to thrive. Grunge, which is the early-90s alternative to the CK One thing, flatters no-one: plaids upon plaids and boxy jackets. I'm going to cry. I know the best vintage-inspired looks update "the look" without returning to the crappy parts, but that doesn't leave a lot left to be inspired by.

Plus, there's a weird part of me that wants the 90s resurgence to just not happen. You know what I wore on my first day of high school, in 1996? Green jeans, a blue sweater and Sketchers with a sole as thick as a dictionary. I'm oddly protective of that particular brand of ugly: the spaghetti strap prom dresses, the platform mary-janes, the Gap. Style cycles have sped up to an insane degree in the last couple decades - the 1930s influenced stylish women in the 1970s, and some dudes in the 1980s updated the '50s greaser look with leather jackets and sneers. But the early 2000s reached for the 1980s, and now, barely into the 2010s, we're looking at mid-1990s for clues on how to live stylishly. In fifteen years, we'll be living in a state of everything being fashionable and no new influences. See you in 2026! Please, let there be a silver jumpsuit waiting in my government-issued pod.

I'm willing to chalk this '90s thing up to the intersection of teenage girls and their elaborately constructed sense of misplaced nostalgia. I did it. A lot of the women I know who got their start as fashion-conscious little weirdos have done it. Gevinson, with an admittedly larger audience and wielding much more influence, is doing it. It can be comforting to think that "before my time" really means simpler or purer, but as the world speeds along and 15-years-olds become culture magnates, what we really pine for is a childhood - innocence of our world, and a chance to play dress-up in adult clothing.