Film: American Hustle

You know when there’s an actor that you simply cannot resist? It doesn’t matter what good or bad movies they make, or what awards or accolades they recieve, or what batshit crazy things they do and you see in the media, you simply love them and will see whatever film they’re in, no matter what. Beyond that, you’ll go into films with the warm fuzzies, and a sense that it MUST be a good movie because, duh, so-and-so is in it! When you come out of their movies, you feel renewed – they are just so great. Yeah. Well, that person is Christian Bale for me.

I will go and see any Christian Bale movie, I’ve seen all the Christian Bale movies, and I’ve loved pretty much every single one. (“Reign of Fire?” you say. I say, “yes, I love it.” “Harsh Times?” you say. I say, “Duh.”) Of course, I am aware that some of his movies are better than others, bigger than others, etc. But he’s always amazing. I, like many women of my generation, “fell” for Christian Bale in “Newsies,” carried a torch through “Little Women,” and was ushered disturbingly into puberty by “American Psycho.” Emotional and sexual scarring aside he remains, in my opinion, one of the most gifted actors alive today, and sometimes his Batman voice narrates my dreams (about Patrick Bateman.)

However, this is  not an epic about how great Christian Bale’s nose is, or his beard is, or how psychotic his crazy shout is. Though, I should inform you I was once deeply involved with  man who looked astonishingly like a bearded Christian Bale. I often wonder if that’s why I was involved with him. I shit you not.

This is about “American Hustle.”

“American Hustle” is a movie with a really upstanding cast of really good looking people looking less good looking than usual. Bradley Cooper has a troublesome hairdo, Amy Adams looks tired, Jennifer Lawrence looks intentionally older than she is, Jeremy Renner has an even more ridiculous hairdo, and Christian Bale is not only fat, but also bald. I thought this would be pretty off-putting, but everyone manages to maintain their sex appeal (less so Cooper, except for this one scene when Adams is sitting on a counter, and another when they’re in a bathroom stall. Actually never mind, they all retain sexiness.) It’s also a movie that seems like it’s going to get terrifically complicated. I imagine anything about hustling must do, it seems like a complicated verb, to hustle. However, this is a film where everyone seems to be who they said they were in the beginning and performs their roles in the narrative true-to-form. I kept expecting someone to make a 180, for some seemingly good-guy to go rotten (I’m looking at you, Jeremy Renner) or for a wormy character to turn out to have a heart of gold, or maybe even someone stupid to turn out to be a fucking genius. Don’t hold your breath, everyone is who they say they are. This makes what would be a really complicated film a very easy film to follow, and in some ways, a peculiar romance.

The story revolves around a faultlessly charming conman, Irving (Christian Bale) who meets a cunning and beautiful young woman, Sydney (Amy Adams) at a pool party (where she’s wearing a macramé swimsuit, and it is awesome.) and they develop a fast and furious affair. She then goes into business with him when he reveals the full scope of his less than legit means of employment. Turns out she’s totally brilliant at conning people out of money, and they fall ever more in love. It’s then revealed that Irving has a wife so young and so hot that the fact that he even thought to have sex with Sydney makes no sense at all, except that they are a true love match and his wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) though gorgeous, is really not the girl for him. She has a child who he adopted and though his family life is troubled, he’s committed to it. Sydney is willing to accept this, probably because despite the fact that he’s dense about the middle and has an “elaborate comb-over” he’s still Christian Bale, wait, I mean, he’s still someone she feels a profound connection to.

However, in the midst of all this balancing and conning and falling in love, they manage to get busted, by an incredibly inexperienced though oddly well-funded FBI agent, Richie (Bradley Cooper). Let me be clear here, I hate this character. This is a film without clean antagonists, and without a sense of where good guys stop and bad guys start (Irving is actually really similar to Nick Miller’s conman dad, Walt, on “New Girl.” Irving’s cute kid will probably grow up to be Nick, “not a healthy adult,” but a good guy. Sidenote: go watch “New Girl”.) The bane of Richie’s existence is having to answer to his stodgy but very wise boss, played unironically by Louis CK, so you could say there’s nothing wrong with his life and he’s just a bit of a wet blanket. He and Sydney predictably get involved with each other as he holds the she and Irving hostage, giving them the option to buy their way out of prison by exposing four other major conmen. Sydney tells Irving she’s playing a part of their sake, but we as viewers, like the characters around her, get lost in her charade. Amy Adams is a great actress playing a great actress. It’s cool.

Richie, apart from being a bit of a prat, also has a dowdy fiance, and lives with his similarly dowdy Catholic mother. He gets really swept up in all the intrigue, glamour, and velvet suits of conning in the 70s, and also gets seriously swept up by Sydney’s physics-defying silk blouses (the budget for fashion tape in this film was probably 100’s of dollars). Being the sort of prat who can’t tell when he’s got a good thing going, he pushes the other two characters to dizzying heights, and they plan a con which would inculcate the cheerful, well-loved, badly-styled Major of Camden, NJ. Carmine (Jeremy Renner) is a loving Italian-American family man and, like everyone else, is just as he seems. In addition to Carmine, the con involves a make-believe Sheik, an a whole lot of political types. It’s complicated, and I still really want to talk about meaningless stuff  like what Jennifer Lawrence wore.

One of the best things about “American Hustle” is how stylistically interesting the 1970s were. Whenever I see films set in the 70s, I feel like there’s no way it actually looked like that, but it did. People really did wear bell-bottoms, and velvet suits, and macramé, and really big hair. This film does not disappoint for people looking for righteous examples of shirts open to the waist, dresses covered in sequins, long sharp nails. What is perhaps most visually important is Jennifer Lawrence. While she doesn’t look quite as serious or fresh-faced as we may be used to, with piles of teased blonde hair up on her head, glossy pink lips, and the aforementioned red nails, she’s stunning. There’s also a scene with a big party where she wears a silver, sparkly dress which will make you revaluate everything you think about women and dresses, and probably your expectations of both.

Honesty, you could go and see the movie just to see the silver dress, also a moment early on where she’s wearing a tight white shirt, and calls her wayward husband to bed with her. That’s not true, you should watch the film because it’s a visual masterpiece, beautiful, and moving.

Also, Christian Bale is in it.

(And he’s really sexy, despite the comb-over, and the fatness, and because of the velvet. Hmmm, love a man in wide-lapelled velvet.)

 

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My Favorite Place On The Internet

It’s a well known fact that I am in love with the Internet. However, beyond and over all places, I love one website most. I love it more than Facebook, Pinterest, Netflix, or Etsy. More than Vogue.com, The New York Times, Gilt Groupe or Twitter, I love it even more than the website where I play hours of Tetris.

I love Chubby Bunnies best.

Chubby Bunnies is a body positive Tumblr blog run and administered by a woman named Bec who lives in Australia. Bec is the kind of warm, supportive person who reaches out, offers comfort and advice, she’s non-judging, caring and smart. Her personal blog, and Chubby Bunnies are opinionated, well-informed, and welcoming. She’s the kind of person one aspires to be, someone who offers a kind of real love to people for no reason except that it’s right.

Chubby Bunnies is part of an ever-growing network of body positive Tumblrs and websites. As the name would suggest, Chubby Bunnies is fat positive. Striving to create a safe space for fat people, particularly fat girls (there is a Chubby Bunny Boys blog too.) to express themselves, articulate their struggles, their happiness, and in many cases the sexuality that fat people are denied.

It runs on submissions, thousands of women from all over the world submit pictures. Faces, bums, boobs, tummies, and often personally ground-breaking full body shots. Pictures of girls in every state and style of clothing to complete undress. Each picture tells a story, each one, with or without commentary offers a window into the personal life of someone living in a body that they are told to hate every single day, and yet refuse to.

It’s an incredibly inspiring place. Firstly, because Bec doesn’t hesitate to reblog important content, regarding sex advocacy, women’s rights, queer and gender issues, and human rights. Secondly, because every single person I’ve seen on the blog is beautiful. Every photograph is an exercise in bravery, in confidence, in standing up for something. Chubby Bunnies is a space where the fat woman’s body becomes political. What aesthetically, society demands be hidden, the sexuality it pretends does not exist, the confidence that, frankly, scares everyone else flows forth freely and powerfully.

We spend a lot of our lives looking at images of women. For a fat girl these images can be incredibly painful; models, actresses, diagrams in textbooks which look nothing like us. A skinny, slim ideal held up as the only way to be healthy, sexy, desirable, confident, even acceptable. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at other fat women I see around, trying to look at their bodies and rationalize my own. Chubby Bunnies allows this, it allows me to look at bodies like mine, girls of similar shapes, with similar thighs, rolls, and tubby little knees and see myself reflected. It’s not the reflection we’re lead to believe looks back at a fat person; these women are not disgusting, lazy, dirty or gross. They’re beautiful, powerful, individual and sexy. Their bodies are appealing, the wide hips, soft stomaches and arms, all speak to an aesthetic we are culturally denied.

Frequently, girls write in on their pictures that the blog has improves their self-confidence. It’s unsurprising, seeing something we’ve never been allowed to look at changes the way we feel, changes the way we feel about ourselves. It’s remarkable, profound and important. So, if you’re game for seeing some beautiful, awesome, empowered fat girls this is the place to go.

And that is why, Chubby Bunnies is my favorite place on the Internet.

 

The Most Beautiful Girl

Once upon a time in 1993, I was on holiday in Europe with my mother and father. It was their habit to fly into London, spend just under a week in the great metropolis and then tour off to some part of the Continent for a more traditional holiday – usually Portugal for two weeks of beach-going on the Algarve. London was always my favorite part of these trips. Growing up in African cities, nothing impressed me like London (even now, after 8 years in Washington D.C. and a lot of global traveling, still, nothing impresses me like London.) At the time, I was just so overwhelmed by the magnificence of the City that I didn’t stop to think about why I was so fond of it. Now, as a grown-up I realize it all comes down to the trip in ’93 when I was 7.

One of the best things about London, and one of my favorite things in life is the Underground. I adore the Underground. Fascinated by it’s labyrinthine structures, elaborate history, relationship to culture, advertising, tourism, crime and engineering – it is a public transit system like no other. I’ve loved riding the Tube as long as I can remember. However, in terms of formative moments in my life, the London Underground plays host to one of the most important.

The event takes place either on the Circle or District line going from High Street Kensington to Bayswater, my little family was returning from dinner and an evening out on a warm night. Standing in the train I remember perfectly seeing the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She couldn’t have been older than 20 or 21, was neither remarkably tall or short. Her hair was partially shaved on one size, bleached to the spiky roots and what wasn’t shaved was a shock of electric green. Her clothes where black, tight, adorned with patches, chains and studs. She wore a ring in her nose, her eyebrow, and many more up her ears. There was a black tattoo visible emerging from the dark sleeve of her shirt that in my childhood imagination covered everything I couldn’t see, from collar (which was plunging) to the soles of her Doc Martens. She had large, oddly translucent blue eyes, surrounded by a forest of heavily made-up lashes, pale (somewhat unhealthy) skin and no less than 3 or 4 rings through her lower lip. She was gazing into the middle distance and drinking a beer. Out of a can. Through a straw.

I could not tear my eyes off this girl, she was amazing. Compelling, beautiful, shocking and somehow wise, cool, perceptive. Little girls are shown a constant slew of hopeful role-models, ideal representatives – this was the one that stayed with me. I later asked my mother why the girl had been using the straw, my mother said she assumed it was because the rings in her lip make it difficult to drink from a can (I learned this lesson for myself later on, but it’s only difficult when the peircings are fresh, at least one of those was new.)

Don’t get me wrong, there are probably millions of beautiful, stylish, inspiring women in London at any given moment, I can credit a terrific proportion of my path into adulthood to these women, but the punk rock girl drinking a beer through a straw on the Underground stayed with me for the rest of my life. She was an icon, she remains one of the most powerful visual influences in my life.

The difference between the girl on the Underground, the women I watched in London over the next 6 years (I was absorbent until I was 13, and then I started projecting.) and other people was that women in London were cool. They dressed smartly – whether they were mainstream or counterculture, they carry themselves with an air of defiance and confidence. Their aggressive self-definition and black ensembles left an indelible mark on me (Some of my most vivid memories involve my father talking about how girls in London look good in all black outfits, “they always look very stylish in all black”. No prizes for identifying the contents of my closet today.)

The message was clear, even to a 7 year old – make yourself. Make yourself. Make yourself cool, make yourself stand out, make yourself beautiful – the way you see it, by your standards. Make yourself something to see, someone to respect, command attention, shock, admiration, horror. Fear not the petty sideways glances of the masses, rise above and define yourself. It was powerful and intoxicating, and as I wrestled my way to adulthood, often embarrassed, still at odds with a body that grew too quickly to understand (I was 5’7 at the age of 10, 6′ by the time I was 15.) the image of the girl on the Underground was a beacon, a light I would follow. The idea of this remarkable young woman, probably unrecognizable today from her old self (she may well be in her early 40s now) demonstrated by the power of self-definition, the power of the different.

It is not enough in life to exist, to plod from day to day, event to event – it is essential, particularly for young women in this exact cultural moment, to grasp onto something. To shake off the desires of similarity, and to recognize that the people who have the power to do something, affect change, command attention are people who do what they want, not what they are expected to do. It is not enough to think interesting thoughts, life requires that we articulate. Triumph demands that one reject the rules of others, the limiting narratives of mass identification and instead take a deep breath, hold one’s head high and just be cool.

The Wedding Thing

I spend a tremendous amount of time at pinterest. A fantastic website which allows users to gather and curate collections of images from all over the Internet in organized “boards”, more so, the way the wesbite is organized – material links back to the sources, allowing us to find things and follow links, as well as attributing things pretty responsibly.

Most people on pinterest appear to be women, and most people appear to have created some kind of “wedding” board. Even I have one. What I’ve noticed about weddings in general and I’ve realized this from looking at wedding boards is that people, usually women, seem very concerned with weddings. Whether they are having one, had one or not.  An incredible amount of organization, planning, money and plain old effort goes into this event.

Suddenly, people have to find the right dress, the right bouquet, the right decor, table settings, food, lighting, music, the whole aesthetic has to work together, to achieve a visual, emotive, and  stylistic goal. From the save-the-dates to the favors, it all has to live up to this high standard. While, I understand that the wedding indicates a fundamental moment in life, a change, a new chapter, not to the mention the uniting of two people who are apparently in love (barf), but why all the effort all of a sudden?

Why put all this effort into one day, when during the rest of, well, your life, you’re throwing on whatever comes to hand, eating whatever is there, settling for what’s cheap or worse, what’s easy? Now, I am not suggesting that we can all, or even want to put serious money into our daily lives, I’m talking about intent here. I’m talking about thought. About thinking a little bit more about how you want thinks to roll.  If you think you will, or want to, or have given your wedding day so much deliberation, so much thought, surely you could apply a modicum of that to your daily life? Trust me, every day will feel more like a wedding day.

I want to feel like a princess when I get married!

Bad news: I want to feel like a princess every fucking day.

Maybe this is indicates that I am an uncommonly particular human being, perhaps the word “high maintainence” might come into play, but I’m not asking anyone else to participate. It’s the difference between thinking about what you want your world to be like. It’s thinking I’m pretty into.

Your wardrobe and shopping deserves the same consideration as your wedding gown.

Your home deserves the same thought, taste and cohesion as your reception space and ceremony space, even your getaway car.

Your blog, Facebook, web  presence deserves what your save-the-dates and invitations get.

I know it seems like a snobby, demandingly tall order, but what about just a little bit of weddingness every day?

(and yes, I do think of my blog like I would a wedding invation, and yes, I’ll probably use “fuck” there too…)

The Ceasefire

Like probably millions of women (and men) all over world I am currently at war. I am at war with my body. We have been at war since I was a little girl. Since the very first time some other little girl told me I was too fat. If it’s not weight, it’s something else – there’s always something. Not to say I don’t love my body – we’re frenemies. But I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve thought that I would do anything to look different.

Today, however, we’re experiencing a ceasefire, because every once in a while I realize just how awesome it is. I realize that despite being bombarded with negative (at worst) and confusing (at best) messages from the media about my body every day – it’s mine and at the end of the day I am the only person who needs to make peace with it. While I am vividly aware of being a good distance from anyone’s ideal, I’m not unhappy with my body. There’s a lot of things I like.

What brought this (temporary – tomorrow we will return to arguements about calories, sunscreen, moisturizer, cellulite, and whether to lie away a couple inches of height.) ceasefire about was that today I started and finsihed making a pair of hand sewn hot pink and black stain ruffly panties. Now, why you ask, would I make my own panties, when even women such myself can buy delightful panties? Well, because I had an idea and it was one which said, you know what, fat stores and skinny stores and department stores and the internet – I no longer care what you say about me, and more so, what I should be wearing. I’ll make what I want and I’ll make something that makes me feel good, makes me feel sexy.

I don’t know exactly what I was thinking when I started this project, except that I have writer’s block and want something to do with my time that will make me feel productive (usually, when I feel this way I start making things – dresses, bags, and now…panties.) and that things like lingerie are among my favorite things. I like things like lace and ruffles, perfume and sparkly jewelry. I also like believing that we can control our own body image, and today I proved that to myself.

The Vogue Way

Today I had people over to my apartment for a thesis-research exploration session (Mind Meld). It was a bit of a first for me, having people in my apartment – I tend to be strangely nervous about how people will percieve the space I live in and usually it’s just me and my boyfriend. As the conversation progressed I glanced up from my note taking to see one of my friends flicking through a Vogue which had been sitting on my coffee table. At first I didn’t think much of it, but then was suddenly very aware of the pile of Vogue’s on my coffee table, the two in my bathroom, the years of back issues on the bookshelf in my hallway.

Being in a graduate program and so often discussing issues of gender, sexuality and the issues of modern media and male priveledge I have become more aware of the latent, institutionalized misogyny swirling around the world of consumer films, books, TV and indeed, magazines. I’ve definately looked at women’s magazines over the course of my life and really wondered about the kind of messages they send and the sort of the images they promote. I’ve deinately found Cosmopolitan to be less than savoury when it comes to messages directed at young women. However, I suppose I’ve always found something to be different about Vogue.

My mother read Vogue through most of my childhood, there would be copies in her office, next to her bed. She’d flip through even old issues to look for ideas for dresses to make or creative ideas. As a little girl, I remember sitting on the floor of guest bedrooms at relatives houses and hotels flipping through the pages of a glossy Vogue. The first thing I did when I graduated from undergrad was purchase a subscription. Even though there isn’t an outfit in the magazine I could fit in to, or anything much I could realistically buy apart from Dior mascara and Chanel lipstick. Despite this, the magazines glamorous, highly polished finish speaks to my desire for grandeur.

It might be silly of me to assume that there’s anything different about my favourite magazine compared to dozens of other magazines on the rack at CVS or Barnes and Noble, but to me, Vogue has always been different, it’s always been about fashion. When it’s not about fashion is about more valid and pertinent issues than magazines like Cosmo. While Vogue might be fairly candid about sexuality, it’s not going to tell any 20-something exactly how to conduct herself in the bedroom. While many fashion magazines pimp trends to women, Vogue decides those trends. Often the outfits ensconced in it’s pages are too much, too cumbersome, or simply haute to be wearable, sexy or even have marginal saleability. This is where trends are born.

There seems to be something different about the women in Vogue, they aren’t usually wet, and are invariably dressed. Very very dressed. The value in the magazine is heavily placed on clothing, accessories, beautiful expensive things. While I’m not saying it’s right to assume the alternative to blatant, sexualization for young women is Cartier and Botox, it does seem more pertinent.

It seems when it comes down to it in a fashion magazine, a little bit of sunscreen and a lot of book reviews go a long way.

Things I Learned From My Mother

I made a dress today. To be more specific I made a black evening dress for the CCT (my graduate program) Prom. In the weeks leading up to today I have often thought I’d like to just find a nice dress and buy it, but part of me knew I wanted to make a dress. I had seen a dress in my mind and I wanted that dress and no other for the event.Whenever I complete any project like this, one that goes from vision to completion through my own ingenuity and commitment I think of my Mother.

Sitting on my desk is a picture of my parents at their wedding. It was taken on a sunny March afternoon in Harare in the 80’s, and they both look effervescently happy. I keep the photograph on my desk for two main reasons: firstly, I am very close to my parents, and I barely ever see them because they’re in Africa and secondly, because they way they both look, but particularly my Mother is a constant reminder of how I strive to live my life. My Mother’s choice of wedding outfit, though certainly not traditional, is remarkable in every possible way. It consisted of a tea-length, pencil style bright blue dress, simple with a scoop neck, a pair of white high heeled pumps and a white hat. Pinned on the dress is a corsage and she is speckled with bits of white confetti. (My Father is similarly simply dressed, in a black suit and tie, button hole and more confetti.)

The simplicity, elegance, grace, innovation, disregard for convention, and personality in my Mother’s wedding outfit is everything I want every day of my life in everything I do (and of course, I everything I wear.)

I do not hesitate to think of my Mother as an artist, and when people ask what she does, that’s what I say. It is so much more than that. She has ideas about clothing, furniture, painting, bags, jewelry, knitting, crocheting, beading and every possible incarnation of art, craft, and visual manifestation you can imagine and somehow transfers those ideas into amazing, beautiful objects. She’s been doing since well before I was born. As a child I remember her telling me about sewing a dress for a job interview and when she got the job, going home and sewing dresses to work in. My Mother sense of how clothing works, both technically and visually is inspiring.

She always told me, “it doesn’t matter what you wear, it’s how you wear it.” And truthfully, she could go out in a trash bag and a pair of black heels and make it look great. Anytime anyone has ever told me I can wear things that other people couldn’t pull off, I am exceptionally flattered because I learned that from my Mother.

There have been times where I’ve found my Mother’s sartorial endeavors to be questionable at best, but I think this is primarily due to the fact that few 17 year old children see eye-to-eye with their parents with regard to fashion choices. Even now, there are moments when she and I are out shopping (for her) that I offer my opinions or dare I say, advice. She almost always listens to me, but I think mostly, it’s a matter of her humoring me – she knows that anything I know about style I know because of her. Despite this my Mother enthusiastically encouraged me to design my own clothing, from the time I was a small child she would help take party dressed out of my imagination and into real form.

She never questioned my choices when I was a teenager wanting nothing but black lace and velvet in a tropical climate. Even now, whenever I am at home the most wonderful place to be is at my Mother’s kitchen table surrounding by beads, fabric, ribbon and a myriad of amazing designs waiting to turn into projects.

I try and keep things my Mother has made over the years around me all the time, they are the things that inspire me everyday. To not be afraid to think up ambitious projects and to be willing to take risks. While I really strive to embody those goals in my projects, it’s also something that deeply informs the way I write and approach my research. A defiant willingness to buck convention, embrace new ideas, take on difficult and challenging material, to not be afraid of failure and always be able to learn as I’m working.