Redheads, assemble!

 

My love of red-headed folk is long-standing. There are ginger genes in my family. My nan had auburn hair and my mum is a bright, coppery beacon. As a child I even had a shrine of images on my wall that burst with oranges and reds and translucent skin. I was in awe of red-heads even then; I called them my ‘happy people’. Seeing an abundance of coppery hair has always drawn me and made me smile.  I guess you could call me a rutiluphile but for me it’s much more than sexual attraction. It’s a feeling of affinity and of kinship. It’s a feeling of both longing and belonging.

Whilst I’m only a token ginger by virtue of my mum’s carrot hair hues and Lush’s rouge henna, I heartily identify as a redheaded woman. Lucky me, then, that there are some awe-inspiring, powerful, bold, flawed, ginger heroines throughout history to take a cue from. From Boudicca to Ygritte the Wildling, via Lucille Ball and Elizabeth I, redheaded women are known for their fieriness, passion and explosive tempers. I mean, you wouldn’t mess with Black Widow or Jean Gray, would you?

 

The past is bursting with examples of red-headed women inspiring art. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other Pre-Raphelite painters loved the lusciousness that red-headed women brought to their work. Alphonse Mucha created flowing art-deco images blazing with red-heads. Part of the appeal to artists is how striking red hair is. It is visually arresting and creates a powerful contrast or emphasis that makes for compelling art. Just as red-headed men have become associated with being untrustworthy due, in part, to the depiction of Judas as a redhead, women with red hair have become synonymous with sensuality, licentiousness and deception. The image of the wily temptress is often portrayed simply by the addition of ginger hair.

 

 

Throughout history, red-headed women have been known not only for their stunning beauty, but for their ferocity and cunning. Being already well-aware of the physical allure of red hair, I’ve recently been reading more about the characters of these well-known red-headed women. I love historical fiction; it’s meaty, character driven, informative (when taken with a pinch of salt) and full of amazing personal stories. What intrigues me most is the intimacy of the readers’ relationship with the central characters, whether they’re maids, jesters or monarchs. Little wonder then that I adore Tudor fiction with the powerful and poisonous Queen Elizabeth I. I’ve read pretty much every novel based on her life, and those of her mother and father. (Henry VIII was, after all, a red-head).

In terms of non-fiction, Tracy Borman’s Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen shows us a female-centric world in which the cult of the personality, as in most monarchies, prevailed. Elizabeth used her red-headedness to her advantage throughout her reign, and not just as a means of seduction. It was a blatant defiance of any doubt cast on her parentage. Her hair was Tudor red and she played on this as proof that she was her father’s daughter and that she was capable of leading as Henry had before her. Naturally, red hair became fashionable during the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth relied on this as a symbol of self. In her later life she wore wigs, which she had made in different hues of red and copper. It certainly had the desired effect, creating an instantly recognisable figure to us today.

Reaching even further back into society’s cult of the redhead is the legendary figure of Boudicca. When I discovered the Dreaming the Eagle series based on the warrior queen, I think I made a sound that only dogs and Professor Xavier could hear. Boudicca has is all as far as I’m concerned – she’s a warrior, she’s a leader, she’s Scottish, she’s anti-establishment and she is so ginger it hurts (see my post Me, Myself and Merida for more on this killer combination). The mixture of the mythology surrounding her and historical fiction format, this series is proving to be an immediate favourite. In these books, we meet the warrior queen Boudicca before she even exists – when she is a child named Breaca. We meet the men and women in her community and see how central the spirituality of her nation is to her every choice and action. It is laden with small details that together build an immersive world, every bit as real as our own. Boudica is depicted as a woman, destined for greatness, but by no means ready and willing. It is a tough slog with hard decisions, personal loss and bad choices.

My most recent red-head reading has been Red: A Natural History of the Redhead by Jacky Colliss Harvey. It’s essential reading for red-heads, aspiring red-heads and social historians. It charts the mythological and social perception of red-heads, their anatomical differences, the gendered assumptions about redheads and more. The gene may be recessive, but the cultural obsession is growing!

As for me, I’m ready for the red-head-revolution:

 

miss lilith

red-head and proud

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Pin Up Girl Problems: A.K.A. Why is Pin Up Culture Problematic?

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One of the many things I love about modern pin-up culture is that it is diversifying. There are so many gorgeous models who are ‘plus-size’, of colour, alternative (i.e. heavily tattooed/ pierced). I think these are all stunning and magnificent things that traditional, mainstream pin-up images were lacking. Increasingly, the online presence of these pin-ups is body-positive, supportive and inclusive. It seems to be a community-spirited affair that encourages women to build each other up, rather than compete in damaging and pointless ways.

Discouragingly, some media targeted at vintage lovers is very unhealthy. For example, many ‘Pin-up’ memes glorify alcohol abuse, materialism, bitchiness and even violence. I think it unwise to understate what damage these messages can do. They are, perhaps, intended to be bold exclamations of “empowerment”, but for who? Personally, the empowerment that I’m looking for doesn’t come from undermining or criticising others. Nor does it depend on toxic sarcasm or alcohol abuse. These memes promote inebriation, rather than liberation. They also suggest that female empowerment is incomplete without misandry.

Perhaps these modern interpretations  intend to reject reducing women into mere sexual objects, as per the war-time origins of pin-up culture. However, the repetitive portrayal of pin-up women as man-hating bitches with stunted or repressed emotional capacity is only feeding already harmful female archetypes.

Pin-up is for anyone and everyone that wants it. Lots of good work towards this has already been done but the media representation, and even that of retro and vintage-reproduction companies,  is making a laughing stock of pin-up. Social media’s output regarding pin-up culture is shallow and judgemental – the opposite of the sentiments which attracted me. There is so much emphasis in the community on sharing pursuits outside the fashion and beauty elements. Likewise, there is a huge focus on self-care and spreading positivity that are entirely missed in harmful memes and images.

For me, pin-up culture is far from superficial. It’s about feeling good in yourself and helping others to do the same. It’s not about drinking to oblivion, slagging off other people’s appearances or cutting away human emotional depth and genuineness.

I’m a pin-up girl and I’m proud of what that means. We can write our own definitions, especially when they have been mistaken by others.

The Eagle Huntress: A Raving Review

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Photo Credit: Asher Svidensky

 

I have a new heroine. She’s called Aisholpan. She’s 13 years old. She is The Eagle Huntress.

This is a raving review, not only of a beautiful piece of film-making (an amazing undertaking by novice Otto Bell), but of a girl showing bravery, resilience and passion despite the not inconsiderable obstacles of tradition and terrain. Set in the stunning mountains of Mongolia, The Eagle Huntress is a documentary that looks at the nomadic way of life, tradition and progress on an intimate level. As viewers, we are privileged to experience the coming-of-age of an extraordinary girl. Aisholpan is a trailblazer, but all the more for how unremarkable she is in other ways. She goes to school, looks after her siblings, paints her nails, has dreams of becoming a doctor. She lives in a world that is changing – straddling the nomadic tradition and the increasingly modern world.

Aisholpan’s forebears are Eagle Hunters: revered members of the nomadic tribes, bringers of food and fur, masters of the majestic Golden Eagle and, always, men. It is a male inheritance, a male ancestry. This is a celebration of non-conformity. This is a story not only about a young woman, but about the men around her that have the strength to correct a long-lived falsehood – that women are not strong enough, resilient enough, patient enough. Instead they are proud to say, ‘Women are more than enough’.

Aged 13, Aisholpan proves herself to be a robust and talented individual, regardless of those factors which others have proclaimed must exclude her. Even the proof of their own eyes will not persuade the tribe elders of their misjudgement.  Aisholpan’s victory in the festival is received with discomfort and disregard. ‘It’s proof of a sort’, concedes one of the elders. The objection remains that Aisholpan has yet to prove herself beyond the arena, that she must succeed in the wilderness, too – only then will she be worthy. The catch-22 is that the objective is one of which they do not think her capable.

All too often this is true for those who are female, non-binary, of colour. Going beyond the achievement of the male (or oppressor of any kind) does not guarantee triumph, it does not even guarantee equality. Yet, it has been said that the best revenge is success. Fitting, then, that the film ends with Aisholpan catching her first fox, having weathered the brutal conditions of the mountains. There is abundant proof of her capability and even more of her contentedness.

The role of the Eagle Hunter or Huntress is vital for survival; it serves both a practical and a spiritual purpose. The meat and fur provided by the day’s hunt will keep the families alive. The connection between the eagle and the hunter is sacred. It is a partnership built on mutual dependence; it is a significant connection with the natural world.

Particularly moving was Aisholpan’s attitude and outlook throughout the film. From scaling a mountain face to capture her eaglet to competing in the world-renowned festival (as the first female and youngest competitor), she approaches everything with a stoic calm and assuredness. Perhaps this can be attributed to her youth, but it is an attitude of which many young women are stripped early on. She turns an entire tradition on it’s head without missing a step. She is never disrespectful to her heritage, though; she is simply growing into who she is and has every right to be. Becoming an Eagle Huntress is not a child’s whim, it is an act of dedication and a sweeping aside of barriers that ought not to be there.

If in doubt, ask yourself, what would Aisholpan do?

 

Dating Manifesto

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Sweet peach!

TW: Over-generalisations left, right and centre. Boys are rubbish. Not really.

Here it is – the good, the bad and the ugly. A new and (vastly) improved dating manifesto. Disclaimer: by, to and for myself.

I solemnly swear that I will studiously avoid pursuing, fantasising about, dating or committing to the following:

  • Shitheads: non-specific, but covers the wider categories of fuckwits, dickheads, arseholes and ignoramuses.
  • Psychopaths: turn around and run. Leave no forwarding address.
  • Work colleagues: don’t shag where you eat, so to speak.
  • Spongers: Always 50/50 in relationships…
  • Narcissists: self-obsession tends to get in the way of a partnership.
  • Alcoholics: substance dependence is a sure-fire romance killer.
  • Emotional robots: Cold-fish need not apply.
  • Religious fanatics: Three’s a crowd.
  • The intellectual: Who must always be right but have nothing to say when they’re not.
  • The Meninist: Apparently some people are more equal than others…
  • Right-wingman/ Brexiteers: Or anyone, basically, who doesn’t live in the real world. May be identified by wild patriotism or Gap Yah rhetoric.

… and anyone that believes in steak and blow-job day…

So there are the no-goers. And yes, its totally fine to be decisive about what you don’t want in a potential friend/ partner/ lover/ spouse. Your emotional and physical space is sacred and shouldn’t be lightly given up. Being open to people is great but you should follow your instincts. Being closed to people who set your alarm bells ringing is no bad thing, as long as it doesn’t turn into straight up prejudice.

If you’re worried that you or a friend might be in an abusive relationship, have a look at these warning signs:

  • Big changes in habits or behaviour i.e. eating less, being late when usually punctual etc.
  • Submissiveness or seeming to lack own volition to do things – seeking approval for everything.
  • Withdrawal from socialising – being quieter, drinking more, not going out at all, being uncontactable.
  • Change in taste/ preferences to mirror new partner/ lover etc. This could indicate certain elements of brainwashing or manipulation i.e. change in clothes/ make-up/ hair
  • Mood swings – being unable to regulate mood may be due to a general sense of anxiety/ uneasiness/ sense of isolation. May also be due to the abuser poisoning the victim against family or friends.
  • Social media posts can be out of character/ extreme/ use unusual language etc. Also may be more sensitive about photos etc. going on social media.

 

But it can’t all be doom and gloom. This is a manifesto – it should be a statement of intent. So, the game plan is to work on my singles game before even attempting a double act. Two is tricky. Check out my posts on self-care if you’re struggling to be good to number one. It’s harder than it seems, especially if you’re going through a bad patch. If you want/ are ready to meet a sweet peach or several juicy nectarines, make sure you know where your limits lie – not just want you want, but what you need and cannot compromise on. Go slower even than you think you should – if they are worth their salt, they’ll be patient and give you the breathing space you need.

Maybe this manifesto should be a celebration of all the beautiful qualities that make a beautiful person. So, here’s to honesty and openness. Here’s to good communication. Here’s to making each other laugh. Here’s to generosity, kindness and considerateness. Here’s to patience. Here’s to creativity and being energised. My manifesto is an elegy to growth and mutual support.Here’s to nourishment. Good people breed good love. Here’s to all kinds of health – mental, physical, emotional. That’s a manifesto worth believing in.

Worthy days

I’m all for lazy days. There’s nothing like that cat stretch under the covers when you wake up without your alarm. It’s a beautiful feeling. But, what feels even better is having a day planned around boosting your self-worth – worth getting up for. It’s a worthwhile thing to build into your calendar, maybe as a monthly thing. You can be as flexible or religious about it as you want to be; even thinking about saving the date will give you a little boost of yes!

It doesn’t have to be an entirely solitary venture, either. Maybe get a little crew together, write letters to praise each other to high heaven. There’s nothing more powerful than a bad-ass girl gang! (And nothing as destructive as girl-on-girl ‘this bitch bites’ bullshit) Or, meet up with a friend and give a mutual pep talk – big up artistry, knowledge, cookery skills etc… You’re a talented lot, so shout about it and remind each other when it slips your mind. No need to be bashful.

Get yourself in gear with a day doing what you do best. Don’t sit on your laurels. Keep yourself on the straight and narrow in terms of creative projects; sit down with your knitting and challenge yourself to do 5 rows, 10 rows, 40 rows… Sitting down and following through with one of your plans makes for a big boost in confidence. It also takes a bit of pressure off if you are working to a deadline. But, of course, taking these days can be anything you need it to be. It could be that you decide to revisit a childhood passion and do a few lengths at the pool or read back through a scrapbook that has nice comments in. If you like to lend a hand, check in with friends that might need a boost, or do your mother’s ironing while she’s out. If you regularly give too much to people, indulge in something that you love to do alone – read a book, shop without lending anyone money, start training for a race you’ve had your eye on.

Another route you could take for those oasis days is to focus exclusively and purposefully on your mental health. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Trigger warning: Start a trigger/ worry diary and set aside some time each day to review the points you write down.
  • Bad hair day?: Draw a self-portrait of how you are feeling. Now draw one of how you want to feel and think about the ways you could achieve that happiness.
  • Target practice: Write a list of things you want to do that scare you. Share with someone who will help facilitate/ alleviate any fears surrounding your goals.
  • Careful: Think about any self-care practices you have and how to improve them. Try asking friends about their self-care practices and maybe try out any new ones.

 

The point is, relying on anyone else for your self-worth is never going to be that effective. Also, it takes time and concentrated effort to identify and deal with low self-esteem. Reap what you sow and all that.

 

A girl in a red dress: ‘Me Before You’

 

My Film Flavour of The Month is Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) in ‘Me Before You‘. Warning – plot spoilers!

She is the most adorable thing since the beginning of time. Her style is modern, nostalgic, feminine and fun. She mixes total madness that shouldn’t work (and totally does) with sophistication. Emilia Clarke gives her character warmth, sensitivity and genuineness -her wardrobe only makes you love her more. She is quirky, imperfect and determined, qualities which all come through in her clothing choices.

There are definite hints of 50’s styling in Lou’s wardrobe, right from her tootsies to her midi cut, but there is always a little twist taking the traditional to a new, unique level. She rocks nautical looks, neck scarves, Hawaiian dresses, t-bar heels… But her looks are never cliched or dated; she is a new vintage kind of girl. She’s as goofy as Lucy Ball and as smooth as Lauren Bacall but as utterly original as either of them.

Part of Lou’s overall appeal is her dedication to her own sense of self. Her clothes are bright, bold and unabashed – they don’t really fit in her small home-town. At the beginning of the film she is in a suffocating relationship with someone who does not understand who she is or what she wants, however good looking he may be (played by Matthew Lewis). She has a strong sense of duty and works hard to help her family make ends meet, but there is a continuous strain between her loyalties to her family and to herself. Despite a difficult beginning, Lou grows close to her employer, Will (Sam Claflin), for whom she is a caregiver, following a motorcycle accident which has left him quadriplegic. She helps him to live, rather than to just exist in his own body. They go on trips, to the races (for which she has an equestrian ensemble) and on an exotic holiday. Her optimism, however infectious, cannot go so far as to change Will’s mind or his decision to end his own life.

In a bittersweet kind of way, the end of Will’s life is the kick-start of Lou’s. He gives her and her family the financial freedom to move forward, and frees Louisa to focus on her own ambitions, rather than the minutiae of staying in the black. Lou brings Will out of his, understandably, self-absorbed way of thinking with a not-so-subtle ‘you don’t have to be an arse’. Will shows Lou the realms of possibility that she has started to turn her back on – french cinema, university etc. They may be as clashing as some of Lou’s pattern heavy outfits, but they compliment each other well.

Sometimes, you just need someone to let you know that they do make bumblebee tights for adults. And, sometimes, you need a film to be so bittersweet that you can cry, smile and feel hopeful all at the same time.

 

See also: Flavour of the Month: Brooklyn

 

 

Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.

I’m a Feminist!

Ooh, you just cringed, didn’t you? Or was it more of a flinch? Maybe it was a knowing smile – a “middle-class, white, university-educated, 20-something girl thinks she’s got all the answers” kind of smile? Then, my dear, you don’t know me at all. But, frankly, my many neuroses aren’t the focus of this piece – it’s something much bigger than that. Call it what you want – gender equality, equal opportunities, anti-discrimination, sanity… it all boils down to the same thing. But we need to address the label, and I need to tell you why I’m proud of having it.

Names are powerful things. Example: Having someone spell your name wrong on an important document is irritating. Further example:  Calling a transgender person by the wrong pronoun is negating their true identity – it is an act of control and oppression. Likewise, telling someone that they cannot be a Feminist because they are a man or a model or a housewife or a Christian or because they wear make-up or are in a relationship or they like to be submissive in the bedroom or they are a man, is an act of control and oppression. If you believe in equality for everyone, regardless of gender, then you are a Feminist. Do not be shamed by your love of equality and tolerance.

If Feminism wasn’t a threat to what passes for ‘normal’, it wouldn’t sound scary, or be made to sound scary. Of course, there are people that go to extreme lengths with this belief system and, like any minority of extremists, their hatred comes to overshadow the essence of something which is based on love, tolerance and equality. One of the aims of Feminists is to remedy ingrained, fear-mongering ideas of women as having a multitude of negative characteristics. For example, the classic ‘hysterical’ woman is an argument long used by governments, husbands and employers in discrimination against women. It is easy to dismiss the anger or frustration of women, by citing ‘hormones’ or ‘hysteria’. For more on this, try this TED Talk by Robyn Stein DeLuca on for size. (PS: The 2011 film ‘Hysteria’ is just one of many reasons to love Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Likewise, the ‘angry Feminist’ trope is getting boring. Of course we are angry! Women are still not paid the same amount as men in equivalent jobs and still deal with sexual harassment as a normal part of their day. Don’t just take my word for it – read the @everydaysexism twitter feed or take a look at #everydaysexism or #wheniwas to see how our culture continues to undermine women’s freedoms and rights, starting when we are children. The most painful part of gender inequality is seeing people’s resignation to it; it is seen as a sad but hopelessly normalised ‘way things are done’. It’s time to kick that to the curb.

If we shy away from equality, we get in our own way. We should say what we mean and not trip over semantics. Don’t worry, shouting ‘I am a feminist’ won’t make a gang of death-eaters or snatchers come and drag you to the Voldemort. Besides, I find the prospect of Voldemort a lot more terrifying than people that want an end to inequality. We need to remove the fear from Feminist. Like Dumbledore and all-time-heroine Hermione say, ‘Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself’. And whilst Voldemort and his lack of hugging skills are deeply disturbing, he gets his comeuppance. If anything, the thing that should strike fear into us is socially ingrained sexism, but that is culturally gendered to be a ‘women’s problem’ so, why bother? Maybe it is because the word Feminist is also gendered female that people find it a threat. It’s an assertion of being ‘pro’ something – for women – which is misconstrued for being anti-men. And there it becomes a ‘man’s problem’.

Let us be straight – Feminism is the belief that those of all or no gender definition are and should be treated equally. It is a statement of human rights. It is a fight for an overhaul of a society which still teaches boys not to cry and girls not to be ambitious. It is the knowledge that physiologically we may differ, but that our rights and freedoms should not be impinged on because of these differences. It is the desire to put right centuries of oppression and dismissal based on something which is out of our control. It is everyone’s problem.

And trust me, Feminists do it better!

Vintage Vloggers

I like to catch snippets of ideas whilst I’m doing other things, like styling my hair, or doing my make-up. If I’m not watching a TED talk, I’ll be fan-girling over a vintage vlogger or two.

Here are my favourites and the reasons why:

  • Cherry Dollface: An all-round nice broad. Funny and genuine, she does a lot of life-hacks, day in the life, OOTD and make-up tutorials. Also has excellent hair.

 

  • PinupDollAshleyMarie: Voluptuous, immaculate and stylish. Excellent at wardrobe envy. I love her haul/ styling videos and cute bloopers.

 

  • A Vintage Vanity: Adorable geekery to be had! Jennifer is a crafty lady, handy with a sewing machine as well as a curling tong. Retro ramblings and tea-time are not to be missed.

 

  • Vintagious: Lots of great hair tutorials and a ‘What Would Marilyn Do?’ beauty section with helpful quick tips.

 

 

Get inspired!

How to shop vintage: tips and tricks

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Dressing in a particular style should be fun; it is an extension of yourself. The 40s/ 50s vibe that I love is a confidence boost and something that I enjoy. When I shop, I try to remember these rules of thumb to find fantastic retro pieces:

 

  • Charity shops: Always my number one port of call. Can’t be beaten for price and you’re doing a good turn by someone else, too. Win-win.

 

  • Money talks: On that note, visit the charity shops in affluent areas of your city – that’s where you will find more high-quality pieces.

 

  • My size: Ignore sizes when shopping vintage; anything can be belted, slouched, reworked into something unique and wonderful.

 

  • Try me: always, always, always check and double check with vintage. Try everything on and check it out from all angles.

 

  • Quality: Find a really good vintage shop in your area that excels in customer service and hand-picked gems. It’s worth a bit of an extra journey to find that one bobby-dazzler.

 

  • Pick your battles: You can’t always wear 50’s ballgowns, but when you can, splash out a little for something incredible.

 

  • Beg, borrow, steal: Ply your family with chocolate/ alcohol/ favours and raid their wardrobes. Your mother definitely has an 80s skirt suit in there somewhere. Also, try freecycle.

 

  • Vintage Fairs: Currently all the rage and rightly so. Time-travel and snap up lovely tidbits – what’s not to love? Look out for Lulu’s vintage fairs across the UK.

 

  • An outlet: Try outlet stores or designer warehouse-type-places that have discounted designer clothes.

 

  • It’s all in the audience: Look in shops intended for an older clientele, like BHS, for example. They will often have items with a more vintage feel. And comfier shoes.

 

  • On-the-line: For accessories Etsy is a good shout. Ebay has some good stuff, too!

 

And, last but not least, don’t be shy! Be yourself!

Top Ten Ted Talks on Feminism

Equality starts small; inequality is enormous. Let’s get riled up and change things.

Ready for change, now? Good.