Posts Tagged ‘fun’

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era.  It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope.  Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”.  Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised.  In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24).  I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds Of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album.  “Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect.  “Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something.  “I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs.  In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun.  While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points.  Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy.  On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this.  Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano.  “All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus.  Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex For Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line.  In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far.  S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.*  However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery.  Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there.  A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure.  Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it.  “My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back.  Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting.  Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado.  Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights.  It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves.  “Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album.  “I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage).  If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists.  At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time.  Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects.  Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio).  For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.

* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady GaGa is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years – while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

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love me.

May 6, 2010

Yesterday we were doing a magazine CV collage with some special needs students visiting UWE, and the idea of this activity is for the kids to divide a sheet into Hobbies, Future, Skills/Interests and School, and then they have a big pile of magazines from which to cut out pictures and annotate each section, to draw up a picture of themselves.  It’s quite a basic activity but the students always enjoy it, and often end up just flicking through the magazines.  Each time we seem to have to edit the content (for example, the story “I was battered by a 12-inch dildo” isn’t quite appropriate!) – usually from women’s magazines, you girls are filthy!!! – but generally a lot of fun is had.  I had brought in some old copies of Vibe and Touch to contribute to the magazines the students used for collages, and I found one with a Mary J. Blige interview, which I couldn’t help but start rereading.

Apart from talking about the backstories to some of her earlier songs, and stating that people seemed to support her more when she was making sad, introspective songs struggling with love and life than her newer, more lyrically upbeat material, Mary talked about learning to accept love, finding romance and getting through years of emotional abuse.  This was the most interesting part of the interview for me, and resulted in me deciding to keep the magazine and take it back home (as well as listening to My Life again)!  I reflected on my own love life, and thought about a variety of my favourite celebrities: Mary, Mariah Carey, Usher, Janet Jackson, Rihanna (among others) have all stated that they never thought they would find love; that maybe love just wasn’t for them.  For a while, I was starting to feel the same way, and even though I am now in a relationship I still often wonder if I’m capable of really loving someone, giving myself to somebody.  I never had anybody who treated me so wonderfully and who seems to really care for me, and yet I find myself trying to sort out the fantasy from the reality: what is falling in love?  What does it feel like?  Will I know? Or is it more realistic to be with somebody who makes life that little bit better, but still have your independence and feel like an individual person.  What is love?  Is love the former, or does it fall somewhere in between? I just don’t know, and I guess that different people have different opinions on love (depending on their experience; some people really do know when they have found the one, others believe they have and then get it wrong, other people again seem to say that no lover is perfect but being with somebody who treats you well is the most important thing).  I just feel like I’m tiptoeing through a foggy minefield and at any moment it’s all going to blow up in my face.

I think part of my confusion stems from the fact that I am stubborn, feisty and fiercely independent.  Over the last few weeks, it’s come to the fore that I have real problems with letting other people care for me, look after me or even do things for me.  I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel like I’m grown up now and I shouldn’t need other people to do things for me; I relish my autonomy and I almost feel like that’s being threatened when a family member, friend or partner tries to help me with something.  I understand that part of being an adult is knowing when to ask for help, but I still don’t like doing it because I feel like I should be capable. In some implicit way, I guess that I might feel that allowing somebody to do something for me is both their suggestion and my subconscious confirmation that I am incapable.  I don’t like feeling like that, but I’m also aware that it’s a complex in my head that doesn’t really exist; people do things for one another out of kindness and friendship bonds.  It’s also hypocritical of me to feel like this, because I am always one of the first to be willing to help another person.  I get afraid when I feel like I might be being too clingy or relying on someone else too much, and I like to have my own space and freedom – I get very edgy and uncomfortable when I feel like my independence is being compromised – even if in reality this isn’t the case. So this is one complex I don’t get.

I then think that perhaps this is related to my upbringing.  My parents had a very stormy relationship, with lots of verbal, mental and emotional abuse thrown in all directions (including mine).  Though I very rarely witnessed physical violence, it’s still taken its toll and it will never be forgotten.  I realise at times that my upbringing has affected the way I see and do things, particularly in relationships and friendships.  I find it difficult to totally trust people, and although I’m initially usually very open with somebody, it doesn’t take long for my paranoia to creep in and wonder why people do what they do, why they might be nice to me or acting a certain way, assuming there’s an ulterior motive or hidden agenda, and usually blaming myself for these things.  Ironically, especially in the past I used to be scared of ending up alone, wondering why I couldn’t find happiness and almost acquiescing to the fact that I might end up this way – and I’m 24 years old!!! To be thinking like this is a bit crazy, really.  And now I am in a relationship with someone who treats me very well, I often get scared that I can’t return his affection enough, that I don’t deserve this, that somehow I’m going to mess it all up.  Why this self-sabotage?  Things are great, and I enjoy our relationship so much when we keep it light, have fun and just relax.  Again, we’re both young, this is normal and natural – and I do deserve this!  But I can’t stop my brain working and I can’t seem to patch over the vulnerability at the core of my heart that whispers these things to me.  I guess that my upbringing and the relationships that have surrounded me (not just my parents, but throughout both sides of my family) have scarred me more deeply than I’m often aware.

It’s ironic that I’m able to be so frank and openly vulnerable on this blog: although I appreciate that some of my readers don’t know me or have never met me, I also know that some of my readers are my friends whom I know personally.  It’s like being able to write on here is a conduit to my innermost feelings, and I can express myself so fully here that I am truly grateful that I started this blog nearly a year ago (which is insane, it’s flown by!).  But being so honest and open is a little strange when in real life I act so strong, so confident and secure. I have a lot to be secure about, it’s true – but on the inside I often get nervous, afraid, insecure and I can be so vulnerable.  I don’t know how to fix that.  Can I really love someone when I’m still learning and having issues with loving myself, essentially?  Why am I so hard on myself?  And why do I have issues with letting someone love me, care for me and be there for me?  I know I am a good person, I know I am a lucky person, and I know that I deserve love.  I work damn hard professionally, educationally and personally at being the best I can be – I have goals I’m constantly working towards.  I also know that I am human, and I accept the humanity and imperfections of others a lot more readily than my own.  It’s just with all these things swirling in my head, I get so insecure about love, both giving and receiving love and letting someone in.  I feel like at times I offer my vulnerability with one hand and then snatch it away with the other if somebody gets too close.  Why am I like this, and how do I get better?

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stupid?

April 25, 2010

A running joke between me and my friends is the various bizarre/random questions, comments and general synaptic misfires that I make.  Although sometimes they are decent thought-provoking questions, I have only just this last week or so learned the difference between ducks and geese, my UK geography is pretty horrendous, and Cabot Circus is neither a wheeled contraption that might roll away overnight, nor an alien which secretly digests money or shoppers.

I’ve come out with these sorts of things far too often for far too long for it to be false: I will freely admit that I can be a bit ditzy. Or as Mike says, “pretty but dumb”. But part of me has always felt enamoured with the idea of playing up to that: back when I was at school, I hated being intelligent in one way because I knew that I could be perceived as a keener or a geek.  I didn’t want people to look at me that way, I wanted people to see that I had a fun sociable side, so I used to play up to being a bit airheaded for laughs, but also to show people that I do know how to have fun.  And it’s worked – my true friends know that when I make fun of myself, I am in on the joke 😉

However, I would conversely be pretty damn offended when someone who didn’t know me that well would assume I was stupid, because they only knew me socially without seeing how I was in study or in the workplace.  Now, it is judgemental for people to quickly form that opinion of me, let alone incorrect – I know that I am not stupid, and sometimes when I come out with my bizarre little observations or my basic questions, it’s often because nobody told me these things, therefore I ask. It’s not my fault.  But also, if I play up to the bimbo effect, how can I be that mad when people take that at face value? Perhaps this is why I have a soft spot for celebrities like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, because I think that they are terrifically fun but I have a sneaking suspicion that they are definitely in on the joke and not as unintelligent as they portray themselves.  At the end of the day, you still have an amount of control, like a puppetmaster, over the image that you portray to everyone.

Generally, society is against the idea that beauty and brains can co-exist – usually, people are one or the other.  But I learned from a young age that I have had to change everything about myself in order to feel attractive, to feel beautiful or handsome or whatever.  I lost a large amount of weight, I work out (although once I get a damn job I will be re-enrolling at the gym full time!), I cut and dye my hair, I moisturise and diet and although it doesn’t rule my life, my appearance is something I end up dedicating a lot of time to.  I’m not naturally this way – it took and takes a lot of hard work.  Now, if people are willing to study and enhance their knowledge, skills and qualifications, then that’s commended and lauded as intelligence.  If people dedicate time to looking after their appearance and feeling good in their own skin, that’s considered vanity?

Let me tell you something.  I know I’m not stupid, even if sometimes I act it and sometimes I ask silly questions.  I know I’m not ugly, even if I don’t need to spend the amount of time and money that I do on making myself look good.  But I always wanted to be beautiful rather than brainy, because I felt that beauty was something that couldn’t really be taught or learned.  I knew that I already had a decent brain and I know how to make it absorb knowledge – I however also was fortunate to have a decent face that isn’t repellent, so I just had to quest for the body to set it off.  I’m not there yet, and considering I’m near 25, I probably won’t get there in time to fulfil my ambition of becoming a supermodel, but if I can look at myself and really think I am genuinely pretty, I will be happy.  I guess that in a world where most people take looks for granted and value brainpower, I’ve rebelled against that and done the opposite.  Perhaps that’s a little bit stupid or ditzy, I don’t know. Because really, the best thing in the world (and my overarching aim) would be, of course, to have it all.

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3.

April 1, 2010

Look what I did today!

Okay, so this has been on the cards for a little while. But today was the day (and no, this is no April Fool’s – that is an actual picture of me, you can see my flab and the grubby inkstains around my body so I wouldn’t put this up for fun, and I don’t have a sense of humour anyway so April Fool’s Day is irrelevant to me) that I went to Dean & Lewis at Iron & Ink tattoo studio in Whitchurch, Bristol, and got this stained-glass patterned raven tattooed on me. It took 4 and a half hours and was, at times (particularly the outlining & infill of the wingtips near my hip) excruciating – luckily I was alone, because I don’t think my facial expressions would have been particularly pretty. I would say this tattoo was the most painful experience of my life (and Mike giving me a lift home was a godsend – he’s wicked jealous now and I’m waiting to see his next move!), but looking at it now, it was so, so worth it.  I feel great (well, great and sore) and proud to have this on my body.

For me, I originally just chose this design (which I found online, and then edited and redrew somewhat myself) because I thought it was beautiful.  But it also symbolises emancipation and strength for me.  Ironically, I am concealing it from my parents (though how long this is going to last is debatable – however, they don’t know about the other two! If I can get through the initial 2 weeks’ pain stage & the family-centric Easter weekend, I think I might be in with a shot 😉 ) which doesn’t really scream “freedom”, but I’m only doing that for an easy life.  After all, it’s not worth the questions, the inquisition, nor the horrified look on my mother (and possibly grandmother)’s face and declarations that I have ruined myself, that I will never get a job (because I am obviously going to be applying for jobs where I need to strip naked) and so on. It’s kinder to them to keep it under wraps for as long as possible.  And it’s kinder to me too.  I’m aware that the jig will soon be up, but if I can give myself a couple of weeks’ head start, I’d feel better about it.  The only other question is, what will I get next?  I would be lying if I said this was the last one, but I think that I’ll have a bit of a longer gap and think of something really personal to get.  Watch this space!

See tattoo number one HERE

See tattoo number two HERE

And here is the stencilled version before I started having it done:

Once again, I have to shout out Dean & Lewis at Iron & Ink Tattoo Studio, Whitchurch, Bristol, for the stellar job they’ve done, the hospitality they’ve shown me and my friends, and for the beautiful art they’ve created.  They are fantastic and if you’re thinking of getting a tattoo done, definitely go and see them for advice, a hygienic and comfortable atmosphere (Dean gave me a pillow when my shoulder was cramping today, and I was able to watch music videos on Viva to pass the time) and fantastic service. I couldn’t recommend them more.

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speechless.

February 25, 2010

So I’m sat in Starbucks in Cabot Circus having finally gained access to the internet (BT Openzone has a lot to answer for… hijacking my browser and not letting me get to the Starbucks page however hard I try – I do have better things to do than sit here and refresh the page!… probably.) and I have felt determined to blog since I got here.  I’m consuming far too much coffee lately and I generally need to cut down on food – not that it’s showing; I appreciate my new metabolism every day and I pray it never leaves! – so I thought I would take the time to write something to you all and write about things that are on my mind.  Usually this isn’t a problem for me, but now I’m at my keyboard and I don’t really know what to say.  I have my book (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – I’m only 100 pages through so far but I’m enjoying it, more than I expected to in fact!) and Sade’s fantastic new album Soldier Of Love is playing on my iPod, so I’m feeling chilled.  My fingertips are typing away but is any of this of substance?  I don’t think so.  So let me try and write something of value.

Yesterday I got a bit irritated with a couple of bossy people in uni, but it wasn’t really a big deal.  However, my mood lingered and wouldn’t quite lift. I went to WHSmiths (after a tour of central Bristol shops) and bought Mike and Caroline the first season of True Blood on DVD as a thankyou gift for everything they mean to me, and all that they’ve done for me in the past six months.  And then I went to Starbucks, sat and read my book, and decided to continue on my strategy of letting people know how much I appreciate them.  I spoke to Hannah and we conversed about love, life and self-esteem, and then I met up with Toby and decided to tell my boyfriend that although sometimes I’m a bit emotionally wary or quiet, I appreciate him so much and the reason I get nervous is because nobody ever really treated me, as a boyfriend, the way that he does.  He’s a good man and I’m going to hold onto him, and although I don’t always say it, I appreciate what he’s done for me and what he means to me too.  It was nothing to do with why I was a bit grumpy before, but it made me feel better, because generally we don’t tell people close to us enough how much we appreciate them.  So I’m going to try and do that a little bit more, rather than everyone just taking their friendships and relationships for granted.  I am good at speaking confidently, so while I’m doing that I might as well say things that are worth saying!

Today I finished my essay at uni with Mike, tried and failed to find Ness in the café, and now I’m here in Starbucks again.  Although I mainly come here because I don’t really want to go home before I have to (my parents have the week off this week and although we are getting on ok at the moment, I don’t want to prolong my contact with them.  Small doses!  I like my independence, as you know), I do enjoy having time to myself in a relaxing environment, and I can just turn my iPod on and type or read without any disruptions.  I do pay for the privilege, and I should be a little more careful with what I spend at the moment, but part of my philosophy is that as long as it’s not massively negligent of the bigger picture, we should treat others and ourselves the best we can, because tomorrow you could be dead.  It’s a bit blunt, but not wrong.  What have we got to lose?  I tell and show people how much they mean to me today (or at least I’m going to resolve to do that a bit more); I reward myself today (well, sorta quite often but hey!); I try and live in the moment, while being aware of my past and my future.  If I died tomorrow, I’m sure I would have some regrets, but I can’t think of anything major that I really see as a huge mistake in my life.  There are things that I would have done differently, but now that I’m in a pretty good space in my life I don’t really care because the mistakes I’ve made and avenues I’ve taken have led me to this point, and probably contributed to my character and the person that I am in some way.  Watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians at Toby’s last night, Kim Kardashian has money, looks, family and a decent career.  But listening to her speaking, there’s a tiny something missing… some sort of spark or soul.  I’m not saying that because she’s a celebrity heiress – I find Paris Hilton terrifically fun and I will always (well, almost always) stick up for her in a conversation – but with Kim there seemed to be little appreciation or conception of battling hard for the things she wants.  As much as I would love to have things fall easily into my lap, I’ve fought and struggled more than some people realise, and now that things are going my way I appreciate it every day.  I hope that it continues and I’m going to do my best to ensure that it does (although life is such that sometimes no matter how much you do, things go against you).  If I won the lottery tomorrow, if my heart felt like a glittering diamond and everything in my life were suddenly fulfilled, that would be nice, but I hope that through the course my life I can get to a state where I’m fulfilled by the things that I have, even if I’m not 100% satisfied and always striving for more (which I almost hope to be).  Appreciating what I have is something I try to do as much as I can, but I could still do it much more.

So I guess I found something to talk about.  It wasn’t anything momentous, it wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but I reread what I’ve just typed over the past 20 minutes and I stand by it.  Too often we are speechless, or afraid to speak for fear of the value judgments others place on what we say.  And sometimes what goes unsaid is the most valuable thing of all.  So to this end, I want to thank you all once again for reading, for following this little blog of mine, and I hope that you all stay wonderful and wish you all the best.  Until next time kids x

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sexy fresh.

January 17, 2010

This weekend I haven’t felt particularly sexy or fresh, considering I have a cough like a foghorn and a proper stinking cold (as we say in England).  Yesterday I bought some new jeans from Topman, which are slim fit 32″ light grey.  Before Christmas (in anticipation of the sales) I had been appraising my wardrobe and working out what items I needed, considering I’ve lost a fair amount of weight since starting uni and a lot of my clothes are no longer fitted enough for my liking.  In view of my weight loss, I can’t believe I was ever big enough (read: heifer) to fit into my old clothes.  The problem which is slightly worrying, is that my old clothes were often no bigger than a Medium.  Now I’m a Small, I’ve got a slimmer waist (which still requires toning) and I feel a lot better about myself.  Ironically, swapping my gym membership for an increase in cigarettes and a closer monitoring of my evening snacking post-dinner (and reduction of it) has worked wonders for my frame and for my self-esteem.  But I do question my body image.  Is what we see in the mirror really ever accurate?  How do we know what to trust?

As one of my role models is Mariah Carey, so I can empathise with her desire to flaunt her body.  As a guy, I did this in a slightly different way, but after some really bad fallout from a broken friendship at school, at age 14 over the summer I shed a ridiculous amount of weight due to funnelling my anger through situps.  Suddenly, all my clothes fell off, instead of baggy t-shirts and jeans to hide my figure, I discovered fitted clothes, ways to expose a little bit of skin and just daring to dress more provocatively and wearing clothes and jewellery that my peers hadn’t thought of wearing.  In retrospect, it was perhaps a cry for attention, but I don’t think the emphasis was on “LOOK at me!”; it was more like “Look at me NOW!” For the first time in my life, I felt attractive, and I felt like a normal teenager like those I saw on television, like those who did lots of sports around me and appeared to have no body image hangups.  Between the age of 15 and 23, my weight fluctuated somewhat (again like Mariah 😉 ), but I never allowed myself to get out of proportion or feel “fat” as I had done throughout my childhood.  I learned how to dress and experimented with fashion during my time at university, and now I really like my sense of style, and having shed a lot of weight again, I feel attractive enough to wear whatever I want.

More or less.  I mentioned the grey jeans that I bought from Topman.  They look fine on, but the slim fit needs a slight bit of stretching before I can wear them in public without suffering from whatever the male equivalent of camel-toe is (TMI I know! but I’m getting there more or less, just another day’s wear I think), and pale colours make my legs look elephantine. Except I know that in reality, my legs don’t look massive.  Depending on the mirror I’m looking in, I see a completely different version of myself compared to the one I see looking down at myself.  What do I trust?  I know that my clothes sizes are shrinking down and down, and I can’t ever believe that I used to wear Large sizes, and even Medium sizes are baggy on me – yet I don’t see myself as Small or slim.  I know it must be true, because all the evidence tells me so.  But looking in the mirror, I still see a flabby stomach, a waist and chest which needs toning, situps and pressups (ceasing the gym hasn’t meant ceasing all exercise – I still try and keep fit in my own way), and all the imperfections that were there no matter what size I was.  I don’t know if I’m suffering from body dysmorphia, but sometimes I don’t see myself any differently to how I looked 1, 2, 5 years ago in terms of my body. I do feel better about myself, but that’s mainly from the sizes of clothing I’m buying, people’s nice comments and flattering compliments, and other positive things which have been happening in my life.  Buying a new wardrobe is a lot of fun, and I don’t aspire to go down another jeans size – I’m 6′ tall and anything less than a 32″ waist would look too skinny on me.  Except how would I know?  I can’t trust what I see, I just have to make my best guess.

I don’t know how to explain it any better, so I’ll say this: Before Christmas last year, me and a few of the guys from our careers guidance course ended up going for lunch together in Chipping Sodbury.  Because there was about 13 of us, there initially weren’t enough chairs around the table where we were all sitting, and I’d been upstairs watching Pete & Simon play pool. I came back, and there was a space next to Clare who was sitting on a bay window seat.  I asked if I could squeeze in next to her, and she looked at the space and said “Yeah, you’re only little!” We made a joke along the lines of “how rude!” but I don’t think I’ll ever forget her saying that, even though it was a throwaway comment which wasn’t supposed to mean anything.  I’ve never thought of myself, I’ve never felt “little” in my entire life.  She must see me in a different way to how I see myself.  Lately, people are falling over themselves to tell me how attractive I am, how I’m pretty, how I am sexier than them (even when giving an impromptu presentation at university, which is honestly not when I am trying my utmost to radiate sex appeal).  It’s bizarre, and it’s welcome and flattering because these are compliments and the validation that I’ve been aiming for my whole life (I know that I shouldn’t need it, and I don’t always, but other people’s validation feels awful nice).  I’ve never really felt attractive or sexy before, and now I do. Or at least, I’m closer to that now than I have ever been before.  But it also seems to have come at a price, and I wish that I could look at myself objectively and see what other people seem to see.  Because otherwise, will I truly know when to stop?  I feel that now is probably the time, but I know what improvements I still want to make and I just hope that I don’t go a step too far and mess it all up.  At 24, my looks haven’t come easy, and I don’t want to lose them before I can learn to appreciate them.

h1

illusions.

January 10, 2010

I was on the way home from work at the hospital on Friday afternoon and it began to occur to me while I was sat on the bus, for no particular reason, that just as we all want different things that can help us on our journey to happiness, so we’re all coming from different places with different perspectives. I thought back to Monday night and Tuesday morning, when I’d spent the night at Mike’s place, and playing games with his son Billy.  He messed about with his food, he splashed Mike while he was having a bath, he was bashing a toy meerkat on the floor the next morning looking for coconuts.  He’s three years old, and he’s a bright kid, but he’s a child that is almost totally carefree.  And why shouldn’t he be?  That’s one of the luxuries of being so young, that we don’t realise is a luxury until it’s passed us by.

Does that make him “immature”? In a way, yes – but with none of the bad connotations that the word usually carries.  He’s a child, he’s got a lot of growing up to do, experiencing of the world and everything that entails.  So as a child, we can’t blame him for not understanding the complexity of relationships, people, and a hundred other things that fall under the umbrella of “life”.  But just because he’s a child, that gives him a get-out clause that we don’t afford other people whom we presume should know better.  So I was sat on the bus, wondering if maturity and immaturity is just an illusion? Is it a concept that we’ve invented to fuel our own feelings of superiority and comfort us when we’re feeling insecure?

I know that I’m certainly guilty of this.  Through the years, many many people (parents, teachers, friends, colleagues) have told me that I am “mature for my age”, “wise beyond my years” and so on and so forth.  I appreciate the compliment, but it’s meant that sometimes I’ve looked at people my age, or people whom I’ve just thought should know better than to behave in the way in which they’re behaving, and the first thing to my mind is “they’re immature”.  Is that really just code for “oh, I am better than them”?  To me, it seems to be a way of dressing up a superiority complex.  Looking at it now, I think that when we see people as “immature”, it’s not because they’re mentally or emotionally stunted – or at least, it’s not their fault.  They just have a different viewpoint of life / whatever the issue or context is, because they’ve been through different things or they’ve been raised a certain way, that they approach the complexities from a different angle.  I’m sure that I’m not the deepest person around, and that some people think I am shallow. I like to think I am not, but then who likes to think of themselves as shallow? 😉  I like to think I’m mature, but then who likes to think of themselves as immature?

So I am trying to restrain myself from automatically judging people as “immature”. Yes, I may disagree with the way they express themselves in connection with certain situations, and I might think that if it were me, I would do things differently, approach the situation differently, or have a more nuanced viewpoint.  But we’re all learning, and maybe instead of judging someone else, I should learn to take a step back and see things the way they do.  Sometimes I think too much, and perhaps simplicity is better.  Mike and I did say sometimes that it would be nice to just be able to switch your brain off  and not overthink things – I’m certainly guilty of at times taking things too seriously.  And perhaps, sometimes part of ‘maturity’ (whether it exists or not) is letting loose and having fun.  I honestly believe more and more as I get older that levity and laughter is vital for sanity.