Posts Tagged ‘vanity’

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bare necessities.

September 15, 2012

Now that Toby has returned from Aberdeen and payday is imminent, my thoughts are turning to the new flat we are going to acquire in the coming weeks. We are considering a range of locations, including Earls Court, Fulham, Kensington, Putney, Hammersmith, Barons Court and Chiswick, and a lot depends on the transport links and whether we can afford one or two bedrooms (two bedrooms would be nice so that we could have friends and family over to stay, but it’s not a necessity and we’d have to be willing to sacrifice a more central location). So I’m expecting us to have a flurry of viewings over the next few weeks in order to find a suitable place! I’ve therefore been thinking about what are the essential things I need in a home, and my experience of life both in Earls Court and Fulham has taught me some valuable lessons. To wit:

  • washing machine

Since moving into Toby’s flat in Fulham, the presence of a washing machine feels like a glorious luxury. When our clothes are dirty, I can just go upstairs and put them in the washing machine; I no longer have to keep them in a River Island bag (or two) which I cart down the road for a fifteen-minute walk or five-minute bus ride each weekend. I will never live somewhere which does not have a washing machine ever again. And if I can wangle a tumble drier too, even better.

  • wardrobe

However, in contrast, living in this new flat has meant that I’ve had to be creative about storing my clothes. In Earls Court, I had two little wardrobes, which was absolutely perfect – one for casual clothes and one for my work outfits. Here, I have a drawer and a half, and I have hijacked half of a clothes rail that frequently lists from side to side and occasionally dismantles itself. I detest folding my clothes and keeping them in a drawer, because they always end up creased and it takes me five minutes to find the garment I am looking for. I much prefer to have all of my clothes hung up and ready for selection, without fear that my choice will be rumpled. So I need a good amount of hanging space.

  • mirrors

I also miss that my flat in Earls Court was liberally furnished with large mirrors. One full length mirror and one square mirror in the living / bedroom, a small mirror above the sink in the bathroom, and mirrored bathroom cabinet doors. To be honest, even I (with my vanity) found it a little superfluous, but I certainly appreciated it. In Fulham, the only mirrors of a decent size are in the bathrooms. Nothing in the living room, nothing anywhere else; I have imported my tiny circular desk mirror into our bedroom so that I can moisturise and attempt to do my hair in the morning before work, but it’s not really sufficient – I have to keep going down the corridor in order to see myself and make sure I am presentable before I leave the house. It’s not ideal – I need mirrors!

  • proximity to a large supermarket

One of the few areas where Toby and I diverge is our preferred supermarket. Toby loves Waitrose (which I generally despise), while I am cheap and cheerful and frequent Tesco. But even the Tesco Expresses and Metros of the world are not really enough for me to get everything I want. I like basic orange juice in large cartons, coconut water, and small cartons of orange juice. I find it utterly mystifying that I cannot find these items for a decent price in anything other than a large-sized supermarket – but apparently this is the case, and so I need to be within walking distance of one of these.

  • coat tree

This returns to the issue with the wardrobes, and with the unreliable clothing rack that I am now using. We hang our coats, hoodies and jackets on either end of the rack to balance its weight, but this isn’t really ideal – and it makes the whole thing ultimately heavier anyway. Back when I lived in Bristol with my parents, we had a wooden coat tree which would periodically topple over from the weight of the coats on it. My mother once exhorted me to get rid of some of my coats – this escalated into a debate where my parents and I made three piles of each of our coats. Embarrassingly, my pile was larger than both of my parents’ combined. Hence, even after purging some of my outerwear, I do like a nice coat or four and thus need a coat tree to keep them all on.

  • piano

Today Toby and I went to Westfield to meet up with his parents who’d come down to London to spend a lunchtime with us. At one point, I was in the Village and there was a very talented pianist playing, whom I stopped to listen to. The beauty of the music came close to bringing tears to my eyes. I miss my piano, and while this isn’t strictly a necessity right now (it will be when we buy a place), I would love to have space for a piano in my new flat so that I can play and compose music.

  • a large kitchen worksurface

I realise that at this point, my cookery project (which lasted an impressive 7 months out of 12) has come to an end / gone on hiatus (depending on whether I end up restarting it or not). I guess I did well enough; although I did think that sheer stubbornness would carry me through to December. I detested cooking; I detested choosing a recipe, hunting down the ingredients, and then all of the preparation and stirring and waiting and checking and tasting, only for the finished product to last about 10 minutes on the plate before I’d finished eating it. All of that effort, and for what? I’d much rather have a necklace. But Toby’s kitchen has got a larger work surface (and a hob that’s at arm level rather than eye level, which is pleasant), which makes the occasional moment when I do decide to make food a lot more tolerable. So I need a reasonably spacious kitchen.

  • library

During my time in the Royal Borough, I joined the library. Libraries are such a good resource; not only do they provide access to the internet for the elderly and run a range of semi-interesting events, but they have a wealth of media and books that you can borrow, read and then give back. You can enrich yourself (academically and personally) without spending a fortune or permanently cluttering your house. They also have a small but useful section of foreign language books which I have started utilising to keep my Italian vocabulary alive between terms (I start again at the end of the month, yay!). I really appreciate the library and I want to live near one.

I am unsure whether I will be able to have all of these things in the forthcoming flat, but as many as possible would be wonderful, and some of them are indeed necessities. But in the years to come and the homes I come to make my own, I hope to have all of these things!

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reboot.

May 8, 2011

When I started this blog, I just envisioned it as a fun space to talk about my life and loves, where I could be honest and frank without fear of repercussion. I branched out into talking about music and doing reviews, which I have since reined in because while these posts were popular, I just haven’t felt inspired to write any new reviews lately. Toby suggested that I could create a separate blog for music, culture and fashion in the future, but as I’m writing less posts I didn’t think I could devote enough time to two separate blogs – I feel like I am neglecting this one as it is! (A new layout is long overdue 😉 ) The idea is good and one day I would love to, but right now I am focusing on my job, trying to find a new job in London, and my family and friends, visiting Toby in London (he came down to Bristol this weekend and we had such a lovely time 🙂 ) – I just haven’t got the time.

Since I got my new laptop in December, I transferred all of my content across to it from the old one, but I haven’t used Photo Booth in a long time. Yesterday, I opened the programme and started flicking through the old photos from last year. I haven’t realised, but I used to look better (not that I look drastically awful now, but I feel that I looked slightly slimmer, slightly fresher, slightly more fashionable) a year ago when I was doing the QCG at UWE. That year was such a good one for me – I made some lovely friends, I began to make inroads into the vocational sector I wanted to pursue, and I met two people who are instrumental to my evolution into the person I have become today – Mike, who is like a big brother to me and has given me so much confidence in myself, and Toby, whom at this point I can confidently say is the love of my life who loves me back.

I found my first proper full-time salaried job doing something I wanted to do, I finally passed my driving test and bought my first car, I got my first four (!) tattoos which more than declaring my inner edginess and free spirit, declare my new-found confidence in the person I am. And now that all these big events have passed, I’m just trying to keep everything going. I feel like I am on a treadmill paying for my car, trying and so far failing to pay off my debts, growing my professional experience and my CV whilst trying to find that elusive job in London, growing my relationship with Toby. And I seem to have barely any time for myself. I have put on a little bit of weight – not a drastic amount, but a few pounds that I would like to shift. I don’t like my hair (which has always been the case, but I feel that it’s fine but not pleasing) and I would like to do something interesting with it – I may well do in the summer, as I’m thinking of dyeing it black again and cutting the sides really short, and letting the top be longer and straighter. Straightening my hair is something I’m out of practice with, but the other night I decided to use my GHDs before I went to pick up Toby from Parkway station, and it felt refreshing and cleansing just to do something different with myself.

But it’s more than that. It is about devoting time to myself – not through comfort eating (which I recognise I have been doing in the evenings over the last few months), nor through my new budgeting spreadsheet (which is something I have to do, but not what I particularly want to do!). It’s about actively taking care of myself. After an initial run at an Abs Workout iPhone app, I decided I didn’t like the exercise schemes on it, so I have found a youtube abs workout by Laura London which I am doing 4-5 times a week. In this way, I can maintain my slim figure and hopefully drop those pesky few pounds. Which in turn, makes me feel good on the inside. I aim to straighten my hair more, and do more interesting things with my appearance once the summer holidays approach (so that I don’t make any faux pas in front of the 2000 odd teenagers at college – not the most forgiving audience!) – because doing this makes me feel good and is a symbol of me taking time for myself and being prepared to value myself and say “I am important”. It’s vanity, but it’s also so much more than vanity.

Through Toby’s love, and through the close friendships I enjoy, I have nurtured others and in turn nurtured myself. One reason I have slowed down on the reviews, which I hadn’t really thought about until very recently, is that I am tired of criticism. Both receiving unwarranted criticism (which I shall talk about in a forthcoming post), but also being expected to give criticism. I don’t like the fact that so much of society seems to thrive on putting others down in order to build ourselves up. Why do we feel that in order to give an opinion on an album, a film, an outfit, a friend, we have to find something negative? It’s one thing if the negative naturally occurs to us, but to me it seems crazy to actively search it out. So until I feel ready, I am going to leave the reviews. For now, I am working on myself.

Hence the title of this post, “reboot”. Something I have always done on this blog is write about my emotions truthfully, and connect them to what I’ve been going through. While these posts may not garner as many hits, it’s been cathartic for me to be able to reflect and grow, and the responses I do receive to those posts are the most gratifying. I am reading Janet Jackson’s new book True You, and while it may not be the most eloquent piece of literary writing, it is something I enjoy because to read someone else’s struggles, triumphs and insecurities allows me to connect with that person, and to reflect on my own. I am 25 years old, and for over half of my life I have been getting to know myself and trying to understand who I am. So in turn, by sharing my own thoughts and my own insecurities, I can start to embrace them and move past – and hopefully help you all not only to feel closer to me but to feel closer to who you are. I’m just like you, a human being – this is me, take it or leave it. But I hope that my own struggles and successes inspire you, and I also hope that you will also share yours with me because I would like to be inspired in kind! 🙂

I am rebooting my life a little bit – remembering that among the many other commitments in my life, I am important and valuable, and deserve some time and dedication. I am rebooting this blog a little bit, making sure that I find the strength and bravery to share the good and the bad with you, so that we know that we are not, that we are never alone, and that we can all grow and get past our insecurities, capitalise on our triumphs and find and nurture our happiness and our joy. I know that I sound a little bit bizarre right now, but it’s mainly because we’re not supposed to talk like this in society – it exposes our vulnerability and risks us getting hurt. Well, what I have found makes me feel better is knowing that I’m not alone – we need to be honest with one another and talk about all of these things! Otherwise we all just suffer in silence and alone. I have a good life, and I want it to be better; I want to nurture my own happiness and the happiness of those around me. I want to be able to look back on my life when I am old and say “I made mistakes and I had successes, but I always tried to do the right thing and I had a rich and full life.” If I can look back and say that, then I will be happy. That journey starts here and now. And in such a way, I am rebooting myself.

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successful.

October 28, 2010

Today I took my driving test for the first time in over 6 years, and I didn’t pass. I am a bit gutted, but at the same time I knew that in my heart of hearts, I was capable of passing, but I was unlikely to do it this time. I did better than I thought I would and it’s a nagging annoyance that I only made one big mistake – my approach speed to junctions, which was too fast because of my nerves – and the rest was good. Knowing that I’m capable of passing my driving test and I can drive pretty well makes it infuriating that my nerves get the better of me in an examined situation, but I am nearly there and next time I will do it – this test was the nearest I’ve come to passing. As long as I don’t rush myself, I’ll be fine! I’m a bit nervous about how I’m going to be travelling to work for the next 6 weeks, but I have a work colleague who lives around the corner from me and has already kindly offered her services. I just don’t like to impose.

 

I am disappointed that I couldn’t tie in a driving success to the other high points of this year (although if I get a cancellation, it might still be possible!), but I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I do put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve, and I fervently wish that I had not stopped taking tests when I was 18. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! But I just have to keep my head to the sky and live up to my stubborn / determined nature. I won’t give up! The positive is that I now have more time to save up for a car, and I made myself feel better by paying off some money from my credit card and from my student bank account. Doing sensible things with my money seemed like the best way to make light of an unfortunate situation. I thought I would indulge in some retail therapy, but I arrived in the centre of town and the urge had left me; which is a good thing for my bank account! I am seeing Toby for his birthday tomorrow (wish him a happy birthday here!) and I knew that whatever the outcome of today’s test, I would have that to look forward to. We are going to Thorpe Park this weekend for Fright Night, and I’m looking forward to seeing the Saw maze and going on the rides; I haven’t been to a theme park since I visited Alton Towers when I was 18. So I’m determined to put this little failure behind me (which I will redress – I have come too far now to give up again! If I’m not meant to drive – and this has occurred to me in low moments, including today – then a big sign is literally going to have to come down from the sky and smack me upside the head) and enjoy the rest of my week off before I return to work on Monday.

 

I guess this is what people mean when they say that you sometimes have to fight hard for what you believe in. I have fought hard and worked hard, but hard work comes easy to me in a way; I was raised with an intense work ethic. I have been blessed with a good brain for achieving academically, and I put in the work to back it up; it was never really difficult for me, but I took no prisoners just so that I could be lucky enough to have an educational career that puts most to shame. I learned to sing from Mariah Carey albums (and a variety of others, but she will always be the ultimate for me) and I never questioned that I would be able to have a voice like that; lo and behold, my whistle register is not as good as hers (owing to my Y chromosome) but other than that I’m pretty much there. I have always loved singing, playing the piano and guitar, and writing and producing my own songs – I have an innate musicality, I suppose, and although mastering software and songwriting structures alike has required perseverance, I’ve never found it particularly difficult to make progress. Once I found the right man (and he is truly amazing!), the troubles I had in my previous dating life more or less melted away and now I find it easy to be in love. The aspects of relationships that I found challenging, I have worked to resolve and they are mainly down to my own insecurities and upbringing. I have many good friends (communicating and social skills have been a strong point of my personality, hence my current vocation working with young people in a college), and I learned some hard lessons during my school life which has enabled me to judge someone’s character and thus gather a tight circle of very good people to whom I am indebted for my sanity, among other things! (I appreciate y’all and I enjoy y’all – never forget it! 😉 ) I am often complimented on my sense of fashion and style, and that has always come effortlessly to me (because, in part, I am a potent combination of vain and fussy); I observe the latest trends and fashions, and then cast aside 90% of it, retain the things I like and add them to a style I hope is elegant, classic, timeless and most importantly, me.

 

The two things in my life that I have found most difficult are: losing weight in order to attain a body that I am happy with; and learning to drive. I am more or less happy with the way that I look now, although it’s always a work in progress, and I could do more exercise than I currently do! I will work on it. But I have taken 20 years to get to a point where I am not repulsed by what I see in the mirror, and that is a very positive thing. Passing my driving test will hopefully not take me 20 years! But I have to take pride in the fact that I have a good work ethic and am willing to put in the work to achieve my goals. Success is an uphill struggle but I need to learn to appreciate the things that have come easily to me, because there are a hell of a lot of them and I should be thankful for them. I’m a lucky person, and I’m not a complacent person. I just have to keep going a little bit longer, and never give up.

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v is for vanity.

October 2, 2010

Mike told me the other night that “I am the vainest person he knows”. I don’t know if this is true; I wouldn’t be surprised. But at the same time, I defend my vanity (by which I mean my obsession with making sure I look good) with the fact that I do it first and foremost for myself. Not many people understand this – I dress nice and moisturise my face and fix my hair even if I’m not going to see anyone that day. I don’t feel good if I don’t look my best, because I know I can and therefore should look better. After all, one of my sayings is : “If you feel good then you should look great; if you don’t feel good, you might as well look great.”

My grandmother and I were having a conversation last night and I always knew that she hates embellishing anything about her looks. She has never worn makeup and never understood why my mother takes such time with her hair and face each morning (my mother and I are definitely on the same wavelength when it comes to holding ourselves to high standards with our looks – we both do it for ourselves). She has only ever used a rinse in her hair once or twice, and didn’t even like that: she complains whenever I dye my hair (or announce that I am going to dye it), as she says “there is nothing wrong with how it is, it is nice” and says “it looks unnatural / stark / too serious”. She hated it when I had it blonde one summer, and she refers to changing one’s hair colour as “painting it”. She didn’t like when I shaved my head, as I “didn’t look like me”. She responds to my declarations of wanting to be slim with “you are fine as you are”. At this point, I am fairly slim and so I agree that I am fine this way. However, no matter what my size, even when I was a fair bit bigger in years past, she always said “you are fine as you are”. Now, I don’t think that it’s a good recommendation for children to diet anyways, and I probably put myself under too much pressure as a child with that – but I know that the reason why she says that I am fine the way that I am is because my nan fundamentally believes that you should accept what nature gave you and not decorate or embellish it in any way.

To this end, she even wears shades which are mainly muted: browns, greys, navy, black, sage green. Even with colours that could be interesting, my grandmother chooses the most boring variant of it; sage green, olive green, dark grey, mid brown.  Now, I myself have been mocked for mainly wearing black, white, brown and grey – but I also wear navy, maroon, dark green and sheer clothes. I mix up my fabrics, I have lots of coordinated accessories, I wear different coloured jeans. To quote (admittedly, my boyfriend) Toby, my style is “slinky and elegant”. And I am very happy with that description, as that’s what I am for – model-perfect and classic. I still believe that I am not there yet (and until I have the money to afford a Gucci wardrobe, I won’t get there either!) but I do my very best and I do look different from the crowd, which is good. If this is being vain, if caring about your looks and moisturising and wearing lip balm and smelling nice and wearing clothes that actually fit me properly and compliment my body is vanity, I will proudly wear my vanity as a badge.

However, I am considering changing my style… I don’t know to what? I definitely don’t want to be less sophisticated or classic, but I feel like I could be more edgy. I do have some edgy garments, but I occasionally feel (possibly because of my new job, where I couldn’t wear anything too fashion-forward that would concern the Cirencester natives – as it is, I get compliments on my outfits there) that I play it safe. I saw some gorgeous studded boots in River Island that I wanted. As I couldn’t do them up, I didn’t get them – but I loved their style. They were edgy, slightly goth-y, a bit fearsome. Toby didn’t like them, but I did because they would have set me apart. And then I considered: I could not wear them to work. And although that remains a fact, and I would have therefore wasted my money on boots that looked wonky when I laced them up and which I would only be able to wear once or twice a week, I felt like all of a sudden my fashion choices had to be compromised. Is this growing up? I suppose so, but it is a little bit sad. I therefore aim to keep an eye for being forward, and to keep nourishing my inner fashionista against the conformity drive of mainstream society.

To this end, I love love love my tattoos because they not only have meaning for me and make me a little more edgy, embodying my darker side; they also accessorise me in a unique way! I will therefore close this entry by showing y’all my new tattoo that I got TODAY: it’s not finished yet, as there needs to be some more shading on the sankofa part of the key, as well as around the piano keys; but it looks pretty damn sweet so far!  Enjoy 🙂 and thankyou for waiting for this entry, y’all are so patient with me and I love you all 🙂

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hypersex.

July 27, 2010

I’ve spent the last 4 weekends away from home with my boyfriend Toby: the first weekend in Peterborough, and the latter three in his new flat in London.  I’ve had a terrific time each time, and it’s a marker of how far I’ve come that now when I am at home in Bristol during the week, life feels empty and, well, a bit lifeless.  I’m finally feeling the love I so desperately longed to feel in the first few months, and I am truly lucky to have found him: I now only fear some unforeseen circumstance or twist of fate breaking us apart and taking this amazing man away from me. But there’s nothing I can do about that, so I just enjoy the times we share together and watch our relationship grow: I have let down my hard-to-get, impenetrable guard and now he sees me as someone who is often vulnerable, sweet and soppy.  During my last two visits, we went to the cinema to watch Eclipse and Inception, and as well as enjoying the films, I cherished the fact that going to the cinema with my boyfriend and cuddling up on the seats, arms linked & heads on each others’ shoulders, was something I thought I’d never get to experience.  It made me feel young, carefree and happy, like the teenager I no longer am but always longed to be.

However, as well as displaying and embracing my softer, romantic side, we also enjoy having sex and often joke that we must be nymphomaniacs.  The sex is the best I’ve ever had, and I am not going to go into specifics because y’all don’t wanna read that and I want to keep that between me and Toby.  But I feel like I finally get to unfurl the wings of my sexuality without embarrassment or shyness.  I have always been a sexual person, and I remember my body being a constant source of fascination as a child (and I mean way before puberty, which I hit early anyway).  As a boy and now a man, I’ve occasionally felt slightly ridiculous for being in touch with myself in a non-macho, non-“I want to fuck everything that moves” way.  I mean, I definitely get horny, but for me my sexuality is less about posturing, racking up notches on a bedpost to prove my virility to others and allay my own insecurities and more about feeling intangibly good in my own skin, exploring what feels / tastes / good and what my body can do to synchronise with my soul and feelings and heighten my experiences as much as possible, and then also sharing that with another person and trying to heighten their experience, someone who knows you and is always uncovering new things about you as you grow together, is a privilege.

As I’ve gotten older, my sense of fashion has grown and evolved as well, and my having tattoos is not only an embodiment of my darker, more dangerous side with personal emblems for me, but also an expression of sexuality. I believe that tattoos are very sensual things (I’m not interested in getting them as a fashion statement per se, and I will never be seen with a tattoo that is “on trend” because it’s “on trend”), and having someone firstly pierce your skin with a needle shows an immense display of trust; to leave a symbol or picture or message on you that has meaning is exhilarating; then to display tattoos, to let someone in on their meaning, to allow someone to touch that part of your body, is a thrill that for me is part of sexuality.  For me, I don’t need or want everyone to see my tattoos all the time (partly because for work I need to exercise some common sense and be able to cover them), but they are for me first and then for my friends and finally for my boyfriend (who likes them nearly as much as I do!).  Just as wearing sexy outfits, fitted clothes (both of which are again decidedly un-macho), certain colours and styles is more an embodiment of who I am at that particular moment, on that day, at that stage in my life and of who I am as a person (the different layers) than displaying labels, belonging to a particular social clique or taking part in a contest to display as much of myself as possible.  For me, sexuality and promiscuity are two extremely different things. I’ve come to the point where I am happy enough with my body to wear more or less what I want (apart from all the outfits I can’t afford!!! but I’m getting there slowly 🙂 ), and in contrast to my attention-seeking performance outfits of the past (leather trenchcoat here, ripped jeans with handcuffs there – though those outfits were definitely fun and I’ve very glad I wore them!), I am less about turning heads (although that’s always nice) and more about satisfying my own standards.  Which are usually higher anyway! But I also appreciate that I want to feel that I look sexy in my clothes: some people are not concerned with that stuff, but I am – call it vanity, call it what you want. The difference is that now, what validates my sexiness is primarily how I myself feel, and secondly what my boyfriend and close friends think and say. I’m more comfortable in my skin to be more about pleasing myself and to know that yes, some people’s opinions do matter and I want to please others too.  But I also know that the general public is not important, and that I shouldn’t feel intimidated or afraid to be who I am. My sexuality, sensuality, fashion sense, looks, physicality and being as a whole may occasionally be compromised by external forces – I’m only human – but I know that it shouldn’t be and I’m better at making sure that it isn’t 90% of the time.  I am learning to be comfortable in myself as a sexual being, a sensual being, and it’s thrilling that I can listen to sexually-themed music (the thought process behind this post was set in motion while I was dancing to “Desnúdate” from Christina Aguilera’s Bionic album, which I still utterly adore) and understand more of it – not because of the meanings of the words (which are translucent), but because my life and my maturity is falling in line with those things.  I’m growing, and I am grateful to my friends, to Toby and to life in general for provoking me and allowing me to do so. 🙂

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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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calorie counting.

May 3, 2010

Please be frank, and if you think I’m in the wrong, please tell me.  I’d almost like to be wrong, I’d like to feel that my family do respect my intelligence and that I’m somehow being unfair to them by believing that they insult me and feel that I am foolish.

The past few months, I know that I have lost weight, but I am hardly underweight.  I have a nice shape, a slim waist, but I still have muscle tone and at 6 feet tall, I wouldn’t want to lose that and become skinny.  I eat enough without stuffing my face (unless I’m indulging – for example, on Saturday night I had a large Meateor pizza from Dominos as a treat). I have never starved myself, nor do I induce myself to vomit.  In other words, even though I am certainly vain and may have a smidge of body dysmorphic disorder, I certainly do not consider myself to have an eating disorder.

So therefore, at 24 years of age, why do my family (specifically my mother and my grandmother) insist on me giving them a rundown of what I have eaten that day, and then accuse me of being bulimic, or decide to prepare me a meal despite my protestations and specific statement that I don’t want anything to eat? Now, I know that they are family and trying to look after me, but it’s getting to the point that they are deciding what I want, or what I need, regardless of what I express.  When what I really need is for my voice and opinions to be respected.  Do I really have to wear my calorie count across my head like the scarlet letter? Perhaps it should be on a flashing LCD display? I don’t know, but I am getting to the end of my tether.

I have accomplishments to my name.  I have always passed my exams, I have lived away from home both in Oxford while I was at university, and in Spain during my teaching assistantship.  I have held down a job since the age of 16.  I handle my own finances, pay my mother a token rent of £100 a month, and I have always been able to make friends.  Therefore, should I be insulted that my family apparently doubts my ability to feed myself? Should they themselves be insulted, since they are the ones who raised me (though like I said in the previous entry, I am 90% alien / my own influence) and therefore taught me either to be intelligent and have common sense, or alternatively did not teach me how to take care of my own well-being?  I have never let my parents down the way that many other people my age seem to, so do I really deserve to be put under such suspicion, such surveillance?

I am aware that moving out would solve this problem once and for all, and I am working on getting a job which can help me afford a car and a place to live. But despite the fact that I live at home, this doesn’t mean I should be treated like a child, especially as I do pay for the privilege of staying here – ok, again it’s not much, but I feel that it should earn me the right to my privacy and autonomy.  Isn’t that basic human decency?  My mother rarely asks how I am or what I’ve been doing in a casual, interested way… but she thinks it’s fine and not at all intrusive to ask for my dietary intake. I don’t think I’m the one with the problem here… am I being unfair? Even though this is my family, and one might argue that they are just concerned about my well-being, I counter this argument with the fact that I am rarely asked how my day has been: I usually ask after my parents’ days, and if my mother’s argument for that is that she does not want to infringe my privacy and independence, what does she think that inquiring after my eating habits is doing?

So I’ve had about enough of it. I find it insulting to my own intelligence, common sense and independence; I find it almost insulting to my mother / grandmother’s own ability to raise me.  It infringes on my privacy, which should not only be a basic human right but a right that I in fact pay for; if I were a lodger, would it be acceptable for my landlords to constantly ask minute details about my calorie consumption? I don’t think so. Should I be more accepting, more understanding, or am I right to feel aggrieved? Please let me know.  Thanks for reading, as always 🙂