Debbie says:

Holley Mangold during the snatch in the 2012 Olympic Trials for Women's Weightlifting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, March 4, 2012. (Dispatch photo by Kyle Robertson)

Over the past few years, I’ve seen several good essays on the simplistic concept of “strong women,” “strong women characters,” “kick-ass heroines,” and so forth. But I haven’t been watching the growth of the #strongisthenewskinny tag, which has 573,000 likes on Facebook and 22,000 tweets. Fortunately, Anne Thériault at The Daily Dot has been paying attention.

Oscar-nominee Carey Mulligan recently spoke out about the double-edged sword of “strong” women. In an interview with Elle UK about her role in the upcoming movie Suffragette, Mulligan said: “The idea that women are inherently weak—and we’ve identified the few strong ones to tell stories about—is mad.” And she’s right—the idea that strength is a trait men have by default and something women can only sometimes aspire to is both pervasive and damaging. But the issue with the way “strong” is applied to women also goes much deeper than that. …

In a Google search of most popular photos associated with the [#strongisthenewskinny] meme, nearly every single woman is skinny, white, blonde, and beautiful. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being skinny or beautiful, but it seems ridiculous to posit that strong is the new skinny when strong actually seems to be the same old skinny after all. Is there really such a vast difference between telling women to aspire to one idealized body type and telling them to aspire to a slightly different one?

I opened this post with a photo of Holley Mangold, who was on the U.S. women’s weightlifting team in the 2012 Olympics. Somehow, although she’s one of the physically strongest women in the world, she’s not a #strongisthenewskinny icon. Neither is Alicia Garza, strong enough to be a co-founder of #blacklivesmatter.  Neither is Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize fighting for democracy in Burma, and has been strong enough to survive nearly 15 years of house arrest from 1995 to 2010.  Neither is Anita Sarkeesian, who survived being a prime target of Gamergate. I couldn’t tell you how much Garza, Suu Kyi, and Sarkeesian can bench press, but I can tell you how much I’d want any or all of them in my corner if I was in trouble.

Thériault goes on from talking about the limitations of “strong” as a body image trope to discuss the question of “strong female characters” and she pulls from a number of excellent sources. Don’t just read her essay, click the links.

In the end, however, she and I agree that — even if “strong” is interpreted broadly and not viewed as worthy of note when applied to women — it’s insufficient.

we don’t need updated standards for how women look or act—we need to scrap those standards altogether. We need characters and memes that reflect the diversity of women’s lives. There is nothing wrong with being strong—…strength is an admirable character trait—but we deserve images, characters, and ideals that are deeper than just one version of what “strong” is. We deserve women that seem real.

For me, that would be women who are strong in some ways and not so strong in others, who partake of all kinds of human qualities: some stereotyped, some surprising. Come to think of it, that’s what I want in depictions of men, also, though the preconceived notions are different. And while I’m asking, I want thousands more examples of characters outside the gender binary.

Maybe the tag we need is #realisthenewgoal .


Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i

Laurie says:

I just saw an exhibition of Hawaiian feather art at the De Young Museum here in San Francisco. Every civilization has a characteristic great art; this . This exhibition has both a stunning aesthetic and remarkable and painstaking craft technique. Much of the work is associated with King Kamehameha and his descendants.

The designs are simple and powerful and the feather work is complex and subtle. The combination is riveting. (Be sure to click on the images to see the detail.)

I spent a lot of time going from one magnificent piece to another. I took these photos at the end. I find that taking photographs removes the immediacy of my reaction to work, so I like to wait til I’ve seen everything as much as I want.


‘Ahu ‘ula (cloak) – 19th century associated with Kamehameha

Quotes are from the Museum exhibit labels:
Handcrafted of plant fiber and rare feathers from endemic birds of the islands, the cloaks (‘ahu‘ula) and capes provided spiritual protection to Hawaiian chiefs, proclaiming their identity and status. The abstract patterns and compositions of royal feathers (nā hulu ali‘i) are both beautiful and full of cultural meaning. While the arrangements of their forms—crescents, triangles, circles, quadrilaterals, and lines—and fields of color appear contemporary, they are ancient. Symbols of the power and status of Hawai‘i’s monarchs at home and abroad, these vibrantly colored treasures of the Hawaiian people endure today as masterpieces of unparalleled artistry, technical skill, and cultural pride.


lei0482Lei – 19th century

…the exhibition will features approximately 75 rare and stunning examples of the finest featherwork capes and cloaks in existence, as well as royal staffs of feathers (kāhili), feather lei (lei hulu manu), helmets (mahiole), feathered god images (akua hulu manu), and related eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings and works on paper.



‘Ahu ‘ula (cloak)  18th century

The feathers in this exquisite work come from local island birds, several species of which are now either extinct or endangered because of the collection for the art. The exhibition includes some specimens of the birds from the Natural History Museum. They did not photograph well.

These photographs show some beautiful detail work from a more modern cape.


feather close_0498

Red ‘i’iwi feathers and yellow ‘o’o feathers (should be -‘s over the o’s)

Hawaiian feather capes and cloaks were constructed by tying bundles of small feathers, usually 6-10 per bundle, to a foundation of netting. This netting was made from an endemic plant that produced one of the strongest fibers in the world, olonā (Touchardia latifolia). This olonā foundation could range from a very fine netting to a more coarsely woven foundation that would hold the feathers. Tens of thousands of feather bundles were connected, creating a visually striking garment. These capes and cloaks were important signifiers of rank, and as noble regalia, they were to be worn only by the ali‘i nui. Red, as a traditional color of royalty in Polynesia, was a dominant color. Yellow, made valuable by its scarcity, was also oft used.

The exhibition runs til February 28, 2016.  If you’re in the Bay Area go – the work is rarely shown outside of Hawaii.