Monthly Archives: April 2011

Clothing, Sex, Safety, and Power

Lynne Murray says:

The Big Fat Blog recently linked to a Jezebel piece describing Sarah Hughes’ Safe & Sexy portraits, which have evolved into The Persona Project, slide show and PBS feature at Need to Know.

Watch the full episode.

For years, artist Sarah Hughes has been traveling around the world photographing women (and a few men) in the outfit in which they feel safest and the outfit in which they feel sexiest. Broadly speaking, she found that in places like Sweden, which ranked high for gender equality, the difference between the two outfits was small. The photographs and the interviews alongside them are a way to talk about how persona and sexuality get asserted in public space, and how external considerations like safety and judgment affect them.

The poster at The Big Fat Blog noted,

I think that one of [Sarah Hughes’] intentions is make a statement about how gender roles and actual physical safety in various places affect how women dress.

What else might you try to achieve with your clothing choices? For example, is all of this secondary to self expression? How does it play out for men? How does local culture impact on these issues? How does a feminine presentation vs. a masculine or androgynous presentation read? For example, some of the women in Hughes’ photos have interpreted ‘safe’ as androgynous and ‘sexy’ as feminine.

And of course, how does being larger than average affect our presentation? In the slideshows, many of the older and larger women express ambivalence about wearing something that might read as sexy. They talk about appropriateness “I don’t have a nice body to show off…” but I know that there’s more to it than that. If a large (or mature) woman wears something that’s overtly sexy she’s often going to meet with some resistance. ‘Sexy’ may be unsafe for us in more ways than it is for thinner women.

I also picked up on statements by the portrait subjects such as a 13-year-old who said she makes sure to wear shoes she can run in. As one who grew up wearing blue jeans and never grasped the rationale behind high heels, I’m with her on that one. It also reminded me of the often told story of how Marilyn Monroe used uneven shoes:

…Monroe deliberately had the stiletto heels of her shoes adjusted. One heel was made shorter than the other so that she swayed and sashayed as she walked. Her swaying hips helped make her appear more vulnerable, increasing her sexual appeal.

Is “unsafeness” sexy? Sexiness can manifest itself as powerful, but is power sexy in the same way that vulnerability is?

I have more questions than answers.

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Madness, Brilliance, Brain Chemistry, and More

Debbie says:

I’ve had the good fortune to meet Will Hall in person a few times, most recently this past week at a conference called Worldwork . If you don’t know Will’s work (or if you do), he’s a mental health advocate with (in my experience) an extraordinary perspective. He’s been a patient in the mental health system, diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he is neither pro- nor anti- psychiatry, neither pro- nor anti- psychoactive medication, neither pro- nor anti- radical alternatives. Instead, he at least seems to practice what he preaches, which is mental health diversity and the belief that different combinations work for every individual.

As a teenager I became a community organizer in the peace, ecology, and anti-racism movements, but the traumas of my childhood and longtime struggles with emotional distress landed me in a psychiatric hospital at age 26. After a difficult year in San Francisco’s public mental health system, I slowly learned to live with and care for my madness through human connection, holistic health, and spiritual practice. I have founded and worked with several community organizations to promote mental health alternatives and help others. Today I teach what I have learned and use my experience to help guide others to their own discoveries of healing, and lead trainings and consult with organizations. I am actively involved in creating a new vision of mental health based on understanding the meaningfulness of what gets labeled as psychosis and madness. I am passionate about mental diversity and welcoming different states of consciousness as vital parts of the human community.

Since 2001 I have supported hundreds of people to better inform them around the complicated issues of psychiatric medication. While I am not a prescriber and do not offer medical advice, I help educate individuals to make wiser and more confident decisions about their treatment options. I am attentive both to the side effects of psychoactive substances, and to the meanings, fears, and hopes that are involved. While not anti-medication, I have a harm reduction perspective and take a very cautious approach to the risks of pharmacology, including often working with people to reduce and come off medications.

harm reduction guide cover

Will hosts Madness Radio on the Pacifica radio network and is a longtime organizer at The Icarus Project, whose slogan is “Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness.” At the Worldwork conference, Will distributed (free) an Icarus Project booklet called “The Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs & Withdrawal”, which prompted me to write this post. The booklet’s text and illustrations are downloadable at the link, and it is practically a template for nonjudgmental, reasonably even-handed information which (among many other things) talks about the value of psychoactive medications in people’s lives while also analyzing who benefits from the social consensus that madness and mental illness are directly attributable to brain chemistry.

Madness, mental illness, psychiatric diagnosis, and related issues are under-explored and frequently oversimplified to the point of distortion. As a person who is both neurotypical and conventionally “sane,” I am very lucky not to have to navigate these issues for myself. Nonetheless, I personally find the booklet, Will’s work, and the Icarus Project to be a breath of fresh air; I can only imagine these resources being even more important to people who have been diagnosed or are in the psychiatric system.

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