The “it’s all about me and my feelings” club has a new self-elected president, Jen Caron:
A few weeks ago, as I settled into an exceptionally crowded midday class, a young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down directly behind mine. It appeared she had never set foot in a yoga studio—she was glancing around anxiously, adjusting her clothes, looking wide-eyed and nervous. Within the first few minutes of gentle warm-up stretches, I saw the fear in her eyes snowball, turning into panic and then despair. Before we made it into our first downward dog, she had crouched down on her elbows and knees, head lowered close to the ground, trapped and vulnerable. She stayed there, staring, for the rest of the class.
Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down (roughly once a minute). I’ve seen people freeze or give up in yoga classes many times, and it’s a sad thing, but as a student there’s nothing you can do about it. At that moment, though, I found it impossible to stop thinking about this woman. Even when I wasn’t positioned to stare directly at her, I knew she was still staring directly at me. Over the course of the next hour, I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body.
Of course, we don’t know how the black woman felt. Jen Caron doesn’t know how the black woman felt. She made an awful lot of assumptions based on an amazingly small amount of information.
I thought about how that must feel: to be a heavyset black woman entering for the first time a system that by all accounts seems unable to accommodate her body. What could I do to help her? If I were her, I thought, I would want as little attention to be drawn to my despair as possible—I would not want anyone to look at me or notice me. And so I tried to very deliberately avoid looking in her direction each time I was in downward dog, but I could feel her hostility just the same. Trying to ignore it only made it worse.
The xojane column is called “It happened to me,” so I guess it happened to Jen Caron. Personally, I’d rather know what happened to the nameless black woman. As Hamilton Nolan says, writing about Caron’s essay on Gawker,
JEN CARON: Hey there. Can you articulate your experience to me?
NEW YOGA STUDENT: Who are you?
Neither Laurie nor I knew about this particular 19th century photography fad, in which the person’s head and body are photographed separately, but in the same photograph. A contemporary brochure at the link calls it “ladies and gentlemen with their heads floating in the air or in their laps.”
This is a side trail in a long and complex art tradition of headless portraits and photographs, and I also appreciate seeing how seriously photo-manipulation proceeded Photoshop by well over a century.
Jenna Wortham has an interesting take on one corner of available contemporary technology which she finds useful.
Period-tracking apps are exactly what they sound like — simple menstrual calendars that help you keep track of monthly cycles as well as symptoms like mood fluctuations or headaches. The market is flooded with them — iPeriod, PTracker, Clue, Period Diary — and nearly every woman I know uses one.
They are the rare corner of the trendy quantitative self and health movement that has resonated with me, largely because they provide useful insights into my life, how I’m feeling and what’s going on with my body. As much as I’ve enjoyed apps and wearables that give me information on the number of steps I’ve taken in a week, the number of calories I’ve magically managed to burn or how much sleep I’ve gotten, I often question the accuracy of the data and struggle with figuring out how to use that information to reshape my daily behavior and habits. But nothing has been as exciting or revealing as tracking my menstrual cycle.
I’m too old (and too app-ignorant) to be aware of this particular technology, and I think it’s fascinating. According to Wortham, these are not about (or not only about) fertility tracking, but are helping a new generation of women recognize and respond to menstrual cycle changes.
Obviously, this is not going to appeal to–or work for–every woman. Not every woman has periods. Not every woman has a smart phone. Not every woman who has periods and a smart phone cares. However, Wortham convinced me that it’s good for some women, and that’s good enough for me.
Technology in women’s lives can be useful, or it can be appalling. Rob Bricken at io9 is suitably appalled:
Japanese lingerie maker Ravijour has developed a bra whose clasp will only open when its wearer is experiencing true love.
How does it do this, you ask? Through a built-in heart rate monitor and a special phone app (also possibly magic and/or bullshit). In case you’re worried about your phone wirelessly unhooking your bra every time you go for a jog, don’t you worry…
I mean, sure, even if the bra was smart enough to distinguish between your heart rate rising due to romantic versus physical causes, I guess you’d run the risk of the bra flying open during dinner if you happened to be eating with your true love, and I have no idea how a woman could take the bra off without the help of their soulmate, but isn’t that a small price to pay to keep your breasts locked away from those who might not appreciate them fully?
I have nothing else to say.
Finally, technology can take us so far away from useful information that it would be ludicrous, if people didn’t seem to take it seriously:
What could possibly be wrong with this study design?
The hypothesis here was that making people feel shorter than their normal height would increase feelings of paranoia.
To test this, the researchers—bless them—built a virtual reality version of the London underground station, and a train that travels between stations. Sixty women who had paranoid thoughts within the previous month experienced this virtual world (differences have been shown in how gender affects height perception, so the researchers thought they’d better stick to one gender this time). They each went through the virtual landscape twice, and the researchers altered some people’s heights the second time to make them about 10 inches shorter. After each run through, participants completed measures of social comparison and paranoia.
So we have: a virtual reality locale, a quite small pool of research subjects who are known to have paranoid ideation, a limitation to one gender because “differences have been shown in how gender affects height perception,” and (apparently) no control group. And The Atlantic, a reasonably reliable magazine, is reporting this study as if it demonstrated anything?
I suspect that feeling smaller does make (many? most?) people feel more nervous. But I could not be less interested in how an untested virtual reality system affects a deeply skewed small group under unexamined conditions. When, when, are we going to get journalism that challenges this kind of pseudo-science?
Aside from my most usual sources: Feministe, Feministing, io9, and Shakesville, Lynn Kendall brought us much amusement with the small/paranoid link, and I would never have found the headless portraits link if Charles Pierce hadn’t pointed out Ann Althouse’s tribute to Pete Seeger (Althouse blogged the headless portraits link on the same day).