Stigma and motherhood

Bottled

Whilst feeding the twins, I often opt to watch some mindless TV to pass the time. This most often comes courtesy of daytime BBC1 or E4, the latter being a favourite for CharmedThe Big Bang Theory and Rules of Engagement (Dapper and Jeff share a rather alarming number of common ideologies). I’ve never really got into How I Met Your Mother, but it does occasionally tickle my funny bone, and one night last week I left it on.

There was a scene playing in which Ted was warning the rest of the gang about his date, who was about to show up and spin a tale about how they met, being as she was ashamed of having met online. This provoked a conversation about online dating, and whether there was a stigma still attached.

I think I can be a little naive when it comes to the stigma relating to my personal choices. I’m unashamed of having met Dapper online – why should it matter how I met someone who makes me so very happy? I’ve blogged at length about the importance of choice to my personal understanding of feminism, but I wasn’t aware that so many of my choices regarding motherhood would cause such a stir, even amongst my family and friends.

Take breastfeeding, for example. I read widely about the benefits of breastfeeding, and decided it was right for me. I wasn’t unrealistic about it – when people asked whilst pregnant about my plans (and they did – even the random elderly lady on the train!), I would answer that I hoped to breastfeed if possible. I know that some people are unable to do so, for medical reasons, and others choose not to. My choice to breastfeed is not a comment on anyone else’s choice either way. For me, it is practical – no sterilising bottles, no leaving one baby to scream whilst another feeds* – and economical, the cost of buying double the formula, unthinkable. I also believe wholeheartedly in the health benefits of breastfeeding. The data is, to my mind, unequivocal. But that doesn’t mean I believe those offering formula are failing their babies in any way. On the consultant’s advice, we top the boys up at bedtime with formula, to help their weight gain and allow my body the chance to recover from feeding two hungry babies all day, and on the health visitor’s advice, to give me the chance of more than 20 minutes’ continuous sleep. For me, this combination feeding is the optimum option for my lifestyle, beliefs, and babies’ needs.

Then there’s the choice I make to sling my babies around the house at present, with an eye to slinging when out and about in future. Again, this is about practicality as far as I’m concerned. There is seldom a moment in my life at present in which there is not a baby screaming. If one is sleeping peacefully, the other is usually in need of attention. Slinging allows me to get on with the bare necessities of life – eating, drinking, washing up, even nappy changes, without the guilt of leaving an unhappy baby screaming in their cot alone. As for slinging outside the home – if you’ve never tried to get a double buggy along a narrow pavement, through a shop door or along busy supermarket aisles, you’ve frankly no right to comment! 😉 Suffice to say, it’s no easy feat!

And finally, there’s my aim towards using entirely reusable nappies and wipes**. I currently use a combination of reusables and disposables, as I do not have enough teenyfits to go around my two teeny boys, and for practical reasons – Daddy is still getting used to disposable nappy changes, never mind the added confusion of cloth nappies. But having weighed up my options, I know that reusables are going to save me money (yes, even factoring in the costs of washing) and help reduce our waste, something we have always cared about (reuse, recycle – buy secondhand!). They also mean that, as a non-driver who cannot just pop to the local shop in an emergency, I’m never going to run out – something I always have to factor into the equasion (and one I should have mentioned for breastfeeding too). And possibly most importantly of all… hello, they’re vintage! A cloth nappied bottom is seriously cute – and some of the nappy covers you can buy, incredibly funky! I already match the boys’ nappy covers/all-in-ones to their outfits, they’ll be matching mine before they know it!

*My Mum splashed out £85 on a twin-feeding pillow, and I cannot recommend it strongly enough. I could not have mastered twin-feeding without, and as I’m literally buckled in, it means on the occasions I have fallen asleep whilst feeding, accidentally smothering my boys has not been a fear – as it stops me slumping too far in any direction. It also means I can feed hands-free – allowing me time to read, surf the web and most importantly, EAT!

**Regarding reusable wipes, I bought some seriously expensive bamboo ones online, and a couple of packs of 5 for £1.99 microfibre cloths from Asda and Matalan. I personally find the dishcloths far, far softer and more absorbant. Worth bearing in mind…

Revisiting Charlecote

The last time I was at Charlecote was my first date with Dapper. We met in the nearby village of Wellesbourne on the green, and he drove us to Charlecote House. It was a lovely location for a first date, lovely surroundings and a delicious afternoon tea in the orangery. I remember he bought me daffodils, my favourite flower, from the garden shop as we left – making the date utterly perfect from my perspective!

This repeat trip was in celebration of Aysu’s birthday, with a delicious lunch in the afore-mentioned orangery followed by a meander around the house and grounds. Last time we visited I was astounded by the books in the library and completely failed to note the furniture or the garden, both of which are quite beautiful!

Charlecote, Mary Elizabeth LucyI also knew nothing of the Lucys, whose family home Charlecote is. I have since read Mary Elizabeth Lucy’s memoirs – a wonderful collection for anyone who has ever read Austen and wondered what attending a ball at the assembly rooms or being presented at St James’ Court was truly like!

(For more on this I recommend this web page, from the Jane Austen centre.)

Base outfit: as worn last Monday.
Coat: Debenhams; shoes: Ness; belt: vintage via charity shop; brolly: Matalan

Feminism vs fashion (or why the fashion industry wants to crush your creativity)

Ok, I know, I’ve ranted about this before. But this blog post on Confessions of a Fashion Editor got me thinking about it all over again, and an extended comment became an essay and veered off in an entirely unexpected direction… So I thought perhaps turning it into a blog post might be a better option. Here we go again!

So: Can a fashionista be a feminist?

The crux of this debate seems to lie in the idea that women wear clothes for the sake of attracting men, thereby employing the classic “wiles” technique to get what they want. It suggests that to take an interest in what you’re wearing is traditionally feminine and therefore anti-femininst, that to be traditionally feminine somehow undermines your human-ness,  that femininity, indeed is a lesser trait than masculinity. In short, the entire notion of feminism in this model is flawed, in that it is confirms the idea that femininity is the lesser humanity.

As I commented on the post itself, I subscribe to a different brand of feminism. For me, feminism is about celebrating womanhood, making choices to live my life in the way that makes me happiest and not being judged or short-changed by either sex for making those choices. If my choices include fashion, crafting, motherhood – any of the traits deemed traditionally feminine, this should not detract from the fact that I have the power to choose them!

In case you hadn’t grasped the notion from the above paragraph, my brand of feminism is about CHOICE. It is about realising the power held within some traditionally feminine roles. And increasingly, I see the same brand championed by women everywhere.

Fashion vs creativity

I think fashion blogging, in particular daily outfit blogging, has started to break down the suggestion that women dress to impress men already. Afterall, the majority of both bloggers and blog readers in this arena are individual, independent women with their own take on fashion and style that demonstrates creativity and individuality. These are the women I dress to impress on a daily basis. And these, in my opinion, are the traits that the fashion industry wishes to curtail.

Historically speaking, haute couture began to lose some of its power in the late 1940s, when a post-war Europe, determined to regain a sense of feminine style lost to munitions factories and the Women’s Land Army, saw Dior’s 1947 New Look and decided that they wanted a piece of it. Yes, a few department stores had rights to recreate the designs, but Britain, at least, was still entrenched in clothes rationing, and few women across Europe had the funds for new clothes. The achieve-anything attitude of the previous eight years had taught women that nothing was out of their reach. Vogue patterns, which had been available since 1899 and seen their first surge of success during World War 1, were eagerly snatched up by those desperate to recreate the New Look on a budget. Creativity and individuality were the buzzwords of the day – how else were we to create that perfect dress within the constraints of the limited fabrics and notions available?

Feminism vs creativity

Sewing and crafting have always been women’s work, and creativity is often linked to femininity. In stifling our femininity over the last 30 years, we have perpetuated a marked decline in those who know how to cut patterns or tailor dresses, or even simply embellish or alter existing clothing. The high street has flourished, forcing tailors out of business and bringing us identikit outfits in every size and colour, but if we want something individual and of a decent quality and fit, our only options are boutique or haute couture. High fashion and the high street alike profit from our quashed femininity, as they provide us with something we can no longer provide for ourselves.

Which is why we’re seeing the current thriving interest in handicrafts from women who are recognising the old ways as their means to independence. Dressmaking used to give us a means of expression and an outlet for our creativity, alongside the means to impress our girlfriends while sticking two fingers up at the fashion houses. When post-70s bra-burning feminism embraced the 80s power-dressing, closely followed by the rise of 90s androgyny, we shook off the shackles of enforced feminine crafts, but with it lost some of their attached empowerment. We’re only now rerealising how empowering femininity can be.

I am aware that there are uncountable other reasons why fashion is an anti-feminist industry, but from where my vintage heels are standing, it is impossible to deny that femininity, creativity and fashion are interlinked.

Role models: who is yours?

An article about role models on the Guardian website set me thinking this week. I’ve written at length about my feelings on feminism and choice, on the Disney Princess vibe, and generally on the topic of women in society. I’ve complained about the celebrity obsession (by definition, a celebrity should be someone celebrated for their achievements – which should not included marrying a footballer, brain-addling via cocaine or drunk driving…) at length, although largely, with a focus on unhealthy body image rather than other areas of feminine empowerment. I’ve come at the role model question almost exclusively from a beauty-related self-esteem angle.

I’ve never really considered that young girls today might see the Amy Winehouse and Kerry Katonas of this world as role models. I’ve never thought about the inhabitants of the Big Brother house as anything but wannabes that the world either watches and shudders at, or switches channels to avoid. And I’ve never thought of  Cheryl Cole fans as anything other than impressed by her role as a successful and hard-working musician (let’s not pick that to pieces just now, eh?) and presenter – it had not occured to me that her role-model status related in anyway to her imbecile of a philandering footballer ex!

But then, when I think about my own role models, I realise that very few of them are modern women. Yes, I admire Christina Henrdicks for her relationship with her body, and yes, I think Kate Winslet is a rather marvellous example of how to do Hollywood without over-exposing every element of your private life to the paparazzi… but it really ends there, for “celebrities” at least. While I think both of these women are excellent role models in their own rights, I’m not sure they’re MY role models, as beyond their physical entities, I can’t relate to their lifestyles.

In fact, my personal role models have always been fictional characters whose personalities and strength of character I have admired. As a girl, it was Sara Crew (A Little Princess), whose acceptance and understanding in the face of adversity were inspiring to me. Similarly, Lucy Pevensie (The Chronices of Narnia) and Maria Merryweather (The Little White Horse) demonstrated courage and sacrifice beyond my imagination. Later – and to this day – the wit and vivacity of Lizzy Bennett combined with the serenity and gentle nature of her sister Jane, and the gracious dignity of Elinor Dashwood have all provided characters on which I have modelled my own behaviour in difficult circumstances. I do not pretend to reach anything like their levels of propriety, but I’ll admit to having addressed a situation with “What would Lizzy do?” on more than one occasion…

I suppose it comes down to different role models for different roles. I will confess to admiring Cath Kidston for making a successful business out of her love for kitsch. I admire various bloggers – Amber, Gemma, Sian, Cate – who have made their interests into their career and forged the path for we mere wannabes online. And all those craftspeople on Etsy who’ve followed their hearts to mint pennies out of passion (I’m looking at YOU Amy!)… Really I’m beyond impressed by anyone who has slogged hard and long in order to make their creative talents pay the bills!

I think we all need role models, something to aspire to, someone to help mould our behaviour and choices. And perhaps, if the celebrity pool is so shallow, we should be casting a wider net? Should we be looking back, as we would have in the past, to our teachers and female relatives, for inspiration? And what of our friends? There are few women in my own inner circle who haven’t faced adversity and come out the stronger for it, and the more I talk to those around me, the more I realise that the every day struggles every woman faces require strength of character and courage equal to any heroine I have ever read about. Look around you next time you’re in the office, at the supermarket, on the bus, and consider: the likelihood is that the polite smiles and poker faces are hiding pain, loss, heartache and fear.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we set too much score by celebrities as role models when the real heroines of the piece are the ones we see down the pub on a Friday night.

“This woman is beautiful”: Photographing Aisha for the Cover of TIME

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A basket of kisses

Body talk

She looks the way movie stars used to look. She is, in that sense, proof of how certain bodies go in and out of fashion.

Awww, lovely Christina Hendricks! She’s featured on the New York Magazine site just now talking about how fed up she is with people going on about her body. Which is a shame, because I like going on about her beautiful body, and her beautiful self!

“It might sound silly,” she says, “but I didn’t realize I was so different. I was just oblivious. Sometimes I would go on an audition and someone would say something like, Girl, you’re refreshing! That was it.”

It’s a really interesting feature, offering a break from the usual weight-obsessed, body-conscious chatter of celebrity – worth a read if you’re due a five minute break with your elevenses…