The future stands still, dear Mr. Kappus, but we move in infinite space. - Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Letter 16

Dear Josephine,

How much there is to tell, and how much there is to conceal. Is there always that binary? Tell me: is it false or real? Are quotations needed, even there?

Lately there has been a fusion of days, all slow and long and fast and short, never fully characterized because I barely remember them. I know I enjoyed the contact between my pillow and my ear, but little else seemed to be of note.

Even now, when I set out to write this letter to you, I had a thousand statements I swore I’d hold steadfast to (and not bore you with constant dialogues of “reality” and disappointments with trying to be more alive. See: my body shining brightly).

To the business of letter writing [although it’s not a franchise – these feelings of mine]. Well, since work takes up 40 hours of the 112 hours I am awake, or perhaps I sleep even more than 8 hours a day, I can tell you that there is nothing new to report on that front. I am spending a decent amount of my summer traveling for work, which is frustrating because I am having trouble coordinating important one-on-one time with the people I love. I still walk to work everyday, either organizing mixed cds in my head or day-dreaming. Day-dreaming is a major component of being an INFJ. What can you do? Sometimes fantasy is more interesting than everyday life.

Lately I’ve been watching MTV’s The Paper and it’s causing me to realize I have lost my passion. Can this intangible concept actually be lost? The answer is a resounding yes. I used to breathe writing, used to advocate for a censorless world, and now I have become an automaton and have forgotten the joy of creating, forgotten to remember to hold fast to enjoyable activities. Thank you, MTV and Amanda Lorber. It’s important to never lose that drive, to never forget the importance of expression and doing something you feel you’d die if you couldn’t do it. And censoring (imagine here a judge’s gavel pounding away at art) is a devil in disguise.

Reality television makes me feel old even though twenty-three is just the start of another voyage. Tonight I don’t want to watch television or cook myself pasta. A slight rupture in my tiny universe. The cracks are beginning to show.

What did you say to me recently? “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.” So said your mentor Anais Nin, and so said you. Repetition can equal creation.

You and Anais might be right. But I think life is more than tasting and multiples, and pillows and automatic movements. I have unplayed that movement. I am claiming, not being claimed.

l. c.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Letter 15

Dear Josephine,

Everything in this universe seems to be aligning into some sort-of reality that contains my wishes and it scares me and makes me very happy at the same time. If I could cross my toes I would; instead I read wikipedia articles about communication mergers and mining companies, and focus on the discovery of anklyosaurus, celebrating the latter as a bizarre full circle and message proclaiming, “Be bold. Be bold. Be bold.” In jubilation I focus on dimmer lighting and dusky reds and kindness. I write to define a greater purpose, a definition as vague as the term allows. I surround myself with honey and brown rice green tea, spontaneous weekends, and stuff good karma into my pillow at night.



Monday, May 5, 2008

Letter 14

Dear Josephine,

Ms. magazine, recently published an article "out-of-body image: self-objectification -- seeing ourselves through others' eyes -- impairs women's body image, mental health, motor skills and even sex lives" by Caroline Heldman. Heldman argues that the objectification of women's bodies as presented in our culture via communication mediums, and it can be mentioned, genderized images, causes women to not only critique their own bodies, but to see them as objects of desire: "A steady diet of exploitative, sexually provocative depictions of women feeds a poisonous tread in women's and girls' perception of their bodies, one that has recently been recognized by social scientists as self-objectification - viewing one's body as a sex object to be consumed by the male gaze."

This self-objectification leads to women's judgement of their physical appearance and their awareness of outside perception (or, how they believe they are perceived by others). It is this perception, in part, that causes women to place importance upon a body image (measuring the "flab" on their stomach, wearing high heels, acting like a "woman"), etc. Heldman spends a portion of her essay discussing the mental, physical, cognitive impact self-objectification has on those who are "medium or high self-objectifiers": they are more likely to be depressed, have low self-esteem, are at higher risk of eating disorders, may perform lower on their academic studies, are often less interested in politics, etc.

In addition, Heldman states, young girls are taught at an early age to flaunt their bodies. During this portion of the article I couldn't stop thinking of those ever-popular bratz dollz, like the ones seen here. These dolls implicitly place a value on materialism by showing the dolls' attentiveness to clothing, makeup, and hair styles. They even, subliminally, appear to place an importance on posing - isn't it interesting the placement of their bodies (in that picture) and the high-heeled shoes that seem to so effortlessly support them?

Later in the article, Heldman discusses the implications of self-objection on sex. She asserts:

"Self-objectification can likely explain some other things that researchers are just starting to study. For instance, leading anti-sexist male activist and author Jackson Katz observes, 'Many young women now engage in sex acts with men that prioritize the man's pleasure, with little or no expectation of reciprocity.' Could this be another result of women seeing themselves as sexual objects, not agents?"

In the above quotations Heldman is making a fascinating point. If, as she earlier stated, "girls are taught: your body is a project that needs work before you can attract others," then they are also taught: your body is an object with the primary objective - please, not be pleased. This concept makes men the primary focus of sexual pleasure, and makes women the servers of that pleasure. And, since media is purporting women's bodies as the pinnacle of male desire, then there bodies are fulfilling this image when, for example, there is a blatant disregard for women's satisfaction during the sex act.

Here is the paradox of objectification: it is founded in a perspective that forces personal identity and physical bodies to become separate, while simultaneously relying on bodies for the formation of an identity (women as agents of desire). The objectification of women, enforced by cultural depictions of them as sex pleasers, marginalizes women by stripping them of their identities and re-defining them solely by their bodies. These bodies in turn, become sexualized, a movement that renders them unrecognizable by their owners.

And, in turn, here is the biggest danger of self-objectification: the loss of personal identity (for example, how we show who we "are", what we believe in, etc.). For self-objectification finds its roots in society that creates and upholds socialized bodies and identities as normative.

In a sense, our bodies represent a signification process. To illuminate this process is to call attention to the genderized society in which we reside. But this is only one step. We have to, states Heldman, "view our bodies as tools to master our environment, instead of projects to be constantly worked on". We have to redirect our attention to ourselves and away from media images, to "create mental and emotional space for true self-exploration."

In her essay “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity: A Feminist Appropriation of Foucault”, Susan Bordo advocates for individuals to resist prescribed gender roles. “I view our bodies as a site of struggle," she states, "where we must work to keep our daily practices in the service of resistance to gender domination, not in the service of ‘docility’ and gender normalization”.

Both Heldman and Bordo are right. We must stop seeing ourselves as objects, and focus on understanding our own identities.