Category Archives: male gaze

The Blogger Who Cried Sexism: A Cautionary Tale

I don’t usually directly respond to articles written by other women who write from a place of feminism. I don’t like a lot of the infighting that goes on amongst feminists, the ‘is she a good feminist‘ and ‘can she be feminist even if she says she isn’t‘ and ‘can she be a feminist and also sexy‘ etc etc blah blah blah.  I disagree very much with the article I am about to discuss, but this will not be an indictment of the writer. Instead I just wanna tell a sort of cautionary tale, in the hopes that we can continue to have thoughtful discussions that go deeper than a click bait headline.

That being said, the title of the article in question is:

Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways Systematically Erases Women in Music

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Ok. So. That’s a lot. It’s a big claim. And our author tries hard to back it up. Reading it, however, gave me the distinct impression that she had a pretty big issue with Grohl to begin with (“Grohl has shown himself increasingly to be not much more than a rock and roll formalist, the type of man who is a dying breed”), and wanted to write about her dislike of both the series and the director in a way that seemed important. She claims, “Sonic Highways is meant to reflect Grohl’s own fandom and musical upbringing—but it also positions itself as a type of definitive oral history of each city’s music scene.” I object! Sonic Highways is Grohl’s pet project, an obviously self serving adventure that he wanted to take his band on, and film and sell to HBO. Each episode ends with a Foo Fighters music video, with the lyrics displayed on the screen. It’s not exactly Ken Burns, but I’ve found it pretty entertaining. I don’t think he makes any claims that it serves as a Definitive Oral History. It’s just him talking to people he thinks are cool, and allowing the places he visits to directly influence his new songs.

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But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it is a history of sorts. I have only watched 3 of the 8 episodes, but I can remember women in each episode. The last episode I watched, set in Nashville, shows women ruling the day. He talks at length to Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, and motha fuckin’ DOLLY PARTON herself. The 2nd episode in DC features Amy Pickering, and our author does acknowledge that: “Amy Pickering, who headed up punk band Fire Party and started the scene’s legendary “Revolution Summer” essentially in solidarity with apartheid protesters, gets a decent amount of airtime, but mostly about politics (and, at one point, the camera cuts in to her convo with Grohl for the sole purpose of showing her laugh at a joke Grohl makes).” Is it just me, or does that parenthetical aside just reek of disdain. That aside is also a pretty big assumption about a directorial choice, meant to undercut the presence of a woman when she claims there are none. She goes on to mention female bands, mostly from Seattle, that she feels Grohl was remiss in leaving out. But it’s his show, for his personal fun. He interviewed who he wanted. I mean, sure, he could have tried to pick a few more ladies, I guess. But not only are there enough that I myself didn’t notice any dearth (and I love finding and pointing out misogyny/gender issues/sexism, let me tell you, I basically live for it), but the project just isn’t about that and I don’t think it needs to be. She also says: “As Sonic Highways tells it, women’s involvement in American music has been cursory, at best, with a the amount of women musicians allowed to speak in any given episode topping out at around three, regardless of how prominent these women might be. Furthermore, no women of color have a chance to speak in any of the seven episodes that have aired (the eighth and final episode, set in New York City and at least touching on hip-hop, airs Sunday, and will hopefully remedy that).”  I do not concur. I do not feel he portrays the women he includes as cursory to the main story, and 3 in an episode may be enough if you know how many men there are by comparison and how the screen time divides (I don’t, but if you need to delve this deeply and use math to prove your point then the phrase ‘Systematically Erases’ doesn’t apply. Also Dolly Parton counts as like 10 women cause she is effing amazing so in that episode there are like, 13.) I do agree with her observation about racial diversity; the majority of the folks interviewed on screen are white. But not everything is going to be a bastion of diversity when someone has their own agenda. So yea, he is choosing these specific stories, because his experience has been informed by these folks. And again, since he isn’t making claims about this documentary being all encompassing, I think the observation ‘diversity is scarce’ is fair, but find the vitriol confusing.

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I don’t want to be an apologist for stories that lack diversity, and that is not my intent. Here is my issue: There are lots of super real and present issues that women continue to battle against on a daily basis. Sexual violence, the wage gap, reproductive rights and more are pressing and current and painful, and they are systematically supported by a culture that still doesn’t truly believe that sexism is real. And you know what, the erasure of women from history and culture is also real and painful, and in it’s own way a form of violence. I completely acknowledge that. And if Grohl had said ‘I am making a documentary about all the most important people in music organized geographically’, then the conversation would be different. But this is just some fan shit he’s doing. He wants to talk to people he thinks are cool. And some of those people, I would argue a fair amount, are women. I think we also have to remember that he grew up in a culture that downplayed women’s role in the culture, and downplayed their talents beyond beauty. So if his influences are mostly male, this is not entirely his fault because his experiences don’t happen in a vacuum. Neither do our own. And this article with it’s sensational title is NOT HELPING the cause.

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This headline, and her whole tone, I just feel they don’t create a productive piece. While sexism and misogyny continue to be pervasive and harmful, we must be mindful of the claims we make. It’s not fair, but it’s true. If we cry wolf, or get our facts wrong, then we leave ourselves open to criticism from folks who don’t want the world to change (Jon Stewart addressed this brilliantly last night, after he himself made an on-air mistake #worththewatch). If we blow our righteous anger load on stories that aren’t deserving of it, then our righteous anger becomes a joke. We become caricatures, the silly/emotional/hairy/angry feminazis they claim we are. The burden of proof is still, unfairly, on us. And this article doesn’t meet it.

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But this isn’t a trial, and if this author sincerely feels this way about Sonic Highways, then she has every right to express those feelings. I still think the headline is over the top, but maybe that’s the editor, and indeed that’s how the internet journalism game is played. In this case, I agree that we disagree. I urge you to check out the docu-series and judge for yourself. Are women given enough camera time? Does it matter in the context of this project? Are you inspired to create your own series dedicated to women in these places, in these historical spaces? Because I wish, rather than yell at Dave for being a “rockist-Dad”, that she’d just told us more about the bands she wished were chosen and why. Why be so antagonistic about a pet project that is not meant to cover the entire music history of each city it visits? Why not try to start a discussion instead of scold the front man of a band you so obviously find repulsive and dated? For example, lets talk about why there aren’t more documentaries directed by women or minorities, specifically telling stories that have been left out of the mainstream canon? I would love to see more women helmed projects about women in music, or more black directors telling stories about black music culture. If we diversify the people in charge, the resulting stories will be ever more unique and diverse, and more voices will be heard. Why isn’t this happening more? Is it happening at all? How can we help these story tellers to create and release their projects? Sometimes, I think it can be helpful to tone down the rage and just ask some questions.

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**Sometimes rage is completely the acceptable response, and women are completely capable of feeling and harnessing anger, and we should when it’s needed. I just want us to use all the tools we have, thoughtfully, with an eye towards education and inclusion.

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S-E-X (Americans are stunted adolescents)

This country has a sex problem. Our culture doesn’t have a healthy relationship with sex. We are obsessed with it, but ashamed of it, and only certain people (white men) are allowed to express their sexuality without an array of consequences. In the name of ‘decency’ we censor, and for the children we slut shame (meanwhile we leave our kids in the dark with abstinence only education that leaves them completely unprepared to deal with sex or intimacy.) We are not honest  about the realities of human sexuality in the 21st century.

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Unfortuately while we are all yelling about how shocked and offended we are, we are also watching an unbelievable amount of porn and demanding that celebrities give us salacious details about their sex lives. The latest example of this is a story that just broke: Nick Jonas ‘I’m no Virgin’.

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Stop the presses! This 22 year old dude with a rocking body and lots of money is sexually active?! How can this be?! Why do we cccccaaaarrrrreeee?

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We care because we forced him and his bandmate brothers to say they had purity rings when they were The Jonas Brothers because of the widespread assumption that Christian morality is the best/only morality. We really do love to sexualize teenagers as much as we love to make them tell us they aren’t having sex (Brit Brit, Timberlake, Miley, etc.) So now that (obviously) that purity ring nonsense is over, we feel entitled to an update. But we aren’t entitled to an update. The sex life of Nick Jonas does not belong to us, it is not ours to know or comment on. I know that sex is exciting and fun, and I don’t think we should never discuss it. But we discuss it in such adolescent, immature ways. The very idea that this is news reveals how very middle school our cultural conversations about sex truly are.

Now, lest we think this issue is too straightforward, it is also worth pointing out that we don’t talk about sex in the same ways when we talk about male and female celebrities. Nick Jonas is having a sex symbol moment right now (remember these), and this news will not result in any back lash (maybe some religious nuts, but his career won’t be damaged in any lasting way.) Let’s contrast that with another star who is having a pretty successful moment: Tay Tay. Ms Swift has the only platinum album of 2014, and just became the first women ever to replace herself at #1 on the Billboard charts.

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But Taylor’s career has consistently been undermined by a media who is obsessed with her love life. She draws from her life to write songs, as most folks do, but in Tay Tay’s case this results in constant speculation about who she wrote about and who’s she is with. She has even been ridiculed, called a man-eater. And most disturbingly, some religious conservative a-holes have denounced her as a slut and a harlot, saying she is a bad example for young girls.

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First of all, Taylor is an adult that can do whatever the fuck she wants with her body. So keep your slut shaming judgements to yourself. But what is even worse is that these out spoken fanatics are assuming that they know intimate details of her sex life. Being linked to someone in the tabloids doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. Dating someone doesn’t mean you’re sleeping with them. Kissing someone doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. Hell, even sleeping with someone doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. So I wish these folks would actually get their minds outta the gutter (isn’t it ironic that those who rail against something the loudest are usually also doing that thing behind closed doors?) and stop assuming that they know Tay Tay’s life.

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I’m just over the media prying into the sex lives of stars and reporting all the salacious details. It’s like trying to peep through a locker room window. It’s not shocking or surprising that grown ass really beautiful people have sex. It’s not a surprise that underneath their clothes, celebrities are naked. They have bodies. Whoa! There is no way that we are going to be able to teach ourselves and the next generation how to have a healthy and positive relationship with our bodies and sexuality if we don’t cool it with this kind of journalism. It may be fun to watch Nick go from curly-headed boy band teen to uber-hottie, but we don’t need to pry into his love life to enjoy his music (or his abs.) Taylor’s romantic life may inform her music, but the real story is her catchy songs and her record breaking new album, not her past paramours. Luckily, she knows how to one up that haters and make an amazing video for her record breaking single that shows you exactly what you want. Enjoy, and stop being such a perv.

 

You Should Never Meet Your Heros (esp. if they’re famous men)

You know what’s exhausting? When you think you know someone, and then it turns out that they were kind of terrible. This is particularly exhausting if they were famous, and talented, and everyone considers them beloved and wonderful and then BOOM, something changes and you have to rethink your whole portrait of them.

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Recently it’s occurred to me that since patriarchy has been happening for centuries, I have been recalibrating my images of ‘great men’ a lot more often than great women. Because the rules for men, especially the most talented and famous, have always been ‘do whatever the fuck you want.’ As a matter of fact, we shower them with ego-inflating praise and also with things. And some of the things we shower them with are access to women, who are part of the whole package of things you get for being brilliant/pretty/famous whatever. Here now are some examples of men who, it turns out, are huge disappointments.

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Exhibit A: Breezy. He was so cute when he was young, he has the great dance moves. I used to groove rul hard to Run It. And now it’s ruined. And we didn’t even have to wait until he was old and almost forgotten for his bad behavior to come to light. It turns out he is an extremely violent young man, and a batterer to boot. And this guy has the nerve to release a song with the lyrics ‘these hoes ain’t loyal’ after publicly kicking the shit out of his also-famous girlfriend. He’s despicable.

JFK

A more historical example: God Jack Kennedy was beautiful. I mean seriously. And I know we have a soft spot for icons that are taken too soon. And I do have a soft spot. But then I remember the extent to which this man was a womanizer, and the extent to which the people around him went to enable his behavior and keep it a secret and I think: how was it possible that he was the most powerful man in the world in a country that was still so vanilla and prudish and yet he managed to have almost continuous extramarital affairs? He managed to carry on with Marilyn for fuck’s sake! And now it’s a considered just an anecdote, a small part of who he was. It’s even considered charming, part of why he is so roguish and handsome and desirable. Sigh.

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A disruptive piece of breaking (sort of) news: It turns out silly old comedy icon Billy Cosby has been a sexual predator for decades. And this isn’t new news. Lawsuits have been filed, he’s settled out of court, and his victims are speaking out. And his MO, for the record, includes drugging his victims. Which just, I don’t know, is extra infuriating. Think about Dr Huxtable slipping a roofie is some young girls drink. I don’t want to have to feel this way about a man who elevated the image of black America with laughter, who was TV married to the indomitable Phylicia Rashād, who wore those great sweaters. God dammit God dammit!

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And, finally, my most personal of these struggles: F Scott Fitzgerald. I just finished a wonderful and searing book by Kate Zambreno, Heroines. It’s a retelling of the great men of literature in the early 20th century, and of the women who surrounded them. These women were merely plus ones to their men. They lived in service of their partner’s genius, never being allowed to flourish or explore their own talent. And the most interesting among them was Zelda. Zelda, who wanted to be a real writer. Zelda who wrote in diaries and letters, and whose words her husband generously borrowed. Zelda who also painted, and later threw herself into ballet. And her spunk, her desire to be creative, was remade as mental illness. And she has been posthumously diagnosed and written over as the crazy wife of the genius. And he helped in this. He discouraged her, he actively worked to stunt her writing career, he forbid her from using their own lives as subject matter because that was his material. And he drank and drank and shut her away, and she died in a fire in a mental hospital. She deserved more, at the very least the same encouragement and opportunity given to him. And I love Gatsby, I still love it and those words still inspire me. And I completely resent having to rethink the man who wrote some of my favorite sentences to ever have existed. I hate it.

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Why? Why do we make the world a playground for these talented men? We tell them to take whatever they want, especially if it will help their art or whatever. Like fucking Picasso who emotionally abused all the women in his life and then painted them as monsters, and we told him he was great and hung those pictures in museums. We enable these guys, all of us with our accolades and praise. And we provide countless pretty young things for them to play with. But women aren’t things. They aren’t prizes in the world wide talent competition that is pop/celebrity/literary/art culture. This won’t stop until we deal seriously with rape culture, and until we hold men accountable for their actions. All those guys up there that I mentioned, their stories are not defined by the women they hurt. Their careers aren’t suffering. C Brown fans are insane on Twitter and will defend him unendingly. A convicted violent criminal, and his fans will say they’d let him abuse them and insult anyone who dares speak against him. JKF’s habits are just a footnote, Cosby is getting a new show and Fitzgerald remains a Great American Writer while Zelda’s novel is no where to be found (actually I found it, so you can find it in my apartment, but I had to special order it cause it’s out of print.) These guys continue to demand respect and inspire awe. It’s only women who are defined by their sexuality or sexual partners (Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Monica Lewinsky.)

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I’m fucking over it. I’m sick of having to compartmentalize with these guys. I know that people are complicated and no one is perfect and I know that not all great talents are predators. But we should be demanding a world where talent is appreciated without being overly idolized, where women aren’t prizes to be won, where sex isn’t a weapon used against the female body. I have no more patience for this shit. We need to stop excusing this behavior, we need to stop devaluing the female body and dismissing this as adolescent/harmless shenanigans. Sexual violence is not shenanigans. We all need to grow up and get serious and make culture a place of accountability and inclusion. We need to have icons that don’t require excuses.

Female Bodies: Endlessly Contested Obsessions

There have been a few things on the internet this week that made my spidey senses tingle, reminding me that women are first and foremost things for people to judge and argue about. Never mind that they are also humans that work and breathe and make completely autonomous decisions on the reg. As far as our culture, especially digital internet culture is concerned, they should always be pretty and ready to be appraised.

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This week Calvin Klien launched a new campaign. It’s typical for them, black and white and slick. But there is something different, although when I first saw the photo I myself didn’t notice it.

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That’s Myla Dalbesio. She’s a model. She looks pretty great in that simple black lingerie. NBD.

A Twitter-storm erupted when Elle tweeted:

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Because some people think that a size 10 isn’t plus size. I would agree. And some people say ‘Well it’s fashion and for the fashion industry she is large.’ And yea, I guess. But ew. And of course there were a range of other lewd and vapid comments, but what stuck out to me is this need to define what she is. I mean, can’t she just be a model? Like, a beautiful model? I of course agree that we need to see a wider range of body types in the media, but it’s about so much more than that. Because redefining beauty is not just about expanding the range of sizes a woman can be while still being hot.

And then, well, then there was Kim.

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She ‘broke the internet’. She ‘did it again.’ Kayne tweeted his support:

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And everyone has an opinion. Some shamed her, because she ‘is someone’s mother’. Which is ridiculous cause babies are made with sex. Right? That’s not new news, is it? And some people are sick of her, and I’ll admit I am sick of her. And I’m sick of how her butt is always emphasized, and I’m uncomfortable with the racialized history of this type of photo. And the amount of photo shopping that I’m guessing happened here, to tip this photo over the top, is also problematic.

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But it’s not new. Is it? I mean, the whole shoot was recycled ideas the photographer already did. And haven’t we seen this before, in general? Is this so shocking? Is it really necessary to argue about what she should be doing with her body, if mom’s can be sexy (duh), if she has no talent (duh), etc? Why can’t we look right past her (I know, I know, ‘that ass tho’) and talk about the culture we all perpetuate that allows this photo of this actual famous person to exist? Because this photo, of a sexualized backside and a shiny shiny white-ish woman, this is what we push as an ideal of beauty. This is what we encourage young woman to aspire to.

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Quick, name a female scientist (that is alive, not Marie Curie.)

I’m gonna go with Emily Graslie, seen here reading her mail and talking about gender gaps in STEM fields.

Now name a female novelist (again, who is alive.)

Here are two dope women writers, chatting with each other and positively thrilling me. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian American novelist, and Zadie Smith is British and too smart for me.

Quick, think of 3 female role models that aren’t role models because they always look perfect and seem to have it all (this unfortunately leaves out Beyonce although her work ethic makes her worthy of role model status in my humble opinion.) Feel free to leave your pics in the comments.

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Because one of the important things to remember is that no matter what else we require of women, we require them to be beautiful. And I get it, we all like to look at beautiful things. But people aren’t things. And men don’t have these same kinds of standards. They can be professional or smart or powerful or parents or hardworking or famous or entrepreneurial, without also having to look flawless all day every day. But women must always exist in these contested spaces. Is she pretty enough? Is she a good mother? Can she be a feminist icon while also being sexy? Is she too sexy? Too crude? Can women be funny?

The topic of ‘is she good enough’ is always up for debate.

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All of this chips away at women’s humanity. We are not objects to be argued over. Our bodies are our own. So too are the choices we make. If Kim wants to get lathered up with baby oil and let them photo shop her waist so she can continue to make money off her ass, that’s her choice. I don’t wanna talk about it, but she’s allowed. And she should be allowed without all the subsequent chatter. Like the photo or don’t, but remember that she is an actual human, with a family, with friends, with a real life. Same goes for Myla. Why should she have to deal with the ‘is she or isn’t she plus sized’ conversation? Plus sized is a made up thing. It’s not real. People are just people, with bodies of different shapes. Who. Cares.

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And before the ‘they put themselves out there to be judged’ brigade starts in, I will remind you that these kinds of arguments do not happen around men. Even male models, who make money off of their body and image do not occupy the contested spaces their female counterparts do. We do not pick apart male actors or celebrities in the same way. Because we don’t feel ownership over male bodies. We don’t feel entitled to enjoy or critique male bodies in the same way we do with female bodies. This entitlement contributes to the endless arguments, it contributes to internet harassment and street harassment and rape culture. And I’m sick of it. It’s exhausting.

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Here is a newsflash: adding your voice to the endless debate over who is beautiful and who is worthy will not end the centuries of violence and control enacted on the female body. If we spent half the energy we expend on judging women on thinking about how we could change the conversation and change the world, then we could actually get down to the work of making this world a better, safer place for  all those that are currently being disenfranchised by ‘the man’. Stop staring at Kim’s ass and arguing over which number size is too big for models, and let’s make our voices heard about the stuff that matters.

On Lingerie, Street Harassment, and Making the Connections

There is a video making the rounds right now of a woman walking through New York City. A person wearing a back pack with a hidden camera walks in front of her, recording for 10 hours. She is catcalled more than 100 times. Watching this video make my skin crawl at certain moments. It is ever so familiar. It’s so banal that it breaks my heart.

Some of the comments I’ve seen in reaction to this video are really getting me riled up. And not the most extreme of them, because I am aware that some people think women are objects and that we should all be grateful for the attention and that all women deserve to be objectified and even violated. I don’t actually have the energy to fight against that kind of misogyny, I’m tired, and hopefully those folks stay in the dank dark hovel from which they so courageously anonymously comment.

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It’s this other kind of comment. The more moderate comment, which (to paraphrase) says ‘Some of those guys are scum, but some are just saying hi and it’s no big deal. You have to be able to say hi, right?’

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And this infuriates me. Because it assumes a few things. First, it assumes that sometimes the comments are harmless. I can assure you that this is almost never true. 1% of the time, if I’m being generous. So it’s statistically not worth mentioning. It also assumes that women cannot tell the difference between a polite greeting and a greeting with an underlying  motive. Again, I can assure you that we can. All of us. We know the difference between ‘Good morning!’ and ‘Hey there (I want to put my dick in you)!’. Because we are humans, capable of reading body language and subtext and vocal tone. ALSO: If you truly wish that you could simply greet other humans without being suspected of flirting or feared, then you can place the blame squarely on the harassers who have conditioned us that responding in any way to strangers is dangerous to our bodies and our psyches.

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And you know what? Sometimes maybe we get it wrong. But can you think for a second about how much energy, emotional energy, it takes to try and vet every comment/greeting/look that you get while out in the world trying to live your fucking life? Think about having to figure out which are innocuous and which are disgusting/loaded/disrespectful. Think about having to figure out if you are in danger every few moments. Think about having your guard up non stop, about not being able to be free and vulnerable and interact with strangers because you just might put yourself in a position to be harassed or followed or touched without permission. Think about if you were physically and emotionally drained by the act of existing in public.

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So I participated in a challenge recently, to support {my lingerie play}. Check out this dope performance/mission, check out Hollaback!, check out my video and post your own photo or video to their site or donate or talk to your friends.

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You can watch the video HERE!

Awareness, hopefully, can breed empathy (I have a LOT of feelings about empathy this week!) I truly believe that if everyone had to deal with the physic onslaught of catcalls and public objectification/sexualization each day, that folks would act differently. Cat calling and street harassment are expressions of power, and they minimize the total humanity of female bodied people. They are not complimentary. These actions reduce us to our bodies, and are rooted in the longstanding myth that our bodies (and desires) are dirty and out of control and shameful. But I will not be diminished. We are all beautiful, we contain multitudes, and our bodies are our own. They are beautiful, and they are beautiful right now. It bears repeating.

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we are all golden sunflowers inside {and out}
we are all golden sunflowers inside {and out}
all day erry day
all day erry day

I’m Nervous About Cutting My Hair, and other thoughts on insecurity

I’m going to cut my hair off this weekend.

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If you know me, you’re rolling your eyes like ‘Come on Alex, how much more hair could you possibly cut off?’ And you’re mostly right.

asymettrical, purple swoop, resting bitch face
asymettrical, purple swoop, morning sass

But I’ve never gone full on clippers, GI Jane style. I’ve never taken it all the way down. I’ve thought about taking it all off before, in solidarity with my mom (who has lost her hair a bunch of times due to cancer treatment), and also as a way to just let everything go and reset. And I’m finally gonna do it, as a way to help transition to this whole no shampoo thing (furthering my natural beauty journey which you can read about here and also here.)

But I’m nervous.

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A strangely large amount of people have told me that I’m ‘so brave’ for cutting my hair short. That they themselves could never do that, they themselves aren’t ‘brave enough.’ But cutting my hair wasn’t an act of courage.  In fact,  like a lot of folks, it was an act of desperation. When my best friend from high school slept with my then boyfriend (so cliche, so inconsiderate) about 1/2 way through college, I was heartbroken and stunned and completely unsure about the world. And I wanted to be a different person. And so I switched out my facial piercing, got a new tattoo, and cut my hair off. It was a beginning, and an end, and a statement. It didn’t feel brave.

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And still, as I grew into that person with shorter hair, that person who got past a betrayal and kept loving the people that helped and found newer and better passions, I’ve still never felt that short hair makes me brave. My mom is brave, facing a seemingly endless amount of treatment and still yearning to move past cancer and live her life to the fullest. People who risk their lives to save others are brave. People who stand up to injustice are brave. People who face the unknown with dignity and hope are brave. All I do is pay Marika, the little old Greek lady who gave me my first hair cut and continues to put up with my crazy requests, to cut some hairs on my head into sassy shapes.

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But quite frankly, I am scared about cutting my hair really short all over. And it’s for a kind of embarrassing reason. It’s because I’m afraid I won’t be pretty. And actually, I’m pretty sure that I’m not pretty already, but I feel like this is going to make it worse.

To be clear, this is not a pity party and I’m not sharing these thoughts to garner supportive comments. I don’t think I’m gross or ugly, and most days I am satisfied with my appearance. And I’m lucky enough that I have lots of people in my life who love me and tell me I am beautiful and on lots of days, thankfully, I believe them. I’m talking about something very specific. ‘Pretty’ is glamour, it’s pink and it’s quiet. Pretty is Betty Draper with her tiny waist and full skirt, and the perfect shade of lipstick. Pretty is my mother going to work when I was a kid, dressed chicly in all black, putting lipstick on with a lip brush, hair curled with a curling iron and a little hairspray. Pretty is how ballet made me feel, pink tights and tutus and fingers held just so. When I say pretty I mean feminine, perfect makeup and a floral summer dress. I mean princess-y. I mean delicate. I mean put together. I mean pretty.

she's like a doll. an ice queen, kinda soulless doll...
she’s like a doll. an ice queen, kinda soulless doll…

And that kind of beauty is something that I’ve always felt was out of my reach. I can do sexy and sassy, short hair that’s sometimes fun colors and tattoos and loud style. When my body is in a yoga pose or peddling me up an urban hill, I’m especially happy with it, grateful for it’s strength and resilience. But we can’t be all things, and I always got the sense that I was a little too loud and a little too un-still and a little too creative for pretty. Because pretty comes with a catch. Can’t be too loud, pretty girls are quite. Can’t be sweaty, pretty girls stay still. Can’t be too funny, pretty girls aren’t in the spot light (unless they are staying still to be admired.) Can’t be too unique, pretty has rules.

rules

And I know that this is all nonsense. I personally know plenty of pretty girls that are brash and funny, and pretty girls that are smart as a whip, and pretty girls with tattoos and pretty girls with long and short hair and pretty girls that are different shapes and different shades. Because real life defies what they try to make us believe.

But sometimes I still wish I was the kind of girl who effortlessly looked put together, who could wear super frilly dresses and lipstick without feeling like I was trying to hard. And I’ll bet some of those girls feel like me, wanting something different or looking in the mirror and picking apart things that are perfect. Because we are bombarded with images of these kinds of girls everyday, and they taunt us with their airbrushed perfection. Because we all learn lessons as little girls about how to act, about what is important for us, and the concept of ‘pretty’ is high on the list. Because our culture doesn’t work to reassure us that we are perfect as we are, it undermines us and feeds our insecurity and sells us snake oil promising that just one more product will transform us into the swan/princess/super model/super woman.

happywithyourself

And yet. Fuck that. Because I am who I am, and I have spent lots of time (especially after that first major hair cut) working to be a person I am proud of, and working to love myself in this body and in my own skin. And I’ve worked hard to let other people love me, despite the fact that I’m not perfect, despite the fact that I’m kind of a lot and despite the fact that I’m not always feminine or ‘girly’. And my work isn’t over. We should all be doing this work, even though it’s never ending, because we have to set a good example for each other and for the next group of girls growing up. My best friend just gave birth (I’m so effing proud of her, in awe actually) and her little sugar bean is perfect. And I don’t want sugar bean to grow up worrying about being pretty. I want to teach her how to love herself, how to work hard to achieve goals, how to stand up for what she believes in and how to feel pride in herself for more than just her outward appearance. I want to teach her about empathy and self-love and feminism, and I can’t do that if I don’t keep trying to be a living example.

lesson #1
lesson #1

So it’s all gonna go. And then no more shampoo. And no more conditioner. And I’ll let you know how the natural remedies work out. And if I cry. And I’ll hopefully remind us all, myself included, that it’s just hair. It will grow back. Everything in life is only for now. It’s not that this stuff isn’t hard, or that these issues aren’t real, because they are. The pressure is real, and so is the shame, and it’s ok to have all the feels. The last thing any of us need is to feel guilty about wanting to feel beautiful. So I’m trying to get over my embarrassment (thus the large amount of sharing), own my insecurity, and then cut my hair anyway. And if it turns out that it does make me less pretty, well I mean, that’s not a tragedy. I can grow the swoop back. My friends and family and framily will still love me. The world will continue to spin. I do believe that if we can face some of our fears regarding our bodies and our personal beauty, we should try. Because if we can learn to love our whole entire selves, we can better love each other, and then we can all work together to dismantle the system that teaches us that we don’t deserve love unless our lipstick is perfect.

beylipsticksmash

Oil Cleansing Method: The Lo Down

Hi friends! Here is an update on my natural body care journey, which I wrote about a few weeks ago (here.)

I started out with the oil cleansing method. My main sources on this can be found here, and here. Per the info I found, I started out using equal parts of castor, avocado and jojoba oil. I was already using jojoba as a moisturizer, so I knew it was a good fit for my skin. My partner in crime/boo is trying this ish out with me, but he is only using castor and jojoba because his skin is less dry than mine.  We both had a very successful first try!

saltandpepper

Here are my immediate thoughts after trying it for the first time:

First oil cleanse! It felt great to massage the oil into my face. My first reaction is…. I love it. When I used a hot wash cloth to steam my face, I could totes feel my pores opening. And all of my makeup was removed, but my skin wasn’t tight or flaky after. It had a lovely rosy glow. I didn’t feel like I needed to moisturize. It wasn’t too time consuming, though longer than a quick face wash wash mostly because of the steaming part. But that is totally the best part, so I’m about it.

And, basically, those first musings hold true. I saw a few very small blemishes the first week, but I think that was because I was using too much avocado oil (it’s in a big bottle and hard to pour sparingly….) In any case, that didn’t last. I have had almost no dry skin since starting this regimen, and I really cannot say enough about how steaming your face is totally relaxing and wonderful. It really is worth the extra time.

And, in the sake of full disclosure, here is a before an after picture to show that it does indeed take off one’s make up. The first pic is me, made up for a night out (seriously, that’s a lot of make up for me!) and the second is post cleanse.

mewithmakeup      menomakeup

Make up, be gone!

begoneGIF

Overall, I’m very much a fan of this. Other facial cleansers always dried my skin out, and often felt harsh. I am also a huge fan of knowing exactly what I am massaging into my pores! I see an improvement in my skin’s overall moisture, my face is definitely clean, and the steaming portion of the routine feels calming and luxurious. I feel like I am practicing good self care, and I am happy with how my skin looks after cleansing. I feel refreshed and pretty! I think I am going to lock in my oil mixture by actually mixing equal parts in a separate container (right now I’m mixing in my hand….) so it’s even easier to get the desired amount. Also, it’s for sure cheaper than face wash. The oils, for 16 ounces, range from around $9-20, avocado being the most expensive. But since you are only using a few drops of each per wash, they are all going to last a very long time.

yay

This method gets two thumbs way up! Grab some castor oil a second base oil that works for you, and start massaging and steaming your way to a clean face! I will no longer stalk the aisles of Duane Read for face wash:

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Next up: oil pulling and tooth paste ie oral care. Get amped!

tinafeyletsdothis

 

 

Taylor Townsend: Grand Slam Debut!

Meet Taylor Townsend. She just made and impressive grand slam debut at the French Open.

taylor

She made it to the third round last week, making her the youngest American woman to advance that far in the French since 2003. She is 18 years old, with a game the media has deemed retro and a decidedly outgoing and competitive spirit. She pulled off an impressive 2nd round upset against the 20th seed and is awaiting news of a possible Wimbledon wild card. Andy Murray tweeted about her. All in all, I’d say she killed her first slam performance.

But. A lot of media coverage has been focused away from her game. Two years ago, the USTA attempted to keep the then 16-year old from playing in the US Open because of ‘concerns about her health’ ie they thought she needed to lose weight. She played anyway, however her mother had to pay out of pocket for their travel expenses.

eyeroll

Serena Williams, herself the victim of body trolling in the past despite 17 GS singles titles plus another 15 in doubles, was quoted as saying  “For a female, particularly, in the United States, in particular, an African-American, to have to deal with that is unnecessary… Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything. I think you can see that more than anywhere on the tennis tour.” Taylor won the doubles title and advanced to the quarters in the singles bracket of that tournament. She made it to #1 in the world as a junior. She has since made up with the USTA, and they reimbursed her for those travel costs.

hugitout

The media is still talking about her body, with lots of speculation about how ‘getting in better shape’ could improve her game. Now, because we are talking about athletes, I’m not opposed to talking about physicality. We do, in fact, talk about the bodies of male athletes quite a bit. We don’t require male athletes to be as conventionally attractive or genial as we like our female athletes, but that’s a different discussion for a different day. The question here is whether her body shape is impeding her game. Jon Wertheim at Sports Illustrated thinks not.

“…the evidence that her physique hinders her tennis is scant at best. In her second round match, she played 30 games over three sets and almost two-and-a-half hours against France’s Alize Cornet (who goes 5-8, 139 pounds) Townsend won thrillingly, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 and was hardly winded.”

I think this is an interesting, very fine point in the way we talk about women’s bodies, and men’s bodies, and the language we use. For many athletes, concerns about weight are coded in discussions about their ‘fitness’, their endurance and ‘stamina’. But, as Wertheim points out, she doesn’t appear to have an issue hanging with the other women athletes. And, frankly, if you’ve been watching the ladies tour for the past few years, you’ll have already noticed a dearth in strength and stamina amongst the majority of the players, particularly the skinny-minny crowd.

justsaying

We so rarely speculate on the health of people with ‘normal’ body types, assuming they must be fine. And yet we have a collective cultural understanding that larger bodies are unhealthy and thus deserving of our ‘concern’ (read: trolling, judgement). This understanding is completely biased, and not at all based on fact. Body weight and shape can be used as markers of health when included in an overall assement of other markers such as resting heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. But taken alone, weight cannot tell you anything significant about your health. In fact, it’s entirely possible for folks who have the same exact habits, good or bad, both food and activity related, to end up with drastically different bodies.

I guess I’m hoping that, if we are going to speculate and comment on athletes bodies (which I have mixed feelings about because it is work related for them but also totally exploitive/fun/sexy for us…)  that we do so in the same way for all bodies. I mean, maybe I’d like to hear more about how Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are, believe it or not, the same height and weight! Say what?! And also, I’ve never heard anyone talk about how hefty some major league baseball pitchers are, or at least not as the main meat of the coverage. And it shouldn’t be the main story, because an athlete’s performance should be our chief concern. In short, I wish the issue of Taylor’s body and her past struggles was more of a foot note, an aside, a passing background tidbit instead of the headline. I wish her story wasn’t framed as part of a culture war between small and large people. I wish that we all, in general, were more accepting of a greater range of bodies. I wish our standards for what is beautiful, and what is athletic, were expanded to include the vast and wonderful array of people that we encounter on the streets and on the courts. Taylor’s debut was exciting, and her future looks promising. She deserves to be covered because of her on court performance, not how she looks in the tennis skirt.

taylorsmile

Which, BTW, is awesome.

Turning my Back on Duane Reade: My Homemade Beauty Experiment

That title is really not quite accurate. Because this journey I’ve decided to go on (and share with all you lovely people) isn’t so much about beauty as it is about consumerism.

give-it-to-me

Everyday, we see ads everything that convince us that we need something. That we just won’t be complete until we make that next purchase. Advertisers are trying to attract everyone’s money, and indeed there is a product and accompanying ad for each and every demographic combination that exists. But women, in particular, face a lot of ad pressure, particularly from the beauty industry. We must have the right shampoo for our hair type, the right cleanser and moisturizer, the right foundation and of course the right shade of lipstick (which also must be moisturizing but not too glossy, and no smudging!) And of course our teeth must be super duper white from using that whitening toothpaste and mouth wash. And deodorant, because lord knows we mustn’t stink or have stubbly pits, and then there is lotion because our pores must be invisible and our skin smooth and hairless on every freakin’ inch of our bodies.

realface

But Alex, you are thinking, some of that is just hygienic. Everyone should be clean, right? And you’re right, I am not anti shower. I am anti stuff.

perfectiondisease

100 years ago, there wasn’t volumizing conditioner or scented face wash. Women weren’t worrying that their pores were too big, or how even their skin tone was across their entire body. This stuff they are selling, it all comes with one very clear message: You need this to be beautiful enough. You are not beautiful enough as you are.

nevergoodenough

And I have news guys! The history of how this shit came into existence isn’t hard to find. In the beginning of the 20th century, American life changed drastically and all of the sudden women were living in cities, and working. From his very informative and entertaining book Flapper, Joshua Zeitz:

As late as the 1890’s, there had scarcely been such a thing as urban nightlife. Young romance had been captive to the sun, and once it set, towns and cities could rely only on gas lamps, which cast a short and dim glow… By 1900, all of that changed.

He’s talking about electricity. The advent of electric street lamps created a new public space: the night. And women were moving to the city, and working, and taking part in this space.

When young women moved to the city alone, they were able to elude the familiar scrutiny of their parents and neighbors. Even when young women still lived at home, towns and cities afforded them a greater measure of anonymity and social freedom…

Add that to fewer hours at work and increasing wages, and suddenly women were more independent, and had money and time to spare.

peggycountingcash

Advertisers took note. Suddenly, one’s life wasn’t wrapped up in their family reputation and forced introductions. Suddenly, how you looked walking to work could have a real impact on your life. And so a slew of new consumer products was born.

mouthwash

Listerine was one of many products re-branded for a new fake problem: halitosis. A completely made up disease, halitosis, or bad breath, could be cured by swishing with Listerine, which had previously been used to clean out cuts and scrapes. Before long other problems were created: dandruff, body odor, wrinkles and acne, dry or oily hair. And all of these problems had a solution: buy a product. Advertisements made grand promises of turning ugly ducklings into beautiful brides and the like, and

[t]he accompanying pictures… gave the subtle impression that everywhere one turned there was always a keen eye trained on the most infinitesimal aspects of one’s appearance.

Wow. Sounds familiar, huh? Reminds me of an old feminist favorite: the male gaze. If you are always being watched, then even when stepping out to run a quick errand or do laundry, you must look your best. In case you bump into Mr Right, who obviously won’t recognize you without dynamite lashes and perfect skin (duh.) The idea that women should look perfect at all times is ubiquitous in our culture, in some ways it’s the price we pay for admission. Now that we can have the jobs we want and fuck who we want and have ever greater control in our life choices, doesn’t it seem odd that almost every single woman you know gets up everyday and takes great pains to tame, alter, or outright change her appearance? Why is Beyonce’s ***Flawless such an anthem? Because it’s an inside joke. She may not have woken up with that fierce eye make up on, wearing those ass less shorts, but she sure as shit woke up flawless. And the message, if you’re listening, is that we all did. Each of us is flawless just the way we are, before we put on our armor of deodorant and lipstick and hairspray and high heels and venture out into a world where we are implicitly and explicitly judged by our appearance, valuable only if we are flawless in the eyes of men, the designated beholders.

wokeup
be(y) your own beholder!

Alright, enough already! On to the real life component of this rant. It started innocently: I stumbled across some homemade lotion recipes. They seemed easy enough, and I thought it’d be a fun girls night in. So I went to a friends house, and we drank wine and ordered take out and watched SMASH and made lotion. Easy breezy, fun, and the lotion was lovely. And so I started doing some more research into homemade body care. The oil cleansing method, oil pulling, homemade toothpaste and deodorant, and even the No [sham]Poo movement! And I thought: man, all of that sounds amazing. No more buying all this crap, in these bad for the environment non-resuable containers. And honestly, do we as consumers even know what is in all this crap? Is it good for our bodies to come in contact with all these formulas daily? I have no idea, not really, no real knowledge of the science. But something deep within me intuits that it’s be smart to limit how many of these potions come into contact with my body. I already limit what I ingest as food (go veg!), so this is totes in line with my overall vibe. I’m doing it all, starting with oil cleansing and ending with a drastic hair cut and no ‘poo. And I’m gonna let you know how it all goes. How it affects my body, how it makes me feel, how easy it is, and how it compares to the stuff they sell in the shiny and well lit aisles of Duane Reade.

wish me luck!
wish me luck!

Here are my two favorite lotion recipes, if you’d like to start with the easy stuff:

Whipped Body Butter

Homemade Lotion, 3 Ingredients 

 

Mad Men: Seas 7 Premiere, Time Zones *SPOILERS DUH*

Friends, readers, loves of my life, let’s talk about Mad Men.

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I decided to take the plunge and re-cap all the juicy gender issues this show serves up as a way to ease the pain caused by the show’s impending end. I started binge watching this show with Claire Bear back on 96th street, and it continues to be the best show on TV (in my humble opinion). I love that watching it is more like the experience of reading a novel than a short story, and I love that the details make the show feel historic while the writing makes it accessible and contemporary. I think it perfectly reflects how much progress we have made, and how little, often in the same exact scene.

ohdonGIF

Alright, enough love professions, let’s talk about this premiere. I want to talk about Joan, which won’t shock you if you’ve ever engaged me in a conversation about Mad Men before. I think Christina Hendricks is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and her character and her beauty stand out in a show full of beautiful and complex women. This episode was fun because seeing her spread her account wings is truly thrilling for me. Back in the day, Joan was a secretary waiting for a husband. She first advises Peggy that the right moves will land her in the country, and also to stop dressing like a little girl if she wants to be taken seriously. Oh season 1, you were so retro! She eventually found a doctor to marry,  but he was a bum, and she started to realize that the things she’d thought she wanted weren’t making her happy.

joanmadGIF

So she kicked him out, confident she could raise her son on her own. Of course that is Roger’s kid and not Greg’s, but as far as she is concerned Roger is unreliable and she is a single parent. She knows she will need to focus on work to keep her family afloat. One of my favorite moments on the show is when her and Peggy chat after Don announces his engagement. Both women have traveled a pretty windy road to get to where they are, but being focused on their careers allows them a unique bond. They understand that their accomplishments are overshadowed by the men they work for, even when those men are recklessly getting engaged to their secretaries. Second marriage cliches not withstanding, they get each other.

And Joan get’s herself a partnership, in an episode that truly showcases this actress’s talents. But she still isn’t satisfied, and last season we watch her land her first account: Avon. She was ruthless, and frankly insubordinate, but she got it. This episode Ken sends her on a meeting with the head of marketing at a shoe account. Right away their meeting is awkward, due in large part to his not subtle condescension. He doesn’t bother to hide the fact that he’s disappointed, but makes it a point to imply that this is silly because any man would be an idiot to be disappointed to be meeting with her. He also references her perceived availability by commenting that ‘It must have been hard for you to keep this seat empty.’ He basically dismisses her, leaving after only a few moments without allowing her to engage with him.

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Not one to give up, Joan heads to a university to get some help from a professor in what I assume is business. She has a weird moment in the professor’s office, because she is always very guarded about perceived advances (especially with business associates, especially since Jaguar.) Which is totally understandable since she spent most of her life being coached to believe that her desirability was her most valuable trait. Moments like this stem from her own insecurities, indicating that she still believes that other people don’t take her seriously. And who can blame her, when schmucks like the shoe guy are so dismissive! But she rebounds, impresses the professor, and buys the company more time with the shoe account.

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And the reason we should all be rooting for Joanie? Because her struggle is still happening today, every day, for women everywhere. I can site multiple instances of being dismissed or not taken seriously by someone while at work, usually by customers. In fact, I’ve had customers specifically ask if a man is available (while working at a store that sells technology, FYI.) And women still aren’t getting paid as much as men, and the Senate just blocked passage of The Fair Pay Act, because some folks don’t think equal pay is a real issue. Balancing a family and a career continues to be an issue and a discussion mostly centered around women, because women continue to complete the majority of household and child care tasks. Joan breaks my heart a little because she had to face extreme and total disappointment before realizing how great she was at her job. She truly came from a time and place where college and/or work were just stepping stones to your real life. I admire her so because instead of staying unhappy and clinging to the vision of the life she’d wanted, she kicked out her no-good husband and kept right on moving. She accepted that work made her happy, and she changed courses. Her ascension, for me, is even more riveting than Peggy’s because Peggy was always a little weird and I don’t think she was ever truly hoping to marry quick. Joan is strong but vulnerable, she is hard working and even ruthless, she is gorgeous and ethereal and I just can’t wait to watch her wiggle her way into accounts.

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