Coupledom, Entertainment, Fandom, Marriage, Odd Couples

No One Cares About Mariah’s Elusive Marriage

                       bettercropofnickandmariah                                 

There’s no doubt about it. The summer of 2014 has been a hot one, and in all the worst ways. The emergence of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq). Their beheading of an innocent man. The war in Gaza. The crisis in Ferguson. Ebola.

The rumored marital meltdown of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. And the actual break up of Mariah and Nick.

The last time Mariah Carey got a divorce I was glad. Married to the music executive Tommy Mottola when she was 22, the narrative of the gilded songbird set free was encapsulated by the release of Mariah’s 1997 “Butterfly.”

                                              butterflybettercrop

Mariah’s most recent crazily titled effort, which made me yearn for the days of glitter, music boxes, rainbows and emancipation, “Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse” was a total flop and I can’t help but wonder if the professional downturn put pressure on her relationship with Canon. (That God-awful title also reminded me of Bey’s “I Am Beyonce/Sasha Fierce” release.)

Yes, the break up rumors abounded before the release of the only Mariah album I have not bought, but sour notes in our careers too often flavor our personal lives…

Though the world only cares if Mrs. Carter stays married I am sad the parents of “dem babies” are closing the curtain. But the 90s are long gone; we all live in Beyoncé’s world now. And Mariah’s recent album sales undoubtedly delivered her that memo with her once stellar vocal cords wrapped around it with a bloody bow.

                                      beywithgun

Body Image, Motherhood, Pregnancy, Shopping

Body Armor: From Corsets to Belly Bandits

                                      photo-284                                                                                 

Available in two models — hard and soft — it rides between our legs; it caresses the small of our backs and it cups our breasts. No, I am not talking about your lover, or your imaginary lover for that matter. I am talking about your lingerie. “Exposed: A History of Lingerie,” an exhibit at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City curated by Colleen Hill traces the development of Western undergarments from the 1800s to today, offering a compelling narrative in the process. Yes, the evolution of lingerie highlights shifting societal attitudes about women and sex. But not surprisingly there has been a backlash to the progress we’ve made traveling from confinement to comfort. As hard lingerie like corsets and bustles went out, an emphasis on “natural” thinness came in.

In the late 1800s, the ideal silhouette was petite and super curvy. Corsets reflected this by tending to cut off at the waist, push breasts up, press stomachs in and bend backs to create the dramatic and painful “S curve.” By the late 19th century into the early 20th, short and voluptuous had become passé and long and slender was all the rage as represented by images of the “Gibson Girl” in the 1890s.

                                                 gibsongirl

                                                                               (Gibson Girl example) 

Tall and slender, but with a full bosom and an apple bottom, the Gibson girl became representative of the athletic woman. Only to be followed by the slim silhouette of the Edwardian era. As a result, pieces like the princess slip, which is a camisole and petticoat combo and another two-piece in one, the camisole and drawers, became popular because they were less bulky under clothes than petticoats and the like. In other words, as the style slowly but surely moved away from corsets women were expected to shrink their bodies with willpower and exercise, instead of whalebone and laces.

                                                       princess slip      

                                                                                   (The Princess Slip)                               

As I took in the exhibit, examining apparel that over the course of time became less constricting, I wondered something that may make people freak out. Could women have somehow been better off in the old days? Is it preferable to be uncomfortable in a body-strangling contraption, or just as desperately uneasy in your own unadorned skin? As women have become increasingly comfortable in our intimate apparel, have we also become less at home in our bodies?

Though lady tools like Spanx are far from corsets, some of us get confined to feel comfortable. Contemporary body shapers are an armor that we wear to protect ourselves from our own prying eyes as well as those of others. And in the last months of my pregnancy this is something I have been thinking a lot about as my tummy becomes more like a planet the rest of my body is orbiting.

                                                   kelly

                                                               (Kelly Rowland Belly Bandit shopping)

I had never considered wearing any kind of body shrinking device before I got pregnant. But now that my postpartum days are nearer than I can wrap my mind around I have been researching compression belts and belly bands and watching like a hawk postnatal progress pics on Instagram posted by the #fitpregnancy crowd. I also felt less crazy about the whole thing earlier in the summer when the paps photographed Kelly Rowland buying a Belly Bandit, a bamboo compression device specifically designed for new moms. But after Jade Beall’s beautiful photographs of the postpartum body went viral, showing stretch marks and flaccid skin in all their life-giving glory, I felt bad about preemptively feeling bad about my body as it’s in the process of completing the most miraculous biological feat imaginable. Admittedly, at the same time I wondered if any of the women Beall had photographed wore a corset after they gave birth, I also acknowledged that more than needing a corset for my flesh, I need one for my mind to reign in my body issues.

                                          jadebeall

                                                                    (Jade Beall, A Beautiful Body Project)

Whenever Drew catches me comparing reviews on new wave corsets supposedly designed for labor recovery, he always says the same thing: the human body is not made of clay, meaning that nothing sold on Amazon can reshape it. Which also reminds me of the obvious. Underwear hasn’t changed women. The rising status of women changed underwear. Still, the fact remains. Certain kinds of lingerie make us all feel certain ways, not only in our bodies but also in our minds. Undergarments do more than shape flesh; they mold how we want to see ourselves as well as be seen. The corsets of the 18th and 19th centuries may have fallen out of fashion, but I think it’s safe to bet that manipulating the female form never will.

Brave New World, Comedy, Motherhood, Pregnancy

What Pregnancy Constipation Taught Me About Letting Go

                           bondpreggerslaxatives

Extreme regularity has been a life-long concern of mine. Raised by my grandparents who were obsessed with their bowel movements I grew up thinking that chewing laxative gum, eating laxative cereal and relying on suppositories when the going got rough were just par for the course of having a mortal coil. A lot of the women I’ve read about who have also been obsessed with some aspect of pooping, especially that induced by laxative use, often have eating disorders. I have never outright binged or starved let alone combined that behavior with a laxative. But like anorexics and bulimics, my addiction to pooping-on-demand constituted a physical manifestation of an emotional difficulty. My obsession with shitting was never about food or power as much as it was about being really bad at confronting my own feelings. Instead of letting go of useless material stuff and toxic emotional baggage, I made a sport of shedding biological waste. Focusing on how much and how often I pooped was one of the coping mechanisms I used to deal with built-up anger, resentment and disappointment. Fittingly enough, I only realized the depth of this issue when biology stripped of me of the crutch of regularity and I became what I call PC: pregnant constipated.

For weeks seven through thirteen of my pregnancy my bowels moved once every three days and without being able to use a laxative, well, I felt up shit’s creek. Maybe for some folks this is normal, but for me it was like going once a year. Also, the stool was unlike anything that had come out of my ass previously. On average nine inches long and the texture of tree bark, these logs also had the nerve to be thick at the top and skinny at the bottom like baseball bats. On more than one occasion I wondered between grunts if I was shitting a mace. Yet, by the grace of the universe, I have managed, thus far anyway, not to get hemorrhoids. But not surprisingly, the only spotting I have had over the course of my pregnancy has been from my anus.

Countless women suffer from constipation during pregnancy. Hormones causing muscles in the intestinal wall to slacken constitute the primary cause. The expansion of the uterus pushing on the intestines has its role, too. Not to mention the iron in prenatal supplements puts the kibosh on regularity. However, food hanging around in the system longer allows for more absorption, which is a good thing for the fetus. And a few weeks into the second trimester, my poop schedule became recognizable again and thankfully no longer painful. Now, in the six month of the pregnancy, I am pleased to report my intestinal locomotive is running smoothly with the help of fruits and vegetables. I am also clearer emotionally and psychologically than I have been over the past three years.

A novice at experiencing my feelings or lack thereof and then journeying through the subsequent heartbreak or ambivalence to resolution, as I went through this pregnancy rite of passage and it seemed virtually impossible for my body to let things go, I started cleaning house in other ways. In preparation for a residential move, I began shedding stuff in preparation for the baby. I was extremely angry with a close friend for months and I finally told her so. I terminated a stint in therapy that was draining me of money without filling me up with healing. And I put a project aside that hemorrhaged my self-confidence for years and began to research another that coalesces my long-term interests and strengths. When all this began to happen, seemingly out of nowhere, I chalked it up to a deep desire to detox emotionally since I wanted to purify the harbor of myself for my little stowaway. Now, I know that was true, but I also think that my inability to get my detox fix from multiple visits to the toilet per day pushed me to purge in much more substantial, life-affirming ways.

Pregnancy constipation motivated me from a primal place to make room for the new by letting go of the old. And frankly because we are all so full of brighter and bigger and more interesting things, the shit that had formerly been the center of my attention isn’t even missed. My mother has described childbirth many times as shitting a dining room table and besides helping to prepare me for labor my mother’s metaphor also reminds me that ushering in a new phase of anything, including my life, requires a lot of purgative pushing. For me pending parenthood has been like a spiritual enema. The heavier my body becomes the lighter I feel, mainly because I have a renewed sense of tunnel vision. Only for the first time in my life I am focused on what will come out of my vagina in a few months instead of what will come out of my anus tomorrow and the day after.

Fandom, Review

Sex, Technology, Desperation & Summer Movies

As a Cameron Diaz fan, on the opening weekend of Sex Tape, I dragged my spouse to the theater. Not surprisingly, I was disappointed by the comedy starring Diaz alongside her Bad Teacher (one of my favorite movies!) co-star Jason Segel. Lamely, as much Sex Tape is about not understanding how the cloud works it is also about a couple looking for a shortcut back to the way things were before kids and house payments. How? By objectifying each other instead of actually talking things out. Making a sex tape is a technological version of putting a mirror above the bed; only the camera lens is the mirror and there’s a whole audience on the other side of it.   

                          photo-41

However, since the movie had put me in the mind of sex, technology and desperation, I could not let the weekend pass without watching a classic film that no one or their mother cares about. anymore

Twenty-five years ago this summer Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape was released. The story of a marriage undone by the double whammy of infidelity and the arrival of a college chum with a video camera starring James Spader and Andie MacDowell, Soderbergh’s splash onto the international film scene explores intimacy, sexual and emotional impotency and how technology can ultimately make our conversations about sex more honest and forthright.

Yet over the past twenty-five years we have not come very far in our discussion of sex and technology. Why? Our cultural conversation has yet to catch up to the proliferation of sexual images and stimulation. In the 21st century where the Internet has performed a coup of epic proportions on the human libido, most of us enter the terrain of sexual relations armed with our smart phones without a clue about how to build the fire of intimacy.

Why would we? On social media, we mostly give answers to questions no one’s asking but us, mainly how cool am I? In response to our own insecurities, we’re not getting off; we’re showing off, which doesn’t have a damn thing to do with intimacy of any kind. The more intimate you are with someone the more you discover about yourself. Social media, on the other hand, gives us practice cutting this process off at the pass because posting on feeds is mostly about experiencing ourselves as well as having other people discover us as personas, not actual people. In a recent viewing of Sex, Lies and Videotape I was surprised by just how many humane reminders the film provides for navigating sex and technology in the 21st century.

Here’s my top four.

Women Talking About Sex is Sexy

photo-43

According to incidences of sexual assault ranging from the Steubenville case to the more recent crime involving the Houston teen “Jada,” it’s apparently not entirely uncommon for teenage boys to think they are racking up the stud points by documenting their rapes of non-responsive, inert girls. In the film, the only thing that can get Graham off is a close up shot of a woman’s face talking about things such as discreetly masturbating in public or seeing male genitalia for the first time. On the videotapes oddly enough, the women are not just images; they are speaking and feeling subjects. And it’s these scenes of the women recounting their sexual histories that are the sexiest in the film.

Telling the Truth About Sex is the Sexiest Thing in the World

photo-46

Unhappy in her marriage, the vulnerable southern belle Ann played by Andie MacDowell is sexy and beautiful because she tells the truth. Even if the truth is she’s never had an orgasm and feels uncomfortable masturbating. Her spitfire sister, a bartender artist named Cynthia oozes sex appeal not only because she has a lot of sex, but because when her lover who also happens to be her sister’s husband rings her up for a booty call she turns him down when she doesn’t feel like it or has something better to do. She’s not only honest about when and how she wants sex, but she’s also clear that her brother-in-law is scum and that so is she for sleeping with him.

Asking Interesting Questions and Listening to the Answers Leads to Orgasms

photo-44

Recovering from a former life as a pathological liar, Graham paradoxically needs honesty to come and the way he gets it is by facilitating self-reflection on the part of his interview subjects by asking questions that puts the women more in sync with who they are than impressing the person they are talking to. In order to let down our guards, most of us have to be in a safe space. Graham creates one by listening and asking questions, which is great foreplay.

You Don’t Have to Take Your Clothes Off to Get Naked

photo-45

One of the film’s most intense scenes takes place in a restaurant in the middle of the day when Graham and Ann are talking about therapy. Graham admits that not only is he impotent, but that analysis didn’t work for him while Ann naively explains how deeply she knows her therapist. Graham advises Ann to only take advice from people she’s slept with and Ann finds this amusing and puzzling, as I imagine the audience does. At the same time, if we strip this adage of its literalness the character is suggesting that we only take seriously advice from people we’ve been intimate with. In other words, advice from people whom we have been inside and who have been inside us, advice from people we have been naked with even when we were wearing clothes. From that standpoint, opening a message and finding a penis or a pair of breasts shows a lot of skin but very little soul.

Review

Five 90s Songs That Made Self-Loathing Cool

                              cds

A few weeks ago I took a trip back to the 90s when I attended a Beck concert in the Berkshires. The song of course that got everyone out of our lawn chairs and up on our feet was Beck’s 1994 single “Loser.” As I sang, “Soy un perdedor/I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?” I had a flashback of Kennedy, Andie MacDowell’s hair twin and host of MTV’s Alternative Nation, wearing her prescription lenses and crop tops (way ahead of her time) introducing Beck’s video as I watched from a basement rec room at boarding school. Twenty years later, I didn’t have an “OMG! I am actually a loser!” epiphany or anything like that, but the musical walk down memory lane did leave me with this takeaway: a lot of the most popular, decade-defining music of the 90s was about white men hating themselves.

In fact, the 90s Alternative rock aesthetic made self-loathing infectious mainly because the lyrical content of some of the decade’s most memorable rock songs are also about self-awareness as much as they are self-hate. Alternative 90s music taught a whole generation of us in the gray space between Generation X and Millennials how to be self-aware. Unfortunately, the conduit of this coming of age realization was a brutal self-loathing.

Here are my picks for five 90s songs that present portraits of self-hatred too many of us can still relate to today.

                                               Offspring

Offspring, “Self Esteem”

A description of the ultimate toxic romance, this song relays the tale of a man whose low self-esteem keeps him in a horrific relationship that mirrors just how little he thinks of himself.

The narrator puts up with a girlfriend who “sleeps with my friends” and says that he’s like a “disease.” Why? “The more you suffer/The more it shows you really care/Right? Yeah yeah yeah.” For the tormented narcissist, martyrdom is the ultimate test of love. It’s also, in this case, a sign that this dude knows exactly who he is. The song ends with this self-conscious assertion: “I may be dumb/But I’m not a dweeb/I’m just a sucker with no self esteem.” Here, I interpret dweeb as the literal acronym for “dick with eyebrows,” meaning the narrator, however low his self-image, acknowledges that he is not a jerk, but instead a “sucker,” meaning he loves obsessively. Only what he loves here is not the girl but hating himself.

                                                  STP

Stone Temple Pilots, “Creep”

This STP classic delivers a huge dose of the “I wish I could go back in time” narrative. But the “half-man” making this claim is an emotional and spiritual kleptomaniac evidenced by one of the song’s refrains: “Take time with a wounded hand/’Cause it likes to heal, I like to steal.” So healing is synonymous with stealing? But stealing what? Who the narrator “used to be” back from time of course. It’s lame and pathetic to be backward-looking non-productively, but who doesn’t bear at least a scar or two from self-flagellation of this sort? It also takes some reflective chops to admit that you’re a mess compared to a better version of yourself as opposed to someone else’s example. 

                                                    radiohead

Radiohead, “Creep”

Most of us have had the experience of being romantically rejected by someone more attractive, or more popular than us, etc. And though that rejection may have played on repeat in our heads for weeks or even months afterward, Radiohead boils this universal self-esteem killer down into an anthem that is at once cathartic and beautiful because it unapologetically declares not only how the humiliated party appears: like a “creep, a weirdo.” But also how we feel within ourselves with the Q&A, “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here…” Well, the place we don’t belong may be the bar where we have just made the come-on that went horribly wrong. At the same time, the emotional headspace where none of us belong is the one where this kind of self-hatred creeps in on us.

                                             Nirvana

Nirvana, “Dumb”

Unlike the narrator of the Radiohead song, the speaker here “can pretend” to be like the people he’s surrounded by. How? With intoxicants. Yet, the “fun” of getting high causes the narrator to suspect that he’s “…dumb/Or maybe just happy.” What’s the line between happiness and stupidity? Self-awareness, yes, but at price. Along with the narrator’s acknowledgement that his “heart is broke” comes the impulse to pretend again, use again, with the mention of some “glue” to “inhale.” Because substance abuse makes euphoria “dumb” euphoria isn’t really euphoric at all. At the song’s end, “Think I‘m just happy” is repeated four times while “I think I’m dumb” is repeated twelve. Undoubtedly, addiction is the engine of low self-esteem. 

                                                 weezer                                                         

Weezer, “Undone – The Sweater Song”

Beginning with a dialogue between two bros, one of which is excited about the band and the after party while the other guy, the narrator, isn’t excited about much, this song is about social anxiety disorder. The narrator declares, “Goddamn/I am” and even acknowledges talents, but upon being asked for a ride to a party, he responds: “Who I/I think/I sink/And I die.” Not of suicide, but by the hands of the instruction: “If you want to destroy my sweater/Hold his thread as I walk away.” The jokiness of it all and the lightness of the melody serve to obscure the strangeness of giving out to the world a personal recipe for one’s destruction. Yet that’s exactly what the unraveling of the sweater constitutes.

Motherhood, Pregnancy

Do Boys Face Sexism In Utero? Or Am I Just Sexist?

                             it'saboyphoto-38

From the time I found out I was pregnant I was certain I was having a boy. If acquaintances asked if I wanted a girl or a boy, I’d offer up, “It doesn’t matter,” or the old standby, “I just want a healthy baby,” but in my heart I knew the matter was settled, so I acted accordingly.

On the street when I saw small children or infants I mainly paid attention to the boys in an effort to glimpse my own little genetic stowaway. In my online wanderings through baby paraphernalia, I never bothered to look at any girl stuff. And besides calling the baby by the surname of one of my favorite male poets, the only other names I liked or gave any serious thought to were also for boys. So when a penis confirmed my intuition in my second semester sonogram before the technician had a chance to call it I breathed a sigh of relief. My instincts had proven an accurate compass that I soon would have plenty use for on the rocky path of parenthood. However, what I could not have anticipated were the immediate responses to my XY news right there in the hospital pavilion.

After the sonogram I had an appointment with my ob gyn and the nurse practitioner took my weight and blood pressure before the examination.

“Did you find out what you’re having?” she asked.

I was elated. “Yes, a boy.”

“Oh,” she responded, following up her disappointment with, “it’s better for the first child to be a boy anyway.”

“This is going to be my only child.”

“Oh,” she uttered again, teetering on a shudder.

When I went to have blood drawn the female technician asked me to make a fist before she inquired about my baby’s sex; I told her. She sprouted a toothless smile, but there was no congratulations in it. “I have three girls,” she said proudly and left it at that.

For a second or two I thought these women’s responses to my boy-in-the-making might have had some racial undertones. The altered playing field boys of color face is a well-documented one. Could bias reach into the womb? Well, of course, but across the world the selective-sex abortions of girl fetuses is the most prominent threat the unborn face. Here, in Upper Manhattan, however bothersome it was to me, I was encountering something altogether different and eons less consequential than a sex-preference amounting to girl genocide.

I did not have “gender disappointment,” meaning sadness about having a baby of one sex when I had my heart set on another, but the women I encountered in the prenatal unit where I am being treated not only expect their patients to want girls, as I’m sure their experience has taught them, but actively feel sorry for us when we’re not carrying them. Though as a feminist I feel this inverted sexism to be heartening, it has made me confront my own sexism. Was I really that certain I was having a boy? Or did I just not want a girl?

In response to my boy news, a close friend at work emailed: “I know why you’re so happy. You won’t have to do anyone’s hair!” To an extent, my friend is right. I have been undone by the beauty obsessed culture of womanhood and though in the best of all worlds I would like to imagine that I could protect my daughter from soul-killing objectification and appearance based low self-esteem, the challenge makes me wince. By no means do I think boyhood is a walk in the park; rather it’s just a giant unknown and for that I reason, funnily enough, I don’t fear it.

The other part of why I am “gender satisfied” is that I really was set on a boy. My primary caregiver as a child was my grandfather who remains the most sensitive, caring, openly sweet person I have ever encountered in my life. I wanted a boy because a giant piece of me yearns to nurture and care for in a literal way a reflection of the person who I feel most cared for me. When my grandfather died fourteen years ago I remember journaling that the only relationship that could rival the closeness I experienced with him would be with my own child. Now, just a few months away from this new frontier of love, I can’t wait to enter its embrace at the same time I am scared as hell.