On being Aunty – Child-free, but childful

This week I had a significant challenge. I went and collected my Diploma of Leadership and Management.I had not enjoyed the course as I wanted to – a combination of me having different expectations of the course itself and disliking some of the women that shared the classroom, whos’ internalised misogyny grated on me. Despite this, I was able to complete it over the last twelve months, alongside my Masters studies and full-time work. My only wish for the afternoon was to thank our facilitators, spend the afternoon with my close friend who I completed the course with and exit with grace.

This was not to be as I was publicly berated (across the room, at volume) not once, twice but three times by a fellow student, being called a “baby hater”. This had been said in previous classes. This person had completed a diploma that had been about leading, diversity and respect. She assumed that she had enough knowledge about my life that she could say this with impunity. No one in that room sought to correct this for me. I let it go the first two times. The third I simply said “I don’t hate babies”. She insisted “kids then”. I was like “no I don’t hate them either”. She said “oh I misunderstood”. No apology for rudeness.

I shared this on Facebook, and was overwhelmed, as normal with my friends supportive attitudes, from those who shared my choice to remain childfree (for reasons which are individual as each of us) to those people who have had children, and shared their children’s life’s generously with me.

It got me thinking about two things:

Firstly the ongoing challenge of dealing with people, particularly women who feel it is somehow an affront on their personal situation when you choose something different from them. My decisions do not invalidate yours. As Amy Poehler says, good for her, not for me. Furthermore, the reasons for my decisions are none of your business.

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The thing that gets me, is that this sort of judgey behaviour is the sort of thing most of us face – if you are single, “why are you single”, if you are in a relationship “when are you getting engaged”, if you are engaged, “when are you getting married”, when you marry “when are the kids coming”, after the first kid arrives, “when is the next” in a pattern that ends I assume with “when are you going to kark it” as a blue haired senior (I’m always blue haired in my visions of my dotage) .

I would ask that next time you feel like commenting on someone’s life choices: partner, kids, job, clothes, family, education, or whatever ask first, is this respectful, helpful or necessary.

Secondly it is sad for this woman to fail to understand that the desire not to have kids does not mean I hate children. In fact the opposite is true. My favourite days are those that include slobbery wet kisses, snotty cardigans and tipping small people upside down. I am blessed with being the aunt to some truly gorgeous kids. These kids are a part of my life not because of blood, but through the ties to their parents and my desire to be involved in their lives. This is family of my own choosing.

I was truly fortunate to be guided in life by amazing parents, who introduced me to my own ‘aunties and uncles’. These non-blood relatives exposed me to a range of ways of getting through the world, to art, theatre, books, music. They shared their experience, knowledge and skills. This is a gift to me, that I want to be able to share with my friends children into the future.

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The issue boils down for me, is the negative portrayal of feminists as unnatural, as taking up too much space in the world, for making choices that are against the (patriarchy’s) grain. When I had talked about being child-free in a course with other women, I had incorrectly assumed that these women could respect my choice as I respected theirs. The problem of course is that doing anything that is counter-cultural is uncomfortable. I think that this is a lesson that I’ll keep repeating, and the challenge will be to do so with grace and understanding.

On why my fashion blog hasn’t worked

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So, I’ve come to a realisation recently, that the reason that this blog is neglected, underseasoned and generally a bit meh, is that it is deeply inauthentic for me to be focusing on their latest fashion escapades, like some brilliant and wonderful bloggers I follow do (shout out to my favourite Australian blogs in this area: Blonde Ink, Wait Until The Sunset and Frocks and Frou Frou).

When I started this blog last year, I was in rut, and it sounded cool to talk about the intersection of fashion and feminism. I wanted to have gorgeous just posed but not quite posed pictures of fabulous outfits accompanied by witty banter about life, accompanied by incisive commentary on feminism.

Truth be told, I hate having my picture taken if its posed. I love to be in pictures that are within the thick of life’s action, among my friends and family, doing things outside in the world. I’m photogenic, but not in photos that are meant to be about the clothes, so I ended up feeling the very opposite of body positive. No longer did I see the fun and engaging part of myself, I self-criticised every portion of how my body and face looked in a shot, that simply did not capture my essence. The clothes I wore, no longer looked like an expression of myself in these pictures, all I could see were the flaws, the wrinkles, the pilling and the age.

Furthermore, I simply didn’t make photographs a priority. It has been a busy year (when is life not busy for everyone) and I simply forgot in the midst of packing for this, studying for that, thinking about some project or running out the door to get the express bus to work. I could probably work on getting that just right measure of posed but casual look I would love, but it wasn’t a priority for me, and I think that’s going to just have to be ok.

Beyond this, I’ve gone through a change in aesthetic and lifestyle this year. After collapsing with exhaustion prior to our trip to Africa, I realised that some things had to give. A process that begun with a move last year, I had been slowly decluttering my environment, but it had become important to both declutter my energies and to reduce my environmental impact. This realisation meant that only aspirational rather than actual me was going to put in the time, money and resources (space, environmentally, brain wattage) to be able to offer beautifully put together outfits that changed with the seasons, styles etc. My wardrobe, while extensive, I decided wasn’t going to grow further. I wanted to shift gears to wearing things out, to reducing my wardrobe size over time. This seemed inconsistent with the blogs I loved, that would often have something new and adorable to show off, rather than the same old ratty pleated skirt again.

So, what now? What comes out of this revelation? I know that clothes are a big part of my self-identity, so I’ll continue to weave that into my posts, but its unlikely to feel like a fashion blog. My knowledge and experience of feminism has grown within the last twelve months, and I really want to offer those perspectives more regularly. I think that greater diversity in the career and financial advice we receive is needed. My experiences of travel are probably something I could offer more perspectives on. I also want to explore the body positive movement, which I’ve observed but not yet really engaged at an analytical level. Thinking about reducing my impact on the environment, whilst stretching myself (and maybe others) to make an impact for the better in the world is where I’m at.

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One of the biggest challenges women face today is the question of being “enough”. Not only at that personal fear in the middle of the night level, where you contemplate whether you are doing enough for your loved ones, your career, your community and your career, but also the this feeling of being feminist enough.

Identifying as a feminist can be simple or hard, and come at a variety of times in a persons life and have a different application for each feminist. Much is made of celebrities having a “feminist awakening”. For me, it was at a young age, where I recognised myself in Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March, who was fierce, fiery, clever and not afraid of hard choices in a world so foreign from my own –civil war, pre-suffrage, pre-abolition of slavery. I wish I was a teenager now, where there is so much exciting debate and material on the internet about versions of feminism. Trolling through the seminal feminist books at the library was not nearly as vibrant, discursive or accessible. Neither was participating in the debate easy. My girlfriends, from school, who remain such a strong force in my world, looked at me like I might be a little crazy for my vehement opposition to their débutante balls.

That moment, where your views are met with indifference, confusion or even anger, is a challenge for an emerging feminist. You are like a mole, popping your head into the bright new world, which blinds you with all the injustices and inequities, but that temporary blindness makes you blind to the range of views and diversity within your new world.

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Though the meaning is perfectly clear, my favourite version is that of Nigerian author and thinker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, the application and approaches are as diverse as the men and women who identify with the term. There is a constant debate about the choices feminists are making, whether they work, whether they breed, what they wear, who they date, whether they marry, what work they pursue, how aware of their privilege they are and a countless number of other choices. This debate seeks to make out that feminism is some kind of rule book rather than a discussion, a conversation and a process. Making feminists question whether they are enough, makes it nigh impossible to make the progress made to end the unequal outcomes, the experience of violence and discrimination that defines the challenges facing women. The last thing women need is further regulation and rules over their behaviour and choices. So I’ll be declaring myself, feminist enough.

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Nope, I’m not choosing beautiful today – Why Dove’s #choosebeautiful doesn’t pass first blush

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Walk through a door?

Dove, has recently released an advertising campaign, encouraging women to #choosebeautiful (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DdM-4siaQw). At first glance it seems innocent enough, encouraging women to see their positives, see their beauty. The company suggests of women polled, 96% of women will not use the word “beautiful” to describe themselves, and shows in its short film, women from five cities as diverse as Sao Paolo to London, choosing whether they are beautiful or average, by walking through labelled doors. Dove’s website suggests:

“Dove believes feeling beautiful is a personal choice that women should feel empowered to make for themselves. “Although the majority of women don’t describe themselves as beautiful, 80% agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful. It’s time women think differently about this choice,” says Steve Miles, Senior Vice President, Dove”

At the first blush, I don’t disagree that these results are skewed, that this says a lot about how women are influenced by society about their perceptions of their appearance. But beyond that first blush, I am deeply sceptical of the commoditisation of the body positive movement which seeks to combat the damaging impacts of images which market a particular kind of loveliness – typically feminine, able bodied, white, clear skinned, able bodied, thin but just voluptuous enough to be “sexy” – that isolates many from society’s view of beauty and desirability. Furthermore, it seems internally inconsistent from a company that makes profits from the beauty industry.

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Furthermore, I would hope that I have more choice than choosing just beautiful. I have, like many of us both strengths and weaknesses which offers my husband, friends, family, colleagues and society unique contributions beyond whether I am having a good hair day (yep, that’s a while off while I grow out this pixie).

The final reason it does not pass my first blush, is that it is masquerading as a positive message,  but remains focused upon the external desirability of women, rather than the inherent qualities that they possess. It suggests that we should reorient how we talk about our beauty, rather than suggesting that we could refocus our energies in something deeper, more complex than just our external appearance and how we choose to describe it. Whilst commercial enterprise suggests women should be focusing their attentions on their beauty – whether it be defined by ourselves, or by society- our efforts are being dissuaded from achieving our full potential. The greatest value should be more variable, and should be not just skin deep. The beauty industry is extremely profitable, around $55 billion annually in 2014, in the USA alone. The business of making yourself beautiful is said to waste about 55 minutes a day, or 2 weeks a year. Imagine the potential benefits of refocusing that attention and money elsewhere if we could refocus our value elsewhere. Considering the comparative time, energy and importance appearance is placed on men’s appearance, I thought that Caitlin Moran has summed it up best more generally:

You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.”

So yeah, I’m not choosing beautiful today. I’m choosing to be the intelligent, passionate, hilarious and caring person I know myself to be. I love clothes, and think that makeup can be tops, but I love me for so much more than any external reference that you could pick.

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Today’s outfit post, has been delayed by a week, I have had the great joy of hosting friends from abroad, university and maid of honour duties in Melbourne. You might have noticed my use of the word blush. Today’s outfit is focused around my favourite purchase from my recent round the world trip, from H & M in Sweden (the mothership), a beautiful blush tulle skirt. It can be a challenge to put this together, it is foofy and needs a lot of calming down with darker colours. I’m working on a decent spot in our apartment for photo taking, you are going to have to imagine what my plain black boatneck looks like tucked into my shirt, because that photo is le rubbish.

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Braided fringe – a pixie cut grower outers best friend
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Black Asos curve boat neck top Big W Pink costume pearls
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H&M Tulle skirt in blush Novo shoes in black patent
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Foofy spinny glory