Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Talbots and the Plus Sized Girl

So, I don't often talk or write about the anxieties or frustrations I have with my body. First, on any given day I might be feeling any number of ways about the way I look (most of the them good). How I feel about my body and my body in clothes very much depends on what I'm wearing, what I'm doing that day, who I'm doing it with, and whether or not my mother will insist I wear pantyhose. That whirlwind of feelings can be hard to pin down into something coherent.

The second reason I don't often talk about my frustrations is because I'm trying to raise two girl children into grown women who will be comfortable in their skin, in a world that seems deliberately designed to do the exact opposite. I try to focus on all the things I'm comfortable with rather than those things that I'm not.

But man is it hard.

I have a thing* tomorrow for which I decided I needed new top. Nothing fancy, just something blue and simple. A relatively easy task, you'd think. I work in downtown Charleston. There is no shortage of clothing stores within easy walking distance of my office. It seems easy enough to walk a couple of blocks, hit a couple of stores, pick out something blue, and call it a day.

Except clothes aren't really made for me. I'm tall, broad-shouldered, long-limbed, plus sized. I think I look really good in clothes, I really like clothes. I even like shopping. But a simple task like buying a blue shirt, on a whim (because, really, I decided this at about noon today and had about 90 minutes to accomplish the task), is nearly impossible. I can't pop into Urban Outfitters or H&M or J. Crew the Gap and be assured of finding clothes that fit. I have to go the one or two stores that will always have my size, even if they don't always have things I like. Buying clothes is always a reminder, every single time, that I live in a body my society has decided doesn't *fit.*  That sucks.

And, yet, clothes still need to be bought. Sometimes within walking distance of your office.

And so I found myself in Talbots, of all places, this afternoon.

Full disclosure: I do not work for Talbots. I have never worked for Talbots. I don't think I'd ever been in a Talbots before today. I get nothing from I'm about to say about them.

In short, they were awesome. And here's why:

The store had a petite, misses, and women's section (a whole other post is needed for the inanity of women's sizing in the US--what's important here is that there were clothes for many sized women). All of the saleswomen were helping people in all the sections. In the dressing room area (which was the most elaborate and spacious dressing room I've been in a long time) there were women of different sizes and ages and ethnicities trying on clothes, being helped, helping each other. They wrote my name on a tag on the dressing room door. The saleswoman working with me laid out outfits for me. Never once did I feel out of place, not because my race, not because I clearly have less disposable income than many of the women shopping there, not because of my age (I was the youngest person there, as far as I could tell), and, not, importantly, because of my size. Do you know how rare that is? The answer for those of you who don't know: very very very rare.

I totally get that Talbot's wants me to spend $90 on a powder blue oxford shirt and another $30 on the beautiful scarf to accessorize it. It pays, literally, for them to be nice to me. But that's just the thing, it would also pay Banana Republic and Ann Taylor and countless other places where my body doesn't fit and where I am very much made aware of that fact.

Today it really mattered that Talbots was the only place that thought me and my body are worth the effort.

And some days, that's exactly what a plus-sized girl needs.

*a thing soon to be revealed when I stop freaking out about it

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Catie Ushers in Black History Month

Sundays at our house, as I'm sure is the case at lots of houses, is a marathon of homework and laundry and bathing and hair-combing and grading. And sometimes, into that mix, a teacher will throw a project.

Frances loves school and loves the chance to show off, so projects with her, while exhausting, are, at least, manageable.

Cate is in second grade now and doesn't at all enjoy the same relationship to school as Frances. She tolerates it, at best. Throw anxiety and sensory processing issues on top of all that, and you can imagine what school projects are like for all of us.

Today she had to complete her 100th day of school project. She had to pick a person or event or invention celebrating it's 100th anniversary this year. The crossword puzzle is 100. Sir Alec Guiness was born 100 years ago. As was Joel Siegel. Cate rejected all those ideas. When Wikipedia told her that Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica in 1914, she immediately decided this was her project. "I love black people, Mommy," she said.

She happily read all about Marcus Garvey and the U.N.I.A., listened to me clarify things and fill in the blanks. She was genuinely interested in all the details. (She was especially upset that arrest and deportation were Garvey's reward for trying to uplift black people.) When it came time to put all these details down in a 1-page summary and creative presentation, well, let's just say wailing and gnashing of teeth would have been preferable.

After hours of cajoling and bargaining and pleading and assisting, we managed to get her to prepare a powerpoint presentation and type up a summary of what she's learned.  Here is what she's turning in to her teacher tomorrow:

What I learned:

Marcus Garvey founded the UNIA in 1914, in Jamaica to help improve black people's lives. He was later arrested for mail fraud, and was sent back to Jamaica, where he recreated the UNIA, and they stumbled in the Americas. Later, at some point in 1940, he died, and I don’t know why. Age, or somebody straight up killed him, like Dr. King.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Snow Day in Chucktown

Current state of affairs during our "snow day"

We're having a snow day here in Charleston. There's no actual snow**, but that hasn't stopped Charlestonians from buying up all the bread* in the grocery store and closing every school and office we possibly can. The Weather Channel has camped out on campus.

Here at the Francis-McCann household, we've busied ourselves with a variety of snow day activities.
Cate, in her natural state

  • Frances is standing watch at the window and tracking the storm on her phone, waiting desperately for snow. I fear her wrath if this turns out to be plain old freezing rain.
  • Cate has happily watched Digimon videos and read books all day, wrapped in a blanket, and curled up in her Papa's chair. This, I'm sure, is her version of heaven.
  • Brian, who will happily tell you countless*** stories of being a cold and hungry soldier in various places around the globe, has spent the day mocking Charlestonians. He also, inexplicably, has decided to wear a sweater vest and an ascot to do the dishes.
  • And I, despite the fact that this is supposed to be a snow day, spent most of it working. Campus may be closed, but email and phones are working.
Work and school are closed tomorrow as well. I suppose we'll busy ourselves with board games and watching the dismay of local weather folk as they come to terms with the anticlimax of Winter Storm 2014****.

And here's a snowman, made by our own Cate McCann.

* Why a run on bread? Will sandwiches protect us from freezing rain?
**To be fair, the snow isn't expected until this evening.
***It is truly amazing how many places he's been hungry and cold. And drunk.
****Literally what they're calling it on the local news.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Beyonce, Feminism, and Real Black Girls*

*First things first. Everybody with a keyboard and a brain has weighed on Beyonce's feminism. This post is not about that.  And, for our purposes, "real black girls" refers to black girls and women not employed by or enrolled in a university.

I'm teaching Black Women Writers this semester and, as I usually do, I began the course with a Beyonce video. I like inviting students to the study of black women's writing through Beyonce because the kind of public conversations black women intellectuals have about her echo those I want to have with my students about black women's literature: what is at stake int he representations of black women? is there a safe space for the narration of black female sexuality? is the mammy/jezebel/sapphire triad the best critical framework for understanding black female cultural production? Getting the students to consider these questions, initially, about someone whose work they are already familiar with eases them into the conversation, and demonstrates that these are the kinds of questions they are likely already asking of black female cultural production (even if they don't know it).

This year, Beyonce very helpfully dropped a new album, complete with visuals and drama and a feminist sample, putting her in direct conversation with the black feminist theory I use to frame my course. Everybody (I mean everybody) had something to say about Beyonce's feminism, but this post isn't about that conversation.  My students watched the video, read some of this posts, and had a great conversation about it this morning. They did a really good job of discussing "Flawless" in serious, academic ways.  They seemed to read "Flawless" as a definitive statement of feminism by Beyonce, and a challenge demanding a response. And respond they did. While they weren't ready to strip her of her feminist card. many were deeply suspicious of Bey's feminism, agreeing with Real Colored Girl's assessment.

They aren't the only ones, though, who read "Flawless" as an invitation. In the last few days I've had conversations with my 13-year old and my stylist about Beyonce and feminism.

My 13-year old happily calls herself a feminist, is deeply appalled by people who don't consider themselves feminist, and understands feminism to meant the fight to ensure that girls get to do and be whatever they can dream up. She is also a girl who is deeply suspicious of pretty (despite being a knockout herself, and knowing that). She sees no value in pretty other than your own sense of fabulousness and avoids any endeavor that values pretty over other things. So she was conflicted about "Flawless." She loved Beyonce's fierceness, her confidence that clearly stated "I don't give a fuck." She loved that Beyonce acknowledged that feminism might be something we should all sign up for. "I woke up like this" might be her new mantra. She did say, though, that kind of confidence is easy if you look like Beyonce. And that pretty shouldn't have to mean shorts made out of fishnet.

My stylist was thrilled to talk about Beyonce's new album, particularly the feminist stuff, particularly this video. My stylist wouldn't call herself a feminist. She thinks feminism means she shouldn't want a husband and she really wants to be married. She, like my daughter, loved B's confidence in this video. She loved the fishnet, the sexuality, the idea that some days you're just really feeling yourself and other folks need to know that. Beyonce's strut makes her want to strut. And she likes the idea that she can strut and be married.

For my kid and my stylist, Beyonce's invitation wasn't invitation to argue the definitions of feminism. Both of them are trying to figure out how to be healthy, happy, free black girls in the world and they're reading "Flawless" as an invitation to explore feminism as a possible path to happy, healthy freedom.  Their engagement with Beyonce, with feminism, is not academic but it is real.

Monday, January 06, 2014

What We're Reading (and Watching)--Jan. 5, 2014

Brian's still enjoying Two Fronts by Harry Turtledove. Apparently the Republicans are up to mind-numbingly dumb shenanigans in this alternate history. Not unlike in this actual history. He's also apparently loving 1920: America's Great War by Robert Conroy, another alternate history, I'm pretty sure.

Frances is finishing up the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. After doing her very best to watch all the modern Dr. Who episodes over the break, she's now moved on to binge-reading this series. I haven't read it, but she loves it, which means, I'm sure, it's full of teenagers in mortal peril and useless/clueless adults.

Cate discovered Pokemon manga and checked out a katrillion books over the weekend. There's also Warriors manga, as it turns out.

I'm prepping for class, so I've read nothing but syllabi and assignments for the last few days. I did check out Longbourne by Jo Baker, a romance novel about the servants in the Bennet household, set against the backdrop of the events of Pride and Prejudice. We'll see if I get a chance to read it before I have to return it to the library.

Did I mention that I finished The Awesome Girl's Guide to Dating Fabulous Men? Don't let the title fool you. It's not really about dating, although there is dating in it. It's about 4 twenty-something black women living and loving and working in L.A.  And it was amazing. Better than amazing. It was refreshing--a novel full of black women that wasn't about pathology or trauma or lifting as we climb. It was funny and heartbreaking and challenging and so so good. I highly recommend it. If I'd read it sooner, I'd be teaching it in Black Women Writers this semester.

We've also seen a few movies over the break.

Brian and I highly recommend American Hustle (and not just because my movie boyfriend Jeremy Renner is in it, though that alone is worth the price of admission). Well-acted, funny and poignant. Jennifer Lawrence steals the show, though Amy Adams' breasts put up a good fight.

Frances saw The Hobbit and, like Tolkien, appreciates any fantasy that has the decency to include a dragon. She did say it was long, though.

The family saw and ADORED Frozen. Not only does it pass the Bechdel test, it does so in a way that surprises and delights. Plus the song the older sister sings at the end of the first act is killer. I kind of want it to be my new theme song (not that I have an old one).

And finally, we watched Turbo on DVD.  It was exactly what you'd expect from a racing movie about snails.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What We're Reading--Christmas Eve 2013

Cate is still plugging away at Warriors books. I've been reading this one to her every night. It's basically a little bio of all the cats (the major ones, I guess) in the series. It means I get to find out the fate of some of the characters (Fireheart!), but it also means I now know just how many of them die.

Frances is slowly making her way through Batman and Philosophy. She says the sentences are like the Sydney Opera House, by which she seems to mean fancy and impressive. She seems to like this about the book.

Brian's moved on to a Robert Jordan book I can't remember the name of. I really should pay more attention. Don't tell him.

I gave up on the Sabrina Jeffries book. It was an interesting enough story, but it was also the third in a three-book series and I felt like I was missing a lot. Maybe I'll go back to the first in the series. I did read, and now highly recommend, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. It was an amazing coming of age tale that absolutely nailed fandom and first love and family drama. So so good, that book. 

I'm on to The Awesome Girl's Guide to Dating Extraordinary Men by Ernessa T. Carter, which I'm also having a good time with. It features black girls who went to Smith and have purple mohawks and make their living as life coaches. And it's funny and well-written. I'm pleasantly surprised by this book.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What We're Reading--Dec. 15, 2013

The number of books in our house is ridiculous. Truly. Even if you cut us some slack because one of us is a lit professor and one of us works in a bookstore, you might still conclude that we have a problem. Though, all things being equal, it's a good problem to have.

Frances is making her way through The Hobbit (she wants to see the movie and we have a 'read the book before you see the movie rule,' though we don't enforce it like we used to) and Batman and Philosophy. Frances understands philosophy to be a discipline in which people ask questions all day. A book of questions about Batman struck her as the coolest thing ever. She's enjoying it, even though it has "big words and weird sentences."

Cate has discovered the Warriors series. Since there are 6783046 books in this series, this will keep her going for a while. She's reading them all out of order and, as per usual, I only ever read a random chapter out loud to her. Consequently, I know enough about the plot to be incredibly worried about Fireheart and ThunderClan, but not enough to get any resolution. And since Cate will NEVER EVER tell me what happens at the end of the books she's reading, I fear I will never know the fate of these cats.

Brian is reading Book Five of the Harry Turtledove series, The War That Came Early. I'm pretty sure that's what he's reading. I could be wrong. Don't all Harry Turtledove books seem like the exact same book?

I'm reading a Sabrina Jeffries novel, One Night With a Prince. I just finished Sarah MacLean's latest, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished. So good. I highly recommend it and the other books in the Rules of Scoundrels series. And I'm about to start Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde's "biomythography," which I haven't read before and I'm teaching next semester. Good times.