Ever since I started as a monthly columnist for The Chapel Hill News I have found myself paying more attention to tidbits of news in ways that I didn’t before. Weeks ago, I randomly came across several news stories about actress Pamela Anderson turning 45. I’m turning 45 this year, so I was curious about her insights on aging. As you’ll see below, I was quite surprised by what she said and her statements led me to ruminate about issues of beauty and self-esteem. Everyone has something to teach us!
Me, you and Pamela Anderson
By Michele Tracy Berger
I had forgotten about television star Pamela Anderson until she recently showed up in the news, last month, talking about turning 45.
Pamela Anderson is the actress who appeared in Playboy and “Baywatch.” She held a special place in 1990s popular culture, simultaneously serving as a great American “sex symbol” and as a contemporary joke about the excesses of cosmetic surgery and the stereotypical Hollywood blonde. The media fascination with Anderson subtly reminded other women of an unobtainable standard of beauty.
In an interview Anderson admitted: “I don’t know if I ever really felt beautiful. I always feel like I don’t – I don’t, really.”
This comment made me pause and reconsider my assumptions about her life. I am actually saddened by Anderson’s confession. It is another reminder that judging ourselves against Hollywood’s standards of beauty is a losing and self-defeating battle.
As a women’s studies professor, I have see how today’s media’s messages about beauty affect young women’s self-esteem.
One of the classes I teach is “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies,” usually enrolling 300 women and men. One of the two most powerful sections that carries big “aha” moments, for students, are the weeks on “women’s bodies and the beauty industry” and “body image” (the other is the section on gender and violence).
I teach a variety of materials to explore the research, theory and everyday realities of “beauty politics.” We read from the classic bestseller “The Beauty Myth,” by Naomi Wolf, on how the diet and cosmetic industries help to heighten women’s insecurities and dislike of their bodies and how unrealistic demands about beauty can act as a type of social control.
We read Jessica Weiner’s memoir, “A Very Hungry Girl,” about her experience “hungering” to be someone else (slim and beautiful) – so much so, she found herself with an eating disorder at the age of 12. We discuss how Western notions of beauty feed into the pressure some Asian and Asian American women feel to have “double eyelid” surgery, to change the shape of their eyes, and the lucrative global industry of skin-lightening products.
Students are genuinely shocked when they read excerpts from the 2007 Report by the American Psychological Association’s Taskforce on “The Sexualization of Girls.” The report found that girls as young as 7 are exposed to advertising (toys, music, magazines and televisions) that encourages them to be “hot” or “sexy.”
We also read supermodel and writer Veronica Webb’s essay, “How does a Supermodel do Feminism?” that argues models are neither victims of the fashion industry nor all powerful entrepreneurs, thus adding complexity to understanding fashion industry. By analyzing the ongoing controversy of whether or not Beyoncé lightens her skin to how Christina Hendricks, Ashley Judd and Courtney Love respond to being deemed overweight by the press to the way in which actresses over 40 are constantly photoshopped to look younger (and slimmer), we examine how celebrities navigate the ongoing pressures of beauty politics.
In both the lecture and sections (taught by the teaching assistants), we make space for personal accounts to emerge: the student who reveals her mother’s obsession with dieting and its impact on both their lives, the lesbian student who is searching to find a self-defined standard of beauty, male students who disclose having sisters or girlfriends with an eating disorder.
When I compare my experiences in making sense of beauty norms as a teenager during the ’80s, I know they are not all that different to what my students face now. I still remember weighing 98 lbs, in high school, and thinking I was fat (!) and that I was too curvy. Brooke Shields and Christine Brinkley were the dominant icons of beauty during my youth. I still remember the feeling of elation when I saw Whitney Houston on the cover of Seventeen – their first black model.
We discuss the success of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, the visibility of plus-size models, the diversity of CoverGirl ads that include Ellen DeGeneres and Queen Latifa. Students discover that hard-fought changes in media representations of women have often been due to activism by second-wave and third-wave feminists. By the end of the section students are better able to see that they have a stake in coming up with their own definition of beauty, becoming media literate, and an educated consumer and that an obsession with dominant beauty norms is not a natural condition.
Pamela Anderson says she’s getting more comfortable with liking her body and her own way of being glamorous. I’m glad that getting older has given her a new perspective. But, that’s not nearly enough for the rest of us.
A society that can breed feelings of antipathy toward the physical body, for half the population, is one that is in need of change. We need inspired actresses and actors and other creative folk in Hollywood to continue pushing back on unobtainable standards of beauty. We also need consistent consumer pressure. But, that is all outer-directed work; we also need to undertake inner-directed work. We need to learn to love ourselves in spite of those images. And, that takes individual and collective practice.
Column reprinted with permission. Originally published on May 11: http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2013/05/11/76218/me-you-and-pamela-anderson.html
Today is the last day of April and the last day of my celebration of National Poetry Month. I want to thank all the writers who enthusiastically joined in this celebration by submitting poems and reflecting on poetry’s imprint in their hearts. I hope that you have enjoyed meeting them during the last few weeks. I am now making space for more poetry in my life, both to write it and read it. Today, Lynne Favreau, delivers up a poem about a special friend that many of us knew through the online community of She Writes.
Captain Candace, Flight 102, Cleared for Landing
Some patients find courage in the fight
battling back the body’s bedevilment.
Imagining the mutations and invaders to overcome;
recruiting natural defenses along with a battalion
of pharmacological soldiers to advance,
urged to the front lines by IV and portals.
Others seek peace through inner portals,
beckoning the spirits to join the fight.
They summon prayers to arrest the advance,
sing their appeals hoping for the bedevilment
of attacking carcinomas. The insidious battalion-
proliferating replicants, to be solemnly overcome.
Somewhere between, she and I overcome.
We laugh at collapsed veins and clogged portals.
Words we wield into a battalion
distressing some who fear the fight;
our irreverence be their bedevilment,
yet humor sustains us while we advance.
It is clear our paths diverge when symptoms advance
beyond an earlier prognosis. We are overcome.
For one, continuing treatment leads to nothing but bedevilment.
Once eliminated, the possibilities close portals.
We’re armed with resignation, the fight
called for mercy and dispersal of the battalions.
Cries widespread across the battalions
of friends; my liege, I beg we advance,
to stage a final muster but not fight.
Rather a trove of love and peace overcome
to take comfort in a last hurrah. Portals
closed, we reflect on our bedevilment.
The inevitable outcome, to our bedevilment-
cancer that can not be over run by battalions
of drugs, nor breached through vital portals.
We will respect though regret its advance
and shepherd you home, not overcome
by grief but joy in the remembered fight.
Your legacy of words will advance
and gives this writer courage to overcome,
in your name, in this fight.
Author’s Reflection: I belong to the wonderfully supportive online writer’s community, She Writes. One of my first relationships to bloom there was between Candace Coghill and myself since we were both undergoing chemotherapy and shared a similar sense of humor about the whole thing. I completed treatment Jan 4, 2012, and remain cancer free. Candace passed away, Sept 12, 2012.
I’ve been writing since my first college class — English Comp 101 in 2011. I was thirty-five, and had spent a lifetime, up until then, believing I couldn’t put two words together. Since then, I’ve graduated from Union Institute and University-Montpelier VT with a B.A. in Writing and Literature. I am mainly a novelist, but like to challenge myself by writing short stories, the occasional esoteric poem, and overly-long ranty blog post only the most loyal of souls brave to read.
I can’t believe we’re almost at the end of April and of National Poetry Month! I thought I’d take today to share one of my poems.
Jackie’s Feathers of 1982
Furnace red feather earrings
Twirl at the end of Jackie’s ears
Our eyes travel the shape of her
but miss the incandescent core
Me, lost in the storm of girlhood
Jackie, directing her hormonal lava
She dared to wear canary colored feathers in her hair
Iridescent plumes clipped to jeans
She was curious about her girl slink, funk and body trembles
Inside out she lived, as if her vulva slid across the floor, ahead of her
Boys wanted to possess and discard
Girls melted into the secretions of their own bodies
hunting for wisdom
finding Avon tips and Ultra Slimfast instea
Ticking time bombs, they surfaced
crippled, inchoate and mean
What secret relationship do women have with feathers?
In fanciful boas and gravity-defying rippling headdresses
Who gave us these poor imitations of grand flight?
And, told us to look the other way while men got bombs, politics and Viagra?
behind my building
I found one of her earrings
Teardrop shape, a blue and carnelian frayed feather kissed with gold leaf
I thought Jackie’s feathers could protect her
As love and attention should protects us all
Did her boyfriend entice her to the roof that night?
Did he know what waited for her in the dark?
Does he see her shadow every time he reaches for a woman?
I heard it was ten boys
Who made her pay for
for exciting them,
for not roller-skating with them
for having a big butt
for everything and nothing
They threw her off the roof
I shall hold this earring
And grieve for our lost girlhoods
Author’s Reflection: This poem was written in 2012 for the ‘Vision and Voice’ event at the Joyful Jewel Gallery that I have described here. I walked into the store and saw the wonderful pairs of feather earrings by Marty Broda and a cascade of images (and memories of girls from my youth who wore feathers) came to me. I usually write poems about situations that anger and frustrate me and themes of girls’ and women’s sexuality (and the repression or thwarting of), tend to make it into my work. I envision this poem as part of a series of poems exploring girlhood in the 1980s.
Michele Tracy Berger is a professor, a blogger, a creativity expert and a pug-lover. She’s passionate about all of these ways of being in the world and plays with the order that she avidly pursues them. Her writing has appeared in The Chapel Hill News, Ms., The Feminist Wire, various zines, and Western North Carolina Woman.
I know newly minted novelist, Olga Godim from the ‘Blooming Late’ group on She Writes. ‘Blooming Late’ is a support group for women who started their writing seriously after age 40 and have hopes still of a long and illustrious career in writing. We are a lively, opinionated and supportive online community of over three hundred members. In celebration of National Poetry Month, Olga tried her hand translating poems from Russian into English. She found this work both fun and daunting.
The first poem is a translation of a humorous song from a Russian
children’s movie based on the story of Pinocchio. Unfortunately, I
don’t remember the name of the Russian poet who wrote it. It’s an
ultimate conman’s chant.
As long as misers yearn for gold,
Your luck will permanently hold.
When coins gleam,
The greedy dream
And do what they are told.
As long as fools remain around,
Your opportunities abound.
You spin a tale
They slave for you spellbound.
As long as braggarts multiply,
Your fortune grows on the sly.
Laugh in your sleeve
And squeeze the wretches dry.
The second poem is a translation of an aria from the French opera
“Faust” by Charles Gounod. It debuted in Paris in 1859. The story is
based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but I never read it in
the original German; only heard the aria in Russian. I guess, my
translation is ‘second-hand’ or even ‘third-hand’, as someone else had
already translated it from German to French, and then from French to
Russian. I’m not sure how close to the original my version is.
Probably not at all.
In the times of the heroes, people prayed for the gold.
Nations fought in the terrible wars for the gold.
Blood was spilled for the gold,
Cities razed for the gold.
Golden monster devoured the innocent world.
In the times of progress, people pray for the gold.
Voices rise in the glorious hymns for the gold.
Honor breached for the gold,
Love betrayed for the gold.
Everything can be bought, everything can be sold.
Author Reflection: In both poems I tried to keep
to the meter and rhyme scheme of the originals. As I never wrote
poetry before, not even in my youth, this was a very interesting
exercise for me. The result is not a great poetry but an attempt to
transfer the feel of the poems from one language to another.
I’m a writer and journalist from Vancouver, Canada. My articles
appear regularly in local newspapers. My short fiction credits include
multiple short stories, published in magazines, and a novel Lost and
Found in Russia.
Mariah Wheeler is a creative spark in the small, but vibrant town of Pittsboro, North Carolina where I reside. Her Joyful Jewel Gallery is in the heart of downtown Pittsboro and has become a destination to explore, marvel and buy works from over 150 local artists. Her deep passion for art and supporting artists has enriched the community.
Writers always need fresh ways to tap into their imaginations. Three years ago, Mariah, along with poet Sheridan Bushnell, conceived of the idea of inviting writers to come to the gallery and write about art. Their idea developed into the much anticipated annual ‘Vision and Voice’ event where writers are asked to read what they wrote after their visit and the corresponding artists are asked to display their objects and say a few words about the art-making process.
Engaging with art objects, in this event, provides a unique opportunity to stretch one’s aesthetic sensibilities. I’ve participated in ‘Vision and Voice’ since the beginning and each time I’ve been amazed at how focusing on a work of art challenges my own assumptions about what I can write. In looking closely at a piece of art, I find myself asking different questions (about plot, character and setting) than when I usually sit down to write. The ‘Vision and Voice’ event also supports an enriching cross-fertilization of ideas and collaborative engagement between writers and artists that doesn’t often happen.
Mariah’s poem ‘A Hat is Better than a TV’ was inspired by hats made by Brooks, a fiber artist. Brooks makes all kinds of textile wonders and sells them at the Joyful Jewel. Mariah modeled the hats while Brooks read the poem. The audience loved it! I’m so glad that Mariah is letting me pass on the sweetness, whimsy and insight of this poem to you.
A Hat is Better Than A TV
I am invited to Kazi Jane’s 2nd birthday party, and
I’m in the pink along with:
Cotton Candy Kisses
Giggles, Games, and Balloons
Glow Worm Tea Cakes
A Grandmother’s Love
The military calls me, and
I’m at the ready:
The medals have already been earned and attached
I can divert attention at the last minute
(the enemy is dazzled & confused)
Hiding in trees or in a meadow is possible
I am just too cute to shoot
The Queen is found to be an imposter, and
I visit Buckingham:
A Palace Guard (in a similar hat) recognizes me as Queen
A stately fascinator is ready for me to wear after my coronation,
and it has room for the crown jewels on the crown
I feel like Dudley Moore as Amadeus when riding in the parade
I decide to safari in Africa, and
my camouflage allows:
Closeness with elephants and giraffes
A gazelle’s invitation to dance
Frolicking in the dirt (which remains invisible on my head)
A bird to find a nesting site complete with fuzz for the nest
I’m in my own hat, and
standing out in the crowd, I:
Bring fun to strangers by eliciting their smiles
Know that blue matches my eyes and I feel pretty.
Am reminded of Christmas tinsel and break out in song
Have a bad hair day and still look good
I say “A Hat is Better Than a TV” because:
Imagination has a prop ready for action
It can go with me, in a useful way, when I’m outdoors
I can take it with me wherever I go
Because Dreams accumulate underneath a hat
and nothing happens underneath a TV
Author Reflection: I am proprietor of the Joyful Jewel, where every day I see the great beauty that local hands guided by an undefinable muse are creating every day.
These hats by Brooks make me laugh and get my imagination going. They do the same for any patron who tries one on.
You never know if the person sitting next to you in a writing workshop will change your life. In February 2011, I sat next to Robin Whitten. We had seen each other once before at a different writing workshop, but didn’t have the chance to interact. In the 2011 workshop, the participants were asked to identify new forms of support for our writing. I had not been in a writing group for almost a decade and didn’t think I was looking for one. [Yup, I was pretty much into suffering alone.] During the afternoon, I got to know Robin and her interest in speculative fiction (which made my heart sing!), and she casually mentioned that she had created a writing group that met monthly. A few weeks later, she invited me to attend. They checked me out and I checked them out (as I had been in my share of dysfunctional writing groups and didn’t want a repeat experience). After ten minutes, however, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this group. The group (we call ourselves ‘the writing women’) is well organized, well-run, is serious about writing, knows how to provide constructive feedback, and is incredibly supportive. I’ve found my creative ‘tribe’! What a life changer! We have become good friends as well as trusted colleagues.
I also came to discover (and marvel at) Robin’s incredible and prolific talent. She is dedicated to the craft of writing and her creativity seems endless. I’ve had the good fortune to take several writing classes with Robin and continue to be amazed at her ability to take a writing prompt given to us one week and then return with a fully formed short story the next week. As I hoped she would, she decided to try her hand at poetry for my ongoing celebration. And, she wrote not one but two poems! Fearless and unstoppable, she’s a model for all of us.
Something startles in the night
Clouds cover the moon
A veil of darkness fills the empty place
Where I can see, there is nothing
Hope is lost, no one will see
Blackness fades to gray
Stillness covers all
Bending over him, I smell the familiar scent of death.
I inhale deeply as it penetrates my being.
I search his face, hoping to capture the soul that I knew.
He was alive then, and he was mine.
Who’s is he now?
I’m not witty and I can’t rhyme
But when Michele asked me to write a poem
I took the time
To sit and study verse
I suppose what I’ve written can’t be much worse.
I love to write so any challenge only adds to the game
Of creating, writing, and naming names.
Robin Whitten is a Physician’s Assistant working in family practice. She enjoys writing science fiction and has finished her third book, a coming of age story full of shapeshifting and traveling to other worlds. Her story ‘A Drop in Time’ appeared in recent issue of the Red Clay Review: The Literary & Arts Magazine of Central Carolina Community College (CCCC).
Most of the writers participating in my celebration of National Poetry Month do not consider themselves poets. I’ve enjoyed seeing how they approach words from a new angle. Today, however, I am delighted to welcome Mary L. Barnard, someone who has been writing poetry for a long time. In May, she will receive a Certificate in Creative Writing from Central Carolina Community College’s (CCCC) Creative Writing Program. She’s part of the inaugural class.
Mary L. Barnard
MEA MAXIMA CULPA IN BLUE
with Orange crayon
I printed M-A-R-Y on
the window sill, porcelain tub,
oven door, kitchen sink
short fat letters
stub of Crayola
picked for boldness Orange
spoke for itself without words
parent nor priest nor nun
its place in nature
sun at daybreak, flow of lava,
Grand Canyon, fish eggs,
eye of owl and fox
I imagine my mother
with damp sponge
and can of Comet
if I had chosen Blue
calm and quiet
have come easy?
white cloud in Azure sky
minnows silvering Cobalt waves
SORRY SORRY SORRY
June 10, 2012
My brother Bob’s birthday
Author Reflection: inspired by prompt #6 from Steve Kowit’s book: Recall something dangerous you did when you were young.
Mary L. Barnard, a Chathamite forever, plans to write poems from her little acre as long as …
Her poem ‘Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant-SW Wake County, NC’ appeared in a recent issue of the Red Clay Review: The Literary & Arts Magazine of CCCC