31 July 2006

Woman In the Mirror

I’ve been thinking about body image a lot in the past few weeks. It seems to be a recurring theme in my life right now. I used to convince myself that I didn’t care, that I was who I was and I couldn’t change genetics, that there were so many better things to do with my time I didn’t want to spend it obsessing about myself. The truth is, I very much cared then and care now and spent a large part of my time mentally running away from my body.

Genetics did play a huge part. I weighed 180+ lbs, was 5’8”, had a 38D chest, and wore a women’s 12-14 the fall I started 6th grade. I looked like a full-grown woman before most of my friends had started puberty. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn't look like anyone I knew and definitely not like anyone in Seventeen. I was so Other that I ignored it. I had always been good at academics, been amongst the top in every test and could do quite well with relatively little effort, but this year was the first I remembered actually focusing on it. I would obviously never be successful in any attempt at popularity because a) Esprit didn’t make anything in my size and b) I stood out in all the wrong ways. Also, my brief foray into acting didn’t turn out so well. So I focused on the one thing I could be successful at. It is the first year I remember being referred to as The Walking Encyclopedia, a title I sardonically embraced.

It really didn’t get much better in junior high or high school. I did very well in school, I had friends, my parents were loving and supportive, but my body didn’t change and my refusal to deal with it didn’t help. Food was a consolation and I steadily gained weight. I still remember the ugly reality of surreptitiously standing on the scale in the girl’s locker room in 9th grade and watching the dial climb to 198. I was almost 200lbs. That was how much my 6'0" father weighed. I couldn't deal with that kind of information, so I retreated further into my mental world where it was more important that I was number 1 in my history class than what I looked like in the mirror.

College was a little better. I actually lost weight because of all the walking and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like bursting into tears after shopping for clothes. I still remember justifying over-spending at Old Navy because I could actually wear their size 16 jeans. I went on a study abroad to London my Junior year and between my room at the top of 6 flights of stairs, the walking, my preferring to spend money on things rather than food, and an upper respiratory infection that lasted for two weeks, I shrunk to a size 12. It was elating. I was giving away clothes to girls who were larger than I was. That had never happened to me before.

I had thought, being in my late 20s, that I would be through with all this heartache over size. I have been eating better, healthier. I occasionally go to the gym. I’m slowly moving toward my goal weight. But this weekend the angst of the past 15 years came to a head, I went to see my roommate in a fashion show. And paraded before me, in one of the largest disconnects of modern American society, was a stream of size 2-6 models wearing the latest in adolescent fashion. In one of the write-ups the shops had provided as a running commentary, it boasted that it carried sizes 0-18 and XS to XXL. Considering that the majority of Americans range in the L-XL categories, it is no wonder so many girls have eating disorders. This size is still the exception to the fashion rule. Fashion needs to catch up.

Shopping after the show wasn’t fun. Shopping is still a prickly experience for me. Most of the time I can do it without recalling the tears and the panic and the desperation of those adolescent afternoons spent in a Maurices dressing room. Saturday was different. In most stores I went into, I felt vaguely claustrophobic. Even chains I usually have no problem with, like GAP didn’t feel comfortable. And there are stores I just don’t venture into, mostly because they don’t fit my aesthetic, but also because I just don’t feel like I belong in them. And sadly, just walking into Buckle with Miss Parker, so she could find a pair of jeans that fit, made me want to burst into tears. I had to get out. I couldn’t spend time in a store that didn’t even carry my size. So I wandered around the Provo Towne Center until I could control it. My question is, does this ever end? Will there ever be a time when I’m completely comfortable in my own skin, when the pain of the past doesn’t overthrow the present? Will I ever not be discouraged by the fact I am not and never will be a size 6? Will I ever be able to stop holding myself to a false idea of perfection? And is the fact that I'm actually recognizing and confronting this issue a positive step?

18 July 2006

The Happiest Place on Earth

This summer has seemed irrationally long, even though it is only half over, and due to my brother's wedding in April and my aunt's wedding in August, my vacation time was used up. At least all the days I haven't earmarked for Christmas. So I thought this would be a long hot, uneventful summer. But then my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, and I decided that since my aunt's wedding is on a Friday, we were going to spend that Saturday at DisneyLand. I can't tell you how giddily excited I am about this. Now that the plane tickets are purchased and vacation days scheduled, it all seems real. I've never been to DisneyLand. I did go to Disney World when I was 3, but that was far too long ago. So here is to reveling in childhood and enjoying an impromptu family vacation!

05 July 2006

The End of Innocence

Minor Spoilers - Read At Your Own Risk!

I finally saw Superman Returns yesterday. It seemed a fitting way to spend an overly hot afternoon and wile away the hours before the real festivities started. I was still slightly conflicted, even after hearing mostly good reviews from critics and friends alike. I got off to a rocky start when, after hearing Marlon Brando as Jor-El, hearing the John Williams score, I did not see the oh-so-familiar names of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder whoosh past on the starry background and felt like crying. But I soon found it entertaining and thought-provoking. So here is what worked for me and what didn't, and of course, the thoughts it provoked.

What Worked

First, accolades must be given to those in charge of the art and set direction. The Art Deco with a modern twist was a perfect fit. It paid homage to the 1930s origin of Superman while creating a seamless modern world that the audience could recognize. It was simultaneously familiar and other, making Metropolis and the world of Superman believable and complete.

I think being the person picked to wear the tights would be extremely daunting, especially in the wake of Christopher Reeve, but Brandon Routh did well. He made Clark Kent and Superman separate entities, but you could still see a bit of each in the other. So either the casting agent had an excellent eye or Mr. Routh has a great future ahead of him. Or both.

I have never cared for Kevin Spacey as an actor, having never seen most of the films people laud him for. However, he made an excellent Lex Luthor, balancing the megalomania with the almost tangible sense of insecurity that drives it. He made a plausible villain in both his climb to victory and his fall to defeat.

I have long enjoyed watching Parker Posey do what she does best -- kooky supporting characters. But I think she did an extraordinary job as Lex's hanger-on. Her change from obedient follower to instrument in defeat felt validated by each scene she was in. It wasn't just the sight of a handsome, suffering Superman, or the loss of someone important in the impending mass destruction. Rather, it was about recognizing the sheer evil of the whole plan. She made Kitty believable as someone who would follow Lex to the end of the earth, literally, but would still have the iota of courage to undermine him.

What Didn't Work

The Lois Lane with whom I am familiar is a ball of energy harnessed by a steely determination. The Lois Lane on the screen was not. Kate Bosworth did not portray the woman who risks life and limb for a story, but rather one that has a keen nose for news. There is a difference. There was no sense of immediacy in most, if not all, of her scenes. Lois Lane moves at 120 mph to everyone else's 60. Here, she maxed out at maybe 75 mph. For example, if one were sneaking a smoke, one would be more agitated than resigned. And this movie's Lois Lane seemed more resigned than agitated about pretty much everything.

Additionally, I had issues with the whole Lois Lane subplot. Why does she need a child? She could have been equally upset about the disappearance of Superman without the driving force of an on-hold fiance and a child. Again, she played this, or was directed to, with an air of resignation, which seems so completely un-Lois like.

Finally, the unavoidable Christ references. The Superman mythos has long been compared to the Christ story, but some of the images and textual references were so blatant, it took me out of the movie long enough to say "Are you kidding me?"

Final Thoughts

I really did enjoy this movie and would like to see it again. It tackled the iconic story well and probably restarted the franchise. I found its themes intriguing. The one that got me thinking the most was that of our modern twist on hero worship. Throughout the film, Perry White wants to know everything about Superman in order to sell papers. He doesn't care what it is good, bad, or fatal. If it sells, it is gold. In a world where weekly the heroes of past and present are dissected and trotted out for inspection, do we recognize the damage we do to them and to ourselves? If we can't believe in them, even for a moment, can we ever believe in ourselves? This theme is picked up and carried through to its end by Lex Luthor's visceral pleasure in watching his goons beat Superman to a bloody pulp. He seemed to enjoy it even more than when he was participating in the beating. Do we get pleasure from watching the great be torn down because it makes us feel greater, or because it absolves us of our guilt for not being so? If the great have weaknesses, weaknesses that destroy, does that validate our mediocrity? And if we can't uphold greatness, is it the end of innocence?

03 July 2006

Book Recommendation

I found The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue on the bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble Friday night. I was drawn to the lovely simplicity of the cover art and intrigued by the blurb on the book jacket. And at $4.95, the price was perfect for my non-existent book budget. (My financial aspiration is to one day be well-off enough to buy whatever book strikes my fancy.) I was expecting a nice summer read.

What I discovered was a beautifully sculpted work that follows the after-life of a 20's Flapper following her tragic death in 1929 and her intersection with the modern world. Its themes of life, death, love, choice, and regret flow through the multiple strands of the story and seem at times like a philosophical text hidden in narrative. (I used that sentence to describe the book to Miss Parker, to which she replied "Pretentious much?") The book isn't without its flaws and the narrator isn't always likable, but it did keep me reading well into the wee hours of the morning on several occasions, including last night despite the fact I had to be to work at 7:30 am.

I think it is a great pick for those of you who like substance in your summer reading. Especially since you can pick it up for $5.