Two national magazines have published articles about my Pinup Workshops and Photoshoots so far in 2008! Curve Magazine published an article chronicling the adventures of three staffers as they participate in a private workshop for their Jan/Feb issue.
A few days ago, a friend in an online social website sent me a message telling me that he’d read about me in the April issue of Skin&Ink Magazine. This was a little surprising to me, because I had originally expected the article to run in the March 2007 issue – a full year ago! You can read the article here (sorry, I don’t know how to make it into one PDF document): Page 1, 2, 3 and 4. It is a great article, I think. For some reason though, whether due to misquotes or changed ideas in the year and a half since I interviewed for this article, a couple of my quotes don’t really express my perspective on a couple of touchy subjects, so I’d like to expand and clarify what I think about two subjects mentioned: very thin fashion models and pornography.
First of all, I don’t think fashion models are personally responsible for the eating disorder epidemic that is taking place in the United States, accompanied by misogyny and body hating from both men and women. Fashion models have as little control over their genes and overall body type as the rest of us do, and they are under considerable pressure from their industry to maintain extremely low body weights in order to get work.
And THAT is where the problem comes from. The industry pressure. To be fair, the fashion industry has recently started making efforts to change this. In the last few years, some countries have banned models that they deem unhealthily underweight (read about it here), and Jean Paul Gaultier recently featured a plus size model, Velvet D’Amour on the runway in Paris. You can read a couple of opinions about Gaultier’s gesture here and here.
I’m not sure what Gaultier’s intention was or whether there will be any real changes in the fashion industry standards, and to be honest, I think that in recent years more of this body scrutiny and criticism has come from Hollywood and the tabloids than from Paris or Milan. Tabloid magazine headlines are constantly screaming about celebrity weight fluctuations – whether real or imagined – as if they are really national news. Actresses are constantly attacked and pressured, which makes them lose more and more weight to keep up with expectations, and then the women who read these magazines and hear these reports compare themselves with the supposedly “fat” actresses, and translate the criticism into self-hate. Enough already!
This is what I love about the modern burlesque resurgence, and one of the things I love most about the pinup movement as well. These communities are creating a space for women (and men!) to come together in all of their shapes, sizes, ages and races and be seen as sexy, powerful and beautiful! Pinup artists like Coop and Big Al celebrate voluptuous women. Women of all body types and ages come to my burlesque classes and pinup workshops, and start to feel good about their bodies. Not in a few months when they lose 15 pounds. Now. Just as they are. I have heard other burlesque performers talk about how participating in the burlesque scene has given them this confidence, too.
Along with her identity as an Asian-America, Cho has struggled with her identity as a woman, particularly her personal struggles with eating disorders. As a young woman growing up in her family, Cho was susceptible to sexist messages that told her she had to be “small, petite, and skinny” to be beautiful. As a result, Cho developed a devastating eating disorder, and went through dramatic periods of anorexia and bulimia. After being told to lose weight while working on her television show All-American Girl, Cho starved herself for several weeks, eventually becoming hospitalized for kidney failure.
A breakthrough for Cho came when she saw burlesque being performed for the first time. “I was so amazed when I saw the performance. There were women with all different body types, ages, races, and you could tell they were so happy and comfortable with their bodies,” she said. “I was crying when I saw it, it really cured me.” For Cho, who performed burlesque on her tour “The Sensuous Woman,” burlesque was not about sexualizing herself as much as it was about emancipating her from the idea that her body is a prison. “We are so conditioned to a certain look that models have, and people think that’s the only kind of body that can be beautiful and sexual, and that’s not true, everybody has that ability.” Cho believed that performing burlesque allowed her to see that ability.
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Another issue from the Skin and Ink article that I’d like to address is pornography and the degradation of women. I do not believe that all porn is degrading to women. Some is, some is great, and some I probably just don’t get, so I don’t like to make blanket statements about it. As Mae West said, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”
I’ll wind this up with my favorite quote of all time regarding pornography:
“I don’t know what the definition of pornography is and nobody else does either. Pornography is somebody else’s erotica that you don’t like. People are interested in their own sexuality and they’ve always reflected it in their art. End of story.” - Erica Jong