Love thy selfie

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I take too many selfies.

I know I’m not supposed to admit to such narcissism, acknowledging that the shallow depths of my self-reflection mirror those of Narcissus. Yet, as I’ve persisted in documenting my self-ie, I’ve come to see value in this pat-on-the-back photography (bear with me).

Consistently the image of traditional beauty that we’re presented with in media is one of a white, thin and supposedly healthy, able-bodied, and often photoshopped-to-oblivion person. The variation between these conventional images is low, and when we see faces or bodies that do challenge the traditional beauty image, they will generally conform in other ways or will be the butt of a joke. These beauty images are unreal, and they function to present impossible ideals, unrealistic expectations.

The faces which actually make up the populace have one thing in common: they’re all different. Yet the quirks which give our faces and bodies character, which make them ours, are glossed over in the world of lights and cameras. The occasional “oddity” which does get accepted in this world is generally fetishized, or treated as an exception to the rule. Oftentimes, they become more a part of the person’s “brand” than their appearance: just take Cindy’s mole, Lara’s gap, Cara’s eyebrows, and Kim’s butt.

What does it say about our physical characteristics when they’re either fetishized in media or capitalized on? When those physical characteristics are made into a joke, or only accepted under certain circumstances?

It devalues those characteristics; it sets them up as other, different, and unattractive. We mere mortals don’t have the resources to snip, suck, tighten, lift, increase, decrease, and plumpen all of our imperfections, and we don’t fit within the frames of hegemonic beauty.

Selfies emerge as a challenge to this dominant narrative of exclusive beauty. Ok, yes, they’re still largely narcissistic or whatever, but selfies give us the opportunity to display those features we like, or which make us different. Someone with big pearly whites can show off their 1000-lumen smile. Someone with a prominent nose can present a striking profile. We can mask or magnify whatever characteristics we choose to, rather than shying away from cameras because we aren’t Gisele Bündchen.

More than that though, we can show through selfies that we are more than the sum or our parts. Selfies are for showing personalities, events, and emotions. Selfies aren’t just about slapping body parts into a frame and hitting hefe. They’re about making faces, shooting from different angles and in interesting places. If you reduce selfies to a simple solo photo shoot, then of course they’re uni-faceted. There’s artistry to a selfie though, in perfecting a shot or documenting your day, your life, your personality.

The camera isn’t just for traditionally beautiful faces and bodies; the selfie is for everyone. So pick up your phone and snap some pics, because you love thy selfie.

Selfie tips!

I’m not very good at taking selfies, but I can give a few tips from my time spent smiling awkwardly in front of a camera. (For more expert advice, search up Sophie Isbister’s guide to selfies on our website, titled “Express your selfie”):

- Brush your hair, make sure nothing’s in your teeth, do whatever you’ve got to do to make yourself look reasonably put-together.

- Find good lighting. The pros all say that natural, outdoor lighting is the best, because it gives you a soft glow—no harsh, artificial lighting for you!

- Choose a good background. I’m not a fan of pictures feat. messy bedroom, or a toilet lurking in the background of an otherwise cute selfie. I like to opt for a plain wall, but you can also selfie in front of flowers, paintings and pictures, a mirror, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

- Use a front-facing camera, for god’s sake.

- Take lots of selfies, from different angles and with different facial expressions. You’ll eventually become familiar with the poses and expressions that best suit you, but for the time being experimentation is key.

Originally published in the Other Press.

State of health and safety of BC’s homeless

Photo via Macleans

Photo via Macleans

Several reports released earlier this month offer updated information on the state of British Columbia’s (BC) homeless population. Reports were published by Megaphone Magazine and the Women’s Coalition of the Downtown Eastside, the latter of which formed in 2011.

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American Apparel shirt. Illustration by Alice Lancaster

De-icking ichor

After a month full of blood and gore leading up to Halloween, let’s take a complete 180: let’s talk about periods.

Last year, Petra F. Collins and Alice Lancaster brought a shirt to American Apparel and the masses. A shirt that was, in every sense of the word, provocative. There were two main reasons this shirt was controversial: first, it was in keeping with the super-sexed, provocative zeitgeist of founder Dov Charney and the company itself. Second, it brought to public discussion—through public habillement—menstruation and masturbation.

This shirt, a drawing by Lancaster of a woman masturbating while menstruating, is the definitive call to #PeriodPower. She’s wholly unconcerned with the fact of her menstruation as she touches herself, and while this is a simple, not-so-astounding image and concept, it is totally shocking to anyone who passes the masterpiece of a masturbating madame.

I’ve no doubt that most people reading this are scrunching up their faces in distaste just imagining or looking directly at the accompanying image of this self-indulgent self-touching—particularly as it’s at a lady’s “time of the month.”

That’s exactly why the image is so necessary, though: because menstruation and female masturbation are both so dismissed and disdained.

We aren’t supposed to talk about menstruation. When we do verbalize its existence, we’re supposed to come up with quaint synonyms and euphemisms: time of the month, monthly, visit from Aunt Flo, tide, red sea, one’s friend, menses, discharge, and—perhaps most tellingly—the curse. We perform these evasive tactics because periods are supposedly disgusting and disturbing, and these words ease our discussions of the natural, biological process.

While we generally accept any phenomena we deem natural and normal, menstruation and female masturbation have somehow missed out. I wouldn’t say it traces back to any sort of squeamishness towards blood—it’s not like women faint from having to use tampons, pads, and Diva Cups.

More likely it emerges from our socialization which asserts that menstruation and masturbation (particularly female masturbation) are unclean. Consider the fact that menstruation itself is supposedly a punishment originating from legends of snakes and apples. We see menstruation as dirty; a burden or curse that women have to bear, and keep secret from others. That means taking your bag to the bathroom with you when you only need a small cylindrical object. Attempting not to roll your eyes when someone accuses you of “being emotional because you’re on your period,” whether you’re menstruating or not.

In an article on social attitudes towards menstruation, Alysha Seriani of the Peak writes, “Much 19th century writing argues that women should not attend university because menstruation debilitates them and their capacity to learn. In 1883’s Sex in Mind and Education, Henry Maudsley argued that women are ‘of another body and mind which for one quarter of each month, during the best year of life, [are] more or less sick and unfit for hard work.’” Periods become not just taboo, but a supposedly legitimate reason to exclude women from daily life and activity.

Many women are able to spout off on a “period horror story”: a moment when that phenomenon that biological women experience almost came to light—people almost found out that, well, you know. And of course I’m sure we’re familiar with the tried and true tale that women don’t masturbate or enjoy sex—heaven forbid! We keep these secrets, and deny occurrences that are so a part of women’s experiences, and indeed of our existence.

When we erase these discussions from public consciousness, or remove the language from our lexicon entirely, we make the topics and the acts themselves shameful. It’s become shameful to menstruate, or to masturbate as a woman. Maybe I’m frustrated by this erasure of language (I am); maybe I’m a feminist (I am); or maybe I’ve had a few glasses of wine (I have). Regardless, sex and masturbation are fun, and menstruation is not so fun, but they’re all aspects of life; I’m not going to mince words with not-so-quaint phrases. Get the fuck over it.

Originally published in the Other Press.

Eastside & down

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The Downtown Eastside (DTES) has been in the news a lot, what with the tent city in Oppenheimer Park gradually becoming a thing of the past. The camp that originated in mid-July of this year has been hit with a series of eviction notices for months; a Supreme Court order from late September ruled that the more than 200 camp residents would have to depart by October 15 at 10 p.m., with risk of arrest if they stayed any later. While evicting people from what has become their home is complicated enough, the issue has become further convoluted with the finding of a dead body among the tents shortly before the eviction deadline. The deceased is not believed to have died through foul play, although an autopsy still needs to be performed.

Mayor Gregor Robertson gave his sympathies on the death, while remaining firm in his belief that the tents had to go: “[T]his tragedy certainly demonstrates why tent camps are not safe, why the city has had great concerns about this camp continuing to be there, and particularly the safety issues for elderly people.”

Clearly Robertson is very concerned with the well-being of residents of the DTES, as evidenced by his alleged voter suppression of the area in the upcoming municipal election. As the Mainlander reports, there are only two advance voting stations east of Main Street, compared with five advance voting stations on the Westside.

It’s unfortunate that Mayor Robertson hasn’t put his advanced polling stations where his mouth is for the elderly, disabled, racialized, and impoverished communities that predominantly make up the DTES, and for whom he is oh-so-concerned.

With the increasing discussions of how to help the residents of the Eastside, it’s questionable that the people in need of help themselves are being erased from the conversation. Two lonely poll stations don’t accurately represent the vastness of the Downtown Eastside—described in the City of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan from 2012 as spanning roughly 202 hectares. This expanse is especially significant when you take into consideration that the residents are predominantly disadvantaged populations.

As DTES resident Fraser Stuart explained in an interview with the Georgia Straight, taking the bus to the stations isn’t financially possible for many people: “After a week and a half, your welfare or your pension money is gone … So to pony up another $2.75 to go and vote—that’s a luxury. That’s your food for the day, basically.”

Wendy Pedersen, organizer of Downtown Eastside Votes, further explains to the Mainlander that “The city must know that DTES residents can’t, even if they wanted to, get to Yaletown to vote. So many of them need extra time for the registration and voting process because of stringent ID requirements (no more vouching for people this time).”

Chief election officer Janice MacKenzie told the Georgia Straight that they took into consideration accessibility via transit, and ensuring that they wouldn’t “grind programming to a halt at any location that we select” for the advance polling stations.

It’s bizarre that the DTES currently has fewer than half the advance polling stations that the Westside has. Vision Vancouver deputy campaign director Stepan Vdovine expressed his concern over the absence of DTES advance voting stations in a letter to MacKenzie. He further stated that “analysis of past voter turnout shows that these areas have a higher likelihood of voting than other parts of Vancouver.”

Although Mayor Robertson has proclaimed his goals for improving the lives of impoverished populations—including addressing housing and income gaps, and providing social services—the reality is that the conditions of DTES residents have not ameliorated. While the City of Vancouver has spent its time “Reviewing; planning; getting feedback; [and] measuring results,” the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) has identified three key needs for the DTES residents. The organization, which is dedicated to helping “improve the lives of people who use illicit drugs,” listed these needs in an open letter: “housing, Indigenous land claims, and municipal services at Oppenheimer Park.”

Let’s take VANDU’s first point of housing as an example: the City of Vancouver recently announced its approval of $1-billion dedicated to services throughout Vancouver; roughly $125-million of that is earmarked for affordable housing. The National Post reports that millions of dollars have been spent on single room occupancy hotels (SROs) over the years, and I imagine this will continue to be the case.

SROs sound ideal at first, offering temporary or long-term housing for those in need of help; yet a national study from 2013 indicated that the mortality rate of residents in SROs is five times the national average. This is in part because the help and services that the people need don’t accompany the provision of housing. SROs consequently become increasingly unsafe, as more people suffering from both mental and physical illnesses, as well as addictions, get shoved into the tiny accommodations: researcher William Honer of the UBC study on SROs states that residents might be in spaces of 3×3 metres. The health of SRO residents is often aggravated by this unhelpful help. It’s no wonder, as VANDU states in its open letter, that “campers are currently paying rent to live in SROs, but have chosen the healthier living conditions of Oppenheimer Park.”

These complex issues demonstrate why the voter suppression of the Downtown Eastside is so offensive, and concerning. Discouraging the DTES voters from voting, whether unintentional or “unintentional,” can only lead to the continued mistreatment of some of Vancouver’s most-vulnerable.

Originally published in the Other Press.