Friday, August 13, 2010

Dispatch from the Front

Just moved in to home sweet Crozier. Unfortunately it smells musty, kind of like dead cat lady. Hopefully we will be able to remedy that before everyone joins us!

I'm excited to see you all in the 'bier. Have a wonderful rest of the summer.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Girls Will Be Boys: Projecting Societal Conceptions of Gender onto Children

On my way to work the other morning, I overheard a really unsettling conversation on a radio talk show. The hosts were in the midst of a discussion about Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt's 4-year-old daughter, Shiloh. Normally, I don't get involved in celebrity gossip, but this caught my attention for several reasons. First, who the heck talks about a 4-year-old on national, local, or any kind of radio? Secondly, don't we all have better things to do and bigger problems to worry about? Above all, though, I was particularly intrigued and disturbed by their discussion of Shiloh's gender presentation.Apparently, it is a huge-freaking-deal that Shiloh Jolie-Pitt dresses in tracksuits and wants her hair cut short. The radio commentators suggested that Shiloh, who was recently spotted in a pair of boy's swimming trunks, is becoming "a little dyke." This issue is, in fact, so pressing that not only have DJs devoted minutes of their shows to the Shiloh J.P. lesbian conspiracy, but trusted news sources (Life & Style, US Weekly, People) have followed suit. Life & Style brought to the forefront the question that has clearly been on all of our minds: through allowing Shiloh to wear clothes marketed for boys and not exposing her to enough "girlie things," are Brad and Angelina ruining their child's life? Why would they do this to her? Stop being totally unfit parents and put the girl in a dress already!

My limited knowledge of and level of concern for the Pitt-Jolie family not withstanding, let me tell you that I absolutely do not care what Shiloh chooses to wear, say, or do. As a matter of fact, I have very few limitations to what I find acceptable in the realm of childhood self-expression. I was a wild woman, as my parents allowed me to dress myself, and I came up with all sorts of ensembles featuring wacky hats, mixed patterns, and gratuitous accessories. But through this experimentation, especially at an age when I was still mostly unaware of all that is trendy or socially acceptable, I became completely confident in any way I chose to present myself to the world. Therefore, it blows my mind that full-grown adults utilize the choices of one little girl, who is unknowingly and unintentionally in the public eye, to launch discussions of what is and isn't acceptable for girls and boys.

This whole "is she or isn't she a girl?" controversy makes it remarkably evident that gender policing begins at an incredibly young age. From the moment we are wrapped in a pink or blue blanket and welcomed into the world to the time when we are able to make our own informed decisions and analyses, we are under the careful guidance of the adults in our lives. They are the ones who will teach us how we should and shouldn't interact with the rest of the world, and will help us shape our future beliefs and senses. And to make this impact, we can't just worry about what our kids are wearing. We have to worry about what they're playing with:

(Above: one of the bestselling boy's toys and of the bestselling girl's toys on

We have to worry about what they're reading:

We even have to worry about what they're watching, thinking, eating... we have to worry a lot. If we are not extra vigilant, our children will become the next feature on the KISS FM morning show.

We give little girls purses and credit cards so they can practice going into debt after one too many shopping sprees & applying their lipstick while weaving through morning traffic. We give little boys miniature axes and tools to they can practice putting their lives in danger while pursuing heroic professions. We give little girls books such as the Twilight series so they can daydream about becoming a two-dimensional character who waits for a mysterious man to sweep her off of her feet, teaching them lessons that will no doubt trickle into their day to day lives. We give little boys books such as The Day My Butt Went Psycho (which is, mind you, based on a true story) so that they can not only laugh about the unsurpassed humor which is the runaway buttocks, but so that they can find pleasure in reading as an escape from what is real. Granted, these are all exaggerations and generalizations, but what we can draw from them is that we treat girls and boys much differently (duh...), and therefore, expect different things from them.

By putting these examples in place, we are telling children that girls and boys will want to do, say, wear, and be different things. By not having prevalent examples of possible transgressions for these norms, we are saying to kids that some things are just for boys and some are just for girls. And this is how children learn to police gender. If a girl, like Shiloh, wants to wear pants, it is apparently okay to call her out for being out of the ordinary. If a boy wanted to read Twilight, he might be singled out as odd or even queer. It makes me sad that children learn these labels from adults, and that they become experts at identifying gender at a very young age.

We project our notions of what is right and wrong for different genders onto our children because we don't want them to stand out for not cooperating with these unwritten rules. But through doing this, aren't we just limiting the creativity and expressive ability of future generations? Is there a way we can avoid this, or are gender norms such a built-in component in society that it is impossible not to acknowledge it? Do you think it's possible to raise gender-neutral children? Even though I am less than optimistic after hearing the offensive commentary on the radio the other day, I would like to hear your thoughts. How can we make a move toward gender acceptance or neutrality, especially in terms of children?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Defending Photoshop

Observe Lindsay's magical moving bellybutton!
Yesterday I read this article on Gizmodo: UK's Girl Scouts Cry for New Photoshopped-Images Law for Airbrushed Celebrities. We've heard it before--not only do skinny models perpetuate unrealistic expectations for media-vulnerable girls (and boys), but Photoshop helps make them even skinnier and more flawless.

I'm not a huge fan of these arguments to begin with because blaming thin models for a world of self-image and body issues seems rather narrow-minded. Saying that Barbies and Kate Moss are the sole causes of things like eating disorders overlooks the complexities of body issues, ignores the fact that society perpetuates ideas about desirable physical characteristics in other ways, and doesn't give girls enough credit (are all of us really so easily brainwashed?). I also dislike the way that some advertisements have now begun using the term "real women" when portraying models and actresses who are "curvy." First of all because they still only use women who fit a specific beauty standard, and second because...GUYS, ALL WOMEN ARE REAL. Are we supposed to believe that the thin ones are just holograms?

But back to the point, which is that "Photoshop" has become synonymous with all-out photo manipulation--it's a magic genie that puts embarrassing things in your friends' hands, pops absent family members into group pictures, and, of course, tucks in that model's tummy and erases wrinkles.

I'm not denying that Photoshop is used to make a lot of things totally unrealistic, but I think that some vehement, anti-Photoshop consumers forget that Photoshop, like any superpower, can be used for good or for evil. Let's talk 'shop:

Photographs are not perfect representations of the world as it is. Yes, they can be very accurate, and they can help us understand things that were very difficult or impossible to see pre-photography. But there will always be something that changes when you compress a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional one. The human eye is incredibly sophisticated, and while cameras can do a lot of things that eyes can't, a camera will never perfectly mimic the way the eye and brain perceive the world.

We all know that a photograph of a beautiful landscape, however lovely the photograph may be, is never quite as good as observing the landscape for yourself. Yes, part of that is the experience of being there--the smells, the sounds, all interacting with and enhancing your sight--but part of that is the simple fact that your eye notices far different things about the landscape and edits it for your brain in different ways than the photograph will. Same with people--when you're interacting with or even merely observing a person, you see that person as a three-dimensional object, and your eye often glosses over certain things without your notice.

During the summer, I work as a self-employed photographer. Most of the pictures I take are senior portraits for kids I know from high school. Recently I shot with a friend-of-a-friend, a girl I met the day of the shoot. Most clients do expect that I'll edit their pictures, because studios do airbrush the hell out of seniors, and I have to compete. And hey, it's your senior portrait, the one that'll be printed in the yearbook, the one people will remember you by. You want to look good.

But I also edit in Photoshop because there are things that show up in photographs that simply aren't noticeable in real life. When I started to flip through the pictures of my new client, I noticed some pimples on her forehead and some tiny hairs below her lip. I wasn't even zoomed in--it's just the way the light highlighted those features. I'd shot with this girl and talked to her for hours. Not once did I observe any of the flaws now glaring at me from the images. In real life, she had great skin and glossy black hair. In many of the photos, her pimples stood out, flyaway hairs (basically invisible to the eye in real life) distracted immensely, and the evening light gave her shiny hair a blue tint.

So yeah, I Photoshopped her pictures. I lightened shadows that fell across her face, I smoothed over the pimples and the facial hair, and took the blue out of her hair. I didn't do it to make her look unlike herself, I did it to make her look more like herself.

(People also ignore the fact that photographers manipulated photographs long before Photoshop. Heck, tools like Dodge and Burn are named for the darkroom processes that preceded them.)

There is, of course, a slippery slope. How do you even look at an image and decide if the camera has put too much or too little emphasis on a feature? If you can airbrush a distracting zit, is it okay to airbrush cellulite or wrinkles because they also wouldn't be as noticeable in person?

I maintain, though, that you can't give Photoshop itself a bad name. A "Photoshopped photo" isn't necessarily one that's been given excessive treatment with the liquify tool. Instead of banning photo manipulation or requiring a disclaimer, can't we educate people, especially children, about the ways that advertisers can change the appearance of an image--and why they do it?