Tag Archives: Aimee Bea

#UseYourAnd What? by Aimee Bea

I know I sound like a broken record but I’m going to have to talk about body hair again. Unlike gainful employment, steady cash flow and a room of one’s own, body hair has remained a niggling constant in my life. This afternoon whilst trying to waste my life on a YouTube binge I was confronted with the most outrageous body hair themed interruption to date: NOT catching a reflection of the spring sun bouncing off my milky moustache, but the new Venus #UseYourAnd campaign.

The advert itself is so outstandingly patronizing, inherently sexist and above all ridiculous that it caused me to completely forget about being able to skip it five seconds in, and I watched the whole thing. I’ve included a link to the offending video – but in case you haven’t seen it yet I’m going to break it down for you, starting with the imagery.

The advert opens with a shot of a little girl’s legs. Whether or not you chose to shave, it is impossible to deny a lost-at-sea-worthy undercurrent of infantilisation embedded in the pressure on women to remove their pubescent body hair the second it starts to show. Women are expected to carry their childhood hairlessness into adulthood, which leads the more skeptical among us to question whether woman are allowed to progress fully into adulthood at all. Presumably Venus are showcasing the bare-legged little girl in all of her pure, hairless abandon as an aspirational figure for all of those many women who strive to regress back into childhood.

Not content with a healthy eyeful of pre-adolescent girl thigh, the advert then dissolves into a montage of close up leg shots, each one lingering slightly longer than its predecessor until the whole thing starts to feel a lot like watching someone spy on a high school changing room. This unnerving and unrelenting focus on the body is reminiscent of Foucault’s interpretation of the panopticon, in which the presence of an anonymous power is able to individualize a subject, in this case women, and place them in a state of perceived constant visibility, thus keeping them on edge and more willing to conform. What Venus is doing with their all too conspicuous leg ogling is reinforcing a culturally ingrained paranoia that the female body is under constant scrutiny. It is impossible to know who’s clocking your armpits as you wave down the bus in a moment of reckless abandon, or whom the next hand to graze your thigh will belong to, but Venus is here to remind you that they could strike at any time and you MUST be prepared.

The second disturbing aspect is Venus’ snappy new slogan #UseYourAnd. Oh wait – did I say snappy? I meant completely inane. It makes no fucking sense. The unconvincing slam poet that Venus have propped up to represent women nowhere spends a lot of time spouting about how ‘They told you you could be anything’. She goes on to accuse the presumably very same They of trying to put you in a box and whack a label on you. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m having a little trouble discerning who They actually are. When They said ‘here’s what you really are,’ did they then follow up with ‘so take this, lock the door and try not to make too much of a mess on the bathmat when you’re done’?

I might be mistaken, but wasn’t that You, Venus, the commercial faculty of unrealistic and barbarous beauty standards? Aren’t Venus and their contemporaries the very representatives of the box that they’ve just told you to step out of? Besides, it’s more than a little patronizing for the #UseYourAnd campaign to assume that women and girls need to be told that they are in fact multifaceted humanoids.

‘Someone says your smart,’ chimes the slam-ish poet. ‘Say yes, AND…’ And what, exactly? “I’m smart AND I shaved my legs earlier, would you like to have a feel?” I could go on about how utterly puerile this is but I think we’ve had more than enough stating the fucking obvious.

Something that is not made explicit however is what exactly Venus is trying to sell. This commercial vagueness is not uncommon in the marketing of supposedly intimate female products, and is a subject I have approached in a previous post. As female hairlessness has become standard within our beauty dictatorship and voyeurism so commonplace, advertisers no longer need to explicitly refer to the functionality or purpose of their products. We – and by we, I mean women – are expected to inherently understand and dutifully comply.

While to some it might seem admirable that Venus are taking a stab at re-branding themselves with a membrane-thin coat of pseudo-feminist gloss, it doesn’t take a lot of squinting to see the real roots of their makeover. The last few years have seen a rise in feminist activists and thinkers breaking into mainstream media, the most recent example being the No More Page Three campaign. As feminism is no longer confined to the academic realm, it has become something of a bandwagon to jump on and be exploited by corporations, who take a fundamental interest in the policing of women and their bodies. In their #UseYourAnd campaign, Venus are making a tragically desperate attempt to remain relevant by appropriating language and imagery associated with the new feminist movement, but driven only by a fear of dropping sales.

I don’t have a problem with women, or anyone for that matter, choosing to shave their legs, underarms, face, cunt, butt-crack or otherwise. Though I think that this decision should come with an AND. Say for example: ‘I choose to shave AND I don’t wish to be patronized by an international company with a vested interest in keeping women conforming to a rapidly ageing beauty standard by using bullshitty, empowering-sounding hashtags while I’m doing it.’ It might be a bit long for Twitter, but I urge you to #UseYourAnd.

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Teenage Kicks by Aimee Bea

Sometime last week, long after the watershed, Channel 4 aired ‘Crazy about One Direction’: a heartfelt documentary following the antics of a handful of teenage girls who just happened to have gone pant-wettingly bonkers for hair-cutty boyband One Direction. Now I am not, and may never be, a One Direction fan. That is not to say that I think that investing nearly all of your time and energy in obsessively tracking each movement and utterance of five boys dancing in tight jeans is a bad thing; it is a necessity.

When I was a teenage girl there was no limit to my capacity to lust over boys: famous or otherwise, dead or alive. I stalked the fleeting objects of my desire with the kind of murderous tenacity that only a small-town adolescent girl can cultivate. Seriously, I couldn’t have put a lid on it if I tried. I once (please bear in mind this was during the pre-camera era) cut out a miniscule picture of my unrequited love, taped it to my Nokia 3310 and proceeded to weep over it at every sleepover I attended for the following months. If that’s not fodder for potentially the most melancholic haiku ever, I don’t know what is. Aside from the one time I actually was one, I can’t claim to be an expert on the behavioural patterns of teenage girls. However, the frenzied obsession that the self-proclaimed ‘Directioners’ are caught up in looks pretty much the same as those photographs of girls screaming at the Beatles. The accessories have advanced, but the expressions sure haven’t.

As I watched one particularly enamoured Harry Styles fan bend down and kiss the concrete outside the bakery he used to work in, my reaction was not one of shock, but of familiarity. Although we might look back on them fondly, the early sexual encounters we experience as adolescents are far from fulfilling. Although it is sexy in a ‘I hope my parents don’t walk in’ kind of way, having someone endlessly grope your boobs through your t-shirt whilst you nervously debate whether or not you want those same hands delving into your underwear is a recipe for an explosion of potent sexual frustration. With this in mind, it is a little easier to understand why some directioners are driven to breaking into their beloved’s hotel lobbies, or even writing homoerotic fan-fiction (HE-LLO) to fuel their collective desire.

It is basic human instinct to place those whom we love and admire on a pedestal, and this is exaggerated ten-fold when that person has already been groomed to untouchable perfection. In our celeb-centric culture and its social media breeding-ground, it has become all too easy to blur the line between the real and that which is fabricated for our entertainment. To quote a Directioner: “I just want to know that they exist.”

One Direction have been allowed (by management and fans alike) to achieve the status of unattainable demigods, and so have naturally become vessels for the otherwise blind and misguided sexual frustrations of teenage girls. Because they are so unreachable, they provide a relatively safe-place for the affections and arousal of teenagers who aren’t quite ready to dip their toes into the altogether more real world of blowjobs and hickeys.

Basically, adolescent girls have been crying themselves horny over boys who can sing since the dawn of time. The only difference is that now, the space in which their batshit-crazy fascination manifests itself is almost entirely public. We shouldn’t be concerned or horrified by the use of social media outlets to vocalize absolute teenage-mania; if you really believe that you love someone, don’t you just want to shout it from the rooftops too?

As much as they may not want to believe it, and have the tattoos to try and disprove it, the Directioners’ affections for those puppy-faced puppets are going to fade away as they make way for some actual hard-crushing on somebody who occupies the real world. But for the time being, why not let them enjoy the rollercoaster ride of longing to be boned by a pop star. After all, cry-masturbating over my Kurt Cobain poster never did me any real harm. 

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Petition for a No Shave Summer by Aimee Bea

Hands up who hasn’t shaved in a while? Oh wait no put your hands down – all the way down, and keep them there because someone just saw the state of your wayward underarm-stubble and now they’re choking on their sandwich.

I don’t know about anybody else in the world but when I shave my underarms, or any other part of my long-suffering body for that matter I almost always come out in the most unholy shaving rash. No matter how many aloe-vera magic strips venus load onto their tarted up bic-razors, my delegated shaven area never quite resembles the fine silk finish that is presented in magazines/television/movies/basically everywhere I look, all of the time.

 

The portrayal of women as hairless, aerodynamic seals (but with significantly less blubber) by mainstream media is undoubtedly a direct trickle-down from pornography. Now I am not of the school of thought that calls for an outright damnation of pornography, I believe that in it’s broadest sense it has a deserved place in society and if executed correctly has the ability to both educate and titillate – but that’s an argument for another time. What I’m talking about here are the effects of the kind of pornography that one might find if they were to type ‘porno’ into Google, minimum effort, bog standard and distinctly un-feminist.

 

The balding genital’s that initially diverted us from our full-bushed godmothers were made as such in order for the consumer to get a better view, presumably because they didn’t harbor enough imagination to gaze beyond the ‘pubic curtain’. As advertising has become more openly and aggressively sexualised, particularly in its representations of women and the female form, the aesthetical expectations for women have become more and more extreme, costly and both psychologically and physically damaging.

 

In modern society, complete hairlessness (with the exception finely preened eyebrows and a glossy ponytail) is commonplace, a widely accepted cultural norm. Somewhere along the way, women have lost ownership of this particular area of their bodies and I think now is a perfect time to gain it back.

 

I am aware that in the depths of online counterculture the revolution is already rumbling away. I don’t have to scroll too far down my Tumblr dashboard to find encouragement that I am not alone in my moderately hairy dimension. My main concern with the fem-blogging revolution is that it is so absorbed into it’s subcultural universe that it (quite justifiably) doesn’t want to represent the norm. I am suggesting that we take aspects of these radical feminist movements and try, subtly but surely to appropriate them into everyday life.

 

The lack of diversity we are offered by way of female bodies across the media perpetuates the social control that is being exercised over our own bodies. Just imagine how great it would be if some of our more mainstream pop-culture icons weren’t too afraid or ashamed to show a bit of leg fuzz or more than a few hours worth of underarm regrowth.

 

Personally I don’t find body hair offensive. I even think that a slick of underarm hair is kind of sexy and suggests more of a strong feminine vibe than a body waxed clean and buffed to a high-shine by societal pressure. The thing I would like to see change are peoples attitudes towards body hair, and by people I mean women judging other women. Just because I (or anyone else) sometimes choose not to clean shave my armpits (or any other body part) it doesn’t make me a fierce radical feminist, or unclean, or masculine. It also bears absolutely no correlation to my sexuality. All it means is that I’m not afraid of my body’s natural state and refuse to give into patriarchal cultural boundaries that try to tell me otherwise. The sun only comes out for about three days a year in the UK and I’m not going to waste anytime acquiring more razor-burn when I could be out enjoying it as I am.

 

So why not try out a no-shave summer? Even if it’s just for a couple of days it will contribute towards the fight to normalize the natural female body and you never know you might just like it. 

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(GO TEAM JULIA!)

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Thrush: A Feminist Issue by Aimee Bea

Recently I have been watching a LOT of bad television. Top of my list this week was channel 4’s 40 year old virgins, a bizarre journey following a couple of mid-to-late thirtysomethings over to the States to throw money at hippies in Portland to hug them naked until they feel ready to penetrate.  As far as documentaries about ageing first-timers paying for sex go it was pretty standard. There was however one part that struck a chord, one of the virgins had a problem articulating words that he associated with sex or sexual activity. In order to combat this he was assigned the task of repeating ‘clitoris’ and ‘shagging’ in front of a mirror until the words themselves lost their power. As well as making unnerving yet ultimately hilarious viewing, it started me thinking about my own relationship with the literal language of love and the ways in which bodily language immerses itself into our cultural lexicon.

It seems to me that the language that we as a society use to refer to male genitalia is a lot more varied and intergrated into everyday slang, like it’s pretty commonplace to ask people if they have the ‘balls’ to take something on.

When it comes to female sexual organs the choice is comparably limited and polarized, with words often falling into two camps: the childish (there is not a single person on earth who can say, hand on heart that they don’t laugh on hearing the word fanny.) or the obscene. Take cunt for example, everybody knows what it means but it’s probably one of the most severe swear words that can come out of our collective mouths, words for male genitalia just don’t have that impact. Even when mentioned to in literature we tend to lyricize vaginas to a point of twee-grotesqueness, I’m referring directly to a particularly cringe-inducing line in an Adrienne Rich poem, ‘her rose wet cave’ which has haunted me everyday since I read it.

Our societal avoidance of directly referring to vaginas is reinforced by televisual media and other mass-marketing campaigns that seem to have a total inability to spell out the realities of what they’re selling. The most obvious example of this is the infamous beaker of blue liquid representing menstrual blood – which caused me to believe for many years that when the time finally came my womb would shed bubblegum panda-pop. The worst campaign for literally beating around the bush are those for thrush medication, the main offender being ‘vagisil’ whose adverts seem to rely on a series of wink-wink, nudge-nudge codes in order to tell us what exactly the product is and where we should be putting it. Statements such as ‘feminine itching and burning’ and ‘the relief you need – right where you need it’ may seem subtle and modest enough, but wouldn’t it just be better all around if we learnt to articulate it properly? The trickle down effect of this vagueness becomes all the more apparent when trying to purchase aforementioned medicines, more often than not you find yourself faced with an impenetrable coffin of plastic security casing. It’s hardly surprising that women are trying to steal their medication, if we’re having trouble even mentioning the word ‘thrush’ (even my mum calls it songbird – which is kind of genius but still…) how can we be expected to comfortably stand by and watch a teenage shop-assistant wrestle it out of it’s beanie babies display case?

Instead of politely tiptoeing around the subject of vagina ‘issues’ we should be promoting an awareness of self-care and the best way to do this is by addressing the problem directly, starting with the language that we use. The more comfortable we are talking about our vaginas, the more comfortable out vaginas are ultimately going to be, so find the nearest mirror and repeat after me: thrush, thrush, thrush, thrush…

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What, Disney? By Aimee Bea.

I know I shouldn’t but I have come to expect a certain amount of sexist, misogynistic and over-sexualised bullshit from advertising campaigns. I’m not saying that it’s acceptable just that I expect anyone with an ounce of common sense and/or self respect to see through it. The most sensible thing to do with television adverts is press mute, walk out of the room or lay as still as possible in a state of absolute serenity as they wash over you without leaving a trace (my personal favorite ad-avoiding technique) HOWEVER whilst attempting to execute this this morning I was confronted with one of the creepiest adverts I have seen in a long time, perhaps even ever. The offending article was for Disneyland Paris (I wanted to attach a link but I haven’t been able to find one so keep an eye out – you’ll know when you see it.) and begins with the protagonist, a father figure looking into his teenage daughter’s bedroom whilst she – the portrait of teengirl stereotype – is texting and freaking out to 1D (probably) nothing too out of the ordinary there, but things soon begin to take a darker, Lolita-esque turn. Instead of making any attempt to interact with his ‘blossoming’ offspring, father figure is represented as an onlooker constantly watching over his daughter’s shoulder with the quietly brooding stare of a potential psychopath that could challenge Lolita’s Humbert.


Aside from being so creepy it made me want to double lock my bedroom door forever and ever, this bizarre fatherly omnipresence also promotes a discourse of ownership as opposed to love, care or even respect.
Within this struggle for youth and ownership the role of Disneyland is to provide a mecca of youthfulness in order to prolong the Disney princess- like innocence of the female child. So the daughter is whisked away from the privacy of her bedroom/iPhone in order for her father to get his final fix of her girlhood, before a rival male enraptures her and their relationship inevitably melts, as if the dynamic between a child and parent is even slightly comparable to lovers.
My main problem with this is the fetishization of female adolescence. A similar advert would never have been created with regards to the father/son relationship because the bond is so commonly represented as withstanding and mutual as opposed to smothering and outdated to the point of salaciousness. The advert enforces the idea that girlishness is akin to purity, and in its wake creates a patriarchal abhorrence towards puberty (aka: the bloody ruin of innocence) suggesting that there is something defiled about the transition from girl to woman.


After the brief halcyon of the final Disneyland trip, the father figure resigns himself to somewhat carelessly passing over his daughter to (and I QUOTE) “what was his name again?” Relinquishing himself of responsibility as she enters banshee-screaming-monthly-bleeding womanhood. With his wayward daughter safely in the arms of another male, father figure is presumably able to sit back in his armchair and get misty-eyed about space mountain, instead of maintaining a healthy relationship with his daughter not based on some Disneyfied, media-fabrication of family and innocence.

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Reclaiming the Abject Female Body and Writing Against Mainstream Perceptions of Hygiene, Medicine and Sexuality; PART ONE by Aimee Bea

The flows of the female body have long been burdened with connotations and associations of disorder, impurity, defilement and danger, their disregard for social and cultural policing of bodily boundaries causes them to be loaded with significations of castration and entrapment. ‘It’s stickiness is a trap, it clings like a leech; it attacks the boundary between myself and it.[1]

The fear of being dragged unwillingly beyond the boundaries of the self by the contaminating viscosity and unrivalled stickiness of the female bodily flows stems from an inherent fear of abjection.  In Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva’s 1941 essay on abjection, she describes the seemingly uncontrollable reaction of horror of that which flows from the body female or otherwise as a fear of the abject. According to Kristeva boundaries are put in place around the body and the self in order to protect from the indefinable, or that which exists outside of recognizable realms of signification. Fear of abjection shields the human conscious from facing the ultimate unknown, death and the cadaver, causing us to distance ourselves and our bodies from their natural flows, constructing social and cultural boundaries in order to discourage a decline into abjection or abject behavior.

The notion of the abject and its associations with danger are markedly more applicable to women. The biological flows of the female body are closely conflated with her social conduct. Perhaps the most obvious example of this are the behavioral connotations affiliated with a woman’s pre-menstrual state. In modern day western- society, it is not exclusively bodily flows that women are socially and culturally obliged to both conceal and remain in full control of at all times. Mainstream ideologies that inform ever-evolving standards for personal hygiene and beautification mean that the female body is caught in a constant flux over which they have little control. The continuous pressure for women to comply to such standards enforced and supported by mainstream media and the medical institution eludes to the attempted construction of an easily controllable female body that benefits phallocentric society. As the pressure of the restraints and conformities around the female body begin to infringe further onto the self, incorporating new standards for sexuality, internal and external bodily control, self-preservation and presentation, it is of little surprise that texts begin to surface from within feminist sub-cultures.

Charlotte Roche’s controversial novel Wetlands provides a shocking and excessive approach to the female body and sexuality. From the outset protagonist sixteen year-old Helen Memel challenges exactly what defines a socially clean and proper woman, ‘as far back as I can remember, I’ve had hemorrhoids. For many, many years I thought I couldn’t tell anyone. After all, only grandfathers get hemorrhoids. I always thought they were very unladylike.’[2] Wetlands draws attention to the similarly excessive and unnecessary modern day standards of hygiene, beauty and sexuality

According to Elizabeth Grosz’s study, Volatile Bodies, the role of female flows in heterosexual sexual activity are ‘merely preparatory, the media or conduits for male sexual flow[3]’. Suggesting that complex attributes of female sexuality are overlooked by consideration of their functionality in regards to accommodating the male. Within masculine ideology the finalizing act of male ejaculation and the seminal fluid that it produces is representative of both male and female orgasm; Grosz comments on the performativity of male ejaculation, ‘his sexual specificity is not the object of the gaze but remains a mirror or rather a displacement of her pleasure (or at least his fantasy of her pleasure)[4]’. The routine and order that is imposed by male ejaculation suggests that men are able to exercise a degree of control over their bodily flows, unlike that of the female, whose inherent representation of the self and social behaviors causes these flows to appear disorderly and contaminating. This element of overriding control that the transmission of seminal fluids is dependent on, causes women’s bodies to be conceived as simply ‘receptacles of men’s body fluids and the nesting place of their product- the fetus.[5]’ Within Wetlands Roche rejects the reduction of female sexuality to it’s purely functional, reproductive means as Helen embraces the possession and release of seminal fluids,

The same can be done, of course, with cum that ends up in the pussy. Just don’t wash it away with a bidet! Instead, carry it proudly. To school for instance. Hours after sex it’ll ooze nice and warm out of your pussy- a little treat.[6]

By retaining and re-releasing semen from her vagina away from a sexualized male presence, Helen physically rejects the idea that female sexuality is purely reproductive. Helen’s release signified her re-claiming the finality of the male orgasm. The private control that Helen exercises over the ultimate release of the semen acts as a reminder of the ability within the female sexual organ for multiple orgasms.

… PART TWO COMING SOON!

By Aimee Bea Ballinger. 


[1] Purity and Danger (douglas 1980:38) look up reference.

[2] Charlotte Roche, Wetlands (London: Fourth Estate, 2009) p. 1

[3] Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994) p.196

[4] Volatile Bodies, p.199

[5] Volatile Bodies, p.202

[6] Wetlands, p.21

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