Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Practical Magic
  by Sara Ellis
March 2006

A Pretty Revolution

This past Saturday I picked up my friend Aries and we went downtown to the Wizard World Los Angeles comic convention. I don't usually buy comics, I just read them. I'm also not much of a "things" person nor do I like the idea of collecting things. It feels too much like a job. But I really enjoy the conventions. I like talking to artists and comic creators whose work I enjoy, meeting new people, and just plain getting into hijinks.

Before any serious hijinks are to be had, I like to mosey around the whole convention hall to get my bearings, and to see what's what. I'm from the South and therefore and an expert at moseying.

My friend and I had made a couple rounds when we spotted the corsets. Not unlike Renaissance festivals, comic conventions are a common venue for otherwise mild mannered ladies to tart themselves up into vinyl clad, thigh-highed, lifted and separated, hoochies. This phenomenon is subject enough for several columns, but I'll leave that for my inevitable Comic-Con review. Suffice to say that usually a corset is spotted on said hoochie, not for sale at a booth.

The booth was supervised by a man with a ponytail and questionable character. He offered to "tie us up." I was both repulsed and intrigued. Moments later Aries and I had been strapped into authentic Victorian under-bust corsets complete with metal slats and heavy duty laces, in a delicate camouflage pattern.

I began to panic as the taste of my own spleen began rising up my throat. Aries' voice got unprecedentedly high as she begged to be loosened, squealing that she couldn't breathe. As my liver pressed gently into my spinal cord I had one of those empathetic awakenings to so many ancestral women that wore these devices on a daily basis. The mystery of the weak and breathless woman of days gone by dissipated, and for the first time I felt I truly had a case of The Vapors.

A crowd began to gather around the booth, women raising their eyebrows and men scrambling to give us their phone numbers. We had achieved that adolescent stature of sexuality in which a woman is defined by preposterous bust-to-waist-to-hip ratios, vacant from the natural world. We were comely, but were wholly restricted from movement other than a turn of the head or the wrist. I instantly felt the relationship between my physical restrictions and the social restrictions they represented when corsets were the accessory du jour.

The corset creates a caricature of femininity. This hyped portrayal of the ideal woman is enticing, but is it the dramatic lines that are attractive, or is it the oppression? I can't help but think there is something suspicious in the idea of binding up a woman so tight that she refrains from talking back for fear that she'll pass out.

The American commercial media encourages the same breed of feminine oppression, but no whalebones or secret under-things are required. On the contrary, according to the big Hollywood studios a woman should maintain her barely-there figure by the grace of God. The Holy Trinity in Hollywood, however, consists of 24 hour gym access, diet pills, and if all else fails good old regurgitation. Women are still fainting, but it's more likely due to not having committed to a sandwich since their braces came off.

There are some women who are naturally petite all over, and others who are not. Each is beautiful and worthy of aesthetic praise. So why are women, and occasionally men, determined to destroy their bodies and natural lines in hopes of attaining something scribbled on the boys bathroom stall doors in junior high?

This culture of vanity and self loathing has reached what I hope is the apex, and is evident on high school campuses and billboards alike. No one profits from the mantra of "never too rich or too thin" except the pushers of diets and beauty products, and impossibly small designer clothing. The common woman is left with nothing but a murmuring stomach and a hopeless distaste for her own thighs.

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look attractive or shaving off that extra winter weight. It is the obsession with a number, a certain look, and the exclusion of diversity that is detrimental to society as a whole. Men and women should always strive be healthy and strong. But as a very wise man recently stated, the goal should be "optimum health, not optimum size." (Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2005.)

My experience in the corset was juxtaposed with a different sort of beauty when I left the convention to attend an African dance class. Just as my organs rejoiced to receive circulation again, my soul rejoiced exponentially in that class. Here were men and women of all colors, all shapes, sizes, ages, and levels of physical prowess danced together with abandon.

The studio was flooded with an array of lapas (long cloth wrapped around the waist as a skirt) of every color. Once the drummers really got going we were transformed into a rainbow of thighs shaking, heads tossing, butts bouncing, and feet stomping.

When the dance circle was formed a middle aged woman slowly made her way to the drummers. She wore no makeup, things were sagging here and there, and her eyes were lined with wrinkles. She moved slowly and purposefully, then gradually increased her energy and tempo. She was the sexiest and most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

I began to ponder these two opposing ideas of beauty. While dressing up in costumes that consist of garters, stilettos, corsets, and other such man-made illusionary devices, the resulting image of these garments (and the surgeries that are now available to echo their functions) cannot be the lowest common denominator. They cannot be the standard against which we measure ourselves.

In relation to the freedom and expressiveness that was displayed in my dance class, my prior experience with the definition of ideal beauty wasn't just different - I would venture to say that it is wrong. So why are we still buying into this school of dress-up? Why, as the comedic Dave Chappelle asked, do we "keep reading those fashion magazines? They only make you feel fat and ugly, and that you're clothes aren't good enough. And that's wrong, because you're beautiful."

There are no laws requiring us to adopt these notions of beauty. There are many men that accept the commercial standard of what makes a woman physically desirable, but even that standard is not concrete. It has changed over and over again in American pop culture. It isn't just masculine reproach that women fear; females pick each other apart, criticizing the minutia of one another's physiques, in front of and behind each other's backs.

If more women chose to be confident and unapologetic in their own unique beauty, the commercial facade of beauty would crumble without the masses of female consumers supporting it, out of fear of rejection. Fear is one of the most lucrative businesses out there, and many women will pay through their newly sculpted noses to feel attractive, and more importantly, loved.

There is nothing stopping us, men and women alike, from rejecting the more unhealthy and repressive trends; nothing but our own insecurities. So take courage! Toss out those control top pantyhose of conformity, those self-tanners of loathing, that Thigh Master of repression, and cry out for Revolution. A revolutionary spirit is the sexiest accessory of them all.

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