A QUICK WORD
It’s not easy being a woman on the internet (or like, full stop), and it’s definitely not easy being a woman on the internet who talks about fat positivity and feminism. Just ask this week’s featured writer and battler of Twitter trolls, Lindy West.
For many of us, body acceptance makes sense on an intellectual level; We know our size and shape doesn’t define us. But (and it’s a big, round butt), that rational thought doesn’t always hold strong when we look in the mirror. So, let’s follow Lindy’s lead this week and think positively about (at least) one part of our body. Thank your legs for getting you to work; your eyes for being able to watch reruns of Gilmore Girls (no? Just us?); or your arms for making it through that final round of vinyasa flows. (Or just take Lindy’s advice. We recently went to see her talk, and when asked what she does to get through the bullshit of everyday life, she responded: “I just say to myself, ‘I’m a nice lady’.)
This issue, we’re also excited to share our chat with Yorta Yorta curator Kimberley Moulton about RECENTRE:sisters, an upcoming Melbourne-based exhibition featuring female Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander artists. Amid a week of blah – Malcolm! Stop fangirling Donald Trump, the world is literally melting – and iffy budget decisions, it’s worth checking out an exhibition that looks to a future where the matriarchy rules.
So, from us “nice ladies” to you, enjoy this issue.
– Mia & Grace
Image: Instagram/thelindywest. Digital art: Nina Abrahams
I dislike “big” as a euphemism, maybe because it’s the one chosen most often by people who mean well, who love me and are trying to be gentle with my feelings. I don’t want the people who love me to avoid the reality of my body. I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable with its size and shape, to tacitly endorse the idea that fat is shameful, to pretend I’m something I’m not out of deference to a system that hates me. I don’t want to be gentled, like I’m something wild and alarming. (If I’m going to be wild and alarming, I’ll do it on my terms.) I don’t want them to think I need a euphemism at all.
“Big” is a word we use to cajole a child: “Be a big girl!” “Act like the big kids!” Having it applied to you as an adult is a cloaked reminder of what people really think, of the way we infantilise and desexualise fat people. Fat people are helpless babies enslaved by their most capricious cravings. Fat people don’t know what’s best for them. Fat people need to be guided and scolded like children. Having that awkward, babyish word dragging on you every day of your life, from childhood into maturity, well, maybe it’s no wonder I prefer hot chocolate to whisky and substitute Harry Potter audiobooks for therapy.
Every cell in my body would rather be “fat” than “big”. Grownups speak the truth.
Over time, the knowledge that I was too big made my life smaller and smaller. I insisted that shoes and accessories were just “my thing”, because my friends didn’t realise I couldn’t shop for clothes at regular shops and I was too mortified to explain it to them. I backed out of dinner plans if I remembered the restaurant had particularly narrow aisles or rickety chairs. I ordered salad even if everyone else was having fish and chips. I pretended to hate skiing because my giant men’s ski pants made me look like a chimney and I was terrified my bulk would tip me off the chairlift. I stayed home as my friends went hiking, biking, sailing, climbing, diving, exploring – I was sure I couldn’t keep up, and what if we got into a scrape? They couldn’t boost me up a cliff or lower me down an embankment or squeeze me through a tight fissure or hoist me from the hot jaws of a bear. I never revealed a single crush, convinced that the idea of my disgusting body as a sexual being would send people – even people who loved me – into fits of projectile vomiting (or worse, pity). I didn’t go swimming for a decade.
As I imperceptibly rounded the corner into adulthood – 14, 15, 16, 17 – I watched my friends elongate and arch into these effortless, exquisite things. I waited. I remained a stump. I wasn’t jealous, exactly; I loved them, but I felt cheated.
We each get just a few years to be perfect. To be young and smooth and decorative and collectible. That’s what I’d been sold. I was missing my window, I could feel it pulling at my navel (my obsessively hidden, hated navel), and I scrabbled, desperate and frantic. Deep down, in my honest places, I knew it was already gone – I had stretch marks and cellulite long before 20 – but they tell you that, if you hate yourself hard enough, you can grab a tail feather or two of perfection. Chasing perfection was your duty and your birthright, as a woman, and I would never know what it was like – this thing, this most important thing for girls.
I missed it. I failed. I wasn’t a woman. You only get one life. I missed it.
Society’s monomaniacal fixation on female thinness isn’t a distant abstraction, something to be pulled apart by academics in women’s studies classrooms or leveraged for traffic in shallow “body-positive” listicles (“Check Out These 11 Fat Chicks Who You Somehow Still Kind of Want to Bang – No 7 Is Almost Like a Regular Woman!”). It is a constant, pervasive taint that warps every woman’s life. And, by extension, it is in the amniotic fluid of every major cultural shift.
Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise women to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws, rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time – that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.
This is an extract from SHRILL by Lindy West (Hachette Australia, $22.99.)
“ART IS A VESSEL OF PROTEST”
Matriarchy, feminist futurism, sisterhood, and subverting the patriarchy from an Indigenous woman’s standpoint. Those are just a handful of themes touched on by the exhibition RECENTRE:sisters, curated by Kimberley Moulton, (Senior Curator, Southeastern Australia Aboriginal Collections for Museums Victoria) and showing as part of theYIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival in Melbourne.
By Mia Abrahams
What does Indigenous art look like in 2017?
Indigenous art in 2017 is anything that is created by an artist that identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. It can be photography, sculpture, dance—it’s endless. The aboriginal aesthetic is not confined to dots or lines or ochre, or a stereotype of what people may assume what Aboriginal art is.
There’s beautiful examples of work coming out (for example, in the recent exhibition Sovereignty, at ACCA). The breadth of art there spread from video and projection, to weaving and possum skin cloaks. [Indigenous art] spreads from the customary or traditional—shield making and cloak making or basketry—through to video work and photography. Yirramboi is an incredible example of the diversity of both the Australian Indigenous and international First Nations community, and what we’re doing in terms of our creative expression as sovereign people.
Aboriginal art lends itself to political art too. Not all Aboriginal artists are political, or identify as such, but I think that it’s inherent in our work and in our histories. A lot of our art at the moment is challenging the patriarchy, and challenging the government, and challenging prejudice and assumptions about who we are. That’s a really important way that our art can change and shift ideas.
Hannah Brontë, Video still from Still I Rise, 2016
The RECENTRE:sisters exhibition subverts patriarchal Australia from a sovereign woman’s standpoint. What is the relationship between art and protest or politics? Can we make art in 2017 without it?
We certainly can make art without politics. But, for a lot of the Aboriginal artists that I’ve worked with, and for myself in my own practice, the current climate that we live in as Aboriginal people within this country, and the government, policies, and ongoing colonial regime that we live under, completely informs our work. Art is vessel of protest itself. It’s an opportunity to voice frustrations, and to voice pride, but it’s also a way to challenge systems. I think the artists in RECENTRE really challenge the patriarchy and the white hegemony—the oppressor.
Ultimately though, the artists in RECENTRE celebrate womanhood. That’s what I love about these artists, the celebration of who we are as Aboriginal women. More broadly, art is so crucial right now, and the arts is so crucial right now…to really stand up and voice how we feel about current situations, and to really challenge authority. Unfortunately, it’s not funded the way it should be, but for a healthy society and community we must have arts, to really give us a voice.
Tell me about RECENTRE:sisters, how it was conceived, and what are some of the highlights?
I wanted to work with female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and I was thinking of the importance of sisterhood, and the matriarchy in our current lived experience as Aboriginal women, and how artists are centring or re-centring that history in their work.
The artists that I have asked to be part of the show are doing some really interesting work. Destiny Deacon, an amazing strong black woman, who I have admired for man, many years has really influenced my way of thinking around Aboriginal art.
Some of the other artists are covering topics such as personal matriarchal structures in their family and future imaginings of feminism and the matriarchy. Hannah Brontë’s work, “Still I Rise”, reimagines a future female parliament of Aboriginal women and women of colour.
I hope that people can come in and connect to the strong sisterhood that is happening in the moment within our community, and connect with how these artists are positioning the matriarchy in their work.
Why is it so important to have Indigenous curators in our cultural institutions?
Generally, if you look across all the major institutions within Australia, the level of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment is dramatically low, particularly in areas like curatorial and collection management. [Ed’s note: There are very few Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander curators even for the Indigenous collections of museums and galleries across Australia.]
These cultural institutions have a huge responsibility to collect for the future and for the now, and for telling stories and histories. If we don’t have Indigenous people leading the vision for our culture and art in these spaces, well, then our histories and stories and are being told from a white, non-Indigenous perspective. And that’s really problematic, and it’s still happening in 2017.
I’m very privileged to have the position I have at Museums Victoria, as the curator for South-East Indigenous collections, and I know that my organisation is working towards improving their employment rate. But, if you look across the sector, in all the major institutions, the curators that are in the art galleries and museums in Indigenous cultures, you’ll find there are few Indigenous people there.
We have to critically look at why that is. It’s 2017. We should be leading this space as Aboriginal people in these institutions, alongside our non-indigenous colleagues.
This interview has been edited for brevity.
Bronte Coates, digital content coordinator for Melbourne bookstore Readings, prescribes us some good reads.
Q. ICYHISIY (In case you haven’t illegally streamed it yet:) The Handmaid’s Tale justgot an Australian release! Sadly, it’s July 6. So what can I do in the meantime to scratch my book-to-movie/TV adaption itch? – Clueless fan, Sydney
A. While it’s technically not a film, Liane Moriaty’s 2014 novel Big Little Lies was recently adapted for a mini-series by HBO. The show is terrific but it won’t beat the book.
Other recent book-to-screen adaptations that might appeal include… a long-awaited adaptation of Craig Silvey’s Australian coming-of-age story, Jasper Jones; a new take on Stephen King’s classic horror tale, It; and an Oscar nominated film inspired by Saroo Brierley’s memoir of his search for his birth parents, Lion. You can find a collection of other books that have inspired this year’s Academy Award nominated films here.
Also, if you haven’t yet read Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale The Handmaid’s Tale, now is the time. Don’t just wait for the screen version. This novel feels more important than ever in the time of Trump.
60 SECONDS WITH NIKKI GEMMELL
We caught up with the bestselling Sydney-based author (you’ll remember her from The Bride Stripped Bare) about her new book and where she finds inspo.
By Grace Jennings-Edquist
Twitter/@NikkiGemmell with digital artwork by Grace Jennings-Edquist
When writing a book, do you plan out every chapter before you begin or just start and see what happens?
Plan and plot. I used to just go for it, but would lose my way.
What are you reading now?
Poetry, which is my tuning fork when I write fiction. Anne Carson, Judith Wright, Les Murray. I’m deep into a novel so don’t like getting sidelined by other novelist’s voices as I’m working.
Tell us about your new book.
My own book, After, which was published in March. It’s about the complicated relationship with my mother, who euthanised herself after years of chronic pain. It’s like a detective story, beginning with a body and working backwards from there. It released me from a knot of anger I’d held at the core of my life, for decades. I am learning to live without anger, thanks to the balming writing process – it’s liberating and exhilarating. I feel like a new person.
You’re two chapters into reading a book and you’re not drawn in. Do you push forward, or put the book down and find something that you’re more instantly interested in?
Always put down. Working mum. Four kids. Swamped. No time to linger.
After (Harper Collins, 29.99 AUD) is out now.
DEAR DOORLY DOCTOR
We’re bringing back the sealed section. In this section, doctors answer readers’ most candid(a) sex questions.
Q: I had a pregnancy scare when my period was six days late, and then I had a weird period that was intense for one or two days. Could it have been an early miscarriage?? – WTAF, Sydney
A: It is normal for women to experience some irregularity in their menstrual cycle in the first few years of menstruation, and this normal settles down over time. It is possible that your period was simply ‘late’ or if you had sexual intercourse prior, that you experienced an early failed pregnancy. Signs that suggest a failed pregnancy include; if your periods are normally very regular, if the period was much heavier than usual, or if you experienced more severe abdominal cramping than usual. It is also possible to do a blood test to look for serum levels of bHCG, which is a hormone produced during conception and implantation, and may be elevated in an early miscarriage.
– Dr Jessica Dean (She’s founder of the Nookie Project, a director of beyondblue, and doctor at Monash Health in Melbourne.)
WE’RE ACROSS THE INTERNET, SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE
- Fairfax writers walked off the job after the announcement that 125 editorial jobs will be cut at major papers including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Sign the petition here to let Fairfax know: It’s time to invest in journalism.
- We know you don’t care about the MTV Movie Awards but the two kids fromMoonlight winning Best Kiss will bring tears to your cold, cynical eyes. The kids are alright!
- Uni students lose out in this year’s budget, handed down last night. There will be a 7.5% fee increase by 2022, and the income level at which you’ll have to start repaying your HECS debt will also be reduced from $55,000 to $42,000. Boo.
- “I teach The Yellow Wallpaper because I believe it can save people.” A lecturer’sbeautiful essay on why she has taught Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1891 story for nearly two decades – and why, in today’s political climate, it has more resonance than ever.
- If you’re having a bit of a lonely-girl moment this weekend, how about putting the kettle on and curling up with a book?
- The New York Times wrote an op-ed on Australia’s immoral preference for Christian refugees: “Australia should consider that history may judge it harshly for treating today’s Muslims as it did yesterday’s Jews.”
- Prepare to have your enthusiasm like, seriously curbed, by Larry David’s daughter Cazzie David’s new web series.
Featured image: Anna Snowsill.