Writer and director Elena Rossini has released the first four minutes of The Illusionists. I’m really excited to see the rest. The documentary is a critique of a high standard of beauty but, unlike some that focus exclusively on the impacts of Western women, Rossini’s film looks as though it will do a great job of illustrating how Western capitalist impulses are increasingly bringing men, children, and the entire world into their destructive fold.
The first few minutes address globalization and Western white supremacy, specifically. As one interviewee says, the message that many members of non-Western societies receive is that you “join Western culture… by taking a Western body.” The body becomes a gendered, raced, national project — something that separates modern individuals from traditional ones — and corporations are all too ready to exploit these ideas.
Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the National Guard in Georgia has always plaited her hair into two twists around her head. She has been in the military for six years and has worn her hair natural (meaning no chemical treatments [perms] or hair extensions [weaves]) for four of those years. But according to the new hair-grooming requirements the U.S. Army recently released, her hair is now out of regulation.
And so are the Afro-centric hairstyles of many black women in the Army, who make up 31 percent of Army women.
Jacobs, who said she is “kind of at a loss now with what to do with my hair,” has started a White House petition asking the Army to rethink its new hair guidelines. The petition has collected more than 7,000 signatures from soldiers and civilians, but needs to reach 100,000 signatures by April 19th in order for the White House to address it.
Females with natural hair take strides to style their natural hair in a professional manner when necessary; however, changes to AR 670-1 offer little to no options for females with natural hair… These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent.
The new Army Regulation 670-1 was published Tuesday and illustrates with photos the types of hairstyles that are unauthorized for women. Those include dreadlocks, twists or any type of matted or coiled hair. A particularly cumbersome requirement disallows the bulk of a woman’s hair to “exceed more than 2″ from her scalp.” That rules out Afros and most types of non-chemically altered black hair.
Basically, almost every natural hair option that black women in the Army could wear is now off limits. One of the few traditionally natural hairstyles that was listed as appropriate is cornrows, but a slew of specifications and rules surrounded even that. The diameter of each cornrow can’t be more than one-fourth of an inch, and no more than one-eighth of an inch of scalp may be shown between cornrows.
The only way to realistically meet the new standards would be to shave one’s head, perm one’s hair or wear weaves or wigs.
Jacobs said twists like the one she wears are very popular among black women soldiers because the style requires little maintenance when in the field. Her hair’s thickness and curliness makes pulling her hair back into a bun (a style popular among white women soldiers) impossible.
A spokesperson for the Army said the grooming changes are “necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population.” When that need for “uniformity” erases the ethnic differences of a group of women and forces them to constrain themselves to European standards of hair, it presents a serious problem.
“I think, at the end of the day, a lot of people don’t understand the complexities of natural hair… I’m disappointed to see the Army, rather than inform themselves on how black people wear their hair, they’ve white-washed it all,” said Jacobs.
Last month I wrote about how the revival in the popularity of beards was hurting razor sales, causing companies like Proctor & Gamble to ramp up advertising encouraging “manscaping” below the neck. Here’s another response to the trend: hair plugs for your face.
According to a facial plastic surgeon interviewed for an article at DNAinfo New York, the rate at which he is asked to do facial hair transplants has skyrocketed from ” just a handful of beard transplants each year a decade ago” to about three a week. The surgeons mention the hipster beard trend as one cause of the rise in interest, but also cite a wide array of people who might be interested in fuller facial hair:
…clients include men who have struggled since adolescence to grow a beard, those undergoing a gender transition from female to male, men with with facial scarring and Hasidic Jews who hope to achieve denser payot, or sidelocks.
Expense for the procedure ranges from $3,o00 for partial transplants to $7,000 for a full beard.
What a fascinating example of the intersection of race, gender, religion, technology, and capitalism. Which men’s faces have more power to determine appearance norms for men? Or, what does masculinity look like? Men with Asian, American Indian, and African backgrounds are less likely to be able to grow full beards, but a society centered on whiteness can make their faces seem inadequate. If the situation were reversed, would we see white men, disproportionately, going in for laser hair removal? Would transmen feel less pressure to be able to grow a beard to feel fully masculine? Would they feel more if they were part of a Hasidic Jewish community?
Also, is this really about hipsters? How much power does a young, monied demographic have to set fashion trends? To send a wide range of people to surgeons — for goodness sake — in the hopes of living up to a more or less fleeting trend? How do such trends gain purchase across such a wide range of people? What other forces are at work here?
I always love a good behind-the-scenes marketing story and last month NPR reported that Proctor & Gamble is facing falling men’s razor sales as beards have become more fashionable. Their response? To put more pressure on men to shave other parts of their bodies.
Always a glutton for punishment, I set out to discover just how they were going to try to convince men to do this… and I was not disappointed.
Gillette has hired models to convince men to shave, well, their whole body. A slightly longer ad featuring three of them begins with the question, “What do you say to a guy who grooms everything?” To which they answer, “Yaaaaaaay!” No really.
This is the sexual objectification of male bodies. The use of threats like “you’ll be disgusting to women if you don’t do what we say” is a form of social control. One point for capitalism over its long-enduring opponent in the male hygiene and grooming market: gender ideology.
Law professor Osagie K. Obasogie interviewed a series of people who had been blind since birth about their understanding of the concept of race. Counter-intuitively, he found that race was as meaningful to them as it was to sighted people and that their descriptions and biases were largely in line with cultural norms. The article includes really striking quotations from the interviewees and what Obasogie describes as an “empirical assessment of the metaphor of colorblindness.” He’s also published a book based on the research: Blinded By Sight.
In this three minute interview, he explains some of his findings:
Several factors were in play in the 1920s for the emergence of what came to be known as flappers, teenagers and young women who flaunted convention and spent their time pursuing fun instead of settling down to raise children in the prime of their lives. Many entered college or the workforce and felt entitled to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.
A lot of young men did not return home from World War I, which left an entire cohort of women without enough husbands to go around. The horror of the war (and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918) also impressed young people with the knowledge that life is short and could end at any moment. Instead of staying home preparing to marry a man who might never come, young women wanted to spend what time they had enjoying all that life had to offer.
Movies popularized the image of the fun-loving and free-thinking woman throughout the US and Europe. The 1920 movie The Flapper introduced the term in the United States. The title character, Ginger, was a wayward girl who flouted the rules of society. Played by Olive Thomas, a former Ziegfeld Girl (left), Ginger had so much fun that a generation of lonely young women wanted to be like her. Another role model was stage and screen actress Louise Brooks (right), who also modeled for artists and fashion designers. She was the inspiration for the flapper comic strip Dixie Dugan.
Clara Bow wasn’t the first flapper on screen, but she was certainly a role model for young women of the era. She didn’t play by the rules, and was tabloid fodder for years for her sexual escapades with the biggest movie stars of the time. Bow’s first film was in 1922 and her career peaked in 1927 with the film It. “It” was defined as the sexual allure some girls have and others don’t. Bow’s fans wanted “it”, so they copied her look and behavior.
The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.
These young women had plenty of opportunities for fun. Although Prohibition drove alcohol underground, that only added to its allure. Postwar prosperity allowed for leisure time and the means to spend that time drinking, dancing, and hanging out with free thinkers.
Being a flapper wasn’t all about fashion. It was about rebellion. In this article from 1922, a would-be flapper (but still a “nice girl”) explains her lifestyle choices to her parents. Flappers did what society did not expect from young women. They danced to Jazz Age music, they smoked, they wore makeup, they spoke their own language, and they lived for the moment. Flapper fashion followed the lifestyle. Skirts became shorter to make dancing easier. Corsets were discarded in favor of brassieres that bound their breasts, again to make dancing easier. The straight shapeless dresses were easy to make and blurred the line between the rich and everyone else. The look became fashionable because of the lifestyle. The short hair? That was pure rebellion against the older generation’s veneration of long feminine locks.
The party stopped when the economy crashed and the Great Depression curtailed the night life. Although the flapper lifestyle died along with the Roaring Twenties, the freedoms women tasted in that era weren’t easily given up. They may have gone back to marriage and long hours of toil for little pay, but hemlines stayed above the ankle, and the corset never went back to everyday status. And we’ve been driving cars ever since.
Miss Cellania is a newlywed mother of four, full-time blogger, former radio announcer, and worst of all, a Baby Boomer. In addition to mental_floss, she posts at Neatorama, YesButNoButYes, Geeks Are Sexy, and Miss Cellania. Miss C considers herself an expert on no particular subject at all.
John Millward, a self-described “ideas detective,” has done something intriguing. He cracked the Internet Adult Film Database (IAFD) and used a sample of 10,000 porn stars to tell a story about porn. Here are some of his findings.
The average female porn star, he discovered, was 5’5″ and weighed 117 pounds. She doesn’t have a double-D bra size; she’s a 34B. And she’s not blonde:
She’s also not disproportionately white. Millward found that the racial breakdown among porn actresses somewhat matched U.S. population demographics:
Race % of actresses % of the population
White 70.5 78.1
Black 14.0 13.1
Latina 9.3 16.7
Asian 5.2 5.0
American Indian no data 1.2
The average woman begins her career at 22. This has been unchanged for the last 40 years. The average age for men was 29 in the ’70s, but it’s dropped to 24. Careers were longer in the ’70s. Men quite after 12 years, women after nine. Today men quit, on average, after four years and women after three.
Interestingly, success for male porn stars is much more concentrated than for female. There are fewer of them (70% of all porn stars are women) and they’re less interchanged. Millward reports that 96 of the most prolific porn stars of all time — measured by number of films — are men. Women, on average, do fewer films each. Just over half (53%) do three or more.
The IAFD records all of the sex acts that actors do on film. Accordingly to Millward’s analysis, this is what actresses do:
And here are the roles they play:
Wives in porn, by the way, are not typically having sex with their husbands.
Cross-posted at Hawkblocker.This Dove commercial for hair dye is just fascinating. It features a woman talking about what color means to her. She observes that color is sensual, drawing connections between certain colors and the feeling of a cool breeze, the sun on one’s skin, a taste on one’s tongue, and more. She says colors are moods: blonde is bubbly, red is passionate. The voice-over explains that dying her hair makes life “more vivid” and makes her want to laugh and dance. She does it to invoke these characteristics.
She then explains that she’s blind. The commercial uses her blindness to suggest that hair dye isn’t about color at all. It’s about the feeling having dyed hair gives you, even if you can’t see the color. “I don’t need to see it,” she says, “I can feel it.”
By using a woman who is (supposedly) blind, the commercial for hair dye uses the element of surprise to detach the product from the promise. The sole purpose of hair dye is changing how something looks, but this ad claims that the change in appearance is entirely incidental. Instead, dying one’s hair is supposed to make all of life more vibrant, every moment incredibly special, every pleasure more intense, and fill you to the brim with happy emotions. It’s completely absurd. Fantastically absurd. Insult-our-intelligence absurd.
And yet, it’s also exactly what nearly every other commercial and print ad does. Most ads promise — in one way or another — that their product will make you happier, your life brighter, and your relationships more magical. The product is positioned as the means, but not an end. Most hair dye commercials, for example, promise that (1) if your hair is dyed to be more conventionally beautiful, (2) you will feel better/people will treat you better and, so, (3) your life will be improved. This ad just skips the middle step, suggesting that chemicals in hair dye do this directly.
So, I’m glad to come across this utterly absurd commercial. It’s a good reminder to be suspicious of this message in all advertising.