Tumblr sent me an email this morning wishing I Live Sweat a happy birthday, and it took me by surprise a little bit. Time slips by, moment to moment, and before you know what’s happened, the daft blog/webzine/thing you started to take your mind off some stuff is old enough to play with normal sized Lego bricks (other potential choking hazards are available).
The stuff my collaborators and I managed to do with a simple Tumblr profile, particularly during early 2011 and the months after, did a whole lot for me. First and foremost, it reminded me of something that’s easy to forget; that you might feel alone, but if you shout into the dark, you give other people who might feel the same way a chance to shout back.
The opportunities this zine led to, for me personally, still boggle my mind. I’m off to North America in a few weeks, where I’ll be travelling round, sometimes staying with old friends from uni, but mostly with mates from the Punknews staff. My work for the Org has allowed me to cover a ton of bands I love, and draw attention to important issues facing members of our subculture, most notably the Pussy Riot case and the imprisonment of punks in Aceh, Indonesia.
A couple of years back, a bloke in Melbourne, Australia got wind of my writing on comics, and asked me about writing for the website he and his mates were putting together. Noncanonical.com launched a week or two ago, and just tonight I sent off my first column. True to form, it’s a treatise on the problem of brand loyalty, as it pertains to comics. You can take the boy out of punk…
These are just the things I can express concretely in a few sentences. Much more ephemeral was the impact on my mental health, and the sense that I could do something worthwhile off my own back. In a very real sense, this zine helped me feel at home in my own head, and I’m thankful to every last person who heard me shouting in the dark, and made the effort to shout back.
"What is to be done where you’re at, and how you gonna do it?" - Mike Watt
"They think it’s all over…"
'I live sweat, but I dream light-years. I am the sun, the rise and the fall.' - Minutemen - The Glory of Man
You might have noticed that I Live Sweat hasn’t been updated for the best part of six months. Between my day job, my Punknews responsibilities, and the physical training I undertake to help manage my depression and anxiety, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to keep with everything. The day job and the training are necessary that I remain solvent and healthy, both mentally and physically, so it came down to choosing between Punknews and I Live Sweat, and the former won out, at least for the foreseeable future.
As proud as I am of what was achieved through this webzine, especially the sexism in punk series which was an absolute honour to instigate and curate, I felt a great deal of responsibility to my contributors and the community, and it was quite stressful at times, and not conducive to recovering from an anxiety disorder.
In my role as editor at Punknews, I’m part of a team of committed volunteers, and while there’s stress in that too, there’s also a support structure. I still get to shine a spotlight on bands I think aren’t getting enough attention, and I still get to shine that spotlight on the issues of gender politics we covered here, only now I’m doing it as a volunteer journalist, as opposed to a polemicist. The form is different, but the mechanism is essentially the same, in that I can find someone rocking the boat, and give them the signal boost they deserve. The key difference is that I’m doing it with friends, and that means everything to me.
I was in two minds about writing this piece, as I had thought it best to just let it lie, and slink away quietly, because the best of I Live Sweat was never about me, but about the people who took the time to write for us, and put themselves under considerable scrutiny in the process. Having said that, this project was absolutely instrumental in my ongoing recovery from depression and anxiety. It gave me a chance to be active and effective from the edge of my bed, when panic attacks, and the fear of such, were stopping me living my life as I’d have liked to, and it gave me the confidence and the self esteem that the depression robbed from me, and allowed me to start to rebuild myself while engaging with the two (non-mammalian) things I love most, punk rock and comics. For that reason, I want to thank each and every one of you who read, shared, agreed, argued, and especially contributed.
It’s been an absolute privilege. Thank you all.
Andy Waterfield remains a Marmite fanatic from South Leicestershire. He is part of the editorial staff at Punknews.org, and will shortly be joining the staff at Noncanonical.com as a columnist, because he has altogether too much to say about comics. He tweets at @andywritesstuff, and writing about himself in the third person makes him grin from ear to ear.
"Of course you want to do right by other people, but there’s a certain point where you just have to work on yourself." - Mariel Loveland of Candy Hearts, interviewed by Andy Waterfield
(Photo by Stephen Yang)
Hi, Mariel. For those who aren’t familiar with Candy Hearts, could you catch them up with who you are, and what each of you does?
Candy Hearts is, well, we’re a band obviously. I play guitar and sing, Kris Hayes plays better guitar, Christian Migliorese plays bass and Christina Picciano plays drums. Basically, everyone has their role in the band. I’m the songwriter and overly obsessive van driver (I drove no more than 5 above the speed limit all the way to Georgia); Christina is the "I get stuff done" kind of person and always speaks first when something seems not right or annoying; Kris is the tour dad and the kind of guy who always manages to have packed the stuff I would have left somewhere at a venue in the middle of no where; and Christian’s like that teenage little brother who gets into trouble sometimes but always has an interesting story.
Sounds like a pretty solid dynamic. Do you find that having that mix of temperaments and personalities helps keep things interesting?
I wouldn’t say it keeps things interesting, but it definitely keeps me sane. I can’t speak for the band, but I do know that whenever I have something I want to gossip or complain about, Christina always has my back and when it comes to being nervous and unable to handle whatever a situation might be, Kris is like the ultimate motivational speaker/life coach. Christian is like the perfect person to talk to about boys if only because he feeds me what I want to hear when I want to hear something I want to hear and lays down the truth when it’s really important. Basically, they’re some of the 3 people I feel like I can be not so pleasant around and they wouldn’t really take issue with it. I can be angry, mean or upset and if we argue, 20 minutes later it’s like nothing happened.
That sounds like a useful set of relationships when you’ve got to spend a lot of time in close proximity with one another. What’s your touring schedule been like this past year? Have you got much coming up?
Well, we toured in August down the east coast. We’re playing an unofficial CMJ show in a couple of a days in New York that we’re super excited about. In November we are playing some shows around the Boston area. It’s been kind of hard lately because pretty much the minute our record came out, our van broke. We’re hoping to have it settled by November so we can tour. Then we’ll likely go out in the spring or as soon as the ice and snow and winter driving hazards have calmed down.
Your current full length, Everyone’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy, is also your first through Kind of Like Records. How did you come to be involved with them, and how has it differed from your debut album, Ripped Up Jeans and Silly Dreams?
Actually, it was kind of strange how it came about. Our old bassist, Greg, who contributed a lot to this record, left to pursue his other band These Animals (they’re like cool vintagey indie rock) full time. Christian hopped on board because his band had recently broken up. Apparently his band had been talking to Lisa, who runs Kind of Like. Since we were shopping around for labels, he began talking to her and it just felt right. Even if most of my friends encouraged us to go in a different direction, with Kind of Like I didn’t feel like I was gaining a label — someone to put out our record. I was gaining a best friend, a crucial support system and somewhat of a personal manager/psychologist. She’s just the best!
The record is a lot different than our first to me. Our first was rushed — totally slapped together. I didn’t have a clear direction when I wrote it, nor did I really feel like any of us had a grasp on the way we wanted the record to sound. I was transitioning from being in a real solo-artist type band to something that was really a joint effort and well, a band. That was loud. On this record I feel like we had more of a cohesive idea of what we wanted and we were able to mesh some of our favorite parts of punk and our favorite parts of folk and alternative in a way that made sense together.
It’s always nice when people say awesome things about Lisa. She’s been a huge help every time I’ve needed to pick her brain about something for I Live Sweat, and she does come off as a lovely person.
The way you talk about it, it sounds like you’ve made a neat body swerve of the whole “difficult second album” cliche, and produced something more cohesive than the debut. Does that sound about right?
Yes that sounds about right, though I should note that every time I’m writing an album it really feels like I’m never going to be able to finish it and is always kind of a struggle. I’m sort of in that right now. It’s not pleasant.
A lot of your lyrics are strikingly honest about emotional vulnerability, or seem to be. Is that level of honesty important to you as a songwriter, and is there a downside at all?
All of my songs are more or less true stories. Sometimes the characters are a combination of different people, which leads those I know who might be listening to get a little confused, but it’s important to me to keep a level of honesty with my audience. When I sing a song that isn’t true for me, I feel like I’m cheating people, like I’m lying to myself. The song seems unimportant and just flat — like I’ve conned my friends into believing I deeply care about something that’s meaningless. I can’t work that way. When I draw from the things that I really feel at the core of me, that’s when I develop songs that I can be really be proud of, as afraid or unafraid as I am to put them out there. I also feel like people will respond to them better. I mean, it might be self-centered to say, but if I feel a certain way, someone else must too right?
That strikes me as being the opposite of self-centred, as it appeals to the idea of a common human experience. Expressing emotion through art has always struck me as a sympathetic impulse, for the most part, but that’s just me.
Beyond music, what kinds of things are you interested in?
I guess you’re kind of right. It depends on how you look at it.
Other than music, I really love writing and watching movies. Particularly horror movies! I also like reading, looking at clothes online that I will never be able to afford and going out with my friends.
I lose about two hours a week to staring at t-shirts I can’t justify buying. First world woes, etc.
Do you have any particular ambitions you want to fulfill, as an individual, and as a band member, in the coming year?
That’s a really hard question because I have a lot of goals both personally and band-wise, obviously everyone does. I want to tour europe, I want to make more money, I want to eat better and get more fit and further my career but I think the most important thing for me is to keep doing what I want to do and not get stuck in the rut of doing things that I don’t want to be doing. Sometimes that happens to me. I also really just want to produce work I can be proud of whether it’s in my songs or my writing.
Pretty sure doing what we want to do on our own terms is the holy grail of punk, eh?
I never really thought of it that way, but I guess your right. This whole "doing what I want" thing sort of came about when I was talking to Christian about being unhappy about something and he was just like stop complaining, don’t worry about it and do what you want. Doing what you want is the key to happiness. I think he might be right about that.
I’d sling in a couple of caveats about trying to do right by other people too, but I think I know what you mean.
Of course you want to do right by other people, but there’s a certain point where you just have to work on yourself. You can try to please everyone in the world, but if you’re not happy, does it matter? Plus, you’ll probably get really frustrated because there are always going to be those people you’ll never be able to please.
Oh, bugger pleasing them. As long as I’ve done the right thing by them and myself, I don’t care whether they like it or not.
You mentioned on Twitter recently that certain external factors affect your songwriting. Could you tell us a little bit about that, what kind of effect different factors have, and how you deal with it?
Man, you’re getting personal! External factors affect my songwriting completely. When I wrote most of “Everything’s Amazing” I was in a relatively alright spot, coming off of a summer filled with friends, travel, love and music (that sounds so cheesy, whatever, but that’s all the stuff I like). Now I’m writing our next endeavor and I don’t feel the same way I used to feel. I’m not driving around in cars with my best friends blasting our favorite songs at 3 a.m., instead I’m in a huge city, going home on the subway alone and exhausted. It’s lonelier, it’s angrier and it’s different.
I think a lot of the new themes have to do with more adult things that I’m nervous for my grandmother to hear. I felt like a kid when I wrote our last album, but I don’t anymore, and you experience different things when you grow up. Basically a lot of what I write has to do with my inability to tell some people off (or even tell myself off) or just tell other people how I feel in general. At least when I sing it, I can feel better about not being able to say what I want to say.
You mentioned that you’re nervous about your grandmother hearing certain songs. Have you ever self-censored, or considered self-censoring, to avoid upsetting family or friends?
I certainly have not censored at all but I have been putting off showing these songs to people because I havent censored myself.
You certainly seem to be reflective about the process and context around the way your work is created. Do you feel that’s an important quality?
I kind of beat myself up when I’m creating just about anything. Usually that involves thinking a lot about my work or what helps me make it. It seems like it’s probably a good quality, even if it doesn’t feel that way always.
I reckon that about covers what I wanted to talk about. Anything else you’d like to add?
Hmmm. Nope! Oh, wait. If you’re in the US you should catch us on tour with Man Overboard in Feb! That’s all. Thanks, Andy.
No, thank you, Mariel. Always a pleasure.
I recently found myself engaged in a brief but civil exchange with the person running @FRONTmag, the official Twitter account of FRONT magazine. For those who don’t know what FRONT is, feel free to use the search engine of your choice, but be aware that what you find might be classed as ‘Not Safe For Work’.
Anyway, we’ve hosted guest posts discussing FRONT before (like this one, from the wonderful Nathan Stephens-Griffin), but I reckon there’s a lot more to be said on the matter, so I’m inviting anyone with a view on the topic to get in touch with ideas for guest articles. Here are some possible starting points:
- How do you feel about FRONT’s history as a publication, and how that history relates to the way it is currently presented and perceived?
- Do you feel that FRONT has a legitimate contribution to make to punk and hardcore?
- What are your feelings when bands you enjoy work with the magazine?
- How does FRONT as a phenomenon fit into contemporary discourses around pornography? Do you feel that it represents female sexualities in a positive way? Do you feel it represents male sexualities in a positive way?
I’m aware that a lot of these questions could be read as leading questions, but I really do want to present a range of perspectives on this one. I Live Sweat was always intended to spark intelligent and respectful debate and reflection within punk and hardcore (and comics), so if you’ve got an intelligent and respectful view, whichever side you come down on, if indeed you do have a firm view, I’d love to hear from you.
If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts, please get in touch via ilivesweat AT gmail DOT com.
(Note: If you’ve got an idea for a guest post that has absolutely nothing to do with this, get in touch too! Always looking for new writers.)
If you’d like to work on something for I Live Sweat, you can, and should, get in touch via email. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just got a tiny kernel of an idea, or a Dr. Doom level world domination scheme; Get in touch, and we’ll see what we can do together. Even if you just want to offer your thoughts on something we’ve posted, I’d love to hear from you.
"Music and theatre should belong to nobody, everybody." - Hannah Nicklin compares ‘DIY’ music with ‘DIY’ theatre
(Andy’s note: Much of this relates to UK-specific art subsidies, but much of it doesn’t.)
(Start a Revolution by Tim Etchells. Photo by Hannah Nicklin, taken at the Edgelands event, in Edinburgh, in 2011. Details of the work can be found here.)
“Theatre Belongs to Everybody; Ideas Belong to No One.” - Chris Goode
A few months ago I cried at a gig for the first time. It was Koji/Into it Over it/Starters at the Old Angel in Nottingham. Koji was onstage and he stood and talked to the sticky, buzzing room about community; about what it meant, but also about holding it to account; about knowing when to call people out, and making a community stronger. I cried for two reasons; one, to have someone stand up with a mic and give me permission to be the kind of person who stands up meant the world to me, and two; because the amazing fucking feeling of all those people living and loving and breathing the words and music in that tiny room filled me up. Filled me up in a way that until that point I had mainly associated with theatre.
I make theatre. I have had work in London, Nottingham, York, Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Derby, and worked with many other companies besides. I make odd, pervasive performance pieces; stuff you download and walk through a specific city listening to, an audio piece for the top deck of a bus at 1am in London, pick up and play games, installations for swimming pools, or a simple stand-up piece made for a pub back-room where I stand in my protest gear and talk about having a policeman for a father.
When people ask me what kind of theatre I make, I haven’t really got an answer, but I’ve realised recently that if I identify with anything, it’s what I would call 'DIY' theatre. In that little sweaty room in Nottingham at the beginning of Autumn, I felt the radical resonances between those two worlds I love; punk and performance - albeit one where I am a maker, and the other an audience member – and since then I have been more and more interested in what both worlds share, and what they can learn from each other.
Daniel Yates of Exeunt Magazine sums up 'DIY' really usefully as "small scale, culturally distinctive, alternative producers of experience" (link). That sounds a bit academic-y, but I think at the root of the ethics of DIY is something born of a place and community, and which offers a distinct alternative to the monoculture that thrives on top-down structures, (the mainstream music industry e.g.) and ‘one size fits all’ models of entertainment.
I co-ran an event in Edinburgh this summer called 'Edgelands', in it a guy called Tim Crouch talked about monoculture, and the best weapon we have against it; the alternative. Any alternative. All of the alternatives (link). And DIY, in my opinion, is the best alternative there is, because it’s grown and shaped by a certain place to fit and make room for the people that want to live in it. Criticisms of scalability are bollocks in this context; one top down system and thousands of homegrown artefacts meet in the middle.
The quote at the head of this post comes from a booklet given out by theatre-maker Chris Goode (link) at an early version of his most recent show 'Keep Breathing'. The scratch (work in progress performance) happened in a dusty old factory re-named 'Stoke Newington International Airport' (link) where I and many others rehearse and perform for free. Action Hero (link) are a theatre company that got bored of struggling to put their work on in theatres, so made 2 pieces for bars, and another for music venues. Their home is the ‘Milk Bar’ in Bristol, a disused building borrowed from the council where several companies work and support each other’s work. The Forest Fringe (link) has become the highlight of most of the contemporary theatre’s Edinburgh festival, and fills the community-owned not-for-profit Forest Cafe buildings with performers and volunteers, who all work for food and accommodation only. The DIY theatre community is alive, kicking, and as fucking exciting as the music one, but they hardly seem to know of each other’s existence, and that seems odd to me.
There is, though, one massive difference (barrier?) between the two communities; public subsidy. Even if none of the above artists/companies are subsidised directly, the infrastructures in which they move, are.
Here’s the thing about subsidy:
1) Most music can’t get it. (This is wrong, but true)
2) Every work of art is accountable to the establishment (albeit an arms length QUANGO subsidiary thereof).
3) If you’re used to it, and then lose it, you’re mostly fucked.
4) All artists subsidise themselves, anyway. 100% at the beginning, but every single theatre maker I know frequently works for free/expenses only.
Here are some more things about subsidy:
1) Pre-existing and non-commercially driven infrastructure allows both scaling and support for those just starting out.
2) Subsidy that allows a living to be made out of things non-commercially driven allows more people to make art, for more people.
3) It means you don’t have to rely on your audience.
4) It means money begins to seem the only way to start doing things.
A mate of mine told me that a member of the Leicester music community who attended a performance event recently said 'theatre people never seem to do something unless they can get some money for it', and though the suggestion made me grumpy to begin with, I’d argue that is true for mid-late career companies or theatre artists. But the thing is, there are a lot more of these in the theatre world than in music. Because the stuff that infrastructure and public subsidy offers is the ability for everyone to stick with making for longer. People over 30, women, non-affluent people, are all either more likely to have caring responsibilities/family priorities, or be lacking the tools/pathways/knowhow to access the world of theatre/music, than those under 30, male, affluent. It’s the difference between scraping by, and breaking even, which makes things possible for people to live and provide by.
Theatre also has industry bodies and members’ organisations like Equity, the ITC, a-n, that actually work for their members’ interests; set living wages and suggested contracts. The kind of support that I have yet to see from majors’ sockpuppets like the MU and their pathetic finger-in-the-hole-of-the-digital-dam obsession. The theatre world is framed art-first. There is a commercial sector that resembles the majors of music, but they occupy completely different territories. Subsidy allows the non-commercial sector to exist without eventually destroying the artists who give their lives to make it.
But music can replicate some of this infrastructure without subsidy. Bandcamp, and before it myspace, has been revolutionary in terms of replacing the distribution functions of the music industry. Why couldn’t we find some form of umbrella organisation for DIY music communities which could easily begin to rival the MU; some kind of mutual or collective/s that drive standards and expectations higher, fight for transparency from Spotify, or better margins from iTunes, whilst also sharing experience/resources? A wiki-infrastructure. For example I know Leicester has the Leicester Music Collective, but how many others are there in other cities, and do they talk? Hold councils accountable for the cultural landscapes they oversee? Could donations help pay a bit of money to allow some people to put in the time to get them to run properly? (That’s another thing subsidy offers; administrators. The jobs that people won’t walk through fire to do, but that are still pretty indispensable in providing scalable infrastructure.)
There’s a criticism of both these theatre and music DIY spaces; that they can be unscalable, insignificant*, hard to find, and incredibly cliquey. The way you solve this is you invite everyone to build their own alternative, and you legitimise alternatives in the first place. What does that mean, in practice? Think about how people find you. Think about how you share skills and spaces. Think about who’s not in the room, and why they might not feel able to be. Like it or not, the fact that those who take public money are required to show how it serves the public makes theatre ask the question (though it’s rarely answered perfectly).
*sub point, fuck ‘significance’ if it always has to mean impactful on a large scale. Give me 50 people whose lives are changed over 500 whose time is filled, any day.
In turn, theatre can learn from DIY music. Theatre is live, or lived, almost by definition. The only way for most theatre to make a living is touring. Although live shows are incredibly important to music, bandcamp, soundcloud, digital downloads in general, have revolutionised audio distribution. Theatre still operates, for the most part, on a distribution system that is hundreds of years old. Big, old, dedicated buildings, weighed down by running and staffing costs. It’s time to leave these, or use them differently (the homeless and brilliant National Theatre of Wales case in point).
Theatre can also learn from the DIY music world that if something isn’t happening where you are, make it happen wherever. Don’t think money-first if you can afford the time. Ask favours of the big fish as well as the little, and pay them back. It could also work together more, share rehearsal space, kit, know-how, contacts, much more widely, efficiently, and regionally. Put theatre in non-theatre buildings, leave behind these palaces, these cathedrals to art. Put it where people are.
They can also learn from the relationship bands have with their audiences. I never heard of anyone getting a theatre company logo tattoo, or proudly, identity define-ingly sticking up show posters in their bedroom. If merch, and sales of records that people can get for free, are the main way you make any money (touring, in the experience of internationally travelled bands I know, rarely breaks even on tickets/fees vs. travel/accomm/expenses) then you have to really drive at your relationship with your fans. Theatre fails at most social media/online/audience stuff because the price of failure is not the end of their existence.
Both of these industries could also work together to show the qualitative value they bring to a community to councils, and show councils there’s more ways to support them than money; all those empty shops, all those empty buildings.
Mostly I would love to see the end of the venue apartheid. Venues where performance, music, installations, craft, libraries, kids’ groups, dance classes, poetry, print making, film screenings, food and drink all happen under one roof. Places like the (recently incredibly fucked over) Forest in Edinburgh, or STK in London.
Because quite frankly, fuck genres. Fuck art form divisions. Let’s talk to, and learn from one another. Let’s work together to fill spaces, places and people with that same burning, beautiful, winded feeling that had me in tears in a music venue last September, and does so frequently in performances. Music and theatre should belong to nobody, everybody.
Hannah Nicklin is a DIY theatre maker and punk/rock/hardcore fan from just outside Leicester in the UK. Aside from Making Things, she is also doing a PhD in how video games are changing theatre. Fun fact: she once declared digital warfare on the government when an otherwise quite rational rant about Torrents was selectively quoted in a Proper Paper. hannahnicklin.com and @hannahnicklin on Twitter.
The magnificent Nothing Nice to Say, co-written by Mitch Clem and Joe Briggs, with art by Mitch Clem. (Larger version)
I intend to write something more substantial about what NN2S has meant to me over the years at some point, but for now I’ll leave this here. Get ye stoked on Karen, and start thy bands!
"…we have a responsibility to explore new ways of connecting with the world and with each other." Nathan Stephens Griffin on why he is inspired by Audre Lorde
(Andy’s note: Because of the way the theme is formatted, this is gonna read like crap on the home page. Click here to check it out at a more sensible size. If you’d like to write about someone who inspires you, get in touch.)
Nathan is one half of One Night Stand In North Dakota, my favourite UK band. He’s interested in comics and queer theory, which makes him double-rad to the power of zombie dinosaurs. His contact details are on his Tumblr, which you can find here. He’s written for ILS before, on lad culture and gender here. I Live Sweat interviewed ONSIND last year too. Go and read!
"…where you’re only allowed to be sexy if you’re playing at it, and playing at it in the right costume." Ces Pearson takes Ann Summers to task over their advertising.
‘Drop a dress size. Boost a cup size.’
This is the text shown on an advert (see above) for Ann Summers new range of ‘sexy control lingerie’, alongside a woman appears to be so pleased with her new shape that she is verging upon climax. Ann Summers actually has a mission statement, surprisingly. It is as follows:
'TO HELP EVERY WOMAN FEEL MORE SEXY & HAVE MORE FUN.'
OK, so they’re on our side right? Ann Summers is run by a woman too, and every woman likes to feel sexy and to have fun once in a while. The problem is when we step back and realise that Ann Summers is defining 'sexy and fun' in a pretty offensive and destructive way.
Drop a dress size, boost a cup size is a perfect example of this (not that we need one after the years of objectifying advertising campaigns and window displays. I just got pissed off by it and decided to write this). We can’t be sexy and have fun unless we manipulate our bodies with various poor quality satin and lace contraptions, filled with wire and goodness knows what else to help keep our love handles at bay and our breasts jiggling around underneath our chins. Fuck it, why not start selling home liposuction kits and scalpels so we can just slice off our wobbly bits and chuck them in our uplifting balcony bras? I bet I know why the woman in the advertising campaign is pulling that face – she’s in pain. The wire in that basque is digging into her hips and she’s having to hold that position so that everything that’s been squeezed into the black lacy number doesn’t spill over the top more than is intended by the gel/air/padding in the bra. Being physically uncomfortable is not sexy and it certainly isn’t fun. Ann Summers, you’ve failed in your mission statement, and I’ve come to that conclusion by skimming over the advertising behind just one of the items you’re selling.
I personally would naively like to think that the CEO of a company would have a bit more sympathy with the women she is selling bras, knickers and sex aids to. If you really want to help women feel sexy and have fun, why tell them that, unless they are thinner and simultaneously grow bigger breasts (impossible), this just won’t happen? It’s already bad enough that your shop windows scream that we aren’t sexy without adorning ourselves with what looks like cake decorations, and medieval torture devices, now we’re being told that there’s no point in doing that at all unless we’ve got the right body shape. Sex is great, and so is encouraging women to experiment with their bodies, and their partners, and enjoy it, but the problem here is that this enjoyment is being confined to a paradigm in which women are trussed up, dressed up, disguised, and made to feel as though the body they were born with and have lived with their whole lives doesn’t measure up somehow.
Sex is an act we are all capable of, so it’s particularly infuriating when it is the heterosexual woman who is seemingly the only one thrust in the spotlight here. What about gay women and their sex? What about gay men? What about heterosexual men? Everyone’s doing it. Advertising campaigns such as Ann Summers’ not only objectify and disrespect heterosexual women, they also put on a pedestal this warped, gift wrapped, notion of the archetypal kind of sex and sexuality. Women can only pleasure themselves if it’s with a nice glittery dildo, named after a nice fluffy rabbit. That way it doesn’t threaten the great cock too much. Or does it? I think it is a bit of an insult to a man and his penis when its assumed a woman doesn’t ever want to pleasure herself with an icky replica of the real object and opts for a safe, cute, pretty barbiefied option instead. While these toys and their presentation is allowing women to be sexual, it’s still restricting it to this Ann Summers sex box where you’re only allowed to be sexy if you’re playing at it, and playing at it in the right costume. It is defining sex and women’s sexuality through the objectification of women’s bodies, through a heterosexual gaze, and setting the cutesy/vampy, non threatening, non realistic, boundaries of what is allowed to be sexy. We’re encouraged to disguise how our bodies look and how they smell, even how they feel. I can’t speak for everyone but being made to think that my body requires all of this tat adorning it and warping it does not make me feel sexy, and squashing myself into some kind of breast enhancing girdle doesn’t make having fun an option.
This rant is only scratching the surface of what needs to be examined in terms of sex, sexuality, how we perceive it, and how we are coerced into feeling about it. I’m sure not many reading this were ever under the illusion that the majority of Ann Summers products really helped us to feel sexy and fun at all in the first place. It’s not nice to be told you’re lacking in something, or that what you do have is either too much or too little. It’s even worse when you’re then exploited into working for money to buy what you’re told you need by adverts like the one that sparked off this article, only to find you’re still that one step/dress size/cup size away from sexual perfection, yet again.
If you see this window display, please tear it down, stick something over it, egg the shop, do something (but don’t get caught). No one would stand for a campaign to change skin colour to increase sex appeal (in the UK – the skin bleaching industry is huge in China and other parts of Asia, a huge issue for women and men), nowhere would put up a sign so blatantly advertising increased penis size and men’s inadequacy on the high street, so why should we put up with this? Dropping a dress size and gaining a cup size simultaneously is physically impossible, and even if it wasn’t – who the fuck is anyone to say you should do so to feel sexy and have fun?
Ces is 23, from Lincoln. She likes being a geek and reading about social policy, welfare and gender issues. She likes punk and hardcore and is angry because she’s waiting to hear back from a job and has channeled this anxiety into feminist rage, resulting in this article.