My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Monday, 15 August 2016

Body Positivity, Goth and Weight Gain

Content warning: this is a post about my struggles with weight and body-image, and therefore may include topics that people may be sensitive about. 


I've been struggling to write this post. I'd like to write a post saying that I accept myself as beautiful regardless of the fact I've put on weight since starting college - not a lot of weight, I've probably only gone up a dress size, but enough to be noticeable - and that all Goths should take confidence, that we're an inclusive bunch... However, that would be disingenuous and not an accurate reflection of how things really are.

My getting fatter has been the result of unhealthy lifestyle changes;  spending all day sitting in front of a computer working on CAD projects, presentation projects and essays, pulling too many all-nighters, going from doing martial arts 3 nights a week to virtually no exercise, taking the bus instead of walking places, eating less healthily because I'm too busy studying to cook for myself, eating the unhealthy options from the college cafeteria so I can be in and out as quickly as possible, drinking lots of sugared drinks (tea, coffee), etc. etc. All of these things are unhealthy in ways beyond weight gain.  I know that when I'm on holiday, as I am now, I'm more active, have lost some of the weight, am eating a lot more healthily, etc. and that this is a temporary state of being, something I can change, and hopefully next academic year I will have more time (and money) for exercise and sport, and make changes like bringing a healthy packed lunch to college, cycling to college instead of taking the bus, trying to be better organised and less stressed (stress is not healthy in and of itself, ignoring its contribution to my weight gain).

As most people who have followed this blog for a while will know, my natural build is tall and stocky - the female version of the body-type prevalent on my father's side. I have hormonal issues that result in a few masculine traits (including receding hair-line and facial hair, unfortunately), and which possibly contribute to my being more muscular than a lot of women (in combination with having been sporty). I'm nearly 5'10" and have broad shoulders and hips, too. I used to be a bit self-conscious about this because I will never be the thin sort of figure that is seen by mainstream society as feminine, elegant and beautiful, but over time I came to embrace it because I was fast, powerful and strong - things that are more important to me than what I look like. I might not have thin limbs and a graceful figure, but I do have a side-kick like a mule and used to do manual labour alongside men and keep up.

Firstly, I'm sad that with not exercising properly and gaining weight I'm not as fit as I was. I can't chase down and over-take the bus to catch it at the next stop if I miss it at mine (it's not a side-by side race, I have the advantage of taking the diagonal and not having to deal with the same junctions as the traffic...) and I can't do as many push-ups as I used to, and I get tired walking up to the top of the hill. That athleticism I used to be proud of isn't what it was, I have taken a loss in that sense of pride. It is also impractical to be slower, to get tired quicker, to be less fit; things that were once easy have got harder.

Secondly, I don't look the way I used to. I know that this is shallow of me, and I shouldn't be annoyed with myself over something as meaningless as appearance, and that I shouldn't think I've got ugly just because I've got larger... However, I do. I guess it's partly because the person I see in the mirror doesn't look like the sporty person I was - fat has softened defined muscles, my face looks puffy, and all the softness is a reminder of martial arts classes missed, of eating instant noodles instead of home made vegetable dishes, of not going to archery practice, of not spending time training my body because I've been training my mind. It's a reminder that I've sacrificed one version of myself to pursue another, and that I need to find a way to balance the two.


But it's also because I look even further from the lean and angular ladies in polished Gothic photo-shoots, with their defined cheek-bones and thin frames cinched narrow with corsets, long slender limbs and generally slight but tall frames... 

I know it is pointless to compare myself with these images - most of them are digitally edited anyway; even my professional photographs are often edited a little, so I should know this! Intellectually, I do, and for the most part I can remind myself that comparing myself to others is an exercise in futility that will only make me miserable, but on some level, I compare myself anyway. I want to be one of the fierce but elegant angular women I see in these pictures. Glances as sharp as their cheek-bones, wasp-like waists - the vampire aesthetic, dead-undead.  I can't blame the images for my not living up to them; I only have myself to blame for comparing myself in the first place, and not being satisfied with who I am, and I only have myself to blame for not adapting to the changes in my lifestyle brought on by college. I know intellectually that beauty is divorced from a specific set of measurements and proportions, and while I can apply this to other people, I struggle to apply it to myself.

I've actually been in Gothic Beauty magazine, and will be in the fall issue of Carpe Nocturne - tall and thick-limbed as I am. The photos for Carpe Nocturne are fairly recent, taken this summer so after I'd lost some of the weight, but not back to the size I was before. I still compare myself negatively to the other women who appear in these glossy magazines - on both occasions I'm only depicted to put a face to an interview, not because I've been picked out as a beautiful model, and I look at the models and think I cannot compare. I can be well-dressed, polish my make-up skills and pose artfully, but even when I'm at my thinnest, I think I just don't have the figure to be beautiful like that.

I think that the Goth subculture does reinforce many of the beauty standards of mainstream society - when you see the photos that make it to Goth fashion magazines and which are popular on social media like Tumblr and Facebook, the ones that are most popular are the above mentioned thin and angular beauties. They are the ones which saturate Gothic fashion. They're are certainly beautiful women, and I don't begrudge their success, I just think that there's a lack of diversity of body-types. I don't even see many women of the body-type I had before I gained weight, strong limbed, powerful.

I look up to women like Gwendoline Christie portraying a strong and tall Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones and still being beautiful, or to female MMA fighters, more muscular and powerful than I am, an inspiration to me - Gabriella Garcia, for example is powerfully built and 6'2". I don't have anyone to look up to in Goth fashion that is tall and powerful. There's also a dearth of larger women, curvier women, women who aren't very pale, and of men and masculine people in general - I would estimate that 90% of Gothic fashion photos and images I come across are femme women.

I would like to see a broader diversity of body-types in Gothic fashion imagery, especially in that which is promoted. I would like to see more people who are androgynous and gender-non-conforming, and I would definitely like to see more men. Goth used to be a space where the men were as interested in fashion and style as the women, and where gender-non-conformity was common. I still meet plenty of non-binary Goths, but I don't see them in the fashion imagery. I'm seeing an increasing representation of Goths who aren't very pale, which is excellent - dark-skinned Goths are as valid as pale-skinned Goths. Don't get me wrong, as someone who was bullied for so long for being naturally very pale and not wanting to get a fake tan and darkening foundation, I like being in a space where my complexion is celebrated rather than denigrated, but it's important that we don't become exclusionary in turn, or even racist. 

Before this becomes another rant going nowhere, I know I'm not the first person in the Goth subculture to notice this narrowness, this continuation of mainstream beauty standards even though as a subculture we should have the autonomy to decide against that sort of thing. Things are being done - Goth magazines are showcasing a broader range of models, especially a more ethnically diverse range, and plenty of Goth bloggers outside narrow beauty standards are putting themselves out there with their own content and images,  more made-for-Goth fashion ranges come in larger sizes and smaller sizes (I know many very petite Goth ladies who have struggled to find things that fit well on them, especially shoes), and there are groups and events setting out to celebrate body-positivity and beauty in many shapes and forms. Each time people raise the topic and speak up against having a narrow definition of beauty in Goth, it erodes that narrowness. There's also groups like ::Club Bodice:: in San Francisco work to create body-positive spaces within Goth and have shame-free club-nights - Club Bodice is the first to organise a deliberately size and body positive Goth night. Nobody should be made to feel they don't have the right body or look to have fun.

Progress is being made, it just needs to keep being made. 

In the meanwhile, I will try my best to balance being a student with looking after my health, sleeping properly, exercising more and eating nutritiously. And I will try to remember that whether or not I am beautiful is not based on how closely I measure up to the thin-framed women with sharp cheek-bones in Gothic photoshoots. Being mindful of when I'm falling prey to external pressures is the first step to not letting them get to me. 

☆♕☆

I was contacted via FaceBook by Club Bodice, and their body-positive club nights in San Francisco. I was invited to their first anniversary David Bowie themed event, but being all the way over in Scotland, I can't attend. I was asked to share details of the event, and will.

The 'It's Only Forever' event will be held at the Stud Bar at 399 9th Street, San Francisco, California (US of A), 9410. It is for those over 21 only, and the door admission is $10 and it runs from 21:00 on 21st August to 02:00 the next morning.  Kitty Von Quim will be doing a burlesque performance, and there will also be belly-dancing by Ariella. I think there's also going to be a prize give-away. The Facebook page for the event is ::here::.
 

10 comments:

  1. Sigh, you kinda synched this post with my lately thoughts...
    I started running my blog, because I thought I dress creatively. And since my clothes came only from thrift stores, I wanted to show that DIY in gothic scene is not over and dressing in thrifted stuff doesn't have to make you look 'poorer' in comparison with people who dress in clothes by gothic companies.
    So everything was fine and dandy, but then I started comparing myself to the gothic girls I've been seeing all over the place. They were all younger than me. Slimmer. With these perfect triangular faces and sharp cheekbones, of course. With impeccable makeup. With wildly coloured and stylized hair. With expensive clothes and polished photoshoots. I started to feel I'm kind of... falling short? And that I don't have anything original to give to the world...
    I've recently suspended my blog, but I honestly don't know whether to revive it or delete it and disappear from the internet. I know many would say I have nothing to complain about, since I'm white and slender so it supposedly makes me a 'standard beauty', but I have somewhat strange face features that fall outside this category. And maybe they shouldn't. Maybe really what everyone wishes to see on the internet are people who look the same, even in alternative circles...

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    1. Most of my clothes are from either eBay or thrift-stores. Thrifting doesn't have to make anyone look "poor" - I've found that thrift-store clothes are often more unique, and if you're patient, it's possible to find things of very good quality.

      I must admit I'm probably one of those girls with the wildly coloured hair - if it's any consolation, the upkeep is a LOT of work, and I'm back to one colour now because having multi-coloured hair looks great... for the first few days only, and then looks a right mess when it starts to fade and the colours muddy into each other.

      I'm lucky with the photo-shoots because Raven is a semi-professional photographer, and I have been very blessed to have him take photos of me as he's always such an excellent photographer. However, photography is a very technical art, and therefore one of those things that can be learned with patience - I'm learning with the photographs I take of buildings and of my friends, and if I had a tripod, and a little more skill in figuring out how to focus a camera on something that isn't there at the time of focusing - as I can't be both behind and in-front of the camera at the same time! - I'd be taking my own. I think Sary Walrus takes her fashion shoots herself with a tripod, so it is do-able, with learning.

      Cheekbones are genetics; I can't have a sharp triangular face, even if I lose all the weight I gained, and have to learn my best selfie angles and suchlike to look like I don't have a rectangle-face :P I don't have a standard "pretty" face - mine is a bit mannish, a little too rectangular - a strong jaw and heavy brows. I keep my eyebrows thin to try and combat that, and as I grow older I seem to be getting more masculine - I'm sure my hormone imbalance doesn't help with that!

      I don't think that everyone wants to see the same people - I certainly don't, and find that seeing too many similar shoots gets homogenous. I like the ones that are a bit different, where the concept is something a bit more original.

      I don't think you should give up blogging!

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  2. Thank you so much for your inclusion of Club Bodice in this piece.I truly feel for your situation and hope one day you ate able to find that balance that will bring you the happiness you seek.💗 If you ever find yourself out in the San Francisco area, please send the Club a msg as I would love the opportunity to meet you.

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    1. *sorry for any spelling errors, replied via phone.

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    2. I'm several thousand miles away, and can't even afford to get to the next town, so as awesome as San Francisco sounds, unless I win the lottery, then it's very unlikely. I am a very poor and grumpy student, and I've never been further from the UK than Ireland and France!

      I had a phone with a broken touch-screen... and it has autocorrect that I can't figure out how to turn off. I have sent some interesting messages before - like saying I wanted "egg fried rifles" with my Chinese dinner :P

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  3. Good Post.....
    I am fortunate that I'm so thin that if I turn sideways I disappear, and most of my un exposed skin has that excellent Scottish blue white potato slug look. But this post also resonates with me as one of the least represented groups within mainstream Goth fashion, I'm male.. There is so little decent stuff for us ... So when things are not quite working for you, take a little bit more positive from what you do have, do your best on the diet and exercise when you can, and lay some firm plans for the post study recovery :-) Study is pretty demanding and there are only so many hours in one life time ( about . The main stream fashion industry has very little correlation to real people, the Goth fashion equivalent is probably a microcosm of that too, real Goths are all shapes, sizes and types.

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    1. I have the white potato-slug complexion too - I'm sure living in Scotland for over 5 years has been a contributing factor (that and my tendency to hide under long garments and parasols because I don't tan, I burn).

      I've got plenty of photographs of Goth guys for my blog - I've got another set of Joel from the Rothiemurchus photo-shoot taken on a different camera, a Steampunk-meets-Goth set I took last week, and tomorrow I'm photographing a corp-Goth. Goth guys are just as elaborate and interesting in terms of fashion as Goth women, so I don't understand why it tends to be mostly women I see photographed.

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  4. Sometimes weight gain comes about as a result of contentedness. Also, by the time a person is in his/her late 20s changes in metabolism take place and weight gain occurs.

    It seems to me that you may very well be correct in identifying a switch to less healthy foods as a part of the problem; also, a lack of activity because of various changes in your lifestyle.

    If I may say something here, I'd like to suggest that you not to be too hard on yourself. What your experiencing is natural and it seems that you're on the right track for improving your health. I see you as a very creative and highly intelligent person. The fact that "Gothic Beauty" magazine chose you to appear in their publication speaks volumes. You're attractive and an inspiration to many of us who value the goth subculture. Adding a few pounds doesn't change that. Take care of your overall health and the rest will follow.

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    1. I think it's less contentedness, and more lack of getting off my rear enough!

      I need to get my bike fixed and back into the training hall.

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  5. Amazing post as always, comparing yourself to others never was healthy BUT is a natural thing :-/ (same with 'i was... and now...' in a bad way but that as well is a natural thing to do) I also would like to see a lot more different people (bodyshapes, not so pale, different genders,...) in our magazines, online and offline but since there seems to be a much higher influence by mainstream media who knows what is going to happen in the future!

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