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::.
 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Being An Adult Goth

Being an adult Goth has its own challenges.

I wrote about being an adult Goth before, ::here::. After watching ::this:: video by Mama Bat on YouTube, who wanted to hear from Goths over the age of 25, I was inspired to write about it again. I know I'm probably repeating myself, but I hope I am not repeating myself too much.

Firstly, some clarification. I'm not an ElderGoth; I don't remember the most of the '80s  as I wasn't even born until the latter end, and I wasn't part of the scene in the '90s, and I only started getting interested in Goth in the early to mid '00s - that's still well over 10 years ago, but it's only a fraction of the time some people have been in this scene, and I don't want to claim experience that I don't have. However, I am an adult, and I've had to live in the 'big wide world', beyond education institutions (school, college, university) and there's definitely a shift that takes place when you have different considerations in your life. This entry is mostly about the differences in my experience being a Goth as a teenager and as an adult. 

It's NOT Just A Phase
As a teenager, I did go through phases of experimenting with subcultural identities, starting with Goth and eventually returning, and this, coupled with the general misconception that Goth is unilaterally an expression of temporary teenage angst and rebellion, meant that it was very often presumed that it would be something I would grow out of. Adults around me often refused to support me in being Goth, because of this - it wasn't based around disapproval of the content, more that when I was still dependent on my family financially and was fixated on the idea of made-for-Goth clothes and buying my music as CDs, I wasn't going to get bought anything Goth as it was seen as something too transitory to invest in (this was less of an issue when I realised that charity shops sold non-mainstream things and adaptable things, and how to customise things, and as I got older and could earn my own money, etc.). As I did flit between subcultural identities this was understandable, and as stroppy as I may have been about this when I was 13/14, I don't begrudge it now. The other problem I had was how my mental health issues, as real and obvious as they should have been, where dismissed as me "attention seeking" as some sort of angsty teenage phase connected to my being Goth, but that is another issue. 

Still being Goth now, all those years laters, has proven that this time, it wasn't a phase; this actually is who I really am. Some of my family are now more accepting because of this, and others are less accepting. I think there were some who tolerated it because they thought it was something I would have abandoned soon enough anyway, and now that I've demonstrated that this is who I am, they have more of an issue with it. I feel that there is a sentiment that if it had been a feigned interest done for temporary rebelliousness, then that was something tolerable because it wouldn't have been a reflection of me, just an affected pose, and therefore while pretentious and annoying, not an indication of my truly embracing values and interests that they are opposed to. 

I also get criticism from strangers - often variations on "aren't you too old to be trying to piss off your parents?" and "how are you supposed to get a job when you look like that". My rebuttal to the first is that my father's completely accepting of my dress sense. He doesn't personally really like that style and I think he liked it better when I was into more hippie/bohemian things as that is closer to his interests, but he also accepts that there's nothing wrong with it, and has no problem with me being Goth or dressing the way I do. As to the underlying idea that Goth is inherently for teenagers, I explained in previous article that it's actually aimed more towards adults, especially when the club scene is such a major component. My reply to the second usually was "I have a job!" but now I'm at university and had to quit my job to study (architecture is an intensive course, and I personally can't juggle the course and a job), my response is a bit more detailed; there are plenty of Goths who have jobs, but I accept that some employers prefer a more conservative appearance, and I can change my look to be appropriate to the situation.
This brings me on to the next topic..


Balancing Employer's Requirements And Goth
This is something I touched on in my previous blog article about being an adult Goth.

One thing I worry about is if employers and potential employers would deem my subcultural affiliation as a sign that I might be a bad employee - there are reasons I keep this blog under the pseudonym of 'HouseCat', and where I do use my real name, only use part of it,  and one of those is that if potential employers search me on the internet under my full name, they won't immediately find my work in the subculture. I'm not ashamed of being Goth, but I am worried about the prevalence misconceptions and misinformation; a lot of people think we're deviants and delinquents, when we're really nothing like that. When I do things with a subcultural leaning that can be relevant work experience, I get very conflicted, and think very carefully about how I word things, often leaving out the word 'Goth'. 

Each employer and each job will have different dress-codes, some have uniforms and some are very strict about a homogenous appearance. Some are also more likely to look down on anything relating to subcultural identity - I worked in one place that had a policy of "pale" nail-varnish colours only, and where I got reprimanded for silver nail-polish (definitely pale!) while another girl with a more mainstream aesthetic was allowed to wear neon yellow and I got told that there wasn't going to be a colour I would be allowed to wear that would fit in with my style, and that they'd prefer pink... In general, however, I've found that my aesthetic quirks are usually accepted as long as I am smart and well-groomed and wear whatever attire is required for the job in hand. 

I know that architecture, the field I will be going into, requires a more conservatively professional aesthetic than some, but it is also a creative field, so there is some leniency for eccentricity. I expect that it will be beneficial to me in the search for employment to dye my hair a natural colour, for example. One of my friends, a purple-haired Goth lady, has recently got an internship with a firm in the US, and she is dyeing her purple hair a more natural colour for that. When the time comes for me to sacrifice my emerald green hair, I will either seek out either a PPD free black dye (SUGGESTIONS WELCOME!) or go for a redhead look. I have been ginger before, and I liked it, however I do sometimes miss my jet-black hair, hence the collection of black wigs. In the meantime, I will continue to revel in the freedom being at university gives me. 

While, in an ideal world, aesthetic preference wouldn't be taken as a measure of competency, and whether you prefer dyed green hair to dyed blonde, or have piercings and tattoos would be irrelevant as long as you maintained a smart and well-groomed appearance, we're not living in an ideal world, and I accept that compromises have to be made. All my tattoos are planned for parts of my body that won't show under usual office attire, and I took most of my piercings out years ago. I have a real passion for architecture and especially for historic buildings, and if modifying my appearance makes it easier for me to do what I love, then I'm willing to make compromises, especially as Goth is so much more than just fashion, so even if I'm making compromises with my appearance, it doesn't stop me from having an '80s 'Trad. Goth' playlist for my bus commutes or going out to a Goth event on a Friday night instead of a regular bar, or whatnot. 

Benefits Of Being An Adult Goth
The obvious benefit of being an adult Goth is that I'm old enough to participate in the club scene; I'm above legal drinking age (18 in the U.K.) and to go to gigs at venues that sell alcohol, and therefore take part in a huge portion of the subculture I couldn't take part in as a younger teen, but that's not the only benefit. As mentioned before, having my own independent income means I am free to chose what I spend it on (even though often times that has meant spending what little I earned primarily on rent, food and utilities, with little spare for things like music, clothes, books, etc. - being an adult also means adult responsibilities) and even though I certainly don't think how Goth you are should be measured by disposable income spent on Goth, it certainly does make things easier now that I can buy records or velvet skirts for myself, or tickets to gigs, entry fees to clubs... As I've progressed in terms of employment and had more income, that has allowed me to afford to spend more on Goth, too. I'm now a student again, and gave up my job to study, so I'm back to thrift shopping on the rare occasions I can afford even that, but when I was working, that certainly helped with how much I could participate.

I think the best thing about being an adult and a Goth is that I can travel around more independently. Personally, I am unable to drive due to health reasons, but there's still a lot of benefits to being able to travel independently rather than having to ask my Dad for a lift, or always having to travel with friends, in terms of flexibility of participation. I only have to fit travel around public transport and my own schedule, not everyone else's. While I am limited by my schedule and by the reach of my disabled person's travel pass (Scotland only), it's nice to be able to go beyond the town I live in to access Goth gigs and events, and meet up with friends in the subculture. As I live somewhere a bit more rural, this is definitely useful, as even nearby towns don't have much in the way of Goth events and gigs, and it usually means a trip to Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Having my own space, free of parental rules, or the rules of dorms and student housing (eg. no posters on the walls was frequently a rule, as this was seen as a fire-hazard, and also all electrical items must be safety-checked, including string-lights, and this had to be paid for so a £1 set of Hallowe'en scary-lights suddenly would also have to cost an electrician's safety-check fee, and seemed a less attractive proposition, and again another fire-safety rule was absolutely no candles or incense) meant the ability to have a space I could make more homely, and more in keeping with aesthetic and musical tastes. Rental properties often didn't let me make any major changes to the decor, but I was free to put my own pictures up, to have string lights and candles, to put in my own furniture, etc. Now I've got a mortgage on my 'own' house (well, it doesn't feel like it's completely mine all the time the mortgage is fairly new and the amount we've paid off is tiny compared to the size of the loan) I can completely re-decorate - a process I am thoroughly throwing myself into.


This is mostly my own experience as an adult Goth, and I would love to hear about the experiences of other adult Goths. Also, as someone who feels like they missed out on the first 25-ish years of Goth, I also love hearing about Goth before I started being one in the early/mid '00s (although that is somewhat tangental from this blog entry).