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Official Soulo Magazine Launch!

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The Brazilian Waxing Craze

December 2, 2009

In early November 2009, the feminist blogosphere lit up with a story about one woman’s Brazilian waxing woes—or lack thereof. In a column published in the UK’s The Times Online, a 38-year-old woman and recent divorcee discussed her 27-year-old boyfriend’s  dissatisfaction with her ungroomed pubic hair. In the letter seeking advice, she questions if a tan and “Brazilian wax should be deal-breakers in a relationship” and if she’s “hopelessly outdated.”

Unfortunately, columnist Suzi Godson  suggests that the woman change because Brazilian waxing is expected of women in 2009. Godson even offers a historical perspective: “…by the time your boyfriend hit puberty his entire generation were using free online porn as their primary source of sex education, and, as we all know, porn stars don’t have any hair down there. It wasn’t always that way. During the 1970s everyone, even your porn star, was hairy, but by the 1980s the natural look of the Joy of Sex was over.” 1

Godson argues that Brazilian waxing is “on a par with manicures, blow-drying and eyebrow waxing” and notes the reality that for women who “dare to be less rigid” in their styling, that is, women who chose not to wax: they are labeled “bucolic, unsanitary…” 2

This woman’s dilemma is a painful reminder of how women’s bodies are a medium of culture, as scholar Susan Border argues in her book, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body.  Godson’s commentary exemplifies Bordo’s contentions that the female body is habituated to which she calls “external regulation,” as well as subjection, transformation, and improvement.

Over the last twenty years, pubic hair grooming has become a standard practice, explaining why drugstore aisles today offer even a larger selection of hair removal creams, waxes, and strips for sensitive areas than they did 10 years ago.

Bordo argues in the chapter, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity,”  that our bodies, especially women’s bodies, “through the organization and regulation of the time, space, and movements…are trained, shaped, and impressed with the stamp of prevailing historical forms of selfhood, desire, masculinity, femininity.”3 Borrowing from anthropologist Mary Douglas, Bordo highlights the fact that women’s bodies serve as a symbol on which central rules and hierarchies are inscribed and reinforced. For the women’s boyfriend, his desire for his significant other is informed by a culture (pornography culture) that has ruthlessly attempted to define femininity. Furthermore, the women’s sense of self seems to be directly linked to her boyfriend’s desires, which ultimately creates dissatisfaction and insecurity.

The letter also highlights the fact that women are spending more time on the management and discipline of our bodies than they have during other eras in history, as Bordo notes in Body and Reproduction. For example, the Brazilian waxing procedure usually takes from 30 minutes to one hour long and must be maintained every 4-6 weeks.

The process takes the traditional bikini wax a step further by removing all public hair, including the buttocks area. The trendy Sweet Samba Boutique and Spa in Atlanta, GA offers the service for about $55.  Other forms of public hair removal such as laser treatments are even more expensive. Clients for Atlanta’s Ideal Image Laser Hair Removal, usually women, can expect to pay about $2,000 for a series of treatments that will offer Brazilian Wax-like results.

While many women swear by the practice for personal satisfaction, several women simply opt to undergo the practice to please a romantic partner. For single women, the choice to wax should not depend on male desire. However, for those single women who do choose to participate, you must be fully aware that even with the performance of this procedure, they are functioning within the hierarchy described by Bordo and complying with an expectation for all women.


Sources:
1. Godson, Suzi. “Sex advice: Do I Need Brazilian Waxing.” The Times Online, http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/
2. Godson
3. Bordo, Susan, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity”

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Redefining Valentine’s Day

December 2, 2009

For the content single lady, Valentine’s Day is not a day for languishing and regretting one’s romantic life, or lack thereof. But for the dissatisfied singleton, Valentine’s Day is just that. It gives insecure individuals another reason to give in to individualistic philosophy, which encourages them to compete for romantic partners rather than focus on their careers, education, building platonic relationships, or even cultivating their own interests. As R. Fakour-Zaker asserts on the U.K. based financial literacy web site, “Know Your Money:”

“…the worst thing about [Valentine’s Day] is the very visible social schism it generates between two groups: those in a relationship, and the other ones. But while many singletons moan about the emotionally harrowing the experience of [Valentine’s Day] when you haven’t got anyone to give (or, more importantly, give you) some overpriced, clichéd gesture of affection or a gift card with some hollow, saccharine rhyming couplets, they’re clearly better off…”1

Furthermore, this preoccupation with finding Mr. Right (or Ms. Right for LBGT ladies) also propels some women to participate in self-optimization in which they obsess about beauty-related concerns such as hair, weight, etc. because they believe their supposed “lack” of beauty is preventing them from experiencing romance.
Aside from the social schism Valentine’s Day promotes the idea that love is a commodity, something that can be bought or sold. For jewelers, it’s not just the time for partners to “provide” by not only offering small gifts such as flowers and candy, but it’s the time for pricey goods to be obtained such as expensive diamond rings. The slogan of the popular Kay Jewelers asserts, “Every Kiss Begins with Kay Jewelers.” The catchy statement suggests that love, symbolized by a kiss, begins with the purchase of expensive jewelry.

Simply put, Valentine’s Day exists as an opportunity for some corporations to make money and exercise their competence in the free market—not to encourage love or romance. Certainly the holiday would not thrive as it does today without the prevalent ideals of capitalism and neoliberal ideas permeating in our culture. In a chapter about Neoliberalism in the book, Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics and America’s Future, Lawrence Grossberg argues:
“The new economy puts a new focus on consumption, increasing the quality and quantity of monitoring and control to which is subjected…In the new economy, consumption itself produces value. After all, consumption takes a lot of time, especially in the United States, where people spend three to four times as many hours shopping as do Europeans.” 2
Grossberg’s statements about American consumption could not be better exemplified by shopping habits during holidays such as Valentine’s Day.

In a study conducted by Angeline G. Close, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas marketing professor and George M. Zinkhan, a marketing professor at The University of Georgia, attitudes about ways to celebrate holidays such as Valentine’s Day are transforming. The study specifically looked at “business concepts of anti-consumption and alternative consumptive” in relation to the romantic celebration. However, the study also confirmed the fact that people often view the holiday as a one where money must be spent. 15

In a 2003 National Retail Federation survey titled, “Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey,” the organization found that the average man planned on spending $125.96 on Valentine’s Day while women planned to spend about $40. It also revealed that Americans spent $937.50 million on Valentine’s Day cards in 2002, making it the second popular card sale purchase after Christmas.

Especially as single women, ladies must look at the messages that are being promoted by companies selling Valentine’s Day products and consider whether these ideas of love and consumption are in line with your beliefs.


Sources:
1. Fakour-Zaker, R. in “Valentine’s Day—The Worst Consumer Holiday Ever,” http://www.knowyourmoney.co.uk
2. Grossberg, Lawrence. In “Chapter 4: Neoliberalism.” Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics and America’s Future. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2005.
3. “Consumer Behavior Trends Surrounding Valentine’s Day Examined in New Study by College of Business Professor,” http://business.unlv.edu/deans/news_display.asp?news=100.

Styling for the Singlista

December 2, 2009

Finding a signature style is very important to single women because their appearance reflects their stance on singlehood.

Here are some tips to help you begin styling as a single woman:

These styling tips are also downloadable here !

To be or not to be: conflicting messages on singlehood on popular tv shows

November 21, 2009

Television has significantly shaped my life. Who can remain untouched by television? My generation learned our ABCs and numbers on Sesame Street, how to share on Barney, and how to play from Lamb Chop’s Play-Along. Television is also responsible for promoting ideologies about womanhood and the social expectations for them.

Living Single Sitcom

Ideologies are ideas and beliefs generally accepted by everyone. But prominent theorists like Louis Althusser and John Fiske don’t simply characterize ideology as a set of ideas imposed on one group by another (in this case, society controlling ideas about its women). It is the process by which ideas are reproduced through practices endorsed by ideological state apparatuses (ISAs).1

ISAs are institutions like the family, schools, and media like TV shows that “produce in people the tendency to behave and think in socially acceptable ways.”2 ISAs are the way that people develop a sense of the world, themselves, their identities, and their relationships with others in the society. For women, we develop our understanding about relationships from ISAs and we learn being single is the last thing you want to be. However in the 90s, shows like Living Single and Sex & the City made singleness fashionable.

Growing up watching Living Single, I was enamored by the independence and power the four African American women exhibited. Khadijah is the laid back owner/editor of Flavor Magazine, Synclaire an aspiring actress, Maxine an attorney, and Regine, a fashionista extraordinaire and stylist. My favorite characters are Khadijah and Maxine because they were powerful, quick-witted, confident, and unapologetic about how they lived their lives. Unquestionably, they are the most dynamic and characters. They made living single look sexy and Sex & the City did too.

Sex & the City show garnered popularity because of its candid discussions about sex, sexuality, promiscuity, and female liberation. For many viewers, the women of Sex & the City are prototypes of female liberation: Carrie, a sex columnist, Samantha a publicist, unafraid to explore her sexuality, Charlotte, the prim and proper art curator, and Miranda, a lawyer and pessimist about relationships.  They defined their own existence and challenged everything society teaches women, especially on TV: don’t be too career-focused, don’t be single and happy, don’t be promiscuous, and don’t be a bitch. Or so it seemed.

Both shows lack a discourse on individuality and singleness. In both Living Single and Sex & the City, more focus is placed on finding a “soulmate.” And this preoccupation with coupling serves to only reinforce traditional messages of womanhood that link a woman’s identity to a man.

Many episodes of Living Single explore Regine’s search for wealthy male companionship. She devoted all her efforts to strategically trapping a man for marriage, using her body (read: BREASTS) as bait. Also, her mother constantly questioned Regine’s singleness, fearful she would end up alone, old, and unhappy. This fear of singleness is then projected on Khadijah and Maxine, who don’t have difficulty dating, but internalize the messages, as exhibited through their competitive behavior in episodes like “Love Thy Neighbor” where they vie for the attention of their new neighbor Patrick.

For the duration of the show, all women are either single and looking or romantically connected with a man, but never depicted as single and satisfied. In fact, Synclaire maintained a monogamous relationship with Overton for the entire series, eventually leading to marriage. She was never really single during the series. Even before they officially claimed that status of a couple, there was an unspoken contract between them.

In contrast, Sex & the City does celebrate the character of Samantha who enjoys her singleness. She pursues men for only sex and frowns upon emotional attachment. Even as the oldest character, she refuses to be defined by social expectations . However, towards the end of the series Samantha’s frequent sex with a waiter named Smith develops into a relationship. Reluctant to even admit she was in a relationship,     Samantha maintained the status and stayed with him into the follow-up Sex & the City Movie, where she amicably breaks up with him. Otherwise, Samantha is the only character who enjoys her singleness. Even though she does pursue men, for sex and not love, she does reject ideologies about womanhood. All others, are heavily invested in the idea of a “Prince Charming,” especially Charlotte. In fact, what the show suggests is that the sum of all women’s efforts should be devoted to avoiding loneliness at any cost.  Even with the ladies of Living Single, the series ended with the women finding their “soulmates.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love both shows but I would have loved to see a show with more Samanthas and fewer Regines. What the world really needs is more individuals challenging the ideologies of womanhood. More single women who are happily single and not looking. More single women who don’t wake up hoping to meet prince charming. The world needs a consistent rhetoric of singlehood and independence that doesn’t fly in the face of women who actually enjoy it.


Sources:
1. Fiske, John. “Culture Ideology, Interpellation, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, p. 1269.
2. Fiske, p. 1269

SEX 101: Re-education on intimacy, body image, and sex for single ladies

November 20, 2009

Don’t believe the hype! There is a sex life for single women and it has nothing to do with friends with benefits. Flying solo is fun if you take control of your body, learning and loving it. Most women would love to, but they are more interested in how their bodies look to men and how men feel about their bodies. This preoccupation is problematic according to body expert and feminist theorist Susan Bordo.

The problem is in what Bordo termed “docile bodies – whose forces and energies are habituated to external regulation, subjection, transformation, improvement.” 1 She argues that women’s concern with the management of their bodies through diet, makeup, and clothes has more to do with maintaining a system of power relations that subjugates women under the guise of self-improvement.

Bordo employs a reading of the female body as a text, a method that can be useful in understanding why single women have difficulty experiencing solo sex. Firstly, the female body is scientifically linked to male bodies through the process of reproduction, a natural function of society.

It becomes natural for women to see their bodies (and selves) functional and valuable only with respect to the performance of normative heterosexual relationships. Outside of this system, the female body is rendered useless.

Consequently, the bodies of single women who reject normative heterosexual relationships for self-cultivation become useless because it is no longer in the service of reproduction or male desire. And male desire is very important in the reading of the body, because value is determined by it. When male interest is nonexistent and unrequired, the single woman’s body is socially devalued.

Additionally, images in media show demonstrate the function of the woman’s body. Pornography is one of the most popular forms. But even in a pornographic film, a single woman’s body is unprofitable and dysfunctional outside of the male-female or female-female structure, which she transcends.

All  these  factors  considered, it is clear why single ladies are incapable of understanding their bodies. It is out of their control. That’s why it is important to “view our bodies as a site of struggle, where we must work to keep our daily practice in the service of resistance to gender domination, not the service of docility and gender normalization.”2

The act of being a single woman is an act of resistance against gender normalization. And even with this challenge to ideas about the body, skepticism is important. Solo sex is not just about masturbation and phallic structured toys. They are popular symbols and representations of liberation and female empowerment, but they do not speak to the significance of intimacy.

Intimacy was comically described in the film Love Guru starring Mike Myers as “in to me I see.” Intimacy is an act of introspection. So solo sex, despite its title has less to do with sex as it functions in a heterosexual sense or in service of the sex industry. It is about self-evaluation and appreciation outside of the historically privileged context of relationships.

So what does the doctor prescribe? A dose of self love and once you’ve got that, you’ve got the power to get your freak on.  Now please do not run to your local sex shop to buy the latest sex toy, the Rabbit or Iris. These toys symbolize the capitalist market that exploits the labor of women’s bodies and commodifies sex. Commodities derive value from the process of exchange, which reinforces an external valuation system, previously described.

Solo sex challenges those power relations that define the use-value of women’s bodies and encourages single women to take control and cease participation in the process of commodification.


Sources:
1. Bordo, Susan, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity,” p. 2363
2. Bordo, p. 2376