I read once in a biography of Aretha Franklin that when Aretha first saw what a skillful airbrusher could do to a photograph of her, she decided to say Fuck It (more or less) to dieting. What Aretha so glamorously asserts here the magical belief in a body of discourse: that an airbrusher’s lovingly spraying away her double chin on a two-dimensional version of her body makes Aretha feel as if her in-flesh body is twenty pounds lighter. Feeling like a natural woman, indeed!
Aretha’s photographic “diet” plan is philosophically equivalent to the challenge that Donna J. Haraway poses to us in her “A Cyborg Manifesto”:
“Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?”
Being a biological boy who is trying to grow a girl’s skin through words written and spoken (OK, and occasional yards of choice cotton and wool) this idea of the body that reaches past the fascistic embrace of the epidermis is necessary to my survival.
As my loved ones know, I’ve been feeling a bit depressed lately; it is hard to be a single woman searching for boys who like boys. I’m someone who has always been happy in solitude, but solitude turns to loneliness when the skin that hugs me to sleep every day starts feeling too tight, when it becomes chokingly encapsulating. In the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling nervy in my own skin; I’m an 8-minute egg left in the boiling water for 9 minutes. My emotional yolks and whites are going to burst soon!
So this pic above is a portrait of the girl I want to be at this time, mid-October 2008. As Aretha’s airbrushed photo makes her feel thinner, producing this picture with my cavewoman skills with Adobe Photoshop has helped me feel like, not what I am right now, but what I would like to be. It combines two images: me wearing my newly arrived Barack Obama shirt from moveon.org with a pair of vintage Levi’s 701 “Student Fit” jeans, and the politically matchy-matchy blue-and-white banner created this past weekend at RISD by Knitting Nation Phase 5.
First, and as always, the jeans: these I bought for $24 at the American Rag Company in San Francisco this summer. I bought them even though they bear a personal fashion hate: intentional distressing. This kind of thing makes me very angry: taking a perfectly beautiful worn pair of jeans and mutilating it with rasp and sandpaper so it can resemble the season’s artfully distressed Martin Margiela jeans. ARRRGH!! But these particular jeans were so soft and worn, it was like a one-eyed, three legged puppy: I just had to adopt it. But I’d not worn it often because I hate the way the intentional rips on the thighs look. So I’ve actually been thinking about patching it, but with knit swatches—loose stockinette, maybe in intarsia. I like the idea of yarn sputtering out of holes in jeans. It would naturalize the tackily intentional shredding. Suddenly, it would be as if I’d ripped the jeans by falling down, and rather than bleeding flesh-bone-blood, I’d be bleeding mohair-wool blend.
While planning this patching project, kismetically, I saw the Knitting Nation Phase 5 piece. Founded by Liz Collins, a professor of textiles at RISD (and my dear comrade in fashion), Knitting Nation is a collective that produces both product and performance through the powerfully feminine art of knitting. This particular piece was created by the Knitting Nation out of mylar balloon-dotted white and blue textile on the roof of the RISD Museum’s Radeke Building. As it grew, it draped over the roof and down the backside of the building. When I saw it completed on Saturday evening, it moved me in some way that I couldn’t quite identify. I tried to verbalize it into words to Liz: “It reminds me of a cross between a garter belt and a spider web.” As soon as I uttered it, my own words started to weave a new skin around me. What moved me so was that the square red block with windows began to take on hips and legs. It’s not that I thought of the building as some humanoid giantess. Instead, I thought about my own self as a tiny and epidermal-bricked version of a red brick building. I thought about how great it would be the ultimate big girl, the true “Brick House,” as Rick James would say: the Radeke Building, who has a gang of knitters knitting her a garter belt dotted with balloons, better with which to fly away, like Joan Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters.
A building that’s like a teeny flapper? A skinny femme thirtysomething faggot who is like an annex of a museum? Why not? In the 1988 film Bull Durham, Susan Sarandon’s baseball groupie supreme, Annie Savoy, persuades an embarrassed minor-league pitcher to wear her garter belt under his uniform:
“They’re garters. They’re gonna hug your waist and snuggle and dangle off your thighs and buns in such a wonderful way it’ll help you see things differently.”
I want to be a kind of girl who is like a building that houses art, artlovers, artmakers. I don't know what that means in flesh, but I'll find out...or learn. I want to see my own tight-skinned life in a different, more expansive way. I sooooo wish I could borrow the Radeke Building’s knitted garter belt!