15 December 2010

Times Haven't Really Changed: Airbrushing the Past

As of late, there has been a backlash against the airbrushing of models for fashion magazines and advertising.

Because models apparently aren't beautiful, slender or tall enough, the fashion world further slims their hips and waists, elongates their legs, and enlarges their eyes, hair and breasts.


The left picture is a more accurate representation of what a 29 yr old's bottom looks like.

"We're always stretching the models' legs and slimming their thighs," a Manhattan-based photo retoucher tells NEWSWEEK, speaking anonymously for fear of professional backlash.


See how she's so fat in the second picture? Obviously such flaws had to be fixed.

I'd love to tell you this is just a new fad, or something that our Evil Modern Society created. Unfortunately, "airbrushing" has been around for hundreds (thousands?) of years.

It used to take the form of paintings and sculpture.

Henry VIII (yeah, that Henry) famously demanded that since he had yet to see Anne of Cleves, that his royal portraitist must paint her accurately and not flatter her.
If all artists painted accurate representations of their subjects, then why such a demand? Because almost NO ONE did that. That would be poor business.


I don't know, she still doesn't look too bad.

Only since the invention of photography were we able to prove that the art was less than realistic, but it's been going on long before the 19th century.

The Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, in a lovely painting:


The Princess Alice in real life:


She's not ugly, but didn't naturally possess the mid-late 1800s female aesthetic Ideal which was extremely sloping, white rounded shoulders, plump arms, and round face having tiny nose over heart-shaped lips.

Queen Victoria in her wedding dress:


And here is the Queen in her wedding dress.


Here's another painting of her:


It doesn't even look like the same person in the face.

Not only women were "photo-shopped" in paintings.
Here's President Andrew Jackson's photograph...


...which is far cry from paintings and money depicting him:


Note the strong jaw and expressive eyes that are required of all men.


Print of Andrew Jackson in his natural state of "kicking British ass." Still not my favorite President.

I agree that the media's depiction of models is not good for the self-esteem of the rest of us, particularly since the models have been altered so much that they are no longer real people. 

When a 5'9" model weighing less than 115 is not a "good enough" shape for Fashion, this is what we are left with after the airbrushing:



This is a real Ralph Lauren catalog.

But is it so much worse than this was?





1830s fashion plates. Notes the elongated necks, sloped but wide shoulders, oddly narrow feet, tiny high waists.


08 December 2010

Tenuous Link to Our Past: World War II

Have you ever read some interesting tidbit of history and thought, "I sure wish I could have met those people. The questions I would ask!"

While the distant past is only accessible from the archaeological record and documents, more recent history is readily accessible, and usually takes the form of "old people." Old people are a wealth of semi-useful information, and since most people ignore them, they are very happy to share their stories with you if you even hint at a passing interest.

Having one of the last remaining World War II bomber pilots as my grandpa, I consider myself a lucky person. His eyesight is fading and his hearing is about gone, but upstairs he's 100%. He seldom talks about the War with me, and I'm sure it's because I'm female. (When I mention this to other war vets, they all nod their heads knowingly. Still not sure what that's about.) Still, the man's not getting any younger, so when I visited for Thanksgiving, I waited until my grandma left the room to take a call before I pounced.

To get around Grandpa's hearing issue, we use a little white board. I wrote on the board, Who are those people with you in the photograph on your desk? Where are you guys?

I pick up the black and white picture and bring it to him. It depicts 5 young men in Army Air Corps uniforms in a bar.
"That's my crew. We were in Italy. That's where we were stationed, so we could fly bombing missions over Europe."

464th Bomb group flying in formation.


How many missions did you fly?

He laughs. "49."

I write Why is that funny?

"It was during the 46th mission that the plane went down. After we were recovered, I asked to be put back on the flight list so that I could complete 50 missions. I flew three more, but then we were sent home."

You crashed a plane, then wanted to fly again?


"I liked flying."

464th Bomb group flying side by side.


What made you want to be a pilot?

"Well, I was bedridden for over a year when I was little..."

Polio, right?

"They said a cancer of the bone, but maybe polio. When I saw pictures of airplanes, I knew I wanted to do that! When the war first started, I didn't have enough education to be a pilot. [He had been at the University of Illinois when the war started, and didn't finish.] But then I ran into a friend of mine who was flying P-38s. He told me that they needed pilots badly, so I spoke with his commanding officer, and got to go to cadet school."

I know you crashed a plane - where did you go down?

"We were taking a lot of enemy fire, and one of the crew was killed. I ditched the bomber in a pond* in Yugoslavia, near Dubrovnik [official records say either "the Adriatic," "a flooded field," or "a lake."] You know, we've been back there several times. It's a walled city, and it's just beautiful."

Did you see the crash site again?

"No, I never saw it again."

464th Bomb group.


How did you get out of the plane?


"That was the tricky part. We went in to the pond, and the plane was filling up. But then something happened to make it roll over so that I could get out. Some members of the local resistance helped to get the other crew member out." [details on the rest of the crew have been sketchy, but one seems to have been cut down by enemy fire before the crash]

Did you have to swim out?

"Yes, and it was cold. Not a good experience."

What time of year was this?


"November."

Yeah, I guess that would be cold.


"But the resistance said they couldn't help us until nightfall. It wouldn't be safe to move us until then."

So you had to sit under a tree somewhere and shiver for hours?

"Yes, well as I said, it wasn't much fun."
(Honestly, I can't imagine much worse than having your plane shot down, your friends killed in front of you, you almost drown trying to escape the sinking fuselage in icy water, and you have to sit, soaked, for hours in a foreign country waiting to be captured or shot, watching your other friend's life slowly leak out).

And the other guy?
I ask.

"He was in a bad way." Grandpa frowns at this point. "There were bones sticking out..." He doesn't say anything for a second. "He didn't last." [This, by the way, is the reason my grandpa installed seat belts in all his cars upon his return from the War.]


Trying to figure out if this was the plane that crashed... still researching this one.


He perks up. "But the neat part was that the resistance put us in a German ambulance. They covered us in blankets and told us they were going to drive through the enemy German lines, then our own lines. We were told not to speak. The driver had a German uniform."

That is pretty cool. So you got through the German lines okay.

"We did, and past the walls of Dubrovnik."

The crash is why you got the medal.

Obviously not wanting to discuss that in depth, he says, "Did you see my new medal case? Your father and uncle helped with that. I'll show you."


Bombs drop from a plane in same squadron as Grandpa.


We walk to the hallway where his medals are displayed in a shadow box. His Silver Star is near the top. The ribbons are still vibrant. I pointed at the Silver Star and Purple Heart.
"I know what these are for, but why did you get these?" I point at others.

He studies them. "For doing a good job I guess."

By this point my grandmother is off the phone, and now Grandpa only wants to discuss how lovely Croatia is this time of year.

So naturally I have to research the rest.

I knew he was a bomber pilot. He was a member of the 464th bomb group, 777th Squadron.

Grandpa is 3rd from the left. Bomber Reunion 2002.


I found out that he received the Silver Star in 1945:



And his "doing a good job" medal?


The Air Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, shall have distinguished himself/herself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.


I'd like to find out more about that crash, but it appears that I will have to consult military documents and books from here on out. It is mentioned in at least one book. I've learned that just because the Past is conveniently sitting in the same room, doesn't mean he wants to talk.
Or maybe he still takes the "loose lips sink ships" slogan seriously.


*1945 Newspaper article briefly discussing crash.

03 December 2010

Sweatpants-Free Zone:

I own one pair of sweatpants. They were my mother’s University of Oklahoma sweats from circa 1975. I don’t own any other pair, and wouldn’t dream of wearing them more often than once each month, any where other my kitchen.


“Chicago Mail Order,” 1921


When I started college, I noticed that many of my fellow young scholars wore sweatpants to class. Instead of taking pride in their appearance, they schlepped around in flip-flops, grey sweats and some kind of t-shirt, completing the ensemble with hair that may or may not have seen a brush in the past 3 days.




“Butterick Fashion,” 1934


When I began to fly about once per month back in 2001, I noticed sweatpants on airplanes. No longer did people don their Sunday best to ride about the world with others; rather, I saw people of all ages in sweats lugging around bed pillows (which kind of grosses me out).



1940s Airline Advertisement


I’ve seen sweats in houses of worship, in office settings, out at bars… and I wonder where on earth these people found the information saying that this is acceptable public attire?

When I’ve asked for the opinions of others, I get one of two answers:

· Sweats are comfortable, and I dress for comfort.

· I hate that people can’t respect themselves enough to at least put on a pair of jeans.



“Vicara Fibers,” 1956


This is a very “me/now-centric” society. Rather than care about how we are perceived by others, we care only for and about ourselves at the present moment in time. Who cares if in 2 years I’ll want my professor to write a letter of recommendation? I only care about my comfort level in this 8am class.



“Arrow Shirts,” 1961


We don’t care about other people because other people don’t matter. So why stop at wearing sweatpants out to places formerly reserved for resort or business casual? Let’s wear those holey, sagging things to funerals. I mean, we’re so distraught at a funeral, so we might as well be comfortable.

Next, let’s wear our “leggings of shame” to weddings (but not white sweats, because you might compete with the bride).

The President should give his next State-of-the-Union in them.



“Levi’s Sportswear,” 1978


Or, you know, we could relegate sweatpants back to where they were intended, where they belong: The gym. Hence the name “sweat” pants. There’s nothing wrong with respecting yourself, and dressing to impress those around you.


As Jerry Seinfeld famously said in an episode of his show, “You know the message you're sending out to the world with these sweat pants? You're telling the world: "I give up. I can't compete in normal society. I'm miserable, so I might as well be comfortable."