Under Where?

The male gaze dilemma meets pretty panties

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” – Dorothy Parker

While borrowing lines from Hamlet to describe panties may seem like a stretch no elastic waistband should endure, Ms. Parker’s witty remark raises many questions concerning what we choose to put on underneath our clothes. It’s a simple decision that arises daily for both men and women, often thought to be mandatory and thoughtless, but is it? For myself (and I hope I am not alone in this one) countless daydreams are filled with visions of me slipping in and out of lingerie; of waking to the early sunlight in my darling (but too rarely worn) vintage babydoll slip. I wish for the moment when passion stops to observe the way silk skims a nipple. But more often than not, these moments are either lost or pass within a flick of the light switch. So why do we invest so much of our time and money on a moment so brief?

One understanding is that our obsession is centered around conforming our bodies to an attractive ideal. From the Victorian corset to spanx, many women have attempted to chisel their way to the ‘perfect’ feminine figure with elastic and whale bone. Jill Fields, author of An Intimate Affair, links the evolution of our unmentionables to the ever-changing gender distinctions and transformation of the twentieth century American woman. While this socio-historical approach helps us understand how we have evolved from bloomers to thongs, it hardly explains our fascination with undergarments within the context of the bedroom.

In her novella Simple Passion, Annie Ernaux describes the events of her intimacies with a married man. At the height of their affair, she pauses to illustrate the wreckage of their most recent encounter: “I would sit staring at the glasses, the plates and their leftovers, the over flowering ashtray, the clothes, the lingerie strewn all over the bedroom and the hallway.” The garments, meticulously prepared, lay discarded amongst the carnage of the evening. Ernaux’s illustration is a scene that I’m sure many women have woken up to, or even caught their feet in as they stumbled sleepy-eyed from the bedroom. The tableaux provokes a common interpretation of intimate apparel. We picture Ernaux, the blood and guts of her affair, and a pair of red lace panties. She dresses—and undresses—for him.

Feminist film criticism has brought to us the idea of the male gaze, and as Fields points out specifically in the case of lingerie, “Women construct themselves in dress and deportment as ‘to-be-looked-at,’ which requires them to look through the male gaze to see whether their bodies are attractive objects on display.” But this is where I seem to fail. I can say with confidence (based on many years of field research—please don’t tell my parents) that hours shopping and countless dollars and debt later, I have found that the only reason a guy ever remembers the colour of my bra is because it was resting on the nightstand beside his iPhone. So why persist?

As I sit on a rainy afternoon, making a chart of sexual encounters, what I wore, and the reaction, I come to a hypothesis. And while I have never been one to air my dirty laundry, here it goes. The results of my oh-so-scientific chart seem to point to one small black g-string as the undefeated champ—which I’ll have you know I have only worn a handful times out of necessity, under a super tight pencil skirt, or this one pair of jeans that fit like they came out of the last musical number in Grease. Revealing cellulite, stretch marks, and the obvious deviance from my squat routine, this particular delicate would not be my first choice. Instead, I tend to opt for things you would expect to see circa Valley of the Dolls. These items, a tiny bit more modest than your average g-string, are how I have chosen to represent my sexuality—despite the often lackluster response.

In the past half century, feminist art has been subverting women’s status as sexual objects by claiming this very status and exercising their ability to choose how it is represented; in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, “To make oneself an object, to make oneself passive, is a very different thing from being a passive object.” While I would never claim my high-waisted satin briefs to be a feminist statement, something does seem to bind these two ideas together. Is our time spent rifling through Victoria Secret catalogues a forfeit to the demands of the male gaze? Or could my obsession with the latest Agent Provocateur collection be a reclaiming of my body and sexuality? While I would prefer to place myself in the latter category, it could very well be that I am simply stuck in a male gaze of decades past, where the movements of Lana Turner across a screen would have forced me to tighten the elastic of my wrap-around girdle. Pushing up and into the unmentionable adventures of my future, however, I will strive with every eye-hook latched and every stocking unrolled to ensure that these private garments become my own quiet reclamation; that, like my outer layers, what I put on under my clothes will remain how I want to be represented, both as a woman and sexually.

photography // Laura Tuttle

“Sex Shouldn’t be Comfy!”

A review of Kinky Boots

A classic makeover story, 2005′s Kinky Boots laces together two stories that become irrevocably intertwined somewhere between a drag queen’s broken heel and a young englishman’s broken dreams.

Charlie Price’s family shoe making business is failing; the market for well-made oxfords is dwindling with the rise of fast fashion, and Price is forced to start laying off employees and contemplating closure. Desperate for some sort of sign, Charlie mistakenly wanders into the life of Lola, a drag queen he assumes to be a woman and tries to save from assault. Later in her dressing room at a nearby drag bar, Lola complaints to Charlie about the reoccurring problem she encounters during her acts: her sexy shoes are poorly made, the heels collapsing or cracking under the pressure of a male-bodied person. Although he’s confused, Charlie takes a step into the unknown and sets his mind to building Lola a pair of new boots.

Charlie’s first pair of fetish boots are, to be concise, a complete failure. Cut from burgundy suede with a chunky, short black heel, he presents them to Lola with pride. She of course is mortified, openly resenting the idea that she inspired something “the colour of hot water bottles”.

“Red! Red is the colour of sex!” Lola cries,”Red is the colour of fear and danger and signs that say Do Not Enter.”

“But they’re comfy!” Charlie argues.

“But sex shouldn’t be comfy!” Lola returns.

Based on a true story that inspired a BBC special and a musical, Kinky Boots is all about the traditions and trends surrounding shoes and their makers, and the meaning they take on for consumers and their various identities.

For Charlie, shoes have always meant hand-sewn leather men’s brogues, a tradition passed through his family. For Lola, the very same shoes are a nightmare: even as a child, Lola is shown trading her basic brown school boy’s shoes for bright red bow-accented pumps. For these two people, shoes mean completely different things. Charlie sees them as something ordinary, comfy and practical, and Lola sees them as a tool that can contain or free her depending on their shade and cut. Charlie’s company (Divine Footwear in real life) ends up building the perfect sex-filled stiletto boot in cherry red, but revolutionizes the industry by putting a steel rod in the heel that can support a man’s weight. This innovation gives drag queens like Lola the confidence to sing and dance in their sexiest shoes on sturdy footing.

// Research by Sofie Mikhaylova

Lowbrow

What happens when bleached brows detach from the runway

I like my hair white. Freshly fallen snow white. Nearly translucent white. Sometimes the colour may shift to pastel mint, lavender, or pink, but for the most part I stick to shades of the printer paper variety. Some might say I’m a bit too obsessive about banishing any hint of a yellowy tone, and I’d probably say they are right.

This past week, I stumbled upon a look that would take my ghostly appearance to a new level: bleached brows. How did this revelation take so long? I have been fawning over barely-there browed models for ages, but I never quite made the connection: I could carry out this look in real life.

I clawed at the idea with the ferocity of a cat in a litter box. How do I do it? What volume activator do I use? How long before I get roots? The questions were endless, but the answer, it turns out, was pretty simple. I got drunk with my best friend and painted my brows with Jolen cream bleach. I started watching YouTube videos, completely forgot the bleach, remembered and frantically tried to rub it off as quickly as possible, and voila! No eyebrows!

But really, for that first hungover 24 hours I really looked like my brows has been pillaged, ripped right from their perch on my face and taken to an unknown location. It wasn’t until I bleached my roots and toned both bodies of hair to match that I attained the model-like result I’d been after. Bingo. I started to think of myself as a little more alien, more doll, more forest nymph/fairy/magical creature. But to my surprise, others didn’t share the same excitement.

When sifting through the internet for tips on managing the very quick grow-out phase (I already had teeny roots two days later), all I could find were warnings of potential blindness, the condemning of Kelly Osborne, polls debating whether the look should be “runway only” and some very direct reports banning it altogether.

My real life reactions were even more daunting than those of the voices on the internet. Friends literally looked and me and said, “Wow, your eyebrows look weird,” or (nervously), “When will they grow back?” From shock to horror, almost every reaction was negative.

The general consensus seemed to be “But why would you do that?” Perhaps the most confused and upset of them all was none other than one of Toronto’s top brow gurus. Known for her fabulous face-framing skills, she had just finished up with my best friend’s luscious brown brows when we got to talking about her doing mine sometime (when the lack of colour grew out and I needed more shape). The moment of realization that my eyebrows were not naturally light flashed across her face like tinfoil in a microwave, and she suddenly seemed unable to contain her dismay. She just couldn’t believe I had done such a thing willingly when “brows frame the face!” She asked, “but why?” at least five times while I struggled to comfort her and convince her it was a very solid runway trend, then eventually gave in to reassuring her they would grow back very quickly and it was just for fun. Although still confused, she greeted this possibility with hope and appeared to let it go.

Had I committed some form of facial faux pas? Was there a special place in hell reserved for women who purposefully erase their brows? Although I’ve tried many a crazy passing trend (full length denim jumpsuit, high-waisted pants that go up to my breasts, see-through dresses with nothing underneath, etc.) I have never experienced such negative feedback to a fashion statement: apparently challenging traditional beauty standards is not a risk I’m supposed to take.

It’s a well known fact that brows lighter than your locks just look “weird,” but why is that? Because we all need some level of sameness to feel comfortable when we gaze into one another’s eyes? As the tiny roots creep into sight on my brow, I’ve hit a crossroads: do I bleach them back? Or do I conform to traditional beauty standards and return to life as I knew it, with a perfectly balanced and shaped face? Is flattering more important than fun? The answer of course, is no. Despite the various people I’ve promised the return of my brows to, I think I’m going to indulge in this runway-only look a little longer.

photography //
Brianne Burnell

Hot Fuzz: Behind the Scenes

Alyssa Wornette gets mascara dabbed on her armpit hair by a complete stranger

Arriving at the Belljar Cafe in Toronto’s west end on a warm summer evening, I felt wretchedly nervous. Don’t get me wrong, I was proud of my armpit hair: so proud in fact I was worried the photos wouldn’t do them justice. I wanted to look sexy, sophisticated, and not at all ashamed like I would’ve been in the past. I was terrified my confidence just wouldn’t come through.

But as my body slid into ’50s party dresses in pastel shades, and my perfectly curled hair was coated with hairspray, the nerves turned to excitement. Somewhere between fresh brewed coffee, dabbing mascara on my armpit hair, and cuddling an ADORABLE puppy, we snapped the perfect photos to accompany Hot Fuzz, issue 15‘s article on learning to love my pit hair. I’ve never felt so pretty and proud.

text // Alyssa Garrison
video // Daniel Reis
end animation // Barry Potter