Body positivity, the average user’s guide

This is a story about a never-ending road towards body positivity (including fat positivity but not only that) in a world where we are all damaged goods when it comes to our own bodies, a brainwashed civilization unable to appreciate everything our bodies do for us. I’ll do my best not to relive my traumas again in this post, I’m still busy healing them. Throughout this post I’m talking about a very mild case of body dismorphia and societal pressures felt while inhabiting still a very – in the statistical sense – ‘normal’ body, I am aware that life at other configurations of body shape, color, ability, sexual identity among other traits are very different, and I eagerly read when other people share their body stories but they are not mine to re-imagine and retell. Here I will try to capture what has let me be so much more happy with my body now than in any other moment since I gained aesthetic consciousness of it at around 8 or so.

Odessa 1995, I was the bubba on the left just having a really good time and pretty oblivious to bodies.

And even more absurd is the fact that, despite not having any experience of being properly fat, I have so much trauma around this shit. I have experienced very little direct body shaming, but I did the rest of the job myself with a little help from the popculture, thank you very much. I was prone to adolescent idiocy moments like observing that ‘my tights wobble in shorts’ and then taking around 15 years to wear short again, Barcelona summer made me. But now adolescence is over, and either (a) at least in my circles, Spaniards are less judgemental than Latvians, (b) my social circles are better selected now than 15 years ago, or (c) I’m getting immune to this crap. So I’m ready to impart advice:

1. Become an engineer, see function!

You might have been looking for the wrong shapes all along. Somebody told us that small, tall, young and willowy was where it’s at and here we are. But think about evolution! Think about primates! Think about what bodies are for! Your genes are probably a couple of hundreds (if not thousands) years off in their expression, but they are doing what they can. Try to see your body in connection with your ancestors, that’s the inheritance, the family trunk full of treasures that made sense way back. I’ve had to admit that my body is not made for gender bending, androgynous play and being willowy. It’s the opposite, just what my fertile peasant grand-grandmothers needed to live, work, and, yes, marry well and survive all those pregnancies. Wide back and shoulders to carry water from the well, firewood from the forest, and potatoes from the field. Strong tights and calves to keep walking all day long from one farm errand to another. Wide feet to keep my bare feet grounded in places that even now don’t have asphalt. A round belly to grow babies in and downward looking breasts to feed them. Such waste to have it all on me, from an evolutionary point of view, as the use is pretty limited, but that’s my trunk. Here, my best selfie ever (2016):

2. Become a historian, do your research!

Women’s bodies also have fashions, get to know those. The click-bait places are full of ‘the ideal woman through ages’ videos and there is an abundance of more serious materials too. For an extra level, try to explain the trends, i.e. fat when most people were starving, pale skin when only the leisurely classes didn’t spend the day outside followed by appreciation of tan when people started to spend most of their time in factories and offices, or the abundant meatiness of the 1950’s sex symbols following the Great Depression and WWII. And these trends move fast: I’ve seen supermodels, heroin chic, and Kardashian butt being all the rage since I am alive and that hasn’t been so many years. Assume that this – as bell-bottoms, platform shoes or millennial pink – will also pass. Maybe Rubens will have a revival and cellulite will be the next big thing! A girl can dream.

Although taking into account that only the scarce commodity can be truly valued, I’d suggest not giving a fuck as a more sustainable and reality-based alternative in comparison for waiting for the cellulite trend.

3. Become an art historian, de-earth women who chose to become icons instead of becoming pretty!

There are stories of rebellion and ‘fuck pretty’ for all tastes, including those that wanted to be part of the game and learnt that extravagant also works (hello, Diana Vreeland) and those that knew that she needed more than being recognized for her looks (hello, young Georgia O’Keeffe), because striking stays when the youthful beauty is gone. Frida Kahlo is a bit overused for coasters and pins by now, but always a good place to start. You have Wikipedia for days: Nina Simone, Iris Apfel, Virginia Woolf, Patti Smith, Joan Baez, Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth I, etc. etc. And for some gore and to remember that for a long time religion was the only reasonable alternative to the three Ks of domesticity, you have the stories of Joan of Arc, Agatha of Sicily, Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Ávila (those two actually succeeded at the whole thing) to begin with. And I’m sure you have a handful of local examples to add to this list, let me know in the comments!

4. Become a fly on the wall. Observe!

Relax! Look at real people instead of billboards. A ride in public transit, especially in a day of ‘wear shorts or die’ will do much more for your body confidence than a fashion magazine. The same goes for a day at the beach or gym showers. And I don’t mean it in a ‘you are so much better than’ way. Nope, it’s just bodies going places, and cellulite or upper arm flap is completely irrelevant Try to practice observing bodies without judging them: the shapes, the sizes, the little things nobody has had time for. Among strangers or friends, I love to notice half-shaven legs, undone nail polish, blood stains that never came out, droopy shoulders, early wrinkles, and all the rolls, rolls, rolls. As The Killers asked ten years ago, ‘Are we human or are we dancer?’

5. Use your body! Preferably, naked.

There is a great piece about this point exactly in Caitlin Moran‘s new book ‘How to be Famous’ (see the quote above). It almost boils down to the old cliché of nobody having a low self esteem at the moment of orgasm, but in a classier and more ample way. If you are truly present while using your body – in sports, traffic, crafts, dancing, sex – you are not likely to be thinking about it. Again, function trumps aesthetic, or at least we seem to lack bandwidth to process both at the same time. If you treat your body as tool for self expression (and life in general), the criteria are very different than if the body is an aesthetic commodity. In this sedentary world moving the body might require an effort, but only in movement it shows its magic.

The note about nakedness is not random, though. As most bodies we see are printed or digital, they are far removed from actual bodily experiences – they are plastic or cardboard, heavily airbrushed and sanitized. They don’t sweat, bleed or have random hairs sprouting out of unsuspected places. So hanging around – at least – with your own naked body creates counter-images of living, breathing, warm bodies being the norm. We have to hack our brain back to recognizing the true us as the baseline, not some painted lady on the billboard.

Oh, and – when taking a break among all that movement – take all the selfies in the world! I’d say that the greatest benefit of digital photography has been giving the tools of instant and infinite self-portrait to the people. Selfies have helped us all to discover that, while some are more photogenic than others, the great majority of us have a couple of great angles in the right light, and that great part of the airbrushed commercial photos we see around are due to – after make-up, styling and before photoshopping – about taking enough pictures until some came out nice. Of course it’s narcissistic, but in a world which puts us down for not being pretty enough while bombarding us with images of supposed perfection of others, knowing that the magic of one stunning photo is usually having taken 200 of them is power. I cling to the idea that my first digital camera did almost as much for me as my first pop feminist books did. If I was able to make ‘pretty’ out of myself, I didn’t rely on anybody else to do it. Ha, and be careful about putting naked pictures on the internets. Here, have some of mine instead (Berlin 2008):

6. Experiment with the limits of patriarchy in beauty.

Play a little truth or dare with yourself and body/beauty standards. First of all, there is already probably a bunch of supposedly ‘essential’ beauty routines you are not doing. How do I know? Because there are so many of them that nobody could possibly have time for them all! Make a list of every Cosmopolitan advice you are not following: painting the toenails? daily face/body/hair masks? curling your eyelashes? waxing your forearms? permanent make-up? permanent hair removal? hair transplants? magical pills for better skin? hockey mask with pink lights for acne treatment (that exists, btw)? If you do any of these or any else, that’s fine. My point is that the options and their combinations greatly exceeds our numbers.

So keeping in mind that there is no universal beauty list beyond the very basics of some soap and maybe cleaning under your nails, you get to decide and shake it up a bit. My minimalist-bias go towards reducing instead of adding, so I suggest looking at your routines and asking ‘do I enjoy this?’, ‘what does it do for me?’ and ‘why am I doing this?’. Allow for trial and error, it’s an experiment.

My personal recent ‘transgressions’ include: the above-mentioned short wearing (yay); trying to stop using a lip balm (nay, doesn’t work for me); replacing facial cream with almond oil (yay); and giving up yoga classes because those didn’t spark joy anymore – I was more attached to wanting to be the person who does yoga than actually enjoying the practice.

Older and established choices include: wearing my nails short and unpainted; wearing only flat shoes; not wearing trousers; getting a haircut only once a year; doing a diy hair dye with henna once a month; having a wax every seven weeks; not wearing make-up… Each of these was a process of ‘let me see how can I twist this’. For example, I tried not removing body hair at all just to realize that I am not comfortable living like that, unfortunately. So a compromise I’ve devised is to allow for a lot of time between waxes so that I actually get to live with some hair before they are stripped off again. While politically I would be on the side of ‘if it gets too bushy, you can trim’, I played with the external standards to find out where my current limits are. Remember that all that shit is arbitrary and relax! The same goes for experimental dressing and letting go of ‘no horizontal stripes’ type of prejudice – check and re-check that your limits are truly yours. And have fun with glitter and curling iron meanwhile!

7. Practice compassion for those in the first line of combat.

Some people’s value – measured in income – actually depend on their looks. People get dragged through the yellow press, shamed, and contractually obliged to lose or gain weight, hair, tan, etc. Imagine the exhaustion! Having come of age when Britney Spears was a thing and then not again when she couldn’t maintain the appearances, having read about Amanda Palmer switching to crowd funding and self editing because of record label considering her fat, Pink being dragged through media because of the same shit, Jennifer Lawrence being a ‘fat actress’ for the contemporary Hollywood, you know what? Thank goodness my life is not like that.

No wonder there is a great demand for celebrity ‘stolen’ swimsuit photos – we all crave a confirmation that they are ‘wrong’ too. The chastising ‘how dares she not to be airbrushed!’ remarks and evil indulgence in those photos is the only passive aggressive ‘revenge’ that people have when reminded that we are being tricked all along. Obviously, that doesn’t change anything for anybody: the celebrities keep being tightly controlled by the masses willing to believe in their perfection and that 10 sit-ups a day will give the same for everybody who persists.

And when you think that people talking up about this stuff is celebrities doing alright, remember all those that just have to swallow the insults while doing the jobs where one *has* to be pretty, feminine, helpful, and not threatening: flight attendants, secretaries, waitresses… Or those arts/sports where eating disorders and communal hard-core body policing seems to come with the discipline. Yuck!

8. Carefully select food for your brain.

This one consists of two parts, one being media and other the everyday interactions. Fill your feeds with truly fat people. Knowing is not enough, our brains need to see things again and again to file them under ‘typical’, and, taking into account how many idealized and airbrushed bodies you have seen by now (because all the corporate dollars have been channeled into making sure you see all those), we need *a lot* of other pictures to counteract that. Depending on the stage of healing you are at, side effects might include: (a) de-stigmatizing the word ‘fat’ and reminding you that it is just a noun or adjective, not a crushing insult unless we make it so, (b) realizing that the fantasy world of ‘I’ll get thin / get a boob job / nose job / six pack and then I’ll be…’ doesn’t work that way, except for very few cases, (c) discovering the variety contained by the plus size and body positivity universe, especially the tensions around body shapes of most plus size models and plus size fashion representing mostly a slightly overweight, tall, long-legged, hourglass figure, (d) confirm that confidence and believing it is the key to sexiness (and all other -nesses, too), if that’s what you are going for. And try to cut out the toxic crap: hours on tumblr will do you much good while beauty pageants, talk shows that body-police, mainstream series, TV advertisement, and women’s magazines will put new images we are already sick of in your head.

9. Help liberate others’ brain (at least don’t add crap to it).

OK, so once you have have your power place built up on the internets (I have a tumblr partially dedicated to this and a Pinterest board to go back to when the day is dark) and your brain is high on #fatgirlsdoingthings, now your job as the secret avenger of the body shamers begin. All that toxic talk, all that damage we inflict on ourselves and others. It takes so little, only a subtle eye roll or a nuance in tone in ‘oh, that’s what you are wearing?!’ It is about control, fitting in, guilt, and equaling fat with a character flaw, and making sure everybody knows they are not photoshop perfect. Self-depreciation is the norm, kind of pre-emptive strike at ourselves.

I’ve adopted a strategy to be very blasé when anybody tries to discuss my body, especially when people do the ‘oh, you so thin today!’ bullshit. I won’t allow anybody to police my fat or feet or anything else I’m happily doing – faking incomprehension is my favorite way of challenging that, makes assholes name *their* issues – or try to buy me over with sweet talk. Even when people clearly mean the best, I try to softly switch those remarks towards them, because commenting on others people’s bodies without a good reason (a medical emergency, for example) is never about other people. It hurts me profoundly to think about all the direct attacks people get if they are… well, not even, as Clarissa Pinkola Estés would put it, in the wrong nest, just in a normal family where body policing is what people do, mostly among females and mostly with the best intentions of wishing acceptance and desirability upon their daughters and granddaughters, transferring the survival strategies they have learnt.

And from that follows the self-depreciation stuff you’ll have to deal with, especially as the above-mentioned ‘compliments’ tend to have the following structure of ‘Oh, you so x, me so not x’ that tries to trick you into responding with at least ‘Of course you’re x, we are all amazing here!’ and preferably, as body-confidence is frowned upon, one-upping into a self-hating tirade along the lines of ‘Naah, me the fattest ugliest troll ever, you the pretty princess’. And that spiral can go on – and downwards! – for years… I tend to respond with something between ‘babe, quit the bullshit’ and ‘stop talking shit about my friends, be nice to your body, after all the hard work it does for you’. Try to figure out if the person is just engaging in a familiar ritual, a game you just don’t want to play anymore, or is this an occasion to sit down and truly talk about it. You will meet plenty of people who are deaf to such conversation, so accept that your capacity to change them stops at making it clear that you are out of the body shaming game, planting the little seed of doubt, and reassuring that you will be there if they ever want to talk about it.

And for people raising little people, may the force be with you, because, despite all your body positivity work, feminist pedagogy, and unconditional love, they are bound to bring home all the toxic crap, and it will be your job to hold their hand and explain what patriarchy and unattainable beauty standards are about. This stuff is powerful with thousands of years of history and all the current big money behind, so, please join the resistance! We really need you.

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Obviously, there are better days and ones when the fat demons come back, but at least now we have an argument instead of a dismissive monologue. I have my safe places: that Pinterest board, the swimming pool, an intimate lube, and just plain spite of ‘nope, I refuse to be ordered around by stupid ideas, I have a great and functional body and I shall cherish it’.

How do you fight against the shame monsters, be they human or ghosts in your head? Do you have key songs, playlists, movies, books, fridge magnets with inspirational quotes? What do you tell yourself to get over the body shaming moments? And what do you say to others trying to do that to you?

Train travel long distance in Europe

If you have read this blog at least since March (1, 2, 3) or talked to me lately about traveling, you will know that in April I planned to do some some international train travel which I had to cancel due to French rail worker strike. However, in the beginning of June I did an even more ambitious route than the initially planned Barcelona-Paris -London-Paris-Barcelona. Ha! I did Barcelona-Lyon-Brussels-London-Paris-Barcelona instead.

This wasn’t my first time crossing borders in a train, though. I started at 7 doing Rīga-Odessa-Kiev-Rīga with my mom in a slow train where she convinced that trains were the best places to sleep, provided that we are talking coaches with compartments shared among 4 or less persons, having your own little shelf with a proper bedding and when the train is not a high speed one. It was 1995 and former Soviet Union, so seeing the tracks when going to bathroom was normal. As an adult I’ve done the very short Brussels-Rotterdam-Brussels, Brussels-London-Brussels, Brussels-Paris-Brussels trips and the overnight Moscow-Rīga (17h) we did for fun in 2012.
I’ve also crossed Spain and Poland by train but that was not complicated either, except that time I got confused when part of the train bound for Bilbao was left in Valladolid. They do the same in Paris-Montpellier-Barcelona train: half of it stays in Montpellier, so you want to be in the right coach when that happens.

This is what overnight travel Moscow-Rīga looks like in a 2-berth compartment. Very cutesy and sentimental! By the way, this slow but tranquil option but in a more luxurious compartments is known to be the favorite way to travel by some Russian celebrities with links to Rīga; makes sense: you get a no hassle and almost no disturbances travel packed together with a trip down the memory lane. The border guards that wake you up to look at you passport in the middle of the night not pictured:

Horrified by my last year’s 23 flights and 17 of the year before, and knowing that some options exist, I did my best and below you have a long list of the pros and cons of long distance train travel according to me. These are, obviously, restricted by external factors such as distances and your closeness to a railway hub. For example, I’m not planing to go to Latvia by train anytime soon, as around 1500km of train travel per day seems to be my limit with current speeds, it’s twice that to Rīga, and several day train trips with multiple uncoordinated layovers is not in my wish list (something like Barcelona-Paris-Brussels-Berlin-Warsaw-Vilnius-Rīga). The other is personal preferences, those, well, to each her own!

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(My) reasons to take train long distance:

Significantly lower CO2 emissions.

Time *seems* better spent as you are in movement for a bigger proportion of the journey. Because the airport waiting times are just soul crushing…

Though vistas still fly by, at ~300 km/h of high speed railway you appreciate distances better than at the ~1000 km/h of the commercial planes. In my book that’s a good thing – distance is not a trivial thing and being mindful about it is a nice added value. For example, now my knowledge that Paris-London distance is less than half of Paris-Barcelona is a very real experience. And, yes, I am aware that in both cases those mentioned are top speeds and that the reality is often lower, especially for the high speed railway lines with many stops.

As Eurostar advertised in its beginnings, train normally takes you to actual places that have the same name as your destination. Even more, as railway is much older, most of the big stations are pretty central. No disrespect to people living in Prat, Charleroi, Nyköping or Luton, but these are not the places I was going to.

While we are now used to airlines policing our bodies and stuff (remember, the 100ml restriction has been there since 2006, not forever), the trains are a much freer world. Depending on a station and type of train, there might be a bag scan, but that’s it. Nobody controls how much stuff you are carrying and if any of that is liquid.

The most heart-breaking example of what the liquid restrictions have to done to us was at the Eurostar check-in in Brussels Midi. There are recycling bins before security and passport control there, and there was a bunch of half-full drink bottles, water and soft drinks. I already got scared that for some reason Eurostar has adopted the airline liquid rules, and asked the security staff. Clearly enjoying themselves, they explained that people just did that without being asked. Sad.

So bring your own water, and, if you are willing to suspend your water taste criteria in favor of reducing all the stupid bottled water waste, get a filter bottle and drink some bathroom water. Mine is a Bobble, I’ve had it for five months without changing the filter yet because I only use it for travel as we have a nic etasting water fountain in the office. I have to admit that the filter bottle is not as comfy to use as any normal vessel as you actually have to push the water through the filter and – as all normal plastic bottles – it’s not insulated, so you are bound to drink your water the same temperature as the ambient. I have made my mind though: I am easily disgusted by the common public water (chlorine!), so I prefer to push mine through a filter, even if it’s warm. In any case, hydration is important, please take care of yourself even if that means purchasing overpriced plastic bottles of water!

And bringing your own food is normal and expected, and snacking is great! Bring sandwiches, sturdy salads (read about how pros do it here) and fruit, snacks, it all helps. My basics are granny smith apples, cherry tomatoes, carrots, pistachios, dark chocolate and then whatever else that seems like a good idea. On the other hand, there is such thing as a ‘restaurant-vagon’ or at least a bar section in all trains (significantly cooler in older and slower trains, of course). Moving around freely is OK when in train, serendipitous encounters might happen, and it’s a way of escaping your seat-mate if need be.

On the other end of hydrating and travel nutrition we have the bathroom issue. Just to keep it short: have paper tissues just in case, liquid hand sanitizer (regardless of what you think about harsh chemicals, I think that they are very good idea for travel, including dealing with toilet seats) and small change for those places (French train stations!) that think that taking money for access to bathroom is a good thing.

Space! There is significantly more leg space! For real. And only two seats together, so you will need to climb over a maximum of one person (those who have been stuck in the 6-seat mid-row on a trans-continental flight and then in a lap of a complete stranger mid-way through your gymnastics towards toilet know what I mean). Also, if traveling in a small group, you can get the 4-seat 2-facing-2 table to have some quality time of conversations, meals, and games. For example, Spanish railway actually give you cheaper tickets if you book the whole 4-seats because few people want to share those with strangers.

And plugs. There are plugs. The number depends on a train model (one per every two seats in most trains I took), but still much better than none. So non-online computer work is a real option from the moment you get into your seat until the moment the train stops in your station. None of the ‘all big electronics have to be safely stored in the overhead lockers’. And the unified EU no-roaming-fees zone will take care of your data needs, although access to those fluctuated across my itinerary.

Less crowded. I see two reasons for it. First, not all of these are full. For example, my Barcelona-Lyon coach was pretty sparsely populated. Second, even when full, there are just fewer people in one coach and that gives breathing space. Yes, a train is a chain of coaches, I know, but the feeling is different sharing a closed space with 2 seats by 2 sides by 11 to 15 rows = [44; 60] than by 3 x 2 x 30 (or a bit more) ~ 180 on commercial median distance flights. My Paris-Barcelona train was a double-decker, having 88 or so passengers per coach but divided in two spaces.

(My) obstacles to take train long distance:

It is more expensive. The only exceptions might be the very short ones like the Belgium-Netherlands ones. All those I took this time were more expensive than low-fare flying. Like twice as expensive.

In many cases, it takes more time. The Brussels-London (2h) and Paris-London (2’15h) seem to be among the exceptions, and so are the trains connecting Belgium and the Netherlands. But if you are covering longer distances or using slower trains, it will take significantly more time. So, apart from the few faster-than-flying itineraries, this is not an option for people in hurry. As the pink letters in London-St. Pancras claim, trains want their time with us:

Failure could be much harder to fix and more time-consuming. Especially because the connections are not formal, so nobody will reseat you in the next train if you just missed yours because of a delay or give you a hotel if you have to spend the night. Again, the probability of such desperate moments depends on your itinerary, and my feeling is that it’s mostly linked to industrial actions instead of tech failure. So do your research and err on a safe side, especially if people with reasonable power for industrial action are planning to strike (hi, France!).

The infrastructure and habitual uses are less homogeneous, hence more stressful for the traveller. The differences among airports are smaller than among train stations. Timing cultures, security checks, infrastructures vary a lot. And language is not English necessarily. There is much less baby sitting than in air travel: nobody will call your name throughout the station and, depending on the station, check if you are getting on the correct train! And you can lose your stop if you are not paying attention or sleeping. Connections are not formal, so you are the one responsible of being informed and alert.

Depending on train model and itinerary, and booking algorithms, you might end up being seated backwards. I was sitting like that on my Lyon-Brussels train and found it only mildly unpleasant, but I know that there are people who get truly sick with stuff like this and in a full train with all seats booked your only option would be an informal seat change with a flexible-enough stranger. Please, nobody talk about this to Ryanair, they could implement random – cheaper! – sitting backwards seats just to fuck with us.

Also, not necessarily pretty. You’ll be seeing this a lot:

You have to be able to deal with your luggage on your own. This is very important! While nobody cares how big your carry-on is the whole point is that it is an actual ‘carry-on’: you will have to move it on and off train, climb steps and put it in the luggage shelves, either together with others in one spot in the coach or on the shelf above your head. I had a typical size carry-on and a cross-body with my essentials, and even this way it was annoying at times to do all the steps and gymnastics. It is true that people with big bags looking helpless get assistance from staff or kind strangers, but that’s not something I would like to rely on, especially in French stations where in both cases – in Lyon and Paris-Lyon – the track was announced less than 10 minutes before departure resulting in mass hysteria and stampede. So follow my grandpa’s advice and always be able to comfortably carry your own stuff!

As you can imagine, my strategy was to plan for outfit repetition and carry very little. Most of the little cross-body was taken by my two cases for glasses, so my clothing and conference shoes, notebooks, books, laptop, grooming pouch, food and water bottle had to go into the carry-on. Apart from what I was wearing for travel (kaftan, sports bra, sneakers, cardigan + ‘just in case AC’ leggings), I took two dresses, a bra, a pair of formal shoes, extra underwear and socks. You can see all the outfits here and here. And this is my hotel wardrobe in Brussels, the things on shelves are drying after a sink-wash:

And more hand-wash drying in London. While I take extra pairs, I do not take enough to cover all days, so washing by hand is a routine. If my dad and Paul Krugman can do it, so can I! I heard Krugman telling about his book-tour sink hand-washing habits due to the ridiculous prices hotels charge for laundry on some youtube talk years ago and he’s been a role model since. My all-time favorite knickers both for comfort and the super-quick dry are Luva Huva Satin Frilly Knickers in black you see in this photo:

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Do you have any experiences with lower CO2 travel? What mode of transportation, where to and how did it go? Do any of the cons I mentioned that make it impossible to you: price, time, stress levels?

Yes, there are garments that I’ve never washed

I revised my notes of Kate Fletcher’s Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys (2014, London – New York: Earthscan from Routledge) and found a ‘make post about this’ note in Chapter 3 waiting for me since November last year.
However, as I had it on a limited loan from a far-away library, I only have my notes… and I was convinced that the all data cited about wear frequency were from the Dutch paper cited below. It’s not! I checked all 170 pages of that report… So get Fletcher’s book from your library and check.

Chapter 3 is dedicated to *use* and this phase of garment’s lifecycle is a tricky one as it’s private and individual. It’s hard to track, and the industry just love to put the responsibility on the consumer reminding that (a) ‘ha, you made a shitty decision’ and (b) ‘loads of energy gets wasted and water polluted via poor laundry practices’. And they are not wrong. So (and this is from my notes, Fletcher does not use the f-word):

– A garment spends on average 3 years and 5 months in one wardrobe
– Get 44 wears
– Gets ~3 wears between the washes
– If a person has 10 pairs of underwear, that means 36.5 wears every year (provided that all are worn equally and one per day)
– Most garments get only around 20 washes that cause a lot of environmental impact
– Washing is responsible of 80% of the energy impact of underwear
– Cold washing and line-drying reduces the lifecycle energy for polyester 4 times and for cotton – 2 times
– The increase of individual households with more machines and less people tend to cancel out the washing machine efficiency gains due to smaller load sizes
– The launderette as an alternative are: better because they are communal and guarantee maximal use of fewer machines while getting big loads, worse because they use higher temperatures used and tempts people into using the f*ing dryer

(obviously the averages here are statistical artifacts, provided that there are categories of garments that are washed after every wear and ones that are never washed)

From the Uitdenbogerd et al 1998 paper “Domestic Energy Saving Potentials for Food and Textiles: An Empirical Study” we get that, according to the behaviour of Dutch families in 1997, the most promising options for energy saving in household when it comes to textiles are:

– washing at lower temperatures, including 25ºC cycles,
– use of ½- or S-buttons for ½- and ¾- loads, and E-buttons on the machines,
– longer wearing,
– line drying.

So, following St.Kate’s advice and being mindful that notions of cleanliness has more to do with idea about culture, civilization, piety, propriety (as opposite to dirty) than dirt. And for the germophobes: as a species we are not very good at disease prevention via cleanliness, unless you boil and bleach everything, and even then… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(A disclaimer is due here that – quite ironically – our household experienced an order from a doctor to up our temperatures for certain types of laundry lately… So, as always, follow your doctor’s orders.)

Stop the automatic ‘I take it off and put it in the hamper’. Look at it, smell it, ask yourself if maybe drying it on a hanger and/or spraying with a mix of water and essential oils could be enough.

If you have decided that a garment needs washing, collect them until you have a full load (cold washes allow for not separating the colors), get an environmentally friendly detergent and go cold at least with the often worn clothing (very few of us truly cover our garments with mud every day). Rethinking the function of underwear is an idea, too. Let’s keep in mind that one of its missions is to separate the living, breathing, sweating, etc. flesh from our outer garments. The practice of wearing an undershirt might be on its demise (and now associated only with Marlon Brando and old men not wanting to show their nipples), but just give it a thought, especially for places with winters. And remember that the ‘iconic white t-shirt’ is not much more than a rebranded piece of underwear.

The impact assessments tend to include bleaching and ironing, so forget about that shit and the softener too. You never needed those for everyday use anyways. In our household only an occasional stubborn fruit stained serviette gets a 100ºC bleach soak before going in with the rest of household textiles at 60ºC. And only C’s summer shirts and my handkerchiefs get ironed.

Forget the dryer if you can, line drying is a beautiful practice in the sunnier parts of the globe (dry your brights inside out, though, sun is the original bleach; on the other hand, your whites will love it) and the northerners with proper heating at home get an actual health benefit from drying their clothes indoors on a rack – no need for an additional humidifier! The only people I’d give a permission slip for the dryer would be those with a lot of small children and those using launderettes (which normally comes accompanied with no space for a drying rack and a tendency towards mold in their studio apartments). But with reasonably cold/lukewarm water, good detergent and full loads, eh?

And now, after the yearly ‘how to wash’ primer (this was the last year’s), here is the phrase that peaked my interest: “It is very likely […] that we all have durable unwashed items in our wardrobes, but probably have never recognized them as such” (Fletcher 2014: 107). This is part that got me thinking: what are my no-washes? And rarely washes? What would be the common characteristics of the garments that do not get washed?

*No washes* are my fluffy coat (2006),

my festive bolero (2011),

my cape (2013),

my red woolen sweater (2015),

my Lithuanian woolen sweater (2015),

my swimsuit (2015) – rinsed a lot, never washed,

Ginta’s Monton bird skirt (2016),

Liisa’s velvet skater skirt (2017),

my Pavlovo Posad shawl (~2013) and my Cien Colores shawl (2017),

Julie’s cardigan (2017).

The WAG set has gotten no washes, but I’ve worn it only few times, we’ll see this summer if that structured but unlined cotton begs washing. Rare (as in ‘once in a season maybe’) washes are my parka (2003; the outer shell, the inner one has been washed once in 15 years, I think), HnM sweetheart dress (2008), Ginta’s trench (2010), Ginta’s blue silk dress (2016).

So, the riddle is served: what do these have in common? (1) Almost all are outer layers, so that my filthy body does not touch them directly. On the other hand however, the same characteristic makes them more vulnerable to outside dirt: bike oil, bird poo… (2) Many of them are worn strictly seasonally or for special occasions, so the overall number of wears is small, hence reduced exposure to being dirtied. (3) Materials! Wool is my golden amazing darling that does not smell, basically auto-cleans and any minor mayonnaise stain can be fixed with a damp cloth and all refreshing these garments need is just some alone time in wardrobe with a baggie of lavender. (4) Fear and awe inspiring items: I’m scared of fucking them up and wearing them out by repeated washing + the swimsuit which seems to be doing just fine with its chlorine soaks and less-chlorinated rinses afterwards.

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What are your *no washes*? Are those things that don’t need washing because of their function or are those things that you haven’t worn enough? Do you have any secret garment refreshing techniques: spot cleaning, steaming them in shower, freeing them? Tell me, I’m all ears!

My sustainability fails

Hello, there! The lent might be in the air in this historically catholic country or maybe I just want to make a dent in the holier-than-thou issues of the blogosphere and consumption-based activism. Anyways, this will be a mea culpa of my poorest sustainability practices. While I can go through one of those long ‘get greener’ bucket lists (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and tick off quite few, there are several big ones I suck at. Welcome to the club!

Flying!

Ugh, the elephant in the room nobody in the online sustainability crowd likes to talk about. What’s the point to bring your own napkin to a transatlantic flight? I took 17 flights in 2016 and 23 in 2017. Aha, horrendous. And those include 8 intercontinental ones, just to make it completely awful. It must be much less in 2018 as my ‘take your PhD on a tour’ conference hopping is pretty much over, but is has already been 5 flights just between January and February 2018. I have none planned at least until June, and I’m trying a new trick at throwing money at my problem…

The basic step I am doing: Trains! I’ve been hating flying for a long time (I enjoyed my first few flights, it was all new and exciting, you know, going places), so I’ve opted to go to my KonMari seminar in train: Barcelona-Paris-London and back. It has cost me 260€ (flying would have cost me around 70€) and will mean hours more. On the other hand, it’s a better environmental option and better option for me: more space, views to watch, not fretting about the exact luggage size, not having to go to and from airports in the middle of nowhere (Eurostar had me convinced years ago with their ‘go from Paris to London instead of Charles de Gaulle to Heathrow’ ads), etc. And at least in this route it’s possible.

Not happening: I am not considering going to Rīga by train anytime soon, but the idea is to keep flying down to just love miles. I’ll let you know!

Garbage!

We (a shared household, so) are so far from being zero waste. We recycle religiously but I get guilt ping every time I stuff a bag in one of the colorful bins, even more if something goes to the gray bin. In Barcelona there are five different containers lining streets: brown for the organic waste, blue for paper, green for glass, yellow for plastics and aluminum, gray for the landfill. The additional services include textile containers of two different NGOs, furniture pick-up once a week from the curb and Punt Vert where they will take everything that’s shouldn’t go into the gray container or any other: electronics, batteries, random pieces of metal, used cooking oil, cava bottles. Ah, and pharmacies gather the pharmacological garbage: unused medicines and empty blisters! So significant space at our place is already occupied by different kind of garbage waiting for their turn to get out. And, yes, we are very lucky and privileged to have all that sorting and recycling being done for us by the City of Barcelona.

The basic step we are not doing: Switching to biodegradable bags for the organic garbage! We take out our paper in paper, glass in whatever as jars have to go in one by one, and plastic in a plastic bag. We did try a biodegradable bag for a short while, but they were too small and fragile for the amount of organic garbage we produce. I know, I know, my grandma also takes her kitchen garbage out everyday… and during summer we actually do switch to smaller bags because everything in that garbage bin goes compost and garbage juice in a very short time when it’s 28ºC and extremely humid.

Further steps we aren’t doing either: Composting! Without even entering into the conversation about where exactly and which type exactly, C has given a hard no on rotting stuff at home and I’m not passionate enough to try to fight that.

Dental hygene!

I switched to a children’s Humble Brush (the softest bristle but took time to get used to the small handle) years ago and I’m using an eco-certified vegan *with fluoride* toothpaste. However, Humble Brush has nylon bristle and my toothpaste travels to me by air from Germany clad in plastic (oh, all the waste and emissions of online shopping). I use dental floss every day knowing very well that it’s not biodegradable and peril to marine life. Oh, and I also chew a piece of plastic every night in the form of my mouth guard. It also has it’s own hard plastic coffin, of course.

The basic step I am not doing: Trying out real zero waste alternatives like baking soda or bar soap and neem stick. Nope! My gums are happy, my dentist and hygienist are happy. It’s actually funny because these people, despite the fact that they are peddling the latest super electronic brush, actually know a thing or two about dental hygiene. Nobody’s complaining about my current results while after a few months of experimenting with ayurvedic toothpastes years ago my dentist just had to intervene ‘with what have you been brushing your teeth? whatever it is, stop it’.

The teeny-tiny step I’m doing: Cutting my floss in smaller pieces, so that nobody could get tangled in it.

The tiny step I might do: Switching to Brush with Bamboo for my next toothbrush order (again, the flying packages!). Dental Lace, maybe? But, again, I have very sensitive gums and this stuff flies from far away (Maine, yo!).

Online shopping!

Of course I enjoy getting the best of all over the world right at my place. And I love receiving any kind of package! The excitement, the unboxing… and it goes to ridiculous lengths. My latest fails include (a) ordering four bottles of imported American apple cider vinegar from Madrid (and we did it twice as the first package had a broken bottle) without looking around in the neighborhood, and then I discovering that we can get French stuff in bulk for a very reasonable price in the shop I buy my almond oil and (b) being seduced by one of those companies that promote a ‘you buy and we give’ model and getting a present for C from the USA that didn’t ship to Spain so I had to engage an Italian friend to get it. Absurd! And Amazon Premium is nothing else than promoting laziness and killing local businesses. And so convenient, of course.

The teeny-tiny step I’m doing: For my German cosmetics I’m revising my existing supplies and postponing orders to make them big enough (and get free shipping, of course). I recently run out of lipbalm (the addiction thing keeps fluctuating) and made an excel (obviously!) just to find out that I’m up to my ears in toothpaste, solar protection, deodorants and cream. And the cream has fallen off my shopping list since I’ve discovered sweet almond oil! So I just stole a lip balm from my mom and carried on without buying more.

The other teeny-tiny step I’m doing: Stopping and thinking about possibilities to get what I want off-line. Barcelona is big and hip and there are a lot of great businesses either producing or importing. I do allow myself to buy online if I can’t find what I want or if the price is so much higher. The latest addition to our Amazon Prime basket of LED light bulbs and whatnot: (a) circle stencils for drawing that no shop in Barcelona had (I asked at several) and (b) a new Grids and Guides notebook as the previous one brought me so much joy; I suspected only one shop here to have them in stock and that would have necessarily been 10€ more. And we needed the lightbulbs!

The step I’ve completed: I’ve managed to stop buying books, headbands, and t-shirts with revolutionary slogans, though. Wasn’t easy. Very proud.

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These are only few, of course. Our food supply is patchy ranging from a weekly CSA vegetable box to palm oil in our conventional wheat tortillas. We wash our dishes constantly opening and closing the tap (and switching on the gas-powered water heater). We just bought a giant TV set…

On the other hand, I’m trying to relax my orthorexic and obsessive-compulsive impulses of living up to a sustainability perfection that cannot be achieved. Relax, sweety, relax! There is only one Bea Johnson, and I will never replace her. I’m not planning to turn my life into a one cause anytime soon.

So let’s talk trash! What are your sustainability stumbles you are not really planning to address? Any babe steps you feel immensely proud of? Any aspects of your life where you have decided to just let go?

Some things change: My bag now and 10 years ago

My Dad’s hand-me-down backpack I’ve been using since 2014. My sentimental investment has been allowing for the leather detailing, and my financial investment in repairing it were 25€ last year when the main zipper went kaput after all that strain. It’s also the perfect size for both carry-on luggage that fits under the seat in front and my everyday needs.

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Years ago there was a Latvian blog collecting photos and descriptions of people’s bags and pockets. I am unable to find it now, and I’m sure there are a gazillion more still doing it… However, having done such exercise in March 2008 and having found the email describing the contents when cleaning out my inbox, I just couldn’t resist repeating the exercise.

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So, the contents of my bag – a leopard-print plastic HnM tote, btw – in 2008:

For a bit of context: I was living in Ciudad Real then, doing my European Voluntary Service in a local NGO and actively learning Spanish. I worked mornings only and had lunch at home. The town is tiny, I walked everywhere, and actively tried to befriend the right people.

What you see here are:

My agenda
A notebook
A book: Taibo, Carlos. 2007. Movimientos antiglobalización (fun fact: this is the first book I ever read in Spanish!)
A CD: Veneno. 1977. Veneno
Headphones
MP3 player
A rechargeable battery
A USB drive 512 MB
Mobile phone
My purse
A Finnish lip balm
A Spanish lip balm
A pill-box containing chewing gum and pain killers
Honey perfumed kleenex
Passport
‘Libreta’ of Caja Castilla-La Mancha
Ciudad Real library card
A fountain pen
A marker pen
A ‘No sin él’ card holder containing: 2 debit cards, youth card, EU health insurance, AXA insurance, family doctor’s appointment card, bank password card,
A receipt for withdrawal of 30€
A boarding pass for a Brussels Airlines flight Brussels-Madrid

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And in 2018

I’m living in Barcelona, doing a PhD, commuting by bicycle, carefully planning all my activities and things to carry with me because popping home between, let’s say, yoga and work, would be a waste of time. I take lunch from home.

So 10 years later, on a normal Friday evening, I take out of my backpack:

My agenda
A notebook
Office key card
Home keys: front door, apartment door, postbox, both bicycle locks + bottle opener
Two cases for glasses: regular ones and sunglasses
Empty lunch tupperware with orange rinds, dirty knife and fork, a serviette in a cloth bag
A loaf of ‘German bread’ (a sad Spanish attempt at rye bread, ugh!)
Used yoga outfit: t-shirt, racerback top, leggings, knickers, socks

The pouch my mother-in-law made (she also made the two other ones inside) containing:

Phone + charger
My purse
Pill purse containing bandaids, painkillers, antivirals, a tampon
A Pusheen snack box with three dried figs
Oral contraceptives
Dirty handkerchief
Kleenex (those are a ‘last resort’ I don’t use routinely but you never know when you’ll end up in a dirty Spanish bar with no paper/towels)
A hand sanitizer
Earplugs in a case
USB stick 32 GB
A Latvian lipbalm
7 writing tools: a fountain pen, 4 markers, a permanent marker, a pencil
A hair elastic
A tiny clothes pin that was attached to Gulia’s present
A PAA card holder: ID, university ID, 2 Riga travel cards (one empty, one usable), 2 Barcelona travel cards (1-zone and 4-zone), a receipt for having spent 44 euros in the post office, debit card, bank password card, Catalunya health care system card, EU health insurance card, gym membership, La Festival buy 9-get-10th-for-free card

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Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi: while many aspects of my life have changed – the daily distances, schedules, tasks – other have stayed the same. I am still faithful to paper agendas and paper notebooks, and I still routinely carry with me a ‘first aid’ kit of wellbeing (that has expanded in last 10 years): handkerchiefs, kleenex, pain killers, ear plugs… I did finally switch to a smart phone last December and my lipbalm addiction is much less severe than before. But on days I’m not taking bicycle (rain!), I will always carry a book with me.

If you would shake out your everyday bag now and 10 (5? 15? 1?) years ago, what would still be there? What are the little things that help you maintain comfort when you are out and about? Is there anything you panic without? (I had that with lipbalms for years…)

The reading matter: part 2 – Save and sustain

The first part = The reading matter: part 1 – Art and inspo

My information diet is almost as lean as my closet: I have unfollowed everybody except my mother, my partner and some pages on Facebook, I don’t read press, I don’t use Twitter as a source of reading matter… I watch a Spanish late-night comedy show to keep up with the local news, Stephen Colbert to keep up with the American news and have my feeds to keep me warm. C did a search for a new RSS feed organizer when Google killed it’s Reader and found Feedly. It’s not perfect (very few things are, ugh), but does its job of bringing my news to me instead of me having to go after them. I really don’t get the ‘check my latest post’ logic on Instagram – if I like your content, I already have it in my reader, thank you very much!

So I’ll show you my reading lists… only the fashion and sustainability related folders, though, if you want recommendations for recipe blogs, illustrated sex toy reviews or my favorite academic journals, just ask.

Folder 2: Save + sustain
Eco-fashion, zero waste, financial independence, etc…

I’ve postponed this post for a long time due descriptions I wanted to write, as done is better than perfect, here you have them in descriptive categories.

Sustainability in general:

Ethical and green living with Lucy Siegle

Sustainable America

Fashion as Business:

The Fashion Law

Sustainable fashion / Fashion as Business:

Elizabeth Suzann

Sustainable fashion / Garment Stories:

Patagonia’s Worn Wear

Sustainable fashion / Conscious Dressing:

Kate Fletcher

Style Bee

Un-Fancy

Good on You

Sustainable fashion / Conscious Dressing / Minimalism:

Anuschka Rees

To Universe, With Love

Sewing / Upcycling:

Refashionista

Zero Waste:

Zero Waste Home

Paris to Go

Wasteland Rebel

Zero Waste / Whole Foods Plants Based:

Mama Eats Plants

Plastic Free:

(In Spanish) Vivir sin plástico

Zero Waste / Minimalism:

(In Latvian) Seek the Simple

Tidying:

(In Spanish) Orden y Limpieza en Casa

Spark Joy Podcast

Financial Independence:

J.L. Collins

Mr. Money Mustache

Miscellaneous:

Bonzai Aphrodite

Madame Manumus

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What are your favorite feeds for sustainability inspiration? Is there anyone out there in the blogosphere that changed your life? Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home is often the answer to this one, i know. Whom am I missing in my list? Suggestions are more than welcome!

#whatiwore 2018w05 + Sunday links

This post marks a new year in the weekly outfit world – it’s Nº53. You can see them all via this link or on Pinterest! And on we go with the brain-food:

On sartorial butterfly effects: The Marie Antoinette Dress That Ignited the Slave Trade. Allows you to appreciate the pros of a multi-polar world when one dress (or dress-wearer) doesn’t have that much trendsetting power. Oh, no, wait, the fucking Kardashians & Co… + now we all have the power to ignite slave or – in the best cases – almost slave labor while eating brioche fruit flown in from faraway lands ans swiping left.

Menstrual cups are still a novelty or what? They just keep popping up in my feeds, see examples here and here, and on display in our local pharmacy. I’ve had mine since the winter 2012/2013 (this one, because C’s sister was getting one and Fleurcup does this pay-for-1-get-2 thing so she offered giving me the other one), I had to cut the ‘stem’ part off to make it comfortable and have been happy since. My cup is dark brown now because I do not obsess about cleaning it. It’s fine, only my cervix sees it and he doesn’t care!
What truly strikes me every time somebody writes about menstrual cups is the ‘oh, it was scary, oh, you get to go to places you have never been to’ tone. Really? Are we really missing so much sexuality education that people with cervixes don’t know how to locate them?
Nevermind, tl;dr – try a menstrual cup if you haven’t yet, especially if you are not sure about your basic anatomy, and get your hand in there! It’s about the time you understood where all that blood came from.

A little fun Buzzfeed piece Here’s Why Clothing Sizes Are The Way They Are that so beautifully reveals the naïveté of early applications of social research. Serious and dedicated people going out there and doing thousands of measurements just to have the results completely off because their sampling was shit.

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What are your (sustainable) menstrual product preferences? Hand-made reusable pads, eco-tampons, period undies, a cup, or just bleeding all over the place your moon goddess magic? Was there ever a life-changing switch (that one for me was the change from maxi pads to tampons some 15 years ago)?
Additional dysmenorrhea pro-tip (I have street cred for painful periods, I’ve been taken to hospital in an ambulance): forget the anti-inflammatory analgesics and look for antispasmodics. Not for nothing those are called menstrual cramps!

The reading matter: part 1 – Art and inspo

The second part = The reading matter: part 2 – Save and sustain

My information diet is almost as lean as my closet: I have unfollowed everybody except my mother, my partner and some pages on Facebook, I don’t read press, I don’t use Twitter as a source of reading matter… I watch a Spanish late-night comedy show to keep up with the local news, Stephen Colbert to keep up with the American news and have my feeds to keep me warm. C did a search for a new RSS feed organizer when Google killed it’s Reader and found Feedly. It’s not perfect (very few things are, ugh), but does its job of bringing my news to me instead of me having to go after them. I really don’t get the ‘check my latest post’ logic on Instagram – if I like your content, I already have it in my reader, thank you very much!

So I’ll show you my reading lists… only the fashion and sustainability related folders, though, if you want recommendations for recipe blogs, illustrated sex toy reviews or my favorite academic journals, just ask. Keep in mind that while I might be critical (see the ‘nothing’s perfect’ note above), this is the content I enjoy.

Folder 1 – Art + inspo:
These are the pretty picture blogs that don’t care about sustainability or minimalism.
Also, a lot of illustration.

A Clothes Horse: breathtaking photography, orange hair, great style. I think I re-pin Rebecca’s photos the most. While she is neither into sustainability nor minimalism and a lot of content is sponsored, this is real style inspo for me.

A Curious Fancy: Indian, plus size, into all things cute. Think lace tights, thoughtful accessorizing, and very nice photography + an occasional essay on bodies, like this one.

A Robot Heart: Polish, sews some garments, occasional post-soviet anthropological references. Lately a lot of sponsored content, but time by time a styling gem like this session appears there.

African Prints in Fashion: I really tried to find some African fashion blogs with an aesthetic that resonated with me after I came back from Cape Town in late 2017 (oh, the amount of ’10 African fashion bloggers that are slaying it’ articles with broken links that I went through). This is one of the few satisfactory ones I found.

All You Need is a Wall: illustrations by Alexandra Dvornikova. If Clarissa Pinkola Estés would have been born Russian and more recently, this is what she’d be doing.

Edits All the Way: the classiest moodboards on Tumblr.

Cupcake’s Clothes (defunct): I’m so sad Georgina stopped curating her blog! It was the perfect over-the-top sweet plus size hybrid. And when C thought that the cat ear headband was too much, I threatened him with getting one of Georgina’s antler creations from her Etsy shop.

Gemma Correll’s illustrations on her Blogspot, Tumblr and Facebook page. She is great, dedicated to feminism, introverts and animals, so I find her merch so hard to resist.

Annya Marttinen’s Tumblr – her work is a lighter, more childish version of Dvornikova’s ‘she lives in a dark forest and runs with the wolves‘ vibe.

Taryn Knight’s work: What can I do, I love me some nice drawings… and hers are excellent.

Johanna Öst’s art and occasional dark pin-up outfit – Oh, when people live their art!

Kate Tokley’s blog: I came across this via #FashRev, I think. She crochets, she deals with anxiety, tries out capsule wardrobes. It resonates, I don’t know why.

Pauline aka Punziella who went viral with her casual Disney princesses. So much talent, so cute!

Madison Ross: again, a lot of wild women art I find hard not to buy.

Martha Anne illustrations. Defined borders, clear colors, female characters, and food! What’s not to love?

Miss Pandora: Oh, Louise! Elaborated editorials, background in art history and all that in French only. Rarely truly my aesthetic (too much heels and make-up to start with), but so undeniably cool.

Nancy Zhang: or when fashion blog meets illustration. Move over, Garance, this is the real deal!

Olga Valeska: Her photos, paintings, collages, etc. etc. are so stunning I don’t even care for her religiosity, and that’s rare! Truly breathtaking and makes my 19th century Russian-aesthetics-loving heart rejoice.

Pagnifik: another source of ‘wax hollandais‘ magic.

Serina Kitazono’s illustrations.

Zuzana Èupová’s aka Suwi’s illustrations.

Third local: a Ugandan now in France, urban, mostly pants and very cool. And a side of beautiful photography to go with it.

And just for fun in the same folder also Pusheen and Heart & Brain live.

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What are your favorite feeds for pretty pictures? Whom am I missing in my list? Suggestions more than welcome.

Fashion, sustainability and tidying books I read in 2017

For the second year in row I’ve had the ambition to read more books than there are weeks in a year, and for the second year in row I’m failing miserably. I ended 2016 at 42/52, so 81%. At the moment I’m at 37/52, so 71%. Disappointing! However, 12 of those 2017 books were blog-related either touching the whys (sustainability, climate change, consumerism), hows (sustainable fashion) and aesthetic pleasures (style!). Here’s the list in the order I read them:

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Tuite, Rebecca C. 2014. Seven Sisters Style: The All-American Preppy Look.

A pretty look-book explaining the rise of the preppy look which I’ll always eagerly repin despite the class bias. The funniest part is that styles that we now associate with arrogance and careful selection to “look the part”, was born out of quest for comfort and were seen as highly inappropriate and rebellious at their time. What can I say, give me a mix of nice knits and emancipation of women any time!

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Black, Sandy. 2008. Eco-chic: The Fashion Paradox.

A bit outdated and avant-garde focused sustainable fashion book. A reminder that less than ten years ago sustainable fashion was an artsy fringe activity nobody expected to become relevant to the mainstream.

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Carson, Rachel. 1962 [2005]. Silent Spring.

Yes, I hadn’t read the seminal book that launched the environmentalism. And now I have. It still is a very powerful reminder of the arrogant recklessness of the industrial management of nature (that tends to bring unintended consequences of colossal scale). Although the pesticides of today are not exactly as horrible as the organochlorine pesticides that Carson was focusing on, we have more than enough toxic messes around the world continuing the proud tradition of human hubris.

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Sontag, Susan. 1977 [1979]. On Photography.

Aha, another classic that I finally read this year! While not neatly fitting in the overarching theme, a recommended read to everybody taking daily selfies. Somehow I do feel relieved that Sontag did not live to see Instagram… Diagnosis? We are all sick, but that won’t stop us from documenting the illness.

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Gilman, Charlotte P. 1915 [2002]. The Dress of Women: A Critical Introduction to the Symbolism and Sociology of Clothing.

Oh, this was such a treat! Gilman, the ultra-rational feminist hero – read her What Diantha Did for a 1910 (!) answer to the still-relevant housework issue! – charging against the stupidity of fashion. Early social scientists just wrote what they thought, interpreting their participant observations from the armchair (OK, like Bauman and other theorists of postmodernity still do / did until they left us). You cannot trust them as describing a representative reality, but they surely reflect certain stirrings of their time. This one is fascinating! I already mentioned this book here and here.

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Corn, Wanda M. 2017. Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern.

I got this gem thanks to Marina who was willing to cater to my “see an exciting book in a museum shop, decide later” whims. For me this book was just the right mix of art and personal style without entering personal life. Bravo! The argument is very convincing, and more so with O’Keeffe than with others: if the artists has spent decades carefully curating (and making) her wardrobe and surroundings, it makes perfect sense to analyze them alongside her paintings.

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Fletcher, Kate and Lynda Grose. 2012. Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change.

Another sustainable fashion textbook, better than Black’s, worse than revised 2014 Fletcher below. In 2017 I was eager to build up an adequate knowledge base to start with, now I think I’m good, thanks! But I have to agree that in the last decade the sustainable fashion industry has moved with an incredible speed.

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Fletcher, Kate. 2008 [2014]. Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journey.

For a still-relevant overview of the sustainable fashion industry from the point of view of design (and lots of optimistic hope about the designer’s power to be an influence for good), read this one! Fletcher is the fashion philosopher of NOW (of, the notion of “craft of use” is irresistible), but if you have other favorites, let me know in the comments.

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And then I went on a Marie Kondo binge you can read about here

Kondo, Marie. 2010 [2014]. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

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Kondo, Marie. 2017. Spark Joy.

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Kondo, Marie and Yuko Uramoto. 2017. The Life-changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story.

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Monbiot, George. 2006 [2007]. Heat: How Can We Stop the Planet Burning.

I read Heat for the first time in 2008, and it was a game-changer for me. I took several small, individual steps to reduce my carbon footprint but didn’t stop flying (bad, bad me…). Not being a home- or business-owner, those were really tiny, but the book cemented my convictions that (1) climate change is happening (I know that in the USA “climate change” is understood to be the doubting term vs. much stronger “global warming”; however, assuming that words have meaning, not only spin, the shit storm that has already started goes beyond warming and is changing the climate in a multitude of ways, for example, when the Gulf stream stops, we won’t see much warming happening)  and we made it happen, obviously; (2) we have enough knowledge since long ago about the causes, so in principle we could have stopped it; (3) but we are shitty animals, our brains cannot deal with gradual and impersonal danger, so deserve to die and leave it to lizard-people to build the next civilization. That third part is not Monbiot’s, he really tries to be optimistic about the whole thing, but re-reading ten years later and knowing that we are even more fucked now, oh, well! Monbiot’s book started my climate change education and nothing has changed my climate pessimism since I read it for the first time.

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What were your sources of wisdom and brain-food in 2017? Do you have any information-consumption goals for 2018? How about less screens and more books?

#KonMari for advanced minimalists


My first konmari tidying spree in 2016 resulted in giving my adolescent bedroom back to my parents.
Well, better late – at the ripe age of 28 – than never.

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I spent November under the spell of Marie Kondo books. I had already read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” last year, but now I binged through all three of them. Apart from enjoying them a lot, I have some reflections and suggestions on how to approach the (now somewhat subdued) “does it spark joy?” fever.

For anybody curious about the whole thing, I’d suggest this order of reading:

1. The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: Being manga, it’s a very short read – you’ll be done with this in a couple of hours and will have either curiosity about the whole “method” or none at all. However, I do see how this less esoteric than “The Life-Changing Magic…” and clearly young-adult-professional-women-looking-for-love targeting book could put some of us off. Kondo comes across as the love fairy that will discipline you into throwing out your sentimental garbage, hence opening space for the handsome neighbor next door.

2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The classical best seller that has filled Instagram. It’s short and follows the classical self-help book outlay of tracing the protagonist’s steps until they see the light and can now share it with the rest of the mortals. Kondo comes across as a spiritual teacher with a rigid “method” that you should follow without complaint in order to reach clutter free nirvana. While Kondo always repeats that relapse rate for her private clients is 0%, I am willing to bet that the great majority of people who read this one stayed with “oh, sounds interesting but a bit too harsh” and never did anything and the other ones did some purging of the obvious clutter and left it at that.

3. Spark Joy: This one is my favorite and has a very distinct tone from the other two. Kondo repeats the basic tenants of her method but also accepts all kinds of bending of the rules as far as you stick to things and practices that “spark joy”. This book is the real talk of “we are all weird”, going as far as the author revealing that her animistic relationship with objects is probably due to her difficulty of relating to humans. Boom! The stern fairy godmother just became vulnerable and human, although still suggesting ordering our lives along the lines of a slightly modified William Morris‘ maxim of “Have nothing in your houses [i.e. your lives] that you do not know to be [indispensably] useful, or believe to be beautiful [i.e. spark joy].”

Lettering by Kelly Cummings.

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Now, not to be counted among those “nice idea” people, I can proceed to lessons learnt and musings for future:

Having toyed (i.e. binge reading) with minimalism and capsule wardrobes since 2014, I have much less stuff to begin with. These are both good and bad news when thinking about a proper KonMari tidying festival. The good news are that the physical threshold of gathering my stuff in our living room by categories is a relatively easy task. On the other hand, my “joy-meter” is off and I don’t have a heap of little loved clothing to fine tune it. After several years of becoming what Kondo calls “a discarding machine” – and describes it as one of the tidying pathologies one can fall into – I’m able to rationalize throwing away almost anything.

Very few things are *perfect*. True indispensability and great design are very rare. If all my possessions are to be measured against the *ideal*, basically everything goes, and I’m left with the problem of finding the perfect replacements. The alternative explanation would be that my ~55 item wardrobe is already paired down to a reasonable level of joyfulness (and I have no 0 joy items to feel the difference) while I expect a joy-gasm just from opening my wardrobe. That’s one of the problems with an author promising *magic* – a lot of self doubt: if I’m not feeling the magic, is it because I’m doing it wrong or am I living the magic already without realizing it?

Objectively, the quantity of possessions and clutter we have is rather low. There are few black holes of stuff that would benefit from airing out, but overall we are kicking ass in not accumulating useless shit. To enhance the magic, here are some of my future tidying plans extracted from “Spark Joy”:

A) Following Kondo’s and C’s example, I’m ditching the seasonal wardrobe overhauls and the big plastic box for out-of-season clothing. Everything will be visible, foldables will be folded in the drawer below, the plastic box will get another job, and we’ll see how it all will work out:

So going from this

To this

Which in reality means this as we share the hanger space:
an ecosystem with natural limits

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B) I’m using my vacations in Riga to review (again!) my possessions left there, in line with Kondo’s warning to never ever send stuff to our parents’ homes. Thankfully, my parents live far away and their flat is small, so there’s little to no sense to store my things in Riga. My resolution stays the same as in August: only the indispensables that shouldn’t be moved back and forth (parka, rubber boots, winter boots, a dressing gown, and few more).

C) I’ve done a partial joy-check with my books, and oh! that was hard. Having been raised by bibliophiles and having always aspired to have as many as possible, I took a deep breath and did my first division into “stays”, “will see”, and “out” trying to base it on the joy factor only… I’m still not sure how to go about books that can’t possibly bring joy due to their content. Global crises, totalitarian crimes, failing humanitarian aid schemes will never make a joyful read… I already realized it in Riga with my novel collection: it is much easier to sort out fiction this way!

D) I intend to carry out a full tidying festival focusing on joy instead of discarding. Only when I’m done – my plan is to give myself a very generous permission to *keep*, to use this process to reaffirm my love for my things (C could tell you that I’m often very careless with my possessions) via the positive focus of choosing what to keep instead of focusing on throwing away – with my own stuff, I’ll move towards our common komono.

E) For the household clutter and “maybe someday”, Kondo suggests mapping out the storage spaces to identify where to look. I’ve done that on paper already, and even in our tiny flat there are several pockets of mystery and miscellany to be tackled: rarely used cupboards, boxes under the bed, boxes on top of the wardrobe, items we “inherited” from the previous tenant and never started to use or threw out, etc. Again and again, I’m grateful of having a small flat with little storage space, I have no idea how people with n-bedrooms, basement, attic, and a garage do it. Oh, wait, they don’t!

F) To either put full stop on my KonMari fever or to enter the sect forever, I’m planning to do her consultant training this spring. The price is ridiculous, several of my loved ones have doubted my sanity, and I am aware that the most likely outcome of the course will be slight disappointment and a depleted savings account. But I want to do it. It will be my 30th birthday present to myself. Some people jump with parachutes or swim with sharks, why can’t I spoil myself with a Japanese decluttering seminar?

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Have you done any decluttering campaign with your possessions? How did that go? Have you read any of Kondo’s books? Did they spur you into action or did you find her method too extreme?