Branding while female.Posted: November 4, 2015
Photo: That time I trolled Donald Trump with a bloody middle finger.
Last week, I shot a new Patreon video with my friend Saleem, aka KidEthnic. It’s going to be a video about the deliciousness of short stories and a new financial model for supporting both the form and indie publishers, and I’m really excited about it.
But when we looked back at the footage, I noticed that my eyeliner was smudged—something that’d be hard to notice at first, but a viewer would catch eventually. I knew it’d bug me, at least.
Saleem graciously offered to reshoot and I took him up on it. But I felt bad. The words “diva” and “narcissist” kept coming to mind. Why did I really want to reshoot? The eyeliner was a valid reason, but more broadly, I’d just looked very strange to myself. Even though I was working with someone I trusted, it was the first time I hadn’t been in total control of the camera, and felt a degree of vulnerability I hadn’t felt before.
I asked a few artist friends whether they ever get used to seeing themselves on video. The answer was no, across the board, so it’s a universal dysphoria. Of course, there’s an extra dimension for women: namely, the compulsive measuring of oneself against how women are supposed to look if they want to be heard in public life.
If I make concessions to those expectations, am I really helping to create a world where other women won’t have to?
And around and around we go.
Artists brand themselves. They have for millennia. It’s part of the gig, and one I actually really enjoy, for the most part.
I think about two women artists who are really important to me: Beyoncé and Amanda Palmer. Both have had babies. They handled them in ways that appear to be very different, on the surface. Beyoncé allowed almost no pictures during and immediately following her pregnancy. Meanwhile, Amanda posted naked selfies with downy legs, throughout.
But I think it’d be a mistake to say one controls her public image and the other doesn’t. They both control it in a very deliberate and considered way that feels both safe and truthful to them. They both clearly enjoy the process, as I do. And it’s that sense of control that allows them to create change: Beyoncé performing with a giant sign saying FEMINIST in an age when even teenage girls still consider it a bad word. Amanda Palmer turning the music industry on its head by setting up a direct gift economy with her fans.
Likewise: the photo above is a selfie with menstrual blood dripping down my arm, to troll Donald Trump after his dumbass comment at the first Republican debate. To counterbalance the risky element, I made sure I looked attractive in the photo, without which it would likely get far less play.
Sometimes I wonder whether I’m trying to change the game, or whether I’m just trying to win the game.
But I’d like to think there’s a space between the two poles, where artists make constant concessions to make constant progress. And that that’s the space where most change actually occurs.