Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Runs in the family

I spent a couple of days with my 4 1/2 year old niece, Mame Diarra, this week. I've talked about her on this blog a bit before - mostly about how much she loves the ocean, and how unspeakably happy that makes me.

Mame Diarra loves being in water. She can't swim yet, but she has no fear whatsoever so when you take her in the ocean or a pool, you have to watch/hold onto her her really carefully. The other day, we were in Brisbane, so I took her and she was in heaven. She was straight in there and jumping off the starting blocks and insisting that even though she can't swim, I let go of her so she could try. When I let her go she kicks and thrashes her arms and juts her chin out and smiles as wide as you can imagine. Oh man, I love her.

After our swim we went to the park where she climbed high on all the equipment and made me climb up there with her. I gave up after a while and sat on the swing, so she started pushing me higher and higher. Then she got my phone and took photos of me swinging through the air.

And then she claimed it was her turn and insisted that I push her even higher, higher, higher.

'I know everything', she told me later.

'No you don't', I replied. 'No-one knows everything. And nobody likes a know-it-all anyway.'

'Okay, what don't I know?'

'Well, you don't know how to drive.'

'Yeah, but one day you'll teach me and then I'll know that too.' She looked at me and smiled, knowing she was right.

Attitude like that? Yeah, it runs in the family.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Great Ocean

There have been some really wonderful surfing publications come out in the last 5 years or so. Kurungabaa: a journal of literature, history and ideas from the sea is obviously the one most close to my own heart, but White Horses and Wax Magazine are other stand outs for me. As these publications have appeared, I've been really stoked watching the surf magazine scene diversify both in form, content and contributors. The key is that they are not surf magazines in the sense that surfing is the key focus. Rather, they are focused on thing oceanic whether they be surfing, sailing, swimming, diving, art, music, science, scholarship, history, the environment, sex, culture, politics or any other manifestation of that theme. Surfing in and of itself is actually pretty boring really (Oh come on. It is!), so by broadening out the focus these publications have revived this part of culture of surfing.

So I have been excitedly awaiting the appearance of a new kid on the block, Great Ocean, the first issue of which will be available at the end of this month.

Over the winter we’ve been up to something, avoiding offshores, ducking social occasions and resisting all forms of televised sport while we worked away to bring you the launch edition of Great Ocean Quarterly, a journal of art, literature, history, science and more; a compendium of ideas and inspirations welling up from the briny deep. 
Featuring the very best writers, artists and photographers, Great Ocean seeks to explore our complex relationship with the sea, not only along our own shores, but around the globe.
Great Ocean emerged from the vision of the wonderful, clever and humble Mick Sowry, whose work I came to know through his blog and through his work on Musica Surfica and The Reef (which I will review soon, I promise!). With Mark Willett and Jock Serong on board, the venture has been in the works for some time, so it's great to see it emerge into the world with this beautiful, summery cover.

Of course, to continue, ventures like this need people to read up, so if you would like to become a subscriber, you can get involved over here on the Great Ocean website. In addition to the goodies on offer, 5% of the cover price of every GOQ copy sold is donated to the Indigenous Literature Foundation, meaning this is a publication that has a sense of humanity and social conscience, as well as good looks.

Get involved!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Roxy press release: Please buy our stuff!

So, Roxy finally made a public statement in response to the bad press they received about a promotional clip they made for the Roxy Pro in Biarritz earlier this year.

While I am always hesitant to link to these sites, you can read Roxy's statement over on their blog.  But here it is for your reading pleasure;

More than 20 years ago, we set out to create a brand dedicated to supporting women and girls in their love of surfing and beyond. Since that time, we have worked to build on this heritage by developing great products, creating new competitive opportunities for female athletes, and establishing and growing the Roxy surf and snowboarding teams. We continue to work to do more to achieve this mission. 
As fans and supporters of female athletes, we are disappointed by recent mischaracterizations of the Roxy brand and wanted to take this opportunity to share with our fans the true vision and voice of Roxy. 
First and foremost, Roxy is and always has been about inspiring female athletes of all levels to be themselves and to participate and compete in the sports we all love. As part of this commitment, we have sponsored 42 Women’s ASP championship tour events since 1991 and have continuously worked to build on and enhance those efforts year on year. Roxy’s commitment doesn’t stop there. 
We also work tirelessly to advance opportunities for female athletes and are proud to work with some of the world’s best and most inspiring surf and snowboarding athletes in the world. We are even more proud that the forum created by our events and the tremendous athleticism of the Roxy teams – and all professional female surfers and snowboarders – have helped raise the level of visibility for women’s performance sports and encouraged sports enthusiasts around the world to watch and support women’s surfing and snowboarding in increasing numbers. 
We recognize that some Roxy fans were concerned about an online video produced earlier this year on behalf of the brand. We respect and value that feedback and remain committed to building the Roxy brand in a manner that is consistent with the expectations of Roxy’s fans and our fun, adventurous brand personality. 
Roxy believes in being naturally beautiful, daring and confident. We hope those qualities are conveyed in everything we do and are committed to continuing to work to earn the trust of our fans and to creating products, events and opportunities that deliver on our brand values. 
At Roxy, we will never stop celebrating female athletes. That’s our brand promise, and we will continue to strive to live up to that goal. 
The Roxy Team

When I first read this a few days ago, I dismissed it because sure, Roxy. Whatever. But the more I read it, the more lame I find it.

I have seen some people describe this as an 'apology' by Roxy, but that's not what I think it is at all. I think it's a piece of PR that suggests that the creation of Roxy was some kind of altruistic gift to women's surfing. Um, no. Roxy is a brand, a business, designed to make money. And that is fine. And they have funded contests and sponsored athletes, which is great and I have no doubt that many of the employees there are really committed to these athletes and women's surfing. But the company itself does not sponsor these events as an act of kindness - they do it to promote their brand. It's to the company's benefit to do all these things. Have you been to these events? They are promotional gold.

This whole statement is weird to me. Roxy has 'fans'? Is that what we are calling 'customers' now? Or maybe they use this term to differentiate between the non-surfers who make up the bulk of their market and the people who are interested in the athletes they sponsor? Maybe? They want to deliver on their 'brand promise'? I thought they wanted to sell wetsuits and swimmers.

Roxy claims their brand has been 'mischaracterised' in the responses to their promotional clip. It's right here, in this contradictory space between selling wetsuits and building a 'brand promise', that the whole thing gets murky and complicated for Roxy. Because it is increasingly apparent that they can't be all of those things all the time. But in claiming a position whereby you promote women's sport and female athletes by focusing on their athletic ability, you can't then go and make a clip where you film a five-time world champion topless, sexualised and not even surfing in order to promote a surfing event you are sponsoring. It's inconsistent with your brand. It's confusing for your 'fans'. It makes you sound hypocritical.

And look, Roxy doesn't have to promote female surfers or sponsor surf events. It's great that they do but they don't have to. Except that, well, it's been a key part of their company image. They keep telling us that promoting women's sporting opportunities and female athletes is core to the values of their brand, so when they slip up, it makes them look shitty. It puts cracks in the PR and reminds us that they are, after all, just a company trying to sell us stuff.

And some of that stuff seems good. But I'm not going to buy it. I'm not going to buy it because I'd rather Roxy were just honest and admit they messed up. 'Fans' didn't mischaracterise the Roxy brand, Roxy mischaracterised the Roxy brand. Roxy mischaracterised their surfers. And Roxy misread what it is that is important to the surfers who buy their products, who give them money, who give their brand authenticity in terms of its connections to surfing.

I don't think Roxy needs to apologise to anyone for that because Roxy is a company who can promote themselves however they want. But if they want to position themselves as promoting women's surfing in a way that is focused on athleticism and performance and freedom and 'daring', if they are going to support the competitions where the best high-performance surfers in the world are competing, then do that. And be prepared to come across as hypocritical when they associate themselves with promotions that are contradictory to what they say they represent.

They should be prepared to walk their talk, or accept being called out on being inconsistent. Which they were.

But at the same time we shouldn't expect Roxy to apologise to us as consumers. I am not a 'fan' of their brand, and my career, image and surfing opportunities are not reliant on the ways they promote women's surfing. If they should apologise to anyone, it's to the women who surfed in the contest they sponsored and promoted as a voyeuristic, teenage boy's wet-dream. It's to Stephanie Gilmore for featuring her as a reclining coat-hanger for a range of products, rather than as the talented, successful surfer she is. But not to the people who buy their products, because those people can make their own decisions. For example, Roxy's wetsuit range looks cool, but I won't be buying it because I don't want to be associated with their brand. Because I don't want to be located as a Roxy 'fan'. Because I don't like the way they promote their sponsored athletes and women's surfing more broadly. I find it inconsistent with what what they say the ethics and values of their company are.

Consumers aren't morons. We know we're being sold to. Sometimes we're willing to pretend that's not the case, but we do know we're just playing along. These days there are enough good swimsuits and wetsuits around now that I can make better choices about who I give my (few) dollars to. And for now at least, PR statement or no, it isn't going to be Roxy.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Women sweat

You know pisses me off? Well, aside from the many things I've posted about on here, this ad pisses me off;

Look, I know this ad is old now (it was released in July), but as you may have noticed I've been wholly without words lately, so allow me this indulgence it talking about what a disgrace this advertisement is. Also, I saw a full-page ad for this product in a magazine today.

Basically, what I want to say is fuck you marketing.

Fuck you marketing for saying that while it's good to be active and sweaty, you should only sweat in apparently invisible ways. That you should only sweat in certain places. That you should only sweat if it doesn't draw attention to your body. Especially to your lady parts!

This stupid ad hits me on a personal level, because for a long time, I felt this way. I mean, I would totally have bought into this ad. For most of my childhood and adolescence I did ballet. I did ballet for 14 years from when I was about 3. I'm absolutely terrible at it, but I did it and I loved it. But doing ballet for that long had a pretty big impact on how I felt about my body and how I believed my body should move and be presented. It wasn't until I started surfing and martial arts that I was able to come to love sweating, to learn that it's okay to be ugly when you move, and that every movement I make doesn't have to be beautiful.

For example, in ballet you have to be strong and resilient and technically perfect and endure quite a lot of pain. And while you do all of this, it is imperative that you make it look effortless and as aesthetically pleasing as possible. I still often hear my ballet teacher's voice in my ear telling me how to stand or look - everything needed to be fixed! For example, here are things I needed to remember when standing in third position at the barre, with one arm out in second. (I was going to find an image to put here, but I can't find one I like so just think of a person standing, holding a bar with one arm outstretched.)

Rebecca! Turn your feet out, your knees out. Tuck your hips under. Drop your shoulders. Lift your elbow. Extend through your fingers. Raise your chin, relax your jaw, soften your gaze. 

These are technical points, yes, but they were not meant to improve the function of the movement. Instead they met a kind of technical aestheticism: a ballet-way of looking pleasing.

Don't get me wrong, I loved dance classes and I wouldn't give a single one back. They have had a profound impact on my life and I constantly draw on the things I learned about body awareness and a love for really getting the technicality of a movement. But like I said, everything was up for improvement. Everything needed to be particularly placed. Nothing was ever quite lovely enough. And like I also said, I'm not exactly the most elegant or most graceful person, so I wasn't very good at it. But years of comment on my posture and body positioning are bound to have an impact. And they did. I went through life worrying that I wasn't being pleasing enough to the way other people saw me. No, I'm being serious. I worried about not having perfectly extended fingers. I constantly worried that my posture wasn't very good (it's now very good). And I really did worry that I might be caught sweating because, well, I didn't think that was very pleasing to the eye.

But then I started hapkido and I dare you to do it without sweating! As we trained and kicked and punched and spun and jumped and tumbled and sparred we wore thick cotton uniforms, which by the end of the class would be soaked through. My hair would be wet and plastered to my head and I would be wiping drips of liquid from the corners of my eyes and the tip of my nose. And I loved it. I found it thrilling and freeing. At the same time, as this I started surfing - a learning activity that strips you of any dignity or aesthetics in your efforts for a surprising amount of time. I was salty and sandy and burned and cut and grazed and bruised and water-logged and exposed and red-eyed and exhausted. And I loved and found that thrilling too.

And never, in either of those physical activities, has anyone ever told me that my sweaty body was vulgar or offensive or a problem that needed to be solved. Never! Not once! Because its none of those things. Sweating when you exercise or do a physical activity is simply a part of being active. I love when I finish my classes and I'm sweaty and a mess (like in my last post). It makes me feel as though I've done something!

Of course, I understand that this ad is marketing for a product this company is trying to sell. They have to give us a reason to buy it - I do understand that. But just as is their aim, ads like this impact us. I've previously written about the moment when I realised that I was/still am the panicky woman in the cleaning ads - that I bought into them. So what really gets me is the way this kind of marketing is a part of the bigger picture of the ways we treat women as active people, as sportspeople, as athletes. The expectations we place on their bodies in terms of what they should look like as they do sport. For example, once a student told me - and this is not a word of a lie - that it's a good thing women don't play five sets in grand slam tennis because "who would want to look at a woman after she's played five sets?" (I was so proud when another student jumped in and commented that the guys don't look that crash hot after five sets and that that wasn't really the point of the game anyway, was it?) To be fair, this is the only guy I have ever heard give a shit about whether a woman doing sport sweats or not. Actually, I have never heard any guy comment on this. Ever. I just don't want you to think I'm saying this is a guy thing, because I don't think it is. I think it's a making-women-afraid-of-dumb-things thing. I mean, in this ad, its the judgement of the other women they're worried about. It's dumb.

Advertisements and comments like this silly student's suggest that women can't be confident of what we are doing if we have unsightly body hair, or an un-madeup face, or as in this case, sweaty 'patches'. We can't be confident because what if people around us are offended by those things? I mean, by all means sweat, but don't let anyone see you do it!! And by all means, wax and pluck and makeup and adorn before you exercise if that is your wish. Go for it. But women shouldn't have to feel as though they must worry about such things. They should simply be enjoying whatever it is they are doing, because running and swimming and sparring and dancing and jumping and kicking and surfing feel amazing. And it's great if you can make them look aesthetically pleasing and effortless, but in terms of how you feel when you are doing them - what you are worrying about as you run and swim and dance and kick and surf - whether or not someone thinks you look sweaty should be very, very, very, very, very low down the list.

And marketers totally suck for making this into something that they want us to think even needs to be considered.

(The whole thing reminds of this Mitchell and Webb clip:)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Oh my gosh! I'm completely mental!

It's official. I'm mental. I'm that crazy person who talks to and terrifies strangers on the street.

So tonight I was walking home from my fitness class (yeah, yeah, yeah). I was wearing tights and a t-shirt, and I was sweaty and stringy-haired and most likely red-faced. You know, like what people look like right when they stop exercising. Anyway, as I was walking up the hill past a bus-stop I saw a guy waiting there who looked as though he'd been at a gym or something as well. He was leaning up against a pole, listening to tunes on his head-phones and reading a book.

It was the book that caught my eye. I'd nearly passed him when I realised the cover of the book looked as though it had a surfer getting barreled on it. Without thinking, I stopped and stepped backwards and stuck my head down to look at the cover of the book and asked

'Is that a surfer on the cover?'

He looked at me and slowly took out his headphones as I repeated my question. I think if he wasn't already leaning on a pole he would have stepped back. Some sweaty, sneaker-clad woman coming up to him on the street to ask about his book? Poor guy! As I asked the question, my brain was only just starting to compute that I was being a total weirdo, but those signals had not yet reached my mouth, so I persisted,

'Is it? It's just that I surf and I don't meet many people who surf in the city, so I'm always looking for things about the ocean. Is it about the ocean?'

It was at this point that my thoughts caught up with me and I realised that not only was my behaviour left of field for an inner-city evening, but that what I was saying was itself mental. But by now he'd stopped being concerned by the crazy lady, and started to be amused. I'm not particularly threatening looking. In fact, I kind of look like a cartoon. Perhaps because of this, he smiled and answered me,

'Oh, no. It's not a surfer. It looks like one though.'

I realised I needed to leave this guy and his book alone. I still couldn't make out exactly what it was, but it was time to move away, so I started to walk again.

'Yeah, it really does, huh!'

He turned to explain a bit more.

'It's not though. It's a fantasy book.'

'Oh cool. Well, enjoy it. It's a lovely cover.'

And off I went.

It was a funny little exchange. It was one of those moments when you lose all consciousness of the context of your thoughts, and instead you just follow them. But of course, context is everything, right, so you need to be aware of it. If that had happened to me - if someone had unexpectedly stuck their head down to look at the cover of the book I was holding and asked me about it while I was minding my own business and listening to music at a bus stop - I would have totally freaked out. No, really. I'm a super jumpy person and I don't trust anyone when I'm out and about (a consequence of spending too much time alone). But tonight, lost in my own world, I was so taken by the flash of an image of a wave and a person on the front of a book that I forgot all of that and just involved myself in this guy's private little moment.

Oh man. I clearly need to continue working on my social skills. But I still think it was an image someone on a wave which had been taken from underneath the barrel...