Great guns! The latest arms race

Concert de Madonna à Paris Bercy, Août 2006
Concert de Madonna à Paris Bercy, Août 2006 (Photo credit: johanlb) See what I mean?

“Guns”, i.e. the upper part of the arm, where the triceps and biceps, when toned, make a clearly defined curve. I’d never heard that word until a few days ago.

When Katie Couric, the first woman in the U.S. to become a network television anchor, spoke at a New York City conference I attended last week, BlogHer, the 5,000 women attending, (most in their 20s and 30s),  sent in their questions for the on-stage interviewer to ask her.

I was excited!

I expected smart stuff from these hip, young bloggers, like:

What do you think will happen in Syria?

What story has moved you the most?

What do you think of this year’s Presidential race?

What’s your best advice to a young journalist?

Silly moi!

Instead, one of them was: “Great guns! How’d you get them?”

Yes, her upper arms, for a woman of 55, were strong, smooth and toned.

But, seriously, can we not, possibly stop focusing on what a woman’s body looks like?

My favorite part of the Harry Potter films is the invisibility cloak.

If I were granted a super-power, this is absolutely the one I’d choose. I’m damn grateful my culture doesn’t force me into a chador, seeing the world only through a tiny mesh screen, but I’m so weary of the 24/7 yammering about how thin/smooth/hairless/flawless my body must be in order to be attractive to others, both men and women.

I saw a woman on the train into Manhattan that morning, like so many I see where I live, in an affluent suburb north of New York City. She wore a tight athletic vest and workout pants, lean as a whippet, defiantly hip-less. Easily in her 50s, possibly beyond, her eyes and stance had an intensity I find really unsettling.

You can smell the desperation to be better than, the angry determination to rule their flesh, to beat back the softness, roundness or dimpling that betrays their body at its true age, 55 or 62 or 47.

So their weirdly ropy guns —  Madonna has them — have created a whole new arms race, with flesh-as-metaphor: I’m fitter/better-toned/stronger/healthier/prettier/more disciplined than you.

As a 55-year-old feminist, a former nationally ranked athlete whose sport — saber fencing — left me covered in small bruises people assumed meant I was a battered wife — I find this sad, and ironic.

I’ve known elite athletes whose bodies didn’t even look like this.

Jocks of all ages, male and female, have a sort of walk I find insanely sexy — a rolling, relaxed gait that shouts, quietly, how comfortable they are in their bodies. They know they’re strong and fast and flexible. They don’t need to prove anything.

I love being strong. I can still hit to the outfield. I value my muscles and what they do for me. I’ve always had big thighs, and use them happily for hiking out of a sailboat or hiking the Grand Canyon (four hours down, eight hours up.)

But, with age, my body is changing, softening, drooping. Thanks to my new hip replacement, I now have a shiny six-inch scar on my left hip. No bathing suit can possibly cover it.

I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror for the first few months, so shocking was this new permanent part of my body. Now I bear it proudly, running and dancing and climbing stairs as I once did, with breathless ease.

I wish our minds were as valued as our bodies.

I wish our arms were valued most for their willingness to embrace, to comfort, to soothe. To wave a banner or placard of protest. To plant and hoe and paint and execute a lovely port de bras.

I wish women — and men — would cherish our bodies, above all, for their strength, flexibility and power.

(We do this for every Olympic athlete.)

Do you?

BlogHer 2012 — was it worth it?

English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair par...
English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The conference is over, with its many parties just beginning as I write this.

Three days of full-on intensity, 5,000 bloggers in one midtown Manhattan hotel, about 80 percent of whom — maybe 90 percent — were female, and under the age of 40.

It’s not a pleasant feeling to feel ancient, but this conference was very much a place for 20-year-olds and their eager enthusiasm. I’m not being fair, because I did see a few women my age or a bit younger, some of whom  are well-known in that huge on-line community.

But I quickly wearied of hearing perky 20-somethings tell me they “mommy-blog”, as I searched in vain for people writing on books, or work, or business, or politics. Had I done my homework and really searched the site and reached out to people, I know I could have made those connections.

The 2013 conference will be in Chicago, July 25-27, and registration begins in a few weeks.

The Good

— The agenda offered a lot of choices, whether super-technical information or tips on writing.

— Running into five or six very good friends, a lovely surprise and pleasure with so many attending, like Heather Greenwood-Davis, a Toronto-based travel writer who just finished an around-the-world odyssey with her husband and two young sons.

— We were told that 85 percent of speakers are new each year, so you’re not hearing the same Cool Kids at every conference.

— Katie Couric, a television legend in the U.S., and Martha Stewart, another American media titan, were interviewed live on stage. That was fun and gave us a glimpse of these famous women being a little more spontaneous and human. I enjoyed that.

— There was lots of good food and drink, so we weren’t subjected to the usual conference horrors of overpriced, lousy food and $15 glasses of wine. (They actually gave us a fistful of drink tickets. Score!)

— I loved hearing 19 bloggers, including a man, read their work from the stage. Several were deeply moving and beautiful, like Susan Goldberg, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario (way north) with her partner and sons.

— I liked seeing women of every size, shape and color. One panelist, Cecily Kellogg, sported fuchsia hair and was wickedly smart and helpful.

The Not-So-Good

— Way too many people! Many told me they were frustrated and really annoyed at being, literally, shut out of sessions they had paid real money to listen to, some of them flying across the country to do so.  There were simply too many bodies for the venue.

— Way too noisy. I came home shaky, headachey and exhausted from the sheer volume of too many people in too small a space. If you’re standing a foot from someone and having to shout, we have a problem.

— Nowhere (at least nowhere obvious) to just sit quietly and think, read, chill, chat with someone. No one should ever have to sit on the floor!

— No way to quickly, easily and efficiently, every day, find fellow bloggers with your interests. It would be simple, easy and helpful to simply affix a colored ribbon to everyone’s badge showing what they specialize in.

I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t have the time, energy, stamina or patience to be all perky for hours (to be polite and friendly, which is what you do at conferences) with dozens of people with whom I have zero shared intellectual interests.

My larger question, which may be rhetorical, is if there is any useful and mutually respectful dialogue to be had — which I saw no evidence of (and may have been happening) — between old media (i.e. print/broadcast) and this new world of social media.

Old media, as you know, is focused on fact, ideas, provable assertions, reliable (one hopes) sources. Biased, yes, but evidence-based.

I am still uncomfortable in an insular, ego-driven world of all-opinion-all-the-time. I’m not persuaded that it, alone, offers lasting value without some underpinning of a more objective reality.

I also have deep reservations about women toting huge bags of “swag” they got from dozens of exhibitors, all eager for attention from this demographic — women who buy stuff.

Swag. i.e. free shit, included (no kidding), vibrators (bright pink, the size of my thumb), cooked sausage, toothpaste, feminine pads for women in menopause (who are no longer menstruating?!) and soy-milk ice cream bars.

One exhibitor told me many women swaggered up demanding to be paid to mention her products, or to be given free samples. Her company makes sinks, bathtubs and faucets.

You want a fucking free bathtub?

And — what has any of this gimmegimmeegimeeeeeeeee to do with great writing?

Nothing.

Long before you focus on your blog’s financial ROI, we should be focused on writing amazing work that people might, if we are really, really lucky, even remember years from now.

Or even a few days from now.

What do you think?

Were you at BlogHer 2012?

Do you think you’ll attend in 2013?