Author: cathleenmarieevans

Final Project: Body, Space and the Ballet Studio

A dance studio is, in theory, a blank slate: an almost empty room, save for a mirror and a bar, which the dancer inhabits and shapes through their physical expression. Studio A, the rental dance space in the Plateau which I chose to explore for my final project, encompasses this ideal. While I visited the studio on three occasions, it felt familiar from the moment I stepped foot on its shiny hardwood surface – a room recognizable to all who have donned a pair of pointe shoes. A part of the larger Studio Bizz dance complex located on the corner of Pontiac and Mont-Royal, the space is comfortingly characteristic: four walls (one adorned with a full length mirror), two windows, a set of free-standing bars, and the lingering smell of stale sweat. Sleek, serene, and somewhat sterile, Studio A appears devoid of any distinguishing attributes – with only a letter to differentiate it from its neighbouring stalls. Created for the sole purpose of offering affordable dance space by the hour, the intentional un-remarkability of the room is written into the ethos of Studio Bizz: a business whose aim is to provide as neutral a space as possible to the potential patron. In sum, Studio A represents the prototype dance studio – a “blank slate” which is unbiased in theory, yet deeply differential in practice.

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A variety of factors – not simply ample space and unassuming décor – dictate who may comfortably inhabit the space of a dance studio and how. Gender, race, ability, and class create intersectional barriers so overwhelming only the most specific of bodies are entirely welcome within the studio walls. In no genre are these rigid cultural and physical criteria more pronounced than in classical ballet, a style whose rules, expectations, and traditions are imprinted upon its dancers from their first pirouette to their final bow. In essence, the ballet space presents a phenomenological mold; its inhabitants are forced to either embody its unattainable bar or find a way to work, and dance, around it.

Using the practice of photo-weaving to blur the lines between myself (the dancer) and the studio space, my project aims to present the relationship between the dancer and their studio as one of symbiosis: an embodied pas de deux rather than strict spatial practice.

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Blog Post #3 – Thinspiration and Tumblr

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” In internet folklore this quote by Kate Moss, renowned model and one time face of ‘heroin chic’, marked the beginning of the online thinspiration phenomenon: images of extremely thin women posted by social network users coming together to encourage one another to lose weight (Judkis 1). However, this pro-anorexia online movement has been around since the dawn of the internet – the social media platforms of the last decade simply providing an outlet for their expansion. The images found on thinspiration pages, most prominently Tumblr and Instagram, range from those of waif-like celebrities to dangerously emaciated women accompanied by tips for weight loss, or slogans for starvation such as the ones seen below. Through such visual and discursive mechanisms, anorexia is often depicted on thinspiration platforms as a lifestyle that can be attained by adhering to certain codes of representation typically associated with female beauty – perfection reached through strict self-surveillance and extreme gender performance.

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Significant differences of opinion exist between supporters and opponents of thinspiration. Opponents assert that it glorifies eating disorders while some “pro-ana” bloggers argue that the purpose of thinspiration is to support a healthy level of weight loss and provide a community to otherwise isolated members of society. Tumblr, perhaps the most popular platform for these sites, was the first to begin taking steps towards regulating this content.  The first policy change was banning images that they saw as “actively promoting or glorifying self-injury or self-harm” (“Community Guidelines”). However, online communities this large must rely heavily on users to police others’ behaviour by reporting violations of their terms of service, opening the door to a range of co-surveillance practices that reinforce the social shaming and isolation that provoke body dysmorphia in the first place.

The second step Tumblr introduced was to start showing public service announcements on some searches. When terms including “anorexia”, “anorexic”, “bulimia”, “bulimic”, “thinspiration”, “thinspo”, “proana”, “purge”, “purging”, are entered, Tumblr displays a message urging the user to seek help and providing contact information for recommended support services (Burke 5). As is the case with all forms of online censorship and image regulation, Tumblr’s policies towards images of self-harm run the risk of stifling self-expression – placing it in opposition to ideals of free speech in which any topic, however extreme, may be openly discussed rather than re-directed to a mode of interaction deemed more appropriate.

It is an unavoidable reality that banning or censoring these pages may only intensify the sense of surveillance and social exclusion that anorexia sufferers already experience in public spaces on a daily basis – potentially exacerbating the instinct to self-regulate as a result. In essence, banning pro-anorexia images functions as a pseudo- attempt, regardless of intent, at banning anorexia itself; erasing the digital embodiment of a tangible state of being (Burke 18).

Perhaps the rejection of the anorexic body from virtual public space, which Gil Valentine describes as “privately owned, controlled and managed” (263) is an act of denial on the part of the public space itself – unwilling to face the result of its strict spatial practices and unattainable ideals. What typically starts as an individual’s attempt to fit into the identity projected onto it in public space, can result in another form of unaccepted identity: a “deviant form of slenderness based in extreme conformity to the codes and conventions of society”(Burke 10). This deviant slenderness is often seen as inherently ‘contagious’ and dangerous to young women (hence Tumblr’s attempt to block it), rather than a result of pre-existing threats to female self-perception and esteem rampant throughout all social space: public and private, digital and physical.

‘Thinspirational’ images exemplify “the paradoxical power promised to women through controlling their bodies and conforming to the slender ideal” (Burke 15); the promise that in embodying public projections of gender, femininity, and sexuality they will achieve personal fulfillment. A decrease in vulnerable individuals viewing these images on the internet, potentially exacerbating their self-surveillance or normalizing a behaviour steeped in self-harm, is undoubtedly positive. Indeed, addressing the issue of pro-ana content on the internet is better than ignoring it all together. However, I feel that blocking these images from social media platforms is simply a Band-Aid solution. Tumblr’s policies sacrifice ideals of unregulated free speech in exchange for a surface level explanation of a deeply rooted social pandemic – attempting to block rather than address the digital embodiment of a disease caused by the “cultural constraints placed on young women’s subjectivity” (Burke 18).

References:

Burke, E. (2009). Pro-anorexia and the Internet: A Tangled Web of Representation and             (Dis)Embodiment.Counselling, Psychotherapy, and Health, 5(1), The Use of Technology in Mental Health Special Issue, 60-81

“Community Guidelines” Tumblr.com. Yahoo! Retrieved March 31, 2015

Judkis, M. (2012, April 24). Instagram bans ‘Thinspiration,’ pro-eating disorder images. The Washington Post. Retrieved March 31, 2015.

Valentine, Gil. (2005). “(Re)Negotiating the Heterosexual Street: Lesbian Production of Space.” In The Urban Geography Reader. (263-269). London: Routledge

Images:

http://www.thefrisky.com/2012-01-18/an-open-letter-to-thinspiration-blogs/

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Post #2 – Re-Orientation Exercise

Pacific Rim National Park, located on the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth people on Vancouver Island, is made up of three geographically distinct units: Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail (Horsfield and Kennedy 27). In my first blog post I chose to write specifically about Long Beach, which runs between Ucluelet and Tofino (or “Tuff City” as the locals call it). It is perhaps the most notable tourist destination on the island- a microcosm of the rugged persona for which the Pacific Northwest has come to be synonymous. Branching out from my first post, I will be discussing the broader Pacific Rim National Park and the history of the surrounding area in order to analyse how spatial practices, representations of space and systems of whiteness have resulted in the region’s adoption of a singular and somewhat exclusionary identity – that of an untamed western frontier, free of the shackles of colonialism and its lasting effects.   

Sarah Ahmed describes whiteness as an “ongoing and unfinished history which orientates bodies in specific directions, affecting how they ‘take up’ space” (149). This definition entails the practice of domination: the subjugation of one group of bodies by another (150) – a process seen throughout the long colonial history of Vancouver Island. In the case of Pacific Rim National Park and the surrounding traditional areas of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, whiteness was heavily imposed through acts of dispossession, manufacturing an inherently unequal and divisive status quo. In the present context, whiteness is re-articulated and re-enacted on a daily basis up and down the shores of Pacific Rim – an effect I’ve witnessed, and undoubtedly participated in, living near the end of the West Coast Trail. What started as hippies driving up the logging road to crash on the shores of the wild west coast, likely unaware of the history of the surrounding area, has evolved to a large extent into affluent members of society lounging in luxury cabins and mulling about the beaches, further reinforcing dominant power relations in the process.   

In many ways, the bodies that inhabit Pacific Rim National Park borrow and appropriate from the traditional aboriginal culture of the area. Tourists and locals alike romanticize and co-opt the practices of fishing, boating and other coastal traditions in order to enact an entirely homogenized and simplified “west-coast” identity: full of surf lessons, salmon and expensive thermal swimwear. These entrenched spatial practices, which Henri Lefebvre describes as the cohesive patterns of social activity, are supported by representations of space: signs and codes orienting you towards specific directions and conclusions (290). Dominant institutions such as Parks Canada and Tourism BC continuously chart, categorize and capitalize off of First Nations heritage without so much as a mention of the effects of colonialism, both past and present – presenting a whitewashed and simplified version of the area’s “wild” past to an eager cultural consumer. Through these restrictive representations of space, prejudice and the theft of native land are seemingly things of the past – referenced perhaps in the sidebar of a textbook but nowhere to be seen on the signage and maps of a national park. As a result, bodies inhabiting the space of the Pacific Rim and the surrounding area exist within a pre-determined and somewhat deceptive schema, one of whiteness and strict spatial practices, hidden beneath a layer of “laid back” rhetoric.  Is the west coast rugged and beautiful? Yes. Is it my home? Yes. Is it a space of whiteness, most accessible to those individuals in the process of “being” rather than “being not” (Ahmed 161)? Undoubtedly.

wolves_of_long_beach_1339790229http://www.royhenryvickers.com/reproductions/product/531  

This image is a print titled “Wolves of Long Beach” by Roy Henry Vickers, a First Nations artist who operates a gallery in Tofino. On his website Vickers states that the wolf, which can be seen in shadowy form in this image, is an “important crest of families in the Northwest Coast – a symbol of strength that represents lessons to be learned from thoughtful contemplation.” Although Vickers’ work by no means curates a differential space, it serves as a microcosm of the blending of First Nations and broader western imagery found throughout the Pacific Northwest – mixing modern techniques and traditional motifs in an attempt to create one unified expression of a place in time.  

Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 8.2 (2007):149-168.

Horsfield, Margaret and Ian Kennedy. Tofino and Clayoquot Sound: A History. Pender Harbour: Harbour Publishing, 2014.

Lefebrve, Henri. “The Production of Space.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Ed. Jen Gieseking and William Mangold. London: Routledge, 2014. 289-293.  

Blog Post 1 – About Me

Hello, my name is Cathleen Evans. I am originally from Vancouver Island and have spent the past two years studying communication and cultural studies at Concordia University. I passed my first year abroad in Herstmonceux, England and all my summers since then working at a camp for kids with disabilities in the Okanagan Valley. I am a proud feminist, vegetarian and mediocre knitter.

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 I spend the majority of my time attempting to juggle school, time spent with friends, my job as a personal support worker, my passion for music and performance (I’m currently teaching myself the autoharp!), and my work with the Concordia Student-Run Food Group Documentary Project. I have a penchant to read everything I get my hands on (often to the detriment of my sleep schedule and study habits) and a burgeoning addiction to “The Golden Girls.”

My goal for this class is to continue to grow as an active and engaged learner, positively adding to and benefiting from the class on a regular basis. I hope to bring what we learn and discuss throughout the course into my daily analysis of the world around me, gaining a new critical lens through which to examine my body, my environment, and those which surround me.

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One of my most treasured spaces is Long Beach in British Columbia, which runs between Ucluelet and Tofino. I have spent numerous days walking the seemingly never-ending shores of this beach, the frequently grey and foggy climate of Vancouver Island blurring the lines between sea and sky. The beach is sporadically scattered with surfers, wake boarders, and general ocean frolickers (the last of which is my preferred nautical pastime). Long Beach attracts tourists from around the globe, however the bulk of bodies on the beach are usually islanders such as myself, the majority of which are able- bodied and of a relatively affluent standing – a set of criteria which is undoubtedly exclusionary. Although a public beach is by nature a gathering place, Long Beach presents an extremely personal space, provoking a plethora of individual and unique emotions and associations. Long Beach connects me to my home, my roots, and provides me a sense of calm I have yet to parallel.

Five things faculty do to make learning hard:

  1. Lack of clarity and detail on class expectations and assignments.
  2. A lack of clarity and communication with students when providing feedback that aims to be constructive (particularly on written work).
  3. Lack of accessibility, be it availability (office hours), flexibility (alternative means of contact such as e-mail) or simply a lack of approachability and/or understanding.
  4. Balancing variety and continuity throughout the course in everything from lectures to broader class themes.
  5. Assigning lengthy, dense and un-relatable readings.

Five things faculty do to make learning easy:

  1. The frequent use of storytelling (i.e. anecdotal examples, narrative structure in lectures and readings).
  2. Setting realistic and attainable expectations and timelines.
  3. Expressing interest (even just a quick check- in) with students’ progress not only in their course, but in their broader studies.
  4. Providing a mixture of online and print resources (readings, outlines, forums etc).
  5. Expressing a genuine enthusiasm and interest in sharing your knowledge on the subject with the class (it’s contagious!).