Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mixed messages abound for our dual purpose, multi-tasking girlfriends

A couple of weeks ago, while walking through the mall with my daughter, I passed the window ads for the latest Victoria’s Secret push-up bra. Irritated by the message these ads send my daughter who is on the cusp of adolescence, I found myself wondering just how important it is to “Be a Bombshell.”

Do women really want or need to be an overwhelming surprise? As in, “oops, I’m so sorry I knocked you over with the force of my super-sized, pushed-up breasts.”

Conversely, do we really want to engage in the use of smoke-and-mirrors, which sets the stage for disillusionment as soon as the bra hits the floor?

And I find the parallel between physical attractiveness and a military weapon very strange.

It’s all an illusion.

Then, last week, I read a friend’s post on Facebook about her recent experience as a passenger on a flight where she was asked to cover up while nursing her baby (her story was highlighted in Dann Denny’s article on Nov. 15). My thoughts immediately went back to the Victoria’s Secret ads.

We’ve heard this debate before, but once again, I find myself wondering why the sexual display of breasts is more socially acceptable than the natural, biological one.

Despite popular belief, breasts do have a function beyond sensuality, a function that provides optimal nutrition and nurturing to babies. Dual purpose, multi-tasking girlfriends, they are indeed. And there’s nothing more real, more down-to-earth, more lacking in illusion, than nursing.

I am a modest person. Because of this, nursing in public took me to the edge of my comfort zone. When my daughter was 4 months old, I was in the bridal party for my brother’s wedding. I made the mistake of buying a gown that was not nursing-friendly. As a result, I spent a large part of the reception in the women’s restroom, undressed from the waist up, nursing my hungry, over-stimulated baby.

On another occasion, I was in the stands at a high school marching band competition, sitting with my mother, baby in arms. When my daughter needed to nurse, Mom, in an effort to be helpful, pulled a baby blanket out of the diaper bag and inadvertently made a huge production draping it over me, which was probably more distracting than simply nursing discretely would have been. And to top it off, my daughter kicked the blanket off within minutes.

In spite of these challenges, I persisted.

Everyone is entitled to their personal opinion and comfort level. But I wish people would try to be more understanding. I’ve written before about the balancing act women find themselves in. Women don’t nurse in public to make a point or be exhibitionist. They need to take care of their children.

I applaud local restaurants for welcoming customers of all ages, and I hope people will not boycott Bloomington’s “breastaurants” because they fear these establishments are full of topless women wandering the aisles with a baby hanging off each breast.

Have faith. Have tolerance. Most people abide by table manners in public. Breastfeeding can be done with table manners in mind. As the popular commercial says, “ya gotta eat,” and that means nursing babies, too.

I’d rather my daughter see a mother nursing her baby in public than those ridiculous posters in the mall. Perhaps if there weren’t such a stigma attached to breastfeeding, more women would choose to nurse, and our culture’s obsession with breasts would subside. Then our girlfriends could enjoy a happy return to their natural function and size.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

“This Is It” a riveting documentary of Jackson’s gifts and legacy

November 5, 2009

I am fascinated by the link between music and memory. Isn’t it amazing how a certain song or melody can transport you back to a pinpointed moment in your personal history? When you think about it, each of our lives has a soundtrack.

In the 1980s, with the debut of the MTV sensation, the dynamic pairing of music and video entered the scene. Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” is one song that stands out to me: the bass line slinking in to set the tone, the syncopated keyboard hits, MJ’s pulsing vocals and the squares in the pavement that lit up as he stepped on them. This memory takes me to Campus Casino, a high school hangout on Kirkwood in the ’80s. This was a fun place for teenagers, full of arcade games, a pizza parlor and a huge video screen where music videos flickered throughout the evening.

So many Michael Jackson songs project onto the movie screen of my high school years. I remember the feel of the living room rug underneath me as I sat on the floor, watching the debut of the Thriller video.

That’s why I bought advance tickets to see “This Is It.” This documentary film features two hours of footage recorded during rehearsals for the already sold-out Michael Jackson concerts that would have taken place in London this past summer. The footage was originally intended for Jackson’s personal library rather than the general public. But as the tragic end of his life unfolded, the documentary suddenly became viable as the public’s last glimpse of Jackson’s work.

I found the movie riveting, not only because I am dazzled by Michael Jackson’s talent and the rhythms of his music, but also because it was an intimate look at how he worked on his art. His personal life may have been a shambles, but the man had laser focus and was able to balance this intensity with nothing but love and kindness toward the musicians, dancers, producers, and crew with whom he collaborated.

Jackson’s work ethic was nothing short of inspiring. It was as if he were performing for a sold-out concert arena every time he stepped on the rehearsal stage, even though his audience was a mere dozen or so of his backup dancers and crew. He’d apologize to his team if he occasionally needed to back off the vocals to save his voice.

I was touched by the tenderness with which Kenny Ortega, creative partner and director, worked with him. In one poignant scene, he urges Michael to hold on to the handrails during his first test run on the cherry picker that would carry him out over the audience. It was as if Ortega knew how fragile Michael was. I found myself wishing Ortega had been this father figure for Michael when he was a child.

I cringed over the years as Jackson’s face made its very public transfiguration into what looked like a mask. But he took off his mask in order to perform. The man we saw on stage was the true essence of Michael Jackson. The stage was the venue where he was his best self. I am thankful for the contribution Jackson made to the movie screen and soundtrack of my life.