Thursday, 26 January 2012

They Used to Say "Big Boned" to be Polite. That Sounds Like A Euphemism

There's been a lot of talk and controversy that I'm noticing on my social network feeds. About how skinny is not beauty, about the fashion industry and it's portrayal of size 0-4 women as being "average" sized.

First and foremost, before I go any further I'm going to stop you all right there. In no way did the whole super skinny super model come about to portray a society standard in women's clothing sizes. Any woman who looks at fashion and thinks a designer dresses only size 2 girls on his runway because of more than industry standards and expense is silly. Sure, on some level their may be aesthetics involved. On some level, designers might want a particular model for her name. But the smaller the girl, the smaller the sample being made for the runway needs to be. And the smaller the sample, the less of the expensive chiffon and Swarovski crystals are needed. Which cuts down a designers cost. If every designer were dressing "real" size women for their runway samples, they would be spending double and triple their budget for the same sample run. I'm not being callous, it's the truth. It costs way more to produce a dress for a size 20 than it does for a size 2, you need more edging to go around a size 20 hem, you need more fabric. You need to cut the dress completely differently, you need to know your models proportions and bust size far more intimately. With a size 2 girl you can count on her having little curves and a smaller bust, leave some extra seam allowance for letting out and taking in where you need to, and with that you can architecturally build the shape and curves you want with fabrics, interfacing and a little boning. On a size 20 girl you need that interfacing and boning just to ensure her décolletage is under control and she isn't going to have a nip slip on the runway. And you may not have enough fabric to let out the seams if you need too. I'm not trying to be callous, I'll make dresses for real plus sizes, and petites and whoever. And I have, so I know the difference.

Some designers will pack their runways full of only one type of girl, with one body shape. This is totally because of comfort and ease, and the speed of which someone can produce when they know they are only picking models size 2 with relatively the same dimensions. Sometimes you will hear of designers only picking Scandanavian women, or women of African descent. And this happens because fashion is art. Designers, artists. And all artists have a vision. When a designer draws up a concept, sketches out a model, and starts mocking up a new gown, he already has a type of girl in mind. She might be willowy and hippy like, with long tawny hair. She might be fierce, a warrior woman, a business woman, a girl on a night out, the girl next door -- trust me, this is all part of the process of design, whether you've been through school for it or not. Even us self taught pattern makers and sewers and designers have a person in mind when we make a beautiful garment. It's not that designers are trying to push their own ideals into society, they are just trying to show society their artistic vision.

That being said, do I agree with only using super tiny super tall girls in a runway show?

Well, if I were running the show, not at all. I would want to be able to show my diversity as a designer, which means displaying diversity on my runway.

And a lot of designers do just that! Betsey Johnson used plus size girls in the live runway she broadcast via Youtube for fashion week in NYC. Her daughter was one of the models too. It's part of her ascetic as a designer to design for women of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds. This is why she's one of my favourite designers. Here's a picture Google tagged as a Betsey Runway model from her 2011 show. This girl is rocking it, and is considered plus size for the industry.
I know, I know, a lot of people look at this girl and say "She is NOT plus sized!"

Well, lets agree to disagree for a minute. I always kind of considered the fashion word "plus sized" to mean "plus ten" so in my head I like to call this girl a "size zero plus". Think of it. If you're a size 12, you could tell everyone you are a size 2 plus. Does it make you feel smaller or bigger to say it that way? Okay, I'm being kind of sarcastic. But, it's true. Any girl size ten or larger in the fashion industry is considered plus, whether we think that's fair or not. It's not about our own size, and a lot of girls take it personally like that. I fit clothing anywhere from a size 10 to 14, depending on cut and fit and style. Do I like hearing a size 10 girl is "plus sized"? No, not really. But I look at myself in the mirror, and I know I'm not fat or ugly, just because an industry labelled me plus. I'm not a model, I'm just a girl on the streets. People double take me, I have gorgeous brown eyes and love my curves. Am I plus? Well, if I were walking a runway, yes. In real life, not really.

Now, here's another fun thing. Sizes are not the same everywhere. Every designer has their own conventions for measurement, some only do custom work, some mass produce using a standardized chart. A European size 12 and a US size 12 are going to be different, guaranteed. Just like a department store size 10 vs a designer boutique size 10. No two sizes are going to be the same. Heck, who hasn't been shopping for jeans and put on two styles and found they needed a larger size in one pair, but in the other style needed a smaller size? It's all about standards, and their are no international standards, nor standards that run between companies. I swim in a large from Old Navy, but have to buy some things in a large from Le Château. So, to some people that girl in that picture is a plus size, to others she's not. It's all just opinion. (And really, who cares! She was in a BJ fashion show I'm really super jealous of her even if she's plus!)

This model is plus sized, probably to anyone no matter how they look at the label plus. And gorgeous, although I wish more designers encouraged their models to look happy and smile when they walk. And, the bust on this dress doesn't fit her properly. This is what I mean, this would be a reason a designer might not want a plus sized model, because you cannot guarantee that she isn't going to have completely different dimensions than the dress you designed at her size. She might have told the designer she was a D cup in bra, where to me she plainly looks larger than a D. But, not all designers are even aware of cup size, especially if they are male designers and have only ever dressed smaller women with smaller breasts.

The most important thing in design, is fit. And many designers (obviously not this one) don't know how to dress and fit a plus sized woman.

But bad fit can happen on even the smallest of models. This is a picture of some terrifying clothing that came from Project Runway. This is a standard sized model, but she doesn't look right in this outfit, because it just doesn't fit. So, before you say I'm prejudiced, I just want to let you know that bad fit can happen on any sized girl. When a bad outfit doesn't fit, it's tragic. When a good outfit doesn't fit, it destroys what's good about it.

Okay, now I'm done over explaining about the fashion industry, I do have another point to make.

All of these women, be them the "plus" sizes or "standard" sizes, are fucking beautiful. Just because they are labeled as one thing or another does not change the fact that they are unique and stunning ladies. Is curvy more pretty than skinny? The answer is NO. Is skinny more beautiful than fat? NO.

On my Facebook wall I posted this picture a while ago that some people may have taken offence too. Especially my friends who are thin, or those who would ideally be thin. My personal tastes tell me that Marilyn Monroe is the hottest woman in that image, but that's because I identify with her curvaceousness. I'm a curvy girl, I have heavy bones and thick hips, I will never look like Keira Knightly, never ever no matter how much I work out or diet. I don't think Keira isn't beautiful, that's not what I was trying to say by posting this image, although I know some people took it that way. What I am saying is my body shape could look like Marilyn, I could get rid of the jiggle and maybe have a body like Betty Paige. Without plastic surgery, I could never look like Heidi Montag, and I don't want too.

I've come to accept that I am a curvaceous girl, that I have booty, I have breasts. And I'm beautiful.

I just wonder what it is, how it is, that society seems to think woman have to conform to some kind of standard of size and shape. In my opinion, beauty isn't being thin, or being fat. It's not having pale skin or tanned skin. It's not dying your hair to be brunette or blond or blue. It's something inside, and when I say when did thin become hotter than curvy, I mean, when did anything become hotter than anything else? Beauty is beauty, and all eight of those women are beautiful to someone. Beauty is subjective, and that's the truth.

And hey, just so you know, if Marilyn was a model today, walking runway or doing stills, she'd be considered plus size too.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Another Year

It's 2012!  Yes, that's right. It's the year the 'world ends' according to a bunch of people who have opinions about these sort of things. I'm not one of them, or so I would like to think. However, the permeating message that the end of times is nigh does subconsciously give me the heebie-jeebies, and I can't deny that a portion of my internal self is thinking "oh fuck" at the prospect of this potentially being my last year in this life as I know it.

Sounds like the apocalypse might be a lot of fun, actually.

Or then again, maybe that's just my stupid brain being stupid and I shouldn't listen to the doom sayers and just keep on truckin' through the futility of all things like every other person on the planet.

Man, I'm really depressed lately.

I'm done talking about that before I even start. It's dark and dank in that cavernous region of my mind and I'm tired of being there, and even that little paragraph is too much of a reminder of not good feelings for me right now. I'm starting this post over, and I'm not talking about things that you don't need to know.

I love coffee, but a fancy ass Starbucks latte is way too expensive, especially when you want such a lovely sugary coffee substance daily or even more than one a day. I'm not going to deny it, I love me my fancy ass Starbucks, it takes the coffee to a level of euphoric yumminess beyond it's natural state of yumminess. Not only do I get the invigorating effects of caffeine coursing through my veins, but the added sugary goodness gives a person that instant zip zap zoom that makes me want to actually accomplish things.

Sugar makes me manic.

Last January Mr. C bought for me an espresso maker. We searched all over town until I found one I liked. The steamer doesn't get to a high enough temperature to make perfect lattes, but I found if you microwave your milk first for about 30seconds it heats it enough to get a good healthy foam on top.  Then I began searching for the best espresso beans. I had already graduated to grinding my own coffee before owning the espresso maker, so continuing on with this trend I searched high and low for the perfect bean. At first I thought Starbucks would be the obvious choice, but I learned that wasn't so. The Starbucks blends they sell just seem to come out different when made at home. After much searching I finally found Kicking Horse's Grizzly Claw dark roast whole beans. I can find it in any of the local grocery stores as its a semi-local company here in BC, and it's a really good dark roast, and makes excellent espresso albeit it's not a traditional espresso bean. So, after some trials and errors leading to less errors, I figured out how to get my espresso maker to work in top form and make coffee I love.

I also began purchasing different flavours of syrups (toffee and vanilla mostly) and experimenting with different flavours of latte. I found it strange how difficult it was to find syrups in town here, coming to the conclusion that only 2 places in town sell it, outside of Starbucks where occasionally I could purchase the caramel drizzle there as well if I was willing to spend more money on it than I wanted to. Because of the lack of supply, sometimes I wouldn't be able to find the flavours I wanted, and would wind up buying something different because I really prefer my lattes to have a sugary sweetness to them. This, I realised, was kind of a problem. The lack of flavours I wanted, combined with the seasonal deliciousness known as the pumpkin spice latte, I found myself back at Starbucks at least once a week.

Then I came to the realisation that I wasn't really saving as much money as I wanted to be saving by having my own means of making lattes. And I was still frequenting Starbucks to get the gourmet flavours I wanted, probably at least once a week. So not only was I still purchasing coffee at coffee shops, I was also buying syrups at approximately $15-$25 a bottle (depending on volume of bottle, of course) and honestly, the beans I buy are not on the cheap side, because I don't like cheap tasting coffee.

It hit me like something that hits really hard and makes you see things a little skewed for a few minutes, and I remembered: I have made simple syrups before. Syrups are fucking easy! Like STUPID easy to make! AND CHEAP.

Okay, so to make a simple syrup all you need is sugar and water in equal parts. Dump it into a pan. Bring the water to a boil while whisking. Wait for it to go clear, reduce the heat and simmer stirring occasionally until half of the liquid evaporates. It takes less than 5 minutes to accomplish all of this. There, sugar syrup, good for so many different things that need added liquid sweetness. So if a 4kg bag of sugar costs me approximately $5, I only spend about $0.10 on the sugar used in each 250mL bottle of syrup if I am using 1 cup of sugar per bottle of home made syrup, which I am.

Then flavouring? The first attempt was good ol' trusty vanilla. Because who doesn't have vanilla extract kicking around somewhere? And if you don't have vanilla, don't fret. It's still ridiculously inexpensive if you shop around for the best prices on baking extracts and spices. Spices are inexpensive these days, if you know where to look. I spent just under $9 at my local Bulk Barn on 5 whole nutmegs, a bunch of whole cloves, a honey bear squeezy bottle (for the dulce de leche I intend to make soon) and two 100mL bottles of baking extracts: Pure Almond, and Pure Anise @2.99 each.

I did the maths. I like doing maths for no reason sometimes. If I am only paying ten cents in sugar per 250mL bottle of syrup, and I'm only paying approximately 15 cents in spicing per bottle of syrup (depending on how fancy I feel like being), then each bottle of syrup costs me only ... twenty five cents. Seriously? That means I'm only paying three cents for each sugary shot added to my latte!

If I break it down even further, cost of milk and coffee beans, I pay roughly $1.50 for each fancy gourmet latte I make at home, as opposed to the $6 per grande size coffee at Starbucks I will spend. Totally worth it.

LATTE SYRUP RECIPES (ones I've tried so far)

Vanilla Syrup
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
(I used artificial vanilla for this one, and it was fine. I'm kind of sensitive to flavours, so I noticed the artificial vanilla seemed to bring out a metallic kind of after taste to the syrup. Probably a result of the propylene glycol in the extract, or perhaps using a little too much vanilla. I would suggest using real vanilla extract and only 2tsp at most, but if you don't have it and aren't as picky as me use artificial it's cheaper and almost as good)

Cinnamon Vanilla
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
2 sticks of cinnamon (2" long)
1 tsp vanilla extract (the vanilla extract I use is not the clear kind, it's the amber kind. I really like the amber colour it makes the syrups)

Anise Spice
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
5 whole cloves
1 tsp anise extract
1 pinch of ginger OR coarsely grate some ginger root into it if you don't want "floaties" in your syrup, but use a scant amount
1 cinnamon stick 2" long
1/4 of a very small nutmeg, crushed. Would have been equal to about 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg if you aren't worried about "floaties" in the syrup.
I strained out the cloves and stuff before bottling it.

Almond Rocha
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp butter -- this was a mistake. I should have purchased some butter flavour to use (found in most grocery stores baking section for flavouring icing), as the real butter made the syrup go kind of milky instead of clear and ambery pretty. Now it's separating the fat from the added butter and it's floating on top of the syrup, all yellow and butter fat looking. It tastes great, but looks weird.

All the recipes methods were the same.
1) Dump sugar and water unceremoniously into a pan. I used my 1 quart pot.
2) Add whatever spice and flavours you want. And, if you want, food colouring. I totally would.
3) Turn heat to MAX and bring it up to a boil while whisking occasionally and inconsiderately. A whisk is not necessary, but I just like them they are more fun than spoons.
3) When it starts to boil (in about 2-3 minutes) reduce the heat down to like 7, or somewhere between middle and high heat so it simmers.
4) Walk the fuck away and go on twitter and forget you are making stuff. But don't forget for longer than a couple of minutes, or you might evaporate it all the way down into a thick goo or burn it.
5) In about 2 minutes, when you remember you are cooking something, go stir it really well with your whisk. If it's reduced to half it's original volume it's done. You should have about 1 cup or so of liquid, a little more or a little less is fine.
6) Let it cool and for gods sake, don't try any right away! You WILL burn your mouth. And hot sugar burns are the worst. Especially in your mouth. Trust me.
7) Strain out any floaties from your spices with a mesh wire strainer or, if you want to make sure even the finest of particles don't make it into the final bottle, use cheesecloth.
8) Let it sit for awhile. I know, you want to try it NOW but seriously, this stuff is up tight and hot and needs a few minutes left alone to chill out and cool down.
9) Then pour it into a bottle. I went to a dollar store and bought some cute vinegar bottles, the kind with the rubbery corks with the pour spouty things, not the kinds with the little triangle tops that are for shaking on your fries. I guess they are called cruets. They all say "vinegar" in very fancy script on them. I like it, it's deceptive.
10) Label it, and store it. It doesn't need to be refrigerated, as it's syrup and it'll keep for awhile on the counter. You can refrigerate it if you are worried about it I guess. The worst that's going to happen is the water content will evaporate out and you'll be left with super concentrated syrup, or if it's left open for a really long time like a few weeks, you'll have lovely flavoured sugar crystals inside a glass bottle.