Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Is it time to talk about Breasts?

As the media is awash with Angelina Jolie's decision to undergo a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing cancer, I thought I'd add my two cents' worth. Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman wrote about Jolie's announcement as something that overturns public perception of celebrity lives. By introducing fragility, by humanising a body many have seen as an icon of female sexuality, Jolie has taken steps away from the copy-selling frenzy of the press and redefined to some degree the way we perceive ourselves.

Jolie's piece in The New York Times was a quiet account of her mother's suffering, her wish to protect her kids and her personal health choice. No fanfare, this is not Lara Croft talking. We've all had scares and it's damned frightening. And friends who so bravely face the brutal treatment we have at hand today. Yet, ask any Western doctor what causes this terrible disease and you will get the eye-roll or hands raised martyr-style in the air.

In Italy breasts are currency and you can travel far with a good rack. You can't turn on the television or enter a newsagents without being knocked out by a pair. If you go to the dentist, you will see that every self-respecting young mother or ageing star has a lovely set of melons. You will hear your daughter talking about breast enhancement as something viable, something her friends might be considering. You will see the mothers at school with perky sweaters and puffy lips.

You may even back away from a conversation where middle-aged men are discussing what fake boobs feel like - how they stand up when the woman lies down on the bed. How they taste just as good.

It's totally out of control. Women's bodies are no longer governed by what is the natural progression (or cup size) of our lives. So often I am horrified by what women do to themselves. And for what reason? Fame and fortune? Because you had a kid? Will it stop your man from straying? Does it help you feel younger on the inside?

Instead nobody talks about health issues. About research. About checkups. About lifestyle choices. If all the money spent on silicone had been pumped into research I bet we would be closer to a cure by now. Instead, how much more money is to be made by foisting this sad aesthetic upon us and filling our beautiful daughters with insecurity? For now, breast cancer is here to stay, and we can only do ourselves a favour by talking about it.

I never thought I would be saying Thank You, Angelina. (Especially after seeing that spy thriller on the plane a couple of years back.) I've always thought you were a beautiful but slighty contrived actress. But hey, you've snared Brad Pitt who earned 7 million for that Chanel commercial.. and you have a whopper body, mansions galore, the world at your feet...

But you're just as vulnerable and afraid as the rest of us.

Angie, very best wishes to you and your family. And thanks.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Portrait of a Lady (2)

A while ago I wrote about the Art of Writing Retreat in Tuscany this summer where I will be speaking. My topic will be Blogging from the Heart - Grassroots Book Promotion. I was planning on using my usual public-speaking tricks: a glass of prosecco beforehand, a pair of sturdy heels, a few strong ideas to cling to.

Drink your water, Catherine.
See if you can make them laugh.

It's not that I think I'm a blogging expert. I'm not. I'm a non-geek who can't open zip files and I only write a post when I'm bursting with an idea. This blog is for fun. For me, the crucial thing is the real writing - the space I make for it, the ideas I let come in, the way I am trying to build up a body of work. In fact I was really chuffed when a big writer included 'Don't Do Social Media' in her tips for the newly published - saying that writers should be working on their craft rather than blabbing about it. You see, I agree. She said that 'Author Platform' was almost the dirty refrain of our times. Interesting, eh?

And yet. Blogging, facebooking, sketching out that platform - these are now expected of all authors by publishers big and small. But how much do they help? Is there a tipping point when the time you pour into your online presence results in a leap in sales? Hmmm, I wish. Anyone who is book promoting out there knows that it is hard, humourless work. Sending off review requests, sounding vivacious in interviews. Blogging feels more tangible because it can foster an exchange of ideas and a support network. To feel that at any given moment you are not the only creature in holey tracksuit pants and last night's mascara telling yourself you are pumping out valid words. To feel a little cohesion, right?

However. While it is great to feel less alone in our dreariest clothes while our ideas are soaring, a chilly thought is just that: WE ARE NOT ALONE. We are surrounded by gazillions of people all over the world doing exactly the same thing. Typing, musing, bragging, uplifting, telling. I'm certain this planet has never known this level of global chest-beating.

That said, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you think constitutes a good, resounding blog.

What do you think makes a blog sing in the dark?
What touches you?
What makes a blog worth your time of day?

In other news from the ranch Mark's portraits have been trickling in and though I'm tempted to photoshop a pair of cats' eye sunnies on the model's face, I've decided to share a few of them. Please select which of these foolish women you would select/crop for an interview/book jacket shot.

And don't laugh.

Under one of Padova's arcades
Sassy on some villa's steps
Would you read a book by this half-drunk woman?
My son's favourite - looks very grassroots!