Femme Fierce: Mary Lambert

Wrack your brains a little. Turn them back to the 2014 Grammy Awards in which Macklemore performed his hit single ‘Same Love‘, with the assistance of Madonna and a pretty woman in a red dress, and in which Queen Latifah presided over the marriage of thirty-three homo- and heterosexual couples. It was musical history. And the woman in the red dress, far from just pretty and talented, helped start it all. Her name is Mary Lambert and the hook she sings in the chorus of ‘Same Love’ formed part of one of her debut solo singles: ‘She Keeps Me Warm’.

Lambert, an openly lesbian singer who had previously been best known in spoken word circles, helped contribute to an ongoing worldwide push for marriage equality. Since the song, one of many contributing pieces on the matter, was released the number of countries that have legalised same-sex marriage has risen to fifteen. Although the song and Mary herself can’t be credited with the entire movement, there is no denying that it and she played a part. But Lambert is more than just an inspiration as a lesbian icon. Much more.

A devout Christian from Washington, USA she battled internally with her own demons from a young age. Raised in a strict Pentecostal household from birth, and with a mother who came out as a lesbian when she was young, she has often struggled with lying outside the norms society laid out for her. Through all of this she worked to reconcile her and others’ beliefs to find her own identity and compromise of faith and personal authenticity. She has come to believe that homosexuality, far from being a sin, is part of God’s creation and that she is valuable just as she is. So often in this world we are presented moulds we must fit. You can be a Christian or you can be gay; you can be part of a family or you can be an individual: Pick one. Lambert hasn’t allowed these dichotomies to define her.

“I think it’s different for everybody. I guess it’s easier to demonize somebody that you don’t know or care about. So I think a lot of the rhetoric has to be reinforced by not thinking critically or not looking around and realizing their family member’s gay … my faith is definitely a lot more private. But I think there’s something I really do enjoy about the Christian community.” (credit: medium.com)

Lambert is open about all her past experiences, good and bad, and the lessons they’ve taught her. Her album, Heart on my Sleeve, is a wonderful representation of that. Aside from being openly gay, Lambert has also discussed publicly being sexual abused when she was younger and a lot of the torment and struggles she has been through in her life. She says as she becomes more famous she struggles to reconcile being honest with her honesty being relevant to the discussion.

“I guess I’m constantly moving between this negative thing of people wanting to collect you rather than connect with you. There have been times where I’ve done interviews where they’ll ask me really personal stuff about trauma that has nothing to do with, I don’t know, The GRAMMYs or something, and they’ll be like, “So how was it being sexually abused?” and I’ll be like, “It was terrible, why are you bringing this up?” [Laughs] So I mean, I do want to remain open, but there are definitely times where I go into a shell because I’m feeling re-triggered.” (source: BYT)

I admire Lambert’s devotion to her authenticity even in the face of potential manipulation and sensationalisation. Staying true to yourself and being open and honest must be challenging under such immense public glare but Lambert manages to seem both down to earth and real as she does it.

In one of Lambert’s recent releases, ‘Secrets’, she opens up about her insecurities and pushes back on a world that would dare to suggest they make her not-enough. Discussing her bipolar disorder, homosexuality and neuroses in a fun and light-hearted way she makes it clear they are mere pieces of her puzzle and do not detract from her worth.

Never is her authenticity and honesty more evident than in her relentless drive to promote body confidence. Lambert has spoken publicly about her body and her struggles with it growing up:

“To be honest, I used to hate shopping. I rarely left a store without crying, cursing my body, and swearing under my breath at the fashion industry. Maybe the industry thinks that fat people are a liability because our hands are made from Twinkies and we will wipe our Yellow #5 marshmallow fingers on the expensive jeans they make. I don’t know.” (credit: whowhatwear)

Far from allowing her size to make her an outcast in Hollywood, Lambert has used it to publicly discuss body image and the importance of self-love. In particular her song ‘Body Love’, done primarily in her original spoken-word style, exposes some harsh realities of not fitting into the established mould.

Since releasing ‘Body Love’, Lambert has discussed publicly receiving inspiring fan mail from a girl with a severe eating disorder who wasn’t sure how to find the strength to keep fighting. The week she listened to ‘Body Love’ was the first week she ate a whole meal. She said the song did more for her than any therapy session.

“Love your body the way your mother loved your baby feet,
and brother arm-wrapping shoulders,
and remember this is important.
You are worth more than who you fuck.
You are worth more that a waistline.
You are worth more than beer bottles displayed like artifacts.
You are worth more than any naked body could proclaim in the shadows;
more than a man’s whim or your father’s mistake.
You are no less valuable as a size 16 than a size 4;
you are no less valuable as a 32A than a 36C.
Your sexiness is defined by concentric circles within your wood.
You are a goddamned tree stump with leaves sprouting out.
Reborn.”

Mary Lambert is a woman who is not afraid to be flawed and fallible and broken in a world that demands perfection. She is not afraid to admit that she has struggled, that she has made mistakes. She’s not afraid to be less than what society demands and still believe she is more than enough just the way she is. She’s an inspiration.



50 Shades of Inappropriate Marketing

Trigger warning: Domestic abuse and partner violence. Be wary of the external links in particular.

50 Shades of Grey. It’s a thing. It’s not going anywhere and we have all accepted this. Recently, due to the release of the film adaptation, the books and characters found themselves in the spotlight again.

It’s not news to anyone that 50 Shades is widely believed to depict an incredibly unhealthy, even abusive, relationship. Although claims have been made that the book simply depicts BDSM, and not emotional abuse, many beg to differ.

I’m not here to wade in on the arguments about the content and themes of the books and movie. That has been done by others more eloquent than me and in a better place to judge, as depicted in the links above. What I am concerned about is that businesses are trying to tap into the 50 Shades hysteria as a marketing tool while ignoring the problematic messages it sends their customers.

Domestic violence is a big problem in New Zealand. The NZ Women’s Refuge estimates that they help a woman in an abusive relationship every 6 minutes via their phone line alone. One in three Kiwi women will experience partner abuse at some point in their lives and fourteen women will be killed this year alone by a member of their own family. The statistics are horrifying and the realities for many Kiwi women are inescapable. I, and many others I know, have been abused by people we have trusted during our lives. The effects are long lasting and hugely damaging.

Given the public backlash to 50 Shades, whether you agree with the assessments or not, it seems unfathomable that any brand not directly involved with the movie or books would align themselves with its image. And yet that is exactly what at least one Kiwi brand has done this week. A well-meaning but ultimately ill-thought out marketing campaign was launched encouraging women to treat themselves well. It was front-run by a fake social media account pretending to be Christian Grey.

You don’t have to have read the books or have seen the movie to see the problems that inherently come from conflating Christian Grey’s public image with the treatment of women. Whether you are a fan of the series, whether you agree with the varying assessments of the abuse depicted, it doesn’t make sense for any brand to align themselves with such a polarising and potentially damaging phenomenon. Reputation is key in the world we live in; to market using such a divisive tool opens you up for a multitude of reputational and communication problems. And to make matters worse, the marketing ploy was integrated with an online dating application.

Putting aside that the campaign will have breached the terms of use of both Facebook and the dating application involved, it raises the issue of correlating online dating with abusive partners in a world already concerned about the ease with which dating apps can be turned into hunting grounds for abusive individuals.

Given all of these factors it staggers me that the campaign made it off the ground. Surely someone in the team at some point stopped and asked if it was really such a good idea?

The brand involved was contacted by several people via social media but maintained that their intent was to flip the paradigm on its head. It remains to be seen whether the campaign will be pulled; either way, it seems Kiwi women, and men, aren’t done pushing back on the inherent sexism and poor thought that creeps into our mass marketing.

 

Edit: At the time of writing this the brand concerned had taken their social media account offline. It’s my view that by removing themselves from the conversation they have failed to address the serious concerns their consumers have about their marketing campaign. Hopefully they will be back and better prepared for the discussions in the coming weeks.



#demandbetter

For International Women’s Day Marie Claire Australia put together a video detailing just how prevalent sexism still is in the Western World. The English speaking Western World. America. England. Australia. New Zealand. With statistics like “women work for free after 3.45pm” and comments from prominent personalities like “when a man is talking you don’t interrupt” it’s rather damning. It can’t be that bad, can it? It’s the 21st century! How many of us have been told we’re overreacting? That we’re reading too much into it? That we’ve mistaken the intent? That we’re being precious? Equality is worth the push. Always. It isn’t asking a lot.



Advertising for Real Women

The rumour going around the Internet is that this is an “average” sized woman posing with an “average” sized mannequin. Putting aside how they worked out those averages and what data they use it does make for a rather shocking visual statement.

The number of times I have seen small sized clothes held on to mannequins with clips is astounding. Even as a small child I couldn’t understand why the clothes and the dolls weren’t the same size. Given clothes have to fit real people the only logical conclusion is the mannequins are unrealistically small.

And yet they keep displaying clothes for real women on them.



Apples

Just saw this on Facebook. I don’t think we should be comparing some women to rotten apples and calling them easy. That doesn’t sit right with me.

Regardless of how you wish to explain it to yourself, some people haven’t found their person yet. Some people might never. That doesn’t make them better than anyone who has, it doesn’t make anyone who has met their someone special “easy” and it certainly doesn’t necessitate men being standard-less.

Never put your life on hold while you wait for a man. Or anyone, for that matter.