Glow: Take a Trip Back To The Eighties with The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

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           One month ago, Netflix released its new series Glow, created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensc. The story is a fictional story about the 1980s women’s professional wrestling circuit called “The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” (or GLOW) orginally created by David McLane. Ruth Wilder, an actress looking for a job, is invited for a secret audition with dozens of women. She later discovers that she could be a potential character in a wrestling show directed by tortured artist Sam Sylvia and has to adapt to this new situation. The series also explores her conflicted relationship with her best friend Debbie Eagan, a former soap opera actress, as Ruth had an affair with her husband.

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         Glow has been already praised by critics – and it is clear why. The series is an amazing trip back to the Flashdance era with numerous references that will take you back to the decade of Rocky, but with a touch of feminism this time around. The eighties have recently become a trend in TV shows. The success of Stranger Things, another Netflix series that sparkled last year, shows that there is a sort of fascination even nostalgia for this period. The eighties revival in fashion has idealised this decade which feels both recent and far from us nowadays. More and more, the eighties seem like a new Golden Hollywood era in which our parents grew up during these years. In Glow, you will rediscover those neon clothes, those fitness courses that won’t appear during your Facebook daily scrolling, and that lacquered hair, exaggerated make-up and funny jeans. Less serious than Stranger Things, Glow is a genuine wink to the dynamic eighties while celebrating feminism.

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         While Sam appears as a sexist and mysognistic artist, he truly changes his mind with his new actresses. The girls all have different shapes, sizes and backgrounds. They are not “perfect” and are eager to know more about wrestling. They don’t consider the activity masculine one and do not hesitate to fight in order to improve what they do. The tension between sexism and feminism explores how the women are perceived and how the Gorgeous Ladies want to dismantle these ideas by performing wrestling. Each of them has a story, a unique personality that you won’t even find in your average eighties movie.

         If you haven’t watch Glow yet, just open your Netflix account and enjoy. Compared to Orange is The New Black by many reviews (Jenji Kohan, creator the series is the executive producer), Glow is a less dark version of the show with similarly incredible women.

3…2…1…Let’s GLOW !

 

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“Big Girls, You Are Beautiful ” : The Role of Curvy Women in Pop Culture and Why We Should Change It

 

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Do you remember this famous Mika’s song ?

“Diet Coke and a pizza please

Diet Coke, I’m on my knees

Screaming, « Big girl, you are beautiful”

            After all, Mika is right, why should “big girls” feel bad about eating a pizza? I feel like there is a kind of shame associated with eating in front of other people if you are curvy. That is why they should also take a Diet Coke to feel like they are not too obsessed with junk food. Society wants to make you pay for being different – and it does that all the time, no matter how and why you are different. The cult of being skinny is not that young. In the sixties, Twiggy was a beauty role model for many women and in the eighties, it was already popular to look almost androgynous – so extremely thin in order to redefine the feminine standards. However, this trend seems to have accelerated in recent years, affecting younger and younger children. If you take a look at Youtube comments about curvy Youtubers/models, you’ll always read these words : “You are not healthy.” This sentence is the new “You’re fat” but with a sort of nice and caring tone as if these fourteen years old were doctors. Most of the time, we are influenced by pop culture and the numerous images that cross our computer. Movies, TV shows and advertisements are mostly responsible of our misconceptions about “fat people” – and particularly “fat women”.

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            Curvy women have always had a specific type of roles in cinema/TV shows. While skinny women are considered sexy or lovely and get to be the main characters, fat women are the funny sidekiks in the gaze of the others. It only serves to emphasise how society perceives these women. For example, I am particularly intrigued by Pitch Perfect’s “Fat Amy”, played by the talented Rebel Wilson. I did not see Anna Kendrick’s character being called “Skinny Beca”. Most of Amy’s jokes are indeed linked to her weight – like the fact she does not like physical activities. Ultimately, there is a great injustice – people are mocking a certain type of appearance. How are viewers with a similar appearance meant to feel? Being “fat” should not be an insult anymore or a word to make fun of overweight people. After all, Rebel Wilson is a charming and dynamic actress that would deserve a main role. A role that is not about her weight but her personality. A role where she could express different emotions. In Bachelorette, we encounter the same dilemma. Rebel Wilson’s character is getting married before her friends. They are quite surprised and shocked that the “fat girl” is the first to get married. And of course, people don’t mind that someone is getting mocked. It is funny – and we should definitely assert that it is funny when it is clearly not. Obesity is a problem and not every obese person is responsible for their weight issues. Many illnesses – both mental and physical – can have a terrible impact on one’s weight. Consequently, you can take weight without even eating! However, if I were to go along with the opinions espoused by numerous directors and screenwriters in their work, I would agree that fat women are too fat to be loved, too fat to be sexy, too fat to be treated as thin women. And this tendancy to talk about differences in general in cinema have always upset me because they cannot create different characters without talking about their differences. I dream of a curvy heroine that would never mention her weight, that would be sexy just for the sake of being sexy.

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            Fat shaming became a vicious trend, particularly towards women, and can be identified as another element of everyday sexism. In Spy, Melissa McCarthy, who could have played the sexy agent role, is represented as just an incompetent and clumsy curvy girl. Sadly, it shows once again that cinema is keen on tropes – these stereotypes that you will see in every movie. Either women are objectified or they are strong and thin. Would you imagine Wonder Woman being a bit curvy? Having some hips or a bit of stomach? No. It would be surely unaesthetic. True heroines have no fat – it is well-known. And many women are happy enough just to watch a strong woman character on screen – which, despite everything, is good news. Nevertheless, in this case, tropes are a get-out-of-jail-free card. They reinforce prejudices, clichés and stereotypes and encourage us to stay in our comfort zone where we don’t have to face them.

            That said, many activists have fought back against the negative representation of curvy women in Pop Culture by becoming themselves Pop Culture icons. Ashley Grahams slayed the game by being the first woman with a non-conforming body to be a Sport Illustrated model. Her Instagram account is full of positive ideas that she spreads through the Body Positivity movement. A lot of curvy models posed for her “Swimsuits For All” campaign, raising their voices against the sizes’s dictature. More recently, ASOS decided to expose their models’s stretch marks. I am sure that Body Positivity is more and more popular and that it will probably make directors think differently about overweight women – and by extension, about women in general. Women are not perfect. No matter how Instagirls look, we live within a society of images. And just like Plato’s cave, we are prisonners of the shadows cast by the puppeteers that play with our perceptions. Where we see “perfection”, there is Photoshop, surgery or a lifestyle that you could not have because you work, you are a mother, a student or simply someone whose job doesn’t involve being on show to the world.

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            I’m still waiting for Ashley Grahams to be the new Bond girl. But above all, let me finish with some of her words and then you can go and get your full fat chocolate chip cookie without Diet coke (and don’t feel bad about that, just grab some Oreos to feel better): “I have never fit into a mold that I was supposed to. I was told ‘No, no, no’ to all my hopes and dreams. I never forgot them. I never let anybody beat me down with them, and you shouldn’t either. At the end of the day you can do whatever you want. Don’t let your body hold you back.”

I Wanna Be Liked By You: how this society of “likes” reveals our inner fears

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             Everybody enjoys being “liked” on their favourite social media. Each time you post a new picture or a new subject to share with your friends, you are probably waiting to get some notifications on your phone screen. Sometimes, it is similar to an action movie – you are waiting and waiting, ready for something extremely interesting to happen. There is also a sort of anxiety that never leaves you. You need to be “liked” as a token of your own existence in the others’s gazes. And this factor is typical of our generation.In fact, we are fully “connected”. For example, Snapchat’s recent update allows you to see where your friends are and above all, if they are in your area. Have a nice private day, pals!

         From the morning to the evening, we all live with the others without seeing them. They are always spying on us, scrolling on our Insta stories and “liking” our pictures as we were consenting objects of consumption that they would like to buy in a supermarket. Our whole life is defined by a certain perception of ourselves that we are willing to give to others : a fake smile, beautiful dresses, nice landscapes, extraordinary holidays in The Bahamas, big cars, endless friendship and sexy lovers. We are definitely all jealous of Instagrammers. They have an amazing life surrounded by puppies, butterflies and unicorns pooping rainbows. However, the reality behind “likes” is way more complicated and exposes how much human beings are complex. There is a deep desire to be seen, to be loved and to feel almost “relieved” that many people “crave” for our updates. It thus seems that we exist to please our peers as if we were always trying to escape our loneliness. In his famous song “Carmen”, Belgian singer Stromae explains that our perception of love took a whole different meaning over the last few years. In English, it is even more striking with the use of the verb “to like” instead of “to love”. We “like” tennis, but also pasta, ducks and your friend’s friend. “Like” is such a common word to identify a difficult concept that falls somewhere on the love spectrum. After all, we could ask ourselves: what’s love? Love is divided into so many emotions that it would take years to study them all. The art of attraction is still very hard to deal with. You experience love in so many ways with a huge range of individuals that a simple “click” on Facebook is not enough to prove that you love someone. These particular moments of joy that you cannot not translate into Instagram posts are already extremely difficult to express through arts. For example, Nathalie Sarraute, in Tropismes, shows that we cannot explain our emotions: they appear like an ephemeral twist and change both our physical and intellectual reactions. These little clues of our inner-self reveal our anxiety, our capacity of thinking and of course, our deep feelings of love. And these subtle elements are now ignored because we live in a society steeped into superficial goals.

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         Sorry folks, but “likes” are nothing more than “clicks” – desperate “clicks” that say : “Please, love me. Even if I don’t know you. Even if you don’t truly care about me. Even if we have nothing in common. Love me, for the sake of loving me !”

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         Ultimately, the society of “likes” is dangerous and based on fake opinions. More recently, Essena O’Neill, an Australian Instagram model, quited the famous social media claiming it didn’t reveal the truth about herself. She decided to erase her comments on her Instagram’s pictures in order to put forward how she felt when she took these numerous selfies. That is why she denounced self-promotion, manipulation and body insecurities behind these perfect images. You could be the prettiest girl in the world and get no “likes” because you don’t share a certain type of content on your Instagram. Some dedicate their whole day to figure out what to post in order to get people’s attention more easily. The beauty game on Youtube is an interesting example because it became a genuine business to expose ourselves on social media and to ask for “likes”. They attract companies and promote their products through their videos. And as you can imagine, they gain some money for this. However, if you take a look closely at their videos, they all look like each other and they do what you can actually do yourself in front of your mirror. Ladies, bring your foundation, your eye-liner and some liptstick : you’ll conquer the beauty game and maybe you’ll get a chance to be the new face of L’Oréal! Not only it shows a sexist image of women associated only with cooking, make-up and fashion, but also reveals a clever commercial strategy. In addition to this, it just desacrates the real meaning of “love” in order to make it a common thing. You are distributing “likes” just like an automatic Coke distributor: to everybody, at any moment and for no reason. We all aim to love and to be loved. Consequently, this feeling of satisfaction when someone likes you is “normal” because you interpret this notification as proof of your own existence. We live within a society, so being recognized by the others is important for us as it helps to build a web of relationships that can be emotional or professional. Although it is not a bad thing to get suddenly happy when someone “likes” you, we should not be affected or depressed if social media ignores us. We are not a product of what the others might perceive. Conversely, we build ourselves thanks to what we do every day and our own experience.

         That is why, we shouldn’t be “liked by you” but by ourselves. Like yourself as the strong and independent individual that you are. And maybe others will like you even more.

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“She is beautiful when she is angry” : What I learnt from being an intellectual woman in a sexist society

 

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            We all remember this famous documentary named She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, released in 2014, which is about women involved in the second wave feminism movement in the United States of America. However, I must say that I am particularly interested in the significance of the title. It reveals that women are perceived in certain men’s gazes as only hysterical girls whose speeches are led by emotion and a kind of hubris they cannot control. Moreover, they are still beautiful because, as we all know, women are only defined by their beauty. Just take a look at women magazines and analyze their main subjects. How do we lose weight fast? How to be healthy? New make-up trends! Which one will suit you the best? …I doubt you will have the opportunity to read an article about Simone de Beauvoir or Jane Austen in your common Cosmopolitan Magazine.

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            I have never been a Cosmo girl – except when I go to pubs to get a nice cocktail! I got interested in literature at a very young age. From Les Malheurs de Sophie to Camus’s L’Etranger, I was always eager to know more about these writers who made me travel around countries of words and landscapes of sentences. I realized that I could imagine different stories and create my own world. That is why each step in the streets, at the beach, in cafés, each person passing by, each inquisitive animal became an unique element of a new story. I wanted to be a writer. It was not a wish or a dream. Being a writer appeared to me as a genuine goal. Unfortunately, people did not understand why I did my best to be an artist. At school, I felt quite different from the others. At the beginning, I thought that people saw me as “odd” because I was a literature/philosophy enthusiast who spent my free-time writing and thinking about my novel. However, the criticisms were more subtle as some professors and students hinted that women should get interested in other fields. Ultimately, this mindset influences our education as female authors are not taught in classes as frequently as male authors in terms of literature studies. Remember those women who took men’s names to write because they were not allowed to?

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            I thus was considered the “intello”, “nerd” one. Girls were particularly difficult to deal with. To them, it was quite strange to see another girl reading Voltaire’s essays. The Twilight series was way more interesting and “girly”. It resulted in my being defined as odd. My goals, my hobbies, my dreams. Everything was “odd”. And, I think they were probably shocked that I still enjoyed fashion, red lipstick and feeling pretty and sexy. After all, women cannot be beautiful AND intellectual. Pop culture have showed us this cliché lots of times. I remember watching Beverly Hills 90210 with my mum. Brenda (Shannon Doherty) was the popular and wonderful one while Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) was the “ugly” BUT intelligent girl. This helps to explain why our society is steeped in misconceptions about women and is also still influenced by sexist images that have spread more easily nowadays. If we think about it, everything is about women’s bodies and looks. They have to “fit” in a perfect Ikea baking tin in order to obtain a marvellous rainbow cronut – ready to be the most “liked” Instagram picture ever. When it comes to intelligence, self-development and arts, women are easily critcized – particularly if they raise their voices against the system.

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            Although it was difficult for me to face these problems, I was inspired by many female figures who denounced this unfair silent treatment. Emma Watson, Ashley Grahams and Jennifer Lawrence are all new figures of pop culture and feminism promoting a whole new perception of women. Above all, Emma Watson brought into the spotlight the figure of the intellectual and independent women through her roles on screen (Hermione Granger and more recently Belle in the new Beauty and the Beast movie) and also her endeavours such as being an activist for the HeforShe campaign Similarly, some TV shows are more and more keen on depicting women as strong individuals. I watched the new season of Orange is the New Black and I found Danielle Brooke’s performance absolutely delightful. Her character, Taystee, is an amazing example of an intelligent, charming, sensual and funny woman who fights for her causes and never gives up. From a second-role character in the first season to the main role in season 5, Danielle Brooke revealed a rebellious Taystee that is for me an iconic feminist character. Andrea’s sad destiny is now slowly disappearing in order to develop “angry”, albeit wonderful women.

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            So, yes. I am angry. Sometimes a bit too much. Sometimes a bit less. However, I am a journalist and I am writing to expose my analysis and my thoughts that I developed over the years. And I am convinced that writing and speaking are both the best answers to sexism. Like Taystee, we just need to keep on fighting and reading. Because women who read are dangerous, aren’t they?

 

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Kilgrave is not only a comic book character: how to identify a manipulator and to overcome a destructive relationship

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               Two years ago, Netflix released its series Jessica Jones, inspired by the famous Marvel comic book. Jessica Jones, a super-heroine, was involved in a relationship with Kilgrave (David Tennant), a villain who can mentally manipulate people in order to get what he wants from them. David Tennant gives a unique touch of madness to this character and his performance was indeed excellent. However, Kilgrave is definitely not a simple character that does not exist and entertain people when they’re “Netflix and chilling”. There are hundreds and hundreds of Kilgrave destroying the minds of men and women every day – and there are no Jessica Jones to save them. The “Kilgrave Syndrome” has a real name: these are manipulators.

                 In France, we call them “les pervers manipulateurs”, but there is no official term in English to talk about this kind of people. However, “manipulators” seems to be a perfect word to describe their methods. According to Isabelle Nazare-Aga, author of Manipulateurs parmi nous (Manipulators among us, 1997), they represent 3% out of the population. Like Kilgrave, they master the art of perversion and mental abuse by powerfully controlling their victims in the name of love. That is why Kilgrave pretends to love Jessica Jones more than anything to justify his murders, numerous acts of violence and mental torture particularly when he forced her to kill Luke Cage’s wife, which explains why our favourite super-heroine lost confidence in herself. They want their victims to self-doubt so that their power takes over the person’s mind successfully. They become more and more dependent of manipulators and think they only exist in their gaze. No matter what Jessica Jones does, she cannot help being constantly afraid of facing Kilgrave and to share her life with him again. It is also important to add that manipulators can take different forms: parents, lovers, friends, teachers, boss… Conversely, manipulators are extremely versatile – the most important criteria remains to have built a close relationship with the victim.

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          It is understandable: manipulators always choose the same type of person such as someone looking for affection and love, nice and generous souls or people in a difficult situation. Jessica Jones had lost her parents in a car accident and Kilgrave appeared as the stereotypical rich and sexy man that could save her from her fears. Why? Probably because they are extremely easy to manipulate. Above all, manipulators are cowards. Remember how Kilgrave is terrified by Jessica’s rebellion at the end of the TV show? They won’t fight against a strong personality. Once you’ll discover that their kryptonite is your freedom, they’ll just run away – escaping again and again their own responsibilities and will probably ghost their partner.

         However, most people do not perceive that they are prisoners of manipulators. The pressure of love, friendship, parenthood and work make them forget that they are victims of a psychological phenomenon that is rather common. When they realize the problem, they understand how much the relationship was toxic and unhealthy. But sometimes, it’s too late – and victims suffer all their lives and feel guilty. And if he was right ? And if I was truly mad ? Truly stupid ? Maybe I’m mean. I’m bad. It shows manipulators still have a strong power on their victims – even after a potential break-up. In France, manipulators are today more and more recognized by the law and can be punished for what they do such as harassing text messages or suspicious attitudes.

         Like Jessica Jones, the only way to fight against manipulators is to be free again. That is why it is essential to talk about it, to express what we feel if we are developing this kind of relationship with someone – a therapist, a member of the family, friends. So be a super-heroine/super-hero and have your say about this cause. Some words are even sometimes better than magic powers, aren’t they?

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[Raise Your Voice] Miles released a new Surviveika song and I feel like it’s Eden

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   Click here to discover Surviveika’s new song!

           Yesterday, Miles Peckover released a new song “Eden” from his musical graphic novel piece named Surviveika. The waiting was worth it as this new song is simply spectacular – both musically and visually. While listening to Miles’s iconic voice, vintage footage appears as if you dived into some Allen Ginsberg’s fantasies. Miles has proven that Surviveika is definitely a hybrid piece that mixes many subjects and types of art. I was truly surprised to imagine the characters in every situation he describes even if I could not see them in the clip – that’s why linking both a graphic novel and a song is an interesting idea.

         While the music is diverse, the lyrics are powerful and tell you a story about two young people who try to survive and to find their own Eden.

 

Well it must have been the dopamine,

The thrill to be alive

But I didn’t feel

The need to say

I knew that we’d survive

 

         The thrill to be alive, the lust for life – these subjects are particularly striking throughout the clip. You can easily imagine two young adults who discover a whole new world, deciding to take the car and to drive far away from what they fear. Miles describes all the steps that we have to cross to become adults – but above all, the characters still seem childlike, enjoying every moment on the rooftop, counting the stars in the sky.

Then night arrived in an evening dress,

With stars around her neck

         However, these two young adults have to face the world and its wars. A genuine high-speed chase is taking place – and the characters have to drive in order to survive. They have to run : “All I know is run, we should.” And escaping is never easy – except if you decide to build everything up again.

We’ve gotta put this war behind us.

And fix another Eden in our sights.

         This clip shows that Miles’s world is full of poetry – and his sense of rhythm and imagery make Surviveika stronger. All I can tell you is that this song is pure Eden – and appears still as a mysterious quest for freedom that you should follow as well.

If you want to know more and to follow Miles’ project :

Twitter

Instagram: @surviveika

 

Shoreditch : a museum of street art

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      There is something absolutely amazing about Shoreditch. While walking, you’ll suddenly find a wonderful piece of art on a wall. It is like an open-door museum where artists are free to express themselves within the streets. You can’t help but stop and look at these huge and colorful sections of wall that tell stories.

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          There are no boundaries in Shoreditch as windows and doors become another way to create. You can explore different types of street art: from serious subjects to portraits, landscapes and probably more personal paintings related to a part of the artist’s life (tributes to dead friends for example).

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         Shoreditch is an art revolution. While some consider street art to be vulgar, the works in Shoreditch show how meaningful this medium can be. It dismantles prejudices and stereotypes, raising this type of art to the precious and well-considered art of painting. A “freer” version of painting because these pieces are not prisoners of museums. Everybody can take time to appreciate them, to laugh at caricatures or simply to get involved in their stories. From Spitalfields to Brick Lane, there are so many street art pieces that you may be surprised to see in even isolated streets. They are everywhere – sometimes hidden like if it were a secret invitation to explore this unique journey to art.

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London calling to the faraway towns: what I learnt about my cultural identity as a British culture enthusiast

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           I am a child of the Mediterranean coast. A French girl, born in Aix-en-Provence, a lovely and sunny town in the south of France. Yet, I also have Spanish and Italian origins. As a result, I have been raised in a family which values the Latin culture. Of course, my cultural identity is composed of different European cultures, and I feel very lucky to “come from” all of these amazing countries. I learnt these languages at school (my family surprisingly does not speak any of these languages as they have been extremely influenced by their French heritage) and I can still understand them perfectly. I then became passionate about another language… What happens when you fall in love with another culture and that it slowly becomes an important part of your life? I picture the English language as being the sexy guy who makes you forget about your husband: you cannot resist him and you just fly away from your well-ordered existence in order to discover new, exciting adventures. This is London Calling… and I have listened to this song for minutes, hours, days, months and years…

        My love for the English language was first sparked when I was a little girl. My mum had always appreciated British culture and she wanted me to learn the language perfectly before going to school. She used to buy copies of “Disney’s Magic English” videos and  “Vocable ” books (a children’s magazine for learning English). Yet in reality, she never “forced” me to become interested in this language. I was naturally attracted to this culture and kept listening and reading all the time, repeating each word until I could reproduce the “perfect” British accent. As soon as I returned to school after the holidays, I asked my teacher to find me a British penpal. I cannot explain why, but my life was subsequently cut in two parts as I would speak French with my family and English with my friends. Indeed, there was an international class in my high school and there, I made friends with British and American people. Although I could not express myself very well without a heavy French accent (which is why they called me “Frenchie”), I tried to improve my skills by working harder to master the language, and getting help from my friends was very useful. I was hungry to learn more words and more expressions in order to fully communicate with my pals. It was rather frustrating to not be able to say what I would have expressed easily in French, and these “silent ” moments were a bit embarrassing. However, I was conscious that I needed more time to get immersed in this interesting culture – and practice makes perfect, doesn’t it ?

         I studied English every day – from school to university. Learning a language is a daunting task. Don’t expect to stay in your bed with some Doritos while watching Netflix series with French subtitles. The most challenging thing was to push myself to stop thinking in French. It hardly works and your sentences will sound like a strange mix of Franglais with questionable grammar structure. I believe it is definitely the hardest part of the whole process. Moreover, as someone who is passionate about literature, I have also always been keen on understanding the subtle meaning of words. The English language is full of compelling expressions and words which have a variety of connotations. When you think about it, “to love”, “to like” and “to enjoy” all mean “aimer” in French while in English, you use them in different contexts to create different meanings– and this is what I find magical about this language. I aspire to become a journalist in England because my dream has always been to be able to speak the language as perfectly as these amazing people I hear on the radio and to have an English writing style as smooth as possible.

          Nevertheless, the language is not the only part of the “British culture package” that I admire. Studying English all the time was not the only way to extend my knowledge for my future career. Travelling around England also remained a vital opportunity to explore more vigorously the culture. I travelled a lot in eastern England between the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2017. I can agree with what many people have always told me: the best way to learn a language is to purchase a plane ticket and to live in the country. I stayed in Norwich City for several months, and found that my interactions with locals were completely different from my expectations. I needed to adapt to this culture – even when it came to finer details such as ordering “mushy peas” with your chips (and not to say “french fries”), putting milk in your tea (or coffee…), watching Jamie Oliver’s healthy cooking shows (and Rick Stein’s famous food tours), enjoying a curry before  several drinks in a pub, eating a mince pie for Christmas (it’s not made of meat and is quite sugary!), or being able to name all the supermarkets brands (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Marks & Spencer etc)… I could not speak French as it is pretty rare to find people who can express themselves fluently in my mother tongue, so this was a challenging period of my life where my perception of the British culture changed. The more I got involved in events, tours, parties, festivals, art exhibitions, meetings, the closer I felt to the British people. I think it was funny to see a regular French girl eating some fish and chips in Cromer or walking around Aldeburgh – although I was pleased to find a “L’Occitane” shop there! I thus learnt many things about British culture in the east of England. However, I gained another perspective when I visited London.

        London is my favourite city and is considered the cradle of multiculturalism. Many French people live alongside many other nationalities. While running to catch the metro, you can easily jostle a Pakistani guy, a Polish girl or a Spanish child. People from all around the world live in London – which makes this city even more fascinating. Going to London made me realize that there was not “one British identity”. I could hear many different accents – consequently, many different ways of speaking English. The language became suddenly versatile and open to transformations, intonations, tones, new words and expressions… This led me to think of my origins – which I had deliberately put aside in order to absorb as much as British culture as I could. However, the fact remains that I’m French, and I’m proud to be French. I also have Spanish and Italian blood – and I’m proud of that as well. I love British culture, and although I don’t come from the U.K, I feel like I have built my own British identity through the years by moving to London and studying and working there as a journalist. I remember that someone once told me I could never be a broadcast journalist in England because of my accent. If that’s the case, could this person explain to me why there are so many beautiful accents that resonate throughout London? As far as I’m concerned, the diversity of my Latin background constituted a genuine advantage to integrate into British culture. Indeed, it is not about where you come from but how you contribute to the country to make it stronger, and diversity is what makes London an attractive city. It dismantles the borders and gives everybody a chance to play their part in the culture.

           To be honest, I have never loved my enthusiastic French accent as much as I do now, and I hope that I’ll be able to add a je ne sais quoi to your language.

 

 

Why X + Y is one of the best movies about Asperger’s Syndrome that I have ever seen

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             X +Y, also known in the U.S as A Brillant Young Mind, is a 2014 British drama directed by Morgan Matthews, Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins. Inspired by the documentary Beautiful Young Minds and by the life of the mathematical genius Daniel Lightwing, the movie focuses on Nathan Ellis, a young man suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome who enters a mathematics competition at Cambridge University. While his mental illness causes him to struggle emotionally, he strives to understand the world around him.

            Nowadays, it is true that Asperger’s Syndrome is considered an inspiring subject for many writers and directors. Indeed, pop culture is building some stereotypes about this mental illness which affects many people in the world, even if there are still many mysteries surrounding the spectrum. From Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) to Sherlock (BBC’s Sherlock), the typical Aspergers man is perceived as a self-centered genius that cannot communicate with the others. However, is this representation true? Let’s face it. Not only is this portrayal completely romanticized, but it also makes it impossible to dissociate the myth from the reality. I absolutely think it contributes to feeding the audience with preconceived ideas about a mental illness that is unfortunately rather difficult to understand. Even if there are some advantages to cast Aspie (a word which means “someone with Aspergers”) characters, they should not be the heirs of the mad genius’s myth that came accross the nineteenth century. Do you like Sheldon and Sherlock? Fine. Ultimately, if you want to support Aspies, don’t get mad at the young man or woman who wants to find a job and struggles during an interview. Don’t laugh at these people’s reactions, conversations and whatever. You should open your eyes and see that people with Aspergers are not only fictional characters on TV. Asperger’s Syndrome is different for each person – and that is why it is extremely difficult to diagnose.

            However, I have been pleasantly surprised by watching X + Y. This movie tends to challenge the stereotypes concerning people with Aspergers. At the beginning of the movie, Nathan Ellis seems to be a genius: he enjoys mathematics, he has a private professor with advanced courses and he is selected to take a difficult test at Cambridge University. However, Nathan is not the best student in his class. As the professor in Taiwan states, Nathan’s results were rather disappointing. While he is not interested in his peers, particularly not his mother, he falls in love with Zhang Mei, a girl he met during his two-week math camp in Taiwan. If you have seen movies such as Adam, by Max Mayer, you will realize that someone with Aspergers cannot fully integrate into society and, above all, cannot fully immerse themselves in a relationship. That is why I did not like Adam despite Hugh Dancy’s impressive performance. It did not give the autistic character a chance to have a “ happy ending”, while X + Y’s director, Morgan Matthews, gives Nathan Ellis an opportunity to face his illness in order to live a “normal” life.

            In addition to this, I am certain that the other interesting characters that take part in Nathan’s adventures also help to spread another perception of Asperger’s Syndrome. All charactes are somewhat “broken” too. There are no “villains” in X + Y, instead there are human beings trying to fight their personal issues. Martin Humphreys, his private professor and Julie Ellis, his mother, are both particularly touching. Martin appears as a fatherly and comforting figure who supports Nathan in order to make him reach his goals while Julie embodies the unconditional mother’s love. What’s more, Zhang Mei plays a key role in Nathan’s life as she is both his friend and his lover. She awakens him to physical and emotional feelings as demonstrated in the “kiss scene” shows. This large palette of characters has an impact on the way Morgan Matthews draws on some compelling features of Asperger’s Syndrome. However, if you look further, the director extends his thought by pointing out a social question: how can being different affect us? Aren’t we all different? Nathan is not the only character to be deemed as “different”. Martin Humphrey lost control of his own body because of sclerosis. Julie is a lonely widow. Zhang Mei, who has been taught all her life to dedicate herself to work, falls in love for the first time and chooses to give up the competition when her uncle discovers she has feelings for Nathan. Although they certainly do not fit in our society’s ridiculous models, they all find what they have been looking for since the beginning.

            Even the minor characters in the film are “different” from the norms and aim to question their place within society. For example, Luke Shelton, another autistic teenager taking part in the competition, is the hero of a powerful scene when he learns that he is not selected to take the exam in Cambridge. Later, Nathan finds him alone in the bathroom cutting his wrist. Luke explains that being a genius was his only way to exist as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome person and that now, he could only be considered a “weird”person: “It’s alright being weird as long as you’re gifted. But if you’re not gifted, then…That just leaves weird.” Once again, this moving moment constitutes an incredible revelation to all of the Aspies you can find in pop culture: if you aren’t a mysterious, intelligent young man with memorable punchlines, you’re just an “odd” person.

            X + Y celebrates the minds of autistic peoples Nathan himself says : “I find any communication of a non-mathematical nature very difficult. Because I don’t talk much, people think I don’t have anything to say or that I’m stupid. Or, that’s not true. I have lots of things to say.” It is not about creating a fake universe and pretending to put forward people with Aspergers as a charitable gesture. It is about revealing every side of the spectrum – regardless of whether it is “good” or “bad”. That is why Nathan can be as fascinating as well as irritating – particularly when he treats his mother badly. Yet you cannot help but sympathise with him because it is part of how his brain works.

            In reality, the whole movie is about facing our fate and fighting against our fears. Even if Nathan is different from his peers, he does not want to be defined as a man with Aspergers but rather as a human being. That is why I really love the final scene of X + Y. Nathan realizes he neveranted to win the competition in order to fit in the “autistic genius” stereotype. Nathan runs away and expresses his feelings about love to his mother for the first time. He starts to cry when he talks about his dead father and hugs Julie. At the end of the movie, Nathan communicates with his mother by showing different expressions: laughing, crying, smiling and by showing a strong physical connection to her by holding her in his arms. The last scene of the movie exposes Nathan and Zhang Mei together in a train hugging. Where will the train lead them? Where will they go? The “ train ” is often associated with Asperger’s Syndrome as something that most of Aspies are interested in. However, in this case, Nathan is not alone in the train. The shot emphasizes both Nathan and Zhang Mei laughing and being happy.

            I see this movie as a positive interpretation of Asperger’s Syndrome and a tribute to those who feel they are “ odd ”. I would even go further by asserting that X + Y is a progressive movie about Aspergers as it portrays the condition as a social problem rather than a mental illness. That’s why it gives an idea of love and hope that could help considerably people on the spectrum to feel more integrated in society. It could even help them realize that they can love and be loved in return. No matter who you are, you’ll always find your own path. We should all remember this beautiful lesson.

Why my great grand-mother is my favourite super-heroine

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         All little girls have a favorite super-heroine. That’s why pop culture is full of interesting female characters to whom you can relate. From Disney Princesses to Marvel comic characters, we all have admired a heroine because of her physical appearance, personality or powers. Society shows us different figures of women through a wide range of media such as books, movies, TV shows, advertisement and more recently, the Internet. I would argue that our society is a “society of images” where we are constantly confronted with a myriad of representations of women. It seems like Platon’s famous cavern could easily be applied today as we are heavily influenced by what we see – and it can be either bad either good. Therefore, I feel little girls need to find a role model. Most of the time, they are attracted to fictional characters as heroines take part in extraordinary adventures. Let’s not forget the « marketing » approach of them: Disney, for instance, developed the “Disney Princesses” brand in order to sell many types of products such as dresses, toys and dolls with different colors for each princess. This crystalizes the idea of “role model” or “favourite heroine” that nurtures the creativity of young girls. It is also important to mention that heroines evolved through years and have become stronger than before. Again, this is demonstrated in Disney’s movies. There is a significant change in the way we see women nowadays. Moana, for instance, appears as a feminist heroine who does not need a man to travel around the ocean and defeats a massive monster all by herself – which is way better than “whistling while you work” like Snow White, isn’t it ?

         And I suppose you are all curious to know who is my favorite heroine. Although I love Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and have dedicated one full year to studying this fairytle for my Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature, she is not who I consider to be my favourite heroine. Indeed, my favourite heroine is not a fictional character, but someone who existed and who was a member of my family: my great grand-mother, Marie-Jeanne. I have never had the chance to know her as she died before I was born. However, my grand-mother enjoyed talking about her mother’s adventures during World War II when I was little. Consequently, Marie-Jeanne was like a super-heroine from a novel or a movie to me. I must point out that she looked like a Hollywood actress – and that is why it is almost difficult to imagine that she was like you or me: red lips, subtle eye-liner, lovely short brown hair and these incredible brows that you’ll never get even if you make an appointement each day at Benefit’s Brow Bar. Marie-Jeanne was a mix of Greta Garbo’s mystery look and Marlene Dietrich’s strong features. She was also a “fashion addict” who created her own dresses and was particularly keen on hand bags. Not only was she extremely beautiful, but she was enough brave to defy German soldiers.

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         Yes. Marie-Jeanne was not your average French beauty that you could watch in a black and white Jean Cocteau movie. Conversely, you could maybe see her in a little house in the middle of the scary “provencal” forests near Aix-en-Provence, staying silent because she was regurlarly threatened by the curfew or encountering Nazis. And I want to emphasize this dominant feature of her personality because it is what characterizes her the most. When the Germans soldiers started to invade the South of France during World War II, Marie-Jeanne was married to a Spanish immigrant, my great grand-father, Marcel, who is also a war hero. She had four children and worked for British and American soldiers by designing their army outfits. Marie-Jeanne had so much work to do that she used to sew until late at night – Marcel would stay by her side, reading her books so she would not fall asleep. I am sure she looked unflappable albeit slightly anxious. Marie-Jeanne knew her family was in danger and remained conscious of France’s desperate situation. Nevertheless, her children and her husband were more important to her than her own fears.

         When Marcel was made prisoner by the Germans for being part of the Resistance, Marie-Jeanne realized she had to fight alone for her family and her freedom. Each night, she resisted the curfew and ran through le Montaiguet (a huge hill between Aix-en-Provence and Gardanne, a little town in the South of France) in order to exchange some cigarettes for meat to feed her family. This particular passage of my great grand-mother’s life greatly inspired me. I can just imagine this little woman, lost in the darkness of the night, struggling through the scary forests where the tree branches looked like human arms trying to grab at her legs. She would fall on the ground, tearing up her tights and classy skirt. Yet, she would stand up, pushing the branches away, looking straight ahead and everything around her would disappear. They could attack her. They could say she was just a weak “ little French woman”, but Marie-Jeanne would still run, face the rain, the coldness, the terryfing noises you could hear in the moutains and any other unforeseen threat. For instance, one day, she got caught by Marcel’s best friend who threatened that he would tell everything to the Germans if she did not give him meat. To the seven-year old me, Marie-Jeanne would always defeat the wicked trees and the “villains” because she was strong and fearless.

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         As I grew older and started to understand my role in society as a woman, I further realized why Marie-Jeanne embodied the perfect super-heroine figure. She is an inspiring “character” because she is not a “character” at all. Marie-Jeanne was a real person who lived through a difficult time period. She had many issues and her situation was certainly not the easiest. I admire her because every woman could relate to her – even if we don’t live in the fifties anymore. Marie-Jeanne never claimed to be an extraordinary super-heroine. She had no powers and did not fly in the sky like a French Wonder Woman. She also cannot be compared to Hollywood stars either as she was not a famous actress that we could still watch on TV today. Her entire life is based on unfortunate but true events – they are not a part of a drama. So, who remembers Marie-Jeanne’s bravery today ? Who knows her name ? Most of my cousins don’t even care about her. I have only been able to keep her ring and some photos thanks to my grand-mother. The sad reality is that Marie-Jeanne’s stories seem to have faded for some members of my family. They simply dismiss the fact that Marie-Jeanne was a feminist who contributed to what we know today as the “girl power”. She dismantled every cliché people had about women in the fifties. Certainly, you would not find my great grand-mother in an advertisement for household appliances with a big fake smile on her face and a man giving her orders. If Marie-Jeanne was capable of slaying the game in a sexist society, I am pretty sure that women today could follow her path. There are many wonderful women that we don’t know about whom surround us. Devoted mothers, amazing wives, brave labourers, intelligent businesswomen, inspiring artists… I thus realized how much Marie-Jeanne influenced me in my childhood, in my teenage years and even today as a young woman. She played a key-role in introducing me to feminism. It has always been clear in my mind that I am a woman and society will always try to shape my body, my ideas and my mind to preconceived disgraceful standards.

         There is a lot of « maybe » in Marie-Jeanne’s story. My grand-mother does not remember every detail about her – she even told me that Marie-Jeanne was rather mysterious. Although I never had the chance to share a cup of coffee with her (a cup of coffee without sugar as she apparently hated it!), I am under the impression I have always known her, that she never left this world. It’s like I was in front of a movie watching this woman running in this horrid forest, falling on the ground, her knee bleeding through her black tights. And she would stand up. And she would face German soldiers, loneliness, and life. And I would be there. In the same setting. She would look at me, smiling and would take my hand. I would follow her into the dense dark fields of Provence, fearing the wicked trees, crying a little bit when I would hear a noise. And then, I would understand that I had a duty, a goal. I needed to get out of this hell – no matter what. And I would walk by her side until she would let me go. I think this is what she would like. An independent young woman, walking alone in this declining society and still finding a way to be in the spotlight.

         Marie-Jeanne never died. She still lives on my heart and in my story – like an eternal figure of heroism.

 

[Raise Your Voice] « Surviveika » : When a pen meets a guitar, when a man meets an artist.

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             I’ve always been passionate about art. When I was little, writing already appealed to me and when I grew older, photography was the natural continuation of my words and stories. I like the fact you can play with different types of art, creating links between them which give birth to a « mutant » piece of art – something quite unique, making you remember how much each human being is different and how much their unique experiences of life can communicate a powerful message about this world.

          I met Miles Peckover in the most ordinary way. I was researching some artists for my university project when I found his blog « Surviveika ». The title attracted me and it is the first thing you will see and remember. On the blog, I found something quite unique. Some photographs of drawings, some notebooks,some pens on a old wood table and a poster with two young characters in a On The Road style. The caption told me that it was set in a post-nuclear America. In this picture, the characters have deep human features. They both seem alive, even though the young woman is asleep. She seems to move while the young man is driving – his eyes are tired, concerned and hypnotized by the road. He doesn’t want to have an accident. Miles’s drawings fed my imagination. What’s going to happen? What are they doing?  Who are they? And why do I seem to know them already ? It feels like I was on the road with him and I was talking to him : « Please, be careful on the road. You’re too tired. Where are we going? Do you think we will survive? »At the same time, Miles plays with each element which surrounds you :« Surviveika » is not only a graphic novel. It is something I would qualify as a« musical novel » as music underpins every adventure of these characters. I was more and more intrigued by the fact that everything still seemed mysterious.

Miles didn’t give a lot of details on the blog. On the contrary, the sense of mystery gives such an incredible consistency to this new concept that it made me even more curious to talk about it with the author. I contacted Miles through Facebook. I introduced myself hoping to know more about his project and his artistic method. Miles answered with enthusiasm and we decided to meet each other on Skype for an interview. It is always quite interesting to meet an author. I’m always curious about how they would look, how they would interact. I remember that Patrick Modiano, for instance, is quite shy for someone who can express so much through his writing. I discovered through the webcam that Miles was a young man around my age. I could read on his face that the years had built in him a deep personality. It was easy to talk with him as he is as passionate about art as I am. His words made sense to me, and above all, I’m pretty sure his ideas cristallized slowly after years of thinking about art. I would say Miles is a « real » artist – you can’t imagine him being someone else than a person who feels the strong and captivating essence of art deep inside of him. It’s a quite different quality from fake intellectuals who enjoy talking for hours about theories they learnt through critics. It’s way more than that. He is an artist who is concerned with how culture can challenge in justice and unite each human being, to show that we should love.

              Because« Love » is the word that he pronounced the most. An artist loves deeply – not only her/his muse, but people in general. And this is what you can already feel about « Surviveika ». In a political context where humanity is split up, where differences are underlined while they should be considered as a gift, Miles is still hopeful to show that art is the key to meet each other. Miles explained in detail how he works and that he wants to dismantle the common stereotype about artists : that they are lazy. For him, artists work in anascetic way. It looks a bit like what James Joyce describes in his Ulysses – artists are inspired by this figure as his quest always leads him to something new which challenges his perspectives. And this is exactly what Miles wants to reach: he questions the way the artist interacts with the world around her/him in both a political and symbolic way. The artist is an observer who uses her/his magical glasses to see a world in 4D. Her/his perception is uniquely over-stimulated by all what she/he feels and sees. Also, there is an auto-reflexive sense of thinking in Miles’s work. What are the limits of art? What is my limit as an artist? The more I was talking to Miles, more I understood that he doesn’t want to confine himself in this way – he just wants to do what « he likes ». He enjoys illustration so why not draw characters and a whole universe ? He enjoys making music so why not create songs to express the experiences of his characters? Miles defies the « rules » and the « norms » our society has produced. His thoughts make me think of Jean Cocteau’s famous line where he explains that artists have no rules. Above all, I was touched by the fact I could interact with Miles not only as an artist, but also as as a young man full of dreams who made me travel through his incredible imagination. After all, imagination is a way to create, but as well a way to share. And this idea of sharing and giving is what I want to remember from this interview. When you create a piece of art, you have a nice conversation with a reader, a public. A « mirror-conversation ». A deep echo that you find in yourself and that show you that you have a lot of things to learn and to enjoy in life. And even if « Surviveika » is inspired by events which cross our generation – and those are not always sweet, it still remains an adventure you would like to take part in. Take a seat, open your eyes and yoursoul. Let the music begin.

To listen to Miles’s music, click here!

If you want to know more and to follow Miles’ project, you can follow him :

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Instagram: @surviveika