dressing badly is the best revenge: Cassie & unkemptness

Josh and I recently had a conversation about Cassie from Skins–well it was mostly me rambling to him about something he said a few months ago on the topic of whether Cassie drastically changes between series one and two of the show, as some fans claim. I posted parts of the conversation on I’m Somewhere Else under the title cassie ainsworth & redemption rejection. Basically, Cassie is a character with psychiatric disabilities–in series one, she starves herself and attempts suicide twice, and in series two, she’s depressed and expresses this with reckless behavior and cruelty toward her friends; and the way she talks and reacts to things is consistently odd throughout the show.

During the airing of series one, in which Cassie comes off as angelic and adorably quirky, she was a very popular character. A lot of fans reacted to series two by saying that Cassie had become a really nasty person after breaking up with her boyfriend, and her character had been ruined. When I watched S2 I originally found the change in Cassie to be confusing, but Josh’s opinion is that Cassie doesn’t really change dramatically. He thinks that “different parts of her are being zoomed in on.” When I thought about this more, I became interested in the idea that Cassie is “covering” for her disability in S1 by playing up an endearing persona and trying to please people, and in S2 she drops this act or is no longer able to maintain it, and openly expresses her sadness and anger.

One of the most well-known scenes in Skins is the scene in 1×02 in which Cassie shows Sid how she tricks people into thinking she’s eating. You can watch it here, but to summarize, it basically proves what I’m saying about Cassie’s S1 behavior being an act. “You have to do a lot of talking. I’m good at talking…You’re not quite sure what I’m on about but I keep distracting you.” Earlier in the episode, the cab driver who understands Cassie tells her, “Don’t give me the smile. Not that smile.” So from very early in the show Cassie’s persona and her smile are set up as being false. In S2 when she stops smiling so convincingly and her strangeness isn’t adorable anymore, this isn’t a change as much as a revelation of who she really was all along.

What does this have to do with clothes? Well, I was going to write about Cassie here eventually because just like everyone else in the Skins fandom, I love how she dresses. But I noticed that her clothes change between S1 and S2 and I thought this was interesting because it kind of goes with how her personality changes. I also think it’s interesting in terms of fandom reaction–most people love S1 Cassie, and most people who love Cassie’s clothes love her S1 clothes.

Cassie’s style at its best is sort of high-femme/fairy-tale-ish, and in her most iconic scenes from a fashion perspective, her hairstyle, clothes, and makeup are really creative, complex, and neatly pulled off. Most of the really cool outfits are from S1. I’m not saying that Cassie never dresses up in S2, but quite often in S2 she wears more casual outfits, and she often looks downright unkempt. She also doesn’t look as clean and her roots are super long. I think these things are intentional touches, given the importance that clothing has always been given in Skins.

In both of Cassie’s centric episodes, we see her getting ready in the morning. In 1×02 she wakes up at Michelle’s house, reapplies her lipstick before she leaves, goes home, and changes into a new outfit and hairstyle, which looks very put-together and neat. I forget if the lunch table scene with Sid is the next day, but if it’s the same day, she actually changes her outfit twice in one day. 2×09 starts with Cassie awake in the morning wearing a pajama t-shirt; she gets dressed to go take her exam by putting on another and skirt, and we see that she doesn’t change her underwear, change her hair (which looks kind of messy), or fix her makeup before leaving.

This is kind of a big change. What does it mean?

On the one hand someone might say that it a stereotype for people with mental illness to be unkempt, and that because Cassie is “worse” in S2, she looks more stereotypically mentally ill and doesn’t take care of her appearance. But I would argue that Cassie isn’t worse in S2. What I think is interesting is that…well, let’s look at Cassie’s really put-together “looks” that people are forever making polyvore pages about, and examine what is actually going on with Cassie at those times.

I don’t have time to do this with pictures but I will later because I’m no more immune to Cassie’s fantastic outfits than anyone else is and I want to do a picspam. But without pictures, here’s what I’m saying:

In 1×01, she looks awesome. She overdoses. In her episode, 1×02, in which she constantly tries to trick people into thinking that she’s eating and gaining weight when she isn’t, she looks adorable in 3 different very neat/cute outfits. I can’t get a really clear screencap of her outfit in the last scene where she talks to the taxi driver and eats something, but her hair is a little messier and she’s wearing a big sweatshirt. In 1×05, she wears my absolute favorite ridiculously cool hairstyle and outfit, while yelling at Sid in what looks to me like kind of a manic episode. Later in the episode, she puts on a really nice dress, pins her hair to the side in a really cool way, binges on a lot of food, and then tries to kill herself. In Michelle’s episode…well, can I just say that if I went to visit someone in a clinic after they attempted suicide, I wouldn’t expect them to be wearing a straw hat, lipstick, amazing sunglasses, and the cutest shirt ever, and have their hair curled?

You get the idea.

Now you could be like, “This is just TV Amanda, people always look good on TV,” but I think Skins always portrays the characters’ clothes, makeup, hygiene, eating, etc. very realistically and as indicating a lot of things about what’s going on with them. Besides, Cassie doesn’t have these fantastically impressive outfits and hairstyles in S2. You can see that she has basically the same style, but her hair’s usually down and more messy and her clothes look like she put less thought into them.

So in S2 when Cassie is supposedly ruined as a character according to some people, and doesn’t come off as sweet and angelic anymore, and doesn’t look as cute and well-dressed… well, isn’t it interesting that in S2, Cassie apparently has less severe food issues, and never attempts suicide? Isn’t that kind of interesting that despite looking and acting “worse,” she’s apparently doing better?

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bad brains making bad decisions; or, “The fact that you call making love Pop-Pop proves you’re not ready”

First off, it’s really hard not to write about sex because:

1. The other day I read all the comments in an article about a British guy with an intellectual disability who had been ruled by a judge not to be qualified to have sex. Some of the comments were by people who had worked with people with ID, and were saying things like, “When people with ID have sex, they can’t handle it emotionally and they go from partner to partner and get very upset.”

2. When I was 15 or 16, I read this livejournal flamewar that I’ll always remember. Basically, a woman who was into BDSM, who had kids with autism, suggested that people with autism shouldn’t be doms because they wouldn’t be able to tell if their partners didn’t like what they were doing. Other people said that if this was an issue, the couple should use safewords; the woman replied that she didn’t believe in safewords because you should be able to tell how the other person feels.

What do these two incidents tell us (besides that parents and staff are assholes and should never talk)? Well, one thing that stands out to me is that both people talking are implying that there’s a standard everyone should meet in order to be able to do a certain thing. If you want to have sex, you have to not become distraught by it, or be reckless in entering into affairs and relationships. If you want to be a dom, you have to be able to tell if your partner doesn’t like what you’re doing, without them saying so.

But…for some reason, this standard is only being applied to people with disabilities.* No one is calling for immature and overemotional non-disabled people to be banned from having sex, and presumably the woman who was so concerned about autism and BDSM doesn’t go around telling non-disabled couples that they shouldn’t be doing BDSM if they happen to not be able to read each other’s body language.

(*It should go without saying that I don’t think either of these judgments about developmentally disabled people is true. But even if they were it still wouldn’t be fair.)

By the way I was semi-joking because now I’m going to talk mostly as a staff person, oh noes. During training for my job at summer camp working with adults, we were being given a talk about making sure guys shave, or making sure you shave them if they can’t do it. Our boss said, “Nothing makes me angrier than seeing a person with a disability walking down the street with a stain on their shirt and stubble.”

But nothing makes me angrier than the idea that if a disabled person doesn’t look conventionally put-together, that is a PROBLEM and they’re not receiving adequate support.

Let’s say a disabled guy gets out of bed in the morning and decides not to shave because he’s lazy, or because he thinks stubble looks cool, or because he only shaves when he’s going to be kissing his girlfriend that day (haha, double panic, disabled people who are lazy AND kiss). He puts on a stained shirt because even though it’s stained, it has his favorite movie character on it, or it belonged to his brother who he really likes, or it’s comfortable for someone with his particular sensory issues.

All good decisions. Well, not necessarily good decisions. I personally think stained clothes are 100% gross and would never wear them. But these are decisions that a non-disabled guy might make, and no one would seriously respond with, “Someone ought to be taking better care of him.” Yes, this ties into the privilege checklist.

Dave Hingsburger made a post last week called Offering, respecting…a huge difference, in which he talked about the difference between “offering choices”–i.e., choosing the set of choices a person can choose between–and respecting any choices a person makes. “Relationships, yes … kissing, no; movies, yes … boozing, no; celery, yes … smoking, no.” To me, saying a person can either be cleanshaven or have a beard is offering choices; saying a person can have whatever kind of facial hair they want is respecting choices.

As I was thinking about this I started thinking…well, for me as a staff person there’s probably a limit. I mean, if someone never wanted to brush their teeth I would make that very difficult for them. Which I was thinking made sense, because brushing your teeth is just…well, it’s not just about how you look, you have to do it.

But then I remembered when my friend found out that her non-disabled boyfriend hadn’t brushed his teeth in weeks. Her reaction (and mine) was, “That’s gross,” but neither of us thought that someone else should start making him brush his teeth. I think there’s a very small number of things that non-disabled people could do to get the reaction, “Someone else should be taking care of you because your actions are so incorrect.” Most of the examples I can think of have to do with not eating, self-injury and suicide attempts, and addictions.

One of the commenters on Dave Hingsburger’s post did bring up the issue of people having preferences in the short term that don’t fit into their long-term plans, which I think is important. I just feel weird about brushing teeth now.

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GUESS WHAT?

The article of clothing that originally inspired me to want to write about bad brains wearing clothes has actually arrived at MY house, in a box bearing MY name, as a present from MY mom!!

They look like this:

we are in love with each other.

I always wanted Doc Martens since I was in middle school and read books where the goth characters would always wear them. Sometimes I feel sort of lonely because I look weird (especially when I had blue hair) but I never arrived in a subculture where everyone looked weird in the same way I did, which is what I had expected from these books. Not that I want everyone to look the same, but I wish I could live somewhere where dyeing your hair blue has about the same connotations as dyeing your hair blond.

Anyway.

This isn’t why I got them, but we love each other really bad.

Some potential PERFECT SHOE BAD BRAINS ROMANCE challenges that I am anticipating are:

1. they take a long time to put on, which is importpicture of three colors of saucony jazz sneakersant. For the past six or seven years I have always worn almost exactly the same kind of shoes (almost always the green ones in this picture, but occasionally other colors) because you can put them on your feet without having to unlace them. If you’re extra lazy and your shoes are worn out and muddy like mine usually are, you don’t even have to ever tie or untie them at all unless they come untied while you’re walking, which happens about once a week. I am excited for my new life with Victorian Rose Doc Martens but I feel like I probably won’t be able to put them on without thinking about it a lot, and this could cause a challenge that will derail my process of getting dressed (sort of like how my life is four hundred times better now that I have Sharpies next to my bed so I can write notes to myself on my hands, calendar, and computer as soon as I think of them, instead of having to look for something and getting confused).

2. Shoes have to be tied really tight to feel okay for me, but this looks weird with the Perfect Shoe Romance Shoes. I guess I can just wear jeans that cover the tops of them but part of the reason I wanted them was because I thought they might look better with dresses. Will I have to lose tons of weight or will some other solution arise? NO ONE KNOWS.

hopefully this is the beginning of a beautiful morethanfriendship

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good brains wearing clothes: a good brains style privilege checklist

1. I can wear clothes that don’t match (mismatched patterns, sneakers with a dress, pajamas in the daytime) and people will perceive this as an expression of my style rather than thinking that I don’t know any better, or that my parents or guardians aren’t taking good care of me.

2. I can go outside with messy hair, messy clothes, or a half-grown beard, and people will perceive this as an expression of my style, or lack of caring, rather than thinking that I don’t know any better, or that my parents or guardians aren’t taking good care of me.

3. If I am perceived as female and I don’t shave, people will perceive this as an expression of my politics, or lack of caring, or gender expression, rather than thinking that I don’t know any better, or that my parents or guardians aren’t taking good care of me.

4. If I have a “childish” hairstyle (pigtails or braids, very long hair, a big cloud of curly hair) or if I wear clothes with children’s cartoons on them, people will perceive this as an expression of my sense of humor, aesthetics, or interests, rather than thinking that I am like a child, or that my parents or guardians want me to be a child.

5. If I dress extremely nicely and formally, I don’t feel like this is something I have to do to compensate for my disability.

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“We talk about physics… properties of physics…”


This is Brian Johnson. You guys know Brian, right? The nerd from The Breakfast Club? Well, I’d like you to take a moment to look at his sweatshirt.

The last time I was watching this movie, there was some moment — probably not a very dramatic moment in the narrative of the movie itself — at which I sat up and gasped, disturbing my fellow movie-watchers, having realized that Brian’s sweatshirt is inside-out.

For those who don’t know, inside-out garments are favored among people with sensory processing issues which make them sensitive to touch. Having the seams on the inside, rubbing against the skin, can cause immense discomfort if you are tactile-avoidant.

There are lots of other things that Brian does that make me think he might have a brain disability: he’s literal-minded, obsessive, socially awkward, nerdy. While the other kids scoff at the question “Who do you think you are?” Brian is the only one to actually process and consider it, and it seems to confuse him.

That said, I’m feeling hesitant to call Brian autistic, or generally brain disabled, because he’s such a gigantic stereotype. And I’m hesitant even though I myself fit that stereotype, being an earnest, obsessive, awkward, literal-minded nerd myself. Because it bothers me when people reduce autism to “the geek syndrome” and forget that it has elements besides awkward behavior.

Like sensory issues, for example. Some of us act like Brian sometimes, and some of us don’t. And some of us wear our clothes inside-out.

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when I was 13 I really liked this music video and it induced me to wear hoodies all the time. I guess I didn’t have much of a sense at that age of what was supposed to be normal or attractive, because I remember thinking the girl in the video was uncomplicatedly super hot, whereas now I look at the video and she looks like this:

still from a music video showing a young white woman with long hair and dark eyeliner, with a gray hoodie pulled over her head and smirking

I mean I guess it’s hard to tell from one picture, and obviously the actress is pretty, but the way she moves, looks, and dresses in the video is basically supposed to read as creepy/badbrains I think, and not in a hot way except to my 13-year-old self who wanted to make out with her/wear a hoodie for the rest of my life.

I recommend reading the delightful Wikipedia page for the song which, like many Wikipedia pages, describes its subject in the most earnest way possible.

The video, directed by Francis Lawrence shows a girl in a hoodie, wearing a digital watch, who stares blankly ahead, apparently oblivious to anyone around her, even though she stands in the middle of crowded areas…However, at exactly 10:23 AM, she screams in an extremely shrill voice (which is, like most character dialogue in the video save for the band’s singers, inaudible and subtitled), and screams for exactly one whole minute…This process, according to the video, takes place over the course of three days. At the end of the video, it is revealed that exactly 10:24, all the places featured in the video are abandoned, as if the individuals who beheld the girl in any of these environments, and eventually, the entire city’s populace, had suddenly vanished or were abducted…The message of this song and video encourages people to live life to the fullest, because at any moment it could be over.

This is some clear Bad Brains because of the awesome good times tradition of bad brains people being especially spiritual or having psychic abilities, or being secretly super wise. So the girl in the video would come off as bad brains unless she was basically THE most conventional-looking person in the world, just because of her role in the video. However, there are some aspects of her characterization that are extra obvious bad brains tropes:

*rocks back and forth while repeating 10:24 to herself
*has a “serial killer wall” (that is, a wall that’s completely covered with writing and/or pictures. I didn’t realize this was a thing until I read the Rophy Does JJ Skins recap, but when they described JJ’s wall that way I realized it kind of was a bad brains trope, especially for dangerous bad brains. As a bad brains who has lived for years in places that look like this, I guess I know by now I am the dangerous kind)
*the serial killer wall is covered with Post-it notes with very tiny obsessive-looking writing on them
*doesn’t talk to people
*doesn’t talk at all, except for repeating 10:24
*stands around “obliviously” (according to Wikipedia) in public places
*screams in public places
*does this weird thing where she sort of shakes her hands while she screams
*apparently wears the same clothes every day

when I watch this video as an adult, I can see maybe I should be offended by it, but I just continue to think the girl is super hot and a super cool bad brains. I’m embarrassed by a lot of things I did in middle school, but choosing her as a style icon is not one of them.

picture of me, 22-year-old white girl, wearing a gray ruffly skirt, stockings, a flowered shirt, and a large red hoodie pulled up around my face

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