Grimes, Cuteness, and Selfie Culture

grimes2LR

Last fall, inconnu had Crush Week around the same time I saw Grimes perform in our mutual hometown, Vancouver. It was an exceptional performance, with Elite Gymnastics (also from Vancouver) opening. Because she was performing at the renowned Commodore Ballroom, where she recalled seeing many shows as a teenager, the show had a personal touch. She also made a special shout out to her mom, who was watching her daughter from somewhere at the back of the venue over the heads of sweaty people and the smell of weed; since her mom is a well-known Vancouver city councillor, this was as funny as it was sweet.

Grimes is one of the most compelling performers imaginable – she’s cute and awkward and real, and also brilliant and in-control. I could watch her for hours. “I have a girl crush on her,” I gushed after we had left. I’d taken several blurry photos of her on stage and another of my friend holding a rose that Elite Gymnastics had given him with the intention of making a post for inconnu about my newest girl crush. I lost my camera cord and then midterms happened; I wrote 4 painful linguistics exams and nothing about Grimes.

Then this past spring she wrote a post on her personal Tumblr in which she turned my praise of her on its head and made me adore her more, but in a different way: in the way that she wanted.

I believe this is an important feminist message: women should be seen as they want to be seen, not as others, or, in particular, as men see them. There was an episode of CBC Radio’s The Current earlier this year about selfies, in which an argument for selfies was that girls and women can be seen exactly how they want to be seen. We can choose the angle and the filter and the medium through which we share it. This argument is comforting if you’ve ever seen a photo of yourself that you didn’t like and were told “but that’s actually how you look!” when it just wasn’t how you wanted to look. It’s also the truth. Untag the photos you don’t want and Instagram the ones you do. There is nothing wrong with that.

With this in mind, I read her post carefully, and I found that I related to her asking to be seen how she wants to be seen. She starts her post by stating that she doesn’t want her words to be taken out of context. That she doesn’t want to be infantilized because she refuses to be sexualized. That she is tired of the insistence that she needs a band or that she needs to work with outside producers. (She performs alone and produces her own work.) That she doesn’t want to be belittled because she likes pop music or fashion. That she is tired of being referred to as cute, “even when the author, fan, friend, family member, etc. is being positive.” These are the statements that resonated with me, especially the last one, because I called her cute when I saw her, and I also completely understand where she’s coming from in renouncing cuteness.

“Cute,” as she defines it, means being attractive because of smallness or prettiness or preciousness. We should be able to choose adjectives like we choose selfies. Cute isn’t necessarily a negative word – I have never felt offended for being called cute, which is probably the reason I didn’t think twice about attributing it to Grimes. Still, if someone feels that being called cute implies docility and creates unwanted sexualization, we should respect that. She is more than just a girl crush for me now; I found that her thoughts resonated with me like those of Virginia Woolf and Lorrie Moore and many others have before. And this makes sense, as the people we love and adore are often the ones who inform and influence us the most.

Also, I’ve been listening to Genesis on repeat while working (typing), and I highly recommend it.

Art by Emma.

Editor’s Note: Emma edited out Grimes’ bindi in this illustration thanks to the astute comment from Eileen Klug. 

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About hannahbellamy

Writer; Arts Fundraiser at the PuSh Festival; SFU Alumna

6 comments

  1. Great article! I love Grimes and totally want to be her best friend. :P

  2. Eileen Klug

    I love this article, and I agree that Grimes should totally be respected for her views and seen the way she wants to be seen. But I think it is offensive to use art of her that protrays her wearing a bindi or bindi-like jewelry when she’s blogged in the past about how she regrets wearing them.

    • That’s a very good point, especially in light of the fact that this is an article about how Grimes wishes to be perceived. We will say that the artist, Emma, had drawn this a while ago (though we’re unsure whether it was drawn prior to Grimes’ statement), and also that, regardless of her regrets about wearing the bindi, she did wear it.

      Still, you’re right. The image was a poor choice for a piece on Grimes and her attempts to exert control over how she’s perceived. We hadn’t considered the implications of that before we decided to post it. Thanks for your feedback!

    • etrithart

      Hi Eileen! This is Emma, the artist of the piece. Thank you so much for pointing this out! As stated below this was an older piece that I based on references from several photos of Grimes, including some where she was wearing the bindi. I saw that post she made about wearing them and totally blanked on the fact that I had created an image using similar jewelry. Usually I’m pretty sensitive about these things, so it was definitely a screw up on my part!

      I’ve e-mailed an updated piece to Inconnu, hopefully they’ll be able to replace it! Again, thank you for pointing this out, I’m updating my website with the new version of the piece as well.

      p.s. I know Grimes is mostly vegetarian/vegan, so in my brain that’s a faux fur stole ;-D

  3. Judith Jones

    lovely article!

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