Cynara Geissler is a triple threat: a pioneer of the fat-fashion blogging scene, an accomplished author and speaker, and a kick-ass cat mom. She also has an impressive collection of feline-adorned apparel (and her darling feline, Autumn, sports an anthropomorphic bowtie). Having recently given a talk at the local launch for the essay collection Women in Clothes, Geissler was the perfect person to converse with about the wonders of felines and femininity and what it means to combine those two elements in apparel.
Megan Jenkins: Hey! Let’s talk a bit about your history in fashion blogging.
Cynara Geissler: Well I started posting outfits of the day in a LiveJournal community called Fatshionista, and it was exclusively about fat people finding fashion. There’s also a Flickr group called Wardrobe Remix, where people post their street style—that inspired me. It was great, because it was people from all over the world, people of all different races, creeds, and financial backgrounds. I was always sort of interested in fashion as a community because you’re inspired by other people around you and your style evolves because you’re pushing yourself. I was never really an individual style blogger for that reason, I prefer to be a part of collective groups, because I see it as sort of an artistic endeavour.
MJ: Could you tell me a bit about your work with Women in Clothes, and other projects that you’re involved in right now?
CG: I’m not actually in the book—which is funny, people just assume I’m in the book—but they invited me to come and just give a talk. So I gave a talk on something that I call “Toddler-Grandma Style.” It’s basically just about how toddlers and grandmas in society are the least viewed through the male gaze; they’re not considered sexy. There’s an episode of Glee where Kurt says, “She manages to dress like a toddler and a grandma simultaneously,” and that’s like, the ultimate insult, right? Because she doesn’t know how to sex herself up for a man, or how to be desirable. So in my talk I said that I think more people should adopt this way of dressing, because we all have these weird internalized rules that I think are mostly about dressing for the male gaze. And I think that when you start dressing outside of that, you just start to have way more fun. People would always say to me, “You can pull that off,” and it would leave me thinking, “Well no, I don’t have a VIP pass or something that allows me to do it. I just do it.”
[I also] just sort of encouraged people to wear a million brooches, or wear more than one print at a time—you don’t always have to be wearing a beige suit. That’s apparently what adult women are supposed to be wearing to be taken seriously.
And the thing about patriarchy is that you’ll never be taken seriously. It’s kind of a loser’s game. There’s this idea that if you’re close to desirable, there’s more to lose, or something like that, but the fact is that there’s always going to be people that will ignore you because you’re a woman. So you might as well dress for yourself, and dress for joy and have fun.
I’m also guest editing the Culture issue of [local magazine] Poetry is Dead, so that’s coming up.
MJ: Would you say that there’s been a rise in popularity of cat apparel and related items that correlates with the influx of YouTube videos?
CG: Yeah definitely, I think the advent of Lolcats especially is tied into the popularity of cat-printed items. It’s great for me, because it used to be hard to source really zany cat prints. I think we’re definitely in a boom for cat clothes, like with laser cats, Keyboard Cat . . . We’ve got a lot of high- powered cats now. Nyan cat, and of course Grumpy Cat, Lil’ Bub. I think it used to be like, Garfield, instead of generic cat prints. I remember there being cats on stuff but it was mostly cartoons, it was not this idea of wearing a realistic cat, which I think was really connected to spinsters. I actually just read an article on how cat imagery was used for suffragettes in Britain, around first wave feminism. Men would compare women to cats to try to infantilize them. So it’s like the existence of cat memorabilia could be found in these little pockets, but now it’s reached critical mass.
I think it could be the tools we have at our disposal now—it’s much easier to take photos, and to circulate them, and at the end of the day, cats are funny, and warm, and they do dumb stuff and try to fit in really small boxes. When I was growing up, I’d never have known about Maru, in Japan, but now we get to enjoy the circulation of images and videos from all over the world.
MJ: Do you think that the cat lady image has been reclaimed?
CG: I do, actually. I think the whole cat image is that you’re supposed to be like a sex kitten, which of course is fine to adopt if you so choose, but then if you’re not a cute cat, you’re a weird cat spinster lady. Like from The Simpsons.
I think Taylor Swift and her kitten Olivia Benson kind of signals a young, cool cat lady and there’s no longer this automatic association with spinsterhood. Now I think we can all sort of joke about it, whereas a few years ago you might have been hesitant to be associated with that at all, at the risk of your dating prospects, you know?
But I don’t think it’s just women who enjoy cat-printed items either now, like Urban Outfitters has put out cat-printed ties and button-ups [for men], so that makes me think that the image is sort of crossing gender lines too. I do think that for a really long time cats were associated with domesticity, and were feminized, while men would go out hunting with their cool hunting dogs. It’s funny to consider how cats have shifted culturally. I think they’re semiotically slippery. Like you have Hemingway Cats, which are associated with masculinity, because Ernest Hemingway had a bunch.
MJ: Is there solidarity in being a cat lady?
CG: Yeah, I think so! Spinsterhood has more pride associated with it now—obviously it comes from a very antiquated, patriarchal idea that if a woman is not married by the age of 22, she’ll just be a burden to her family for the rest of her life. But we’re maybe shifting away from thinking of women as being most valuable when they’re connected to a man, so I think there’s a bit of subversion in the cat lady idea. We’re supposed to feel sorry for the cat lady, but I think that we’ve now accepted that it’s better to be happy, and single, and living as a lone woman than just settling for a crappy dude. Pet love feels very unconditional and uncomplicated in a way that trying to be with a significant other sometimes isn’t.
There’s a reason Swift is sticking with Olivia Benson, just making music and joking about being a man-eater. It’s pretty great. I’m happy if she’s the new poster girl for being a cat lady. I hope that it represents the sort of refusal to settle for a crappy guy just so that you can feel secure or feel bolstered by male approval. I think we all still sort of seek that validation—I think sometimes you’ll appreciate it more when a man compliments you rather than a woman, which shouldn’t be the case. In being a good cat lady then, I think you just have to care more when a cat compliments you. That’s worth way more.
You can follow Cynara’s general bad-assery on her twitter account.
For the full article (and many more fabulous, feline-focused reads), pick up a copy of The Cat Issue (Issue 18), in stores now at participating locations. Sad Mag subscriptions and back issues are also available through our website. This interview has been condensed and edited.
33,900,000 videos of cats eating watermelon, falling off chairs, and having adorably miserable kitten nightmares.
Only after I’d peeled my eyes away from my third musical “sushi cat” video did I recognize the magnitude of what I’d just discovered: 33.9 million cat videos? To put this number into perspective, searching “Canada news” barely hits 4,760,000. Even searching for “Canada” can’t compete with the cat craze; at only 13,500,000 videos, our home and native land produces less than half the YouTube frenzy that our feline friends do.
How—how?—did sushi cats gain a larger media presence than our entire nation? Not sure whether to be awestruck, shocked, or disgusted, I turned to three experts—a media studies professor, a renowned cat researcher and a short-film director—for the scoop on society’s cat video obsession.
DR. CHRISTOPHER J. SCHNEIDER
Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University
Sad Mag: In your book, The Public Sociology Debate, you reference this interesting quote by Burroway: the “privatization of everything.” You suggest that the opposite might be happening: everything is becoming public. YouTube is just one platform we use to “publicize” life. Where do you think this obsession comes from? Why are we so obsessed with publishing our own lives? And why are we so interested in the (often banal) things others publish about theirs?
Chris Schneider: We all want to feel important; we all want our individual selves to be recognized. Publishing, posting, and circulating the relatively mundane details of our lives accomplishes that task.
On the other hand, when other people are doing similar things, it really shows a relatability between ourselves and other people; it contributes to our feeling of normalcy. Watching cat videos, or other mundane details of our daily lives, is kind of boring. So it normalizes the boredom, and in some ways makes people feel less guilty about wasting their time watching cat videos.
SM: Many researchers believe this reliance on short-form media could shrink the viewer’s attention span. That we are so constantly bombarded with information, but have so little time to reflect on what’s going on that we don’t actually consume any of it. Do you think this is true?
CS: I think so, sure. It’s in some ways kind of like drinking from a fire hose: its not easy to do. That’s the metaphor for the information coming into our eyeballs and trying to process it; it becomes increasingly difficult for people to make sense of all of it—which of it’s good, which of it isn’t—to critically process all of these materials. One of the outlets, I think, is distraction: ‘I’m gonna look at this cat video’, or ‘I’m gonna tweet about eating this hamburger’ Rather that trying to really focus and concentrate and pay attention to what people are saying, and where this information is coming from. It’s a basic form of escapism. Daily life—sure its mundane, sure its boring—but it’s also difficult for a lot of people….We can unplug from the difficulties of our daily lives and plug into the relatively mundane details of cat videos or other people’s lives to forget, to relax.
SM: And how about you? Do you have a favorite cat video?
DR. DENNIS C. TURNER
Director, Institute for applied Ethology and Animal Psychology (I.E.A.P/I.E.T.)
SM: You’ve been conducting research on the cat-human relationship for over 30 years; your book, The Domestic Cat, is now recognized in the field as the “Bible for cat researchers.” Why do you think cat videos have become so popular?
DT: One of the reasons I think cats are on the increase is because of what I like to call the emancipation of men; nowadays, men can express their feelings. 20, 40, or 50 years ago it wasn’t very manly to express your feelings. Cats are very emotional animals. I think men today are allowed to say they love cats.
SM: Do you agree with Dr. Schneider that cats might be one way in which we “unplug” from stress or challenges? How do cats affect our emotions?
DT: We have many studies showing that cats are relaxing; they make people more calm, generally in a better mood; [they create] a more natural environment [in which people] lose their fears. We’ve found that cats are capable of reducing negative moods—making negative moods better—especially depression, fear, introvertedness.
SM: When you want to feel better, what do you watch? What’s your favorite cat video?
DT: Definitely the Simon the Cat series: the one where the cat tries to wake up its owner.
Film Director & Vancouver Film School Instructor
SM: You’ve done very well with some of your short films—winning prizes at the Screamfest, the NSI Film Exchange and British Horror Film Festivals, to name a few. What, in your opinion, do viewers like best about short films?
Nick Humphries: Short content is extremely consumable. You can experience a story in a compressed amount of time. Those viral videos you’re talking about, like 6 seconds of a dramatic hamster, get play because they are short and on a very accessible platform and are therefore consumable, re-playable and shareable through social media.
SM: So why do you think YouTubers have become so interested in short, brainless cat videos? Is there something special about cats? Or is it the “consumable” nature of the medium itself?
NH: It’s because cats are awesome.
SM: Most important question: What’s your favorite cat video?
NH: There’s one of a kitten having a nightmare and then the mamma cat gives it a big hug. All while sleeping. It’s pretty much the best thing on the Internet.
For the full article (and many more fabulous, feline-focused reads), pick up a copy of The Cat Issue (Issue 18), in stores now at participating locations. Sad Mag subscriptions and back issues are also available through our website.
Come celebrate SAD Mag’s latest release: the Cat issue (no. 18), dedicated to our feline friends (somebody had to do it)!
WHEN: Saturday February 21, 2014 from 7:00pm – 10:00pm
WHERE: Make Gallery (257 East 7th Ave)
A 48-page full-colour stunner filled with original art, photography, and stories by Kristin Cheung, Dina Del Bucchia, Ola Volo, and more!
We’ll be kicking things off with a feline-inspired fashion show, curated by Blim and Keiko Boxall, at 9PM. Then we’ll knock your cat-themed socks off with a dance number by the infamous Light Twerkerz dancers ft. MC AutoKrat and DJ Rich Nines.
Party hosted by Cynara Geissler: writer, editor, book publicist, and fierce defender of the selfie. Cynara is a print enthusiast (in both reading material and frocks) and her closet houses a litter of cat dresses. She co-hosts Fatties on Ice, an independent feminist podcast on pop culture, film, and new media.
Come early to see the magazine & check out the art show (by Ola Volo), stay late for tunes and drinks. This magazine was created through the generous contributions of countless Vancouver artists, writers, photographers, and cat enthusiasts including:
Dina Del Bucchia
Genevieve Anne Michaels
Nina Paula Morenas
Kamila Charters-Gabanek * (not placed)
Shannon Hemmett * (not placed)
Jessie McNeil * (not placed)
Sherwin Sullivan Tija
Leigh Eldridge, Makeup Artist
Jenny-Lynn of Oh Hey Style, Hair Stylist
Monika Koch Waber, Stylist
Contributors to SadMag.ca
SADCAST: The SAD Mag Podcast
Jackie Hoffart, Producer, Host, Editor
Stu Popp, Co-Host
Board of Directors
Amanda Lee Smith
Yuriko Iga of BLIM
Lizzy Karp & Rain City Chronicles
Madeleine Michaels + Luna the Cat
Teresa Watling + Enoki the Cat
Bijou, Nico, Frankie, Mr. Darren Lovenstuff, Indy & Eliot
Come out and get your hands on the latest (DOUBLE!!) issue of Sad Mag featuring interviews with the Jealous Curator, Michael Hingston, Adbusters founder, Kalle Lasn, and RAFFI (yes, your favourite childhood rockstar).
The event takes place THIS Saturday, October 4 at Make Gallery (257 East 7th Ave) from 7pm. Come and look at some art, conversate with some beautiful people, and drink some drinks.
Also, this is your chance to celebrate the Vancouver Art/Book Fair–which is pretty much one of the coolest book fairs you could ever go to. Spend your day at the Vancouver Art Gallery and your night with us at Make Gallery.
Music by DJ Cherchez La Femme
Delicious beer by The Red Truck
Stylish double issue by Sad Mag! (That’s us!)
Need more details? Check out the Facebook event.
Kristine Sostar McLellan
Daryn Wright heads out to Lake Errock, BC to chat with Suburbia Issue artist, Shelley Stefan. Check out Stefan’s up-coming exhibition at Make Creative on Thursday August 28, 2014: Multiplicity of Self, Queer Portraits. Read the full article in Sad Mag’s Suburbia Issue, out in Fall 2014.
Shelley Stefan stokes the fire in her wood stove.
Her small studio is an artist’s dream: heavy wooden doors open up to a tiny room filled with tubes of oil paints, a cushy armchair, and various bric-a-brac—a seventies bear lamp, an American flag. The most striking element of the space, however, are the self-portraits that cover the walls from floor to ceiling. In black charcoal, images of Stefan look back like from a broken mirror—some look angry, some sad, some pensive.
Stefan, whose work includes “The Lesbian Effigies” (2006) and “B is for Butch” (2010), studied at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and the Maine College of Art, and currently teaches in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of the Fraser Valley. Growing up in Chicago, Stefan has lived in several urban centers but now calls Lake Errock home. The rural setting, far from a stone’s throw from the city, seems at odds with the politics of identity, sexuality, and gender at work in her paintings.
Despite this, Stefan seems at home. Throughout the interview the 40-year-old painter kept the stove, whose masonry she laid herself, well-fed with the firewood she chops and stores just outside.
Shelley Stefan: Right now I’ve got about four series on the go. In the studio here there’s a series of self-portraits—I’m aiming to do hundreds of mirror-based [self-portraiture], kind of old-school, academic, kind of dialing it back to the traditional methods of introspection.
I find there’s something really neat when there’s the human form live, and you surrender a bit of accuracy, but what you get is kind of like raw imperfect humanness that I really like. I’m working with my own face for awhile, just to see if I do this 300 times, am I seeing different elements of myself? Some of them are off, some of them are moody, and some of them look like my ancestors.
They all seem different. They’re all me looking in a mirror at different times. It’s almost embarrassing, and I think that’s the point. I’m at the point in my career where I kind of want to allow myself to be vulnerable.
Sad Mag: Self-portraiture—particularly the kind you’re doing, with a mirror—is rooted in an old art form. There seems to be a connection between this practice and the rural space you reside in. Do you think they’re related in any way?
SS: I think that there’s a part of me that’s very raw and sublime. I think that comes first. I have Italian ancestors who were artists, and that can mean many things but what it means for me is there’s this intense passionate anchor. So having my studio in a rural space like this is a way to ground and isolate that kind of passionate energy in a way that ironically isn’t ego-based. It’s almost like it’s a laboratory and I’m trying to keep the dish clear. So I guess on some level as an artist, my choice of a rural studio feels like the best substrate to tease out the rawest and purest emotion in my work. I’m really influenced by my surroundings.
SM: Through the process, have you learned anything about yourself?
SS: I’m still discovering. Through my works in the past few years I’ve discovered a lot about interiority. When I’ve been working in portraiture, I’ve realized on some level, self-portraiture, if done properly, allows for uncovering different facets.
I feel completely connected to my Italian ancestors when I paint and draw. It’s crazy. There’s something about listening to Italian opera and being in here and being like, “They get me.” When I’m painting and I’m in the middle of it and there’s Italian opera on I’m like, “Those fuckers are crazy and so am I and it’s okay, because you’re human. You’re alive on this planet.”
You can see Stefan’s work up-close and personal at her upcoming solo exhibition at Make (257 East 7th Ave) on Thursday August 28th from 7– 10pm featuring Italian-themed beverages and the musical stylings of DJ Ruggedly Handsome.
Multiplicity of Self – Queer Portraits
August 28 to September 22, 2014
OPENING RECEPTION:Thursday August 28, 2014 from 7– 10pm