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  • The Palpable Drive of Westside Whiz Kid, Agung Mango

    By Ella Clair “I used to force myself to produce. With my mum’s old Toshiba. I used to have it set up on this chair,” Melbourne based producer and artist Agung Mango points down to where he’s sitting, behind a desk in his garage-turned-bedroom. “When I woke up, it would be prepared and I’d just, like, produce straight away. Just to learn, you know?” Agung tells me if he hadn’t forced himself to produce 3 days at time, he would be way further behind now. His drive is palpable. Before the audio connects on our Zoom call, Agung Mango appears, sipping a pale yellow smoothie through a straw. I sip my coffee. His smile flashes across the screen and then we greet each other as if the interview was taking place at an actual cafe. If only. “Agung is my family name. It’s basically my last name in Indonesian. Mango means to keep moving forward. It’s kind of a reminder,” he shrugs. I get the sense this is a big part of his ethos. His voice is low and croaky. At 22, Agung Mango has made a name for himself in the local scene. Winning a Triple J Unearthed comp in last summer, Mango landed a slot at Laneway in January, before life in Melbourne consisted of rules, regulations and press conferences. He told his girlfriend first. “When you tell someone, you’re forcing it to sink in, you know?” Mango explains humbly that he didn’t want it to. “It was sick. Very high intensity. Sweaty. It was fun as shit.” He admits that Golden Plains was even crazier. More spontaneous. “It was just on go. That’s the shit I like. I always wanna be prepared but when you’re feeling that stress, you know something crazy is gonna come out of it,” he grins, swivelling on his chair, reliving the peak of his summer. Agung Mango’s live shows are pretty hectic. I didn’t get to one before the pandemic but I’ve seen footage. “We’re all homies, all brothers,” he lists the full lineup and is seemingly distressed at the idea of leaving anyone out. “It’s dope,” he reminisces, “we always try to make it a new experience for everyone in the crowd and even within the band. I fuckin’ miss shows.” We start the interview in the yard outside his parents house. His brother is floating around. The sky is blue and Agung squints at the sun. “My crib?” He smirks, “Man, I’d show you my room right now but it’s fuckin’ messy.” Agung tries to convince me he’s not a messy person and that he just had a lot of stuff to do this morning. He says he vacuums and wipes down everything every morning, “Shit like that,” he explains. Eventually the sun becomes overpowering and he moves the interview inside. Agung lives in the garage at his family home. His bed is on one side and his studio is on the other. The back wall is lined with a chockablock clothes rack. “It’s a pretty chill crib.” One wall is deep red, and the other yellow. Warm. He’s currently trying to get his own place. And his own cat. Agung grew up in Deer Park, in the west of Melbourne with his brother and parents. He has one brother but doesn’t tell me much about him, instead asking me about my own siblings. He asks almost as many questions of me as I ask of him. I wonder if he’s trying to deflect attention, or if he’s just genuinely curious. “The west is dope. Very multicultural. It’s gritty, creative,” his vocal fry drags as he considers the different facts of the area he’s grown up in. He insists that comparing sounds from Melbourne’s west to that of the south, east or north, that they have a different feel. Agung considers the influence the area might have had on his music, “I don’t know if it’s the west or just the people I have around me. Just, fuckin’, shit that sounds weird. I don’t know if that’s the west but if it is… fuckin’ oath.” Agung’s mum is from Italy and his dad’s from Bali, “It’s an interesting, interesting household. Good food,” he jokes. As a kid, he only really ate mie goreng for fuel. Now his comfort food is pizza from down the street. Wood fire. His favourite as a kid was fried rice. “I was actually a really naughty kid,” he admits. Energetic. He cringes, describing himself as attention seeking. “If I wasn’t going to Bali every year, seeing my family and being exposed to all that culture, I’d probably be making like, normal, really mediocre music,” Agung explains. Growing up with these cultures have been a huge influence on his artistry. He seems eager to connect more with his Italian culture but admits Bali has been a bigger presence in his life because it’s so easy to get to from Australia. “Every time I’m in the studio I’m like… yo, let’s chuck some Balinese shit on! Just to make it, Agung-ish,” Mango gets excited, throwing his hands about. He tells me he often samples the Gamalen; a traditional Balinese instrument; and is looking to get a live player once gigs start up again. He even shot a music video for his song ‘Rodent’ while visiting Bali. Agung has also been pretty influenced by film soundtracks as of late. In particular, the work of Italian composer Franco Micalizzi. Perhaps this is how he’s trying to connect with his Italian heritage? Another huge influence for Mango is Pharrell. This is one he didn’t have to tell me. “He’s a g!” In fact, Mango’s latest single ‘Little Bum’ is basically an ode to N.E.R.D, “My favourite song is ‘Laser Gun’” he exclaims. Apparently, it’s not even on Spotify. “Unique, wild and a little big goofy.” Agung Mango sums up his music in three words for me and unconsciously paints a pretty accurate picture of himself. “Sometimes my music is quirky as fuck. Yeah, I’m like, damn. That’s cheesy as shit.” While his artistic processes vary, the main goal for Agung is to keep a flow of creation. Sometimes that means picking three records from his collection to base a sound off for a project, sometimes it’s listening to trap music for a month straight, to learn the genre inside and out. Other times, it’s jazz, “It’s always changing to be honest.” Mango tells me he’s even been bumping Tame Impala and Arctic Monkey’s in prep for a cover challenge he’s set for himself. Often, he’s inspired by listening to other local producers and will study their techniques. Listening is a learning game for Agung. “I just like to spice it up! I try to make it fun so I can stay motivated to keep creating. I just want to be in this state of flow. I don’t wanna make it too hard that I’ll get anxiety and give up. But I don’t wanna make shit too easy where I get bored.” This is Agung’s life philosophy. “Facts.” Before smoking up, politely and humbly off camera, he tells me he applies this state of flow to everything. Coming off the high of the summer, Agung admits COVID’s slowed his process, “We’ve just been kicking it. You know? We’re still making music.” For Agung, iso has been fairly productive, releasing projects here and there, but he admits it’s been toxic too. When people come to his studio set up to make music, they always know they’ll come out of it with something weird that pushes some kind of boundaries. He admits that sometimes weed goes hand in hand with that process. “It just makes us more comfy to be more experimental.” I remind him that it's such a historic part of music making, but we agree it’s easy to go too far with it all. He shrugs and admits he usually gets off track when he stops working out. The other day, Agung ran into all his basketball mates at a park. “They still ball to this day!” They invited him to play and now he’s sore all over, “I can’t even sit down properly bro,” he agonises. As a teenager, Agung landed a basketball scholarship that had him switching high school to one based in Maribyrnong. “That was interesting. It was very different coming from Creekside.” He explains the overwhelming newness of that shift. The people. The area. “It’s just more rough. There’d be fights after school… shit you didn’t see in the high school I was at before,” he remembers. After getting kicked out, Mango headed to TAFE to learn a trade. Again, adapting to a new environment. The oldest guy in his class was middle-aged, “I was like, 17. It made me very retrospective.” Agung experienced two opposing worlds of sports and trades before returning to school to repeat year 11, “I felt like an outcast. I felt too mature. I left that year and got a job in health insurance. That gave me the courage to talk to random people on the phone.” He also learnt about manipulation. He explains it was a toxic field, and so he left. The dude’s lived a thousand lives it seems, and he’s only 22. Learning how to adapt to new challenges is a quality that seems drilled into Agung. We talk about the challenges that this pandemic has presented to our music community, especially here in Melbourne, as strict lockdowns have continued throughout the year. “We should hold more shows. Also, people should just release music. We shouldn’t give a fuck. We have the ability to make a song in our bedrooms. It’s a hard time but we just have to adapt,” he insists. Agung also reckons that local, independent musicians need support from radio stations, “Now we’re in iso, we need more. More people holding virtual shows and shit.” Admittedly, Agung keeps to himself, avoiding any kinds of obstacles he thinks he could possibly face, “I just go to my shows, then I bounce.” The view from Mango’s mind is pretty tunnel vision at the moment. The only thing he seems concerned with is working on his craft and putting out music. “This is not talent. This is everyday tryna make a song. Reading books on how to improve my lyric writing. As I get older, my success will gradually improve so I’ll have less stress. In ten years making beats will take 10 minutes, not an hour, so I’ll have more time to think about other things,” Agung shares, vulnerably and honestly. Putting out music every Wednesday under his alias, Coughman Neptune, Agung explains he’s sick of the songs stacking up. He tells me there’s no point if no one’s gonna hear it. In the end, Agung would be super happy if he just had heaps of projects under his belt. Last time someone wrote a profile on Agung Mango, he had archived. He didn’t like having all that much about himself online. This is surprising, as he is so transparent with what he is all about. “I just have one goal... fuckin’ make music.” That little kid who set up his mum’s Toshiba and forced himself to practice for days at a time persists. He has so clearly embodied a grown up version. Not only is his drive palpable, but it’s inspiring. Speaking with Agung reminds me of the age old dilemma of success; does it come from hard work, talent or luck? It’s clear he’s got the first two down. I always thought it must be a magic combination of the three. In Agung’s case, I can’t imagine luck is too far round the corner. Keep up to date with Agung Mango here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.

  • ABC talks Gender (Dis)parity in Jazz 100

    By Jake Amy, Hugh Heller, Emma Volard and Ella Clair “Diversity is central to ABC Jazz,” says content manager Toby Chadd, yet only 22.22% of audience favourites in this weekend’s Jazz 100 were female. Vocalists not included, that number dropped substantially to a dismal 7.25%. ABC suggested 536 artists to voters, drawing from “a range of sources including jazz history, previous information on audience favourites and album releases/airplay”, with a meagre 16.82% of those artists being women. Similar to other top 100 countdowns, these figures seem to ignore a plethora of female musicians who are of equal standard to their male counterparts. At what point do we stop accepting inequalities as they are and start to make sustainable change? “It’s a sad reality that gender parity isn’t possible when compiling a long list of 500 artists that are best-known to audiences”, says Chadd. “When it comes to gender diversity, the Jazz 100 is a survey of where we are now rather than where we would like to be.” Listen to the female artists from ABC's Jazz 100 here Jazz has historically been a male-dominated artform. The lack of women musicians in the Jazz 100 is a symptom of a systemic issue, which is the lack of female visibility in jazz music. However, whilst the top 100 jazz artists may indeed be current audience favourites, ABC Jazz has the facility to challenge the historical dominance of males in jazz by including more women artists in their day-to-day programming. APRA award winner Lior Attar believes there would be a “greater appreciation of music and culture” if audiences were “repeatedly exposed” to marginalised music artists. “The aim of the Jazz 100 is to celebrate the favourite jazz artists of all time, as voted by Australian audiences,” says Chadd. “We did include an option within the voting mechanism for the audience to nominate artists who weren’t on the [voting] list, ensuring that the final 100 isn’t limited to those on the long list.” 0% of the Jazz 100 included additional artist nominations. When asked how ABC Jazz have combated historical gender inequalities, Chadd stated, “If anything, the historical gender imbalance highlighted here reinforces our commitment to making a difference in this space. To a great extent, a radio station like ABC Jazz depends on the music that has already been recorded – the established jazz ‘canon’. But there are ways in which we can facilitate change, particularly in commissioning new recordings. Over 50% of the commissions under the ABC’s recent Fresh Start Fund, for instance, were from female artists. We also seek to support the work of the new generation of Australian artists: earlier this year, we announced the inaugural ABC Jazz Scholarship and we regularly program new releases by emerging musicians. We track gender balance in our playlists and look to increase that incrementally over time – including through focussing on acquiring new and old recordings from around the world featuring diverse performers.” Chadd added that if there was another Jazz 100 in “10 years time”, ABC Jazz would love to have introduced their audience to a “range of new favourites, such that a top 100 list would be more balanced”. Though the initiatives mentioned here are a step in the right direction, Chadd’s statement suggests that male artists will continue to be favoured for the time being. Is this the best that can be achieved right now? Perhaps 10% of airtime currently reserved for jazz luminaries could be substituted with recordings by top quality female artists not currently on high rotation. Listen to Attaboi's playlist of female artists not included in the nomination list here Upon further examination of the Jazz 100, we found there to be approximately 44% representation of People Of Colour (POC). There were 0 POC from so-called Australia included. Australian artists made up 21% of the list. We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.

  • Lior on Hybrid Identities, Belonging and Music Collaboration

    By Yara Alkurd, Ella Clair, Jake Amy, Emma Volard and Hugh Heller The past eleven years have been really hard. As a Palestinian immigrant, painting on an identity without a picture to draw from felt nearly impossible, and I didn’t leave a war zone to get stuck in one in my head… People who have to start over in a place not built for them, but make it their home anyway, are my biggest inspiration. Talking to other immigrants allows me to explore and reflect on my own identity. And it’s complicated. Singer/songwriter and APRA award winner Lior immigrated to Sydney when he was 10. I sat down with Lior to talk about belonging, “hybrid” identities, and music collaboration. What follows is an abridged version of our conversation. A lot of immigrants feel that they don’t belong in the place they move to, but also, don’t feel like they belong in their home country. Where is your home? I certainly don’t feel a 100% sense of home and belonging in either Australia or Israel… for different reasons. I’ve accepted that there’s a large part of my heart which lies in Israel. And I believe any person would have a strong connection to the place they experienced their childhood, particularly a happy childhood. But I also know that when I go back to Israel, I don’t feel like, “Oh, this is where I need to be living”. In Australia, I don’t have any ancestry or familial ties. I don’t have a strong connection with the origins of how “Australia” was created. But I also feel so lucky that my family did come here and that we can enjoy the privilege of living here. I love the inherent fairness that’s embedded into Australian society - a unique concept which I think is actually very hard to find in other places in the world. There is a certain authenticity and acceptance here. I mean, I think we’ve still got a long way to go, for sure, but there’s also a lot to like. Have there been moments where you’ve been confused about your identity? Yes. I regard my identity as being a “hybrid”. Having grown up in Israel, I have a strong sense of spiritual identity linked there. Referring to cultural practices, I am Jewish and that forms part of my identity (the religious side of it has never really appealed to me… I’m more interested in music, culture, customs, language and philosophy). My Australian identity is more linked with the immediate; loving where I live and the lifestyle I can have here. So my sense of identity constantly shifts. It’s a very hard thing to pinpoint. Music has been a great thing that helps define who I am, and can also be a source of escapism when I need it. Y: Do you feel centred in your identity? I do, because I’ve accepted that my identity is a thing that is composed of many fragments. I also think that family has become the backbone of my identity as I’ve gotten older. Do you feel a sense of independence is intertwined with the identity of immigrants? I’ve never really thought about that. I’ve always just put my independence down to being a really stubborn person, but it could very well be because I’m an immigrant. There’s a beautiful line in Hamilton; “Immigrants. We get the job done.” It’s a bit like that, isn’t it? Y: I’m very stubborn as well and I’ve been wondering; is this at all related to being an immigrant? As an immigrant, I often feel like the outsider. In the first few years of moving here, I definitely felt like an outsider… though I wouldn’t say that I ever felt “alienated”. And I think when you’re an outsider, you have two options; one is to stand tall and say, “Right, I’m going to forge my own path here,” or you can shrivel up into foetal position. So, perhaps that outsider thing does lend itself to being more independent. What are the social/political responsibilities of an artist? Big picture wise, artists are a mirror to society and have a place to occupy. They’re reflective of what’s going on. On a micro level, it comes down to an individual artist’s purpose. Some artists feel a lot stronger about being those reflectors of society. Personally, I haven’t really been a “political” artist. Often we’re drawn to do things that impacted us when we were growing up. When you’re a teenager, everything is so amplified. For me, that is the way that art made me feel. Like there was something greater, a higher emotional plane perhaps, that took me away from the mundaneness of things. I regard myself more as an introspective artist - I’m interested in dealing with the human condition, relationships, and opening people through expressing vulnerability in my music. In 2013, you collaborated with Nigel Westlake to create Compassion, an orchestral song cycle for voice and orchestra set to ancient texts in Hebrew and Arabic. What did you learn most from that experience? Compassion probably resonated with audiences more than anything Nigel or I had ever worked on. It was surprising given I was singing in two languages foreign to most of the audience and people didn’t understand the words. I think people could feel what I was trying to convey, which was affirming and validating in a mysterious kind of way. There was definitely something spiritual embodied in the text and the music. I don’t know if it was a learning experience as much as it was a wonder. On a technical level, it was great to realise how much crossover there was with the Arabic texts and Hebrew language. What does Compassion mean to you? For Nigel and I, Compassion was actually trying to present a message of the wisdom of compassion, which is something universal and humanitarian that’s applicable to all human beings. But also, we tried to make the work more poignant by drawing from two worlds that have had such a volatile history over time, and tried to find common ground as well as conveying how important those messages [of compassion] are within those religions. In both languages, the word for compassion constitutes one of the names for “God”. It's a reflection of the importance that both religions put on the trait of compassion. In a broader sense, Compassion is a hugely important and musically very powerful piece. The orchestration that Nigel did is amazing and so multi layered. I find new things in it all the time. I’m really proud of the melodies that I constructed and the texts that I sourced. On a performance level, it's really uplifting and exhilarating to stand in front of an orchestra playing music of that dynamic. It’s also great to step onto a stage and feel like you’re 100% behind the message that you’re delivering. I know that most people don’t understand the words I’m saying, but a literal understanding was always printed in the programme. The premiere of Compassion was actually in Sydney on the night of the elections where Tony Abbott won. I had so many people after the concert saying, “I'm so depressed about the outcome of the election, but I’m so glad I got to spend it here, listening to this.” There was this sense of brotherhood and sisterhood to Compassion. Y: And what does the word “compassion” personally mean to you? The seed of it was the hymn that I sang in the last movement called “Avinu Malkeinu”, which I originally looked into because I was developing my singing for the piece. I went back to traditional Jewish melodies just to experiment with new styles of singing. This hymn is sung on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and it’s about forgiveness. But, it also has this line in it that says, ‘Instil me with a greater sense of compassion so that I can be liberated’. When I was singing it, I was thinking “oh, wow, what a beautiful line”. To say that compassion is the way that we can become freer within ourselves. That just lit a flame of being drawn to the idea of compassion and then reading about it. The final song of my second album Safety of Distance, I won't go into the story behind it, but there's a line saying, “Compassion is the measure of a man.” It became a central theme in my philosophy and lyric writing. As well as being the most important virtue that I have, and what I think is the central thing that defines what it is to be human. In your opinion, what would happen if radio stations explicitly played music made by immigrants for three months? I think we can form connections with so much more music than we think, but we rarely give that music more than one fleeting listen. I think there could be a gateway to a greater appreciation of music and culture if people were repeatedly exposed to new music, gained insight into how it’s made and what’s important in it. Hip-hop is a great example. In ‘90s Australia, it was a marginalised art form, and people would often be dismissive and judgmental of it. As people slowly listened to it over and over, they became more accepting of it. Now, artists such as Hilltop Hoods are mainstream and draw enormous crowds. It only took 10 to 20 years for people to look beyond their superficial judgments of it… What’s one great initiative that you want to see more of in the Australian music scene? More support for young artists - the first few years are really tough for emerging musicians. I’ve been involved in a program through APRA, where we go to schools and work with budding songwriters. An artist and producer team up and spend a couple of days collaborating. I’ve been a mentor for quite a few of them now, and have seen the impact it makes on a lot of young artists, which is great. These programs are really successful, and I think there’s so much to be gained through programs like that (and just general music education). I’d like to see permanent initiatives rolled out in high schools. Sadly, I don’t think that’s on the agenda for this government. Y: Ever since coming here, I’ve felt that I am always a step behind everyone. Initiatives like that in high school learning would be very helpful. Yeah, I do think that if you want to be an artist, you have to figure it out for yourself and as you go. It was interesting going into these high schools as a mentor because the students were like, “Oh, this guy’s doing it. It’s possible... Maybe I can do it as well?”. I saw so many light bulb moments. Some of those moments are ones that light a spark to make students believe that they can go on and do it. Any advice for emerging artists? It would’ve been good to listen a bit more to people that were in the industry and not think that just because I was doing it on my own, I knew everything. Keep up to date with Lior here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.

  • Elle Shimada on Identity and Sexual Liberation

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller CW: eating disorders, body dysmorphia In 2019, “Asian” was one of the highest ranking searches on PornHub in Australia. For Elle Shimada, this statistic suggests that women of Asian descent are exposed to a society that objectifies and fetishises their bodies. Emma spoke to the Tokyo-born and Naarm-based producer and multi-instrumentalist known for her feminist and political tones in her art, about the effects of fetishisation on her identity, her perception of her body and her reclamation of sexual power. What follows is an abridged version of the conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? I want to thank my body first, for allowing me to live and love. In general, I think I’d like to show more gratitude for it, as I tend to focus more on the wrong things before acknowledging what’s right with it. I don’t always take care of my body enough, eat healthily, or treat it with the love that it deserves. But my body is healthy, and is the vessel for everything I do in this realm: living and breathing, creating, playing music, making love, dancing, holding intellect, integrity, expressing who I am. There are so many ways we can love our bodies, and we can only decide these things for ourselves. Only we can (and should) judge what works for us. Whether that is to do with acceptance, getting fit, losing weight, eating healthy…or not! Sometimes, the healthiest decision is eating those three desserts. I think like everyone else in lockdown, I’ve gone through so many different mental states. From wanting to learn a lot, to feeling quite overwhelmed, to depressed, inspired… But recently I’ve come to a new phase, which I’m really enjoying. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? As a woman, I’ve gone through different phases. As a child, I didn’t really think about body image. My body was a vessel that allowed me to explore and adventure. As I progressed to being a woman, my body changed a lot. There was a point in my late teens/early 20s where I didn’t appreciate my body at all. I had an eating disorder, went through body dysmorphia and felt like I didn’t fit into “normal” beauty standards. I migrated from Tokyo to Australia… [Australia is] a place where my body type is not the dominant body type. The beauty standards here are very different to back home. Typically, East Asian people are short and slim. There is a huge emphasis on being slim, more so than here in Australia. In my experience, those standards affect mainly younger women. I recognise to some extent that being a “typical Asian woman” means I will always be fetishised in a Western society. In Australia, “Asian” is one of the highest ranked PornHub searches. In my early 20s, I thought, “Fuck you, I’m going to capitalise on that”. I took that as a source of empowerment and started to embrace my sexuality and sensuality. Now I’m more mature and in my mid 20s, I feel less insecure and more appreciative of my body. I find very little power in the male gaze in the same narrative… but there’s still a patriarchy that I’m trying to flip. I’m trying to embrace my body, for me, for my sisters, for everyone. I also find all different kinds of bodies sexy, strong and admirable. A little while back, you posted a series of photos titled Stay Horny For Art. What does that phrase mean to you? Well… I’m a really horny person, so it was a message for myself. I’ve been in the music industry for a few years now and I found I was taking it all too seriously. I used to constantly think, “I have to practise, I have to do this now”, and forgot about the pure joy of creating art. I’m quite a sensual person - a sexual desire is never a chore. All the feelings I get from making love and natural desires… I want to stay playful and flirt with creativity in the same state of mind. I'm grateful that isolation is helping me get back to that state. Are women’s expressions of sexuality seen as taboo? To be honest, I think all people’s expressions of sexuality are seen as taboo. However, I think expressions of sexuality have the ability to affect the way our male-dominated society is run, provided we feel comfortable with expressing our sexuality. Historically, women’s expressions of sexuality have been for a male gaze. I think expressions of sexuality being “taboo” shows their power. What are your experiences with fetishisation, objectification and tokenisation? As an East Asian woman, I barely fit into moulds imposed onto people in Australia. I’m not here to be appropriated or subjected to that bullshit. I think cultural fetishisation/“appreciation” is the result of colonialism. And it happens all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever walked onto Brunswick St in Fitzroy in the middle of the night without having some form of “interaction” with someone. And a common response when I tell them what the fuck is up is, “Why do you have a problem?”. My problem is that I’m not there to please or be objectified. Sometimes it’s very obvious that I’ve been tokenised and not seen as an artist. But then some things are actually harder to see - is it cultural curiosity, tokenisation or someone just genuinely interested in giving me space in the industry? Maybe it doesn’t matter what an organiser’s intentions are if the outcome of the gig is “art”? It’s up to us as performers to create what the audience feels. But that being said, I’m still vocal if I feel tokenised, to make sure that pattern doesn’t continue to repeat. On Instagram, you have been vocal about light skin privilege within your culture. How have you seen this manifest in so-called Australia? Privilege is based on many factors - socio-economic status, access to education or welfare, language, gender… and the list goes on. I think that simply buying into one factor of privilege, such as skin tone, can take away from the complexity of an individual’s experience. Whatever privilege we do have, skin tone is something visible for any seeing person, and unfortunately in this society, skin tone determines the opportunities/discrimination that we receive. As a light skin person, I think the healthiest thing to do is to acknowledge that. Do you feel that being a woman has affected the way you’ve been treated in the music scene? So often we are expected to fight in a battlefield that’s not even made for us. But on the other hand, there has been so much support and empowerment from many sisters and brothers. And I’m glad to be a woman. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I love it. I think it’s an exciting time to be a woman, because while there is still more work to do, there hasn’t ever been an easier time for us to do what we want to do. We have to think about what it took for us to get here and be mindful that the fight will continue so that the next generation can be more accepting and explorative than our generation. What change would you like to see in the so-called Australian music industry over the next five years? The most important thing for me is seeing more First Nations artists being represented, and not only onstage, but within the entire industry. Representation offstage will sustainably contribute to changing the industry. Another thing is, I want to see freedom of expression from all of us, but especially those who are women, queer, and/or BIPOC. I want to feel that marginalised groups are supported by the industry, and for that support to extend into more job positions, in management, distribution, radio… the whole industry really. As I get older, I’m becoming more and more interested in mentoring and passing on the knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years to empower emerging young people. I wish more people had helped me prepare for when I entered the industry in my teenage years. Also… I wish someone told me that we don’t have to bend our knees for shit we don’t agree with. I believe we haven’t heard 90% of all music that can be heard and experienced due to the music industry being a white man’s world. In terms of representation, I like to think about the sounds we haven’t heard yet with excitement. What we can be is maybe as important, if not more important, than what we are. But we can’t figure out what we can be without learning about what we have been. Keep up to date with Elle Shimada here If you or someone you know is struggling, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, we highly recommend these resources: Butterfly Foundation: (+61) 1800 334 673 Lifeline: (+61) 13 11 14 Eating Disorders Victoria: (+61) 1300 550 236 We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.

  • Rya Park’s Perspective on Body Image

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller CW: eating disorders, suicide, body dysmorphia Every day, we receive messages about our bodies: from the media, from people around us and from cultural norms. A constant barrage of information tells us how to look and how to feel, contributing to issues ranging from low self-worth to mental illness. This is especially true for women who are inundated with ideals of a “healthy” and “beautiful” exterior. For music artists in the public eye, these standards are extremely hard to transcend. Ahead of Body Image Week, Emma sat down with Rya Park, an Australian singer/songwriter acclaimed for her presentation of hard-hitting topics such as toxic relationships and mental health, to discuss her relationship with body image and mental health transparency. What follows is an abridged version of the conversation. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with your body? My relationship with my body is very negative - I’ve had body image issues since I was about 8 and eating issues since 13. Initially, it took a long time to understand that I had an eating disorder, because when I was first diagnosed, I was of “average weight” and didn’t think there was a problem with what I was doing. I’ve been extremely underweight, I've been extremely overweight. I’ve gone through phases of eating nothing, I’ve gone through phases of eating everything. But I’m trying to love my body more as I get older. The more I understand that the “patriarchy” has made me feel this way, the more I’m like, “Fuck this, I need to love my body”. Some days, I’m super grateful about what my body can do. Right now I am on the track of recovery and am starting to believe that it’s possible to recover from this. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? All I’ve ever been told by the TV or magazines is that “a woman's ultimate goal is to be thin and white”. They might say that “cellulite is bad” and that “putting on weight is the worst thing you can do, so here are 5 ways to lose it”. The amount of times I’ve been congratulated on losing weight… and I just don’t see that happening to my male friends. Even though we’re in 2020, being a woman is really hard. Most of my friends still have a negative relationship with their body image. And it’s only through expressing my own struggle on social media that others have shared their story with me. Even people who I had no idea struggled, such as my close friends. It makes me really sad, and I think we need to do more about it. I want to figure out what that is and then do it. In your experience, can transparency about mental health on social media be beneficial or harmful? Overall, I’ve had a positive experience, but at times it’s bittersweet… It’s amazing that lots of people have opened up about their issues. I mean, it’s so important to talk about. But it’s also sad to see the amount of messages I get from people that hate their bodies. These conversations aren’t being had in mainstream media, so I feel very privileged to have had an opportunity to create a safe space, however, after sharing an experience about my eating disorder, I am quite vulnerable. I think it’s important to have self-care strategies in place, just to make sure I’m taking care of myself too. Sometimes I’ll post something and feel like I’m being annoying or like these issues aren’t worth talking about. But people who thank me for my honesty keep me going… E: Do you feel that being this transparent has helped people engage with you on social media? As a musician, I always thought that social media was about sharing music and just that. Now, I’m starting to realise there’s so much more than that. If I can help even just one person on a bad day, that’s amazing… But it’s so contrived: I post pictures I think I look the prettiest or the thinnest in. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? I do, and I’m very privileged in that way. I mean, I’m a cis-gendered white woman. That’s where I see myself represented. But I believe there still needs to be more space made for women, and more conversations about body diversity, body image and mental health. There’s heaps of information out there, but there’s definitely not enough people talking about it. E: How does the lack of those conversations make you feel? Very alone, especially when I’m having a bad day. I wish there were more platforms I could turn to in those times. I do try to follow quite a diverse range of people on social media, such as body positivity pages that showcase a range of female body types. It makes me feel good about myself when I see my body type (which fluctuates all the time) represented. I don’t see those different body shapes in mainstream media. It can be really detrimental if we only post about our good days, because it can definitely make others feel bad about themselves. I think it’s important to highlight when we’re feeling crappy. Has being transparent in your music about your eating disorder shaped you as “Rya Park”? Being able to talk openly and honestly about my eating disorder has been a therapeutic experience, for both myself and so many others. It’s also validated the kind of artist I want to be - open, transparent and compassionate for those who are struggling. If I can be an advocate for young women… I feel like that transparency carries into my songwriting. Has the music industry exacerbated your relationship with your body? Yes! Many of my male friends wear the same thing to every gig they play and there’s never a single comment about it, yet I feel that women are always expected to “look the part”. When women perform, some of the first things people ask are, “What is she wearing?”, “Who is she wearing?”, “Is she wearing heaps of makeup?”, “Why isn’t she wearing heaps of makeup?”. Yesterday, I decided that I’m going to wear the same black trench coat to every single gig for the next two years. That’s my goal. What do you do for self care? I play with my dog, do lots of yoga and meditate. Seeing friends makes me feel really good. And it was amazing to realise that these are the things I need to do to feel good. For a while there, I got a bit confused with what “self care” was, because I would compare myself to friends and think, “Well they don’t have to meditate to feel calm... Why do I have to do it?”. For a while there, I would resist doing the stuff that made me feel better and then get into a spiral, feeling more and more shit. At the start of the year, I was admitted to hospital for some deep depression. I realise now that the eating disorder is the crux of my issue - it feeds the anxiety and depression in a cycle. Now my medication has been sorted, I no longer feel depressed and I only get a little anxious at times, but my eating disorder issues are still there. In my last admission, which was my third for the year, I wasn’t coping with lockdown at all - it made me feel so down. I know a lot of people have felt this, but at the time, I just needed to put my hand up and say, “I’m not coping. I need extra help right now”. So, I went to the clinic for a month, which was great. I’m doing much better now. Coming out of hospital, I had to plan my strategies. At first, I came home and thought, “I'm so ready for the world. I’m going to do all the things - I’m going to make a music video and I’m going to write new songs”. But by day four, I just crashed and cried. It was a really hard transition. It takes me so long to process things. I’ve still been struggling with the eating disorder, but I just joined an eating disorder support group, which has been an incredible way to share my experiences. How did you figure out that you had an eating disorder? I remember thinking I needed to lose weight around 8. I remember thinking I was “bigger” than other kids. I look back at photos now, and I wasn’t. I was “average” sized, even “small”. From Year 5 onwards, I only wore black clothes. And I did that up until I was 23. I wore black to make me look slimmer and hide my body. In summer, I would wear long sleeves. I still struggle with being in swimwear… I don't think I’ve been seen socially in my bathers for about 12 years. When I was around 20, a really toxic relationship with a partner took my eating disorder to its lowest point. It was my best friend who kept telling me I had an eating problem, but I was in complete denial and losing weight rapidly. It was so fucking shit - people were congratulating me on losing weight, which made me want to lose even more. It wasn’t until my best friend literally said, “You need to see a psychologist about your eating problem”, that I accepted I had one. Until then, the eating disorder was everything. It controlled me. The start of letting go was like saying goodbye to a friend. I’m still learning how to let go of it. E: Do you feel that having a healthy relationship with your current partner has helped to shape a healthier relationship with your body? I've been with Nick for three years now, and it's definitely the antidote to my previous relationship. He's very supportive and we're in a very happy relationship. He is very across all my issues with body image, and eating, and he is just the most gentle and kind person, and doesn't put any pressure on me to ever get better quick, and he's been there throughout all my admissions. But even though I’ve been with Nick for three years, I still struggle being naked around him. That can be challenging. I’m so self conscious. We’ve come up with a funny little phrase for my tummy. We say that my “tummy is cute and yummy”, and then he tickles me. It’s been really nice having that. It’s made me feel more comfortable with my body around him. What is your opinion on “skinny privilege”? I find it hard to speak on “skinny privilege”, because the eating disorder distorts my perception of what “skinny” is. There is skinny privilege, because being skinny is so highly regarded in mainstream media. If someone is “skinny”, but actually has an eating disorder… it’s hard to say whether they would be privileged or not. I would never wish that upon anybody. At the moment, I’m only a size 10 to 12, which is below the average size (14 to 16) for women in Australia. Some people might ask, “What is she complaining about?”. I’ve been a size 16, and I’ve been a size 6. I’ve kind of been through it all. Body image is a complex issue. It’s sad to see these problems, even when it is on a very small scale. Some of my friends have admitted to not liking their bodies. They get into their bikinis as a size 6, a size 10, a size 16, but still don’t feel fully comfortable in what they see. I think that’s got a lot to do with the patriarchy and how women have been treated over countless years. Deep down, I know that my own negative relationship with my body is reflective of these imposed structures. But, I also suffer from an illness. Maybe without the patriarchy, I wouldn’t have had an eating disorder. I feel the Australian music industry could be more diverse. I would like to see more body diversity. Often, people who are highly regarded and highly celebrated tend to be thin. E: Do you feel that people should ever comment on body weight? Personally... no. It’s not necessary or important. But then again, it feels so contradictory to say that, because I have an eating disorder. Do you think that the male gaze is a prevalent power construct within the Australian music industry? I do. If you’re a woman and “dressing up”, there will be comments. If you’re “dressing down”, there will be comments. And if you are dressing down, people will think that it’s some form of rebellion against being a woman. Really, women should just be allowed to wear whatever the fuck they want to wear, and have no comments made about it. Whatsoever. Even at my shows, I’m still pretty wary to cover up and not show too much skin, because I’m scared of how I might be seen. I wish that you could literally just go up to any stage, naked, and sing. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social/political issues? Yes, especially considering suicide is the most common cause of death among people with eating disorders. Even though there is a lot going on in the world right now, body image is definitely a pressing issue. It’s something that needs to be addressed and that needs more support. It can seem very trivial to some people, but it’s a really important topic. Keep up to date with Rya Park here If you or someone you know is struggling, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, we highly recommend these resources: Butterfly Foundation: (+61) 1800 334 673 Lifeline: (+61) 13 11 14 Eating Disorders Victoria: (+61) 1300 550 236 We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article. Photos provided by Tom McGenniss-Destro.

  • Your Stories: Body Image (Pt. II)

    By Ella Clair and Jake Amy CW: eating disorders, abuse, body dysmorphia At the start of August, the Attaboi team put out an invitation for you to share with us your experiences with your own body image. The submissions we received demonstrate the vast complexities and intricate nuances of people’s relationships with their bodies. Touching on intersections of invisible illnesses, bullying, representation, racism, appropriation, career pressures and mental and physical health, these stories are compelling, raw and at times hard to read. Thank you so much for trusting us with your words. Your voices deserve to be heard and forge open a space for further conversations surrounding body image online and within our day to day lives. Submission 4: Galatea @hannahpots holds her in their dirty hands so they can play pretend eager to unfold it soft body moulded incised apologies eroded they carve her breath there’s almost nothing left their bonsai Aphrodite they found her words to bend lips to mend without an end Our bodies have been sold to us as "clickbait", our desirability as power and our attractiveness as commodity... Under patriarchal and capitalist structures, feelings of worthlessness manifest when you don’t look as consumable and marketable as you are told to be. Everything womxn are sold is targeted towards looking more digestible for male consumption and as a result this is what we (as a collective) consume. This is not a new structure. The ancient Greek story of Pygmalion reflected a familiar narrative and was even adapted into a makeover style film titled My Fair Lady in 1939, wherein Eliza Dolittle is transformed into a "lady". In the original story, Pygmalion is a sculptor and king of Cyprus who carves an ivory statue of a maiden, named Galatea. Galatea is so perfect that he falls in love with her. He then prays to Aphrodite to make her human (because you know, none of the other maidens could ever be as perfect) and she grants his wish. I do love that story without the ending though, because screw that guy… Most likely, everyone can resonate with looking into the mirror and picking themselves apart with insecurities. Sucking in your belly, tensing muscles, arching your back to give an illusion of a bigger bum and squeezing your sides to make your waist smaller. When you stare at a word for too long, it doesn’t look right. When you stare at yourself in the mirror for too long, you run the risk of doing the same. I don’t feel like I’m the most attractive person in a bar, nor am I immune to poking, prodding and warping my body in the mirror but... I can’t say I’ve ever experienced discrimination because of my body or skin. I am a size 10, able-bodied, white girl with what’s considered to be a feminine figure. Generally, society has never told me that my body is wrong. No matter how I feel about myself, no matter how much I critique myself, and no matter how shitty I may feel about myself, I have to accept that my genetics afford me privilege. Acknowledging that how "attractive" the general public perceives me to be has everything to do with how people treat me was difficult. I mostly wanted to write a lot of things off as they liked my "personality" (I know how annoying that sounds) when the reality is they may have liked my personality, but my approachability has everything to do with societal and patriarchal bias**. Another reason this was difficult to accept was that part of me thinks that accepting "attractiveness privilege" means I am automatically calling people who don’t look like me "unattractive" with which I wholeheartedly disagree. However, it’s more about understanding how my actions and thoughts on my own body affect those around me. I can be subject to the pressures of feeling not thin enough, falling into self-deprecatory fat-shaming when I see an "unflattering" photo of myself or mentally congratulating myself for skipping meals or not feeling hungry. Even though it is directed towards my own body, I have to fight it because my internalised fatphobia not only is unhealthy, in so many ways, it reinforces everything I claim to be against. I was called out for this behaviour by someone very close to me. I would never think or say any of these things about anyone else but how the hell is someone my size or larger going to feel hearing that I feel gross in a bikini? It most likely isn’t comfortable. We shape ourselves into their* Galatea so that they will love us and consume us so that we feel like we are worth something. This is heavily embedded into the way we think, and it’s important to not beat yourself (or others) up for parts of you that don’t or do fit into their* "desirable" category. Beauty is a cultural construct, and you will always be better whole. *they/their = patriarchy, capitalism, colonial structures **conscious and unconscious Submission 5: Not Your Place To Comment @evelynemandoukos As a teen I was always active and relatively thin. I didn’t touch alcohol until I was 18 so my weight was never affected by drinking. In first year uni I was regularly partying and drinking with my friends, working my first job until 12am on weekends and eating late at night - obviously this affected my weight. I eventually signed up for KX pilates - something I used to do regularly with my mum since I was 15. I became super strict about what I ate and my goal was tone up and I enjoyed the process of working hard to get results. Other people started to notice. I remember someone telling me that a guy I knew had said “Wow she has lost so much weight, I would so go there with her now”. Despite the fact I was never interested in this person to begin with, this comment affected me greatly, making me think there was something wrong with how I looked before. I made sure I would never allow myself to get to that point of appearing “fat” or whatever it is that individual perceived me to be again. At times I was way too hard on myself. For a while my “unhealthy snack” would be my daily coffee (which had no sugar) and I would eat very bland food or soups. I eventually realised that this was unhealthy and unnecessary and so I started experimenting with a plethora of vegetarian recipes. KX pilates has become a passion of mine and an important part of my weekly routine. During my change of lifestyle, I have had numerous family members tell me that I look “too skinny”, that I have “lost a lot of weight” and that they are “concerned for me” when all I was doing was trying to be the best version of myself. I remember going to the pharmacy near my house and I said hi to a worker who knows me. She stopped; looked me up and down and said she “didn’t recognise me because I had lost so much weight”. I thought to myself, “If she says she didn’t recognise me, then what did I look like before?” I know that many of these people do not have ill-intent behind these comments, however the outcome is still the same. As a woman, it feels as though no matter what you do you will never be good enough to live up to everyone else’s standards. You’re always too this or too that. I have stopped allowing people to make me feel ashamed of what I look like because I do not exercise for anyone else - I do it for me. Therefore the commentary from others - no matter the intent - is irrelevant. Unfortunately not everyone gets to a place of self-acceptance and I have witnessed first hand how extremely damaging these comments can be... So I implore everyone to choose their words carefully and understand that it is actually not your place to comment on or question someone’s physical appearance or weight. Although I don’t feel like I owe anyone an explanation, for me, exercise and eating well is genuinely about feeling healthy and being the best version of myself NOT a number on a scale. I hope everyone can be the best version of themselves - whatever that may mean for you. Submission 6: Laughing It Off Anonymous I was heavier when I was in my early teen years and this one guy came up to me everyday for a year, slapped my "man" boobs around and shouted "chunky", putting on a voice. I laughed it off at the time because I didn't feel like I could say anything. Submission 7: Untitled @cloverbluecowboy I cannot remember the moment I realised I was (am) fat. Only that I was small, and that it was strange to feel hated for it. To be young and made ugly for lacking the athletic physique of a child from a country town. To no longer be whittled and instead be weighty. Thank God for your brain! To be young, fat and have any sense of sexuality beaten out of my gut before I could grasp it - where is my sense of desire? Who can hold me when I'm too big for both hands? Everyone! And you will still be worthy of the space between. To be fat feminine and act is to be comic. Point me in a direct which proves me wrong. I sit and write reflective essays for acting courses screaming, “Finally! I feel in my body like the actors!”, and yet I continue to look nothing like them. They are lean and taunt. And it is not their fault - they are no more or less ugly or beautiful for it. But I lay and watch thinner friends fret over becoming fat, only to wonder, "If this is your fear, what do you think of me"? Have I always lived as the monster under your bed? Have I simply learnt how to dress for them and offer the silhouette they want from me? Do I really not mind if the waist is synched? Do I live a life of female impersonation in this malleable body? Who let my mother dress me in low-rise skinny jeans?! And does she hate me for living in the body she gave me? For years I lived in shapeless bags and forgot that I had a body. I felt housed in a terrible tension of a stretched skin prison and chose to pretend I didn’t live there. Now I know my body to be a canvas - stretch the skin across my hollow-boned structure like a holy yurt and invite everyone I trust to my house-warming party. Feel the floorboards on my stomach flex with anxious comfort as they step inside. Become an ornate fixture of meaningless scribbles and sentimental movement. I live as fluid instillation and dress as a personal God. I am grasped with attracted intent and grasp back the same. I love character face and have character face. I see myself in others and love it. If you or someone you know is struggling, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, we highly recommend these resources: Butterfly Foundation: (+61) 1800 334 673 Lifeline: (+61) 13 11 14 Eating Disorders Victoria: (+61) 1300 550 236 We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article. Illustrations by Ella Clair. Submission 4 artwork by Hannah Potter.

  • Your Stories: Body Image (Pt. I)

    By Ella Clair and Jake Amy CW: Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, self harm, suicide At the start of August, the Attaboi team put out an invitation for you to share with us your experiences with your own body image. The submissions we received demonstrate the vast complexities and intricate nuances of people’s relationships with their bodies. Touching on intersections of invisible illnesses, bullying, representation, racism, appropriation, career pressures and mental and physical health, these stories are compelling, raw and at times hard to read. Thank you so much for trusting us with your words. Your voices deserve to be heard and forge open a space for further conversations surrounding body image online and within our day to day lives. Submission 1: Being Black is Beautiful I’ve found that stories of BIPOC navigating predominantly white spaces all have such similar narratives and underlying issues. For me, in regards to body image; growing up in Australia was a very uncomfortable experience that ultimately led to a lot of self-hatred. The prejudice and racism start young, but given this country's history, I can't say I’m overly surprised, unfortunately. Tokenism has been a recurring theme through my experience, and there were always constant comments (some well-intentioned, others not) on my "womanly" figure from a very young age. My hair has also been a huge point of contention for me; ridiculed for having "poodle hair" if I wore it natural, but similarly humiliated and called stereotypical names if I wore a protective style like box braids. Following some of these experiences, I spent years trying to erase my blackness. It took a few years to reconnect with myself, decolonize my mind and unpack internalised ideas of what beauty should ‘look like’. The irony isn’t lost on me that now being black is ~trendy~: the very things I was bullied for are considered desirable on white bodies; ...a rise in Brazilian butt lifts, fillers and appropriation of hairstyles such as cornrows and box braids. With all that being said, I still need to actively recognise my privilege of being a light-skinned biracial black woman as being half-white has actively benefited me as well. We need to celebrate blackness. Being black is beautiful, being black is a blessing and ideas of European beauty being the default need to be dismantled. Submission 2: A Body with a Story to Tell @mcalice_ I’m really passionate about being an advocate for invisible illnesses and disabilities. From the outside, I am someone whose body looks healthy and "normal", but on the inside, my body tells a different story. Some days I find something as simple as walking a very difficult and taxing task - physically and mentally. This has led to a love/hate relationship with my body, the tubes that kept it alive and the scars that changed my life. In so-called Australia, I am yet to see these bodies shown. Bodies with marks, scars and mobility aids. I think there is something so undeniably beautiful about a body with a story to tell. I am proud of the uniqueness of my body and how it works differently. I wish more people could see disabilities in the way I see them. Submission 3: Living with Bulimia Nervosa and Body Dysmorphia as a Musician Anonymous It’s late 2018 and I’m lying on the examination bed in a radiology clinic, staring up at the holes in the ceiling. This has become my new normal, having multiple appointments per week while trying to balance a busy life. It feels like a big shameful secret - not many people know or would guess by looking at me that I have so many health issues, and I’m scared to tell people. I have recently developed a chronic pain condition and am finding it difficult to concentrate, my hair is falling out, I’m constantly anxious and constantly have a sore throat, on top of that some of my teeth are rotting and I've started experiencing issues with my heart. I take a deep breath in and think about how all of the ceilings in these places look exactly the same. From all other angles I appeared to be a happy, healthy young person who was about to graduate from university and had an established, growing career in music. How had it come to this? The truth is that this had been going on for years, I was just so in denial. And honey, I had a big storm comin’. My eating disorder (ED) began when I was 12 years old, though I didn’t begin to accept I had a problem until I was about 19. It started out with restricting my meals and exercising a few extra times a week, and gradually developed to going days without food, self harming, binge eating, and purging. Looking back, I was actually a very active and healthy kid. I played a few sports at school and swam or rode my bike with other kids in my neighbourhood every day. One of my parents had worked in nutrition so I ate well and really enjoyed food. It’s hard to pinpoint, but I would say my ED started to develop because I had an extremely turbulent, abusive and volatile home life and found it hard to fit in with the kids at my school, plus we moved around a lot. The only places I felt safe were at the pool or at my school’s library. I barely had any autonomy, safe space or validation as a young child, and this had led me to want to have some control. I had an intense need to be perfect. I thought that if I was perfect then everything would get better, and everybody would love me. As it often happens with eating disorders, I became very good at hiding my behaviours and became very secretive, and so this craving for perfection grew. My adolescent years were extremely unhappy. I was constantly buying into diet culture, reading problematic magazines and discovered "thinspo" blogs. I reckon that if you asked me for the amount of calories in any food when I was 14, I would have known the answer in a split second. I memorised all of this information - diet tips, exercise/workout routines, make up that made you look slimmer, my weight and body measurements. I constantly wrote out my plans in my diary, detailing how I would achieve my weight loss goals, as well as recording every single calorie I ate that day. I was too scared to eat in public, and wouldn’t order anything substantial at family meals whenever we ate out. It was just a pure obsession that I couldn’t ignore. In high school I realised that my passion in life was music and that I wanted to pursue it as a career. This became an extremely difficult conversation between my parents and I, who were very unsupportive at the time. Again, I felt like I was losing control of my decisions in life and this fuelled the bulimia even more. I spent my days at school working hard but barely eating, and then got home, raided the pantry and binge ate. Then I would work out or go on long runs to burn all the food off, and after a long shower I would lock myself in my room, play guitar and sing. Even though this daily routine made me feel absolutely miserable, it simultaneously felt so good feeling like I was in control, and holding onto the hope that I was going to lose an obscene amount of weight and instantly be popular, successful and beautiful. I spent hours late into the night reading through fitness and thinspo blogs, and saving pictures to keep myself motivated - a somewhat morbid looking collection that I didn’t end up deleting until I was 22. I was borderline anaemic, fatigued and extremely depressed. I thought that once I got out of my hometown and moved to the city for uni everything would change and I could be a different person, a better person. Spoiler alert: things did not change. My second year of uni was when my eating disorder was living its best life. It had truly taken over every aspect of my life with no signs of stopping. I was drinking up to 8 coffees a day to get through all my classes, practise and rehearsals. My grades were terrible, and I would usually get way too drunk at social events and make huge fool of myself. My go-to dinner before a gig was a red bull and a lollipop, or a piece of red liquorice. When I was getting ready to go onstage I would so often cry when I looked at myself in the mirror. I truly hated my body. Being a frontline musician is so incredibly difficult to deal with negative body image and low self esteem. I dealt with an unholy amount of body dysmorphia through the early stages of my performance career. I was constantly out of money, spending way too much of my budget on food, most of which I would eventually purge out my body. I tried out several diets, all of them extremely restrictive and leaving me with barely any energy. After years of this abuse against my body, I just gave up. I was so burnt out and couldn’t do it anymore, I could barely get out of bed let alone have enough energy for a gig. I wanted to stop but just didn’t know how. When I was 21, I got some help from my therapist, who referred me to an outpatient program. With a little hesitation I booked myself in and the treatment lasted for nearly a year and a half. It was really intense, turbulent, confronting and emotional, but I was getting so much better. The comparison between my life then and now is honestly hard to put into words. I’m still not 100% "cured", but there is a huge difference. I managed to stop purging a year into treatment, my energy has come back, I feel happier and healthier than I have in years, and I’m able to play more gigs and be present and energetic on stage. Once you harness the fear, there is something so immensely empowering in putting on your favourite outfit and going out for a meal purely for the pleasure of it, knowing it is nourishing your body and helping the process along. When I started my recovery journey I opened up to more of my friends, family and coworkers about what had been going on. Some of the responses I got taught me a lot about how we view eating disorders on a societal level. Someone once said, "But you don’t look like you have an eating disorder", and that has been one that has always stuck with me. In my experience, people still don’t seem to know enough about eating disorders, so I want to finish off my story by ruling out some common misconceptions with these points: People don’t have to be very skinny or emaciated in order to be incredibly sick. Eating disorders don’t discriminate, and can affect anyone regardless of gender, though a common misconception is that they only affect women or young girls. There is more than one type of eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa seems to be the one that people know most about, or at least have heard of. Bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder,  ARFID (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder) and other disorders also exist and are just as serious. Ok, maybe this one’s a bit of a rant: eating disorders are not glamorous. I am filled to the brim with sheer exhaustion because of the amount of times I have seen eating disorders romanticised in the media, casually spoken about, or even joked about in public or in social settings. These are serious illnesses we’re talking about, folks! The effects caused by/linked to eating disorders include but are not limited to: sleep apnea, muscle weakness, hair loss, tooth decay, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, low heart rate, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, malnutrition, pancreatitis, and many more. Suicide is often linked to eating disorders, and can be a major cause of death amongst sufferers, and Anorexia Nervosa statistically has the highest death rate of any mental illness. I hope one day I’ll be ready to share this publicly, with my name attached to it, but for now it’s still too scary. I hope it makes sense to someone out there and helps them to know that they are not alone. If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you are struggling with similar issues, I encourage you to reach out to someone you love and trust, and know that support is out there. Recovery is possible, and I stand with you. If you or someone you know is struggling, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, I highly recommend these resources: Eating Disorders Victoria: (+61) 1300 550 236 Butterfly Foundation: (+61) 1800 33 4673 Lifeline: 13 11 14 We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article. Illustrations by Ella Clair

  • Imbi: Body Image and Representation

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy, Hugh Heller and Ella Clair In this moment of increased online discourse surrounding the nuances of cultural and gender identities, music artists have been at the forefront of the conversation. For people who don’t fit within societal "norms", their real life experiences preceded this dialogue. Alternative RnB artist Imbi has paved a path for such people in our music industry, but not without difficulties. Imbi expresses that all personal and political matters are deeply connected. To them, body image intersects with these other facets of identity. In a chat with Emma Volard last week, Imbi displayed hope for a genuinely diverse and inclusive music industry. What follows is an abridged version of this conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? As with any relationship, my relationship with my body is incredibly complex and very fluid - it’s ever-changing, growing and developing. Right now, it’s a mostly positive one. I feel that each day I grow more and more into myself, and feel more and more peaceful with my vessel. But that being said, it fluctuates. And my relationship with my body isn’t exclusive to me. When I have people around me who are telling me I’m beautiful and sharing joyful moments with my body, it helps me affirm my relationship with my body. That’s an energetic exchange. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? For a long time, I deeply resented myself and my body, and I didn’t understand why. I thought it was because I was undesirable or wasn’t beautiful. I really wholeheartedly believed that for the majority of my upbringing. That started to shift when I began to understand my feelings of dissonance between my soul and my physical form. I guess I realised that dissonance is something completely natural and inherent in our human experience. I recognised that our soul is something other than our physical, and as much as they’re connected and reflect each other, they’re not the same thing. As I understood more about my identity and strengthened it outside of my body, my relationship with my body shifted. That shift allowed me to appreciate my body from a different perspective, as opposed to what I was doing before, where I was like, “Oh my God, everyone’s judging me based on this physical thing.” E: What about your sexuality? My sexuality hasn’t so much affected my body image, but my gender identity definitely has. Relating to the physical, I suppose that gender presents its own difficulties. I mean, there are elements of my physical body that don’t align with my gender identity, at least in socially acceptable ways. Having breasts is something that I constantly struggle with. But that being said, it’s also somewhat liberating - it’s also really helped me understand how my physical body doesn’t represent me in my entirety. In fact, it’s impossible that it could represent me in my entirety. That’s something I’ve learnt as a non-binary genderqueer person, whose gender identity is constantly fluctuating. E: How has your cultural background influenced your body image? I only realised that I wasn’t white when I was about 18 years old. I went to a private Jewish school where the majority of students were of South African background. There were like, three other brown kids in my year, and we’d joke about being the only brown kids. I didn’t actually register that I had a different cultural background to everyone else until I graduated school. And I think that’s sort of empowered me. I guess for a long time, I got by with enough privilege to not be reminded constantly of the colour of my skin, which definitely has its pros and cons. I mean, at school I was really confused as to why no one found me desirable. I can now reflect on that and be like, oh, racial bias and the “otherness” of being a brown-skinned person. Whether it was conscious or not, I think young [white] children, especially from conservative backgrounds, are quite intimidated or afraid of brown bodies. But I mean, it’s only added another layer of complexity to my relationship with myself. At this point, I find being brown quite empowering and something that I really value and cherish about myself. The more I lean into my otherness, and the more I lean into my differences and the things that make me unique, the more affirmed I feel in my body. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? Definitely not. There is a really huge dissonance in what the Australian industry claims to want and what it actually practices. There’s a lot of talk about being intersectional and wanting to be diverse and all of this stuff, but in practice, it just misses the mark entirely. And it’s not for lack of artists of diverse genders or cultural backgrounds - perhaps it’s just because of what’s the easiest and most accessible. You know, there’s these cis white, skinny, surfer-dude bros who make that one very generic kind of music that apparently the Australian public can’t get enough of. I believe they have room for more. E: How does that make you feel? It’s really disheartening. There’s definitely a big part of me that wonders why I’m doing this if I’m only going to tick the “token, gender-diverse, brown person” diversity box. And I mean, that’s happened and partly why I think I’ve had many of the opportunities I’ve had. I’m pretty sure it was just to save face and to not get called out. You know the whole @LineupsWithoutMales thing? Like, festivals making sure they hit a 50/50 [gender] ratio? It’s upsetting, but also something that keeps me going - it gives me a reason to represent. Are we on a road to changing this? I mean, the fact that there’s this desire to save face and a pressure to meet those quotas is something. I think we are on the road to a more diverse musical landscape in Australia and the mainstream, but I think it needs to come from the genuine intention of being accepting and encouraging of all kinds of musicians as opposed to the intention to not get fucked on by the public. I don’t know if that intentional shift is something that we’re close to at all. But I have hope. I mean, I have to have hope, right? Where do you look to see yourself represented? It’s really hard. I find safety and familiarity in my own community and see myself represented there, but in terms of the music scene and public figures, I think I’ve gotten to a point where I recognise I won’t find that representation. I certainly don’t look for representation in so-called Australia - that type of representation doesn’t exist in an accessible way here. There’s some folks I follow on Instagram, but they’re from other places across the globe. And I don’t follow those people to see myself represented anyway. I’ve never thought about looking for myself in musical role models because it’s never an option. It’s kind of sad. How has your body image impacted the way you present yourself as an artist? In the past, I tried to dull things down and make myself more palatable. I never really allowed myself to realise my creative impulses because I didn’t think they would be desirable or attractive to the mainstream, or even just the music scene. Unfortunately, I think that’s still pretty true. That being said, I haven’t really been doing much music stuff this year. I’ve been focussing on personal growth and implementing structural changes to the ways I engage with my artistry and musicianship. I’m quite excited to bring a new element of myself to the music scene when we start back up again - an unapologetically fearless declaration of who I am in all of my intersections, showing the industry how implementing diversity quotas are not the only thing people need to do to feel comfortable. I’m actually tired of making sure that people are comfortable around my presence. In future, I’ll be a lot louder. Have white beauty standards had any implications on your artistry? 100%. I mean, I’ve tried very hard to maintain my artistry as authentically as possible, but white beauty standards have still had an incredibly damaging effect on my perception of self, which only now, at the age of 23, am I starting to unravel. Only now I can be honest with myself about what those effects have been, what I need to do to work through them, and how to shift those thought patterns. For the longest time, white beauty standards made me hate myself. With a Middle Eastern background, I’m hairier than most people, my hair is a bit more coarse, I sweat more, my skin is darker. For the longest time, I thought all of that meant there was something wrong with me. For the longest time, they were things I couldn’t accept, couldn’t celebrate. I tried to change these things. I didn’t even understand that these things were a result of just my genetics. Of course, now I’ve started this journey of unlearning and reprogramming, that’s really different. It’s starting to shift now. I’m working through it. We’re working through it. E: Yeah, I think we’re all trying to recondition ourselves out of these really awful and destructive ideals. Yeah, white beauty standards don’t just have negative impacts on non-white people. They’re fucked for pretty much everyone because they’re unrealistic. Whether it’s weight-based, clearness of skin, whatever… what is advertised as “normal beauty standards” is unattainable to most. It’s not even real. It’s photoshopped and digitised. It’s something that we all need to actively be deconstructing. Especially for non-white people, but also for everyone. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social and political issues? It’s all deeply connected. You can’t talk about white beauty standards without talking about racism. You can’t talk about global warming and environmental justice without talking about Indigenous sovereignty. And I think if someone is passionate about deconstructing white beauty standards, it’s up to them to consider whether or not it’s their place to be spearheading that discussion. Secondly, if it is their place, then it needs to be intersectional and carry an awareness. For example, in this conversation, yes, we’re talking about white beauty standards, but there’s also the space to engage in a whole host of other political content. I think that’s really necessary when discussing any sort of political or social matter. So, is there space for discussing body image issues when the rest of the world is so deeply cooked as well? I guess there has to be. It’s part of deconstructing the inherent societal flaws and toxic patterns of “normalised behaviors” that we’ve been force-fed since popping out of the womb. How has your identity affected the way you’ve been treated in the music scene in so-called Australia? There have been opportunities given to me just because of my “identity”: the labels that I choose to give myself to cope with existing. There have been times where I’ve found really amazing people in the industry because of our similarities in our identity, because of our differences. There have been countless times where I’ve been completely overlooked at shows or festivals. I was very much just there to be there. When you invite someone to perform at your show, what kind of support have you put in place to make sure their experience wasn’t personally damaging? If their experience was damaging, do you have a process of accountability and can you make the appropriate reparations? That type of support simply just does not exist. At all. And there have definitely been times where I deeply wish that it did. I’ve had many experiences where I’ve been encouraged to quieten myself. I’ve been encouraged to make myself smaller and keep my head down - to keep it all as vanilla as possible and to be easy to deal with. There have been times where it hasn’t mattered how loud I am - the people in charge don’t have any intention of actually listening to me and my needs. Normally, if someone isn’t part of the queer community, I can sense their fear when they engage with me. It’s as if they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. If you’re a booker and you are inviting me, a gender diverse person, to perform in your space, it really doesn’t take much to make me feel safer. The first step is to stick up a couple pieces of paper over gendered bathrooms (eg. this bathroom has a urinal and this one does not). You can also just ask me what I need to feel safe. “What does Imbi need to feel comfortable?” And for sure, that doesn’t have to be exclusive to gender - that support should be provided when you’re inviting anyone into your space. Unfortunately (and more often than not), people think they’re being inclusive just by inviting those [gender diverse] people there to play, and think they don’t have to do these other things. It’s so upsetting. You need to realise that you’re inviting someone whose day-to-day existence entails dealing with being overlooked, misinterpreted, misunderstood and oftentimes attacked. E: What about as a person of colour? While I think my experiences are valid and real, I’m quite light skinned and definitely don’t cop the brunt of racism in any way, shape or form. Could you elaborate on your experiences of skin colour bias? It’s really challenging to discuss and to navigate because I have faced microaggressions where it’s quite obvious that the white people in the space are being treated substantially differently and given different preferences. That being said, when I’m in a space with darker-skinned people, that same amount of privilege that’s granted to white people is then granted to me. That’s a process of accountability that I have to take on. I have to recognise where that privilege comes through, what I can do with that privilege to ensure the person perpetuating the racial bias is aware of what they’re doing, and then make reparations for that. If I haven’t stood up in the past, which has happened, then it’s me sitting down and thinking, “Okay, how can I make reparations for my head nodding where I should’ve been shaking my fist in solidarity with those who look a little bit different to me?” These are really important conversations. People find it hard to admit that they’ve done something wrong, but that’s just a part of the human experience. We all have done many things wrong. It’s about learning what each situation asks of you and taking accountability. Do you feel you’ve seen many incidents of colourism in your time in the music industry? Yes, I do. Many times. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon - I see it as something that’s very deeply ingrained in the so-called “Australian” psyche: a systemic problem. The entire social structure and system here is based off mass cultural genocide and white supremacy. In order to amend the toxic behaviours people have been perpetrating for decades, there requires an entire deconstruction of what is considered “normal behaviour”. If we want our planet to live on, we have to decolonise. I don’t know if people are ready for that conversation yet? What change would you like to see in the so-called Australian music industry over the next five years? In an ideal world, I’d like to see reparations made. I’d like to see diverse and intersectional lineups at every event. I’d like all Indigenous lineups at festivals that are celebrated and encouraged by the mainstream. I’d like to see new levels of safety and community care implemented throughout venues and festivals. I’d like to see less white men running venues and festivals. Being realistic, furthering discourse. I’d like to see more of these conversations going on in more mainstream ways. It’s not hard to put up a poster at a venue that says “if you feel unsafe, do this”. I hope the industry can change and grow. I really do. I hope that the widely accepted norms within the music industry can be deconstructed and reconstructed in more equitable, accepting and intentional ways. I’d also like to say that I hope people can be gentle with themselves in taking accountability. I’d like to express my deep love and care for the people who’ve engaged in this, either as readers or as people helping to push these sorts of conversations. I hope everyone can love themselves and their communities. Only then can we all grow together. Keep up to date with Imbi here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.

  • Andrea Keller on Gender Equality: Is the Music Industry at a “Tipping Point”?

    Written by Rose Bassett, Ella Clair and Jake Amy While speaking to improvising pianist and composer Andrea Keller last week, I asked for her thoughts on gender inequality within the so-called Australian music industry. In particular, I was interested in how she, one of the world’s most incredible pianists, has seen it expressed throughout her diverse career. Within her response, Andrea mentioned a “tipping point” - a moment in time where gender equality begins to ground itself in a more stable and established position within our music industry. 2020 could, in my view, be the “tipping point” year. Alongside the very real and varied challenges this year has presented, we can reflect on the persistence of gender inequalities, expressing themselves through the actions and decisions of individuals, institutions and organisations alike. COVID-19 has shaken the foundations of our music industry. Can we rebuild them, only this time, with a newer and more inclusive design? Why are gender and cultural inequalities such persistent themes within our music industry? The themes of gender and cultural inequality infiltrate so much of society and our lives, so of course they can be found in our music scene too. As to the reasons for their persistence, I believe these themes remain entrenched in our community because there is still apprehension with those who aren’t willing to truly recognise and acknowledge misguided ways of thinking. We can defend our positions without really listening to others, with humility, and with the sole intention to understand, but in my view, this is the only way forward. As a music community, we’re challenging our behaviours and ways of thinking, and making positive motions towards identifying and changing the defective systems we’ve been reliant on for too long. Although I have mixed feelings about quotas, making change begins with consciousness. As with most things, we have to train our intuition to respond in new ways, therefore we are in somewhat of a “practise” phase now, as we educate ourselves and others through it. While we’re practising together, my hope is that we never again approach a female/gender nonconforming/marginalised musician for a gig/project/teaching position with the words “we really need a woman/we’re doing a program featuring women/we want to make sure we have female representation”. If you are writing that email/having that conversation and you go to write/say something along those lines, please stop yourself. Without fail, this feels like a major slap in the face, diminishing merit and serving no purpose other than to devalue, albeit unintentionally. We’ve had, and do have, visionaries in our community; women and men who lead by example with their graceful actions, who provide and create opportunities to celebrate the diversity of our community. I’m particularly grateful that we have people like Zoe Hauptman, Chelsea Wilson, Claire Cross, Sonja Horbelt, and more, working in positions of leadership in our scene. With more and more visionaries at the helm, my hope is that we’ll have trained our collective intuition enough, so we may get closer to tipping the gender and cultural imbalance. Within the jazz scene it could be said that there has been a “code of silence” around issues of gender and diversity. Have you experienced this, and if so, how? The jazz scene is a male-dominated industry where survival relies on how you’re connected and who you’re connected to. This has traditionally led to women often being overlooked. You can look at many areas of the industry to see this clearly in action. Looking at the permanent staffing at four institutions that offer the study of Jazz and Improvisation (or equivalent) Bachelor of Music performance degrees in Melbourne, for instance, gives a snapshot of gender and diversity inequality. Across the four degrees that employ approximately 21 current permanent staff, only four are women, with half of the institutions having all-male permanent staff teams. The first of the current female staff appointments occurred in mid-2017, however, in my view, it’s not the case that there weren’t appropriately qualified or work-ready females pre-2017. We silence the uncomfortable truth, but we need to look at this honestly, without getting defensive, and acknowledge it in full light, if we’re to begin to dismantle our archaic constructs. Recently, Australian jazz musician and educator James Morrison wrote a character reference for a student who admitted to indecent assault. What do you think about this? I cannot comment on the James Morrison Academy situation. However, the scenario described is far from unique in the music industry and broader society; perpetrators being protected (by connection, power and/or wealth) and victims made voiceless. This sends a really disturbing message to those (particularly marginalised) members of our community who may find themselves in need – that when push comes to shove, the system will not protect them. This includes those who should have their duty of care central to their manifesto. Misaligned duty of care feels like the ultimate betrayal. Examples of gross misdirected compassion perplex me, and these are not choices I would make. The motivation is beyond my comprehension, especially from those in positions of leadership and power. To bias one’s compassion so singularly in one direction, and with what is often reported to be total abandonment of those most vulnerable. There is no situation or reason that makes disrespectful behaviour/violence against human beings acceptable. If we want to break the cycle, we need to seriously address our compassion-bias. All the parties involved in a situation such as this require guidance, counselling, mentoring, training, education, and more. In my view, we need to be better at hearing the experiences of others. If we’re only able to understand others through comparisons with our own lives, we run the risk of minimising their consequences by the limits of our own emotional intelligence and experiences. We should listen to understand, not to answer, not to form an opinion, but just listen to understand. Have you experienced sexism within the music industry and, if so, in what ways? I read an interview with an American jazz musician who expressed that at the start of each gig she felt as though there was an assumption that she couldn’t play, so she had to work extra hard to convince audiences of her legitimacy. She articulated something I’d always sensed but had never articulated for myself – it was somewhat consoling to put a label on it, and to know that it’s a shared experience. The oppressing lack of belief, the feeling of always starting on the back foot, speculations that you’ve only been selected or awarded an opportunity because you’re a woman and there’s a box to tick... is tough to front up to every day. Fortunately, in my experience, I’ve been surrounded by enough supportive and encouraging musicians and people in the industry to help me stay on course. Without mentors, role models, and multiple avenues for musical pursuit, my story may well be different. R: Have you found that women too can perpetuate unfair standards against one another in similar or different ways to men? I entered motherhood at the same time that I began emerging as a musician on the jazz scene. Because of the synchronicity of both events, I often attribute motherhood as the main root of biased attitudes towards me. I don’t believe these attitudes are born from disrespect or malice; I see them coming from misunderstanding. The unfair standards I’ve experienced from women have generally involved me missing out on work because I have three children and there is an assumption that my primary role is to care for them. Whereas, in reality, my role is as much to provide financial security for them as it is to care for them. My husband, who is also a musician and is also responsible for the care of our children, does not get subjected to the same treatment. These attitudes can come from women with or without children, but when they are mothers themselves, it does make me wonder who’s got my back. These experiences teach me how important it is to communicate with people about what the reality is, and to act compassionately, giving them the power to decide what is or is not possible for them, it shouldn’t be left up to my assumptions. What was your experience of music education as an instrumentalist? As a child starting out in music, I was learning in the classical world, which doesn’t have the exaggerated gender imbalance we see in jazz. In my early teenage years, when I got interested in jazz, the gender imbalance was instantly noticeable, but it didn’t deter me. I was shy and lacked confidence, and I envied the gusto with which the boys approached improvisation, but I stuck with it. I loved the music and there were enough people encouraging me. I was really fortunate as I had great teachers and fellow students. Trumpeter Phil Slater was in the first jazz band I ever played in. Even as a teenager, he was incredibly supportive, and his focus was contagious! I did find myself in a few situations that were negative, but because I had multiple avenues of musical activity going on, I was able to abandon the negative ones and just stuck with the positive ones. Studying my undergraduate degree, at what is now the Jazz and Improvisation department at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, was overall a positive experience. Brian Brown, who established the course, was a visionary man, and his all-inclusive philosophy and unbiased approach reverberated through the staff and students. Sue Johnson was on permanent staff at the time, and her encouragement and nurturing played an enormous part in keeping me on my path. Still, I was one of only two female instrumentalists in my year, along with two female singers, the remaining 35 students were male. That was back in the mid-nineties. I had assumed that things would look vastly different 25 years on, in terms of gender equity, but sadly they don’t to me. R: Now, as an educator yourself, do you feel that this education system has become more equal regarding gender? Why or why not? I don’t have answers here. Dishearteningly, any shift towards gender equality in the education system has been barely perceptible. There is hope that the inclusion of women on staff in institutions, and the establishment of Take Note, Girls Do Jazz, and other equivalent programs in the major cities around Australia will help propel us towards a tipping point. I hope to see it turn around in my lifetime. There are lots of things we’re doing right and there’s no question that we must continue to dedicate our efforts towards positive change. Keep up to date with Andrea here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.

  • Thando on Identity, Image and the Complexity of White Beauty Standards

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller From Emma: So far, 2020 has been a year of ambiguity, over-sanitised dry hands, loss of people-skills and fluctuations in body mass. For some, it’s also been a year of relentless self-doubt and learning how to not be a fucking misogynist. We’ve seen online activism reach its peak and the masses band together towards dismantling systems of oppression. And I myself have seen my perspective of self teeter between the realms of crippling anxiety, self-deprecation and total self-confidence. My relationship with body image is complex and I’ve definitely had my fair share of comments tossed my way about weight gain, health and dieting. I like to pride myself on being a strong, independent and empowered woman, and for the most part I am. But there are days where I am self-conscious and hyper-critical about my own physical appearance. However, in this time of isolation I’ve found solace and renewed confidence in online conversations with empowered women and gender nonconforming people from the so-called Australian music scene. This experience inspired me to deepen these conversations with a series of interviews with some of Naarm’s most empowering women and gender nonconforming artists. I spoke with alt-RnB artist Thando, whose body confidence and musicality I’ve admired, about her personal relationship with body image and her negation of white beauty standards. Here’s an abridged version of our conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? It was not until I got pregnant that I realised how incredible the vessel I have is. I know that I may not have society’s stock-standard “good-looking” body, but I’ve always appreciated it and loved all its differences nonetheless. Those differences help set me apart. As far as my personality goes, I’m kind of a weird person, so I guess it makes sense to make this the norm. I never go out of my way to maintain a look or anything. After the responsibility of nourishing a whole human, I treat it with more respect. I honour my body. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? Body image is not something I really ever think about - I’ve always been quite blasé about it. It’s allowed me to be very comfortable in my own skin and gives me the confidence to express whatever I feel, whether that be through the way I dress or in the way I move. In life, I just kind of soak up whatever energies are around me and use that to carry myself. What other people think of me is not my business (that’s something that I learnt from RuPaul). Not a lot of clothes that can express my personality come in my size, so I can’t shop at stock-standard stores. It’s probably a bit cliché but I think there aren’t as many options. I can’t just walk into Bardot and buy a thing. I'm a size 22 - there’s nothing at Bardot. I think they only size up to 16, so I have to look outside the box for ways that I can express who I am. I buy a lot online from overseas retailers, local designers or go op-shopping to try and find something I like. Standard sizing in Australia is so limited. In the US, they cater for a demographic that tends to be larger anyway, so there’s a bit more variety there. Has being a person of colour (POC) impacted your perception on body image? I definitely do not speak for all people of colour, but yes. I’m from the Ndebele tribe in Zimbabwe where big women are revered. The body standards there are the complete opposite to those of the Western world, so I’ve always grown up being that bitch. I’m juicy, thick, have a fat ass and stomach pouch... it’s all characteristics of being a woman from a favourable background. Eating good indicates your social standing - your family must have money. When I moved to Australia, I remember my family would comment on my body and be like, “It's going to be so easy for you to find a husband and navigate the dating world - no one’s going to want us because we’re skinny”. At the time, I didn't really understand it: I was not undesirable, but if I flipped through any magazine, all I saw was skinny white women. I just wasn’t that. Whenever I navigated white Australia, I was not ever looked at as the hot friend or the viable dating option. I was always the fat friend. And yet, there’s a whole culture of POC people (and not just from Zimbabwe) that used to look at me in a way that would glorify my body image. Basically all non-white people told me that I was a desirable woman because I had some meat on my bones. It was a weird space, and it only made sense to love my body the way that it was. I think I’d be doing a great disservice to other people that look like me to not embrace what I have. Obviously, I think it’s important to be transparent about this as well: I’m not promoting bad habits and unhealthy lifestyles - we need to accept the body that we have. I’m still quite a fit person, even if it doesn’t look like I am. I have the stamina to be on stage for three hours at a time, dancing and singing. I do my cardio and chase a one-year-old toddler around all the time. I know that I’m healthy. I just don’t look like someone who is skinny and goes out of their way to maintain their weight. In society, there are so many expectations of body-positive people to all have a similar shape and style. Body positivity is a bit of a weird term because I think it can imply that people who don’t have “beautiful bodies” are irrelevant. I’ve actually tried to steer away from saying that I’m body positive. This is the first time I’ve ever really spoken about my body in this context. It’s hard. People want to make sure that the whole spectrum of representation is represented, and whether I’m modelling or being the spokesperson for something, I tick three boxes: I’m a woman, I’m black, I have a “fat” body (and I don't find that offensive at all - it’s the same as saying someone has a “thin” body). I know that I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities because I tick so many boxes on that diversity spectrum. Being put in the forefront increases visibility for people that look like me. I’m very proud to have been able to get certain opportunities because of that. Because if you told me that I’d get those opportunities 15 years ago, I probably would’ve laughed. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? Yes and no. I see myself [represented] in women such as Emma Donovan and Kylie Auldist, but then also, it’s interesting to think that they’re not super mainstream artists either... I can't really think of anyone off the top of my head. I don’t know if that means I’m just not paying enough attention, or those people genuinely aren’t there. I think back to when I was a little girl watching Australian Idol and seeing Paulini on TV for the first time. I was like, holy shit... there’s a black girl on telly - I could totally audition on a show like this! Seeing her up there definitely gave me the confidence and self-assurance that I needed to start pursuing a dream in music. I actually find it quite interesting when I think about representation of body-positive women in our media. I can’t actually think of anyone. No, I do not see myself represented, Emma. E: How does that make you feel? I’m kind of disappointed, you know? And I think everyone is making a conscious effort to represent a lot more people: people who are gender diverse, culturally diverse... showing people who're able-bodied and also people who are disabled. We still need to do better though. It’d be really good to see people like me in newspapers and magazines, and not just in a tokenised way. Sometimes our bodies are invisible, and that’s really disheartening. There’s a darker part to auditions for things: so, you know, a casting agency for modelling has everyone participate in an audition but won’t explicitly tell everyone that they don’t actually want to see certain body shapes, and they sort of just don’t select those people. I guess the question becomes, “What can we do about it?”. Where do you look to see yourself represented? I think I gravitate towards seeing myself, if that makes any sense. For example, my saved Spotify songs are mostly by black women, and it’s not even intentional. I think it’s because I subconsciously want to see myself represented in those spaces. A lot of that comes from a lack of representation in my early days. I got here about 20 years ago and was the only black kid at my primary school in Canberra. I know that there were populations of African migrants in other cities and regional towns, but in Canberra I felt very invisible. I had to do my best to fit in with everything that was going on around me. I found myself dialling down my blackness in any way I knew how. I never wore Afrocentric hairstyles. I went to the ends of the earth to change my accent so that no one ever said anything about it. I still have a couple of words where my partner will playfully say, “I don't know what that means”, but it’s still a reminder of how othered I am. As a result of fighting it so hard when I was younger and trying to reclaim my blackness in adulthood, I naturally gravitate towards anything I see myself represented in. American media is kind of where I fit. I really love Jazmine Sullivan and her music videos. The people she features in her content resemble me the most. Beyoncé's HΘMΣCΘMING was amazing, because it didn’t just feature incredible show-fit dancers and backing singers. She had dancers that looked like me! Like, big girls. With thighs and booties and I was like, yes. It’s so exciting to see that because it’s a testament to being able to achieve anything you set your mind to and not letting society’s standards of ableism or beauty get in the way of that. It’s really important to be able to see yourself represented everywhere. Everywhere. Even if I've had opportunities given to me because of tokenism or quotas, I'm getting that festival slot or airplay or interview because someone wants to see what I’ve got to offer and hear what I've got to say. I’ll take that platform. I don’t overthink it. How has your body image impacted the way you present yourself as an artist? Majorly. It’s funny - I find that a lot of my fan base actually consists of a lot of middle-aged women, which is amazing. I think that largely came from being on The Voice when I was 20. Interestingly, I found there was a lot more acceptance of my body image when I dressed more conservatively. I guess that kind of mirrored what the crowd who came to see me was comfortable with. As I matured in my artistry, I took more risks and wrote music that was a bit more risqué, raunchy and vulgar. I obviously wanted to reflect that in the way that I presented myself on stage. So I’d wear a dress with a little bit more cleavage and raise the sex appeal, which is something that I’ve really enjoyed doing. I don’t think people are used to seeing a woman my size own their sexuality like that. If they do, it’s usually in pornography and they’re not going to talk about it. This was a way for me to playfully challenge what people think is sexy or beautiful, and maybe get them to consider that bigger bodies have just as much sex appeal [as smaller bodies]. Because everybody is desirable. The feedback I got from that was awesome, because people really relate to seeing someone that doesn’t conform to society’s standard of “sexy” owning their sexuality and doing it so comfortably, without being contrived. I definitely attribute that to having a really healthy relationship with a healthy sex life and being made to feel wonderful and sexy every single day, which really helps me elevate my body image. If I can give the same thing that my partner gives to me to my audiences, then I know that I’m doing my job. I want to help my audience feel empowered. That’s why releasing a song like Naked is so important to me. I want people to appreciate what is beneath their layers. You can be insecure and shy and not like certain things about yourself, but when you’re completely naked there’s nothing to hide behind. You have to be able to embrace every part of yourself. That’s why I talk about getting to know someone and everything that makes them who they are beside all the material stuff you see on the outside. Have white beauty standards had any implications on your artistry? No, not really. My sisters helped me realise that I was sexy. I was like, “You know what? Yeah”! Because of that, I’ve always walked with confidence and pride. I’ve never been ashamed of what I have, and because of that, I’ve never really compared myself to my white counterparts. White beauty standards exist in this sphere, and people can definitely succumb to the pressures that come from those standards. I think that if you have a really great support network around you (with people that hype you up everyday), you can counter those standards with something completely different and beautiful. I’m worthy of the swipe-right on Tinder. I’m worthy of all the things, because I’m beautiful, bold and sexy. And everyone can feel beautiful, bold and sexy. I don’t keep people around me that don’t make me feel good about myself. At the end of the day, people who fit within white beauty standards are still beautiful. I think everyone is absolutely stunning. And while I don’t see myself being represented in all campaigns, I can still appreciate beauty. As long as people are happy in their own bodies, then I’m happy. I think there’s definitely room to diversify beauty standards. Maybe we should just get rid of the standards altogether? There’s no realistic representation of what an average person looks like anyway. None of my friends fit into these standards at all. We all look so different. We all have a different way of looking at ourselves and appreciating the bodies that we have. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social/political issues? I think that body image is a pressing social/political issue. Look at the way that women’s bodies are policed in every society, every workplace (sex workers)... um, hello? You can care about other political/social issues as well as this, but there’s a lot of things going on in the world and I think we’ll drive ourselves crazy if we try to fix everything at once. Everything that you fight for is reflective of where you are in life, and most definitely dependent on your privilege. One of the hardest things I’m dealing with is how I move through the world as a black woman, what my body image is, and how I'm perceived. And that’s definitely not something that my counterparts back in Zimbabwe are thinking about. Comparing an issue to something else undermines it. There’s a lot of “what about-isms” that happen, but they literally do nothing. I think about Beyoncé and her film Black Is King. A lot of people are not impressed with her exploitation of African culture and her inability to speak out on the injustices happening in Africa. There’s a lot of corruption, there’s famine, there’s disease, but like, we can’t really expect a pop star to be the voice of change. You’ve got to look at it realistically - it’s the law makers that allow this corruption to happen. You can’t expect someone to end corruption in Africa because they use Africa in their music. You know? I wouldn’t expect this conversation to be the thing that changes Australia’s perspective on body image and ends white beauty standards in Australia. Online activism is great because it raises awareness, but it’s actually more about what work is done after that. I think because we’re here in Australia, we need to use our privilege to address what’s happening in our own backyard. There are injustices here to First Nations people. How do we address these problems and situations? What you feel strongest about is what you fight hardest for. That’s what you’ve got to put your energy towards. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Do you think women’s expressions of sexuality are taboo? If so, why? I think they are, and I don’t think they should be. I think that the patriarchy (because there’s also women that encourage this) demands for women to be seen and not heard, and even when women are seen, they have to be very respectful, dainty and non-vulgar. They can’t openly talk about the things that they want. They can’t talk about their desires, they can’t express their sexuality. And then, you know, you have people that will come out and challenge that, like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion in their new collaboration WAP. There’s so much criticism about them speaking so openly about their vaginas and people are offended and yet their male counterparts are releasing songs about fucking bitches and nailing them against wall. And that's acceptable?! I think that anyone who identifies as a woman who finds themselves shocked by WAP’s message should probably think about why they think that, considering their male counterparts have been doing that since the beginning of hip hop. Don't talk about how vulgar and trashy these women are because they're singing about their vaginas. Literally, let's look up every male who's ever sung about his dick and then we'll have the conversation. Even outside of music, think about how it’s just seen as promiscuous for a dude to sleep with a bunch of women, whereas if a woman is sexually liberated in the same way then she’s a whore. It doesn’t make sense. I think it’s archaic. I think it’s stupid. I think if women want to fuck 100 dudes, they should be able to fuck 100 dudes and have no one say anything about it. I don’t think someone’s sexual expression is anyone else’s business. I hate that it’s a taboo thing. I hate that when women who want to put it in their music or in their art it's considered vulgar. There's just literally no reason for it. I just kind of dip my toe in the water a little bit. Jill Scott is probably one of my biggest inspirations and her music is very sexually explicit in a very tasteful and fun way... I don't fellate my microphone because I don't want to have that conversation with my mum, but I still try to push boundaries of what I think people will be comfortable with. It’s really frustrating and I really thought that by the time I'd reached adulthood we'd have moved past all that stuff, but it seems like society definitely still has a really long way to go, especially when it comes down to basic things like double standards. Sexuality is taboo when it really shouldn't be. What change would you like to see happen in the so-called Australian music industry within the next five years? I would like to see people like me holding higher positions of power. If there’s a board for the ARIAs and all these record labels, you know, the gatekeepers, I think there has to be a fairer representation of what the scene itself looks like. And if that doesn't happen, then I’ll have to do it myself. But yeah, I definitely want to see more people that look like me represent the masses in those positions of power. It’s the people upstairs, and it’s about numbers, it’s about maintaining power. It should actually be about equity and sharing some of that around. Only then will we see a much more level playing field for everybody. And five years is more than enough time for that to happen. Keep up to date with Thando here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.