Welcome to Skirt the Issue, a journal project focusing on a literary-minded look at the superficial, beautiful obsessions of style. Why am I here? Why should you stay? A quick rundown of why it’s time for Skirt the Issue.
Who am I?
I’m Tabitha Blankenbiller, and I’m a writer living outside of Portland, Oregon. About 30 miles south, to be exact. I write essays about many things, but often they center themselves around pop culture and body image. Those two concepts, aren’t exactly mutually exclusive. I’m also really into clothes and fashion that’s a little rockabilly, a little classic, a lot about purses that look like other things (including but not limited to: a chicken, a saddle, a license plate, a phone, an avocado, and a gingerbread house). I love shopping at little antique stores that are common in the rural area I live in, and I spend lunch breaks at the MAC counter near my office. Putting together outfits, whether for Halloween or a Tuesday, is a way I’ve found to cull joy into my life. It may be a futile, fanciful or pointless obsession, but the same could be said about my writing, so here we are.
- I got a weird rejection that got me thinking.
I was working with a big women’s magazine on an essay about a clothes-related experience. I went through several rounds of edits with the editor, and she finally killed it with the note, “this seems more like a short story than an essay.” I was trying to whittle my story into their high school-style essay rubric (thesis statement, supporting paragraph, exposition paragraph, results paragraph, conclusion), but I couldn’t tell the story without characters. Or dialogue. Or setting. The way I’ve written essays on every other topic; telling a story. Why should a topic that’s traditionally pinkwashed into a “women’s interest” magazine or site be dumbed down to meet the market? Shouldn’t there be a market for people who love to read, and support art, and express themselves through fashion? A place where you can count on essays that feel like “short stories” about beauty, fashion, and feminism?
- It’s what I do while I’m creating projects.
When I’ve embarked some direction in the past, a blog played in the background. After being accepted into grad school for my MFA, I started the food blog Eats of Eden, which is now the name of my upcoming essay collection. When I moved to Tucson from Portland I documented the transition and un-transition in my blog West to West, which morphed into another essay collection. Right now I’m working on a novel about the fashion industry. Well, not ABOUT the fashion industry. It’s about friendship, grief, and forgiveness, but it’s set in a Stitch Fix-like fashion tech startup. Blogs work wonders for me because they give me alternative work to create; if something isn’t going well or I’m simply stuck or too tired to devote the energy to the high-stakes big thing I’m trying to finish, then I can switch over and write something smaller and simpler with the added bonus of instant gratification. Whether I’m in the mood to write a 2000 word essay on the history of the cat eye or just a few paragraphs on why cheap petticoats are the best, the option to shift into another headspace is here. And so many times, it’s saved me.
- I am sad.
This sense of direction articulated above hasn’t been a plan for long. Since election night I’ve been in creative free-fall, feeling like my life has been shot out of the sky and keeps tumbling further and further from what I know and want to be. The scope of Our National Nightmare is unique in most of our lifetimes thus far, but it hasn’t been the first time that I’ve felt adrift. And when I’ve been adrift in the past, small and ongoing and achievable writing goals work to recalibrate my heart’s compass. Like tonight, I know I can go to bed accomplished if I finish this post. Sometimes that has to be good enough.
- I am consuming my way through grief.
See Point Two. I’m not taking the installation of this new regime well. I fell mortal and finite and my fucks have gone missing. I buy things that I would have passed over as frivolous in the Before Time. The simple joy of a perfectly penciled lip brings me more elation, means more, when so much else in the world sinks me. I’m playing with more looks and trying new tools because there is no reason not to, and I’m a writer. Writing about new endeavors and obsessions is the only way I can understand and fully experience them.Basically, my closet and makeup bag runneth over, and I’ve always wanted to have a space to talk about these issues of pigment and patterns without feeling like I’m taking up unnecessary space.
- I need it, even if the world doesn’t.
I think we often trap ourselves in creative loops, asking if the world needs “x.” Our voice, our story, our look, our blog. The answer is No. The world does not “need” any of this work. It’s not going to save us or singlehandedly change the world. The only reason for me to do anything is for myself, which is as true for writing as it is for dressing up for a workday or curling my hair. If it connects with anyone, if it leads to a happy interaction or a smile or whatever, that’s a peripheral bonus. I express myself for myself. In 32 years, I know what happens when I keep the carbonation of my thoughts, stories, dreams, fears and favorites under a cap. This is how I keep myself sane.
- I just subscribed to, like, 5 beauty boxes.
This needs to be IMPORTANT RESEARCH FOR MY BRAND NEW SUPER EXCITING PROJECT, ok?
So what can you expect to find in Skirt the Issue? There will be essays about fashion and beauty experiences from a feminist perspective, both by me and guest writers. We’ll be holding ongoing conversation about how those subjects coexist. There will be thoughts and recommendations on clothing, accessories and makeup that I adore. I’ll talk about beauty subscription boxes and the Vintage Dress of the Month Club I just joined (it was a REALLY GOOD DEAL, you guys). I’d like to find ways to make this space wider than my own perspective, so I’ll be featuring interviews with other literary queens of substantial style that I stalk on Instagram. I’ll host (paid!) guest writers who want to talk about style and the body and the political issues that permeate into all of these seemingly innocuous subjects in a place that is accepting while still holding the quality of writing as essential. I hate being forced to read a horribly written blog just because I’m trying to figure out whether I should sign up for Ipsy or not.
Thank you, giant expanse of internet, for the space to bring this concept I’ve been carrying for several years into existence. I’ll be here writing about what I love, as long as I’m free to do so. I may not be able to guide us through this mess, but here’s a light.