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Role models – how I fell in love with Alaska

December 2, 2014

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If you have spoken to me recently, you will know that I’ve been watching super camp TV shows – RuPaul’s Drag Race has been one of the most entertaining reality TV shows I’ve ever seen and that is saying a lot, as I don’t usually bother with them. Because of this, my friend Miguel suggested that I take a look at a Spanish TV show that I had never heard of: Alaska y Mario.

I knew of Alaska’s  (born Olvido Gara) existence before, she is a singer and was a key character of the Madrid Movida, a cultural movement from the 80’s well known for rebelling against the status quo in Spanish society, still stuck in the same post dictatorship mentality after Franco. She was one of the “chicas Almodovar” (Almodovar girls), starring alongside Carmen Maura in Pepi, Luci, Bom y Otras Chicas del Monton. The song “Horror en el Hipermercado” by Alaska y los Pegamoides is one of my favourites of theirs, the video is a lot of fun and shows the aesthetical choices she made back in 1980, with a lot of humour. She has been involved with a few more projects over the years, including being responsible for starting the first Spanish goth band and these days she is one half of the Fangoria duo.

Why did I enjoy watching Alaska y Mario so much? I have discovered a few things about Alaska the person and realised that we have a lot in common.

Firstly, an attraction for anything that’s kitsch and if you see their apartment, you will understand why, it is the delight of anyone who enjoys bright colours and unusual objects. There is also the John Waters universe and Divine and everything else in between. It was a pleasure discovering all these references as I watched the show.

Secondly, she loves drag queens, and so do I, as I think that people who transform themselves and follow their own will are fascinating. Quoting what Alaska said in one interview for the Torres Y Reyes TV show (loosely translated from Spanish by me),”Surgery is not much different from makeup, wigs or dresses. It’s nothing more than  getting something better that you don’t have and it is easy for everyone to understands this. However, I would also go a bit futher as I believe there is something of a ‘transvestite’ in me, in the sense that I don’t conform to what I have. It’s not a matter of saying ‘I don’t like myself’ but more of wanting something different. (…)The people who have radical surgery fascinate me because they’re taking control over an appearance that in theory is not theirs and are building something different.” In sum, becoming who you are.

Besides all these considerations, the most important thing for me has been to see what a fascinating person she is. She comes across as a very honest and intelligent person and doesn’t seem to be the kind of person who puts materialism over everything else. A strong woman of a certain age (you see her 50th birthday party on the show) who isn’t hiding because of her age. Someone who hasn’t changed the way she is and what she likes because she got older. To some people’s eyes she might look ridiculous because she not ordinary looking, but to me she looks beautiful, as her goth style really suits her and is so her. She is curvy and has embraced her body, wearing clothes that don’t hide but enhance it and always dresses in a way that is true to her references and personality.

Camille Paglia, the well known US intellectual and collumnist had this to say about Alaska: “Alaska, surrounded by Pete Best-style drag queens, is certainly a formidable character. Yards of bosom and assertive orange hair. She doesn’t try to hide her age, the way American women actors and performers do. She’s mature and flaunts it. No misty, baby-faced, shallow nymphet look for her! There are no parallels to Alaska in current American entertainment — a mark of our cultural poverty and punitive gender norms.” And this, my friends, is exactly what makes her attractive.

All this resonated with me and in some ways has been a reminder that getting older is OK and it is fine to be honest about it. Getting older is not a crime and anyone who makes you feel otherwise can go screw themselves. These last few months I feel I have aged and put on some weight (maybe London is wearing me down) and I cannot hide that it was a bit hard to accept it, as my self-esteem had been a bit low for all these reasons and some more. It was a reminder that before pleasing anybody else I should please myself and no one is important enough to be allowed to make me feel anything less than I am worth.

We all know what is right in the back of our minds but sometimes we need a role model to remind us of it, and Alaska came into my life just in the right time. Thank you, Miguel!