I am 11. My dirty blond hair hangs limp in the humid Panamanian air but I don’t mind. We are racing barefoot to the banana trees with our collection of limes we have gathered in our tee shirts. My feet sink into the cool mud as we reach the riverbank and we climb to the tip-top of the trees where the leaves meet perfectly placed wooden platforms, excellent for summer lounging. The edge of the rainforest is bustling; it is business as usual today. Birds and other animals call out to one another repeatedly and geckos flit up the sides of our domain, curiously unsure of us. I methodically peel my juicy green treasure and bite into them, squealing at the bitter taste. I wipe my sticky hands off on my shorts and stretch out on a plank, my legs dangling over the edge carefully. We talk about the best flavor LipSmacker (Pink Lemonade) and which Spice Girl we most relate to (Baby Spice because blond hair, duh). Mud that has dried on my foot starts to crack revealing Blue Bombshell toenail polish. I arch my foot so it crumbles off. We wonder what it would be like to run away from home to make it on our own but I already know that this is impossible. Just last week I packed a bag and decided to give it a go, racing my bike as fast as I could to a secluded field that I was sure no one in the entire world had ever been to but me. It was my own amber land that seemed to stretch for miles. I laid out a blanket and had lunch while listening to my Walkman until my batteries went dead. Leaning on my elbows, I daisy chained flower bracelets and crowns, delicately draping them on myself, envisioning lace and tulle gracing my head. The sky was clear and the warm sun kissing my skin made me doze. Problems arose only mere hours after my arrival when I had to go to the bathroom. I carefully attemped to squat but pee dribbled all the way down my leg so I quickly packed my things and decided this running away thing was for the birds. Back at the banana trees, it begins to grow dark. A shrill, pulsating sound rings through the trees. It is the DDT trucks spraying for mosquitoes. That must mean it’s time to get home. The pungent smell reaches deep into our lungs causing us to cough and gasp for breath. The air is thick and foggy with pesticide as we make our way back home and the streets are quiet again, each home lit up along the way telling its own story. Tomorrow, we will do this all over again. This is what it feels like to not have a single care in the world. This is what it feels like to enjoy unadulterated fun. Sometimes I long for those lazy days, when being carefree was the norm and I lived for being outside. I know I can’t ever go back there because–responsibilties and all that– but it is nice to slow down for a mental break in the midst of the craziness that is adulthood and recall that piece of my history for a moment. Maybe I’ll even take a mud bath for good measure.
Monthly Archives: July 2014
Ah, the 1950s. A time of perfectly hedged bushes in front yards of perfectly painted houses in suburbia. Women always had perfectly coiffed hair while they cooked, cleaned and raised (perfect) children and men brought home the bacon. The black and white photos show perfectly white teeth, perfectly ironed dresses and the belief that everyone could achieve the American dream. Right? Lots of people have a fixation with the 50s and I would be lying if I said it never crossed my mind before. Most of my clothes are retro inspired and for as long as I can remember, I have gazed dreamily at classic movie stars on my small television screen, remarking on their great beauty and longing for a time such as that one. I was born in the wrong time! I thought, just as many of us have thought from time to time.
But the 50s are also plagued with darkness that tends to be overshadowed by Hollywood glamour and the suburb’s homemade apple pie. Segregation was fully realized and approved of back then. The FHA openly discriminated and refused to give home loans to people of color. White people fled major cities to live in the suburbs, leaving poor and often unemployed people of color behind in dilapidated buildings and worsening living conditions. You had valid concern for your safety if you were a person of color. Violence against POC was rampant. The very judicial system that was set up to protect white people was biased against POC. White people literally got away with murder.
Those yearning for a time when women were treated “like queens” might need to remember that it was during the 1950s that women were fiercely oppressed (that eventually led to the second-wave feminists of the 60s and 70s). A woman’s place was primarily seen in the house doing household chores and raising the children, with the exception of a few jobs allocated to women, such as secretarial work. Girls were raised to keep their mouths shut and that a man’s word was valued over their own. A husband could have sex with his wife without her consent and this wasn’t considered rape. He could also commit domestic abuse, step outside of the marriage, and micromanage every little thing his wife did without consequence. Raping your wife wasn’t against the law back then and a blind eye was turned away from domestic abuse. Charming, isn’t it? People point to low divorce rates but women were frightened to leave abusive marriages. If you have no money and the law is not on your side, where are you going to go?
Let’s stop romanticizing such a dark time in America’s history. There’s no better time in the history of the USA to be a woman or a POC than right now, right this moment. We have more rights than ever and while we still have quite a long ways to go, this is the best time for us to make leaps in progress. I will still idolize Elizabeth Taylor and turn pea green with envy at Audrey Hepburn’s brilliant clothes in Funny Face but you can keep your blatant racism, sexism, and homophobia back in the 1950s, thankyouverymuch.
Every morning after I take my shower, I drag my worn out makeup case from the top of the bathroom cabinet and proceed with the same beauty routine I’ve had for more than 10 years. I slather heaps of moisturizer on my face followed by my primer, foundation, concealer, eyeliner, mascara, blush and I lightly color in my eyebrows because they are so blond they are practically invisible. I feel exhausted just typing it out. I hate applying it. It is boring applying it and I am not creative or artistic with it so it looks pretty yawn- inducing on my face. I am transformed from tired looking to… Less tired looking. Yet I can’t fathom leaving my house without my face on. Years of damaging blows to my self-esteem and the patriarchal beauty standards play up my insecurities and have left me feeling unworthy of being seen without my painted mask. Can you imagine the string of questions that would come my way without it? “Are you feeling okay?” “Is everything all right?” I’m not just pulling these questions out of thin air. I have a friend who sometimes go bare-faced and she is asked these same questions. She’s beautiful, too. A natural beauty. It’s just that there is an expectation on women to always look complete, whatever that means.
At one of my previous jobs, it was a requirement to wear makeup. No, I didn’t work in the fashion or beauty industry. Just a doctor’s office. It was roped in under the category of Hygiene, though I can’t for the life of me understand why it would be considered unhygienic to go without wearing makeup. Without a full face of makeup, we are considered unpresentable to the world.
People are kinder to you when you have your face on, too. I feel the difference every time I make an outing wearing what I would consider my “weekend makeup” to make myself invisible. This usually consists of only foundation and nothing more. When I say I use it to make myself invisible, I am not kidding. People whisk by me and bump into me without so much as a “sorry”. But when my war paint is on, the world is my oyster! “Can I help you with that?” “Let me get this for you!” The difference is astonishing.
My daughter watches me apply my face sometimes and she asks for some, too. Without thinking, I dot her cheeks with blush and she gazes in the mirror at herself and tells me that she is beautiful. She’s 2. Of course I worry about how the media and our culture will impact her. I vow to teach her all the lessons I am just now learning for myself. In the end, it is hard to pinpoint all the reasons why we wear makeup. And I’m not suggesting you stop wearing makeup (although if you do that is pretty awesome as well!). I don’t plan to do so. I just think it requires some critical thinking. Wearing makeup isn’t a choice made in a vacuum so I think it deserves your thoughts.
In her photo she appears brave and even though she is only 16 years old and is considered a minor, she doesn’t want her face blurred. “There’s no point in hiding,” she said. “Everybody has already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am.”
The girl in the photo is named Jada and what happened to her is something no person should ever have to experience. Jada was at a party at a friend’s house when someone offered her a drink that she believes was spiked with a drug. Soon after, she passed out and couldn’t remember many details about the night but when she logged online the following day, she was horrified to find pictures and videos of her on social media forums. The graphic content depict Jada being raped while she is completely unconscious. As if things couldn’t get any worse for the young girl, some of her peers began to make a mockery of the tragedy that Jada endured by creating the hashtag #jadapose in which they pose with no bottoms on and lay lifeless on the ground and then share on social media.
The pure cruelty that comes from imitating something so devastating and personal leaves me feeling sick to my stomach. Something I read earlier keeps playing in my mind. It’s a quote from the other Jada (Pinkett- Smith). “[T]his could be you, or me, or any woman or girl that we know.” And it’s true. This could be my daughter’s face splashed on television screens in 13 years. What will I tell my daughter when she is ready to go to her first party? It is certainly unfair that I will even have to have such discussions with her but alas, this is the world we live in. I think she, and everyone, needs to know the importance of their words and how they can fuel rape culture. I hope she will know that all people deserve respect and no one should ever be shamed for living the way they do. More importantly, I believe, is raising my son to respect girls and women no matter what they are wearing on their body and to understand the meaning of the word “NO”. As a bystander, I think there is also a sense of responsibility to step in when you see something suspicious going on. In the end, there’s no surefire way to prevent rape but I think it is important to understand that drink or no drink, revealing clothes or not… The only person to blame is the rapist. What happened to Jada is abhorrent. How many more young girls are to be raped and shared on social media sites before we do something about it? Jada’s rapist is still walking free. When will rape allegations be handled more severely? When will we start protecting these girls instead of sweeping them under the rug?
Further reading: An extremely insightful article with information gathered from a Reddit thread in which rapists explain themselves.
Compassion and empathy are key components to a flourishing society. Unfortunately, since the birth of a digital age, studies show a sharp drop in empathy. One particular study charted empathic concern, which determines how much one person cares for another. Someone with empathic concern might let someone go ahead of them in line at a store, give money to a homeless person, volunteer or even live on a vegetarian diet. The results of the study are shocking. Between 1979 and 2009, empathic concern dropped 48%. Just let that sink in for a moment.
The rise of social media and being connected online is linked to the decline of human connectedness. Our relationships tend to be one-dimensional and any conversation to be had has a soundtrack of ringing bells and the glow of a screen, hauntingly calling the attention away from the person we are with in the flesh. “Just one second,” we giggle. “I just have to answer this really quick. Oh my god! Holly is hysterical.” Soon our friend has lost interest. Her mind has drifted away somewhere else, or to her own phone. Solid connections are impossible to make with these kinds of distractions always impeding us.
When technology takes over and we have a hard time making connections with people in the real world, it becomes difficult for us to feel compassion or empathy for people. The incessant 24/7 newsfeed desensitizes us to the world’s problems and we hardly bat an eye when we see images of war, destruction, starving children and the like. It saddens me when I hear people complaining about agencies lending a helping hand. We are human. That’s what we do when one of us has fallen down; we help pick them back up. Wanting our society and our world to succeed is imperative to striving. Sometimes that requires giving them the tools they need to make it. I am afraid for our children’s future if we don’t start making changes soon to our perspective.
Obviously the first step to becoming more engaged with society is to disconnect from technology. I love my phone and the internet as much as the next person but I find that I often lose myself in the digital world, obsessively checking Facebook or the handful of web sites that I keep up to date with. I always feel like I am going to miss out on an inspiring article or an interesting post when really I am missing out on all of the inspiration the world has to offer me if I would just look up from my screen. Every time I waste half an hour behind a screen, I could have been learning something new about one of my children or working on my awareness project (more information to come later!). Sometimes I feel like my brain gets clogged up with all the information that I take in from the internet and it doesn’t allow for creativity which is why I have been struggling with my project in the first place. To aid this, I think any time a group of people gather, a “No Phones Allowed” rule is crucial. Try to limit your phone/ internet usage, even if you are alone. Being disconnected from the digital world will help you reconnect with yourself which is important in building compassion and empathy traits. Let’s get reconnected to those around us and get to know each other again. It might just change the world.
Body positivity has been a surprising perspective for me. That is not to say that I never have to remind myself every single day how lucky I am to have this able body and that I don’t have to read affirmations on the daily to keep my head high. On the contrary, I do. Those chirping feelings of insecurity come rushing back if I hear too many concerns swirling around me about diets and dress sizes and other vanity issues. I read a post online about how the average model is x pounds and I calculate how much weight I would need to lose to be like that. This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of staying away from harmful media. Despite all of these things, I say body positivity is a surprising outcome for me because for years, I loathed the way I looked. If you would have told me back then that one day I would love myself, I would have scoffed at you. I starved quite publicly, clothing hanging off of my body like a hanger and my bones jutting from my skin. And when the torment got to be too much, I binged (and occasionally purged) in secrecy, my heart sinking into the pit of my stomach if ever I got caught red handed, my fingers laced with peanut butter and rice cake crumbs. My relationship with food was troubled and painful and when I wasn’t staring at it hungrily in my refrigerator, I was dreaming of it. I slept to get away from the hunger pains but I could never escape the thoughts of eating that invaded every crevice of my mind. The feelings of self hatred and the distaste I suddenly had for food were tightly interwoven. I desperately wanted to be full but I was so incredibly empty inside.
Today I no longer look at food– or my body, as the enemy. I never thought that I would come back from anorexia so eating food pleasurably is something that brings me a great deal of happiness. Trying new desserts from candy shops makes me feel like a child again, full of wonder and excitement. I still can’t look at nutrition labels or weigh myself because these are triggers for me but just knowing that I can indulge in any food I wish makes me feel free.
Body positivity has been my tireless cause. The movement has been crucial to my recovery. Certainly there was more to my eating disorder than hating my appearance and perhaps one day I can write about those things so it can help bring peace to my heart. For now, fully loving my body has been therapeutic and necessary. I am taking a reclamation on what it means to eat for pleasure, to love your body in the process and to never feel guilty for any of those things. It tastes pretty sweet.
Since I am fairly new to feminism and have to do my fair share of unlearning subconscious sexist ways of thinking and have to reassess everything (Hint: Shaving your legs is okay. So is wearing make-up. It’s okay to like to do these things as well. The important thing is to realize WHY we do the things we do and how our society lambasts women who do not conform to “normal” beauty standards).
One of the things I’ve been rethinking is how society defaults to “male” in limitless categories. He, him, and all things related to “male” are considered the norm which can be extremely exclusionary towards women. It’s not as if men make up most of the population, as if the constant reference to “him” is because there are simply more of “him”. We are almost evenly split in the USA, with women leading a bit at 51%. It is considered an insult to be called a girl and it is a common phrase to tell women who want to get ahead in the workplace to “man up” or that they need to work as hard as the fellas. Women who are at the top are referred to by their gender, IE “woman CEO” or “woman doctor”. It is unheard of to speak of a “man CEO”. It is simply assumed that a man is in the position of power. When a woman is in a position of power, she is often asked: “How do you balance home and work?” The media has been scrutinizing Hillary and her potential run for presidency because she is a grandmother. A grandmother! How will she ever manage running a country and being a grandmother?! If you want to learn about how women contributed to history, you will be hardpressed to find anything in schoolbooks. History glazes over the topic and only a few colleges offer classes distinctly titled “Women’s Studies”. There is no “Men’s Studies” because everything taught is about men by default. Likewise, there’s no “Men’s Literature” section, “Men Flicks” or “Men’s Sports”.
This is devaluing to women and inherently sexist. We are not manic pixie dream girls. We are not here as supporting roles. Women are just as much a lead character as men are and yet are rarely given the chance. By using male as default, it perpetuates harmful stereotypes and continues to value men more than women. It also costs you more because why not charge twice as much for the same product only with a coat of putrid pink paint slapped on top? We have a long way to go to fully realize inclusivity. But recognizing sexism and calling it out wherever you can will help us move ever so slightly forward and at the very least, open up discussions that are important.
Bonus: Check out a compilation put together by The Society Pages of some examples of male as the norm.