I feel bad for Miley. I really do. The poor girl (scratch that– woman) has barely entered adulthood and is constantly berated for every little thing she does. From what she wears to her “twerking”, she is ripped to shreds in the tabloids daily. Society has placed her on an unbelievably tall pedestal from her Disney channel days and while Miley, who has carefully crafted her new image in an effort to shed her child star persona, has long since left those days behind, we can’t let her live it down. “But what about the children?!” Ah, yes, won’t someone think of the children? I think it’s about time we stop trying to substitute celebrities as role models and let them do their job– which is to entertain us. It can be hard not to look up to a celebrity with their larger than life personalities, especially when you are young in this world and your thoughts and opinions are so easily malleable but that’s where you, dear parent, must step in. We forget that we have the greatest influence over our children, more than anyone else. Who is with us almost all of the time? Who is watching me freak out because this idiot in the blue car just cut me off? Who is watching me help this older gentleman with his groceries? It’s up to us to teach them their values, not a celebrity.
Above all, can we please remember Miley (and other celebs like her) is only human? She has lived her entire life in the spotlight and can you even imagine how difficult that must be? She’s also only 21 and to be honest, I would not want anyone judging my 21 year old self. I was kind of a mess. I was still figuring out who I was and I made a lot of mistakes. So let’s cut Miley some slack and give her some props for taking control of her image and becoming extremely successful in the process.
Shopping for clothes used to be a nightmare for me. I would walk into one store and wear a size x and feel like life was so sweet and then walk into another store and find the only thing that fit me were size y’s. My hands would start shaking as I stared at myself in the dressing room mirror and I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. It doesn’t make any sense, I would think to myself. I can wear 2 sizes smaller in Old Navy brand. My frustration with vanity sizing and my obsession with the number inside of my pants reached such an extreme that I threw them all out in a fit of rage and vowed never to try on a pair again. I can’t bear the thought of putting myself through mental torture again and even though I am in total body positive mode, I know I would crumble under the pressure of the tag. Today I wear dresses full time because their sizes typically don’t revolve around a number and when I finally did break down and purchase a pair of pants, they were the awesome, stretchy kind on Modcloth that come in sizes XS, S, M, L, or XL.
Vanity sizing, the process in which retailers label their clothing with smaller sizes than they actually are, exists solely to bolster the consumer’s self esteem and therefore the consumer is more apt to continue making purchases from that store’s brand. Wouldn’t you feel more confident purchasing jeans from a store where you wear a size 2 than from a store where you are a size 8? The problem is it can be extremely frustrating as a consumer when you are clueless as to what your size is because there are no standardized sizes across the board. It also leads to misconceptions about sizes and people placing value on themselves based on a dress size. People commonly point to a full figured size 14 Marilyn Monroe but due to vanity sizing, that size 14 would be considered a 4 by today’s standards. The matter seems to only be getting worse, as J. Crew debuted its latest size: the 000. I am all for being inclusive to all shapes and sizes but when the average size of a woman living in the USA is a 14 and the average size being ordered by retailers are sizes 4-8, I have to call foul. The creation of these subzero sizes (that most women will never be able to fit in because it simply isn’t in their bone structure) and our society’s obsession with getting as thin as humanly possible creates a toxic outcome. Chalk it up to laziness on designers part for not wanting to fuss over complications that come with larger sizes (with curves and deviations from straight patterns come time and effort) or chalk it up to the stigmatization of “fat”.
Vanity sizing likely isn’t going anywhere for a while so what can we do? Avoid deceptive media that skews the perception of what average bodies look like. Celebrities are anything but average and you have no idea how they attained their bodies. When Kim Kardashian came out as a size 2, I literally threw my hands up in the air. I’ve since learned you cannot trust their stats or pretty much anything else the media throws your way. Stores need to offer a wider selection for their size 14+ shoppers so if you notice a lack of options, take to their social media pages and ask for it. It works.The most important thing that I cannot stress enough is that you understand that your value is not determined by the size (or your weight or any other number) of your clothes. I feel a little hypocritical proclaiming this because I struggle with this as well but there is so much truth to it. Have you ever gotten a job based on your dress size? Likely not, unless you are a model. Upon meeting new people, do they ask for your pants size to determine your friend potential? If they do, I suggest you find new friends. When we redefine the very beauty standards that work to manipulate and control us, we can put the power back in our hands.
Inspired by the other brave bloggers I have seen as of late, I have decided to blog about depression today. I am inherently an extremely private person but writing/blogging opens me up and frees my voice in a way that I have never experienced. I am able to express feelings I never otherwise would have conveyed. Something that is difficult for almost anyone to talk about is mental illness. It’s no wonder. The topic is often misunderstood and because of the lack of general public knowledge, people misinterpret it. As far as depression goes, some think that it is similar to general sadness and suggest depressive people suck it up and be thankful for what they have. There are starving kids in Africa, after all. Of course, depression doesn’t work like that and can be the result of many factors, including hereditary elements and chemical imbalances in the brain, both of which make it hard to just “suck it up”. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, people who suffer with it fear speaking up about their personal experiences but I think it is critical now more than ever. When we speak up, we are smashing the stigmatization. When we speak up about our suffering, past or present, we are saying to those who suffer in silence, you are not alone. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve been there, too. When we speak up, we are putting a face to a very real illness. You are more than your mental illness. I am a mother. I am a reader, writer, documentary aficionado, volunteer, lover of all things chocolate, movie snob, and I have suffered with mental illness.
My depression developed in my teenage years and was a culmination of negative things that happened to me peppered throughout childhood plus the tribulations of being a teenager. (I will add that depression/mental illness are genetic for me and these very same things could have happened to Suzy Q who doesn’t have a gene for mental illness and she could have recovered just fine. Such is not the case for many people with mental illness.) It was quite visible as I began to dress the part and I also engaged in self mutilating behaviors like cutting my wrists and I would make little effort to cover up my work. I was also suicidal and hospitalized shortly after my son was born in 2007. In the days leading up to my suicide attempt, I was extremely unsettled and felt like a soda bottle that had just been shaken up. My emotions were on fire and I felt like I had lost control of them, so much so that I even began to lose grip of myself at work. Everything was perfectly normal as I sat at my desk but then I suddenly felt as if I was being suffocated. I started uncontrollably crying and rocking back and forth. My eyes darted hopelessly from coworker to coworker. I desperately needed help and this may have been a final call but no one seemed to hear it despite the very public outburst. As I got older, I became better at putting on the mask that people expect you to wear. No one wants to be friends with a sad person. No one wants to talk a depressed sap. I had literally been called a liability before so I knew better than to show any negative emotions. I had to be chipper and spirited and then I would come home and cry for no reason or just collapse on the bed. When I think back to this time in my life, it just seems like a foggy, bleak time. I rarely vocalized my feelings so my thoughts acted like bumper cars in my head, colliding over and over again with no way out. Depression sucked everything out of me. Finding a proper medication was exhausting as well. Everything had a side effect. Then I would be prescribed another medication to offset the side effect of the first medication. It was becoming expensive. Depression and anorexia go hand in hand and when my eating disorder began to take shape, my depression only worsened. It is hard to say if I laid around all day because I didn’t have enough nutrients or if I was too depressed. Probably both. It became such a problem I had to quit my job. The media and entertainment I consumed only served to cushion my condition, like a security blanket I refused to shed. I devoured so many books, movies and music that cradled my depression that it is still a part of me today. I am drawn to melancholy media like a moth to a flame. I finally crawled out of my depression years later and have been secretly living on edge ever since. I am terrified I will fall back over the ledge at any given moment, afraid that any minor setback will cause me to topple into a great and terrible depression. I have finally found happiness but in the back of my head I worry, thinking of its finite resources. When I feel a twinge of sadness, a panic sets in that my days are numbered. I try to enjoy this happiness and it takes work to maintain it that sometimes can be tiring (and I can tell a difference when I haven’t been practicing self-care) but for someone who has grappled with mental illness for much of her adult life, I think it is worth the extra time it takes to nurture it.
Purity balls are dances where fathers pledge to protect their daughters’ pure hearts and daughters vow to remain virgins until marriage. It is a formal affair with elegant gowns, dancing and the aforementioned vow. Girls as young as 5 are encouraged to attend because there is no better time than early childhood to shape how a young girl views sex. A close father-daughter relationship is considered unequivocally critical because otherwise girls will turn to men to seek out approval or acknowledgment they aren’t receiving from their father. When you put all of the emphasis on the fathers and call them the “protectors of virgin hearts”, you are disempowering girls and taking away their autonomy. They say you are giving pieces of yourself away if you are promiscuous before marriage, that you aren’t a whole person if you can’t give your whole (virgin) self to your husband on your wedding day. This concept of being “less than” or “dirty” because you choose to have sex before marriage is just another form of slut shaming and a way to try to keep girls a commodity. The idea that a woman’s worth lies in how virginal she is is absurd. It erases all the other components of her personhood and reduces her to her sexuality. If she succumbs to temptation after all the social grooming that has taken place in her life, the guilt will eat her alive. What is virginity, anyway? Does the penis have to enter the vagina? Does the hymen have to break? What if it doesn’t break? What if it broke due to exercise? Does that mean I lost my virginity to an exercise routine? The whole thing comes off very heteronormative. Are gay people forever virgins? What about rape victims? It is a social construct that keeps the same tired patriarchal views in place. You can’t “give it away” because it doesn’t really exist. It only exists in a social context that is meant to rob girls and women of autonomy over their own bodies and feel guilt, shame and remorse over personal choices. Men do not face the same stigma that women do over this concept of virginity and do not parade around attending purity balls. Men are not expected to maintain a “pure heart, body and soul”. Virginity is sexist and homophobic and we need to stop placing such a significance on it. You are more than your body. You and you alone are in control of your body and your sexuality and what you choose to do with it is nobody’s business but your own.
I was reading a book last weekend and the kids were watching a movie they had chosen from the library. It was a Barbie movie which should have been my first red flag. I was fully engrossed in my book’s world but I was slowly pulled out by an angry, feminine voice on the tv screen. Barbie’s friend was trying to trick a man into marrying her who wanted nothing to do with her, even resorting to kidnapping. I shouldn’t be surprised. Media targeting young girls often tout marriage and having babies as the number one things girls should aspire to accomplish. The toy aisle clearly establishes this as well. A young girl’s choices are limited to baby dolls, spatulas, vacuum cleaners and princess props. A boy’s wonderland is full of action and limitless adventure set to expand his mind but no babies or hint of his impending nuptials. Both can be limiting in their own respect and can have a major impact on who these children grow up to become. We learn by play, after all.
As adult women, we are on the constant hunt for a husband. We may pursue careers and hobbies, but the ultimate goal is holy matrimony. For a man, on the other hand, finding a wife is far less of a priority as climbing his career ladder. He is more interested in achieving his life goals and dreams and will worry about settling down later. “Did you finally manage to tie that rascal down?” A woman will commonly hear once she is engaged. Visions of men being dragged to the altar are so common they even serve as wedding cake toppers occasionally.
We are telling young girls her priorities don’t matter. The only thing she needs to worry her pretty little head about is finding a good husband. We are beating them into submission by placing them in a stifling box and telling them what we think it means to be a girl. By the time they are toddlers, if they have access to television, the media is already working on them and they have some understanding of where their gender roles lie. My 2 year old daughter certainly does. She recognizes which toys are meant for girls and boys. It is up to us to guide them and monitor their media consumption. I’m not going to ban Barbie but I will ask critical questions so that my kids can think deeper about the things they absorb. I’m also a huge fan of media which involves representation of girls doing great things, like Doc McStuffins, who is a “toy doctor”, inspired by her mother who is a pediatrician. Legos has also released 3 new female scientist characters that are so wildly popular they sold out immediately. So much for that tired excuse that they are just giving girls what they want, right? Girls need to see more of these kinds of diverse options available and marketed to them. It’s difficult to be what you cannot see.
You may have used the term “white trash” to refer to someone of a lower social class or you may even refer to yourself as “white trash”, wearing the title like a sort of badge of humorous honor. It conjures up stereotypes of incestuous relations, low intelligence, welfare, and low morality. The disturbing history of the term is so painful yet something most Americans aren’t even cognizant of.
In the early 1800s, the term was coined by African American slaves and referred to lower class white people who had minimal skills or were indentured servants. They were looked down on by both African Americans and (socially elite) white people alike. White trash-dom was believed to be a genetics issue so the solution to this problem seemed to be obvious. American eugenicists believed in the idea that we could control and perfect the human race by intervening with reproduction (sound familiar?). So they set out to sterilize all Americans who they deemed unworthy of reproducing by any means necessary. In the most notorious case (1927), Virginia state resident Carrie Buck protested her case all the way to the Supreme Court because she was involuntarily committed for promiscuity and feeble-mindedness. Carrie gave birth out of wedlock but it wasn’t because she was being promiscous; she was raped by her father. She lost her case and was sterilized which was the slippery slope for the United States: tens of thousands of Americans were sterilized following that court ruling and some didn’t even know it. The precedings bears a glaring resemblance of the horrors of Nazi Germany and their experimentation with eugenics yet little is known of the eugenicists in our own backyard. During this bleak time, there was even discussion among the eugenics community of gas chambers, citing execution as the quickest way to perfect the race. They came to an agreement that America wasn’t ready for this sort of solution and sterilization came into play. If you think the Nazis weren’t taking notes from the old red, white and blue, you’d better guess again.
In the end, sterilization in the United States took place in some states up until the 1970s. Playing “god” on this level begs the question, will we ever abuse our medical advances again? We conduct genetic testing to determine the risk of disease or defect but where do we draw the so-called ethical line? It’s a very thin line and with such a troubling history, one that requires deep consideration.