Tag Archives: self-acceptance

Baking My Own Cake

Today I’m 27 years old.  When I was 19, I was certain, somehow, that 27 was going to be the best year of my life.  I have no idea if that’s going to turn out to be true, but I am looking forward to finding out.

I don’t talk about myself and my personal life here much, mostly because (outside of the context of privilege) it doesn’t matter and I wanted to focus on more “big picture” issues than my personal struggles/triumphs/whatever.  However, I would like to take a brief moment to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned in 27 years that I would like to pass on to other women – younger, in my peer group, older, it doesn’t matter.

1. Bake your own birthday cake.

 20140318_203818

No, don’t hermit away just for the sake of making a point, bake your own birthday in a metaphorical sense (or literal, whatever you want to do).  Be the kind of person that you can rely upon – be there for yourself, be self-sufficient, take care of yourself.  The most important thing you can ever realize is that you are a whole person without anyone else – value companionship, treasure healthy and positive relationships with friends, family, and lovers, but never stick something out because you feel you will not be whole without it.  You are.  And if nobody is around to bake you a birthday cake, bake yourself a cake and celebrate you.  Make whatever kind of damn cake you want (might I recommend almond pudding cake with white frosting and toffee bits?  It’s superb).  I know too many women (and men) who are “serial monogamists” – they’re never alone, even when they’re single they’re rapid-fire dating.  There will be times in your life where you should be alone, and you miss out on so much of life being miserable just because there isn’t someone there.  I explained it to a friend once like this, “people who are looking to never be alone never will be, with all the wrong people, for all the wrong reasons.”  The great thing about love is that giving it away doesn’t deplete your stock, so love yourself before you love anyone else.  Love yourself so much it makes you giggle.  Make a vegan cake.  Make a flourless cake.  Make a meat cake.  It doesn’t matter.

2. Speaking of not mattering, Let that which does not matter truly not matter.

Yeah, it’s a line stolen from Fight Club (shamelessly).  Illegitimi non carborundum – don’t let the bastards grind you down (and don’t bother to tell me it’s not real Latin, you’re not going to grind down my fun).  Everything will seem important as it’s happening, which is why it’s best to not make decisions when things are happening.  Give yourself breathing room and distance, you’ll find that most things don’t matter nearly as much as you think they do and the things that do matter, you’ll be able to handle better.  There’s a lot of things you can’t change – the actions of others, for example – and the things you can change you need to be smart about.   You are powerful, you are capable, and you are one in seven billion.  Seven billion people with at least seven billion problems – prioritize what and who gets your time and attention.  Let the little things go.

3. Get a DVR.  Or Netflix.  Install AdBlock.  Get something that lessens the influence of advertising in your life.  Advertising affects everyone, it tunes you in to things companies want you to feel insecure about and reinforces gender roles that hurt and suppress women (and men).  Screw it.  I haven’t seen a commercial (save for ones I’ve looked up on YouTube at the recommendation of friends, like the Interracial family Cheerios ad) in over a year and I can’t even tell you how much better I feel about myself – I don’t see ads telling me I need surgery or pills to “attract the man of my dreams,” I don’t see commercials with ultra-thin women obsessing over their weight, I can’t even remember the last cleaning product ad I saw with a bumbling husband outwardly saying men are incompetent and directly implying women are naturally more suited to household work accordingly.  I just don’t see it, it’s not a part of my life because it was poison and I decided I’d had enough.

4. People can only treat you how you allow them to treat you.  When someone first told me this I mentally kicked back.  “Fuck you, you don’t know anything about the psychology of abuse, nobody is responsible for the actions of others, don’t blame the victim.”  Yes, all of those things are true: I am not saying anyone at any point is ever responsible for being mistreated by another.  That being said, don’t even think you can’t leave, or that you deserve mistreatment, or that things can’t get better because things can always get better.  There will be people in your life that take advantage of your emotions, they will prey on your feelings, and you will think every step of the way you have to stay to “save them,” or that loving someone means sticking with them no matter what.  This is not the truth.  Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is tell them to fuck off.  It’s almost always the best thing you can do for yourself, and you can’t take care of anyone before you take care of yourself.  That’s why they tell parents to put on their own oxygen mask before helping their children on airplanes – you’re in a shitty position to save someone else if you’re killing yourself to do so.

5. Be grateful.  Be grateful for what you have and what you may have.  This isn’t to say “first world problems *eyeroll*,” but never lose sight of how much you do have.  You can have problems, you can get upset (remember point 2 though), but remember: you have so much.  You will have more; things can always get better.   Write thank-you notes, write letters period.  Donate your spare change to anything – a homeless person, a local scout troop, an advocacy group you support, anything.  Perspective is a powerful thing and using what you have to help others will make you feel as if you have even more.  I don’t make New Years Resolutions, instead every year I set out to be a better person than I was the year before.  There’s no excuse to fail something like that.

6. …but in the path to help others, don’t silence their voices.  This is something, as a feminist, I (and others) need to be aware of.  Too often white middle and upper class feminists with the best of intentions silence poor and minority women…in the name of helping poor and minority women.  Or, more sinister, white feminists outright slam black feminists, or attempt to discredit them, or exhibit transphobia against transwomen (TERFs).  The latter is obviously unacceptable (and seriously, if you do either of those things you should knock it the fuck off), but the former is damaging as well.  Nobody in a position of privilege – any privilege – should be speaking for the oppressed group.  Wealthy women should not speak for poor women.  Straight women should not speak for gay women.  White women should not speak for black women.  US citizens should not speak for immigrants.  Cis women should not speak for transwomen.  What we should all do is A. listen, B. support, and C. use positions of privilege to amplify voices.  One of the biggest criticisms of Jezebel is that, by and large, their pieces are written by white women for white women.  They have one of the largest and most popular sites for feminist news and editorials.  Is the solution for white authors to post about black issues.  No.  They should, as an influential entity, use their position of power to spotlight more diverse viewpoints, and not in a “token” way, in a constant and consistent manner that engages the community.  This is something easy to get caught up in, everyone does it: you get so excited about making a change and helping that you lose focus of the fact that the people you’re trying to help are, in all likelihood, 100% capable of helping themselves and don’t need a savior.  Pippa Biddle had a great post about “Voluntourism,” and the damage of overvaluing your own help.  If you want to help, let the people you’re trying to help tell you what they need, don’t try to tell them what’s good for them.

That’s it for now – let’s see what I learn over, “the best year of my life!”

Advertisements

“You’re a Bad Feminist”

This is something a lot a self-identifying feminists hear (and think) at some point.  For me, it was something that become a bit of an existential crisis – how could I champion women’s rights if I couldn’t champion myself?

 

It took me a long time (months) to come to terms with the fact that acknowledging the falsities of the media and the pressure women and girls face did not somehow make me magically immune to the effects.  I’m not immune to body image pressure, I can’t turn my mind off to the pressure to fit a very streamlined and impossible idea of beauty, and I felt like a failure as a result.

 

When Pinterest opened up private boards last year, I made a thinspo board.  In public I wrote here, I wrote for friends, I wrote to friends discussing the dangers of thinspo (and it’s closely related cousin “fitspo,” which has nothing to do with being athletic and everything to do with being incredibly thin AND very toned) and I had my own thinspo collection.  I hated myself for it, I cried and I felt ashamed, and eventually I stopped writing, not just here but everywhere.  I couldn’t even make myself write fiction that had nothing to do with women’s rights because I felt like a fraud, unworthy of even writing a female character.

 

A friend of mine who I admire deeply posted a query on Facebook towards the end of the year asking about diet pills.  At first I thought she was kidding – this is a woman who works, lives, and breathes fighting for women’s rights – but it became clear to me she wasn’t.  I was floored, I was angry, I was so pissed that such a smart and motivated friend was driven to something so harmful and I didn’t understand why or how.  I’d put her on a feminist pedestal, I decided for her that she was immune to the exact same societal pressures I couldn’t escape from myself, and I realized how utterly wrong I had been to do so.

 

Ultimately my “failure as a feminist” wasn’t a failure at all, it was an awakening.  We’re all in this together.  I deleted the thinspo board.  And now, I’ve admitted it existed.

 

I’m back.  Every part of me, every weakness and strength.


Sexy Cancer and Ugly Self-Acceptance

I’d originally planned on writing this post when images like this:

started circulating around facebook and other social media outlets, but then the Susan Komen Foundation/Planned Parenthood event happened and I had to retool my thoughts and approach the topic a bit differently because omitting the politicization of breast cancer in a post about the sexualization of breast cancer felt incomplete in the current blog climate.

 

Before we get to sexy breast cancer I’d like to address the “real woman” images floating around and what they really mean and address how damaging they actually are to women as a whole.  And they are damaging – Kiera Knightley is not inferior to me because of my breast size and Heidi Montag isn’t a disgrace because she paid for her body (though it says a lot about society that a gorgeous woman felt compelled to have ten invasive surgeries in one day because she didn’t feel she was beautiful enough).  We need to get away from this idea that there is a “correct” woman, only one kind of “sexy” woman, and accept that the most beautiful thing any woman can be is healthy.

 

For some women that’s a size zero and for others it’s a size 14.  And that’s okay.

 

Fellow WordPress blogger Whirlygigagogo made this image, and I think it makes this point well:

The fact of the matter is, when women point to one image and say, “this type of body is inferior to this type (which I more closely resemble),” in order to make themselves feel better it is at the cost of other women and that own woman’s value as an individual.  These images are not about whether D cups are “better” than A cups, or whether narrow hipped lithe women are “sexier” than wide hipped voluptuous women, they’re about bringing down one group to elevate another and it’s unnecessary.  More than unnecessary, it takes away what our focus should be on: health.  Should we starve ourselves to be thin?  No.  Should we overeat fatty and unhealthy foods to get curvier?  No.  We should strive to be as healthy as we can be with the shape our bodies are already inclined to be.  It’s really ugly to label an entire group of women as unattractive just because you’re not in that group.

 

This is where I believe the fat acceptance movement has in some places really overstepped it’s bounds.  Nobody should be made to feel ashamed for their very existence, nobody deserves to wake up and hate his/herself because of their body, I absolutely and totally agree with that, but to suggest or even outright say that obese women are superior to thin women or that obese women should ignore the health implications of their condition and accept their bodies as they are is irresponsible.  I’m not saying very overweight women are not/cannot be beautiful, I’m saying that on this path to self-acceptance we have sacrificed health.  TLC’s show Big Sexy was lauded for finally bringing sexy large women to television and I think it’s great that fashionable women who aren’t very, very thin can be shown as sexy on TV but I question whether it’s really a good idea to say things like, “Big Sexy follows a group of big sexy ladies who are living large with one mission: to show the world that bigger is better, ” (from the show’s lineup description) when several of the women on the show are clearly above a healthy weight.  Again, I’m not saying these women are unattractive, I’m saying they’re seriously unhealthy and saying that they’re superior to thinner women because of their size is pretty reprehensible.  Fat women are not better.  Thin women are not better.  Healthy women, healthy women who are proud of their bodies and take good care of themselves are what we should strive to be.

 

But, no matter how healthy you live your life, cancer can happen.  And, if the overwhelming wave of pink goods is to be believed, it’s probably going to be breast cancer.

 

Well, no, it’s not.  While being diagnosed with breast cancer is most common, lung cancer is the most common fatal cancer in women and colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer death across all ethnic groups.  For that matter, all cancer deaths total don’t topple the number one killer (of both men and women), heart disease.  So what’s with all the pink if what we really need to be wearing is red?

 

Heart disease and lung cancer isn’t sexy.  There, I said it.

 

Let me explain: when was the last time you saw a “save the lungs!” bumper sticker?  An “I ❤ clean arteries!” awareness bracelet?  How about a bar fundraising event called “save the colons and rectums,” featuring $2 shots with all proceeds going towards a charity specifically focusing on colorectal cancer treatment and awareness?  You haven’t seen or heard of any of these things because they don’t exist, but I’m willing to bet you see “save the boobies” or “I ❤ titties” pink stuff on a nearly daily basis.

 

Ultimately, what all this marketing and awareness boils down to is the breasts.  Not the woman they’re attached to, the breasts.  It’s not about ending breast cancer to save women, it’s about ending breast cancer to save breasts.  You want to see a powerful breast cancer awareness image?  Show a husband lovingly embracing his bald, scarred, breastless wife post double mastectomy.  Tell her she’s a proud and brave warrior and after she heals up she can get implants or just wear bra falsies, because having breasts and saving breasts is more important than the rest of her.  The wall of pink we’ve put up to pat ourselves on the back and say, “hooray titties!” has blinded us to the horror of what cancer is, the pain and trauma that women and their families endure.  Buying pink stuff and shoveling money towards groups that ultimately do nothing does not help these people.  Wearing a “save the boobies,” bracelet is insulting and childish in the face of real pain.  Save the woman.  Her life is more than her breasts.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was started by the American Cancer Society and Astra Zenica (you know, the pharmaceutical company) to promote mammograms.  Great, no problem, regular mammograms can help with early detection and treatment of cancer, but where did all the pink come from and where the hell is all this money going?  Pink handguns (firearms are the second leading cause of violent death in women), pink alcohol (that causes cancer), pink makeup (that causes cancer), everywhere pink pink pink, most with some or all of the proceeds going to to Komen.  And what does Komen then do with that money?

 

For a brief stint in January-February 2012, they stopped their funding of Planned Parenthood, who uses about 16% of their budget to provide breast, cervical, and other cancer screenings to women at little or no cost.  Why?  Originally the statement was that Komen would not provide funding to any group facing investigation but the reality that everyone knew was that Karen Handel, a Vice President level executive in the company, was taking her anti-abortion message louder and prouder than her breast cancer awareness message.  While Handel denies this (regardless of evidence to the contrary), the plain fact of the matter is this rule regarding funding groups being investigated was created solely to give an excuse for defunding planned parenthood.  Why?  If the focus, the one sole focus, of your group is to end breast cancer, why would defunding a group that provides free screenings as a major part of its service program even be an option?

 

Because the Komen foundation hasn’t been focused on doing the most good for the most women for some time.  This breakdown of their expense report (available here) provides some interesting insight:

12 percent for administration

8 percent for fundraising

7 percent for treatment

15 percent for screening

24 percent research

34 percent for education

Combined research, treatment, and screening make up less than half (46%) of the budget.  The three things that actually end breast cancer, the three things that most actively impact the women who have cancer, comprise less than half the budget.  As Lowder points out, why is 34% of the money going towards education/”awareness” when you’d be hard pressed to find a woman anywhere in the US who wasn’t aware of breast cancer and her potential risks?  Komen is a business, it’s a company, and with “education” comes brand recognition.  More money, more power.  More power, more weight to say things like, “we won’t fund an organization that performs abortions is under investigation,” and expect to get away with it.

 

Except they didn’t.  Women (and men) took a stand against Komen and with Planned Parenthood, vowing to cease donations, promising to stop buying all the pink crap.  And it worked, Komen recanted, Planned Parenthood proudly announced their continued partnership with the foundation, and Karen Handel resigned (having played her cards a bit too boldly or a bit too soon perhaps).  The reality is Komen hasn’t changed though, and just like the “I ❤ boobies,” “save the tatas,” bracelets and bumper stickers, they’re just using sexualized breast cancer and a pink ribbon to sell a product instead of focusing on the lives of the women they claim to want to save.

 

I relate these two topics because they have the same root issue: somewhere along the line health became second to something else.  The change in attitude has to come from within, we have to stop putting down other women, we have to stop buying meaningless pink stuff we don’t need and focus on getting back to being healthy.


%d bloggers like this: