Thursday, June 28, 2012

Facing It (Retouched Photos Make Even Girls Like Me Have Trouble Facing Themselves)

I am a pretty confident person, and I try not to spend my life focusing on my appearance- there is so much more to the world.  But I admit, sometimes that I don't have the ideal body or even the ideal body for me gets to me. The fact that my sister is long and lean and muscular with tan, perfect skin doesn't usually help.

Most of you who read this have seen me in person, but if you haven't, here is as unbiased a portrayal as I can offer:  I am 5 feet 5 inches tall and the quarter Mexican in me shows in my features.  I have mid-length, usually undone dark, dark brown hair, a forehead that recently decided that it wanted to behave like I was 14 again, smallish but pretty light brown eyes behind glasses- contacts are a torture I don't understand, and full lips.  Based on compliments, I'd say my best feature is my smile, and I hope it always was, but the smile I have now isn't exactly mine.  In the interest of full disclosure, I had braces for, from what I can tell, cosmetic purposes only, as is the norm these days, and my already-white teeth have been whitened.  According to my BMI, I am on the border of average and overweight and I'd usually say that doesn't mean anything... but I don't exercise as much as I need to to be healthy.  I still have a rather slender, long torso, carrying most of my weight in my short legs, especially around my hips.  I wear nice clothing, but I am not really all that interested in high fashion.  So I'm average.  

And I'm happy.  I like to live in my body most of the time- it can sing, dance badly, hug, write, smile, and most importantly, think.  So what should I care that I don't look like the girls they put in magazines?  There are so many more important things in the world.  

But sometimes, I can't even look in the mirror.  I don't stand in front of it hating myself.  On the bad days, I can't stand my body enough to look at it.  So I pretend the insecurity isn't there.  Being ashamed of my body makes me ashamed of myself for not recognizing the miracle that it is, it makes me ashamed of myself for falling into the trap society has created for me, it makes me ashamed of myself for wishing I could look more like my sister, or at the least (and most horrible) she could look more like me.

The reasons I spend days wishing I could trade in parts of my body are multifaceted and complex, from my frustration that due to tendinitis in my wrists, I sometimes have difficulty doing all of my favorite things (writing, playing music, etc) to being upset that my body doesn't look the way it "should."  

And today I want to focus on the "should."  Though I mostly judge what my appearance is "supposed to be" against the slightly-more-attainable standard of my sister, there is a reason her body shape is coveted and mine isn't looked at twice, and that is largely media images.

I like to read Seventeen, but it always upset me that when they (try to) show how to dress for your body shape, "pears" never get bigger than my sister, and "curvy" means plus sized.  Isn't size 8 average?  Where are those girls in this magazine?  And I was majorly peeved when the first "Pretty Amazing" contest finalists (a contest to put readers on the cover who do amazing things) were featured and the focus seemed to be much more on the "pretty" than on the "amazing."  I mean, I've never expected to find role models in the mainstream media that looked like me, but gosh, with all Seventeen's talk of "Body Peace" they could at least make it look like they are trying on more pages than one.

And to top it all off, the amazingly beautiful girls (most under size 3) that get featured in magazines (many sending women messages much worse than Seventeen does) all get their photos retouched even after spending hours in hair and makeup and, since they are models, devoting their lives to their looks.  And that's actually insulting to all involved.  If they are not pretty enough on their own for you, major magazines, no one is.  And what kind of message does that send to the world?  Seventeen tells amazing and empowering stories, but if the subliminal messaging is "no one is good enough," it doesn't mean anything.

That's why I'm standing with Miss Representation and asking major magazines to feature at least one unretouched photo in every issue.  And especially to Seventeen- you can sell anything you want to young women.  Why not sell something in line with the empowering stories you tell?  Why not improve people's lives?  I ask almost nothing, considering the very specific type of women still featured in magazines, but it is a small step to changing the norms.  And once we get there, I have a few more ideas.

Monday, June 25, 2012


As I walked through the Pride festival this weekend, holding hands with my boyfriend and one of my best friends, a few steps behind my "gay boyfriend" holding his boyfriend's hand, so much joy washed over me.

Each of us had a story, a journey that led us to the place we were, all together loving one another.

My best friend Christian grew up around pride and with two Moms, two of the best Moms I have ever heard of.

I grew up sheltered and used to believe gay people should not be allowed to have children, but eventually turned a complete 180.  Now, you can't shut me up about the importance of all families, and I declared being a part of the parade that day was better even than waving and smiling atop fancy cars as a potential princess. (Read more about my journey in the previous blog post)

My "gay boyfriend" spent much of his life attempting to be straight, living in fear of disapproval of his mother.  There are a lot of things that could have kept him from being there that day, but his perfect happiness, fingers intertwined with someone who made him so very happy, somehow prevailed.

And again I am struck by stories.

Because those are three.  And they are the most simplified versions I could tell you. But we were there among thousands upon thousands of people, and each of those people come with thousands and thousands of stories.  And it is so beautiful to think about each of those stories, from the those belonging to the nuns there to promote loving your neighbor without distinction to those of the drag queens, the stories of the adorable little children to those belonging to each person who requested purple beads, all coming together in the same place.

Each of those people, arriving for the same reason, in spite of or because of all the stories that led up to their arrival.  All of us, becoming a part of the same story.  A story of joy and love and acceptance from everyone and for everyone, no matter their story....  even if only for a weekend, a day, a few hours, a conversation, a smile, a moment.  That's something to be proud of.

Journey to Pride

I just spent the must beautiful day at the Pride festival in downtown Minneapolis, and I wanted to talk about how important the event was to me.  As a straight ally who wasn't always as adamant about rights, acceptance, and hopefully love for all, Pride is a culmination of a life journey I am proud to have taken.

2nd Grade: I find out (sort of) what being gay means.  When one of my girl friends asks for a kiss on the cheek on Valentine's day, I oblige without thinking twice.  Everyone else hesitates and refuses.  I worry I might be gay.

7th Grade: My best friend and I are having a discussion in the lunch line about gay marriage.  At this point in our lives, we know no one who is openly gay and have barely reached an understanding of what homosexuality means.  She is Lutheran, and a fairly accepting person, but unwilling to commit too much to an answer of what she believes politically.  I am Catholic and I say, "I think they should be able to get married but not to adopt children because I think that could be confusing for the children." "They" are distant from me, a group I know exists, a group I am not a part of, a group I don't really understand.

9th Grade: One of our most vocal classmates comes out, and proceeds to "change" his sexual orientation several times over.  Discussions of whether being gay is a choice ensue.  I think you should be able to like whoever you want to like, but you need to pick one and stick with it.  I mean, how could you not know?

I go to a youth drag ball, an event in conjunction with the National Conference on Tobacco or Health.  Sexualized parts of the drag portion disturb me and my innocent mind, but what really upsets me about it is the highly explicit performance of a straight safe sex educator.  My first peek into LGBTQ culture could have gone better, to say the least.

Early high school: I begin to understand more deeply and accept the many different ways people can identify.  As I get to know more gay people, there is so much less "them" and "us." One day, none of my limiting thoughts on what it is "okay" for a gay couple to do make sense anymore.  I learn about the acronym LGBTQ (sometimes just GLBT at this time), what it means, and I try to squeeze my new, more open worldview into my faith.  This proves difficult when considering bisexual people because, I think to myself, can't you just pick one?  It doesn't even matter if you pick the one that is for sure "right by God," but it feels wrong to like both genders.  And if you have a choice, how can I say God made you that way and therefore must love you?

10th Grade: I "quit the Catholic Church" (did not get confirmed) over issues of injustice and hypocrisy, one of the main ones being their treatment of the LGBTQ population. I was converted to a new set of beliefs.

11th Grade: I'm sitting in the computer lab, puzzling over something one of my friends has just said to me about his ideal relationship.  I ask further questions, and he hesitantly admits he likes guys.  I am surprised, but generally unfazed.  He's more weirded out  because, I find out later, I was one of the first people he came out to.  He spent a lot of time trying not to be gay to a lack of acceptance in his family.  Knowing something so deep about him brings us closer.  We begin a lasting friendship.

12th Grade: I stay overnight at Macalester College with a bisexual woman as my host.  She has a picture of two women kissing in minimal clothing on her wall. I'm not sure how to feel, but I like visiting Queer Union with her.

I start to push myself (and my family) out of our comfort zones on the topic of sexuality.  We go see RENT, I engage them in discussion.  I tell them that this is our civil rights movement.  I ask, "When we look back on this time in history, don't you want to be able to say, 'I was a part of that?'"I begin to become more a part of LGBTQ culture due to my plethora of friends that identify as one of the letters, and after talking, asking questions, reading, and learning about my mother's ally training, I feel like an ally too.

At Macalester, I become one of the first people another close friend of mine comes out to, who also has a difficult time with his family.  My acceptance reassures him, and I keep his secret for weeks, even though we are in one of the most accepting places ever, until he decides he's ready to come out.  I even go to the Lavender Reception with him as a straight person so he can be introduced to our queer community without having to come out to the world.  I take Psychology of Gender, learn about gender-neutral bathrooms and their importance, and attend a drag show.

Most importantly, I become close friends with many people, those with identities that fit into the initialism and those who don't, for whom love and acceptance come first.  As I try to be in the world as an ally, not only for the LGBTQ community, but for all those who might need a friend or a hand, I am inspired so inspired by these people, and every day they keep me moving in a positive direction on my journey.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Best Day- A Tribute to my Father

Father's Day just passed without much fanfare in my house.  It has only been a week since my mom got back from El Salvador, and I just began a full time job for the first time in my life, so none of us thought so much how to celebrate.  But I did want to share something with my father, and I have been wanting to share it for a long time.

Taylor Swift has a song called "The Best Day" and it describes her relationship with her mother throughout her life.  It is a beautiful song and pays tribute wonderfully, but for a very long time I thought it was about her father.  I thought this despite a verse that changes from the "you" directed at her mother to, "I have an excellent father," where she includes her whole family.  And the reason I thought this is because I am a bit egocentric and found this song to apply exactly to my relationship with my father, and figure this must be true of everyone's relationship with their dads or something.

So to show my Daddy how truly special he is to me, and tell some cute stories from when I was younger, I will go through the song and describe why, exactly, "The Best Day" is clearly a song for my Dad.

I'm five years old, it's getting cold, I've got my big coat on
I hear your laugh and look up smiling at you, I run and run
Past the pumpkin patch and the tractor rides, look now, the sky is gold
I hug your legs and fall asleep on the way home

It is a pretty common thing for families to go out and choose pumpkins from their local greenhouse.  My family does this every year to this day, the tallest and biggest pumpkin always going to my dad.  My mom comes with, too, but these times are special with him actually because we are all together as a family.  And especially when I was little enough that my sister and I had to hold an adult's hand to cross the parking lot, my dad and I started sticking together.  Sydney always wanted to hold Mom's hand, and I didn't mind if we were at the mall and looking at appliances as long as I got to joke around with my dad.

"I hug your legs" is probably my favorite line because it brings up two very distinct images of my father.  Sydney and I would sometimes, probably quite annoyingly, sit on my father's big shoe and hold onto his leg and demand a ride.  He would walk around with us.  As we got a little bigger, we danced with him by standing on his feet.

I don't know why all the trees change in the fall
But I know you're not scared of anything at all
Don't know if Snow White's house is near or far away
But I know I had the best day with you today

For much of my life, I truly thought my father was not afraid of anything.  My parents have always done a really good job of making everything run so smoothly you wouldn't be able to tell there was a worry to be had.  It wasn't until fifth grade when I discovered that my father had fears like everyone else-

It was our school's annual end of the year trip to Valleyfair, and my dad was a chaperone like always.  I liked to have him with me- it was fun for all of us and it made me feel safe in the big crowds.  I had been thinking about riding the Wild Thing for a long time.  It was a terrifying coaster, with a downward drop that seemed to me to be at a 90 degree angle from the ground.  Most of my friends had ridden it, and I wanted to be able to go on with them instead of skip it.  But I was afraid.  My father ended up convincing me.  "Come on,"  he said.  "It isn't even a big deal.  It is scarier waiting here and looking at it than being on it.  Only the first hill is even scary and it isn't that bad."

So I went.  My best friend came with us and sat in the cart behind- she had a Valleyfair pass and was a Wild Thing veteran.  I sat in a middle car just in front of her with my dad, on the side of the coaster that faced the rest of the park. I nearly panicked on the way up, but he just kept telling me to look out at the park, saying hello to rides that we'd gone on before, and eventually I closed my eyes and grabbed onto his arm.

We waited what felt like a whole minute at the top of the hill as the ride got ready to let us go.  Wild Thing is propelled entirely by the momentum of that first hill, and it is intense.  When we were finally free, I thought I was going to die.  The lap bar locked a full three inches above my legs and waist, and force pushed me upwards, I felt like I was flying, but not in any way I could control.  And then just like that we were over the first hill, onto the second, and I opened my eyes and had the ride of my life.

I got off the ride and wanted to do it again.  But my father didn't. Why?  He confessed he had a fear of heights and that first hill got him every time.

My father is brave for me.  He is there for me.  He has made the purpose of his life our family.   And we have had so many fun moments.

Thanks Dad!  (By the way, the song goes on, and I hope to continue this blog post someday.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I do "Weird" Things for my Birthday

You know what they say... you can tell an awful lot about a person by the kind of birthday party they have.  Wait, they don't say that?  Well, they should.  Because looking back on recent birthday parties has made me realize the socially-conscious, history-loving, slightly hippie, dramatic young woman I am becoming (or have always been).

Take my 15th and 16th birthday parties- both pool parties where beforehand I took a big group to Feed My Starving Children, where we packed meals for those living in extreme hunger. A lot of people asked me why I would do that for my birthday, but honestly, it wasn't even being selfless. I think FMSC is one of the most fun places we can go, it is free, and we can be helpful?  Sign me up!

When I turned 17, my big birthday party was just a pool party, but on the day of my birthday, I was saying goodbye to a very dear friend of mine, a foreign exchange student from Germany.  We decided to go to one of my favorite places (and a place she hadn't yet seen)- the Minnesota History Museum.  My sister boldly declared I was a nerd and questioned my sanity.  But we had so much fun.  We even made lighthouse hats to commemorate the Split Rock Lighthouse.  You wish you were that cool.

For my 18th, I was honestly so focused on graduating that I didn't do anything huge.

And as for this year- I am turning 19 tomorrow, and I will be heading to a personal shopping appointment at a thrift store with my mom and sister!  My party will be the following weekend, and we will be heading back to the 50s to solve a murder mystery.

Sound like me?  I think it does.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I Was Just Thinking...

To become a writer, you need a darn awful lot of people to believe in you.

(Thank you, Christian Smith, for being one of them tonight.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Note on Society and my Previous Post

I would like to strongly acknowledge that there are single fathers out there, families with two fathers, no fathers and no mothers, all of which have people who work extremely hard to make the family work.  My post is personal, about my family and my mother, and it is not to suggest those things do not exist.  It is also not to diminish the role of the father in a household with a father and a mother, and not to belittle my father.  (My father is an amazing man.  He could be more helpful occasionally, but the reality is that he works longer hours than my mother and spends a great deal of time maintaining our yard and the physical issues with our house- our house is, by accident and preference, not by force, very gender-normative).

I would also like to recognize that, for the vast majority of women today, the situation I described is what is expected, is life, and is probably an ideal life for some of them.  Women are obligated by society to maintain their homes first, even when allowed to have a career.  They are afforded little thanks for this work, and stay-at-home mom's are often seen as lazy, having fun days at the park with their children, because clearly being a mother is not work.  Women who have a career are expected to be both stellar at their job and stellar at home or people will criticize them.  This is not true of men.

I know that there are more and more exceptions every day, and I know that most women choose to have both a career and children.  However, they often make sacrifices that are not expected of men, and often work what is essentially two full time jobs.  I have no solution to this problem, I just wanted to talk about it, and I wanted to remind myself and others to do a little of what we can to take some of the immense pressure off the women in our lives.

On Being "Mom" and Being Mom

So, all of you basically know me well enough to know that I am everybody's Mom.  This is not a particularly fun or attractive quality, but I kind of like it because everybody needs that person who has an extra pen, who will go get you what you need when you don't feel well, and who listens to you when you are upset, no matter where or how old they are.  It is even a bit selfish- I like to feel needed.

However, in the past little while, I have been a lot more than "Mom." Because I am home and not busy (and interested in getting my family to eat more vegetarian food), I have been preparing dinner.  And let me tell you, dinner takes work.  Grocery shopping isn't easy, and you have a whirlwind of decisions coming at you- calorie count, nutrients, price, brand, organic, local, is it in season, do I have a coupon?  There are too many things to consider, and that's just when you can spend the entire day in your pjs on facebook until you get up to go to the store.

Today, I was Mom for real (minus that full-time job thing) because my mom is in El Salvador.  I tried and failed at getting up early enough to get our health case of a dog everything she needed on time, so I had to watch her guiltily all day to make sure she felt all right, I cleaned my kitchen, exercised, and I headed to the grocery store.

I was buying both family basics and ingredients for three brand new meals.  I spent like a year in the vegetables section "Where is the garlic?" "What even IS a green onion?" (Thank God for smartphones.) "Do we already have this at home?" "Should I be checking prices?" "I want to buy it organic, but do we have the cash?" It took me darn near an hour, complete with crisis over how I was going to ever do this when I started my simple full time job this summer, much less how I was going to feed my children healthfully when I have them.

I came home exhausted, thankful my Dad was going to cook dinner, and had to cajole my sister into helping put things away.  After a brief rest that was dinner, we commenced (all together) to clean the kitchen.

Then, I volunteered to take my little sister to the store to buy some shorts, which she needed.  It was a Friday night, so I assumed all would be well, but she had a project to get back and work on, so by the time I was finished trying on my items (everything, especially shopping) takes me a long time, she was so angry she was nearly yelling, and she described feeling sick.  Her anger at me made me feel unappreciated and nearly ruined our time together.

And I finally understood what everyone tells me I am going to understand years from now.  It is damn hard being a Mom.  (Especially my mom, who works a full time job and does more than this daily.)  To be a "good" Mom is a full time job (I will probably write about that and my difficulties with wanting a career and children at some point).  And I don't think that is even the problem.  Because Moms do what they need to do.  They step up to the plate when no one else has because if they don't, kids will go hungry, not get to practice, wear old clothes, and probably throw a fit.  I think the problem is, at least in my house, that it is a thankless task for which they do not get help.

No one thinks to thank Mom for keeping the household running- households just run.  Even when I think about the things I admire about my mother, the fact that all of our lives run more or less smoothly almost entirely under her guidance is not usually one of them.  But that isn't easy at all.

And though, "You shouldn't have to be asked," is one of my mother's favorite phrases, we do all have to be asked to help out.  And even then, we are reluctant.  We say just a minute, hold on, or no.  And the problem really isn't the lack of help in terms of the fact that it gives our moms more work.  The help is a gesture.  The help says, "I know you are working hard.  I want to try to make it easier."  And the gesture is not there.  Being a mom can be lonely and tiring, and I've only done it for like half a day!

When we are being busy and self-centered, it is the hardest thing in the world to help.  But now I know that Moms don't have time to be self-centered.  To read? To keep a blog? To maintain friendships?  It is amazing that they can go from full time job to full time job to rest.  Thank your Mom.  Or better yet, help her.  She deserves it.