Put on Your War Paint

Op-Ed Piece

It took me a long time to embrace femininity in the Western cultural sense. In some respects, I still haven’t accepted it. But there is one thing that I do which is both expected and looked down on all at the same time (ah, double standards!) and that is makeup. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and so this post is going to talk about the social norms and standards of body modification (as seen through a “Michelle” filter).

Makeup 2.jpg

Bias: My mother refrains from makeup because it irritates her skin something skin to an allergic reaction. I mention this only to show that I really didn’t have any emphasis placed on makeup growing up. I lived on a farm, and the chickens, cats, dogs, rabbits and equipment don’t care if you have on eye shadow. That being said, there came a time when the social pressures reached my small town and viola-a standard was created.

I was in fifth grade (so, age 11) and I wore shorts to school. Not the kind that would send teachers into a panic, but the kind that said “these were definitely overalls without the straps”. Two of the girls I saw in the library were looking at me and I went over to say hello. Before I knew it I head “Eww! You’re so hairy!” and my cheeks grew red, tears welled up and I ran home and shaved for the first time. That was also the last time I wore shorts to school. My legs were covered in nicks and cuts the next day, but I could (if I wanted to) roll my pant legs up and show everyone that I was a mature 11 year old with smooth legs.

It was also about that time that I found myself unable to say the word legs-because I was deeply aware of the latent sexuality of the female body. I couldn’t walk out of a room when men were present without being awkward, for fear that my legs were being watched. This had nothing to do with the people who were there, but everything to do with the way my brain took notice of the hypersexualization of my gender.

It was my freshman year in high school when I began to experiment with color combinations and a proto contouring (this was early 2000s, such a thing didn’t exist yet). I remember putting on navy blue lipstick and going to class, being gauked at and made fun of all day by people I didn’t even know. I remember hearing words like “goth girl has to go cut in the bathroom” and “she’s so weird”. I just happened to really like the color. And I never wore it again.

I created a certain “style” that I used each and every day. Black eyeliner, bright colored eye shadow, chap stick (because I thought bright colors on my lips would be a source of more ridicule). I have bright blue eyes (usually) and the colors compensate very nicely. One day though, I wore red eye shadow (something akin to Gerard Way’s look~check out My Chemical Romance). And I was asked multiple times if I was crying-because that’s how my look was interpreted. So out went the red.

Anyway, these stories are important, because they illustrate one very vital point: Makeup is a demand for women in America, up until you actually express yourself. Body modification is acceptable (and expected) up until you decide how to do it (or not).

I spent most of my college career not really wearing makeup. It wasn’t worth the chance of harassment. I mean, honestly, I was trying to learn, not pick up dates. And the more I studied, the more I understood the truth that I’ve been rediscovering for years:

Bodily autonomy is a good and sacred thing. And no, I don’t just mean reproductive rights. I mean choosing what happens to your body because you want it to (or don’t want it to)-not because of or for someone else but for your own self. I’ve been wearing various quantities of makeup for a few months now. I want to figure out my signature look before law school so I have time to perfect it and wear it that way forever. But why?

Because for me, it isn’t a cultural expectation. It’s the way I show my culture that I chose what happens to my own body.

I wear dark eyeliner (and lots of it) because I like it. I wear bright lipstick (of various shades) because it makes me feel awesome. I contour my face because I want to. I modify my body with piercings and (soon) tattoos and shaving (or not) and hair cuts because I choose to do those things for myself. I’m not “looking pretty” for other people. I’m not “getting dolled up” for other people. I’m looking the way I look because I like to look at myself. I like to catch my reflection in the windows of the buildings on campus and know that I am unstoppable.

Are there days when I look at myself and go “ehh, better not”? Sure. I’m not caught up in the way I look as the only facet of my identity that matters. But what I am is convinced that I am beautiful for myself and myself only.

For the record, I tell people that I’m “searching for the right shade of war paint” while I experiment with color combinations. Why? Because that’s how I see it.

I’m not decorating my face with dainty lines to look airbrushed and model-like. I’m looking to make a statement. I guess I am at war. At war with an oppressive culture. At war with those who would see women denied basic rights. At war with a justice system that’s institutionally racist and sexist and anti-religious equality. The first thing you see is my face-and if it doesn’t match how fierce I am on the inside, you won’t know to be afraid of my passion.

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Stacy’s Mom, Strong Coffee and Wintermageddon

Making it through the day is never more frustrating than when you wake up to two inches of snow and it’s raining ice. (I know, that was my first thought too.) The first several moments are the ones which set the tone for the rest of the day. And I thought that waking up this morning would be a little easier. I had known it would be snowing, I figured it would just continue to be powder and that it would be a relatively easy to get to work today. I mean, a little snow couldn’t keep me down (thanks Chumbawamba!). And that’s when I remembered that I’d been meaning to put a blog out. I wasn’t sure of the topic, but when I set up for the day and “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne came on, I knew what I wanted my blog to be about: the ever pressing issue of time.

Mostly I try to look forward, look ahead. I mean, the past has finished, and in the words of the great philosopher Rafiki (which means “friend” in Kiswahili if you wanted to know-I took 3 semesters of the language in college!):

 

(I own NO rights to Disney-I just needed the quote.)
I mean, those of you who know me in person probably also know that I will be graduating from law school in 2020, and being that I am very excited, will be walking to get my diploma in a flapper dress, and celebrating the entire day with Jazz music and the like. I literally love that the culture of the 20s will be able to be repeated in a modest sense (I hope there’s less racism and mobsters and not so much prohibition, but you know…) Anyway, so I’m very excited about the whole “Roaring (20)20’s. But I think for the moment, we need to look back with a purpose.

“90’s Kids”

If you were a 90’s kid-and I want to clarify this-if you were a child during the 90’s, NOT necessarily just having been born in the 90’s, there are some similarities we all cling to. But this isn’t just your “Things 90’s Kids Will Remember” list. This is an honest look into the 90s, as written by someone who spent almost the entire decade alive. Which means I was the young end of the 90’s, but I had access to a bunch of stuff from the 80’s as a child and therefore it counts. (I’ve proven my worth to many 80’s-born adults-it counts.)

If you look at the paragraph above, you’ll notice that I’ve typed “90’s Kids” pretty much every time I referred to the age group. However, if you look at the people who were aged 6-18 by 2000, you’ll be quick to realize that that age group is now 22-34 and we are hardly children anymore. But the moniker sticks. No one ever says “90’s generation”, “90’s born” or really anything you can think of except “90’s kids”. And why is that, you ask? That’s my point of discussion for today. But in order to discuss that, we need to get into the culture differences between back then and now, as well as some key points. That’s what I meant by “this won’t be a list necessarily, but it’s all basically relevant.” So, here goes nothing.

The 90’s were a time of revolution. There were changes to the pop culture scene, entertainment and social realms which trace their beginnings back to that specific decade. Other trends were merely a continuation of ones which had come before. But for better or for worse, the 90’s are a part of our history. For this analysis, I will need the help of:

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Nokia, Drew Barrymore, Christina Ricci, Ever After, The Addams Family, Cinderella (with Whitney Houston), The Dark Angel and The Baby Sitter’s Club. Honorable mentions include: slap bracelets, The Oregon Trail and Lisa Frank.

If you cannot finish the line: In West Philadelphia born and raised… I question the validity of your belonging to the decade. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a staple for the 90’s. But it was also something different. It was humor centered around a respectable family of color. They worked hard, acted just like many families in the 90’s and it was funny in such a way that it was not inherently racist. So why is it worth the mention it? Because in a time when #BlackLivesMatter and the apparent panic over Beyonce’s Super Bowl show, it reminds us of a time when it was entirely okay to be like everyone else and be entirely different-at the same time. Although some things are now a little dated, honestly, this one is worth the look-back for the humor, the realism and the wistful vision of how sometimes family is enough to make everything better. And you know what is even better? Comedy that is funny for the sake of funny, not because it s so abrasive that you laugh because you’re uncomfortable. Seriously, the language was pretty decent, I think that there is much to be said for humor that doesn’t have to be vulgar.

 I’ve posted about Buffy before on my “role model” blog, but I mention her again for good reason. In a time before Harry Potter Hermione Granger, you would be hard pressed to find a stronger TV woman than Buffy, and I don’t mean physically. She had reasonable flaws (like a lazy streak when it came out studying) but sh was also very protective of her family, her friends and on several occasions even her enemies. And yes, there is the issue of Buffy+Spike, but apart from that, Buffy was written in such a way that you related. You wanted to go after school and work on your slayer abilities (or become a Wicca!). It wasn’t only really relatable for viewers, Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) cried so hard when Angel said goodbye officially, that if you listen closely enough, David (Angel) says “Sarah” instead of “Buffy”. She believed in her character. And that is so hard to find nowadays. So why is this worth the mention? Because not only is it representative of the 90’s culture, it’s a TV show about a FEMALE lead with realistic attributes (and body size!) but also with friends who are equally as complex. In a time when feminism still gets a bad rap, we should take heart that there is an entire generation of voting age, working adults who grew up with Buffy and learned how to treat themselves and others as equals. Buffy was also a high school girl-who actually looked like a high school girl. I mean, today they look like 29 year old super models. (Also, Joss has remained active in Hollywood-check him out!)****I will add The Dark Angel here, because it was a TV show about a female lead as well, but I think Jessica Alba’s character is really the beginning of hyper-sexualization in TV heroines. She gets an honorable mention for the fact that her show was really about a female main character who really was pretty capable of being on her own, but the thing is that she had a leather outfit kind of like Catwoman and it really just looked sexy-not functional.

The Baby Sitter’s Club brings up a really great set of memories of my own. I went through 2 younger siblings, being entrusted by my parents to babysit as deemed safe and appropriate from the time I was about 7. They didn’t leave me alone to do so until I was about 12, but I also went to babysitting class and learned CPR and that stuff. I remember when my sister was born, my parents were ultra protective, but by the time she was able to crawl, she was taking naps on this HUGE mattress. I was asked to watch her overnight (we shared a bedroom for YEARS) and let my parents know if she started crying.I was so concerned that she would wake up and I wouldn’t hear it that little 7 year old me stayed up ALL night. My sister slept all night, as a matter of fact. My mom laughed at my predicament and told me that I hadn’t needed to stay up all night and that my sister would have been okay (she was about a year at that point). My first job was babysitting at the age of 13, and I continued to do so until I got into college. So why mention the BSC? Because in this day and age, it is increasingly difficult to have a child of the age of 13 be emotionally and mentally mature enough to handle babysitting-even just one child (At 15 I was watching 3 boys under the age of 10). And what’s scarier is the number of people aged 14-17 who are parents. But that’s a topic for another day I suppose. Anyway, my main point is that the BSC made babysitting cool, and all the girls were young like I was.

  

I’m going to combine the next set of movies/TV shows into one umbrella category called “freedom of self”. Now of course, I know that Ever After and Cinderella are basically the same theme, but The Addams Family goes here too. Cinderella, the one with Whitney Houston (may her soul rest in peace), was a novel idea when it came out. Why? Because Cinderella, her godmother and the Queen were all women of color. The Prince was Filipino (if I’m not mistaken), the King and his servants were all white, as were the Stepmother and the stepsisters. Why mention race at all? Because Cinderella traditionally is an all white cast. The direction of this movie was done with the talents in mind, not their skin color. Ever After is my FAVORITE adaptation. I love Drew Barrymore (we’ll get to her) in general, but in this version, Cinderella saves herself. She escapes based on her own determination and will-power. And there’s factual historical moments included in it too. The Addams Family (with Christinaa Ricci) and more specifically Values, was a move that made it entirely okay to be different. Christina played Wednesday who stuck out of camp like a sore thumb, but made a friend out of the other “outcast”. And that’s the thing. Why should we pay attention to these? Because no matter your color, your IQ, your color palette preferences, how much you love to read, you can always find someone else who feels as alone as you. But if you just believe in yourself, that’s all that really matters. No woman needs to wait on a “knight in shining armor” when she can pick up a sword and battle her way to freedom.

Drew Barrymore and Christina Ricci should be on every list of awesome things about the 90’s for one reason: their strength. And again, I’m not talking about their physical strength, I’m talking about their emotional and mental strength. They both were involved in some pretty self-destructive behaviors-drugs, alcohol, self-harm, but they pulled out of it. Making steps to their own personal freedoms was not easy, but they did it and look more fabulous than ever. Why bother to mention them? Because they are real life heroines who show strength and a capacity for self-improvement. I’ll include them in my list of role models. Because I’ve always looked up to the people who can take their lives and turn them around to make something better for their future. Plus, these two ushered in the grunge scene. Which, if you wanted to know is making a comeback. Does that mean we will return to punk, goth, emo, scene and then the hipster movement? Well, what goes around comes around, so maybe.

   

 

The last thing I want to bring up is the technology revolution. I mentioned Nokia above, and I wanted to maybe explain why we are still called (and self-refer as) “90’s kids”.

 

  (This is a Motorola i530 from 2004. It was my mom’s first cellphone and thusly the first cellphone in our home.) The first “cell phone” was sold in 1982 for $4,000USD. The ones which are affordable and stuff were sold in the 90’s. I’ve taken some screen shots so we can remember how far we’ve come.

  
  
If you notice up above these pictures, under the “Bumblebee phone” I typed the caption that that was my mother’s first phone in 2004. I’m only guesstimating, but I think it was closer to 2005. But the point still works. I was over a decade old before cellphones were a commonplace thing in my childhood home. I didn’t get my first one until I was a freshman in high school-when I took the job babysitting three boys. But that means that developmentally, I lived in the 80’s most of my life. I had tin-foil wrapped TV antennae, I played in the water hose which came from our well, and rarely spent any of my time watching TV. We never owned a gaming system and I bought my first iPad last year. Now, what’s that got to do with my main point, you ask?

Everything.

As a child in the 80’s, technology was sparse. And it continued to be so until 2000, making that generation at minimum 20 before the technology boom. They lived their childhoods with the sparse st of entertainment (of the electronic kind) and their adulthood was marked by technology. 

As a child in the 2000’s, technology was abundant. New waves of technology crop up, children are raised with iPads and leap pads and child-computers so that they can be fully functional techno-savvy adults. Their whole lives will be marked by technological advances.

So what of the 90’s kids? If you, like me, were basically brought in with the new decade, the first half of your childhood was very comparable to the 80’s. There was TV, your parents told you to play outside and if you wanted to hang out with friends, t was in person. Usually your friends had siblings and you basically always had to either chauffeur and chaperone or were chauffered and chaperoned by those siblings. But then 1995 hit and technology became easily accessible to the general public. Telephones were no longer connected to a landline, emails and instant messaging took off. Essays now had to be typed instead of written in cursive and you suddenly had access to pop culture from other outlets besides TV. And so, you are both in both worlds and excluded from them. Your childhood was ripped in half by the great divide that is technology. Instead of fitting in with the older crowd, you are teaching them how to use the new updates to their fullest advantage. Instead of fitting in with the younger crowd, you feel your maturity and mannerisms are outdated and therefore make you too old to relate. So I will ask again, what of the 90’s kids? Well, that’s just it.

The 90’s kids are a subculture all their own, intent on reclaiming the half of their childhood that was lost. We see Disney movies repeatedly (singing along and pointing out the flaws), while settling in for a glass of wine (red-for the antioxidants). We reach for the Atari games when COD is on the Xbox (because Atari is like the Solitaire of consoles-it’s a classic). We are hopeless romantics, while being incredibly feminist (because we like having the option to be taken care of but know that we can rely on ourselves as independent individuals). We are passionate about others because we grew up in a time of superheroes and super heroines who sacrificed themselves for the greater good. We watch older shows and listen to older music because they remind us of a time when entertainment meant something and wasn’t just to make the producers money. We feel strongly about our beliefs, even if they differ from everyone else. And we remember the greatness of Saturday mornings, ensuring that we value the weekend forever. We enjoy working hard when it’s noticed. We take our futures seriously, even though it seems that no one takes us seriously. And above all, we’re just trying to figure out what it all means. We are the generation of idealists, of thinkers, of planners. We are the generation of confused, adult-children with no idea who we really are or how we are going to succeed. We are the generation that was stolen. And it’s time we reclaim our place.

   
 

Why Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

I don’t know about you, but I look through Pinterest and there are days when I get so revved up about what I see that I have to stop looking at it for a few hours, or I’ll keep going back to it and get all worked up. Especially when I look at the feminism stuff or mental illness pins. And I am very much for both of those sections. But you know as well as I do that any old fool can post things without having an inkling of knowledge to back up those words. And it is that ignorance that gets to me. So, let’s jump in the time machine and I will tell you all about why.

I’m a proud Pinterst fanatic. I have over 20 thousand pins. It’s taken LARGE amounts of my time to get that far, but I consider it an invaluable resource to my life. For those of you (are there any?) who don’t know what Pinterest is, it’s kind of like a networking site for ideas. You “Pin” ideas to a “board” and save recipes, DIY projects and so many things. But it can also be used for keeping ideas together. I belong to both camps. Today, I’m going to focus on how social media (specifically Pinterest) perpetuates incorrect information about mental illnesses and disorders: namely EDs (Eating Disorders).

I doubt there are in here, but I know how this works, so just in case.

***TRIGGER WARNING*** Some symptoms, stories and elements may cause flare ups of conditions. The author does not condone or suggest any actions which may cause bodily harm.

I know that if you go into Pinterest and type in “Eating Disorders” into the search bar, you will most likely get a different result list than I will. So I’m going to do this the only way I know how: screen shots! I will caption them with WHAT I want you to pay attention to and then WHY it’s important to today’s blog. This is going to be a personal one today, and I hope that means it helps more than I rant.

  
First off, I like this. I mean, I’m not really sure why I couldn’t immediately connect to Pinterest, but I’m ultimately glad I didn’t. And it goes to show, that the moment I try to prove my point, something inevitably happens that changes my mind. Sort of. So thank you, Pinterest for being on the ball. I appreciate that.

  
 
I want you to look at the top left “hand” picture AND the one right beside it. Those two pictures I am calling into question because although you cannot sum ANY disorder up into a single picture, these only scratch the surface. ALL of these pictures do. The focus is on being skinny. But this screen shot shows my point as well. Looks can be deceiving. And the truth is, you really may not ever know who you are until you break away all of the pieces you thought you were made of.

  
 
This time, focus on the gentleman , and the woman at opposite corners. The great thing is that it highlights men having EDs too; a topic we need to focus on more! The problem with the gentleman’s picture is the same as above: it focuses on the skinny issue. And granted you could argue that that is the “basis” of eating disorders, but I would argue it is merely a facet of some of them. The problem I have with the second one actually requires more than a caption so I’ll bump down a paragraph.

Yes you do. You absolutely do decide one day that that is the course of action you are going to take. It may be subtle, like backing off, extreme dieting or eating less and less. It may be abrupt and one day you just stop eating solids, or anything at all. But you DO decide it. And it basically happens in a day. You just can’t take the pressure or the shame or the guilt and you decide you’re going to do something about it.

I was 14 when I first started dabbling with EDs. Almost a decade later, I’m not sure I’m any better.

The first thing I tried was Bulimia. I can make myself purge on demand and I enjoyed the taste of food so I thought: At least I can still taste the things I love. But the thing is, I HATE puking. I really do. And no matter how much I convinced myself that it would help, I dreaded each meal for the sole reason that I would have to throw it up. I maybe lasted in this phase a grand total of 2 weeks. Any extraneous symptoms were not entirely present. (Or had been present BEFORE onset.)

  

So I moved to Anorexia. By the “height” of my time in this disorder, I was only eating an apple a day and that is why I became a caffeine addict. I fought so hard to stay awake every day. And since I have many years worth of experience in this disorder, let me tell you some things.

  

First. While the motivation to be skinny is a big draw into this disorder, it isn’t the thing that keeps you there. You become trapped, like you cannot stop. You feel like it’s your life now and that is all there will ever be. And did I mind that my collar bone stuck out, that my ribs were exceptionally visible? I lived for those signs that I was making progress. But those are the “sexy” side effects. I’m here to tell you about the not-so-sexy ones.

I began to pass out. Sometimes at home, sometimes at school, always without knowing it. It was kind of like narcolepsy-it just happened. And on top of the literal black outs, I began to loose whole chunks of time. There are, even still, very large portions of my memory that are not clear because I didn’t feed my brain enough to make them last. On top of that, I have little hairs all around, which were not there before. You wouldn’t know it, because I take care of it, but even now, they remain. And the hair on my head falls out in great clumps, just as it did before. I missed menstrual cycles-sometimes for 6 months or more. Not because I was pregnant, but because my body couldn’t succeed in normal functions. My fingernails would constantly chip and break, but the worst thing was how weak I felt. I felt slow, my head felt too big, it was like being stuck in extreme gravity for months on end.

And the thing is, no one even noticed. I wore baggy clothes, bundled up, and tried to hide from everyone. This photo was taken of my in my junior year, I believe. I was trying to catch up on some caffeine, clearly. (I said I was a caffeine addict. And I remember this. It was during prom planning, when I had to try hardest to fit in.) The shirt I was in was a medium. 

  

I was 5 foot 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall at that point, as I am still,  and “look healthy”. But what you can’t see are the constant struggles with food, the endless exercises,  the constant state of pain. All you can see is laughter. A facade.  The me that I outwardly projected. Which is exactly what my primary care physician saw when I went in with the complaint of forgetting chunks of time and passing out. She told me that it was all menstruation related and that I needed to “focus harder”. She could have inadvertently killed me with those words, but luckily I saw a psychiatrist soon after.

And now?

That’s what everyone wants, right?  The triumphant “I survived. And now I’m better. ” story. But I don’t think that’s the story I have for you.  Not today.

I currently fall into the “obese” category of the BMI chart. And does that bother me? A lot. I stay so far away from the starvation diet that I jumped right into the other band wagon. 

  
Puts an interesting spin on things, doesn’t it? Like a big fat slap in the face. I didn’t even know there was a name for what I was doing to myself. And the thing is: I’m not so different than I was before. I spend a day eating whatever I want followed by a day of not really eating, or by a week of heavy dieting. And the people who know me know that I diet a LOT. We’re talking everything shy of weight loss pills. And the cycle repeats. And I’m almost afraid to call it what it is, because I still can’t decide if it’s a lack of willpower, self control or if it’s just lazy, “emotional” eating. With Bulimia and Anorexia, I could relate to 90% of the psychiatrist’s symptom list, but only about 80% of the list I supplied. (More with AN than B.) But I can check off every single symptom up there for BED) and if that’s not saying something, I’ll tell you what is.

I’ve had some variety of ED for HALF MY LIFE (almost-we’re short by 2 years). My hair, even though it is thick (as we discussed a couple posts ago) falls out in large clumps. My nails break often (but I try to compensate with the vitamins I take). My body still has little hairs from being anorexic, I feel sluggish and exhausted a LOT, and I cannot say that I enjoy these decisions. By being anorexic, I ruined my body. I broke who I was as a person and watched the pieces slip away. But with B.E.D., I’ve hidden any growth behind a wall of food, shame and pain trying to avoid crushing my soul into oblivion (all while sabotaging it instead). 

So all in all, what I have to say can be boiled down into two parts. First, the Pinterest issue. Not all EDs are about being skinny. I didn’t even touch on orthorexia. Not all EDs are publicized, but ALL of them need to be taken seriously.

And second, I make a public promise to myself, that I will never stop fighting for people who need it, even if they do not look like anything is wrong. Because for years the only thing people were concerned about was the physical harm I was inflicting on myself, and noone even saw the neglect and torture behind it.

So although this isn’t an update for you all, I’ve been working on this post for over three weeks, and I want everyone to know that I am getting help I don’t know the future, but I have to take back control.