Category Archives: beauty

I Don’t Care About the Superbowl

I don’t care about the Super Bowl.

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In general I wish we valued artists and writers and creators more than athletes and athletics, but it’s more than that. Football, the NFL, and in fact most pro sports in general are problematic to me. But the Super Bowl, the event itself, really irks me.

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I wish, instead of knowing the name of the coach and the quarterback of the winning team, that I knew the name of each and every victim of sexual assault and domestic abuse that is too afraid to come forward because their abuser is a beloved athlete or someone rich/powerful/entitled. I wish I knew the names of the women that are trafficked, sold, provided for the high rollers connected to the league, the players and the owners and the sponsors. I wish their names, not Brady’s and Belichick’s, were splashed across the news. I wish we cared as much about their fate as we do about who wins the trophy.

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I wish, instead of caring about the ridiculously expensive commercials, we all collectively gave a shit about the negative effects of advertising and our consumer culture. I wish we cared about how our self esteem, especially the self worth of women, is affected and undermined by commercials showcasing youth and a specific kind of beauty as the ultimate goal. I wish we cared about how advertisements uphold our sexism and misogyny, how they reinforce stereotypes to turn a profit.  I wish we thought about success in ways other than ‘how much stuff can I acquire’.  I wish we used our money to help one another instead of to purchase the things we think we need to be better, prettier, happier.

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I wish, instead of hearing for weeks about ‘deflate-gate’, that the news cared about the scandals that affect people in the real world. I wish people wanted to hold the NFL accountable for the violence it afflicts on it’s own players, for the concussion rate and the fact that players exit the league with head trauma, depression, and other lasting effects. I wish we cared that these players are left out in the cold, and told to keep silent. I wish we cared about the men and boys that are affected by the image of masculinity as aggression and power and dominance.  

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I wish, instead of the country tuning into a football game, that we tuned into elections and social justice movements. I wish we could take all the money that pours into the super bowl and use it for education. I wish we paid teachers as much as quarterbacks, and I wish we taught our kids that heroes are the folks that show up everyday to build the future and change the world. I wish kids were as amped about reading as they are about sports. I wish we made them believe that they can change the world, and not just make it to the big leagues. I wish we taught kids that success is about more than winning, about how using their minds is the real way they can ‘make it.’

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Here is this dude speaking my mind about this, for the assist.

Maybe this is hyperbolic. But you know what, things are dire for women and girls not just across this country but around the world. So, consider me Obama as the SOTU cause I have no fucks left to give. I will give up exactly none of my energy to pay attention to the game or the result or the player worship. None of it. Nope.

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I know we all need entertainment, and fun distractions. Just think about what you choose as your vices, think about how you spend your money, think about the thoughts that fill your head space. Think about what kind of energy you put out there. Our collective support and energy will determine the future. I wish we remembered that. I wish the voices of women, and others that are systematically oppressed and silenced, were heard as loudly as Katy Perry’s halftime show. What if our voices, our collective empathy and will to change the status quo, were the story instead of the left shark?

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I wish…

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S-E-X (Americans are stunted adolescents)

This country has a sex problem. Our culture doesn’t have a healthy relationship with sex. We are obsessed with it, but ashamed of it, and only certain people (white men) are allowed to express their sexuality without an array of consequences. In the name of ‘decency’ we censor, and for the children we slut shame (meanwhile we leave our kids in the dark with abstinence only education that leaves them completely unprepared to deal with sex or intimacy.) We are not honest  about the realities of human sexuality in the 21st century.

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Unfortuately while we are all yelling about how shocked and offended we are, we are also watching an unbelievable amount of porn and demanding that celebrities give us salacious details about their sex lives. The latest example of this is a story that just broke: Nick Jonas ‘I’m no Virgin’.

 OMGjanice

Stop the presses! This 22 year old dude with a rocking body and lots of money is sexually active?! How can this be?! Why do we cccccaaaarrrrreeee?

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We care because we forced him and his bandmate brothers to say they had purity rings when they were The Jonas Brothers because of the widespread assumption that Christian morality is the best/only morality. We really do love to sexualize teenagers as much as we love to make them tell us they aren’t having sex (Brit Brit, Timberlake, Miley, etc.) So now that (obviously) that purity ring nonsense is over, we feel entitled to an update. But we aren’t entitled to an update. The sex life of Nick Jonas does not belong to us, it is not ours to know or comment on. I know that sex is exciting and fun, and I don’t think we should never discuss it. But we discuss it in such adolescent, immature ways. The very idea that this is news reveals how very middle school our cultural conversations about sex truly are.

Now, lest we think this issue is too straightforward, it is also worth pointing out that we don’t talk about sex in the same ways when we talk about male and female celebrities. Nick Jonas is having a sex symbol moment right now (remember these), and this news will not result in any back lash (maybe some religious nuts, but his career won’t be damaged in any lasting way.) Let’s contrast that with another star who is having a pretty successful moment: Tay Tay. Ms Swift has the only platinum album of 2014, and just became the first women ever to replace herself at #1 on the Billboard charts.

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But Taylor’s career has consistently been undermined by a media who is obsessed with her love life. She draws from her life to write songs, as most folks do, but in Tay Tay’s case this results in constant speculation about who she wrote about and who’s she is with. She has even been ridiculed, called a man-eater. And most disturbingly, some religious conservative a-holes have denounced her as a slut and a harlot, saying she is a bad example for young girls.

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First of all, Taylor is an adult that can do whatever the fuck she wants with her body. So keep your slut shaming judgements to yourself. But what is even worse is that these out spoken fanatics are assuming that they know intimate details of her sex life. Being linked to someone in the tabloids doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. Dating someone doesn’t mean you’re sleeping with them. Kissing someone doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. Hell, even sleeping with someone doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. So I wish these folks would actually get their minds outta the gutter (isn’t it ironic that those who rail against something the loudest are usually also doing that thing behind closed doors?) and stop assuming that they know Tay Tay’s life.

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I’m just over the media prying into the sex lives of stars and reporting all the salacious details. It’s like trying to peep through a locker room window. It’s not shocking or surprising that grown ass really beautiful people have sex. It’s not a surprise that underneath their clothes, celebrities are naked. They have bodies. Whoa! There is no way that we are going to be able to teach ourselves and the next generation how to have a healthy and positive relationship with our bodies and sexuality if we don’t cool it with this kind of journalism. It may be fun to watch Nick go from curly-headed boy band teen to uber-hottie, but we don’t need to pry into his love life to enjoy his music (or his abs.) Taylor’s romantic life may inform her music, but the real story is her catchy songs and her record breaking new album, not her past paramours. Luckily, she knows how to one up that haters and make an amazing video for her record breaking single that shows you exactly what you want. Enjoy, and stop being such a perv.

 

Female Bodies: Endlessly Contested Obsessions

There have been a few things on the internet this week that made my spidey senses tingle, reminding me that women are first and foremost things for people to judge and argue about. Never mind that they are also humans that work and breathe and make completely autonomous decisions on the reg. As far as our culture, especially digital internet culture is concerned, they should always be pretty and ready to be appraised.

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This week Calvin Klien launched a new campaign. It’s typical for them, black and white and slick. But there is something different, although when I first saw the photo I myself didn’t notice it.

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That’s Myla Dalbesio. She’s a model. She looks pretty great in that simple black lingerie. NBD.

A Twitter-storm erupted when Elle tweeted:

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Because some people think that a size 10 isn’t plus size. I would agree. And some people say ‘Well it’s fashion and for the fashion industry she is large.’ And yea, I guess. But ew. And of course there were a range of other lewd and vapid comments, but what stuck out to me is this need to define what she is. I mean, can’t she just be a model? Like, a beautiful model? I of course agree that we need to see a wider range of body types in the media, but it’s about so much more than that. Because redefining beauty is not just about expanding the range of sizes a woman can be while still being hot.

And then, well, then there was Kim.

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She ‘broke the internet’. She ‘did it again.’ Kayne tweeted his support:

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And everyone has an opinion. Some shamed her, because she ‘is someone’s mother’. Which is ridiculous cause babies are made with sex. Right? That’s not new news, is it? And some people are sick of her, and I’ll admit I am sick of her. And I’m sick of how her butt is always emphasized, and I’m uncomfortable with the racialized history of this type of photo. And the amount of photo shopping that I’m guessing happened here, to tip this photo over the top, is also problematic.

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But it’s not new. Is it? I mean, the whole shoot was recycled ideas the photographer already did. And haven’t we seen this before, in general? Is this so shocking? Is it really necessary to argue about what she should be doing with her body, if mom’s can be sexy (duh), if she has no talent (duh), etc? Why can’t we look right past her (I know, I know, ‘that ass tho’) and talk about the culture we all perpetuate that allows this photo of this actual famous person to exist? Because this photo, of a sexualized backside and a shiny shiny white-ish woman, this is what we push as an ideal of beauty. This is what we encourage young woman to aspire to.

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Quick, name a female scientist (that is alive, not Marie Curie.)

I’m gonna go with Emily Graslie, seen here reading her mail and talking about gender gaps in STEM fields.

Now name a female novelist (again, who is alive.)

Here are two dope women writers, chatting with each other and positively thrilling me. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian American novelist, and Zadie Smith is British and too smart for me.

Quick, think of 3 female role models that aren’t role models because they always look perfect and seem to have it all (this unfortunately leaves out Beyonce although her work ethic makes her worthy of role model status in my humble opinion.) Feel free to leave your pics in the comments.

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Because one of the important things to remember is that no matter what else we require of women, we require them to be beautiful. And I get it, we all like to look at beautiful things. But people aren’t things. And men don’t have these same kinds of standards. They can be professional or smart or powerful or parents or hardworking or famous or entrepreneurial, without also having to look flawless all day every day. But women must always exist in these contested spaces. Is she pretty enough? Is she a good mother? Can she be a feminist icon while also being sexy? Is she too sexy? Too crude? Can women be funny?

The topic of ‘is she good enough’ is always up for debate.

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All of this chips away at women’s humanity. We are not objects to be argued over. Our bodies are our own. So too are the choices we make. If Kim wants to get lathered up with baby oil and let them photo shop her waist so she can continue to make money off her ass, that’s her choice. I don’t wanna talk about it, but she’s allowed. And she should be allowed without all the subsequent chatter. Like the photo or don’t, but remember that she is an actual human, with a family, with friends, with a real life. Same goes for Myla. Why should she have to deal with the ‘is she or isn’t she plus sized’ conversation? Plus sized is a made up thing. It’s not real. People are just people, with bodies of different shapes. Who. Cares.

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And before the ‘they put themselves out there to be judged’ brigade starts in, I will remind you that these kinds of arguments do not happen around men. Even male models, who make money off of their body and image do not occupy the contested spaces their female counterparts do. We do not pick apart male actors or celebrities in the same way. Because we don’t feel ownership over male bodies. We don’t feel entitled to enjoy or critique male bodies in the same way we do with female bodies. This entitlement contributes to the endless arguments, it contributes to internet harassment and street harassment and rape culture. And I’m sick of it. It’s exhausting.

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Here is a newsflash: adding your voice to the endless debate over who is beautiful and who is worthy will not end the centuries of violence and control enacted on the female body. If we spent half the energy we expend on judging women on thinking about how we could change the conversation and change the world, then we could actually get down to the work of making this world a better, safer place for  all those that are currently being disenfranchised by ‘the man’. Stop staring at Kim’s ass and arguing over which number size is too big for models, and let’s make our voices heard about the stuff that matters.

Celebrity Nude Photo Leak: Scandal or SEX CRIME OBVIOUSLY UGH

Some low life leaked photos of female celebrities this weekend, notably the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande. And it’s being covered as a ‘scandal’.

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It’s not a scandal. It’s a sex crime.

Lena Duhnam succinctely sums up my feelings about the most oft used excuse for viewing the leaked shots:

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You shouldn’t be viewing these photos because you don’t have permission. They were not taken for you. These actresses have not chosen to share the images, they were not shot in a professional setting, no one was compensated. They are not ‘for sale’. They are private. Say it with me: PRIVATE.

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Listen, real talk: obviously I would love to see Jennifer Lawrence naked. I think she is beautiful, and bodies are beautiful, and that would be dope. But I won’t go find those pics, and I won’t link to where to find them, because this incident is a part of a clear pattern of misogyny and the policing of female sexuality and bodies. Celebrities give up a lot of privacy to have a career. Some of that I believe is part of their job, but some of it is a clear invasion. Women in particular, models and actresses and pop stars, are policed at a very high level. We speculate about their romantic lives ad nauseum (Jennifer Aniston etc) and we obsess over their bodies, circling supposed problem areas if they get too large (Jessica Simpson etc) or speculating about their health if they become too skinny (Nicole Richie, Angelina Jolie etc). This level of scrutiny is cruel, and it serves no one. We expect these women to hold to the standards we’ve all set for them, otherwise they face the wrath of tabloids and fans who will withhold their adoration until the standards are once again achieved. We hold them up as goddesses, but are quick to snatch them back down to earth if they ‘let themselves go.’

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But talent is not linked with a particular body type. This is why Christina Aguilera can belt at any size, and why Adele is effing glorious. The same applies to actresses, who needn’t be under 120 lbs to give a performance that is moving, convincing, funny or deep. Our adoration should be about performance, about the ability to consistently BRING IT. And yet instead of pledging our alegiance to those that move us, we worship goddesses of beauty and glamour. And I get it, because beauty and glamour are extremely appealing and alluring. But the standards are too rigid. The definitions of beauty of too strict and too immobilizing. The demands can never be maintained. And we are all just waiting for the slip up, so we can point out the flaws and I suppose feel some kind of catharsis or redemption because they are like us? Because perfection is an illusion, and we need them to prove it to us?

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This instance, though, can be spun as part of that worship. Which is gross. Because the naked body is private. It is for sharing only with those that you wish to share it with. This is not the same thing as to say it is shameful. It’s not shameful. Bodies are beautiful. The difference between what is private and what is shameful is not well articulated in our culture, and so we mostly teach girls that their bodies and their sexuality and their periods and their desires are shameful, when really those things are just private. Shaping them as private things has a much different connotation, because it is up to you to decide the boundaries of your personal privacy. Things are are private are under the purview of your own agency, subject to decisions that you are empowered to make for yourself. Shameful things have already been decided on for you, by someone else (your mother, your peers, the culture at large.) These photos were stolen and released without consent to shame these women. And the most common response is ‘Well if they don’t want them seen, then they shouldn’t take them’ which is indeed victim blaming akin to the ‘she was dressed provocatively’ or ‘don’t drink so much’ defense hurled at rape victims. The assumption is that if you take naked photos you are acting as a sexual being and if you are a woman that makes you a slut and you deserve to be exposed for what you are. She was asking for it. The only people responsible for crimes are those that commit them. In what realm of reality would it be unreasonable for a person to take intimate photos for themselves or a partner, and expect that only the person intended to see those photos would see them? Why wouldn’t a person imagine that their privacy be respected? If you believe that celebrities owe us even this, even their most intimate moments, then I think you are a delusional and unreasonable and not nice and unclear about what consent is and means. (Also: What are you hoping to find in those photos? Cause I’m pretty sure the fact that celebrities are naked under their clothes is not exactly revelatory information….)

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Women do not owe anyone access to their bodies. Famous women don’t owe you access to their nudity. Women in public don’t owe you access to touch them, to comment on their appearance, and they don’t owe you a smile. This incident highlights the way in which our culture functions to remind women that their bodies are not their own. It’s all connected friends, from street harassment to reproductive rights to the constant scrutiny and hunger for ever more provocative and revealing images. Don’t look at those pictures. They don’t belong to us.

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Let’s Take a Break from Apocolytpic Emo Breakdowns and Talk Natural Body Care

Let’s talk about hair cuts and natural body care products cause the rest of the world is exhausting and it’s just too hot to keep raging!

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This is an update on my natural body care journey (for a full breakdown on ‘why the hell am I doing this?’, see here and here.) First of all, I cut my hair. My fears, it turns out, were unwarranted. I love it. I don’t feel less pretty, I feel light and free and cute. Since I provided photos before, here is my new ‘do, shout out to Marika in Delaware who is the best and always does what I want but better than I imagined:

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Also, I have been washing with honey and it’s been great. Honey is moisturizing for the hair, slightly acidic to balance the PH of your scalp, and it’s also anti microbial and anti fungal. The recipe I used is 3 parts water and 1 part raw honey (raw is important, but it’s not wildly expensive and you don’t use a lot of this mixture per wash so it will last.) I warmed the mixture over low heat to make sure the honey was fully dissolved. I let it cool down, and then put it all in an empty hair product bottle I’d cleaned out (reduce reuse recycle!), and I’m keeping it in the fridge to avoid spoiling. Not that I have hair to really focus on, but this mixture should be massaged into the scalp rather used to saturate your hair. It smells great, my hair is soft, and I don’t have to wash everyday. Additionally, I now have way less stuff in my bathroom. Less plastic bottles, less products, less clutter. It feels great to clear the medicine cabinet and shower caddy, and to know exactly what is coming into contact with my body. Plus I haven’t had to sacrifice any quality in terms of how clean I feel! My skin and hair aren’t oily, I’m not breaking out, and actually my showers are quicker. So far, oil cleansing and honey shampoo are a success.

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But it hasn’t all been hunky dory. My natural oral care experiments have been…. less than wonderful.

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I did not like the toothpaste recipe I tried, which consisted of coconut oil, baking soda, vegetable glycerin and peppermint essential oil. The texture is kind of grainy, and you cannot honestly describe it as ‘minty’. It didn’t leave my mouth feeling fresh, however I suspect I will have to try and re-calibrate my taste going forward so that ‘fresh’ isn’t automatically ‘minty.’ In any case, I haven’t given up on toothpaste, but I will be trying some different recipes and maybe different essential oils for flavor. Lemon or orange oil would be nice, and also help with whitening. For now I’ve gotten a fluoride-free toothpaste from Tom’s, and I’m psyched to have a minty mouth again!

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Additionally I’ve been oil pulling and… well… I’m not crazy about it. Full disclosure: the time ranges people suggest vary, and I’ve been shooting for 10 whole minutes, but honestly I’ve never hit a full ten (I get close, like 8 and 1/2 or 9 ish and bail.) I will keep practicing and try to keep my eyes off the clock, but that’s a long time to keep swishing. Even so, I am going to continue with this, because I think it’s a mindful practice and I’m kind of into that. But again, it doesn’t leave my mouth feeling super clean (no mint…), although I do not mind the over all taste. It does, however, help with morning breath and whitening, and like I said you have to kind of slow down and focus. So this gets a reserved thumbs up. You can read up on it here, here, here, and here.

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That’s all the news for now. I have to say that it’s been fun trying all these new things, as it is all moving me in what I feel is a positive direction where I have less extraneous and potentially poisonous stuff, not to mention more time. Having less hair has been amazing in this heat, and actually I think it’s the best thing I’ve done for my yoga practice since… going to yoga. I’m less distracted, I still feel sassy, and the lack of maintenance is super empowering. Next up to try is homemade deodorant, and I am hoping that this works as well as folks claim because I am a very active human and it is really very hot in NYC right now and I don’t mind sweating but I sure don’t wanna stink. Have any of you guys tried any natural body care stuff, with or without success? Please share any stories, insights or resources in the comments!

he (and i) really wanna know! <3
he (and i) really wanna know! ❤

I’m Nervous About Cutting My Hair, and other thoughts on insecurity

I’m going to cut my hair off this weekend.

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If you know me, you’re rolling your eyes like ‘Come on Alex, how much more hair could you possibly cut off?’ And you’re mostly right.

asymettrical, purple swoop, resting bitch face
asymettrical, purple swoop, morning sass

But I’ve never gone full on clippers, GI Jane style. I’ve never taken it all the way down. I’ve thought about taking it all off before, in solidarity with my mom (who has lost her hair a bunch of times due to cancer treatment), and also as a way to just let everything go and reset. And I’m finally gonna do it, as a way to help transition to this whole no shampoo thing (furthering my natural beauty journey which you can read about here and also here.)

But I’m nervous.

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A strangely large amount of people have told me that I’m ‘so brave’ for cutting my hair short. That they themselves could never do that, they themselves aren’t ‘brave enough.’ But cutting my hair wasn’t an act of courage.  In fact,  like a lot of folks, it was an act of desperation. When my best friend from high school slept with my then boyfriend (so cliche, so inconsiderate) about 1/2 way through college, I was heartbroken and stunned and completely unsure about the world. And I wanted to be a different person. And so I switched out my facial piercing, got a new tattoo, and cut my hair off. It was a beginning, and an end, and a statement. It didn’t feel brave.

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And still, as I grew into that person with shorter hair, that person who got past a betrayal and kept loving the people that helped and found newer and better passions, I’ve still never felt that short hair makes me brave. My mom is brave, facing a seemingly endless amount of treatment and still yearning to move past cancer and live her life to the fullest. People who risk their lives to save others are brave. People who stand up to injustice are brave. People who face the unknown with dignity and hope are brave. All I do is pay Marika, the little old Greek lady who gave me my first hair cut and continues to put up with my crazy requests, to cut some hairs on my head into sassy shapes.

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But quite frankly, I am scared about cutting my hair really short all over. And it’s for a kind of embarrassing reason. It’s because I’m afraid I won’t be pretty. And actually, I’m pretty sure that I’m not pretty already, but I feel like this is going to make it worse.

To be clear, this is not a pity party and I’m not sharing these thoughts to garner supportive comments. I don’t think I’m gross or ugly, and most days I am satisfied with my appearance. And I’m lucky enough that I have lots of people in my life who love me and tell me I am beautiful and on lots of days, thankfully, I believe them. I’m talking about something very specific. ‘Pretty’ is glamour, it’s pink and it’s quiet. Pretty is Betty Draper with her tiny waist and full skirt, and the perfect shade of lipstick. Pretty is my mother going to work when I was a kid, dressed chicly in all black, putting lipstick on with a lip brush, hair curled with a curling iron and a little hairspray. Pretty is how ballet made me feel, pink tights and tutus and fingers held just so. When I say pretty I mean feminine, perfect makeup and a floral summer dress. I mean princess-y. I mean delicate. I mean put together. I mean pretty.

she's like a doll. an ice queen, kinda soulless doll...
she’s like a doll. an ice queen, kinda soulless doll…

And that kind of beauty is something that I’ve always felt was out of my reach. I can do sexy and sassy, short hair that’s sometimes fun colors and tattoos and loud style. When my body is in a yoga pose or peddling me up an urban hill, I’m especially happy with it, grateful for it’s strength and resilience. But we can’t be all things, and I always got the sense that I was a little too loud and a little too un-still and a little too creative for pretty. Because pretty comes with a catch. Can’t be too loud, pretty girls are quite. Can’t be sweaty, pretty girls stay still. Can’t be too funny, pretty girls aren’t in the spot light (unless they are staying still to be admired.) Can’t be too unique, pretty has rules.

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And I know that this is all nonsense. I personally know plenty of pretty girls that are brash and funny, and pretty girls that are smart as a whip, and pretty girls with tattoos and pretty girls with long and short hair and pretty girls that are different shapes and different shades. Because real life defies what they try to make us believe.

But sometimes I still wish I was the kind of girl who effortlessly looked put together, who could wear super frilly dresses and lipstick without feeling like I was trying to hard. And I’ll bet some of those girls feel like me, wanting something different or looking in the mirror and picking apart things that are perfect. Because we are bombarded with images of these kinds of girls everyday, and they taunt us with their airbrushed perfection. Because we all learn lessons as little girls about how to act, about what is important for us, and the concept of ‘pretty’ is high on the list. Because our culture doesn’t work to reassure us that we are perfect as we are, it undermines us and feeds our insecurity and sells us snake oil promising that just one more product will transform us into the swan/princess/super model/super woman.

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And yet. Fuck that. Because I am who I am, and I have spent lots of time (especially after that first major hair cut) working to be a person I am proud of, and working to love myself in this body and in my own skin. And I’ve worked hard to let other people love me, despite the fact that I’m not perfect, despite the fact that I’m kind of a lot and despite the fact that I’m not always feminine or ‘girly’. And my work isn’t over. We should all be doing this work, even though it’s never ending, because we have to set a good example for each other and for the next group of girls growing up. My best friend just gave birth (I’m so effing proud of her, in awe actually) and her little sugar bean is perfect. And I don’t want sugar bean to grow up worrying about being pretty. I want to teach her how to love herself, how to work hard to achieve goals, how to stand up for what she believes in and how to feel pride in herself for more than just her outward appearance. I want to teach her about empathy and self-love and feminism, and I can’t do that if I don’t keep trying to be a living example.

lesson #1
lesson #1

So it’s all gonna go. And then no more shampoo. And no more conditioner. And I’ll let you know how the natural remedies work out. And if I cry. And I’ll hopefully remind us all, myself included, that it’s just hair. It will grow back. Everything in life is only for now. It’s not that this stuff isn’t hard, or that these issues aren’t real, because they are. The pressure is real, and so is the shame, and it’s ok to have all the feels. The last thing any of us need is to feel guilty about wanting to feel beautiful. So I’m trying to get over my embarrassment (thus the large amount of sharing), own my insecurity, and then cut my hair anyway. And if it turns out that it does make me less pretty, well I mean, that’s not a tragedy. I can grow the swoop back. My friends and family and framily will still love me. The world will continue to spin. I do believe that if we can face some of our fears regarding our bodies and our personal beauty, we should try. Because if we can learn to love our whole entire selves, we can better love each other, and then we can all work together to dismantle the system that teaches us that we don’t deserve love unless our lipstick is perfect.

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Oil Cleansing Method: The Lo Down

Hi friends! Here is an update on my natural body care journey, which I wrote about a few weeks ago (here.)

I started out with the oil cleansing method. My main sources on this can be found here, and here. Per the info I found, I started out using equal parts of castor, avocado and jojoba oil. I was already using jojoba as a moisturizer, so I knew it was a good fit for my skin. My partner in crime/boo is trying this ish out with me, but he is only using castor and jojoba because his skin is less dry than mine.  We both had a very successful first try!

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Here are my immediate thoughts after trying it for the first time:

First oil cleanse! It felt great to massage the oil into my face. My first reaction is…. I love it. When I used a hot wash cloth to steam my face, I could totes feel my pores opening. And all of my makeup was removed, but my skin wasn’t tight or flaky after. It had a lovely rosy glow. I didn’t feel like I needed to moisturize. It wasn’t too time consuming, though longer than a quick face wash wash mostly because of the steaming part. But that is totally the best part, so I’m about it.

And, basically, those first musings hold true. I saw a few very small blemishes the first week, but I think that was because I was using too much avocado oil (it’s in a big bottle and hard to pour sparingly….) In any case, that didn’t last. I have had almost no dry skin since starting this regimen, and I really cannot say enough about how steaming your face is totally relaxing and wonderful. It really is worth the extra time.

And, in the sake of full disclosure, here is a before an after picture to show that it does indeed take off one’s make up. The first pic is me, made up for a night out (seriously, that’s a lot of make up for me!) and the second is post cleanse.

mewithmakeup      menomakeup

Make up, be gone!

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Overall, I’m very much a fan of this. Other facial cleansers always dried my skin out, and often felt harsh. I am also a huge fan of knowing exactly what I am massaging into my pores! I see an improvement in my skin’s overall moisture, my face is definitely clean, and the steaming portion of the routine feels calming and luxurious. I feel like I am practicing good self care, and I am happy with how my skin looks after cleansing. I feel refreshed and pretty! I think I am going to lock in my oil mixture by actually mixing equal parts in a separate container (right now I’m mixing in my hand….) so it’s even easier to get the desired amount. Also, it’s for sure cheaper than face wash. The oils, for 16 ounces, range from around $9-20, avocado being the most expensive. But since you are only using a few drops of each per wash, they are all going to last a very long time.

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This method gets two thumbs way up! Grab some castor oil a second base oil that works for you, and start massaging and steaming your way to a clean face! I will no longer stalk the aisles of Duane Read for face wash:

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Next up: oil pulling and tooth paste ie oral care. Get amped!

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Taylor Townsend: Grand Slam Debut!

Meet Taylor Townsend. She just made and impressive grand slam debut at the French Open.

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She made it to the third round last week, making her the youngest American woman to advance that far in the French since 2003. She is 18 years old, with a game the media has deemed retro and a decidedly outgoing and competitive spirit. She pulled off an impressive 2nd round upset against the 20th seed and is awaiting news of a possible Wimbledon wild card. Andy Murray tweeted about her. All in all, I’d say she killed her first slam performance.

But. A lot of media coverage has been focused away from her game. Two years ago, the USTA attempted to keep the then 16-year old from playing in the US Open because of ‘concerns about her health’ ie they thought she needed to lose weight. She played anyway, however her mother had to pay out of pocket for their travel expenses.

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Serena Williams, herself the victim of body trolling in the past despite 17 GS singles titles plus another 15 in doubles, was quoted as saying  “For a female, particularly, in the United States, in particular, an African-American, to have to deal with that is unnecessary… Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything. I think you can see that more than anywhere on the tennis tour.” Taylor won the doubles title and advanced to the quarters in the singles bracket of that tournament. She made it to #1 in the world as a junior. She has since made up with the USTA, and they reimbursed her for those travel costs.

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The media is still talking about her body, with lots of speculation about how ‘getting in better shape’ could improve her game. Now, because we are talking about athletes, I’m not opposed to talking about physicality. We do, in fact, talk about the bodies of male athletes quite a bit. We don’t require male athletes to be as conventionally attractive or genial as we like our female athletes, but that’s a different discussion for a different day. The question here is whether her body shape is impeding her game. Jon Wertheim at Sports Illustrated thinks not.

“…the evidence that her physique hinders her tennis is scant at best. In her second round match, she played 30 games over three sets and almost two-and-a-half hours against France’s Alize Cornet (who goes 5-8, 139 pounds) Townsend won thrillingly, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 and was hardly winded.”

I think this is an interesting, very fine point in the way we talk about women’s bodies, and men’s bodies, and the language we use. For many athletes, concerns about weight are coded in discussions about their ‘fitness’, their endurance and ‘stamina’. But, as Wertheim points out, she doesn’t appear to have an issue hanging with the other women athletes. And, frankly, if you’ve been watching the ladies tour for the past few years, you’ll have already noticed a dearth in strength and stamina amongst the majority of the players, particularly the skinny-minny crowd.

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We so rarely speculate on the health of people with ‘normal’ body types, assuming they must be fine. And yet we have a collective cultural understanding that larger bodies are unhealthy and thus deserving of our ‘concern’ (read: trolling, judgement). This understanding is completely biased, and not at all based on fact. Body weight and shape can be used as markers of health when included in an overall assement of other markers such as resting heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. But taken alone, weight cannot tell you anything significant about your health. In fact, it’s entirely possible for folks who have the same exact habits, good or bad, both food and activity related, to end up with drastically different bodies.

I guess I’m hoping that, if we are going to speculate and comment on athletes bodies (which I have mixed feelings about because it is work related for them but also totally exploitive/fun/sexy for us…)  that we do so in the same way for all bodies. I mean, maybe I’d like to hear more about how Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are, believe it or not, the same height and weight! Say what?! And also, I’ve never heard anyone talk about how hefty some major league baseball pitchers are, or at least not as the main meat of the coverage. And it shouldn’t be the main story, because an athlete’s performance should be our chief concern. In short, I wish the issue of Taylor’s body and her past struggles was more of a foot note, an aside, a passing background tidbit instead of the headline. I wish her story wasn’t framed as part of a culture war between small and large people. I wish that we all, in general, were more accepting of a greater range of bodies. I wish our standards for what is beautiful, and what is athletic, were expanded to include the vast and wonderful array of people that we encounter on the streets and on the courts. Taylor’s debut was exciting, and her future looks promising. She deserves to be covered because of her on court performance, not how she looks in the tennis skirt.

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Which, BTW, is awesome.

Turning my Back on Duane Reade: My Homemade Beauty Experiment

That title is really not quite accurate. Because this journey I’ve decided to go on (and share with all you lovely people) isn’t so much about beauty as it is about consumerism.

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Everyday, we see ads everything that convince us that we need something. That we just won’t be complete until we make that next purchase. Advertisers are trying to attract everyone’s money, and indeed there is a product and accompanying ad for each and every demographic combination that exists. But women, in particular, face a lot of ad pressure, particularly from the beauty industry. We must have the right shampoo for our hair type, the right cleanser and moisturizer, the right foundation and of course the right shade of lipstick (which also must be moisturizing but not too glossy, and no smudging!) And of course our teeth must be super duper white from using that whitening toothpaste and mouth wash. And deodorant, because lord knows we mustn’t stink or have stubbly pits, and then there is lotion because our pores must be invisible and our skin smooth and hairless on every freakin’ inch of our bodies.

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But Alex, you are thinking, some of that is just hygienic. Everyone should be clean, right? And you’re right, I am not anti shower. I am anti stuff.

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100 years ago, there wasn’t volumizing conditioner or scented face wash. Women weren’t worrying that their pores were too big, or how even their skin tone was across their entire body. This stuff they are selling, it all comes with one very clear message: You need this to be beautiful enough. You are not beautiful enough as you are.

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And I have news guys! The history of how this shit came into existence isn’t hard to find. In the beginning of the 20th century, American life changed drastically and all of the sudden women were living in cities, and working. From his very informative and entertaining book Flapper, Joshua Zeitz:

As late as the 1890’s, there had scarcely been such a thing as urban nightlife. Young romance had been captive to the sun, and once it set, towns and cities could rely only on gas lamps, which cast a short and dim glow… By 1900, all of that changed.

He’s talking about electricity. The advent of electric street lamps created a new public space: the night. And women were moving to the city, and working, and taking part in this space.

When young women moved to the city alone, they were able to elude the familiar scrutiny of their parents and neighbors. Even when young women still lived at home, towns and cities afforded them a greater measure of anonymity and social freedom…

Add that to fewer hours at work and increasing wages, and suddenly women were more independent, and had money and time to spare.

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Advertisers took note. Suddenly, one’s life wasn’t wrapped up in their family reputation and forced introductions. Suddenly, how you looked walking to work could have a real impact on your life. And so a slew of new consumer products was born.

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Listerine was one of many products re-branded for a new fake problem: halitosis. A completely made up disease, halitosis, or bad breath, could be cured by swishing with Listerine, which had previously been used to clean out cuts and scrapes. Before long other problems were created: dandruff, body odor, wrinkles and acne, dry or oily hair. And all of these problems had a solution: buy a product. Advertisements made grand promises of turning ugly ducklings into beautiful brides and the like, and

[t]he accompanying pictures… gave the subtle impression that everywhere one turned there was always a keen eye trained on the most infinitesimal aspects of one’s appearance.

Wow. Sounds familiar, huh? Reminds me of an old feminist favorite: the male gaze. If you are always being watched, then even when stepping out to run a quick errand or do laundry, you must look your best. In case you bump into Mr Right, who obviously won’t recognize you without dynamite lashes and perfect skin (duh.) The idea that women should look perfect at all times is ubiquitous in our culture, in some ways it’s the price we pay for admission. Now that we can have the jobs we want and fuck who we want and have ever greater control in our life choices, doesn’t it seem odd that almost every single woman you know gets up everyday and takes great pains to tame, alter, or outright change her appearance? Why is Beyonce’s ***Flawless such an anthem? Because it’s an inside joke. She may not have woken up with that fierce eye make up on, wearing those ass less shorts, but she sure as shit woke up flawless. And the message, if you’re listening, is that we all did. Each of us is flawless just the way we are, before we put on our armor of deodorant and lipstick and hairspray and high heels and venture out into a world where we are implicitly and explicitly judged by our appearance, valuable only if we are flawless in the eyes of men, the designated beholders.

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be(y) your own beholder!

Alright, enough already! On to the real life component of this rant. It started innocently: I stumbled across some homemade lotion recipes. They seemed easy enough, and I thought it’d be a fun girls night in. So I went to a friends house, and we drank wine and ordered take out and watched SMASH and made lotion. Easy breezy, fun, and the lotion was lovely. And so I started doing some more research into homemade body care. The oil cleansing method, oil pulling, homemade toothpaste and deodorant, and even the No [sham]Poo movement! And I thought: man, all of that sounds amazing. No more buying all this crap, in these bad for the environment non-resuable containers. And honestly, do we as consumers even know what is in all this crap? Is it good for our bodies to come in contact with all these formulas daily? I have no idea, not really, no real knowledge of the science. But something deep within me intuits that it’s be smart to limit how many of these potions come into contact with my body. I already limit what I ingest as food (go veg!), so this is totes in line with my overall vibe. I’m doing it all, starting with oil cleansing and ending with a drastic hair cut and no ‘poo. And I’m gonna let you know how it all goes. How it affects my body, how it makes me feel, how easy it is, and how it compares to the stuff they sell in the shiny and well lit aisles of Duane Reade.

wish me luck!
wish me luck!

Here are my two favorite lotion recipes, if you’d like to start with the easy stuff:

Whipped Body Butter

Homemade Lotion, 3 Ingredients 

 

“Alternative” Visions of Beauty.

I recently read a very thoughtful and insightful personal essay written by an ‘alternative model’ named Carrie Jo. I put that in quotes because  I hate the term alternative modeling. It is almost always applied to women with visible tattoos and other body modifications. I think that women with tattoos are beautiful, period end of sentence. Their beauty isn’t about being different or exotic, or at least it doesn’t have to be.  What the fuck does alternative even mean?

adj.  offering or expressing a choice;

different from the usual or conventional: as

a:  existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system

Alright, thanks Merriam Webster. So I guess in this case tattooed models are functioning outside of the established fashion system, where designers don’t want tattoos distracting from their designs. Both systems suck. In one, women are clothes hangers and must be shaped as such. And in the other, women’s bodies are the consumable product, existing only to be visually devoured and objectified. The author, Carrie Jo, comments on the well known Suicide Girls alternative modeling company, saying “While [Suicide Girls] still feature many different kinds of women with many different kinds of “looks”, the personalities of each individual model are lost. They are now just objects for masturbatory release, rather than women making a statement.” Her point is that Suicide Girls, nowadays, are practically interchangeable with traditional lingerie and pin-up models. Except they have tattoos. They are not, in reality, pushing the boundaries of what we consider beautiful. And they are often hypersexualized. In fact, I know a lovely lady who is tatted up and models, and indeed most of the photos she shares are very sexualized, bordering on pornographic. There is nothing wrong with that, and she looks super gorgeous. But why should she be limited to that kind of photo, that kind of look? Why should her tattoos restrict her versatility? Why are our visions of what can be beautiful, traditional, pretty and feminine so limited?

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The thing about feeling beautiful, is that in it’s purest form it is a feeling that is for you and not for others. When we talk about street harassment, one of the reasons some people don’t understand why it’s not a compliment is because they can’t fathom a world where women aren’t in constant pursuit of male approval. The assumption is ubiquitous that women make an effort to look good explicitly for men, and that they should be making this effort all the time. That assumption is sexist and heteronormative, which means that when you don’t conform to beauty standards, you are defying the patriarchy. And that makes you dangerous.

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But what about the things that make us feel beautiful that have nothing to do with an outside gaze? And I don’t even mean things like yoga, or being creative or being kind (which are super important, obviously.) I mean actual work you do on your appearance, that makes you feel pretty without necessarily making you more conventionally attractive. I like to paint my nails lots of different colors using vegan nail polish. And I recently died my hair lavender. And I’ve found that even though my hair is the longest it’s been in almost 10 years, I don’t really feel like myself and I cannot wait to cut it short again. I don’t dispute that it looks cute, but a very short ‘do just makes me feel sassy and real.

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Carrie Jo’s article hit me hard not only because I happen to have tattoos (and I totally agree that it’s still a radical claim to your own body and a very visible challenge to patriarchal aesthetics) but because the comments made on her photos are so vile and cruel. And she makes an extremely interesting point towards the end of her piece: “I’m not a ‘model for a magazine on the internet’, nor is this social media site ‘my employer’ putting me on display to be ‘judged.’ These photos are shared to be ENJOYED.” I thought that assertion was super important, because the commenters on her photos and indeed all over the web feel entitled and justified in their cruelty, because in their minds all images of women exist for them and for their consumption. They exist to be judged and if they are not up to par then they deserve to be called out. But what about the idea that images are for enjoyment, meant to be seen but not judged? Why is it that we can’t consume the images of women without dissecting their value against pre determined standards? Why do we tear them apart?

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I have gotten to a point in my life where I accept that certain parts of me will never change to be more conventional, and I do not (often) mourn that fact. I appreciate my body as it is (usually), and I try to express my true self in how I look and dress. I’ll never have flowing, feminine locks or feel comfortable in girly dresses and bows and heels. I used to wish that I was ‘prettier’, that I felt comfortable looking traditionally feminine (think Blaire Waldorf.) But that’s not me, it doesn’t feel authentic to me, and I am done fighting with myself. Self-love is a journey, and so I must strive everyday towards this end, towards being at peace with my physical self. I wish that the images we are bombarded with were more varied, more inclusive in their standards. It shouldn’t be so hard for girls to feel confident and secure. It shouldn’t have to be a life long struggle. I wish we were all more kind to ourselves, and to each other. I wish the media would push themselves to the point where women could be applauded for celebrating not just what is beautiful about them according to cultural standards, but what is beautiful about them according to themselves.

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Oh Westley, if only it were that easy. For now, we need to do our best to fight back against internet trolls, and that battle starts within ourselves. If you are consuming media, and you find yourself being harsh or judgmental when looking at models or actresses, check yourself. It’s not necessary. Don’t say it out loud, try to stop yourself from even thinking it. Because that’s just not a productive use of any of our collective energy. It’s hard though, I’m not going to lie. I caught myself thinking just yesterday that a girl in running gear didn’t have very well defined calves. I mean, what the actual fuck. Who is that thought helping? Not me. Not her. Not all of us who’ve been taught that women’s bodies are objects that exist for the enjoyment of others, that they ought to be dissected, that they are ours to comment on. And the internet is overrun with folks who are emboldened by anonymity,  drunk with it’s power and spewing their gross and ignorant judgments. Let’s overtake the negative with positive. Let’s make the spaces we inhabit online a force for joy and light. It’s not actually complicated: be kind. To yourself, to those you love, to those you just met, to those you will never meet. Recognize the humanity in the faces and images you come across, empathize with their struggle even if you don’t know the details, and appreciate what is beautiful and unique about people without measuring it against some bullshit pre-determined standard. Beauty is so much more than symmetry or a breast-to-waist ratio or small features or large features or lipstick or bare skin or silence. It can’t be completely described, and it certainly can’t be contained, and we are not bound to it any more than we allow ourselves to be.

So be free.

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And wild out.

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Be kind.

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Most importantly, love yourself.

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