Category Archives: ephiphanies

#outwiththeoldinwiththenew #theyearofwordsbywomen #ohhey2015

Welp. I’m starting this year out in bed with a wicked hangover because I drank too much champagne in Brooklyn last night. Thank god the L train wasn’t a total disaster and thank god for my amazing friends that I danced and sang and counted down and took photo booth photos with. There is a vegan cheese and tofu hangover cure in my future (shout out to seamless.)

leogatsby

Speaking of the future: lets talk about some goals for this year. I have one main goal, resolution, whatever, that I wanted to share with you guys. This year, I want to read more. And not just finish more books or up my word count. I want to make reading a priority in my life. I want to make space for it, remember how to delve into pages and get lost. I want to think about how words can fit in my day, take up some of the time I spend scrolling through feeds or watching TV.

Before you get all defensive, let me just say that I think that feeds and TV are just fine. I love TV, and sometimes TV is what I need to unwind. TV is also great when you are doing other things like writing a New Year’s blog post, or cooking, or other activities that inhibit your ability to hold a book and turn pages.

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But I want to take a step back and think about when it is possible for me to choose pages. I’ve started making it a habit to get up in time to read for 30 mins in the morning, before I do anything else. Before I get on the computer for work or check my email or the weather, I make my hot water with lemon and I get back into bed and read. Usually a half hour,  no more no less. It really has changed the whole vibe of my days. Starting with words on a page is much slower than screens, and it’s internal and it’s self centered and it’s quiet. It’s actually be quite transformative.

So not only am I going to make as much space for books as I can spare, but 2015 is going to be the year I read books by women. Only books by women. I want to explore beyond the big names, although of course that’s where I’m starting (Cheryl Strayed and Adrienne Rich, and let me tell you they are making my heart shine and my soul sing.) But I recently had this feeling in my gut, this feeling that was absolutely sick and tired of the way creative women are talked to and treated. It started when I read Heroines and it hasn’t abated. And I began searching for some of those ladies to sink my teeth into. I want to hear the stories that women live with, that they held inside of them and couldn’t live without sharing. I want to support the creativity of people whose creativity was not valued, was not allowed to flourish, was pathologized and stunted. I want to focus on the voices that were shushed and quieted. So far, it feels right. Great, actually.

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If you wanna make some exclamations at this point about reverse sexism or misandy, let me stop you right there. Take that somewhere else. I do not hate men, or male writers, nor do I think that female authors are better than their male counterparts. I grew up, like we all did, reading the wonderful works of the great men that make up the literary canon. Even though I had a pretty liberal education both in high school and college, it wasn’t until I got to grad school that my reading list became truly diverse. The work of women writer’s is still considered cursory, emotional, niche. It’s outside the canon. And I’m over that. I’m gonna make my own canon, and attempt to balance the scales of my life as a reader so far.

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As for reverse sexism, that doesn’t exist. Because like reverse racism, it’s impossible. Sexism and racism are not just about the personal feelings of people who judge, dislike, or outright hate another group of people. They are about systems of oppression that are enacted by entire groups in power, by the state, and by ideas and emotions that we are taught as part of our culture and world view. The largeness of these things combined cannot be overstated, and the people with the power cannot be truly discriminated against in the way the marginalized groups are. Now if we think intersectionally then we must think critically about the ways in which we all have some privilege, and the ways we don’t, and how that plays out in our lives. But what I really want to say is that my desire to read the words of women is not an attack on men and if you feel that way I urge you to consider the fact that men have never had to question if they can write, if they should write. Almost all the great works that are held up in the light are by men. The ancient, the classic and the contemporary, all by dudes. But what about little girls who have a story inside them they are dying to tell? Where can they find examples of other women who wrote and were great? How can they feel as though they have the right? How do they learn to trust their voices?

This is a fight that is, still, in 20 freakin’ 15, happening. I know for sure that to be a good writer I must be a good reader, and I know that I have neglected that. I want to make myself better, as a writer and as a human, and I want to support the voices of other women with a story to tell. I think reading books is a great way to learn about the world and to evoke empathy. And radical empathy, self love and compassion, are what I believe truly will save us all and remake the world into a safe space of social justice and community.

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Cheers to that, and cheers to your all. Be safe, stay fly, and spread love.

Happy to be alive, 20-1-5 ❤

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You Should Never Meet Your Heros (esp. if they’re famous men)

You know what’s exhausting? When you think you know someone, and then it turns out that they were kind of terrible. This is particularly exhausting if they were famous, and talented, and everyone considers them beloved and wonderful and then BOOM, something changes and you have to rethink your whole portrait of them.

whoa

Recently it’s occurred to me that since patriarchy has been happening for centuries, I have been recalibrating my images of ‘great men’ a lot more often than great women. Because the rules for men, especially the most talented and famous, have always been ‘do whatever the fuck you want.’ As a matter of fact, we shower them with ego-inflating praise and also with things. And some of the things we shower them with are access to women, who are part of the whole package of things you get for being brilliant/pretty/famous whatever. Here now are some examples of men who, it turns out, are huge disappointments.

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Exhibit A: Breezy. He was so cute when he was young, he has the great dance moves. I used to groove rul hard to Run It. And now it’s ruined. And we didn’t even have to wait until he was old and almost forgotten for his bad behavior to come to light. It turns out he is an extremely violent young man, and a batterer to boot. And this guy has the nerve to release a song with the lyrics ‘these hoes ain’t loyal’ after publicly kicking the shit out of his also-famous girlfriend. He’s despicable.

JFK

A more historical example: God Jack Kennedy was beautiful. I mean seriously. And I know we have a soft spot for icons that are taken too soon. And I do have a soft spot. But then I remember the extent to which this man was a womanizer, and the extent to which the people around him went to enable his behavior and keep it a secret and I think: how was it possible that he was the most powerful man in the world in a country that was still so vanilla and prudish and yet he managed to have almost continuous extramarital affairs? He managed to carry on with Marilyn for fuck’s sake! And now it’s a considered just an anecdote, a small part of who he was. It’s even considered charming, part of why he is so roguish and handsome and desirable. Sigh.

cosby

A disruptive piece of breaking (sort of) news: It turns out silly old comedy icon Billy Cosby has been a sexual predator for decades. And this isn’t new news. Lawsuits have been filed, he’s settled out of court, and his victims are speaking out. And his MO, for the record, includes drugging his victims. Which just, I don’t know, is extra infuriating. Think about Dr Huxtable slipping a roofie is some young girls drink. I don’t want to have to feel this way about a man who elevated the image of black America with laughter, who was TV married to the indomitable Phylicia Rashād, who wore those great sweaters. God dammit God dammit!

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And, finally, my most personal of these struggles: F Scott Fitzgerald. I just finished a wonderful and searing book by Kate Zambreno, Heroines. It’s a retelling of the great men of literature in the early 20th century, and of the women who surrounded them. These women were merely plus ones to their men. They lived in service of their partner’s genius, never being allowed to flourish or explore their own talent. And the most interesting among them was Zelda. Zelda, who wanted to be a real writer. Zelda who wrote in diaries and letters, and whose words her husband generously borrowed. Zelda who also painted, and later threw herself into ballet. And her spunk, her desire to be creative, was remade as mental illness. And she has been posthumously diagnosed and written over as the crazy wife of the genius. And he helped in this. He discouraged her, he actively worked to stunt her writing career, he forbid her from using their own lives as subject matter because that was his material. And he drank and drank and shut her away, and she died in a fire in a mental hospital. She deserved more, at the very least the same encouragement and opportunity given to him. And I love Gatsby, I still love it and those words still inspire me. And I completely resent having to rethink the man who wrote some of my favorite sentences to ever have existed. I hate it.

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Why? Why do we make the world a playground for these talented men? We tell them to take whatever they want, especially if it will help their art or whatever. Like fucking Picasso who emotionally abused all the women in his life and then painted them as monsters, and we told him he was great and hung those pictures in museums. We enable these guys, all of us with our accolades and praise. And we provide countless pretty young things for them to play with. But women aren’t things. They aren’t prizes in the world wide talent competition that is pop/celebrity/literary/art culture. This won’t stop until we deal seriously with rape culture, and until we hold men accountable for their actions. All those guys up there that I mentioned, their stories are not defined by the women they hurt. Their careers aren’t suffering. C Brown fans are insane on Twitter and will defend him unendingly. A convicted violent criminal, and his fans will say they’d let him abuse them and insult anyone who dares speak against him. JKF’s habits are just a footnote, Cosby is getting a new show and Fitzgerald remains a Great American Writer while Zelda’s novel is no where to be found (actually I found it, so you can find it in my apartment, but I had to special order it cause it’s out of print.) These guys continue to demand respect and inspire awe. It’s only women who are defined by their sexuality or sexual partners (Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Monica Lewinsky.)

marilyn

 

I’m fucking over it. I’m sick of having to compartmentalize with these guys. I know that people are complicated and no one is perfect and I know that not all great talents are predators. But we should be demanding a world where talent is appreciated without being overly idolized, where women aren’t prizes to be won, where sex isn’t a weapon used against the female body. I have no more patience for this shit. We need to stop excusing this behavior, we need to stop devaluing the female body and dismissing this as adolescent/harmless shenanigans. Sexual violence is not shenanigans. We all need to grow up and get serious and make culture a place of accountability and inclusion. We need to have icons that don’t require excuses.

On Ebola & Empathy

You may be thinking to yourself ‘WTF?! This blog is about gender issues! This chick ain’t a biology major! What the heck?!’

WTF

And I totally get that reaction. But be patient, stick with me, and I will bring it all back to feminism.

News broke this week that a man living in NYC is at Bellvue being treated for Ebola. The New York Times gives a detailed account of the situation, about how this man was a doctor who’d gone to Africa to treat patients of this deadly virus and how he’d had a check up right away upon returning to the US and about how he didn’t think his safety gear had been compromised but that he was vigilant about monitoring his temperature and that as soon as he saw a fever he reached out to the authorities and also about how the virus isn’t contagious until you are symptomatic and about how his girlfriend is also quarantined and also his friends. Mostly, it’s a sad story because viruses are scary and over 50% of people that get this disease die from it, and this guy was trying to help.

At yet. The reaction from my fellow New Yorkers has been, well, disgusting and deeply disappointing. I’ve seen folks posting things on Facebook about how they hate this man, about how he was such an asshole for going places in the city. How dare he want to do fun things with his friends after his altruistic and probably emotionally devastating trip?! I’ve also seen posts saying we all need to get hazmat suits and never go bowling ever again and OMG IT DISRUPTED CMJ THE HORROR.

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So, I’m not gonna pretend to be super knowledgable about the science, but everything I’ve heard and read assures me that this disease isn’t airborne and that in the US we have almost zero chance of being infected. Here, read this, it’s an excellent summary of the outbreak and the science of the virus. I’m not interested in debating conspiracy theories or the validity of stocking up on hand sanitizer, but if this guy didn’t spit in your mouth recently, then you are going to be fucking fine.

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UPDATE: Here is the main man himself, Barack, Mr Prez, hitting you with some fun facts about the situation. PS I could listen to this man talk all day. Swag. Science.

Em k, so how about, rather than attacking a man who left this country to go help a population that is actually being affected by the epidemic, we flex our empathy muscles. I happen to think that empathy is a radical feminist tool, that creates bridges and understanding, and has the power to undermine the ‘us/them’ worldview that creates too much distance and hate between peoples. I don’t think it’s outlandish to say that much of the coverage of this outbreak, the fear mongering and comparison to ISIS as a threat, is all thinly veiled code for racism and fear of black and brown peoples. Best internet comment on this phenomenon: ‘Which is the bigger threat, the brown people with a virus or the brown people wielding our cast off weapons? And the answer is, unsurprisingly: Brown People!’ It’s also a red herring given the other ‘threats’ to Americans that are more dangerous, more deadly, and closer to home.

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So I ask: What good does it do anyone to wring their hands and fret and say mean shit about this guy and his family? I imagine it’s devastating to the folks who love him, and to the patients he cares for. And what about the thousands who’ve died across the ocean? Is it cool for us to make jokes about the disease from leagues away, ensconced in relative safety? To yell and shout about how we should close the airports so those people stay over there. That kind of thinking does not align with the values of social justice or equality. Equality without empathy is impossible. Putting up walls between groups of people will only ever keep power in the hands of the few and not the many. It will strengthen and uphold the status quo. Only closeness, understanding, and true compassion will set us all free.

louis-ck-1  louis-ck-2 

 I wonder if instead it would be possible to actually imagine what it would be like, if your family and your community was ravaged by this plague. What if you had to care for those you loved, with near certainty that they would die and that you would get sick in the process. I wonder if we could all take a moment to remember a time that we were scared for ourselves or a loved one, and use that memory to generate some compassion for the people that this is truly affecting. Because shrugging it off as a problem that only affects those people over there is really not the best use of your humanity. That thinking creates distance. It keeps a large space between us and them, when really this experience is one that all people can relate to in some way. If your first thought is ‘OMG I hope they close all the borders so it doesn’t spread to America’ and not ‘I hope all parties involved can work together to stem this disaster so no more families must be torn apart’, if you don’t give a shit unless and only if it might affect you, then I’d suggest recallibrating your compassion-meter.

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It is only by extreme and random luck that we live in a time and place that is largely safe from these kinds of communicable diseases. I don’t think America is super great or superior, but I grew up in a beautiful home with plenty to eat and lots of technology and opportunities to learn, and now I live in my favorite city, and I know that I’ve had help and opportunities that folks born in other places simply do not have access to. This doesn’t make me better than them, and it doesn’t make any of us immune to heartache or disaster. The chances of Ebola spreading outside of Africa, of it actually affecting the life of anyone here, are very very slim. Let’s reroute that hateful energy to send light and love to the folks who are actually living amongst those who are sick, and if you have the resources maybe even give a few bucks to Doctor’s Without Borders or whoever else is doing the real work over there. Blaming Obama, wondering what the CDC is doing, or condemning one of New York’s resident MDs is truly a waste of time and energy. What this crisis needs, and indeed what the world needs, is more empathy generated, more understanding and closeness. Dare to put yourself in their shoes. Dare to care about strangers you have not and will not ever meet. Dare to relate to families that are an ocean away. Dare to give an actual fuck.

Real Talk: I’m having an existential crisis about hatred for women’s bodies, and it’s storming, and the struggle is too real

I know that a lot of what is written in the feminist blogosphere is done with a certain amount of humor, and snark. Sarcasm. Because we want to believe that what we are writing about is so obvious, that sarcasm is the perfect tool to reveal it for what is truly is. But honestly, I’m not sure I have a lot of snark left after this week, so I hope you will forgive this rather sincere and earnest post.

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I’m disheartened this week, by the recent Supreme Court rulings, but more so by the lack of outrage I feel. I know there is a lot written in anger, and that lots of my peers are upset. But outside of that rage bubble there is a collective shrug. An overall ambivalence, that this decision isn’t a big deal. The limitations aren’t very strong. Sincere religious beliefs are a fair enough claim for exception. This is about insurance, not about women.

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I don’t understand how people cannot see with certainty that this is about hatred for women’s bodies. How the very fact that contraception is controversial is irrefutable evidence that we live in a toxic, misogynist culture that values any life (hypothetical, corporate) over the life of a woman. And with other marginalized groups making strides, the rights of women are being legally thwarted at every turn. The law of the land was just altered so that folks who believe that women’s bodies belong to something or someone else can assert their beliefs at the expense of real people. And now the floor is open for companies to use their ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ to discriminate against women. And it is discrimination, which is made even more obvious by the fact that no other religious exemptions were granted. If you believe the blood transfusions, vaccines, or anti-depressants are immoral or sinful or whatever, well tough cookies. It’s only women’s bodies that can be sacrificed in the name of ‘Christian’ values. (Unless of course they allow this ruling to set a precedent for discrimination against LGBTQ folks, which is already trying to happen, FYI.)

Contraception isn’t magic, and it isn’t evil. And it shouldn’t just be liberals or self-proclaimed feminists getting upset about this ruling. Corporations being granted the rights of people should, frankly, upset everyone. And folks who are anti-abortion should be outraged as well, for indeed the best way to bring down the abortion rate is by providing comprehensive sex education and unfettered access to birth control. And yet, they’ve managed to trick many into believing that to be against one should automatically make you against both. Such a clever tactic. I believe that women’s health choices regarding her body should be her own, whether that choice be in avoiding a pregnancy or ending one. But for those who oppose the elective ending of pregnancy, this birth control exemption should feel like a huge disappointment.

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I want to know why they hate our bodies so much. Why, everywhere I look, control of our bodies is being taken from women and put in the hands of others. Into the hands of the Supreme Court, those 5 men who ruled that corporations have more rights as people under the law then women. Into in the hands of employers, who can now decide which kind of contraception, basic care in the eyes of the medical establishment and federal government, are acceptable for coverage. It’s in the hands of advertisers, the media, and internet trolls, who decide and proclaim which of us is beautiful, appropriate, feminine, and worthy. It’s in the hands of men on the street, who can comment and harass without fear because they are just complimenting you. It’s in the hands of rapists, who will claim that you were asking for it, and be justified when the police and the judge and even your friends and family ask ‘what were you wearing’ and ‘were you flirting’ and ‘how much were you drinking’. All these ways, the insidious and the obvious, are part of the reality of this culture. They are overt and subtle, they are accepted and sometimes frowned upon, but mostly they are tolerated. For now, we would rather uphold the power system of patriarchy that truly dismantle it.

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Ok ok, I’m using ‘we’ there loosely. In fact, I myself would really really like to dismantle the patriarchy, and I know many other capable adults who would as well. I don’t know why these things aren’t more obvious. I don’t know why folks can’t see the hate that is at work in this ruling, and indeed that is at work every day in large and small ways. I sincerely hope that all of the marginalized groups, all those that feel the weight of a culture that wants to keep them in a certain box (or cage), will come together. We have a black president, half of all states have legalized gay marriage, and women are over 1/2 the population. Let’s rally the troops and tell the establishment, the folks in power, the old white guys and all their allies, that their reign is over. That there is room for everyone’s voice, for everyone’s unique gifts, and for everyone’s love. So long as you are speaking about inclusion, empathy, true democracy and community. Equality. Creation instead of war. Love in the place of fear. ‘Yes we can’ instead of ‘No you can’t.’ True justice. Right now, I do not see justice for women. Only manipulation and control passed off as controversy and the protection of some freedoms at the expense of others. But maybe I’m the crazy one. Maybe it’s just about paying for some medicines, and not others.

Here is something that will make you smile instead of sigh, just so we don’t end on a note of despair: 18 Empowering Illustrations, to remind us that our bodies are our own to create and control in whatever image we choose. Namaste. Have a good weekend.

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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The Normal Heart: My Heartache for Humanity

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Last night I watched The Normal Heart. If you can get your hands on someone’s HBO GO password, I highly recommend watching it. Everyone’s performance was stellar. I kept thinking I knew who’d delivered the most heartbreaking monologue, and I kept being wrong. There might be spoilers ahead, but there aren’t any real twists in the movie. Just a steady flow of death, and the search for answers.

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The story of AIDS in the early 80’s, before the disease had a name, before they knew it was a virus that attacked one’s immune system, is a story of panic and indifference. Because the initial outbreak occurred in the gay community, the culture at large remained unconcerned at best, and hostile at worst, to the first patients. When the outbreak continued to spread, the now familiar signs of hate (literal picket signs) began to appear. It wasn’t until 4 years after the first reported case that President Reagan said the word AIDS out loud, acknowledging the disease as a public health risk and pledging research dollars to find a cure. By that time, thousands were already dead or infected.

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Watching a person you love, possibly more than any other person on earth, get sick and whither away, is an experience that I have been up close and personal with. The fear you carry around, a deep and murky river just below the surface, it never goes away. And most of us have never plunged down into it, and so we do not know how deep it goes. If one has cause to care for a loved one who is ill, it will likely be a defining experience of their life. It is the defining experience of my life. And as I watched this movie, I felt deeply connected to the characters who wanted to save the ones they loved. Who needed answers, and hope, and had none. I am decades removed from this particular crisis and do not personally know anyone with this disease, but the experience resonated with my own none the less.

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And so why, I wonder, why was the world so callous and uncaring? How can you see young men in the prime years of their life withering away and possibly think ‘they got what they deserve.’ I don’t understand how it is possible that, all too often, people look at others and see difference where there is mostly commonality. I don’t understand how we so easily accept that some of us are good and others not, when it’s so obvious that all of us contain both dark and light within us. I don’t understand why, when given the choice, people seem to believe that hate is the safer choice, over love.

Seeing the humanity is every face you encounter, treating everyone with respect and love, this to me is the most important and urgent message of feminism. All of the specific political issues are, of course, important, because they affect people’s lives in very real and tangible ways. But at the heart of the issues, the real question is: do you care about other people? Do you value their life, their lived experiences, as much as your own? That is the real question of those first political activists fighting for AIDS research and community support. Obviously they needed to know what the virus was and how to treat it. But asking for money and support, it was really a plea for empathy. A plea for compassion. It was one community, reaching out to their larger community, asking if anyone recognized their humanity enough to help save those that were dying.

In the wake of recent incredibly violent and well publicized rampages, I have nothing but disdain for anyone who treats other people as inferior, as other, as less than human. Frankly, if you have a gun and shoot girls because you feel entitled to their bodies and attention, or if you are just a person who quietly thinks mysoginistic thoughts that you never express, I see no difference. You are part of the problem, you are a blockade on the road to a better world. We are all so alike, deeply alike on a fucking atomic level. I want to see love, and unity, and togetherness. I want to see compassion. Without those, full equality will never be realized.

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 

 

What the Spice Girls Taught Me About Feminism (How #girlpower leads to #flawless)

I woke up from some pretty vivid dreams last night with a Spice Girls lyric in my head. And so, naturally, I used my precious iPod Nano to plug into some nostalgia on my commute. As always, once those 90’s pop tunes started playing in my ears, I wondered to myself Why the fuck did you ever stop listening to this glorious music?

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You know guys, I know the 90’s were a frivolous time. And it would be easy to dismiss this group as frivolous. But that’s a huge mistake. These ladies were a global phenomenon, and for an elementary age kid like me they were PERFECTION. They were true role models in my formative years, with delicious pop tunes and a huge campy movie and one very simple message/catch phrase: Girl Power! And you know what, it doesn’t take much to plant the seed of an idea in a child’s head. That phrase stuck with me, as did their message of fun and friendship. They may not have been perfect feminist icons (cause really, who is?) but they felt so fresh and free.

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First of all, they had those probably completely contrived personalities, which meant you could definitely relate to one of them. I loved Ginger. She was sassy, sparkly, and loud. Emma was for the cutesy girls, Posh for the fashion obsessed, and then Mel B for the black girls and Mel C for the budding athletes and/or lesbians. Something for everyone! Maybe they weren’t super dynamic, but whatever. We were 8. Their image was campy, over the top, tongue in cheek and timely.  Once you knew which Spice Girl you were going to idolize forever, of course the only logical thing to do was bond with 4 other girls to round out your group of singing, dancing, globe trotting future pop stars.

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what i really really want

Which reminds me. The most important lesson these ladies taught me was about female friendship. Their first hit Wannabe is an assertive but not too aggressive list of demands. You have got to give. If you want my future, forget my past. Now you know how I feel. Say you can handle my love. The message was basically take me on my terms or leave. It was a breezy, silly, slumber party anthem. And the most iconic lyric, the crux of it all: If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends. How revolutionary is that idea!! It sets up a hierarchy in your life, where your friends come first and your lovers second. And sure, maybe that isn’t and shouldn’t be true at all times in your life, but shouldn’t it be true for us all as young-ins? Before shit gets real? After all, your friends are the ones who will accept and love you for who you really are (whichever Spice personality that is), through all the years when you’re confused and stumbling and naive and not-yet-formed. They’re your core, your support, your stage mates. They’re the ones you harmonize with.

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When I was listening to or pretending to be the Spice Girls, I was in a girl only zone. It felt amazing to have something that was just for me and my girlfriends. And sure, they dressed pretty sexy and mostly feminine, but you just didn’t feel like it was for boys. I know there is a lot of exposed midriffs, but damnit this was the 90’s! They  mostly dressed to fit into the very marketable boxes they’d created, and blah blah blah I know that’s phony & feigned & faked but WHO CARES! They made me feel like I should dress to express myself and dance because I wanted to. Boys just didn’t enter into it.

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seeing them on tour in my 20’s was a life affirming nostalgia fest

I’m not saying the whole world should be this way, or that girls rule and boys drool (although, yea, kind of.) But for young girls, so much of the world seems off limits. I think it’s super important to have spaces that are special for them, where  they feel safe and free. And I think the message that you can be who you are without worrying about boy friends/lovers/whatever is super empowering. You know, you don’t have to make it perfect or complicated for kids. They absorb a lot without us even knowing, and what they hear at a young age sticks and matures along with them. Girl Power, as basic as it is, is enough. Sure it’s not nuanced, but it’s a good place to start!

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Oh, and one last thing. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the Spice Girls opened up some space in the pop universe for girl super groups. Their success, I believe, was a direct pre-curser to Destiny’s Child. Which means that without the Spice Girls, we wouldn’t have Beyonce. And if anyone is pushing some mature and nuanced feminism right now, it is Queen Bey herself. So Viva Girl Power Forever, never give up on the good times with your surfburt, and if you can’t dance you can’t do nothing for me cause friendships never ends and we all woke up like this.

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(S)he’s back!

I LOVE HARRY POTTER AND NERD REFERENCES!
I LOVE HARRY POTTER AND NERD REFERENCES!

This is a post to announce that I’m going to post more from here on out. It has been a long and arduous hiatus, but I think that talking to you guys again (whoever you are…) is just the creative outlet I need. I still have lots to say (shocking) and now that I have a new-ish big girl job I think I have the time to put thoughts together and share. And luckily the internet allows me this opportunity. I’m amped. I hope you are to. Stay tuned ’till tomorrow for my ground breaking post on a topic you are all already sick of hearing about but which you will still read about because it’s that fucking fabulous.

(Special thanks to my partner in crime Pepper for encouraging me to find a way to write, and as always to my other cohorts in crime both here in NYC, back in good ole’ Delaware and even down in Florida shout out to sugar bean!)