28 July 2010

skin deep

These women are beautiful.  These women have fat on their bodies.  Beauty and fat are not mutually exclusive.

26 July 2010

screaming insecurities

Here's the thing about fat:  Fat means you're healthy.  It means you can reproduce.  Fat is energy stored up for later.  Fat means no painful hip bones getting in the way during sex.  Fat means you can take advantage of fat soluble vitamins.  Fat protects your heart and lungs.  It means healthy skin and hair.  Fat insulates you from the heat and cold.  Fat is beautiful. 

Yesterday one style blogger I read posted photos from a canoe trip and felt the need to warn us ahead of time about the visibility of her lower back and went on to express how uncomfortable she was with bathing suits due to her fat and cellulite.  You guys.  This girl is hot.  If I had to guess I'd say she's a size 6ish, maybe 8, and I have never once seen evidence of a love handle, bra bulge, or any of the other number of things women stress about.  Granted, she has complete control over which images of her we see.  BUT if you're someone who is very attractive, is generally agreed upon to be very attractive, and you have between 30 and 70 comments every day telling you how attractive, funny and creative you are and you still have body issues, there is something wrong.  And its not something wrong with you, its something very very wrong with society.

To the blogger I'm talking about, if you're reading this- know that this isn't really about you.  Its about a much much bigger trend that scares me, and your post is simply what brought it to the front of my attention.  Every day from the day we are born, women are bombarded with words and images about what we should look like, how we should dress, what we should like, etc, etc.  We know what kind of damage this bombardment is capable of: 6 year olds on diets, teens with eating disorders, soccer moms turned gym rats, and just general dislike of our bodies, always finding fault.  Apparently this bombardment is so damaging that months and months of 50 positive comments a day aren't enough to combat it.  Fifty comments telling you how great you are and you still don't feel awesome about yourself?  Jesus.

I have to admit that I'm still struggling with my own body image.  I was always the biggest of my sisters and got a lot of crap for it.  Pile on top of that the media frenzy and you wind up with a fifteen year old with stacks of tabloids featuring starved Mary-Kate, Kiera Knightly, and Nicole Richie stashed under her bed.  I starved in the morning and binged in the afternoon and spent my evenings flipping through the magazines and browsing the internet for "thinspiration."  I did manage to whittle myself down to a size 12, desperately wishing to be a size 2.  I was disgusted with my own body and anyone else's who was any bigger.  I think I did a lot of damage to my little sister as well with all my hateful talk, even if I was just talking about me.

And this is my main point: You have to love your own body, for yourself, and for everyone else.  Women (actually all people) feed energy off of each other, and when the energy you project is body negative you eventually wind up with a huge downward spiral of women tearing each other down whether they mean to or not.  My little sister's best friend who is a natural stick was devastated when she hit 100 pounds.  Keep in mind she was 15 or 16 when this happened.  When my sister, who is definitely bigger than her friend but still totally gorgeous and totally healthy, was telling me about her friend hating her body she said something along the lines of, "If she thinks she's so disgusting, what must she think of me?"  I had felt this exact same thing the countless times any of my smaller, more beautiful (so I perceived) friends expressed dislike of their bodies.  Its totally discouraging.  So when this particular gorgeous blogger expressed her swimsuit insecurities, all those old feelings were briefly dredged up.  But ultimately I was more worried for her.

The journey to complete body love is tough, especially in the West.  I should know.  After about a year of the starve, binge, hate cycle I realized that I needed to start eating better.  Stopping the starving was pretty easy, but I kept up the binging (I never made myself throw up, though I did try once).  It wasn't until I was seventeen and had regained the weight and then some that I realized I needed to stop the hate too.  I came across some old pictures of size 12, possibly eating disordered me and I looked great!  Save the yellowy skin and dark circles.  I kept digging and realized that even before that my body looked really fantastic, despite what my sisters might have told me.  I felt like I had wasted so much time and energy hating my body when it looked fantastic.  And that's what I was doing.  If you are hating your body right now, you are wasting time and energy.  Instead, use that energy to do something that makes you feel better.

Over time I've managed to change my beauty ideals to a more realistic standard by distancing myself from Hollywood and the fashion world and spending more time with beautiful friends of all different shapes and sizes who are working hard to start loving their bodies too.  The fact that I still have ideals is a problem that I'm working on, but these things take time.  We have to change the way we think about bodies.  We have to watch what we say.

If you're feeling a little insecure, that's ok.  In fact, I probably overreacted to that blogger's comment.  But you definitely definitely shouldn't let that insecurity settle.  The best thing you can do for your body image is to eat right and exercise.  And it absolutely isn't about losing weight.  If you make exercise about losing weight you'll hate yourself if you don't and you'll give it up, discouraged.  Exercise is about being healthy.  Its about being amazed at what your body is physically capable of.  And its about pushing just a little bit harder.  Most importantly, its about fun and feeling good.  I never feel better about myself than about ten minutes after a good workout.  But for god's sake, don't rely on a scale to tell you how healthy you are.  The scale has no idea.

I have lost a little bit of weight since becoming vegan two months ago and adding a little exercise, and I do need to lose some weight for medical purposes, but I'll never be without fat and I never want to be because here's the thing about fat:  Fat means you're healthy.  It means you can reproduce.  Fat is energy stored up for later.  Fat means no painful hip bones getting in the way during sex.  Fat means you can take advantage of fat soluble vitamins.  Fat protects your heart and lungs.  It means healthy skin and hair.  Fat insulates you from the heat and cold.  Fat is beautiful.

23 July 2010

be kind to your boobs (and your back)

Of the four girls whose backs I can see from my seat in world history, only one of them wears a properly fitting bra.  When a bra doesn't fit, the whole world can see the problems it causes, and you'll likely wind up with a sore back.  Sure the bra is evolved from a misogynist tool of the patriarchy, but these days it can make life a lot more comfortable for women with particularly large or floppy chests.  That is if you find the proper fit.

A bra has three main components: the band, the cups, and the straps.  The band is the primary source of support and therefore the most important part.  It also seems to be the part women have the most trouble with.  It should fit snugly but comfortably and remain horizontal at the level of the underbust all the way around.  Most often women choose bands that are too tight causing unsightly (and uncomfortable!) bulges.  I also see a lot of bands that ride up in the back, transferring the burden of support to the much weaker straps that the wearer has adjusted to be too short.  The first row of images show the problems of an ill fitting band.  Additionally, when buying a bra, choose one with a band that fits best at the last set of clasps so that as the elastic weakens and stretches over time you can adjust the fit by using the next set in.

Next come the cups.  I find that these are the most difficult to fit because THEY AREN'T EVEN BOOB SHAPED!  Seriously, what's up with that?  But if you are lucky enough or diligent enough to find a cup that fits it will just cradle your boobs with no gapping or spilling.  I think the last image up there is a combo of loose band and small cups.  If your boobs are hanging out underneath, they obviously aren't being supported.  The top of the cup should rest seamlessly against your skin--otherwise it will show through your top.  If the bit of the band between the cups gaps away from your chest, your cups are too small.  If there's any space between the cup and your skin anywhere, the cup is too big.

Now the straps.  These are really just there to help keep everything up and in place and aren't even really necessary--hence the possibility of a strapless bra.  Never the less, they should fit well too.  All bra straps are designed to be hugely adjustable but you will probably need help getting them just right unless your arms don't have any bones in them.  If they cut into your shoulders they're too short, and if they slip off all the time they're way too long.

Measuring will help get you in the ballpark, but the best way to find a well fitting bra is to set aside a couple of hours and head to a big department store or a specialized store like Victoria's Secret where the employees are specifically trained to help you find the perfect fit.  Expect to try on a ton of different size combos and styles to find the one that works for you.  Finding the right bra takes effort, but the reduced potential for back problems and increased daily comfort are totally worth it.

21 July 2010

a very merry unbirthday! to you!

Yes, you!  But not me!  Because its my birthday!  I'm 20!  It's weird.

Well this year I decided to make some new years resolutions that I'll hopefully hold on to throughout my 20s.  I'm ready to start a new chapter in my life.  And, I mean, what relevance does January 1st really have for any of us?  And it falls right in the middle of the school year.  Hardly a good time for a fresh start!  But now: I'm entering a new decade in my life; I'm going to a new school next semester in a new place; I'm adding a women's and gender studies major; I'm newly vegan.  Time for changes.

These resolutions are more open ended so if I don't do them one day or even for a whole month I don't feel defeated (I actually got this idea from Style Magnet who doesn't blog at that site anymore, but I've cut way back on my style blog reading anyway).

Resolutions are:
-Read more.  And good books, too.  Not just stuff for funsies like PLLs.  But funsies are allowed.
-Move my body more.  See last post.
-Stay vegan.
-Be proactive.  This applies to everything from my art to my studies to my potential future career.
-Be open.  To whatever.

I hope everyone out there is enjoying their unbirthdays!

19 July 2010

you don't have to pay for exercise.

I know.  It seems obvious.  But this really didn't occur to me until this summer.  Going to a gym is not your only option!  In fact, you don't even have to exercise to get exercise.

Don't get me wrong: I love a good workout at the gym.  It feels awesome to be able to leave and say, "I just burned 347 calories!"  And silently competing with your neighbors can be a great motivation to push a little harder.  BUT unless you just relish the almost clinical feel and just can't wait to watch Will & Grace while you pump your legs, mustering up the motivation just to make yourself go can be daunting.  I think it's because when we put the label of "exercise" on it as something we have to do, it becomes unappealing.  I mean, how clean is your room before you finally get to that paper, right?  Because its necessary you want to do anything but.

Still, you have to get your butt moving if you want to be any sort of healthy.  This isn't about losing weight or looking good (the conclusion my dad jumps to every time I mention the subject), but it's about forcing the sugar out of my blood and into my muscles and being generally more active.  And besides, what if you're being chased down by an axe murderer?  Don't you want to be in good enough shape to get away?  I'd be the first one down, for sure.

So I've been trying to exercise without exercising.  Hike a mountain.  Swim in a lake.  Go for a bike ride.  Go for a walk, even.  Anything beats sitting in front of the TV or computer writing up a stupid blog post about exercise.  I wonder how good of a workout typing is?  Stenographers were fit ladies, were they not?  I digress...  Living room dance party? I've done that one.  Hell, climb a tree!  Its what kids used to do and they were in great shape!  Go outside and play.

My point is: exercise can be fun and it doesn't have to be necessary if you work it into your day.  Park further back.  Take the stairs.  Do the dishes by hand.  Have sex.  I realize that most of these activities are more fun with a partner, so the number one best thing you can do for your activity level?  Find active friends.

I realize we've all heard this stuff before, but I had to go to class today.  AND Sam's.  So I'm kind of drained.  Shopping at Sam's is scary, y'all.  And it definitely counts as moderate exercise.  THEY DON'T EVEN HAVE BEANS!  What kind of crazy store doesn't have beans???  Needless to say I won't be going back, for more reasons than one.  But I'm sure I can whip up a few posts on that subject alone.  But now I have to go tend to the beans that I didn't get at Sam's (had to pop over to his now rebranded, more mom friendly partner store Walmart).  Yuck.

16 July 2010

she's one hairy son of a bitch

One hotly debated topic among some of the feminists I hang around with is none other than the removal of body hair.  OK, so it's not really hotly debated, but the subject does come up and is of particular importance to women who have only just realized their feminism, lesbianism, queerness, etc.  As soon as we hit puberty and that peach fuzz starts to darken, we are expected to remove it.  I remember being in sixth grade, begging my mom to let me shave.  She said, "Maybe in the spring when you start wearing shorts again."  My thoughts were, "HELLO, I still have to wear shorts in gym class!!!"  And every other eleven year old girl in my gym class was, indeed, hairless.  So I stole one of my older sister's disposable razors and shaved my legs.  Problem solved.  Fast forward eight years: college sophomore, lazy bones, winter time.  For me, shaving always took a hiatus during the winter because my legs were covered, so who cares.  When this spring rolled around and I packed my tights up with my winter clothes, I did shave my legs and pits maybe three or four times.  But after what was probably about a year and a half of philosophical thought pertaining to body hair, I decided to stop shaving for good.

But enough of my personal journey towards hairy legs and on with the debate!  Sometime last year I came across some postings in a facebook group about the subject by a couple of radical friends of mine.  Their argument against hair removal was basically that women have been historically pressured to remove their hair by men, that it was another "trapping of femininity."  They claimed that any feminist worth her salt simply had to maintain her body hair as a political statement against patriarchy.  This has been a rather gross generalization and exaggeration of their posts (which were already a couple years old by the time I read them), but I've gotten the impression that quite a number of more radical feminists actually do hold this view.  Their arguments didn't sit well with me as I felt (and still feel) that feminism is supposed to be about women (and men) having the right to make their own choices regarding, well, everything--and without any societal or political pressures.  Isn't the expectation not to shave your legs just as bad as the expectation to do it?  I think yes.  Men and women should be able to remove or maintain their body hair without judgement or ridicule.

 A lot of people I know very much understand and embrace this, but in wider society having hair is considered a masculine trait and smooth skin considered feminine.  For a long time I was accepting of body hair on women only if they were masculine and wasn't comfortable with the idea of hairy legs and a dress.  I quickly recognized the core of the problem and soon began working towards increasing my comfort level.  These days I'm throwing on sleeveless tops and shorts or skirts without a second thought about hair showing, but I'm still only at a point of associating hair with casual femininity and am not sure how I would feel if faced with a formal occasion.  I'll get there, I'm sure.

Distracted by my own personal journey, it took me until yesterday to wonder how the feminine/masculine associations came to be in the first place.  So of course, I looked it up on wikipedia.  Apparently women didn't think twice about body hair until around 1915 when the rising popularity of sleeveless dresses inspired a targeted advertising assault on armpit hair, claiming it was "unsightly."  As hemlines remained longer until the 40s and 50s, women didn't bother with their leg hair.  The popularity of shorter hemlines and the sheer nylons (under which hair looked "dorky") that came with them seem to be the top causes for the persisting expectation that womens' legs remain smooth.

Another thing I'm starting to notice is that these "trappings of femininity" we so often blame on patriarchy are perpetuated much more strongly by women!  Womens' magazines that tell us to remove our body hair and wear makeup to please men are run by women!  I personally find makeup to be kind of gross and body hair to be kind of hot (and I like women), so ladies: quit bringing eachother down!  Body hair can be feminine and beautiful.  Let's just all be.

14 July 2010

sweet land of liberty

Seeing as our "great nation" just celebrated its 234th birthday, I thought the subject of "America" might be appropriate for my inaugural post.  We in the United States have a bit of a nasty habit of referring to ourselves as "Americans" and to our nation as "America."  This probably doesn't seem like a problem to a lot of people.  It is the United States of America after all.  Right?  Well I didn't realize it was a problem either until my 9th grade Spanish teacher very specifically pointed it out.

You see, "America" and "the Americas" actually refer to TWO WHOLE CONTINENTS!  That's over 900 million people (according to Wikipedia's population estimates) and over 600 million of them are citizens of nations other than the United States.  So when you say "America" in reference to the United States you are actually devaluing the lives of everyone in South America, Latin America, Mexico, and Canada (kind of like how when Catholics and Mormons refer to their respective churches as THE Church it sort of invalidates every other religion that ever existed).  As most of the population affected by "American" arrogance is Spanish speaking, the Spanish language fittingly has a word specific to citizens of the United States that makes no reference to the continent on which they (we) live: estadouinidense(s) (in Spanish, United States = Estados Unidos).

I haven't studied any languages other than Spanish, so I can't say if they are the only ones to come up with a better word, but why don't we have a similar word in English?  These words are apparently called demonyms- words used to describe inhabitants of a place, usually derived from the place name.  We have them for inhabitants of every other nation (Chinese, French, British, etc.) and even for many states (South Carolinian, Californian, Floridian...), but the only demonym we can come up with for ourselves is American--a word that applies to far more people than just those in the US.

The only answer I can come up with is that "United Statesan" is too cumbersome for the average lazy American tongue.  To combat this, I try to say "I'm from the US" rather than "I'm American" and "people in the US" rather than "Americans."  And of course it's always easy to replace "America" with "The US/United States" in writing and speech.

Language is a powerful tool on the path to equality (and in the maintenance of inequalities), and if I can make such a simple change to my speech to help level the playing field among my fellow beings/consciousnesses, I'm going to.

Update (7/15): Today I realized that in my arrogance I forgot a very important detail--that most of those Spanish speakers to our south are not really "American" either.  They are the descendants of European colonists as well.  The people who have been truly shunned by our appropriation of the word are the native and ancient inhabitants of these two continents: the Aztecs, Maya, Incas, Olmecs, and each of the large, unnameable number of tribes that lived and thrived in North America before the Europeans came and wiped them out with their Guns, Germs, and Steel (shout out to my man, Jarod Diamond!).