Living Candidly #7: On the woman I want to be

Living Candidly #7: On the woman I want to be

Varian could see what she’d bequeathed, genetically speaking, to Clotilde; they had a spirit his father would have called hell-beckoning.

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

Every morning I take two diet pills aspirationally titled “lean queen” in the hopes that it will curb my appetite to satiate me with an iced coffee breakfast, pastry lunch, and $10 portion take-out dinner for the sake of losing weight without exercise. It does not work, and I lay in my bed at night resisting the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream tub stuck under my roommate’s frozen vegetables in the third drawer of the freezer.

I spend my free time at work online shopping, ordering clothes in sizes I’m embarrassed to admit and will unquestionably lie about if prompted. I pinch at my stomach and thighs and triceps when I look in a reflective surface and sometimes just when I look at myself in my cubicle.

I get blowouts to turn the curly, voluminous locks that once defined my look into sleek and sophisticated tresses that mirror the styles of the models that grace the covers of the magazines I so avariciously consume or even the friends, family and associates that fancy themselves models in the snapshots on my Instagram feed.

And then I make like them and post my own shot with the aim of appearing as effortlessly pulled together and collected as they do to me. A picture just like the one above.

But I am not.

I am tired. And I am frustrated. And I am lonely. And I am at the verge of screaming at subways because that’s as close as a city girl can get to screaming into the abyss.

I’ve recently been wondering what exactly has led me to this point of surface-level success but deep dissatisfaction. And the result is that who I am is not who I want to be.

The woman I want to be follows her passions with gusto and without hesitation. She sets her sights on her goals and makes meaningful steps towards them, even in the most minute ways, until they are within her grasp. She does not boast upon their completion. She lets the work speak for itself.

The woman I want to be is more than her job. She has a balance in her life — a separation of Church and State, if you will — that offers her the chance to find fulfillment in multiple planes until there is cohesiveness.

The woman I want to be knows her worth. She does not need a man’s approval, or another woman’s, and isn’t afraid to speak up and say no when boundaries are crossed.

The woman I want to be cherishes her friends and lets them know it. She places their happiness and well-being as a top priority but also invests in those friendships that offer mutual care, not in those that only drain and take. She forms her tribe, her family.

The woman I want to be is hell-beckoning, a force of nature. She appears strong and beautiful in pictures because she is strong and beautiful, not because of a diet pill, or a new dress, or a blowout. It is her essence, not her expenditure.

Today marks day one on this journey from turning that She into an I.

All my love x

Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

DISCLAIMER: I am, in complete honesty, a heterosexual white woman. I did, however, complete my undergraduate thesis in the oppression of the black female body in Afro-American diasporic literature and I received top marks. I am not an authority, but I am a passionate ally. Let’s begin.

Last night, after binging the new Zac Efron/Ted Bundy Bio-Pic, two friends and I turned on Netflix’s new — for lack of a better word — chick-flick Someone Great starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, and DeWanda Wise. On the surface, the core cast was diverse and riveting. Rodriguez played a broken-hearted Latina who had recently landed her dream job at Rolling Stone in San Francisco, ultimately driving her away from New York and her boyfriend of the past nine years. Snow was the uptight WASP who learns to let loose through the course of the film, finding out that not everything has to go according to plan. And finally, Wise is the Black-Lesbian.

I leave that sentence at seven words because there is so much more to unpack there than to sum up in one singular sentence. Through the course of the film, her character Erin has to learn that it’s okay to fall in capital-L Love, even if that means opening herself up to vulnerability of rejection. In a poignant moment with her lover, she reveals that she was in one semi-relationship in college only to be left for a man, leaving her to feel like “an experiment.” But prior to this reveal, Erin is cold romantically, withdrawn when it comes to her romantic partner’s pushes for more intimacy. When pressed by Snow’s character Blair for why she won’t just date someone, Erin tells her to keep her “heteronormative labels in a motherf**king box to the motherf**king left.”

And while it was a laughable line in the way that Wise delivered it, was she right in the fact that Blair was whitewashing the situation? Or was the situation already whitewashed in its very essence?

I couldn’t help but reflect upon the character of Kat Edison on The Bold Type, played by Aisha Dee. While the show actually chronicles her coming out story, it also features her own reluctance to commit to a relationship of any formulation even when heavy romantic feelings are involved. In one altercation between Kat and her love interest Adena, Kat says that she doesn’t “do” relationships — an exact sentiment that could have fallen from the lips of Wise’s character in Someone Great.

And while both romantic scenarios resolve in the happily-ever-after plot, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something incredibly whitewashed and gentrified about the black-lesbian experience in this film and televison show? Are we sterilizing it to make it safe for general audiences? Are we generalizing it to a point that it covers all the bases in order to make it so larger than life that it is no longer gritty and real? What are we supposed to be gaining from these portrayals? One is relatable, and two is celebratory, but if the trend continues in the cookie-cutter format, what cost will it have for our open-heartedness when we face their real-life counterparts, particularly those who don’t fit the mold?

In response to International Women’s Day: On nurturing female sexuality

Years later, after I began The Last Romantic blog, I would remember those magazine covers. They suggested something so alluring, so corrupting that they were safe only on the highest shelf, where children and women could not reach. Female sex appeal was dangerous. Sexual desire something expressible exclusively by men. My friends’ fathers, male teachers, older brothers. All of them, reaching for that high shelf. Where, I asked myself then, was my high shelf? And what wonders would I find there?

The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin

On an ordinary weekday in 2002, my mother was hurriedly cleaning out her minivan in the parking lot of the auto-dealer’s mechanic shop with my four year old brother standing watch. As she emptied the various remnants of our everyday life out of the cluttered vehicle, my brother came upon a Victoria’s Secret magazine. My mom was so preoccupied with transferring everything to the interim rental car that she wasn’t aware of Joe flipping through the pages of bras and panties until his small voice pipped up with a confident, “Hey, Mom, can I take this to Doug’s house?”

It has been a solid 17 years since this has occurred and yet this story is told time and time again in my family, always with with my Dad’s final bravado of a fist pump and a proud, “That’s my boy!” My younger brother’s straightforward and non-dubious heterosexuality has been a point of family lore for almost two decades. Now, he has a steady girlfriend of three years and their intimacy is completely understood as par for the course, nothing that needs further inspection or parental involvement although he is twenty years old.

In comparison, when I was six years old and caught imitating dance moves of popular icons of the time Britney Spears or Christina
Aguilera (we’re talking “Oops…I Did It Again!” and “What A Girl Wants” era, nothing extreme) I was hurriedly urged to stop. My youthful and harmless exploration of female allure and sexual freedom did not receive the same laughter as my brother just two years later.

When in high school I started to develop adolescent crushes on my peers, my parents would pry and tease. While this was meant harmlessly, it made me feel as if what I was feeling was wrongful and a point of fault. My involvement in drama productions with romantic plots elicited unwanted investigations into my own romantic exploits — of which, there were honestly none. I was subjected to talks at my Catholic high school that separated the male and female populations only to urge the girls that intercourse would only encourage the man to leave while committing you emotionally further, a terrifying thought for someone who had never been even asked on a date. I became shy, romantically introverted, afraid to talk to men in the instance of inciting rumors. This ultimately led to underdevelopment, my first romantic kiss not occurring until age 21 — a point at which many of my friends were losing their virginity and telling me that I simply “didn’t understand.” At a crucial point when I should have been claiming my sexual identity — in whatever form that was — I found myself apologizing for it time and time again in conversations between my family, my Church, and my friends, all of whom saw my status as some form of potentially problematic or downright reprehensible.

When I finally did become sexually active, I was seen as “changed.” While I expected to be welcomed into the club of non-virgins, there was no banner awaiting me on the other side. And it seemed I had spurned those I left on the abstinence track; one close friend even went so far as to say that our friendship would suffer because I wouldn’t understand her struggles anymore. The relationship that led me to that point ran its course, and I was left with the knowledge that I now had the freedom to choose where I went from here, but also the overwhelming and imminent judgement on my actions if I chose to share them with anyone.

Today, I still hold remnants of these beginnings in my bones when it comes to claiming my sexuality. I do not have a right to the grandiose and more moving stories, I do not think, like those of the LGBTQ+ community. But perhaps there is something quietly relatable in the fact that female sexual freedom is still so underwhelmingly represented and passively repressed. When I do start the conversation, I try to keep it light. Severity is threatening to the house of cards we as a global society have so carefully constructed when it comes to sexual liberation and who can have it.

So today, I’m grateful for the women who challenge me and the world to step outside our comfort zones. I’m grateful for Virginia Johnson of Masters & Johnson. I’m grateful for the sex-positive feminists. I’m grateful for those out there who tell women they don’t have to be sexually active to be worthwhile too. I’m grateful for the female (and male) friendships that pushed me to open up and the friendships that celebrated my milestones.

Thank you, women. And thank you, men, for listening to us. May this world be kinder tomorrow because of your bravery today.

On the pervasiveness of the male voice

This morning I rose at 3:30 am, turning my groggy body over and beginning to down the Red Bull that sat preparedly on my bedside table. My family had planned — and eventually executed — to leave the house at 5:30 am for the airport to make the trek to Tucson, Arizona via Phoenix Airport in order to celebrate the marriage of family friends.

Since I had my sugar free Red Bull coursing through my veins, I was wide awake. I did my hair, put on my makeup, packed up what I had neglected to the night before. I steeled myself for the questions that I would receive at the wedding about my plans for the future (ultimately, none) and about my time abroad (no way to put into words) while still withholding the content that would put me at odds with the conservative, actively Catholic, militaristic community (or, succinctly, everything I am not) I would be joining for the brief period of the wedding.

My family bid adieu to the dog, petting his moping head at the front door, and then loaded up into the car. My thought processes continued to prepare myself over and over — I may have had some unpleasant conversations in the past — when I had the most startling realization. As I sat there with my family in the wee hours of the morning approaching BWI airport and mentally acknowledging that we had been sitting in relative silence for thirty minutes, I had the striking revelation that the narrative voice in my head was not female à la Mindy Kaling as I would like but rather male à la Ted Moseby, Bob Saget or the narrator from A Christmas Story.

This was distinctly new and yet all too familiar. I think in what I imagine is my own voice, perhaps a little higher pitched because I’ve always found my voice a bit too low for my liking, but all the same my voice is my voice. Yet in this moment of narrative “retrospection” I was taken into a space of male authority on a female inhabited experience.

In complete honesty, I’m a bit disgusted with myself, and yet I can’t help but laugh that of course I felt male. Female experiences are dealt with in the present. Besides the old 100 year old Rose from the Titanic it’s hard to name another cinematic or pop culture phenomenon that features the authoritative retrospection of a woman. Men can grow to be wise. Women do not reach this pinnacle. And so our voices do not narrate. Our experiences do not feature.

I hope for a day where this changes. I’ve made conscious effort in writing this brief essay in using my actual voice in internal soliloquy as I pen/type each word. I know several intelligent, beautiful souled women who actively fight this male voice as one of ultimate authority. Whether that is enough, I’m not so sure.

On empowerment

You can’t fight fire with air. But equally you can’t fight for a freedom you’ve forgotten how to identify.

– Feel Free: Essays, Zadie Smith

Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal.

– Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Be a little kinder than you have to. 

– We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

There was once a time in which these quotes would have been both doomsday in delivery and as weightless as a feather, for they meant everything and nothing. Everything because for women there was nothing.

Thankfully, most of that has changed.

I say most of that because we as women still face constant opposition from men, from ourselves, from society at large when it comes to how we look, how we dress, how we talk, what sort of jobs we have, what we eat, where we go, who we go with…you get the picture. When I first started this blog, my inaugural post was a rather aggressive feminist rant about how the wage gap isn’t actually a gender gap but a motherhood penalty, something which seems far more unjust than anything based upon genitalia.

My favorite saying to have emerged from the celebrity driven — let’s not deny it, okay? — feminist movement has been the phrase “Empowered Women Empower Women.” Because, in all honesty, there is no reason for one woman to cut down another unless the original is in a bad place herself. Remember Sam from On mattering? She confessed she was in a poor mental state and her external manifestations of that were moments of neglect and harm towards our friendship. Case and point. 

Me though? I’m in a good place. And being in a good place makes me capable of putting others in a good place too. 

Over the past few weeks, I have been working to put together the MA Publishing exhibition at the Postgraduate Media Show at London College of Communication. While my peers thought this was a one-woman role, and that definitely was all they saw since I was the one liaising with them through spam-like frequency Facebook messages, this was not the case. So when the Show launched, I made sure everyone knew that it was not just me behind the curtain. I had been in a partnership with a Masters in Arts and Lifestyle Journalism student Aliaa who was sharing our exhibition space. In natural millennial style, I took to Instagram.

Aliaa deserved every bit of recognition. She kept me sane. We joked. We drank wine. We nailed signs to walls and created visual displays. We, by all means, bonded quickly over a short period of time. And I will always fondly remember our time together, regardless of whether we continue to keep in contact.

Empowering women, empowering your coworkers, empowering your friends, empowering your peers — it’s all important. Never for a second think that you are where you are because you alone were capable. There is always a team behind you, if you take a look around. Be humble and grateful and let them know that you see their efforts. Let them be heard too. It’s more rewarding than any praise you alone can get.