The F Word

You thought I meant the four letter one, huh? Or the three letter one? Nope! I mean the word FEMINIST.

Most of the time, I love being a woman. In high school, my best friend and I would pore over the book Making Faces, spending hours crafting various looks from tubes of concealer and blushes and eyeshadows. We delighted in the feminine pursuit of shopping and finding clothes that flattered our bodies, made us feel confident, and brought a swing to our step. Even dating was in some ways an exercise in self-acceptance, as we quickly grew to realize what boys really did appreciate the fact that we loved aggressive girl-punk-rock, and which ones actually thought we were just silly girls.

I’ve always had a feminist edge, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m a feminist. I’m still shocked by something that happened to me in college: I was working on my Bachelor’s degree in 2008 at Cal State Northridge, and we had a “women and men in the media” class. My teacher asked everyone in the class who was a feminist to raise their hands. Out of 32 students, one person raised their hand. That person was me. I couldn’t quite understand why being a feminist was seen as such a bad thing. In fact, one of my first boyfriends dumped me because I was a “feminazi” because I told him that females could be DJs just like men, and he felt that DJs should only be male. My definition of feminist is somebody who values, respects, and appreciates that women should have the exact same rights as men. I’m not standing on street corners burning my bra or refusing to shave my legs (though quite frankly, if women want to do that, go for it. (And shaving your legs totally sucks, so I can see the appeal in that,). I once saw a quote that said that all people born from women should be feminists… and I agree.

As I near the end of my pregnancy, I’ve had some time to reflect on body image and beauty standards for women. When other people see you are pregnant, they feel they have a free pass to comment on your appearance as it now pertains to two people: you and a baby. I’m used to rude comments on my appearance as a woman of size, and thankfully while I don’t experience it often (apparently I “carry it well”, another thing I hear a lot), I’ve noticed that as I have just under 4.5 weeks to go, the comments about the size of my body, appearance, and bump are picking up. I also heard comments about my food choices in my early pregnancy, but anyone who dares comment on my dietary choices now might receive a swift kick to the head. I don’t want my daughter to be walking through the mall hearing teenage boys make “oink” sounds behind her back. If she chooses to become pregnant one day, I also don’t want her to have to hear “Wow, you still have four weeks to go? You look ready now!”. I don’t want her to hear about the size of her breasts, how she has such a pretty face, or how things would be better “if only” she lost a little weight. However, I’ve accepted the sad reality that because she is female, she will hear these things. In Amy’s Schumer’s movie, Train Wreck, the main character’s sister shares that she found out her unborn baby is a girl. Amy shares her excitement and says something to the extent of “That’s wonderful!”. Her sister immediately says “No, it’s not! She’s totally screwed!” and Amy says, “Yeah, you’re right, she’s screwed.” The actual dialogue in the movie is much more succinct, but basically the gist of the scene is, yeah, she’s  a female, she’s already got a few challenges stacked against her just because of her gender. While I am thrilled to be having a baby girl, I admit I have some of the same hesitations. I’ve lived an amazing life thus far, but have I experienced sexism or problems because I’m female? You betcha. We all have… and I’m sure even men have experienced things that suck because they’re guys.

Jennifer Weiner wrote this letter to her daughters, and it made me sniffle because it sums up so eloquently what I want my daughter to know. As we’re just weeks away from meeting her, I want her to know it’s ok to be a girl. It’s ok to love the color pink, and it’s also okay to hate wearing a bra. It’s ok to be a feminist. It’s ok to question the status quo, to be angry that she may be reduced to her appearance rather than the sum of her parts. I haven’t even seen her yet and I know that she is beautiful, not because of what she looks like, but because of who she is. She will be courageous, and strong, and intelligent. She will be creative in her own ways, independent in her own ways, opinionated in her own ways. And she will grow up with a mom and dad that encourage her to be herself, and to raise her hand when a teacher asks if she is a feminist. And with any luck, hopefully she won’t be the only person in the room to raise her hand.

Being Your Own Best Friend: Body Snark

This weekend, I was lucky enough to spend a few days with my sister April and my best friend Katelyn. They had caravanned down from Northern California to check out some schools for April. We shared a lot of laughs, some good discussion, yummy food and relaxing time. Being among my besties was awesome because it made me realize how these gals have helped shape who I am. They love for me — not my blonde hair, or blue eyes, or the size of my jeans. On Sunday we were walking across the road to the Tamarack state beach. April and I had to change into bathing suits in the little public restroom. I mistakenly took April’s towel when I finished up, and she had to walk across the street to us with no towel to drape around herself. As she crossed the road in her cute blue tankini, I notice two gentlemen in a car check her out. When I told her this, she said, “No, they were probably looking at my fat thighs.”

Now, I can body-shame with the rest of ’em. But I snapped to my sister, “April!!! Don’t say that about yourself. Would you say that to your best friend? Treat YOURSELF like your best friend.” Body-snark-police, I am. I think hearing my sister say that about herself was eye-opening for me because it reminded me of the very important reality that ultimately, who we love, respect and idolize in our lives has nothing to do with how they look. I love my sister for her love of singing, the inherent, ironic laziness we both share that never shows up at work and earns us accolades as extremely hard-working employees, but in our personal lives has us spending weekends in sweats. I love her for eco-enthusiasm, how she gets grumpy at me for using paper towels when I should just use washable dish rags. Despite finding her very beautiful, all of the things that make up April are not what’s on the outside. It wasn’t her thigh comment alone that inspired me to write this post. Tonight when I logged onto Facebook, a very respected friend of mine had posted that she was having trouble sleeping because of all the voices in her head telling her she wasn’t good enough. I reflected on this friend, just like I did with April above, and realized that despite her BEAUTIFUL outside, what I love about her is what’s on the inside. Her kick-ass dancing abilities, her sweet personality, the warm, inviting “Here, I’ll show you” persona that makes her an amazing teacher. We’re always so good about seeing the good in others, but how do we see the good in ourselves?

I think as women we need to work to change the dialogue in our heads, to make it NOT acceptable to become the body-snark authorities of our own selves. I’m guilty of this, too, and I’m sure I even snarked on myself several times through out the weekend. But when did it become a game to one-up each other on comments about how fat we are, how hooded our eyelids are, how oily our skin is, how blonde our hair is, how gross our pedicure looks, how long our arm hair is, how many freckles we have on our face? (Yep – every single one of these remarks was made this weekend among we three lovely women.) It’s not all our fault. It’s the magazines, the asshole ex boyfriend, the TV shows, the gossip rags, the radio shows, the “Well meaning” family member, the cosmetic companies, the diet pills, the fashion designers, the mean girls. No matter how far women come in their professional advancements, sitting next to male cabinet members and finding cures for diseases, we still decide that the sum of all of our parts is ultimately determined by our looks. This makes me feel all rage-y, and takes me back to the 15-year-old Alyssa who was dumped on AOL Instant Messenger by her first boyfriend for being a “feminazi”. I will proudly be a feminazi if it means declaring that we are enough as we are. That we don’t need to be 5’9, 125 pounds, perfectly tanned, with smooth hair, no flyaways, white teeth, a thigh gap, naturally rosy cheeks and big boobs. We ARE ENOUGH.

We can’t stop years of this bad habit overnight. Just as I overcame my habit of stress-eating, I’ll overcome the habit of body-snarking on myself. I’ve already gotten lots better, and now, when I catch myself dissing my bod’, I gently remind myself that I’m working on changing what I don’t like. I grew up in a beauty-positive household, one where my mom on a daily basis would comment on her beautiful daughters, how pretty we looked. I am thankful to my mom for that because I think despite my weight issues, I have a healthy self-esteem and confidence. I will always say the same things to my daughters and sons, because I know that even though my mom thinks on the outside we’re flawless, she really, truly sees what’s on the inside. Kindness, intelligence, compassion, courage, humor. Those are the things that make people beautiful in the way that makes you want to hold them near you. To be around them, to soak up their light. We don’t choose friends because of how they look, and if you do, you have some serious self-reflection to do. I’m challenging myself this week to be body-positive and to respectfully tell the body-snarking voice in my head to shut the eff up. You should do it, too. The world is a much friendlier place when we make peace with what we don’t like.

This post was also probably inspired by two awesome things I read this week:

1) The girl’s embarrassing photo went viral and she took charge to handle it. Read it and reap a good lesson (and note who she says most of the meant comments were from!).

2) I’m a big Amanda Palmer fan, and this weekend she wrote an open letter to Sinead O’Connor in response to O’Connor’s letter to Miley Cyrus. Palmer wrote about how rare it is to find female artists who have the balance of image/art and came back with a list of Women who Slay The Balance. Check it out here.