Thoughts on Thank You

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-esteem lately. As a young woman, and a feminism, it’s something that I’ve worked to grow and bolster in myself, as well as worked to help others grow. I’ve blogged in the past about my body, and written a lot about body positivity. It’s one way I work through my own complicated feelings about my body, as well as, hopefully, show other women that it’s okay to love your body exactly as it is. I even had a friend message me recently to say she quit shaving her armpits and loves it, and to thank me for being vocal on the issue and giving her the courage.

A photo of a white woman with pink hair sitting on a rock on a beach looking out toward the sea.

Learning to love every curve, crook, and fuzzy patch of my body is a continuing process.

As part of being positive about my self and the corporeal form I inhabit, Dad, I also strive to speak positively about my body. When someone compliments an outfit, or my hair, or some physical aspect, I try to thank them, instead of shrugging it off with, “Ugh, my boobs look so dumpy in this though,” or some other negative, self-deprecating comment. This reinforces for me that it’s okay to be happy with my body just the way it is, and it’s also gracious. (Though I’m not perfect and don’t always stick to this goal…)

My goals in not tearing myself down weren’t always noble, though, Dad. I think it started first as a misogynistic rebellion against the stereotype that girls are always complaining about their appearance. I saw it in the locker room in middle school: One girl would sigh, “Ugh, I’m so fat,” and her friends would rush to reassure her that she was totally not. And to be honest, I was jealous. It seemed like the prettiest girls were always complaining about their looks and getting accolades, and so, in rebellion, I didn’t complain about my flaws or insecurities. Because I wasn’t a “shallow girl like the rest of them.” Internalized misogyny can be complicated.

Since then, I’ve worked to improve my relationship with my body, and with other women. Instead of feeling myself superior to others of my gender, I focus on learning to love every curve, crook, and fuzzy patch of my body, and speak out about it publicly to encourage others to fearlessly do the same. It’s a little bit making amends for my old opinions, and a lot bit dedicating time and energy to being happy with me as I am.

I still get jealous, though, Dad. This week, I saw a friend on Twitter praising someone else as cute. The person’s response was essentially, “No! I’m not cute! I’m gross!” Which was met with, “Of course you’re cute! You’re so so cute! The cutest! Everyone, tell her how cute she is!” And part of me was hella jealous. Part of me wondered if instead of meeting the occasional compliment with a “thank you,” I responded with, “No, I’m really not!” I would be given even more praise and adoration. Part of me wanted to sigh and bemoan how very fat I am so that someone somewhere would reassure me that I’m totally not. I still get insecure and I still get jealous of other women and I still get petty, sometimes, try as I might to uphold values of sisterhood and self-love.

I think for now, I’ll keep saying thank you, if/when I get compliments. And I’ll fight the urge to get jealous of other women. And remember that I still have a long ways to go.

Love,
Victoria

Let’s talk about menstruation!

Dear Dad,

Today, I want to talk about periods. I know, not a topic that gets discussed a lot in the mainstream. If it does, it’s usually derisively, as in, “If Hilary Clinton gets in the White House, she’ll start a nuclear war the first time she gets her period!” (Spoiler alert: No woman has ever started a war over menstruating.)

  
I read a wonderful, emotional piece on the excellent website Femsplain today that made me want to sit down and get out my thoughts on this constant in most women’s lives. The essay, titled “I’m Not Crazy, There’s Something Wrong,” details the author, Katie’s, struggle with unusual periods, a heavy flow, and a misdiagnosed medical condition. When she goes to the doctor because she’s concerned about her cycle, he tells her that it’s normal and not to worry about it. Unfortunately, Katie had a serious condition that didn’t get recognized until she was severely weakened from the blood loss and had to be rushed to the hospital. She survived, and never went back to that doctor.

What really struck me, though, was how silence and shame around our periods keeps us from opportunities to be healthy and at peace with our bodies. Katie writes:

Why are so many of our embarrassing stories about our periods? Probably because everything in society tells us that this is something dirty that we should hide and only talk to other women about. We should definitely not speak to men about it. It’s so messed up because we know so much more about their bodies then they do about ours — I mean, do we really want to know about wet dreams, or morning hard-ons or the fact that they feel the need to adjust themselves all damn day and in public? NO. But we are inundated with this information. Meanwhile, I’ve had grown-ass men refuse to pick up tampons at the store for me.

I think about the way I saw menstruation shamed growing up, Dad: the constant rumors in middle school about who had “started,” the virus that changed your MSN Messenger name to “I got my period,” or my own brother dismissing me when I was upset with, “Are you on your period?”

I’m sure you also remember how vocal I was about my period, mostly because my cramps were so bad that I had to explain why I was curled up on the floor crying. Talking about it, refusing to apologize for it or be ashamed, was an incredibly powerful experience. Unabashedly saying, “Yeah, I’m on period right now,” was claiming back some power over my body.

I don’t always feel at peace with my body, Dad. Whenever I get sick I ask myself what I did wrong and why I deserve this. And lately I’ve been working to get back into shape so I can ride my bike for longer. But I will say that one step to help me and other women and girls feel better about themselves is to destigmatize menstruation.

Love,

Victoria

What happens when an older supermodel shows off her bod

Dear Dad,

Have you seen Cindy Crawford’s latest photoshoot (click the link to admire)? She looks great! The 48-year-old supermodel posed unretouched in lingerie, and I am completely in love with the shot.

Her stomach is not tight. It shows some wrinkles and her thighs are wiggly too. But that’s part of why I love this photo so much. It reminds me of many of the women in my life who are beautiful and shining and age just makes them more radiant, like Mom.

Unfortunately, I found out about this shoot from a Twitter user who was shocked(!) that Cindy Crawford’s looked like someone who is nearly 50. In fact, he argued that her body was not as “amazing” as it should be for someone who “was one of the MOST beautiful women in the world.” He “expected more.”

It’s a tragic example of how harmful our society’s portrayal of women is. We’re so retouched and judged for our looks that when a woman reveals her natural body, people react by shaming it, insulting it, and saying how disappointed they are.

I, for one, love this photo. It serves as a reminder that women are beautiful at any age. And I hope those who see the photo get the message that tummy pooches, soft thighs and wrinkles are not something to be ashamed of.

Age is beautiful.

Love,
Victoria

It’s okay not to shave

Dear Dad,

As a woman who has been razor-free for six-ish months now (and almost two years on my armpits) I get pretty upset when I hear the same old tired myths about shaving repeated over and over again. And one I’ve been hearing a LOT lately is that shaving makes your hair grow back thicker. I heard it on the radio last week, I hear it from friends and family, and it is driving me nuts, because people always use this reason to justify why they must continue shaving.

Let me take one moment, right here and now, to clarify this myth: Shaving does not make your hair grow back thicker. Shaving DOES NOT MAKE YOUR HAIR GROW BACK THICKER.

What actually happens, according to science, is that hair is tapered at the end, so that when you blunt-cut it with a razor, it appears to grow back thicker because the part of the hair you see next is the fat base part.

There’s also the fact that, for a lot of women, we’ve never seen what we look like unshaven. I started shaving in seventh grade, before I hit puberty, when my legs had just the faintest wisps of peach fuzz and my armpits were completely bare. Of course, when I stopped shaving, my hair grew back thicker. I’d matured! I’d started growing hair in places I didn’t before!

Even after a decade of shaving my legs almost every four days, I don’t have a coat of fur:

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This isn’t to say that people should stop shaving. If a woman likes shaving, she should go for it! I love the way my legs feel when they’re freshly shaved. But I also want to challenge societal norms that say that women’s body hair is unsightly or gross. In my ideal world, women would shave if they wanted to, or grow out their body hair if they felt like it, without judgment, similar to the way you grow out your beard or shape your goatee, Dad. Heck, maybe women could start shaping their armpit hair the way men shape beards! That would be awesome!

Basically, my message to women is this: Hair doesn’t grow back thicker after you shave. It just grows back. So shave, or don’t. The choice is up to you. And you can stop shaving or start shaving whenever you want.

Love,
Victoria

Burning the brassiere: One woman’s struggle for comfort and women’s liberation

Dear Dad,

I know living in a house with me when I was a teenager, you had an up-close-and-personal experience of what most girls experience going through puberty. Maybe too personal: Remember sitting up all night with me as I cried that time I had terrible cramps?

You also had a front row seat to the struggles I went through trying to find a bra that fit. First, I was wearing Target bras that were woefully too small, and wore out quickly. Then, I found bras that fit, but I had to shell out close to $200 for two. Working my way through college, I often didn’t have money to buy bras when I needed them, and had to suffer for months with ill-fitting, worn-out contraptions that left me with bruises and sometimes cuts.
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Lately, I’ve been working three jobs, and my bra pain has only gotten worse. Because my body is constantly fatigued, it’s difficult for my bruises to heal, and putting on a bra brings almost instant, excruciating pain.

So I stopped wearing bras.

Mostly.

I’ve taken to wearing bathing suit tops or shelf bras. The shape isn’t the same, I don’t look like Betty Page anymore, but I’m also able to concentrate at work.

It’s been a struggle emotionally. I’ve been raised in a world where women’s breasts are portrayed as beautifully sculpted globes that just stay perky through antigravity or something. As a voluptuous woman, I learned to tie my sense of beauty, attractiveness and self worth to my breasts and the way my bra shaped them. Going out of the house in a shelf bra, I’ve felt as if everyone is staring at me and wondering why my breasts are so saggy.

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Throughout my whole individual saga, I’ve been thinking about the “bra-burning feminist” stereotype that is so often thrown around to discredit feminists as extremists. I remember you telling me stories, Dad, of the feminists when you were in college who burnt their bras and hit men who opened doors for them.

In fact, feminists as bra-burners is a complete myth, fabricated to discredit the women’s movement. Jennifer Lee, director of the documentary “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation,” explains what she learned about the 1968 Miss America protests in the making of her film:

Bras were just one of the items protestors were encouraged to bring that day that signified how the male-dominated culture was keeping women locked into rigid ideas of beauty, but they weren’t burned. Starting a fire on the boardwalk was illegal, so protestors opted to Playboy magazines and other items in a Freedom Trash Can. Still, the bra-burning image remained—a symbol that was easy to belittle as women focusing on something trivial. Misinformation and myths sometimes serve as placeholders in our memory when facts are not remembered.

“Bra-burning,” or rather, throwing items that represented the oppression women faced into the trash, was a symbolic gesture, an act of defiance and liberation. I too, am trying to liberate myself from a beauty paradigm that has brought me pain and bodily harm, Dad. The more I think about it (and every time I put my bra back on) the more convinced I become that being a bra-burner is being a woman who asserts her right to comfort over rigid beauty standards. (Literally, those underwires are stiff and painful.)

Of course, I support anyone’s right to wear a bra if they want, but I’m also speaking out for the women who don’t want to, who are tired of strapping themselves in every morning, who are sick of tracing the bruises on their ribs. Burn your bras, ladies! Wear what makes you happy!

Love,
Victoria

Lovin’ my new curves

Dear Dad,

I am the fattest I have ever been, and I totally love it.

What’s happened? Well, in addition to reaching that age where my teenage girl body has fully morphed into my grown woman body (which means becoming generally squishier in the thighs, butt, breasts, etc.), I am also in a fulfilling and healthy relationship, and have learned to (mostly) ignore media messages about being Barbie thin.

It hasn’t been easy. Our society idolizes thinness. Look at Rosario Dawson reflecting on how many compliments she received when she starved herself to play a drug addict. Or the teen and preteen models getting fired for gaining two pounds in the documentary “Girl Model.” And then there’s the quintessential icon of feminine beauty, Barbie.

I got a little junk in my trunk, and I’m not ashamed to flaunt it.

I didn’t have many Barbies growing up, and I didn’t consider myself weight-obsessed, but when I started to gain weight after high school, when my stomach stopped being naturally flat, I started to worry. I felt self-conscious and like everyone was staring at me. My self-esteem took a hit.

But since I began my journey down Feminist Lane, I’ve encountered much discussion of body positivity and fat positivity. What does this mean? It means taking a healthy approach toward our bodies. Not everyone is going to be a rail thin model. Some people are naturally very skinny (an extremely small portion of the population). Other people weigh more, have chubby tummies, and can still be healthy. Look at Prince Fielder’s great naked shoot for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue! Guy’s got a gut, but he’s also a professional athlete!

I am not a professional athlete. But I am also no longer embarrassed to say I’ve gone up a pant size. I like my new curves and I’m comfortable with my body, which I think is the most healthy thing of all.

Love,
Victoria

On quirks and cultural norms

Dear Dad,

You made some interesting arguments about challenging gender roles, but I think you missed the point. You say not shaving is just my way of being a nonconformist, but while wearing mismatched socks is met with, “That’s so quirky,” the hair in my armpits is met with, “Ew.” (Your words exactly.)
You say that if I really want to challenge gender roles, I should become more mechanically skilled, and I admit, I loved learning to tune up my car when you came to visit. That’s a memory I’ll treasure forever. But I am suspicious of anything that says “If women want to challenge sexism, they should do X,” especially when that prescription comes from a man (no offense, Dad).
Yes, I should know basic upkeep tasks for my car. That will save me money and keep me from getting caught in a bind on the side of the highway. But I don’t think women should be required to learn a certain skill or accomplish a certain set of tasks to break down stereotypes. Those stereotypes shouldn’t be there in the first place.
I’m not fighting for a world where women learn to change their oil to prove they’re just as good as men. I’m fighting for a world where she shouldn’t have to prove anything, where a woman can know how to change her own oil, or not.
The problem is that when we start telling women that if they want equality they have to do X or Y thing, we just place more demands and rigid gender rules on them. As Nicki Minaj explained in a now epic video, it’s not possible for women to live up to it:
“When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this, you have to be that, and you have to be nice. It’s like, ‘I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.’ ”
A gif of Nicki Minaj in a pink wig saying

All hail.

Put it this way: In my ideal world, I can shave. Or not. In my ideal world, I can cake my face in makeup. Or not. In my ideal world, I can learn to rebuild an engine from scratch. Or not. And if I do, it’s not because I’m trying to show up some misogynists; it’s because I want to rebuild an engine from scratch. For me.
Sadly, we’re not there yet. It’s hard to imagine a time when our actions aren’t viewed through a lens that interprets them based on our gender.  But that is why examining those lenses is so important.
Love ya,
Vicki