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Saturday, June 28, 2014
Sunday, May 4, 2014
We all know it when we see it: billboards advertising simple and affordable weight loss procedures, commercials encouraging ladies to fit into their bathing suits for summer, TV shows with golden bronze beauties, the customized facebook ad for the best bra for perkiness. They’re just ads, it doesn’t mean I have to believe it. I tell myself all the time. But then I’m going through my daily life, putting makeup on, looking in the mirror, trying on outfits to go out, trying to get my hair just right before an interview. And my mind gets caught up in it … I wish I could get more tan than red in the sun, I wish I didn’t have that little scar on my left cheek, I wish my hair didn’t get so oily by the end of the day, I wish my stomach was flatter.
How do you restrict yourself? Judge yourself? Criticize? In our world, and in my profession (psychology), it is easy – even encouraged – to look for laws. Look for imperfections. What don’t you like? What needs to be fixed? What can you change?
One healthy thing we can do is change our minds. As a feminist therapist, I encourage my clients to change their thoughts through reframing. We can feel empowered by not adhering to what society, our friends, our families, or even we expect, want, and think. But this exercise of reframing can be easy to forget and hard to do when we’re caught up in just day-to-day living. And I’m guilty, myself.
That list of what I “wish” for came too easily, now that I think about it. And especially since these are things that I just can’t change – my skin tone is out of my control, that scar is permanent, I can’t (and don’t want to) wash my hair multiple times a day, and while I could work out more and eat healthier, my stomach will most likely never be like this.
So reframing is something that I’m trying to do more of in my life. And I was inspired after reading this article, “How I Learned to Love My Muffin Top” (shout out to Traci Lowenthal for the facebook post!). The author, Arielle Ford, shares before and after pics (not the kind you think of), her personal story with weight, and her discovery of “Wabi Sabi” – finding perfection in imperfection. (Which sounds much more attractive than reframing, in my opinion.)
Now I’m trying to practice Wabi Sabi whenever I find myself frustrated, angry, worried, or scrutinizing anything that is out of my control. My skin doesn’t need to tan because I have my beautiful freckles that symbolize my bubbly personality (and who doesn’t want to have “sun kisses”?). That scar on my cheek usually isn’t even noticeable (thanks again to my freckles!), and everyone bears scars of some sort – whether they are visible or hidden inside our hearts, because we are all human. My hair gets oily because that’s exactly what my body is supposed to be doing, and it’s a sign that everything is working. And my stomach is so soft when it’s not perfectly flat, and as Arielle Ford puts it, reminds me that I “get to eat delicious, nourishing food,” usually made by my loving husband Collin. J
It’s harder, and is a much slower process, than thinking of flaws and imperfections. But that’s because that’s not what we’re used to, and that’s not what we’ve been taught to do, and that’s why we have to train our minds and practice it. Like everything, it will come easier with time and practice. Not having my mind preoccupied with negative thoughts allows me to live in the moment, loving others, and enjoying life. Loving ourselves comes first, then we can focus on what we can change in our lives with confidence. And think of the difference we can make, telling our stories, spreading the word, and having countless people practicing wabi sabi and ultimately changing the standards of perfection.
Writtenby Elisabeth Knauer-Turner, M.S.
Friday, May 2, 2014
Lately, this question occurred to me: If mainstream media portrays a limited and narrow view of what is considered attractive, sexy, “hot”…then how do women begin rewriting their own accounts of what is subjectively experienced as sexy? When the repeated messages tell women that tight, short skirts, revealing tops, high heels, and fake tans are sexy, how do we learn to experience that feeling for ourselves, defined in our own experiences, aside from that stereotype? Can I claim my womanhood and feel secure enough in my femininity to go without shaving my legs, just in the same way that a straight man can wear a pink shirt and display platonic physical affection towards male friends while feeling secure in his masculinity? Maybe eventually, these longings will evolve into confidence in our individuality and preferences rather than merely existing as strong but unstable inclinations to counter current cultural gender norms.
These questions begin to parallel to me what it means to be a feminist in that it has a lot less to do with thinking, acting, appearing, and developing in the ways that are expected of me, even by other feminists! Even feminism runs the risk of forming a status quo of what is expected of women, particularly those who choose to identify themselves as feminists. Can a feminist be politically conservative? Pro-life? Religious? A stay-at-home mom? Will Feminism permit her that? If feminism advocates for equality in all spheres of society, then this should encompass the respect for choice to believe in and be what is personally important.
Ultimately: Feminism should be about empowerment- empowerment for women to be the people they want to be whether it’s norm-breaking or not, whether it coincides with mainstream feminism or not. I believe that is what it means to be a feminist. Women should be able to embrace whatever it is that makes them feel attractive, powerful, and valuable, regardless of what current societal standards are. Women should be empowered to self-actualize, as is congruent with Rogerian theory, and feminism should not only present improved ways for women to exist, but also support women who use value systems that in and of themselves are adaptive and healthy, even if they run counter to mainstream feminist beliefs. So, hypothetically, if I want to shave my head, jump-start my own business, let my husband take the lead, wear sky-high heels, be a housewife, tout a gun or a Bible, or dominate the political arena, I should be able to so without a sharp retort of “that’s not ladylike,” “that’s not sexy” “that’s cheap” “that’s not what a woman looks like” or even “she’s not a real feminist.”
At some point, one must recognize the truth of, “With great power comes great responsibility.” When we empower ourselves, we must also embrace the responsibility it entails. I suspect that this notion of responsibility is inextricably linked to the essence of feminism, whether recognized as such or not. While this responsibility is often devoted to oneself to, women can also perceive that responsibility being due to other women, the greater community, and to future generations.
Written by Nina Silander
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Where were you on the night of Sunday, April 20, 2014?
Like any diligent graduate student pining for the end of Spring Semester, I was procrastinating on Facebook. As I perused my FB Timeline, I came across a video clip that one of my friends had entitled “The Weave Snatch Heard Around the World.” The post had existed on the Internet for no more than 10 minutes and already had 250 likes.
Yes, I pressed play. My sister has her reasons for giving me the nickname of “Curious George.” As the seconds ticked away on the video, I watched Porscha Williams physically assault Kenya Moore on this past Sunday’s airing of The Real Housewives of Atlanta: Reunion. The video eventually turned to black and my feminist soul was ablaze.
Yet again, Black female women had been presented through the media as volatile and argumentative beings who thrive off of physical and verbal aggression. I do not add to the Nielsen TV ratings of shows such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop, or Basketball Wives with my views because I feel that they perpetuate the historical stereotype of “Sapphire,” a portrayal of the Black woman as irrefutably outspoken and eternally mad. You may know Sapphire by her modern-day, colloquial embodiment as the “Angry Black Woman.”
With each passing season of the aforementioned television shows, I secretly hope that the Black female stars of these small-screen features will have a pow-wow and stop signing off as yet another Sapphire on the substantial honorarium checks that they receive for each episode.
As a self-proclaimed 80’s baby, I distinctly remember my family crowding around our television to watch The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where Claire Huxtable and Aunt Vivian exuded wondrous portrayals of what it could mean to be a Black woman in America. These Black female television figures showed me that not only could I successfully navigate a balance between a professional career and motherhood, if I chose to do so, but I could also effectively communicate disagreement and assert myself with others without necessitating a “weave snatch” or verbally assailing anyone with a pejorative term.
I wishfully hope that I am not the only person in the world who reminisces on the days of television where shows featuring Black females were not theatrical dramas with gossip and fist brawls as the centerpiece. Oh, the nostalgia.
My developing identity as a Black feminist psychologist has strengthened my views regarding what I interpret as beneficial or malicious portrayals of Black female-bodied persons on television, in movies, and throughout social media. I am a proponent of the notion that if I want to negate society’s damaging stereotypes of “Sapphire” and “The Angry Black Woman,” then I should first ensure that my everyday walk in life demonstrates that healthy expressions of assertiveness can dwell in the those who look like me.
Anger can be a motivating emotion, often stirring social change within the individual and a group as a whole. However, this feeling state should not continue to serve as a platform upon which society creates a one-dimensional painting of Black women.
Written by Ciera V. Scott, MS
Monday, April 14, 2014
I had waist length hair. Then I cut it all off just a few weeks ago. All of it.
Why? My hair is difficult to take care of using natural products.
I've tried delicate balances of anything and everything - baking soda, apple cider vinegar, made my own soap, not washing it at all... I feel like I tried everything. And having waist length hair makes it difficult to manage not using any product. You might ask, "Girl, why the heck aren't you using shampoo?!"
Like many people, I use natural or make my own products for a lot of different reasons. In particular, I have allergic reactions to certain substances commonly found in shampoos (sodium lauryl sulfate, found in a lot of soaps, triggers perioral dermatitis for me. It is a very frustrating skin rash around my mouth and nose). For someone who does not wear makeup either, this is very frustrating. At its worst, I've caved to put on some concealer because the rash was a little too noticeable and I felt very self-conscious given my workplaces. In order to find new receipes and ideas for natural remedies and live a greener life, I follow a lot of natural/organic living blogs.
One thing that has come up - something of particular interest to me - in these blogs is a clip from the Today Show where Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb talk about Jacquelyn Byers. Jacquelyn Byers is a blogger (Little Owl Crunchy Momma) who shared her experience of not washing her hair because she wants to avoid chemicals and lead a greener lifestyle. Jacquelyn wrote into the Today Show about her experience with "no-poo" (no shampoo) and has not washed her hair in 5 years.
Obviously, being someone who also avoids using conventional shampoos and soaps, I personally felt very shamed by these women talking about Jacquelyn. In fact, the word among many of the organic/natural living blogs is that Jacqueline was unfairly bullied on TV. Personally, I'm inclined to believe that. I mean, I feel like it might be kind of harsh to simply make the assumption that she "stinks" and "does not bathe at all" with her explanation of not using shampoo. Also, using baking soda and apple cider vinegar to wash your hair is still washing... at worst you'll smell like vinegar for just a little while.
This, for me, begs the question: are there politics of washing hair?
I believe that this topic is loaded with many different opinions from people across the board. Obviously, when you don't wash your hair it will get oily. This could be problematic in some settings because of workplace standards of appearance. But, this is temporary. After a few weeks the oil glands will stop producing so much oil (I mean, your scalp has to produce more oil because shampoo has a tendency to strip the oil away!). Most people who are able to last a few weeks will notice their hair becomes healthier and it is not oily anymore.
On the other hand, could this be seen as another way to police bodies? By framing it as someone who "doesn't bathe" - putting someone in a position where they are seen as "less-than," uncultured or inferior in some way - I wonder if a display like this is simply another way to condemn people whose behavior or body does not fit into cultural expectations.
I could go on and on about this, but I'm curious what others think. What thoughts do you have about the politics of washing hair? What symbolism lies behind washing/not washing hair? Is this mediated by one's hair texture? Culture? Gender?
Let's break out theories of intersectionality and have fun with this! I would love to hear what you have to say!
Written by Samantha D. Christopher, B.A.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Last weekend, I was at a lunch with an amazing group of women discussing feminist issues. At one point during our lunch, Justine Kallaugher (that’s right-it’s a “shout-out”), shared recent controversy over Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign. This conversation led to a spirited dialogue of numerous vantage points and opinions, which I thought were valuable to bring to a larger table.
For those of you who, like me, were late to hearing about this campaign, Sheryl Sandberg recruited numerous prominent women to speak out against describing girls as “bossy.” The core message is that girls are often ridiculed or put-down when displaying leadership skills and are labeled as “bossy.” I began compiling articles, blogs, critiques, critiques of the critiques, and felt inspired by our own discussion to write an additional critique. Out of my search, two to three authors found Sandberg’s points to resonate with their own beliefs, and found meaning in this campaign (ABCnews.com, BadgerHerald.com). It seems the large majority of writers found some issue with the campaign, while others declared the movement “social idiocy” and “female political narcissism” (Return on the Kings.com).
Overall, several themes seemed to emerge in the writing.
There seemed to be an interesting contradiction that sexism is a “fictional problem” and women should “appreciate” what they have, while also expressing confusion as to why more women do not seize the leadership torch (RealClearPolitics.com, Return of the Kings.com). In other words, we can’t expect women to compete at the same level, yet we ask women why they just can’t do better? Why aren’t women happy with what they have? Perhaps women are not satisfied with unequal pay, among other things, but this contradiction is the precise position in which women are left.
Others seemed to blame women and parents for career success, arguing that women spend more time childrearing and thus, have more access to mold children (Return of the Kings.com). They maintained parents and mothers simply need to “teach their children” more about leadership (Return of the Kings.com, The Daily Beast.com, The Federalist.com). In short, the issue of girls not entering leadership roles was framed as a woman’s issue, and the author encouraged organizers of the campaign to “narrow this campaign’s scope to women” (Return of the Kings.com). I would venture to say that most parents wish they were the sole influence of kids, particularly in a world where children are flooded with massive amounts of harmful messages. Fortunately and unfortunately, children are also shaped by culture, media, friends, the educational system, parents of friends, spiritual leaders, neighbors, additional caregivers, and so many other sources that can be impactful and difficult to filter.
Another theme emerged, wherein some conveyed frustration with recent movements to encourage and support education for girls. One author expressed confusion, stating, “people want what they want-the heart wants what the heart wants, after all-if anybody needs so much assistance, something is amiss” (Return of the Kings.com). Unfortunately, we tend to want what we are taught to value, and even then, most children can quickly begin to acknowledge that we cannot always have the things we most cherish for a multitude of reasons. In this way, girls can quickly give up dreams for which they may be well-equipped, essentially because they have understood the implicit social expectations.
Others aired frustration and minimized the movement, citing the “top-down” initiative, wherein successful and prominent women brought awareness to the use of the word “bossy” (CNN.com, NYPost.com). Some argued Sheryl Sandberg has been privileged in many identities and is disconnected from the needs of other women, while others posited that prominent women have nothing to “complain about” (Return of the King.com, The Daily Best.com). Others yet, argued that there are “much bigger fish to fry” (The Daily Beast.com). It seems as though, as has historically occurred within feminist movements, moves to alter the quality of life are framed in opposition to socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity. While these variables and underprivileged identities are undoubtedly intertwined, I argue that progress in one aspect need not be exclusive to progress in others. Yes, there absolutely are larger underlying issues than the use of one word, AND it also does not mean that there is, necessarily, a wrong place to start. Broader change takes place over time, one small step at a time.
Other authors suggested “we can never be defined by the labels others put on us” (Forbes.com). While this idea is awe-inspiring, perhaps it may be more realistic to state that we wish we did not define ourselves by the labels others put on us, but we are social creatures and build our identities in relationship to others. In acknowledging our social experience, other women suggested girls should “toughen up” if they want to survive in more prolific career roles, by utilizing the argument that they were called “bossy” and turned out fine (CNN.com, Forbes.com, The Daily Beast.com,Time.com). By taking this approach, we not only deny that others may experience encounters with being called “bossy” in different ways, but we also revert to identifying the major problem as lying within girls for being overly-sensitive. In a lot of ways, we blame the victim for feeling hurt. Similarly, we are making the assumption that the world will never change around girls, so girls must always adapt to hostile environments.
Several authors suggested that women would experience more success by reclaiming the word “bossy” to remove its power, as banning words is “un-American” and ineffective (CNN.com, Forbes.com, Huffington Post.com, NYPost.com, Washington Post.com). These authors raised concerns that additional words would be created to take the place of “bossy.” By arguing this point, we remove our sense of responsibility and deny that words do not generate themselves. People create and replace words to fulfill a social purpose. Words, in and of themselves, are not inherently harmful, but represent our cultural beliefs, thoughts, and can trigger judgment. More generally, perhaps the idea of banning words has felt too zealous for some and it may be more impactful to highlight that just because we CAN use words as descriptors, does not necessarily mean we SHOULD.
One author offered the following statement as an argument against Sandburg’s campaign: “Tina Fey is a bossypants and I love her” (The Federalist.com). I cannot help but think that claiming to have a friend of a different cultural identity does not automatically exempt one from holding a general bias against that group. Perhaps this point is self-explanatory.
Finally, several authors expressed concern that maybe some girls frankly are “bossy” and unpleasant, and should be able to receive feedback about their interpersonal style (CNN.com, Huffington Post.com, NPR.org, NYPost.com, Time.com). While domineering, authoritarian, and dictatorial behavior is absolutely not appropriate, perhaps we can continue to use a variety of other synonyms to describe this behavior using words that are not also used to describe healthy assertive and confident behavior in girls.
In a lot of ways, much of what struck me about the articles I encountered was divisiveness among women. Women seemed to be attacking other women-for not supporting women correctly. Even while numerous arguments were proposed, many authors did not inherently disagree with Sandberg’s desire to achieve equality, but rather with the solution proposed. Perhaps the common goal can be to raise awareness about when we find ourselves using this word, what behavior we are describing, and whether or not the word fits. Let us find the common ground, let us embrace the spirit of the movement, by supporting women who use their voices to reach equality. Let this show of support be the example that girls might need to see, to continue inspiring them to express their opinions and take on assertive roles.
I want to send a group “shout-out” to Justine Kallaugher, Dr. Debra Mollen, Sonia Carrizales, Dena Abbott, and Jennifer Mootz, for sparking this discussion and serving as the catalyst for this blog.
Written by Noelany Pelc