I was sitting in my car listening to my driving home from work playlist (a mix of Lil Dicky, Clairity, and Fetty Wap), and suddenly I just wanted to cry. Staring into the dark studded with streetlights and the red blinking of brakes in traffic, I took one deep breath, then another, feeling as if a pressing sorrow had wrapped itself around me like a second seat belt.
Oh, it’s just PMS I thought to myself, trying to brush it off as nothing.
“Just” belittles PMS. It takes away from the validity of an experience simply because it happens to be grounded in hormones and reproductive function. It says honey, how you feel doesn’t matter because your body decided it for you. And the relationship between your emotions and your body is irrelevant.
It’s the same rationale that gets thrown in the face of those struggling with mental health. You know what this is; therefore, you can and should build a bridge and pretend it isn’t happening.
That doesn’t work. Knowing why you’re feeling what you’re feeling doesn’t mitigate the experience. It situates it, certainly. It gives you a way to consider it, sometimes to work through it. But it doesn’t magically put that feeling on hold. Knowledge is not a pause button for emotion.
But why am I supposed to want to mitigate this anyways? What’s so wrong with being sad, or with having emotions that don’t necessarily have an external cause? We spend our lives being told to cheer up, to smile, as if someone else’s words get to hold more sway than our own existence. As if we have a right to command each other’s bodies and deny people their emotions. As if there’s something inherently wrong with having negative feelings.
For half of the world, this experience is a monthly reality. Women and trans men alike find ourselves contending with a tide of emotions both small and profound, and that’s not something to brush off lightly for ourselves, or for others. It’s wonderful, and hard, and frustrating, and a million small things all at once. It shows us at once just how strong and how vulnerable we can be. How amazing is that?
It’s just a part of being who we are, in the bodies we have. And that’s just a-ok.
Sometime in our senior year of college, my suitemates and I found ourselves talking about abortion. We came to two important conclusions:
- If any of us ever had an abortion, the others would buy her vast quantities of the candy of her choice (hereby known as “abortion candy”).
- You got to watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo for the rest of the day.
Strange as this may sound, I took great comfort in this. I still do. For all the sugar and TLC absurdity, we broached a topic easy to talk about in abstract from a political vantage point but rendered taboo in every day conversation.
As we debated the merits of Reeses pieces, gummy worms, and snickers, surrounded by our leopard print shrine to Abraham Lincoln and a life-size cutout of Justin Bieber which we decorated with bras far too large for his cup size, I internally sighed with relief.
This conversation meant that whatever choice you made, you could count on your friends to be there with and for you. It meant that we could talk through our options. It meant we would never be alone.
Several of us had had that heart-stopping moment of realizing our period was late. We found ourselves calculating the date of our last sexcapade, becoming more stressed by the minute (and making ourselves more late in turn). For me when I haven’t had a gentleman caller of late, this turns what I call the Virgin Mary Panic. “Oh my God, I can’t be pregnant…can I? I mean, it happened to the Virgin Mary! Maybe it is about time Jesus came back. I wonder if Jesus would be a cute baby. Probably not.” I always found solace in the fact that goodness knows God wouldn’t pick me and in the span of a few seconds reverted back to the sane and reasonable “oh, I must just be really stressed.”
But even when it wasn’t Virgin Mary panic and in fact real panic, our brains clawing back to possible failures of our birth control methods of choice, there was a sense of being not alone as we sent good blood-tastic thoughts to whoever was late. And we’ve been lucky. So far, it’s only been stress and hormones toying with our bodies. But should the day come otherwise, we’ll be there for each other.
The Abortion Candy conversation reminded us that should our birth control somehow fail, should we not be as vigilant as usual one night, should we find ourselves pregnant, our friends would be there as we figured out our course of action, no matter what that entailed for us. We had a choice, and in turn our friends had chosen in advance to honor and support our choice. Be there a baby or an abortion, we could talk to each other. We could be scared and overwhelmed together. We could be confused, relieved, happy, sad, or all of the above.
And we could eat candy together.
After all, there is a great strength in sugar and solidarity.
I used to walk along the halls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art soaking up self esteem from the curvy bathers of Renoir, the tender and thick thighs of Botticelli, and the voluptuous lines of Rubens’ ladies. Gazing at these images, I found a reverence for bodies like mine. In these bodies’ lumps and bumps the artists found something worth not only honoring through the creative process but also preserving for years to come on canvas. Fat was not the antithesis of beauty; it was a part of the beauty.
Each time I undress for a shower or bath, I try to take a minute to look at and really appreciate myself. Some days it’s harder than others. Embarrassing as it is to say, I pretend I am art. Sometimes I’ll be Venus on the half shell, or one of Renoir’s bathers. For an instant, the countertops and jars of lotions and creams disappear, and there I am in the canvas of my mind’s eye in all my curvaceous glory, surrounded by a lush landscape.
But imagining is one thing; to act is another.
A friend of mine recently asked me to pose nude for her. At first I was confused that she wanted to paint me. Why me? I’m just…so not perfect. Why spend the time to paint someone so flawed, who could really only achieve that magical standard in her mind’s eye?
As a word of advice, she told me “This sounds silly, but think ‘Draw me like one of your French girls.’” As I stretched on her couch, my head resting on my arms, I was self-conscious, constantly noticing the swell of my tummy, the folds of my chubbiness, the stretch marks that tiger stripe my hips, and wow, my nipples are weird looking. Slowly but surely I became more comfortable as I watched her measure my thighs with her charcoal and gauge the rosiness of my breasts. After a while, it stopped feeling weird and started feeling comfortable. When I began to recognize that sense of comfort, I found a new sense of liberation.
The first time she showed me a painting of myself, I was shocked. Where I saw imperfection, she found grace, comfort, plushness.
I was beautiful for the human body’s sake, not for sake of sexuality or of being objectified. It didn’t matter what anyone thought of my body or whether they considered it sexy. All that mattered was that I existed in curves and swells, in tangled curls of too long brown hair, in pointed toes, in a sloped neck.
In that moment, I got to stop pretending to be art. I was art. Everything shifted. My own body became infinitely more precious to me. Other people’s bodies became more precious to me, more beloved for their individual quirks and characteristics, for their myriad shades of color, for their thousand perfect details.
So, if you have a minute to spare today, just stand before your mirror and remember that your body is complex and amazing. Try your best to ignore any habitual criticism of yourself and silence those unkind voices attempting to compare you to others. Just be, and be beautiful. Let yourself be art for art’s sake.
And for your own sake as well.
My boundary lines have been stepped on and crushed into oblivion so many times that I have built them into walls. The only way to get across how non-negotiable my boundaries are seems to be to let men run into them. Typically, they ignore my stating my boundaries, my warnings when I feel uncomfortable. They ignore every clear statement that they exist, seeming convinced that they alone hold some magic power that will force my boundaries to crumble before their greatness. They want to hold the key to my heart, so therefore in their addled mind my boundaries don’t apply to them.
Let’s take this example from a Tinder date I went on a while back:
I got home from a Tinder first date that involved watching our mutual childhood favorite musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, at his place, only to find text messages about how turned on he was and how hard his penis was. And I wasn’t happy about it.
Me: I mean, it was fun kissing you. Really fun. But trust me, if I wanted to know the current state of your penis I’d ask.
Him: Oh don’t be like that
Me: What, having boundaries?
Him: No, just don’t be so shy
Me: That’s not being shy
Him: Well sorry I’m so open thought you’d like it
So here he’s positioned the situation not as I have boundaries and he’s broaching them, but rather that he’s open and I’m by comparison closed. Open is deemed superior, and I’m somehow inhibited, and it’s up to him to open me up and get me to not “be like that.”
Let me make this very clear: The least inhibited thing you can do is to respect and name your own boundaries. That is the ultimate way to honor yourself as a sexual being.
When I say I don’t want to hear about your penis, I mean it. That doesn’t mean I’m shy or sexually inhibited. It means I don’t want to hear about your penis. I had had a nice evening. There was some hand holding, a little bit of kissing. I moved his hand a few times when it roved to places I didn’t want it to go. But all in all, a nice time.
However, I wasn’t at a place where I wanted to know about his arousal.
If I’m not at a place where I’m comfortable talking about intimate things with you, then pressing me to do so is only going to make me more uncomfortable. Attempting to manipulate me into doing so shows a total disregard for my feelings and my needs in light of your own desires and priorities. He did this several times, not seeming to realize that it wasn’t complimentary that he felt the need to tell me how turned on I make him but rather threatening that he cared so little about my boundaries in conversation. If he’s this dismissive via text, how bad did this have the potential to get in person if I went on a second date with him?
I should’ve realized this before this first date. When I had asked him if I should dress nicely or more casually, and he said t-shirt and panties.
I replied: You get that I’m not coming over to sleep with you right?
Him: Yes I know you’re not coming to spend the night or sleep with me if that’s what you meant
Him: I’m actually a good dude, you’ll see
Him: You mean seven brides for seven brothers isn’t a hint for sex? Lol
Me: You mean comments about my panties aren’t hints for sex?
Him: Was a joke! Sorry thought you saw it that way
Me: I get that you’re kidding, but when it’s someone you don’t know, it comes across as kind of like you have expectations or particular intentions but are trying to mitigate them with humor
Him: I get that and sorry, promise no expectations or intentions or plans other than watching a musical that I’ve known since I was like 7
I find it intimidating when someone assumes, or even implies, that I’m going to sleep with them. Suddenly a date is less about enjoying getting to know someone and seeing what happens and more about worrying if I’m sending the wrong signals, even if I’ve clearly spelled out my intentions for the evening, or how I’ll respond if and when he makes me uncomfortable again. I stop getting to function as a human being and become a sex object trying to regain her humanity.
If you care more about me as a sex object than you do about me as a person who needs to feel heard, to feel safe, then you’re not a good guy. Too often in my experience, when I call a guy out for objectifying me or making sexual jokes or comments that make me uncomfortable, the default comment is “but I’m a good guy.”
The “Good guy” identifier is an excuse to say whatever and then defend their delusions of what it means to be respectful using a self-applied label of who they think they “actually” are. “Good guy”-ness gets treated like a get out of jail free card. It’s a way of telling women that because I’m a good guy, I can lay claim to your body, objectify you, and make you uncomfortable, because I can’t envision myself as anything otherwise. Anything you confront me with that substantiates the opposite will fall on deaf ears, because I’ve decided I’m a Good Guy.
Being an actual good guy is more than “well, I’m not going to try to rape you. I’m not going to kill you, hit you, or drug you.” It is respecting someone else’s boundaries. It is making the effort to clarify those boundaries if you don’t understand them. It is consensual conversation, not only consensual actions.
I frequently find myself with the burden of deescalating the situation, of convincing someone that sexualizing me isn’t ok. Genuinely good guys don’t do that.
Real good guys don’t need to tell you they’re good. They establish their credibility over time. They build trust and understand that that takes a while. They become good guys in your eyes because they have been good to you, without expecting anything other than respect in turn.
Honestly, this is one of the hardest lessons Tinder has taught me: in my relationships and interactions, no one can advocate for me but me. As much as I can moan to my roommates and friends about frustrating conversations and they may commiserate, it’s up to me to stand up for my boundaries and champion myself. And sometimes, there’s only so much I can do. Sometimes you just have to walk away and know your own happiness and well-being are more important than someone you barely know.
Here’s to the real good guys. I’m glad you’re out there.
I remember being about 7 or 8, looking down in the bathtub, and being so excited! I had hair down below! I called it my “Teddy Bear hair,” convinced that somehow it was a magic initiation into the world of fuzzy things. Bears would love me! I could commune with nature! I sang little songs about my pubes, with extremely unimaginative lyrics. I would be the Disney Princess of pubic hair!
And then I grew up, inundated by a world of Cosmo articles that claimed to espouse equal-opportunity-pube choices, but in fact heavily emphasized the popularity of the Brazilian wax and its presumed superiority.
I had a man once tell me “I like my women shaved bare.” Oh, how nice. I missed that part where you own me just because I’m down to sleep with you.
But you know what? I shaved.
It was interesting and exotic for a few days, but the novelty was quickly overtaken by the incredible itchiness. I couldn’t wear any of my favorite underwear, because it caught on the stubbles like Velcro. Plus, I felt babyish. I missed that sense of bad-ass primal curliness that laid in wait between my thighs. I felt exposed, and not in a fun way. It may work for some women, but it definitely doesn’t work for me.
Worse, I realized I had let somebody else make that decision for me through the power of suggestion. I felt ill about it. Heck, sometimes I still feel ill about it. I didn’t speak up for myself and defend what I like. After all, if you’re lucky enough to sleep with me, you can just feel damn lucky to get to see my body in all its bad ass curvy splendor. You can take it or leave it, but I won’t change it for you.
Somebody else’s personal preference doesn’t trump what I want for my body. Ever. If I want to dye my pubic hair hot pink, look upon my work ye mighty and despair. Vajazzling? More power to me.
The one great thing to come of this is I realized it’s okay to experiment with my body my way. I don’t have to shave to know I like being unshaven. I don’t have to comply with someone’s standards to be sexy. And if that’s a turnoff for them, then that’s their problem, and I can walk away.
Society may condemn something about your body, and individual people may condemn something about your body, but nothing else matters but your relationship to your body. People can critique all they want, and while words may hurt, words don’t dictate my shaving regimen or how I interact with my body. In loving ourselves on our own terms, we open ourselves up to find people who will gladly do the same.
Disney Princess pube powers ACTIVATE!
(P.S. Everybody send their love to my mother, who still reads and supports my blog even when she has to deal with me being a sexual being or me talking about bizarre things! You’re the best, mom, and I love you heaps!)
I went on a date recently with a wonderful man of whom I’m quite fond, and as I realized he had no stories to tell my heart began to sink. My mind twisted and turned, trying to piece together his identity from the scraps I’d been told. There were no sweet inferences or revealing adjective choices. There is no reading tone or basking in an adventure or lack thereof if there are no words shared, no attempts made.
I adore stories. They are the stuff I thrive on. And when I tell stories, I feel like I light up, like a Christmas tree, or a birthday cake candle, or your favorite childhood nightlight just when the dark starts to get spooky. I’ll mock myself, share my lows and highs, my good choices and bad (sorry, mom, I try). So often it reveals who I am, frequently in a way that makes me feel very vulnerable and strangely relieved and almost uncomfortable.
It makes me really damn happy to make people feel something right along with me. It’s my favorite part of being a person; it’s being human together.
And I love people who tell great stories. It’s why I adore dating artists, writers, and musicians, people who are willing not only to lay claim to their stories but to share them. Sometimes I meet amazing people who do amazing things, and then they can’t manage to tell you about it.
I’d far rather someone be boastful and tell a story that will make me laugh than have no story to share. I’d rather share in your embarrassment than protect whatever overly perfected image of you my brain accidentally mistakenly concocted. I’d rather sit rapt while you attempt to tell a story and fail miserably. Be weak. Be human. Be vulnerable. I’d rather see who you really are than fall for some half-baked construction of you that is painstakingly crafted and story-less.
I know some people don’t have this inclination. We don’t all think of our adventures as small narratives etched in our lives. But isn’t it at least an adventure to try to tell a story at all? A story in and of itself, that you attempted and failed to tell a good story?
There may be no glory in them. Goodness knows, many of my stories cast me in a terrible light. But at least try. Try and fail, try and be ridiculous, stumble and falter as you regale highs and lows.
Be human with me.
I love Leslie Knope of Parks and Rec’s unabashed use of compliments to celebrate the people in her life. While her metaphors may seem absurd, they speak of the intensity of her love for her colleagues and friends. She values them, and they’ve come to accept that, bizarre as Leslie’s esteem may be, it comes from a profoundly genuine place.
So when I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of my favorite Tinder fellows this week, I found myself surprised as I reconsidered my own relationship to compliments.
This gentleman does wonderful things for the world, for his community. He stumbled into an opportunity to help others and has seized it, serving on a board advocating for those who need a champion and a role model. He worked hard to get a job at a place he dreamed of working. He mocks people on HGTV like a champ.
Oh, and word around the block is he can make chocolate chip cookie dough spring rolls.
I think he’s pretty amazing. He jokingly attempted to refute me. I wasn’t having it.
Then I realized I was being a giant hypocrite. So often when people pay me a compliment I try to brush it off. I try to play it as humility, as if modesty were some magic circle that made being complimented acceptable.
However, that’s operating on the assumption that accepting a compliment is somehow to be vain. I’ve spent my life treating embracing compliments as a shortcoming. I want to appreciate people. I love telling people why they inspire me, why they bring me hope, joy, and inspiration. Why would I not give them the joy of appreciating me if they should want to do so? Why hide behind the guise of modesty?
The answer immediately rang in my head, and I’m ashamed to admit it’s because I don’t think I deserve it.
I’ve spent the past year feeling like a giant loser. Hell, right now I’m applying to jobs like crazy and can’t manage to get an interview. I’ve taken to paying for groceries in change (sorry not sorry, people in the self-checkout line at Kroger). I couldn’t even afford my own car insurance (generous grandmother to the rescue!), can’t afford to get my eyes checked, and haven’t had a haircut in over a year. Between stress eating and OCD meds I’ve gained a stunning number of pounds, reducing my wardrobe to mostly jeans, leggings, and t-shirts.
My ego has been shot to pieces.
I didn’t realize how vain I was until I found myself hitting what has felt like rock bottom. Me, Miss Phi Beta Kappa, fancy liberal arts degree, talk your ear off, charming to a fault, somehow held down three jobs at a time during college—an incompetent mooching failure laid low by OCD and the job market.
And yet people still seem to like me. As all the things I thought I valued in myself have fallen away, academic success, employment, even my old appearance, people still like me. People still somehow have compliments for me. It’s absolutely blown my mind. I found myself attempting to dismiss kind words with a laugh, or sentences starting with “yeah, but…” Upon further thought, as someone who so values words, how unkind of me to dismiss someone else’s for the sake of my current lack of self-assuredness.
I’ve learned people value who I am so much more than what I achieve. They celebrate for me when I succeed and hurt for me when I struggle, but at the heart of that is a profound respect for who I am as a person, in spite of what I may or may not accomplish.
So often we forget that the measures of our own esteem are inherently flawed, twisted by years of assumptions and false comparisons. While we may think we fall short, in another’s eyes we may absolutely shine.
Even if in my heart of hearts I’m struggling to see myself in a positive light, I owe it to these people to believe them when they say kind things to me and to trust, even if I can’t quite see the good things myself, that compliments come from a genuine place based on their experiences with me.
So, you beautiful tropical fish, if I tell you you’re wonderful, trust me, and I’ll do you the courtesy of trusting you. Here’s hoping that the more we let ourselves be wonderful in each other’s eyes, the more we’ll learn to be wonderful in our own.