Why We Need Diversity in Politics

When it comes to politics, I am a firm believer that people from all perspectives should be considered. After all, who knows more about a woman’s experiences than an actual, flesh-and-blood woman? Who knows more about what it’s like to live in a wheelchair than someone who has actually been in a wheelchair? And who can better speak to the issues faced by people of colour than someone who has spent all their lives being a person of colour? Of course, it’s not always perfect – not every person in a specific community represents every aspect of that community. We all have different forms of privilege, we all meet with different challenges in our lives, and some politicians who represent marginalized people have actively fought in support of issues that concern their community. However, that being said, you are still going to make a much more informed decision around what to do with the lives of women if you are actually confronting a group of women, rather than a group of men.

And it is very rare that you see this nowadays. I am very proud of my own country of Canada, whose cabinet is intentionally diverse, made up of immigrants, Muslims, disabled people, native people, and not a small handful but fifteen women. In America, however, Trump’s cabinet is overwhelmingly white and overwhelming male – so much so that it is, in fact, the least diverse cabinet since Reagan’s. And since Trump has been elected, he has continued to make decisions that do not directly affect white men. Abortion, for example, is not a procedure that cisgendered men will ever have to endure, and yet Trump and his cabinet have made the decision for women that their access to it should be limited. I am not necessarily saying that if you asked any random group of women about their opinions on abortion, the answers will be any different – what I am saying is that too few women were consulted. This was a decision made by men for women.

And in my personal opinion, that isn’t okay. I do not think that men should have the ability to limit what a woman can do with her life and body, any more than I think that white people should have the ability to limit what people of colour can do, or that cisgendered people should have the ability to limit what transgender people can do. If you do not have the lived experience of belonging to that particular group, then you do not have the necessary information to tell that group what they should do and how they should behave. You do not know what they deal with.

And yet, I have heard my own perspective countered multiple times. “I think that people should be chosen for a job based on whether or not they are qualified, not based on whether or not they belong to a specific minority,” people will say, and I understand. To a certain extent, I even agree. If someone is faced with hiring one of two people: a black, transgender lesbian who is completely unqualified in every way or a straight, white man who has spent years preparing for this job, of course they should choose the man. But from what I can tell, that isn’t what’s happening. Unqualified people are not being chosen over qualified people to fill a minority quota, as this statement seems to suggest. Rather, in situations such as the one that I described in my home country, where Canada’s cabinet is a diverse one, perfectly qualified people are given jobs where they perform according to standards while simultaneously offering up their marginalized voice, providing a perspective that a straight, white man (a figure that continues to be seen in this workplace) lacks. In other words, the black, transgender lesbian from my example is not only good at her job, but she offers a perspective that would otherwise be lacking.

When I say that we need diversity in politics (and in the workplace, more generally), I am not saying that straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied, neurotypical (etc., etc.) men should go without jobs. I am not saying that minorities should be given any special treatment that their more societally accepted counterparts don’t get. All that I am saying is that we should support minorities achieving positions that they are perfectly capable of filling, but that they haven’t in the past due to societal imbalances. There are a wide variety of people in our world, but if our political system continues to hear the story of only one side, then that is the side that will eternally be catered to. Inequalities will continue to be enforced, because as much as it is completely possible for a cisgendered man to sympathize with the issues of a woman and want to stand up for her, he cannot understand it in the same way that she does because he has not lived it. She has. Let her tell her story. Let all of us tell our stories. And let us all fight these battles together.

The Sacrifices We Make To Be Thin

A couple of days ago, I saw a picture of a woman on Instagram. The frame focused on the woman’s torso, and she was turned just slightly aside, so that the lighting perfectly caught her abdominal muscles, making her look thin and fit. Underneath the photo, she had written the caption, “This is the only time I have abs, and I haven’t eaten for twenty four hours because I’ve been sick and throwing up”. The photo had been liked multiple times, and it had only one comment, written by another woman: “I’m so jealous.”

Now, I’m sure this woman didn’t mean her comment the way that it sounded. I’m sure she was not actually saying that she would love to be physically ill and vomiting to the point that she cannot bring herself to eat for twenty four hours, all for the sake of obtaining abs. Chances are, she did not read the photo’s caption and merely thought that the first woman’s abs were admirable. However, there was something about seeing this exact comment on this exact photo that simply felt like a microcosm of how we as a society see women’s bodies.

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The photo above shows me two years ago, when I was 175 pounds and unhappy with my body. I was just coming out of a year spent coping with depression and eating what polite society would generously call a fuckton of fast food (pizza was my kryptonite), and so I came to the conclusion that if I was going to make a permanent change in my lifestyle, I was going to start with my diet and exercise habits.

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Fast forward a year, and now we’re at this photo. Here, I am 125 pounds. I had worked damn hard to lose those fifty pounds, and I was incredibly proud of myself for it, but on average, I was only eating about a thousand calories a day – and for those of you who don’t count calories, that roughly translates to “not enough food”, especially considering I was working out six days a week on top of that. There were nights where I only went to bed as early as I did because I knew that if I went to sleep, then that would bring me to breakfast faster. On average, I went through my days feeling hungry and weak. I was shaky, I had a hard time focusing on the things that I loved to do, and there were times where I missed being physically larger simply because I didn’t feel quite so vulnerable and small when I was. But at the same time, as much as I did not feel well, I was dedicated to staying that way. I counted my calories diligently, and if I went over, or if I ate more than one cheat meal a week, then I felt incredibly guilty to the point of tears, sometimes to the point of feeling the urge to go into the bathroom and try to make myself throw up (I never did, thankfully). And the strange thing about all of this is that I don’t really know why I, of all people, felt this way. I mean, yeah, 175 pounds was a little heavy for me, but I had been a curvy girl my whole life until this point – and I was damn proud of my curves too. I was that girl who reminded people that Marilyn Monroe had been a size twelve. I was that girl who rolled my eyes at the idea that women needed to lose weight to be beautiful. I was that girl who seriously questioned why ‘fat’ necessarily needed to be an insult. And yet, here I was, starving my body and putting myself through emotional torment – and why? It wasn’t to be beautiful – I thought that I was beautiful before. So why was I doing this to myself?

Well, to be honest, I think that it was because of the way that we as society view women’s bodies – and I return to the Instagram commenter as my microcosm. It didn’t matter that the first woman needed to starve herself and be physically ill to get abs – the fact that she had abs was the only thing that mattered. We tend not to see the pain that goes into getting the body that society tells us we should want. Hell, we tend to not even think of it. When someone we know has lost a ton of weight, our go-to comment to make is always, “wow, you look great”. And of course, this compliment comes from a supportive place – all that we’re trying to do is assure someone that all of the hard work they’ve put into their body is being noticed. But what about the girl who lost all of that weight by starving herself? What about the person who lost weight because they were sick? When they’re being told that they are increasing their value in the eyes of those around them by causing themselves harm, then that is going to encourage them to keep causing themselves harm. They are going to keep on starving themselves, and they are going to keep on ignoring all of the signs that their body is giving them that they need to change what they are doing, all to get that compliment and feel that sense of accomplishment.

I’ve seen it done, again and again. The woman who knows exactly how long she can go without eating anything is told, again and again, by everyone around her, that she looks great and should keep doing what she is doing. And so she does keep doing it. She keeps on starving herself and she keeps on putting her own health at risk, all because we as a society have decided that the only acceptable way for a woman to look is thin, and so some women will do anything they have to to achieve that.

In my case, I didn’t even think I hadn’t been beautiful before. I just knew that I wanted to change my life, and considering the comments that I was receiving and the expectations that I placed in myself, so long as I kept losing weight, I was doing something right.

I decided to change my lifestyle shortly after I reached 125 pounds. People had been telling me for a while that I looked too thin, that I was a person built to be curvy and I didn’t look right so small and bony, but that wasn’t the reason that I decided to change. No, the reason why was because I sat down to write one night, to do the one thing that I always told myself came before anything else, and I couldn’t do it because I felt so weak and hungry. It was at that moment that I realized it wasn’t worth it. I decided that I would rather feel strong and energetic than look the way that society expected me to look. I still eat healthy and I still work out six days a week, but now, I eat when I feel hungry and I make sure not to count calories. I have gained seven pounds since, and I feel much happier and much more comfortable in my own body.

But it still scares me when I see exchanges like the one on Instagram. I hate to think of all the girls and women who are putting their bodies and minds through hell, and they continue to do it because they continue to receive compliments for their weight loss, as though their being thin somehow matters more than their feeling strong and well. And it’s difficult to say that we should not compliment someone on their weight loss at all, because if someone has lost a lot of weight by simply making healthy changes to their lifestyle, then that is something that should be celebrated. But girls and women should also know that being thin is not the most important thing that they can be – being happy and healthy is infinitely more significant. Strength is so much more beautiful than a lean stomach will ever be.

And my message here is not that there is any one way that our bodies should look. I am not trying to belittle the beauty in thin bodies, nor in larger bodies, nor in muscular bodies. I firmly believe that every body type is beautiful, but it is more important that you feel comfortable and happy, and that you are healthy in mind and body. I believe that it is absurd that society encourages us to sacrifice our wellbeing for a body that is easier to accept. I believe that we are more than our physical appearances, that our thoughts and feelings and happiness has value, and that no one should ever feel the need to cause themselves harm in order to become something that society says they should.

Why Not Love Yourself?

We live in a society that glorifies self-hatred. This is especially true for women, who are constantly bombarded with the message that they are not good enough, but it’s true for men too.

Women are constantly told that they must be physically attractive if they want to have value in our society, and in order to be physically attractive, they must have the breasts of a porn star, the booty of an athlete, and the stomach of a girl who hasn’t eaten in a week. They must have plumped up lips, fake eyelashes, make-up that creates the illusion of looking like they aren’t wearing make-up. They must be sexually available, but not promiscuous. They must be mothers, wives, daughters, students but not perfect students, making money but not so much money that they intimidate the man. They must be hard and soft, all at once. They must be something that is perfectly impossible to be, and if they fail to be it, then they aren’t good enough.

Men, too, are expected to fulfill an ideal, though perhaps not quite to the same extent. Men do not receive the message that they absolutely must be physically attractive if they want to have value, but if they do want to be physically attractive, then they must be tall and muscular, regardless of their body type. Men are expected to do well financially. They’re expected to be successful, ambitious, hard and unemotional, unfaltering, sometimes inhuman.

And somehow, if someone does manage to succeed in fulfilling one of these ideals, they’re expected to act oblivious to the fact that they did. A traditionally attractive woman is still expected to blush at a compliment that she receives and say, “oh no, me? No, I’m not that pretty.” As much as we’re over-saturated with media that tells us what, exactly, we’re supposed to be, we’re also over-saturated with media that tells us that we can’t be proud when and if we accomplish that. The One Direction song What Makes You Beautiful asserts that the thing that makes a woman most beautiful of all is not having this bride of Frankenstein body that we’re expected to have, but rather it’s being unaware of the fact that you have that body. In movies and television, it’s not the girl who knows she’s beautiful who finds love and happiness in the end, but the girl who’s self-conscious about the way she looks in that outfit, the girl who doesn’t think that she deserves happiness specifically because that other girl is so much more beautiful than she is. Self-consciousness is rewarded in our media, and maybe that’s because so many of us are plagued with self-consciousness – and why wouldn’t we be? We’re surrounded by the message that we should be! But at the same time, why can’t we be proud when we do manage to succeed?

I’m not going to lie: I know I’m beautiful. Maybe I’m not traditionally beautiful in every single way (I don’t know if it’s possible to be), but I do think that my face looks nice, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve put into my body at the gym. So if you were to tell me that I look beautiful, I wouldn’t blush and pretend to be unaware. I am aware. I worked damn hard to be beautiful, thank you, and I’m going to reap every benefit from it! And I don’t necessarily think that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think that it makes me any uglier to know that.

A person shouldn’t spend their lives constantly reaching for this unattainable definition of what they should be, of course, but when they are successful at something – whether it be reaching a definition of beauty that they’re comfortable with, or achieving something in their career, or proving that they have an impressive intellect, then why can’t they be aware of it? Why can’t they be happy about the fact that they are successful? Why can’t they brag a little bit – they’ve earned the right to, haven’t they?

Well, perhaps the reason is that we as a society are so afraid of hearing someone brag about their success because they worry that, in doing so, they are inherently putting someone else down. And, yes, sometimes when people brag about themselves, they turn it around and make it all about how much better they are than someone else, and that isn’t okay. Comparing yourself to someone else is never okay. It is cruel and belittling to stunt someone else’s personal growth by telling them that you are better than them, and often times, that sort of behaviour doesn’t come from security, but from insecurity, a need to tell yourself that you are better than another person. But so long as that isn’t what you are doing, rather you are merely being proud of your own accomplishments, then why can’t you do that? What’s so wrong with being secure in yourself?

We live in a society that merely seems to be obsessed with low self-esteem, and it makes sense. Perpetuating low self-esteem in women for their appearances convinces women to continue buying products that they hope will make them better match society’s definition of beauty, and perpetuating low self-esteem in a person’s behaviour ensures that they keep acting in a very specific way. And as much as we should never stop trying to improve ourselves, low self-esteem can be very toxic as well. It can lead to depressive thoughts and cruel behaviour, and more than that, we deserve to be proud of our accomplishments. We deserve to feel good in our skin and our abilities. So, really, why can’t we?

The Pros and Cons of Social Media

I’ve met two different kinds of people when it comes to opinions about social media.

On the one hand, we have the social-media-is-the-god-of-modernity people. These are the people who live on Twitter or Instagram, the people who defend the existence of the internet by pointing out that it is a part of society that isn’t going away, and so we should not only get used to it, but get good at it. These are the people who think of social media as something that will be of growing importance, something that you must understand in order to function in the world.

And then, on the other hand, we have the social-media-is-the-gateway-to-hell people. The people who don’t have anything more than an email account because everything else is pointless at best and opening you up to being stalked at worse. The people who worry about children getting a hold of social media because they are not capable of enough critical thinking to realize that they shouldn’t share private information with strangers, or send out images of themselves that could lead to bullying or unfair treatment from others.

And the way I see it, both sides have their points. I know many people who have dealt with misfortune as a result of social media. Although I have never personally experienced cyberbullying, I have spoken with people who have, and they have told me that it is even worse than face-to-face bullying because there is no escape from it. It haunts you constantly, always there on your phone or your computer screen no matter what actions you take to try and avoid it. I have known young girls who have taken sexualized photos of themselves and sent them out on social media, only to be humiliated when those images fell into the hands of someone who was not intended to get a hold of them. These are problems that have existed before social media, of course, but social media has made them easier to persist.

But social media is not the problem. Social media is a merely a vehicle, and it can be used for just as good as it is capable of evil.

As much as I have known people who were tormented through their interactions online, I have also known people who have an incredibly difficult time making friends in face-to-face interactions, and social media has made that just a little bit easier. Social media makes it easier to talk about things that we do not tend to talk about in our daily lives, because it’s easier to bare your soul before an empty screen than a human being. You can be honest on social media, exploring issues like mental illness or personal insecurities without fear of judgment. You can reach out to people without ever meeting them face-to-face.

This has happened to me countless times: I discuss depression, or suicidal thoughts, or my struggles with my sexual orientation – the sort of things that I would never explore in vivid detail face-to-face with someone, and the next thing I know, I have people messaging me on Facebook telling me that they have felt the same way as me. Maybe they’ve felt suicidal at some point, but they haven’t had anyone to talk to about it. Maybe they’re closeted bisexual. Maybe they’ve simply shared my thoughts at some point. Either way, social media allows us to be more open, more honest, and because of that, it can make us realize that we aren’t alone. That our fears, insecurities, and struggles are merely human. They are something that many of us share, and the burden becomes a little easier to bear when we realize that we aren’t the only ones carrying it.

Social media allows us to meet and make connections with people who are nothing like us, as well. I’m a young white woman, and maybe the majority of the people who I see day-to-day are young white women, but that doesn’t mean that those are the only people I can ever speak to. Social media opens up my world to so much more than that, to so many different perspectives that I may have never considered before. I can read the private thoughts of someone living halfway across the planet if I want to, and I wouldn’t be able to do that quite so easily if it weren’t for social media.

Social media allows us to learn about people. Sometimes we learn ugly lessons about how much we are able to trust a faceless stranger behind a computer screen, and sometimes we learn to open our mind and consider perspectives that we’ve never encountered in our daily lives. So altogether, what does this mean? Is social media a good tool, or a an evil one?

Well, in my personal opinion, it’s neither good nor evil. Rather, it has the capability to be both. There are many things in this world that are just as beautiful as they are sinister, but that doesn’t mean that we should avoid them completely. Social media is a passive tool that is shaped completely by the person using it – it is up to them to make it what it is. And I can say that we should just be careful about what we post and try to make the internet a positive place for everyone, but at the same time, that’s a difficult thing to maintain completely. Some people are going to use social media for ill. Some people are going to steal images that don’t belong to them, or hack accounts, or simply be generally rude, and sometimes there’s no real way to avoid that. That’s just life. But just because there is negativity out there, that doesn’t take anything away from the wonder that exists as well.

What I Want to See in the Labyrinth Reboot

So, confession time here: I spend an odd amount of time watching the 1986 film Labyrinth, considering I’m a twenty-two year old woman who didn’t technically grow up watching it or anything. I checked it out for the first time when I was around sixteen, and although I didn’t think it was a perfect movie or anything like that, I came away from it with three distinct impressions: 1) it was a perfect adaption of a standard fairy tale or fantasy storyline, 2) David Bowie was awesome, and 3) Jim Henson’s style and the film’s set designs were positively gorgeous, making it quite possibly the most beautiful movie I have seen to date. From that point on, I’d watch it fairly regularly, and it eventually got to a point where it’s just become a comforting movie for me. Nothing can be wrong so long as Labyrinth is on, so if I’m having a bad day, I can just pop the movie in and come away feeling a little happier and a little bit more inspired.

So when I heard that Labyrinth was going to be rebooted, of course I had an opinion on the matter. Personally, I found the idea a little bit odd, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. There are two huge reasons for why I like the original film, and these are Jim Henson and David Bowie. They made the movie what it was, because let’s face it, the story isn’t the main draw for the film. I’m not even sure the original film cared about the story. If they did, they wouldn’t have meandered off to random subplots about creatures whose heads pop off and bogs of eternal stench. No, the whole film was just an excuse for Jim Henson to show off what he could do to create a magical setting and memorable characters, and it turns out that he can do a lot. Without Jim Henson or David Bowie, what does the film really have? Besides some stock plot about a girl trying to get her baby brother back from goblins, I mean.

This was my opinion for a long while, until my most recent viewing of Labyrinth (and by that, I mean last night) when I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, there were ways that this reboot wouldn’t completely suck.

And before I begin, there has actually been some promising news as far as the development of this reboot, and by that I mean that Helmer Fede Alvarez has been signed on to direct the film. For those of you who don’t know, Alvarez is best known for horror films like Don’t Breathe – a very atmospheric film that does a great job of evoking emotion. Alvarez isn’t Jim Henson, of course, but I think that’s the point. If Alvarez has been cast on to direct, then I think that the intention is to take it in a similar but different direction altogether. And let’s face it: the original Labyrinth had an eerie feel to it that I think a horror director could really do something with.

But there is something else that has been hinted at that absolutely must happen if I am going to approve of this reboot: it cannot be a remake. There is no way to remake the original Labyrinth. The original Labyrinth was built on Jim Henson’s vision and David Bowie’s awesome, and now that both men are sadly gone, there is no way to recreate that. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to a sequel – something that has been suggested, but as far as I can tell, not quite confirmed.

And I don’t mean a sequel where we catch up on what Sarah has been up to since 1986. I don’t care what Sarah has been up to since 1986. In fact, the reboot can even steal the premise from the original movie for all I care: a young girl wishes for Jareth to kidnap her baby brother, Jareth obliges, and she’s forced to travel through the Labyrinth to recuse him. But everything that happens from then on, all the creatures that she encounters and all the lessons that she learns all need to be original. I don’t want to see Hoggle. I don’t want to see Ludo. The only character that I want to return from the original is Jareth.

And when I say that, I don’t want the reboot to try to replace David Bowie. They can’t. It’s impossible. I want to Jareth to return, but I don’t want him to be some cheap look-alike. After all, Jareth is the Goblin King, isn’t he? He’s a fairy creature, and because of that, I’d totally buy it if everything about his appearance and demeanour were changed.

In the reboot, I want Jareth to be recast as some other iconic celebrity. The original intention for the Jareth character, after all, was for him to represent the id – he was hedonistic and ideal, and Jim Henson wanted to cast a rock star specifically because he thought that a rock star could capture that best. After considering which modern celebrity would best fill the role, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to see Lady Gaga in the role. While she might not be quite as iconic as David Bowie, she does capture that same sense of bigness, that same love of style and fairy-like androgyny, and she would be my perfect choice. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to other suggestions – just so long as the reboot tries to take the character and the story in its own direction, while still capturing the magic and strangeness of the movie that I have come to love over the years.