What You Decorate Your Beautiful Body With

A while back, I was scrolling through Facebook, bored, not really looking for anything in particular, when I came across a picture of a woman. She was a little bit older, a little bit larger, but she was wearing a great, beaming smile and a small dress covered in Disney characters. “I finally got it!” read the caption. “I’ve been eyeing this dress for so long, and I’m so glad that I finally got it! It’s just a shame that it’s on my fat body.”

When I read this last part, my heart sunk. I left the obligatory “you look awesome in that dress, rock what you got!” comment, but I’ve been thinking about that comment ever since.

Because, really, I don’t think that it’s all too rare a comment to make.

When it comes to clothing and style, people feel a need to conform to a certain set of expectations. People who are bigger in size are mocked and made fun of if they wear anything that shows off their body. People who are older are mocked if they dress “too young”. And when it comes to alternative styles, like funky hair colours, obvious tattoos, or facial piercings, many people behave as though the act of getting them is a courageous one, telling people who have them, “oh, you’re so brave! I could never do that!”

And there are a lot of ways that society enforces these beliefs. For example, certain employers will refuse to hire someone who is dressed completely clean and professional, and yet they have a tattoo of a flower on their arm. But these beliefs are man-made. They do not reflect any sacred truth, and the only thing they reflect is the way that we as a society see people who do not conform to what is deemed the ‘appropriate’ way to dress.

But restricting what a person can and can’t wear, bullying an overweight person until they feel ashamed to so much as wear a dress, is a strange and cruel thing for society to do. Because, really, what does a person’s style really do to offend those around them?

How do inoffensive tattoos get in the way of a person’s ability to do their job?

How does an older woman wearing black lipstick and a mini skirt affect your day?

Why would a cis-gendered man wearing a dress offend you?

And when you actually ask these questions to those who enforce these beliefs, often times they’ll come up with the same responses: because it looks silly. But why does it look silly? The only reason that I can think of is because we don’t see it very often. And the reason why we don’t see it very often is because society bullies people out of doing it – they tell them that if they do it, then they’re wrong, they’re ugly, they’re ridiculous, none of which is at all true.

There is nothing ugly about your body. Your body is a magnificent thing, whether it is overweight, wrinkled, disabled, tattooed, covered in stretch marks, or whatever the case may be. It is a human body, and it is capable of sustaining you, of bringing you through life. And of course it isn’t perfect – nobody’s body is, and neither should they be. They should be scarred and marked and calloused, because these are the things that life does to us. These are the signs that you have lived.

So whatever you want to wear, whether that be sweatpants or a small dress covered in Disney characters, please wear it! Some people might laugh and mock you, sure, but those people are wrong to do so. Those people are too stuck in the idea of what’s acceptable and what’s not that they haven’t bothered to ask themselves why they feel that way. And as far as the ways that society enforces these rules, the issue of employment and what not, there are always ways around it. Some employers might take issue, but others won’t. Others will look passed the things that you choose to decorate your beautiful body with and see you for what you truly are: a remarkable, open-minded person who can’t be defined as easily as society says you can.

‘Feminism’ and ‘Man-Hating’ Are Not The Same Thing

I have identified as a feminist for quite a while now, and especially recently, I’ve been very vocal about it. I don’t think there’s any shame is being vocal – in fact, I think it’s kind of important. After all, the only way to confront issues like rape culture, the objectification of women, and outdated gender roles is if we actually talk about them. But talking about feminism (and more than that, using the word ‘feminism’ unashamedly) has made me increasingly aware of another issue: the way in which feminism is frequently perceived as man-hating.

When I first started talking about feminism, I had heard women make comments such as “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men”, and so I knew about the association going in. But at the same time, I figured that very few people would associate me as a man-hater simply because I knew that I would be careful about the way that I talked. I would make sure that nothing that I said sounded hateful, and for two reasons: 1) because I don’t believe in fighting hate with hate, or think that I will be taken seriously if I do sound hateful, and 2) because I don’t hate men. I hate toxic masculinity, sure (more on that later), but men as a group are great, I’m not going to dismiss them all based solely on the fact that they associate themselves with a specific gender.

And yet, even while being careful about what I say, I’ve still gotten multiple responses that insinuate that all feminists (and me by extension) are man-haters. I’ve had people respond to a perfectly inclusive feminist discussion by saying, “you’re right; women are better”, when that wasn’t at all what I was trying to say. I’ve had people say, “it’s weird to hear you talk like that, because most feminists are man-haters”, when that isn’t my usual experience. And oddest of all, even when I’m not even talking about feminism at the time, I’ve had people make comments such as, “well, you know how Ciara feels about men”, as though they immediately assume that because I talk about feminism, I have negative feelings toward men.

And I don’t. I really don’t. In fact, part of identifying as an intersectional feminist means that I actively try to avoid having any negative feelings toward any group of people who just happened to be born a certain way.

So why is this such a common assumption that people make?

Well, it isn’t any secret that this idea of the man-hating feminist has become a common one in popular culture. We hear talk of ‘feminazies’, as though somewhere in the world, there are actually group of feminists that round men up and lock them away in concentration camps (just so this is clear, this has never happened in the history of the planet). We hear about bra-burning feminists who scream in people’s faces to get shit done, to turn the order of the world upside down so that women rule and men obey. But the odd thing about this imagine is that, as common as it is to come to people’s minds, it doesn’t at all reflect the reality of feminism and its goals.

Ask anyone who identifies as a feminist, and chances are they will tell you the same thing: feminism is not about giving women, as a group, a position of superiority over men, as a group. If anyone is clambering to turn men into slaves and dogs, they are extremists and do not reflect the views of the average feminist. By definition, feminism is about creating a society of equality, one where nobody is limited by their gender. A society where women can lead the country and where men can express emotion.

And that brings me to another point – feminism does not solely concern women. Feminism primarily concerns women, sure: if a completely feminist world is created, it is women who will see the biggest changes in their lives, but women will not see the only change. Many feminist issues involve men, and not just as the perpetrators. This is because feminism is not a battle between men and women – feminism is a battle between feminists (male and female alike) and the patriarchy.

For those of you who do not know what the patriarchy is, this is the name given to a very traditional set of societal rules that enforce the idea that men and everything associated with male-ness is superior to women and everything associated with them. And believe it or not, the patriarchy hurts men too. The patriarchy is what enforces the idea that men must be tough and unemotional. The patriarchy demands that men be providers for their family, that they make good money, protect their women from any threats, that they have women in the first place and they aren’t, in fact, gay. And the hard truth about many of these expectations is that they aren’t easy to live up to. Some men have a very difficult time providing for their families, and when they do, they confront a sense of failure, an inability to be ‘the man’. All men are born with emotions, but the patriarchy demands that they don’t express them, that they bury them deep down and bear that burden alone, resulting in a difficult time expressing themselves and inevitable feelings of loneliness. And because the patriarchy views men as tough, when they are the victims of rape or abuse, it isn’t rare for people to not believe them, simply because they’re men and should have been able to fight off their attacker, especially if their attacker was a (according to the patriarchy) weak and fragile woman.

The patriarchy also expresses an odd perspective when it comes to men and children, including their own. According to the patriarchy, men are not natural parents in the way that women are, and therefore, when they take care of their children they are ‘babysitting’. Women are considered the primary caregivers; men are merely helping out. This can be a problem for the woman, most certainly, but it is also a problem for the man who wants to be taken seriously as his child’s father.

Furthermore, the patriarchy is also responsible for what is called ‘toxic masculinity’ – a set of learned behaviours that society pushes on men specifically, but are ultimately harmful, both to the man displaying them and to others. An example of toxic masculinity would be a display of violence – an act that is very frequently done to prove a man’s toughness (or maleness), but can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Other examples of toxic masculinity would include misogyny, homophobia, and sexual assault.

But toxic masculinity is not something that is innate to the male gender as a whole, and it is not a set of behaviours displayed by every man. When I say that toxic masculinity is something that needs to end, I am not referring to men as a whole, nor to masculinity as a whole. All that I am saying is that we as a society need to stop teaching boys from such a young age that they need to turn to such extremes to prove their maleness, because doing so only hurts them and others in the long run.

And these are issues that feminism is trying to fight. Feminism wants men to be able to show emotion, to allow their wife to provide for them if that dynamic works better for them, to not feel any shame if they don’t quite live up to what society demands that they be. Feminism is about equality, and that equality includes men.

Feminism is not an exclusive club either; men can identify as feminists just as much as women can. In fact, many male celebrities have stood up for feminism in the media, including Patrick Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Daniel Radcliffe. Even the Dalai Lama has outright referred to himself as a feminist. These are not men who are actively fighting against their own interests; they are men who believe in equality. Equality for the women in their lives to have command over their own bodies and to pursue whatever they want in life, as well as equality for men to have emotion and be taken seriously as their child’s parent.

The Sexist Writing of Poison Ivy on Gotham

Poison Ivy has always been one of my favourite characters in the Batman universe.

In a lot of ways, she is everything that the patriarchy demands a woman shouldn’t be – intelligent, independent, in charge of her own sexuality while simultaneously lacking any real interest in men. She can be written very, very badly, of course, but she can also be written very interestingly, as a woman who defies categorization and who demands to be her own woman.

Poison Ivy is also a very interesting example of a sympathetic villain, because while she does kill often and unapologetically, she does so because of a traumatic event that changed her forever. For those of you unaware of her backstory, Poison Ivy was held hostage by her trusted friend and employer, who then proceeded to experiment on her and biologically alter her, turning her into something that is more plant than human. Afterwards, Poison Ivy has a very difficult time relating to other human beings and grows to hate them because of what they do to what is now her own kind – plants. She vows to protect the earth from man kind, and she does so, frequently, by killing them. In her story, it is very easy to see her as a victim, someone who is coming to terms with a violent attack but doing so poorly. And although her attack was not a literal rape, there are many elements in it that resemble one – the fact that it was done to her by a close friend but also someone in a position of power over her, the way that it left her feeling changed afterwards, and if one thinks about her in this way, it might explain why her hatred towards mankind seems to have a special emphasis on the word ‘man’.

The reason why I explain this is just to set up the character that I am discussing here, as well as part of the reason why I love her so much, and why it was such a disappointment to see the FOX series Gotham butcher her so terribly.

And I’m not even talking about a mere poor writing of her character – I’ve seen that before, and as much as I don’t like it, neither am I going to dwell on it all that much. I’m talking about a television show that takes a character who can be interpreted in very interesting but highly gendered ways and reduces her to walking boobs without even the semblance of a brain.

And where am I going to start with this? How about I start at the very moment where she became an active character on the show.

For those of you who have not watched Gotham, what I am about to explain might sound somewhat strange, but this is the backstory that she is given on the show. When Ivy is first introduced, she is a child – around fifteen years old. She hangs around on the show for a while, never really placed in the foreground until about season three, when Ivy is grabbed by a man who has the ability to increase a person’s age by touching them. The next time that we see her, she is played by twenty-nine year old actress Maggie Geha. So why did the show decide to age her up by about fourteen years? Because they wanted to sex her up, of course! According to Gotham executive producer Ken Woodruff in his interview with the Hollywood Report, the writers wanted to explore Ivy’s sexuality, something that has always been an aspect of her character, and they didn’t feel comfortable exploring the sexuality of a child.

And on the surface, this seems like a reasonable idea: it is uncomfortable to sexualize a child. Except for one thing: Gotham is about the characters of the Batman universe growing into their adult personas. It is a sort of coming of age story on one level, about Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, and Pamela Isley (or, in this case, Ivy Pepper) growing up to become Batman, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy. And as uncomfortable as this is going to make the parents of many teenagers, I have something to point out: fifteen year olds have sexuality, they are just learning about what that means and how they can explore it. To turn Ivy into an adult with her sexuality fully formed seems less like the show wants to explore how she grows into her sexuality and more like they want the men in the audience to drool over her. Imagine how different the show could have been if they instead decided to focus on a fifteen year old Ivy learning about the power in her sexuality, exploring that and what it means. It would have been less about how sexy she is and more about her learning to take charge of her body. Or, in other words, it would have been less about her as an object that men want to fuck and more about her taking charge of her own body and her own sexual power.

But Gotham is not interested in Ivy as a human being. They do not want to give her any real power. They just want to make her as sexy to the audience as possible, and a fifteen year old isn’t sexy.

And if you want more proof that Gotham doesn’t care about Ivy as a person, let’s look at the way that they characterize her after she becomes a foregrounded character on the show. Remember how I described her earlier – as an intelligent, independent woman with a hatred for all things male? Well, after Ivy becomes an adult and a walking set of boobs, she is then nonsensically made to take care of an injured Penguin (who openly and verbally abuses her constantly), and her defining characteristic seems to be how stupid she is. She is constantly bumbling idiotically into mistakes, not even realizing when she’s being manipulated by others. Now, I can forget the fact that Poison Ivy in the comics is a botanist with a PhD, because I know that she isn’t (yet) in the Gotham universe, but one of her defining characteristics in every previous adaption is the fact that she is manipulative. She knows how to get into people’s heads, and yes, part of that is because she employs the use of pheromones, but nonetheless, she is consistently smooth and seductive and charming. How is she supposed to do all of that if she doesn’t even have the wherewithal to know when someone is very blatantly lying to her?

Although I have no confirmation on this, my theory for this characterization of Ivy is very similar to the confirmed reason for why she was aged up: because the show only sees her as a sexual object. From the comics, they saw a character who was very open about her sexuality and they interpreted that character as stupid, as a doormat that can be easily abused and taken advantage of, when that is the furthest thing from true. Poison Ivy is a strong, independent woman. She is the woman who encourages Harley Quinn again and again to leave the Joker because he isn’t good for her, and yet here she is, allowing Penguin to yell at her and call her stupid. This isn’t just a case of the writers not understanding the character – this is a case of the writers taking a sexist and objectifying stance on a character who is so much more than the tits they reduced her to.

Why I Cut My Hair

Women tend to have a strange relationship with their hair.

We’ve all heard the jokes about women going into the hairdresser’s and asking for a trim, and then being horrified when a bit more is cut off than they intended. And as much as it is a joke, it is also a sign of the strong attachment that women have to their long locks.

And trust me, I’ve been there – I get the fear that comes with having long hair. The conviction that your long hair is somehow tied in with your beauty. The belief that cutting it just a little too much will change everything about your appearance because hair can effect everything about your face. I remember feeling that way, back before I cut my hair short.

Perhaps the reason that so many women experience this attachment to their hair is because society itself tends to have a strange relationship with their hair. The majority of beautiful women that you see in the media, from fictional characters to actresses to singers, have long, beautiful locks. There are many men who are rather vocal about their opinion that they “like women with long hair” or think that “women with long hair are more beautiful.” Even from an early age, any girl growing up watching Disney princess movies will see that not only do ten out of eleven official princesses have long hair, but their hair is a focal point, something that symbolizes their personality and what they are going through. Pocahontas is seen with her beautiful, long black hair flowing gracefully around her face. Ariel’s vibrant red hair makes her different and more eye-catching than any other women in her movie; it sets her apart from her seven sisters. And when Mulan cuts her hair, it is only so that she can pass as a man.

A woman’s long hair is connected to her femininity and her beauty, and it is through this message that women are dissuaded from cutting their hair, resulting in this aforementioned strange relationship that women have with their hair. Meanwhile, short hair is connected to masculinity and mental breakdowns – for example, the way in which the media responded to Britney Spears shaving off her long, blonde, beautiful hair.

But personally speaking, although I experienced this attachment to my hair, I also sort of coveted short hair from a young age. I remember reading a series of teen books when I was young that had on its cover a woman with a bright green pixie cut, and I decided that I wanted to look like her when I grew up. I loved Sinead O’Connor’s shaved head, P!nk’s blonde faux hawk. The only thing that kept me from pursuing this look was society’s claim that I needed long hair to be pretty and feminine.

And then, when I was eighteen years old, after I graduated high school and left town to begin university in the city, I decided to chop my locks.

It was a decision that I made to reflect the change in my life, but cutting my hair became sort of an addiction over time. I started with a bob, but I moved through pixie cuts, faux hawks, Mohawks, shaved sides. I discovered that I looked good with short hair and I wanted to try it all out, to see if what all I could get away with. For the most part, the responses that I got were all positive as well. Some people didn’t like my hair, telling me that it really changed my whole appearance and made me look less soft, less beautiful, but they were a vast minority. Now, it isn’t rare for people to even stop me in the street or at the mall to tell me that they love my hair – and I do too. I was never very good at styling my hair when it was long, but now I need to put in half the effort to make it look twice as good.

And it seems that, ever since I cut my hair, more and more women in the media have been doing it too. When I was growing up, my inspirations were reduced primarily to the ones I have already named, but since then, we have seen Katy Perry cut her hair, Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Ruby Rose, etc., etc. Long hair is no longer the only option for looking beautiful, and people are beginning to realize that.

But although I initially cut my hair because I thought it looked beautiful, there was something else about it that I didn’t quite expect but discovered fairly quickly; just how freeing it feels.

When you have short hair, it isn’t because you’re trying to conform to any beauty standard. You don’t even have it because you care if other people think you’re pretty. You have short hair because you want short hair, because you like it. Short hair is about you, not anyone else.

And to return to my discussion of Disney princesses and how they represent short hair, there is actually one princess who accurately represents what short hair is like: Rapunzel. Throughout the whole film, her hair is long because someone else covets it, because someone else wants her hair to be long. Near the end of the film, however, her hair is cut, and through the action, she is freed from the oppressive influence of that person in her life. She no longer needs to live for them; she can be free, make decisions for herself, do what she wishes. And maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that cutting your hair makes you any freer than a woman who keeps her long hair (and nor am I trying to say that any woman who has long hair is at all a prisoner), but it does represent how short hair can make you feel.

Short hair is fun. Short hair is free. And short hair does not at all make you any less beautiful or feminine.

Thoughts on Regret

Regret is a pervasive and terrifying thing.

The idea that you can look back on your life, on decisions that you made at the time, and come to the conclusion that you made the wrong decision. That the path you chose is thin and winding and leads nowhere, and there’s no way to get to the path that you wish you had taken now. Because now that you are on this path, now that you realize that it is impossible to turn around and walk back, now you know that that other path was a much better path to take.

I know many people who have felt this way. I know many people who have gotten lost to this feeling, have become bitter and depressed because of it. And for a brief time, even I found this feeling creeping up on me.

I regretted the fact that I allowed my depression to cripple me for a year.

I regretted the school that I had chosen upon going into post-secondary.

I regretted things that I couldn’t possibly have changed or even chosen, things that I was born into. Things that simply were. Things that I could only curse fate or the universe of God or whatever you believe in for, because only that could have been responsible for it.

And you know what I began to realize? There’s absolutely no good to be found in regret.

Once you start down a path, you can’t turn around and change your mind, that’s true. You can only move forward, not back, and it’s important for you to keep that in mind – and one of the reasons why it is so important is because you can still move forward. You don’t have to stay on the path you are on. Just because you have started on it, it doesn’t mean you have to continue. You can change your mind, you can start on a new path, you can cut across and cheat your way onto a new road. Your past is set in stone, but your future is free. Your future is something that you still can change.

And often times, we make the decisions that we do for a reason, and it’s too easy to forget that reason when we have grown and learned new things. At one time, I regretted allowing myself to be crippled by depression, but I forget that I was crippled by it because I was deeply, intensely depressed, and I didn’t understand that at the time. I understand that now. I know how to cope with that now. But I didn’t at the time, and that’s why I made the choice that I did. It’s important for us to remember that, because it makes it easier to forgive ourselves for the decisions that we made in the past.

More than that, we should never regret the bad times because, often times, the bad times need to happen. Nobody’s life is constantly perfect – we all need to experience pain because we learn from pain. From pain, we are given the opportunity to find our strength. The bad times teach us lessons which we can then take with us into the good times, which we can then use to teach others. Maybe I did lose a year of my life to depression, but when I hear someone else voicing the same thoughts that tormented me during those years, I know what they are going through and I can try to help them. So why would I regret any of it?

Regret can be a very harmful thing. It can become something that overwhelms us, that depresses us, but it can also be a good sign. We regret things when we realize that we now know more than we did then, and that if we were to make the same decision now, we would have chosen differently. Regret is a sign of growth. So do not linger in your regret. Be proud of the fact that you have grown, and take that growth into the future with you. After all, the future is the only place where you can take it now.