We Need to Change the Way That We Think About ‘Pretty’

When I was ten years old, I started wearing make-up.

It wasn’t good make-up, but it was make-up. It was a heavy smudge of black eyeliner, as though two big, bad raccoons walked up and punched me in both eyes. I liked it. It didn’t make me feel pretty, but it made me feel badass, like a punk rock rebel chick, and that was the look I was going for. I wanted to be Joan Jett before I was even old enough to know who Joan Jett was. I wanted to stand out of the crowd, to look unique. And as I got older, I discovered that there was more to make-up than just looking ‘unique’, and I learned about it as an art form. I started modelling myself after the beautiful girls I knew, who stood apart from the crowd, who looked like ethereal goddesses sent down from heaven to brighten our days with their presence. I asked them to teach me their tricks, and I learned them adequately.

People would say to me, “you know, you’d look prettier if you wore a bit less make-up. Boys don’t like girls with a whole lot of make-up”, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t spending my money and time on make-up for anyone but myself.

When I was nineteen years old, I started my collection of tattoos.

It was something that I had always wanted to do, ever since I was little, when I saw my mother get her first tattoo. She came home with a fairy on her lower back, and I thought it was the most exquisite thing I had ever seen. A form of art that could be carried with you forever. I saw people with tattoos and I loved them, because it was a piece of their story that you could read by sight. One look, and you knew that butterflies or bible passages or the infinity symbol meant something to them. Maybe it meant that they got drunk with their friends one night and accidentally agreed to regret something later, but still – it was a part of them. A piece of their personality that couldn’t be erased.

People would say to me, “you know, girls don’t need to get tattoos. It isn’t a very pretty or feminine thing to do”, but I didn’t care. It was a part of me, and the way I saw it, anyone who truly loved me would accept that part as well.

When I was twenty-three, I shaved my head bald.

And, okay, maybe I came to regret that decision. What can I say, I like my hair, and I like all the funky colours that I can dye it: pink, red, orange, puce, chartreuse, whatever. But end of day, I wanted to try it. I was curious to see what it was like. I was curious to see what would change if I stopped depending on my hair to be there, if I would feel more or less beautiful because of it. And the truth was, no, I didn’t feel less beautiful, I just felt less personally comfortable, and that’s okay. There are a lot of women who are jaw-dropping with a shaved head, and I wanted to see if I could be among them for a moment. And now that that moment has passed, I will join the women who are jaw-dropping with hair.

People would say to me, “you know, men prefer women with long hair”, but that really had no bearing on my decision either way. I don’t design my life and my style choices around what men want, because that would be a thankless way to live.

I never wanted to be pretty. I wanted to be me. I wanted to express myself and the way that I felt, and maybe that wasn’t always pretty, but it was always beautiful. In it’s own way. I believe that, whenever a person is truly being themselves, regardless of what that means, it is beautiful.

Because ‘pretty’ is accepted, but ‘beautiful’ is something more. Beautiful is an artist caught up in their work. Beautiful is smile lines and stretch marks and the scars that built who you are. Beautiful is unique to every person, because what makes them beautiful is what makes them them.

Beauty lives in tears and in blatant shows of affection. Beauty is honest and raw and real, and you just can’t capture it by trying to be what people want you to be. That is, unless you just happen to be one of those very rare individuals who happen to be everything that people want you to be – but I haven’t met many of those people.

We so frequently tell people what they can and can’t do to be considered ‘pretty’. We tell women what to do so that “men will like them”. We police their actions, their clothes, their make-up, their grooming habits, their food, their exercise. We give them no chance for unique choice, because we stuff their heads with what they ‘should be’. And we internalize these ideas so often; even if you know that there’s nothing wrong with being a little on the heavy side, how often do you look in the mirror and criticize yourself for being fat?

We all want to fit in. We all want to be pretty, but we strive for that at the sacrifice of our individual beauty.

So change the way that you think about pretty. Ask yourself what your individual beauty looks like, and indulge in it. Stop denying yourself. Stop shaming yourself. Stop worrying about whether or not you’ll fit in, because you will. It’s impossible to live up to mainstream expectations, but if you’re fully and completely yourself, then you will attract others who share and respect your beauty. You will give others permission to find their own beauty, to become their authentic selves. People will see you, being who you are, and they will know that they are alright, just as they are. They will know that there is nothing wrong with being true to themselves.

You can set the world free, in your own small way, by being yourself.

 

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Why It Is Important to Talk When You Aren’t Okay

As human beings, we are not always okay.

We are not consistently positive, every single moment of every day. We are not always right. We are not always kind. We have moments where we feel broken and discouraged and hopeless and cruel.

And I’m going to tell you a secret: you don’t always have to be okay.

This should not be a secret. Because I think we have all generally accepted this idea that people are not perfect. We say, “to err is human”, and we expect that everyone will, at some point in their lives, make a mistake, or get hurt, or be down and depressed and lost. And yet, despite all this, we still make an attempt to hide it. We still think that we will be judged for being flawed – or, alternatively, we are judged for being flawed.

It has been a long time since I tried to hide the fact that I wasn’t okay. I’ve worn my status of ‘not okay’ quite proudly for a while now – speaking up about my experience with depression and anxiety, my struggle with toxic people in my life, as well as the simple daily struggles that I think all of us go through. My experience is not a particularly unique one – I think that many of us deal with these issues, if not all of us, at one point or another. And yet, despite this, I have been described by people – both personally and online – as “really messed up” or “seriously ill”, not because of the things that I have gone through, but because I chose to speak up about them. I never tried to hide the fact that I wasn’t okay at certain times in my life, and for some people, this was unacceptable – a sign of weakness.

What these people didn’t see was just how therapeutic this was for me. Speaking up allowed me the chance to see that I wasn’t alone. That other people experienced the same thoughts and feelings and issues that I was experiencing. Some of these people went public, like I did – expressing these issues loud and proud for all to see, while others simply whispered it to me behind closed doors. And either way, I am grateful for them – because they helped me. They relieved my guilt, my fear, my need to repress. They freed me. Because all of a sudden, I wasn’t only speaking for me – I was speaking for us.

And, on the other hand, I have known many people who tried to fit into a certain image of flawless. I think many of us know these people as well – the hyper-yogis and gurus who never have a negative thing to say. Their social media platforms are full of inspiration and positive thinking and little more. And while inspiration is great – necessary, even, there is such a thing as going too far in this direction.

Because when these flawless people do, inevitably, show a flaw, they cannot accept this. They cannot hear it. They must blame everyone else for their flaw, or deny that it is a flaw, or push it deep down, never to see the light of day, never to be worked on and fixed and improved upon.

And often times, these flawless people are so insecure, so afraid, so depressed, and never allowed to acknowledge the source of this, because they do not allow themselves to talk about it. They are too afraid that they will be judged, or looked down upon. They are so frequently told that they will not be strong, or admirable, or acceptable, if they are suffering. And we are all suffering, at one time or another.

Ultimately, you do more harm to yourself and to those around you when you do not allow yourself to discuss the fact that you might not always be okay.

End of day, life is not about being perfect. Life is about growth. And you achieve this growth by confronting your pain, rather than pushing it down and ignoring it. Now, the way that you confront this pain can take many forms – whether you speak out about it openly, or with a trusted friend, or a therapist, or your personal diary, whatever the case may be. But regardless of the way that you choose to speak, there is nothing wrong with it. There should be no shame in the methods that you choose to better yourself, and there should be no cause for judgement either.

So if anyone makes you feel ‘lesser than’ because you choose to speak out about your problems, please keep in mind that that reveals more about them than it does about you. You are not ‘messed up’ or wrong – you are dealing with the natural problems that many of us deal with, and you are dealing with it in the way that works for you. Meanwhile, they will not allow themselves the same luxury. They are still caught up in this myth of perfection, or flawlessness, that none of us are truly capable of.

And if you are someone who will not allow yourself to speak out, then allow me to say this: I understand that it can be frightening. It might seem weird, and you might think that you will be judged, and maybe you will, but more than that, you will be received with love. You will find kindred spirits, so much more personal to you than they would otherwise be, because they understand what you have been through. They understand the workings of your mind.

And you can start slow, if you want to. Start by simply saying it to yourself. You can move on to speaking out when you feel more comfortable. But end of day, you need to speak out. You need to do it for yourself, and for the kindred spirits who feel silenced, alone, and frightened.

What is Beauty?

“Women and girls need to be beautiful to be accepted.”

The problem with this statement should be obvious: the person making it is narrow-minded. This person comes to the table with a limited understanding of what beauty is, because beauty can be a lot of things.

This person thinks of beauty as being a body size, but the truth is that beauty is every body size. Beauty comes in sizes small, medium, and large. Beauty comes in the form of stretch marks and cellulite and body hair. Beauty is a woman who has recently given birth, and is regularly told that she needs to ‘get her body back’ (as though her body somehow left her when she used it to create a human being). Beauty is a woman who lifts weights, or does yoga, or is too busy to bother with any of it.

This person thinks of beauty as a race, or a religion, but beauty is too versatile for all that. Beauty comes in all colours. Beauty is monolid eyes, and dark skin, and natural hair. Beauty is a woman who proudly chooses to wear a hijab.

Beauty comes in all genders. Beauty is a cis-woman, sure, but beauty is so much more than that. Beauty is a cis-man, who has never been made to feel beautiful before, and who so desperately wants to. Beauty is a trans-person who ‘passes’ well as a cis-person, and beauty is a trans-person who doesn’t, and who might never, and that’s so much more than okay. Beauty is a non-binary person. Beauty is a gender queer person who only wants to feel beautiful some of the time.

Beauty is ageless. Beauty does not fade with time, and it does not lessen with wrinkles.

This person thinks of beauty as an edited cover girl, but beauty is often unedited. Beauty is that person with the confidence it takes to act crazy – loudly and in public. Beauty is your girlfriend, late at night, with her make-up smeared and her voice slow and tired, dressed in what makes her comfortable. Beauty is your friend, who is just so incredibly happy with where they are in life that you can see it in their eyes, in their smile, in the way that they present themselves.

“Women and girls need to be told that they don’t need to be beautiful.”

The problem with this statement is smaller: quite simply, people cannot escape from being beautiful. We are all beautiful.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it” – Confucius

Women and girls need to be told that they can be more than society’s narrow definition of beauty. Everyone needs to be told that they can be more than society’s narrow definition of beauty. Because beauty is natural, and beauty is everywhere, but society has decided to own beauty, to redefine it for itself, and society has done this poorly. Society has done this in a way that does not serve us. And, worse, we have let society do this to us. We have made it so easy for ourselves to miss the natural beauty in our own bodies, and in the bodies of others. We have told ourselves and others that they are ugly, when the truth is, they are simply left out of society’s definition.

And many of us know this. We know this. But believing it is another matter. Bringing ourselves to a place where we no longer punish ourselves for the way we look is complicated. Even if beauty comes in all sizes, we still call ourselves fat when we look in the mirror.

But look for the beauty. If not in ourselves, at least in others. In the world around us. In places you might not expect. Because that beauty is so exquisite, and we deserve to experience it. We miss out on so much when we’re so singularly attached to what society tells us to appreciate.

Don’t Get Comfortable

Don’t get comfortable.

You’re going to want to do it. Throughout your life, you are going to find people, places, and things that are going to make you feel safe. You’re going to want to hold onto them, to keep them near even when you’re starting to get bored and tired. Because even if they’re predictable, at least they’re comfortable. At least you know it all, inside and out.

But you can’t get comfortable.

If there is one absolute in this world, it is that things change. Things change all the time. People change. Circumstances change. You change. And if you aren’t prepared for that, then things are still going to change – they’re just going to rip the rug out from underneath you and leave you reeling. They’re going to make you feel lost and confused. You might know that one thing really well, but if you haven’t weighed your options and kept your mind open, then that is the only thing you know.

If you are not prepared for change, if you resist change, then you lose out on your opportunity to grow from that change. You are so preoccupied with holding onto that safe, easy past that you forget to notice the doors that this change might be opening for you. Nothing is forever, and you need to move on, but you won’t move on if you don’t allow yourself to. If you’re too comfortable in what you have today.

So don’t get comfortable.

Don’t take the good things that you might have today for granted. Remember that you will eventually lose them, and it isn’t a matter of if, but of when. Remember that, and let it happen when it does. Mourn its loss if you have to, and then find out what’s before you. Don’t get comfortable doesn’t necessarily mean don’t love; it just means that you need to appreciate that person, place, or thing in exactly the way that it deserves to be loved.

Don’t get comfortable. Sooner or later, life will reach right for you and drag you out of your comfort zone. It’s going to happen, whether you agree to go easily, or try to fight it tooth and nail. The only difference that the latter option will make, is that that transition will become so much harder for you.

The Problem With Focusing Solely on the Men Who Might Be Falsely Accused

I am aware that the issue of sexual assault and harassment is still being discussed to some degree.

It’s still a hot-button issue within feminist circles, and the Time’s Up movement was still present at the 2018 Oscars (although it’s worth noting that Ava DuVernay, one of the leaders of Time’s Up, told the press that they would be “standing down” on the red carpet so as to not “overshadow the main event”).

And maybe it’s just my personal experience, but from the conversations that I have had lately, between people at work, people in my personal life, people on social media, it really feels as though the general public has decided to drop what was so recently a greatly-discussed issue.

And why? Sexual assault and harassment hasn’t gone away. We haven’t fixed the problem in the few weeks that #metoo was trending. One in four North American women will still be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, including 56 percent of Native American and Alaskan Native women, 44 percent of lesbians, 47 percent of transgender women, and 61 percent of bisexual women. And if you want to ignore statistics, then at the very least, the amount of women who wrote ‘me too’ on social media when the movement first began should be staggering.

So, if we’re abandoning the #metoo movement, then there has to be a good reason, doesn’t there? It can’t simply be because we as a society don’t see sexual assault and harassment as that big of an issue, right?

And before I get too much farther into this, I want to make this clear: men are raped too. In fact, men account for one out of every ten rape survivors. However, I want to focus on women as the survivors and men as the assaulters in this article for two reasons: first of all, it is the most common narrative in our society, and secondly, it is the narrative that many people are speaking to when they dismiss the #metoo movement. Moreover, I will be discussing the role of women’s voices here, which does change the issue a little bit. Cases of male rape often feature very unique issues that differentiate them from cases of female rape, and if you want to learn more about these issues, I recommend checking out this article here. But, for now, let’s move on.

The main reason that I have heard cited, from both men and women, for why #metoo is harmful is a very male-centric reason: it is because we as a society are concerned about the men who might be falsely accused. Which is a possibility: unfortunately, there is always a possibility for error, in everything. That’s just the way the world works. We cannot count on every single person to be totally honest and accountable at every single moment.

Now, that being said, sexual assault and harassment seems to be the only issue wherein this argument is even remotely entertained.

False accusations are possible when it comes to any crime. In fact, they’re just as likely – if not more likely. It is difficult to state the exact statistic of false accusations, because this is not an issue that is always caught in the legal system, but it is estimated that false accusations of sexual assault rests somewhere between 2 and 6 percent, whereas false convictions of all crimes – including murder, burglary, and drug possession – rests somewhere around 4.1 percent. We know this. Heck, roughly three years ago, all of our social media platforms exploded over the Netflix show “Making a Murderer”, wherein we saw how easy it would be for a potentially innocent man to be convicted for murder. And yet, despite this, we do not see hordes of people saying that we should not seek justice for murder cases, because someone might be falsely accused.

Perhaps this is because we know that murder is a serious offence, and that in those cases where innocent people are punished, they are unfortunate side effects of an imperfect system that needs to be in place anyway. We do not have the same beliefs when it comes to sexual assault and harassment.

The fact of the matter is, men are falsely accused much less frequently than women are actually assaulted. The latter is a much more prevalent problem, and it’s the problem that we are not doing anything about.

Because, more than mere numbers – men who are falsely accused are much more protected, even now, than women who are actually assaulted. If a woman reports a rape, then the man has a 57 out of 1000 chance of being arrested. From there, he has an 11 out of 1000 chance of getting referred to a prosecutor, a 7 out of 1000 chance of conviction, and a 6 out of 1000 chance of actually going to jail. Sure, it might change the way that (some) people see him, and it might put a hold on his career, but if Donald Trump, Woody Allen, and Ryan Seacrest have proven anything, it’s that you can still have a long and successful career even despite sexual assault accusations.

In other words, a woman has a much higher chance of being raped, than a rapist has of being prosecuted.

We have effectively normalized sexual assault and harassment, and we have learned methods of shutting women down when they want to talk about it. I think we’re all familiar with the typical methods – the old “well, what were you wearing?” “what were you drinking?” “are you sure you didn’t lead him on or anything?” Telling women to think of the poor men who might be falsely accused feels very similar to me. Because, yes, men might be falsely accused – especially if we someday build up a culture where women are not shamed for speaking out (but, trust me, that day is far from today).

And the thing is, right now, at this very moment, women are being assaulted and harassed. Not might – are. And we have to decide how much that matters to us. We have to decide who is more worthy of protecting – a small handful of men, or every single woman in our society.

Yes, it is a shame that some innocent men might be falsely accused of a crime that they did not commit. But we are currently privileging that shame over the very real experience of women who never receive justice, and are in fact shamed and re-victimized by the legal system and their community. When we tell women to be silent, it is much more likely that the people we are protecting are the actual rapists and predators. And, personally, that is a community that I am tired of protecting.