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.


What It Takes To Be A Great Artist

An artist is an interesting breed of person.

An artist needs to be confident. As in, it’s a requirement for the job.

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be convinced that you have something important to add to the world. Whether that be some sort of message, some sort of insight, some sort of style. Maybe it’s something that existed before, but the world hasn’t seen it done by you yet. You need to be convinced that that matters. That somewhere out there, someone is going to be affected by what you do.

And you need to be convinced of this, because how can you be an artist if you aren’t? How can you stand by your work and assert that it needs to be seen if you don’t think anyone needs to see it?

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be so confident that you can withstand being told that you’re awful. You need to accept that you will be publicly ripped to pieces, that anyone, at any moment, can look at the thing that means the most to you in the entire world, and they might say that it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen. You’re going to have to accept that you’re going to receive criticism, and so much criticism that it almost sounds like they’re telling you to stop doing what you’re doing, even if the words never legitimately leave their lips. And you need to be prepared to hear all of this, and still keep doing what you’re doing. You need to hear all of this, and you need to remain firm in your belief that you still have something important to say, that this is still something that you need to do.

And I mean it when I say that: need to do. Not want. Want isn’t strong enough, if you’re going to be an artist. Nobody endures this for a simple want.

Because, if you’re going to be an artist, then you can’t just be confident. You need to be humble as well.

Because you can withstand all the criticism that you need. You can laugh it off, let it roll off your back like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. But that won’t help you improve. And you can only go so far without improving.

The greatest artists listen to the criticism that they receive, and they think about it. They accept that there might be some truth in it. Because the greatest artists accept that, while they have something important to say, they are not perfect. And they never will be perfect. The greatest artists are human, and they know that they will always have room to grow and improve and create.

And maybe they don’t take every criticism to heart. They just think about it. Consider it. Decide if they agree with it, and if they do, then they apply it to their work. And this, ideally, will make their work better.

An artist’s growth comes from their ability to apply criticism. An artist’s longevity comes from their ability to insist on their importance. And, overall, an artist’s very existence is dependant on a balance between these two.

But the problem with being dependant on these two opposing forces is that they will battle one another, and sometimes in the most inconvenient ways.

Sometimes, your confidence might overpower, and you will refuse to listen to anyone’s advice. Anyone who tries to tell you what to do will immediately be dismissed as stupid, or wrong. And that’s okay – just as long as you remember, at the end of the day, that other people might have valid points as well.

Sometimes, your humbleness might overpower to the point that it becomes self-consciousness, and you internalize all of the criticisms that you have heard. You find yourself thinking them as your own thoughts – you wonder if you actually do have anything worthwhile to say. You wonder if there’s any point to trying. You wonder if you should stop.

Trust me, this has happened to me many, many times over. And when it does, I always return to that idea of need. This is what I need to do, I can’t give up. If I did, who would I be?

This is the thought that keeps pushing me through the moments of self-consciousness, just long enough for me to become convinced again that I have something important to say.

These things come in waves, you see? Sometimes one thought. Sometimes the other. Sometimes, perfect balance. And different artists will experience these thoughts in different ways, in different amounts. And that’s okay. So long as you insist on maintaining both. Because it’s in that place of balance that a great artist can be borne.

Is the #MeToo Movement Leading to Vigilante Justice?

Canadian author Margaret Atwood, best known for her novel the Handmaid’s Tale, has recently gotten herself in trouble for comments that she made opposing the #metoo movement.

Primarily, Atwood’s concerns focused on where the #metoo movement is going, and how the accused will be treated by the general public. She cites a recent incident, involving professor and fellow author Steve Galloway, as a reason for her concern.

In 2015, Galloway was accused bullying and sexual harassment. This prompted members of the Canadian literary community, including Margaret Atwood, to stand behind him in support. Many then retracted this support, however, when further allegations came out – including bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. Galloway was dismissed from the University of British Columbia, where he taught, but is facing no criminal charges.

Margaret Atwood claims that Galloway’s dismissal was unfair, and she fears that the #metoo movement will lead to vigilante justice.

Galloway, however, is not the only man to be dismissed from his job due to claims of sexual assault. In the media, we have seen this happen time and time again. Harvey Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company following allegations of sexual assault. Kevin Spacey was fired from television series House of Cards following similar allegations, and Louis C.K. was fired from Secret Life of Pets 2. So is this also unfair? Is this also an example of vigilante justice?

There have been some who would say so; who would say that, yes, these are bad men, but they are good at their job. They are talented artists (or, in Galloway’s case, professors), and they should be allowed to continue doing their jobs.

I disagree.

In Weinstein’s case, I feel the reason why he should be let go is fairly obvious; Weinstein’s job put him in a position of power, and a sexual predator can and will abuse that power – as Weinstein did again and again. His job is directly connected to his being a sexual predator – he wasn’t the right one for the role. He wasn’t the sort of person who would do that job without abusing it. He was, quite frankly, bad at his job.

And in the case of Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey, who were similarly put in a place of power and adoration and then abused that power, they are both part of industries that have no shortage of competition. There are hundreds of talented comedians and actors in this world who deserve their shot at the job – comedians and actors who don’t happen to be sexual predators.

But let’s talk about Galloway for a moment, because the thing that I find interesting about this particular story is that this is a profession that isn’t part of the media. This is a more everyday profession, and while Galloway most certainly does have a system of support and adoring fans, this is to a lesser extent than what a Hollywood celebrity has. This is moving more into the mundane.

And was Galloway’s dismissal from his job unfair? Was this an instance of vigilante justice?

Well, quite frankly, no. I don’t think it is. I think that, if a person is poorly qualified for their job, then they should not have their job. And a bullying sexual predator is not the right candidate for a professor.

There is another story that came out of Canada recently, this one focusing on George Brown college in Toronto, where several former students of the acting program have come forward to discuss suffering abuse, humiliation, and harassment from the faculty of the school. These are people who wanted nothing more than to pursue their dreams, to become qualified in the job that they so desperately wanted, and instead, they were belittled, picked apart, and abused to such an extent that it affected both their mental and physical health – and all of this was caused by the very people who were supposed to help them. This was caused by their professors.

Professors have a huge task to fulfill – as all teachers do. Professors are there to teach people. They are in control of their students’ grades and education and, yes, even their lives, to a certain extent. A bad professor can very easily hurt a person’s chance at getting the job that they are working so hard to get, or they can kill a person’s self-esteem and motivation.

And, yes, Galloway’s first victim to break her silence was, in fact, a former student.

But what about the fact that Galloway faced no criminal charges? Is he being punished for a crime that the law hasn’t recognized that he committed? Well, this is where the argument gets complicated.

Just because Galloway hasn’t been charged with anything, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t guilty. Out of every 1000 rape cases, after all, only 7 will lead to a felony conviction, and this is not because the majority of allegations are false. It is estimated that somewhere between 2% and 6% of allegations are false. So, yes, that does mean that the majority of sexual predators will go without any legal punishment for their crime.

Does that mean that we should turn to vigilante justice to fix this problem? No, that isn’t what I am trying to say here (although we do desperately need to fix a legal system that allows the vast majority of sexual predators to walk free and go unpunished). What I am trying to say is that the University of British Columbia is under no obligation to keep a man under their employ when all evidence points to the fact that he is not good at his job and should not be allowed to keep it – especially not when allowing him to keep his job would send a message to his victims that what he did to them was okay. And sexual assault is already a rampant problem in colleges and universities.

So, no, from what I have observed thus far, the #metoo movement is not leading toward vigilante justice. What the #metoo movement is creating is a society where sexual assault and sexual harassment is taken more seriously and discussed more prominently. There was once a time when a man like Galloway might have been allowed to keep his job, and continue to harass, assault, and bully students that are simply seeking an education. But times are changing, and we are no longer willing to accept these things. We are creating a world where a woman might be allowed to seek an education without fear of being treated differently or unfairly by her teacher.

And, hopefully, this influence can continue to spread to all industries.

Why I Wear Make-Up Every Day

We as a society have a lot of different ideas when it comes to women and make-up.

“Men don’t like a lot of make-up, you know.”

Cool. If that’s the case, I recommend that they stick to a bit of light foundation, maybe some mascara.

Oh, wait, you mean, they don’t like a lot of make-up on me. Well, who cares? I’m not wearing make-up to impress men. I haven’t done anything with the express intention of impressing men en masse for as long as I can remember.

I first started wearing make-up when I was about ten years old, and I started to find an interest in the more alternative, punk, goth, or “emo” scene. I cut all my hair off, dyed what was left dark, and started wearing some serious Pete Wentz-style eyeliner. It… wasn’t a good look. For anyone.

But my mom, who was a casual make-up artist, was delighted to see me take an interest in make-up, even if it was a rudimentary interest. She encouraged me to try out different looks, different styles, and at first I found it frustrating. Just like any art form is frustrating before you get the hang of it. Because that’s what make-up is, I soon learned: an art. You have to know your canvas. You have to understand where the light hits your face, what will open your eyes up, what will make them appear smaller, what will make you glow in the right way and what will make you glow in the wrong way.

I learned a lot. In fact, I’m still learning.

But, I have to admit, my favourite thing to do with make-up, to this day, is to go a little bit alternative with it. I like to explore the styles of Amy Winehouse or Joan Jett. I like to play. I like to explore.

It has nothing at all to do with men.

“But aren’t you a feminist? How can you rationalize being a feminist and wearing make-up?”

Simple: I just do.

I wear make-up of my own choice. Nobody is forcing me to do it. In fact, I enjoy it; applying make-up is the way that I relax before the start of the day. Without it, I feel rushed and clumsy. And wearing make-up is part of what makes me feel put-together, powerful, a warrior woman with winged eyeliner sharp enough to kill a man.

And I understand: there is a feminist argument that states that women are encouraged to wear make-up by the patriarchy, and as a result, the simple act of a woman putting make-up on is playing into patriarchal expectations. But to that, I say two things: 1) my body (or, well, face in this instance), my choice, and 2) I don’t think that I’m necessarily playing into patriarchal expectations of how a woman should look. If I were doing that, I’d have to grow out my mohawk and get rid of my tattoos.

“But when you stop wearing make-up, you feel so much freer!”

Well, I’m glad that you found that when you stopped wearing make-up. I hope that you continue to feel free. But that just wasn’t my experience.

Because, despite popular opinion, I can actually leave the house without make-up on. In fact, I’ve done it before, and I always felt… half-dressed. Underwhelming. Less… me, for lack of a better way to word it. The make-up isn’t me, of course, but it’s part of how I choose to present myself. It’s fun, it’s a symbol of my artistic side, my rebellious nature come out to play. I don’t feel free without it, I feel naked and awkward. I feel the way that anyone would feel if they were forced to dress like someone else for a day.

And I’m not trying to put down women who don’t want to choose make-up. I’m not trying to tell you that you’re wrong if you don’t. All that I’m trying to say is that there are multiple perspectives, and mine is equally valid.

“Why don’t you try not wearing make-up for a day? It’s like you’re hiding behind a mask.”

Only if you choose to see it that way. Make-up is not a mask; it does not change who I am, fundamentally, as a person. It does not hide me. It does not keep me any more or less safe than I would be without it. I am not trying to make you think that I’m something I’m not when I wear it; I know that you know my eyelids are not actually gold (or, at least, I hope you do).

We never make statements like this about any other style-oriented choice. We never ask someone to “try not wearing a shirt for a day” because “I don’t really know what your torso looks like, do I?” And if we did tell someone to do this, then we’d all see this statement for what it is: an odd and slightly invasive request.

Because, personally, I choose to wear make-up. And some women choose not to wear make-up. And both of these types of women are perfectly valid, with their own reasons for doing as they do (trust me; I focused on why I wear make-up here, but I can understand why someone wouldn’t too. I wouldn’t if I didn’t enjoy it, because it costs money and it takes time).

But we get so caught up in what women should be doing with make-up that we end up trying to force a constant stream of messages down women’s throats.

“You’d look better without make-up, you know.”

“You’d look better with a little make-up.”

“Who are you trying to impress with that make-up?”

“Oh my god, what’s wrong with you, are you sick? Oh. That’s just your face.”

No, no, no, you know what: who cares? Make-up is not a universal rule that can be applied to all women; it is an individual choice. Some women like it. Some women don’t. And both are fine. The only thing that isn’t fine is trying to tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies, or making unfair assumptions about them because of their choices.


Queer Representation in Children’s Media

When I was a little girl, one of my absolute favourite things in the whole wide world was Harry Potter. (Oh, who am I kidding? That’s still true today.) The books. The movies. Everything. I loved it. I ate it up like a proverbial fat kid eats cake.

Now, I don’t know how familiar you, the reader, are with Harry Potter. Maybe you’ve never seen the movies or read the books, and you just have a basic understanding of it being about wizards or some shit like that. Maybe you’re more like me, and have the entire text of the books tattooed onto your soul. But I’m just going to assume that you’re a little closer to the former, just for safety’s sake, because I want to draw your attention toward a brief, seemingly unimportant scene in the third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (which was released when I was nine years old. Trust me; that bit will become important later).

Near the end of this movie, two male characters are revealed to have a close friendship (if I’m spoiling anything for you here, too bad, the movie’s been out nearly fourteen years now). These characters in question are Remus Lupin, a werewolf, and Sirius Black, not a werewolf. At one point, shortly after a reunion scene between the two of them that involved close hugging, the moon comes out from behind a cloud, and Lupin begins to turn into a werewolf. At this point, Sirius grabs hold of Lupin and tries to get through to him, saying things like, “this heart is where you belong, this heart!” indicating Lupin’s own chest.

Now, what about any of this matters, you might be asking? This is just a meaningless, nothing little scene that establishes nothing besides the fact that Lupin is turning into a werewolf, right? Well… yes. Yes it is. But at the age of nine years old, when I first saw this scene, something got confused along the way in my head. I think it might have been something about Sirius screaming about hearts as he held Lupin close. What I’m trying to say is, when I was nine years old, I seriously, genuinely thought that Sirius and Lupin were a couple in the context of the movies. And I’m not talking about “shipping” them (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the lingo, that’s geek-talk for thinking that two characters would make an amazing couple, even if they are not actually romantically or sexually involved in the actual text). I mean that I actually believed that they were “together”.

This wasn’t an isolated incident either. In the Disney movie “Mulan” (which came out when I was three years old; I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw it, but it was probably around then), there is a character simply called “the Matchmaker”, and I was completely convinced that that character was a drag queen. Maybe it was the heavy make-up combined with the fact that she accidentally draws a goatee on herself later on in the movie. Maybe I just didn’t catch onto the fact that it was a goatee made of ink, not hair. I don’t know, for some reason, when I was a kid, I was simply convinced that children’s movies were much more progressive than they actually were.

It wasn’t until I was in my late teens did I discover that Lupin and Sirius are not actually a couple in the context of the story, they’re just good friends, or that the Matchmaker was actually intended to be interpreted as a cis-gendered woman.

Now, the reason why I interpreted these characters this way could be manifold. It could simply because my parents did not try to hide the existence of other sexualities and genders from me as a kid, and so it simply made sense to me that, if these people existed, they would exist in my media as well. Or maybe it all has something to do with the fact that I personally grew up to be bisexual; maybe whatever it is that has hardwired me to be queer automatically made me search for role models in my media as early as three years old. I don’t know what the reason is, all I know is that I can now make people laugh with the funny “I genuinely thought Lupin and Sirius were a couple” story now.

But, personally, I think that the fact that I thought this way as young as I did is important to a discussion that we have been having in our media lately: namely, is it okay for children to be exposed to queer characters in media?

Actual queer characters (not just the ones I’ve made up in my head) have been confirmed in some children’s media lately, possibly the most famous example being LeFou in Disney’s live action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Yet, LeFou sort of ended up being a disappointment to both sides of the argument. Parents who disagreed with queer representation in children’s media refused to take their children to this movie because they didn’t want them exposed to a message that they thought could potentially be harmful. Meanwhile, audience members who wanted to see explicit queer representation got little more than a split-second dance scene between two men, hardly confirming or denying anything (after all, even as a nine-year-old, I would have known that two men can dance together without being in love with each other).

Since then, we’ve had character after character in children’s media (including Valkyrie from Thor: Ragnarok and Yellow Ranger Trini from the Power Rangers movie) either hint at potential queerness, or be marketed to the audience as a queer character, while never actually coming right out and saying, “hello, yes, I am actual queer character, pleased to meet you!”

In other words, this media can bring in an audience that desperately wants to see actual, confirmed queer representation in mainstream, children’s media, while simultaneously appeasing the parents who don’t want their children exposed to that gross, gay stuff.

But, end of day, really, what’s wrong with exposing children to the existence of queer individuals?

I know that I’m probably not a convincing example of someone who grew up exposed to this in my media and turned out fine, considering the fact that one of the major fears of including these characters in these movies is that it will somehow turn their kids gay. But at the same time, to that, I say two things: 1) I don’t think that I “became bisexual” the moment that I heard Gary Oldman screaming “this heart is where you belong” to David Thewlis. I sort of think that being bisexual was somewhere in my genetic code long before that. And, 2) at the time, when I was a young, pre-pubescent nerd wearing a lightning bolt scar drawn onto my forehead with eyeliner, I actually didn’t think anything of this quote-unquote ‘relationship’. I didn’t think that it was weird that Sirius and Lupin “were a couple”. I mean, yeah, at the time I decided that they were my favourite couple in the series, but that was mostly because this was movie three and the only other couples that I had to choose from were all parents (which, to a nine year old girl, was gross).

You know those stories that you hear of a little kid asking, “what are gay people?” and the parents explains it calmly, to which the kid goes, “oh. Can I go play now?” Yeah, that was pretty much just my reaction to these movies. I didn’t linger on it. I didn’t hate it or think it was gross, or even really decide that I was going to grow up to be in a same-sex relationship, just like Lupin and Sirius. I just saw it, thought it was kind of romantic, the way that Sirius tried to pull Lupin back from being a monster just like some sort of Beauty and the Beast, and then I moved onto the awesome werewolf fight scene and the flying broomsticks and the supposed devil worship. Truth be told, if this wasn’t an argument that we were having now, and if I hadn’t been wrong in my interpretation of the film, I might never have thought about any of it ever again.

So when people nowadays discuss the potential “dangers” of including queer characters in children’s media, I always go back to that nine year old girl who thought nothing of the possibility that two wizards were also a couple, or that the Matchmaker was openly a drag queen in ancient China. None of this bothered me as a kid, none of it even phased me. Perhaps it would have if I had told the adults in my life how I had interpreted these characters and they had laughed at me or told me that I was wrong, but no one ever did that to me. No one ever told me that queer characters didn’t belong in my media, and so I simply assumed that queer people belonged everywhere. Being informed on these matters, being allowed to think about them and interpret them freely, made me more open-minded and accepting, not only of queer characters, but of queer people in real life, and eventually, of my own queerness as well.

It wasn’t until I grew up did I discover that others disagreed with me. And, to this day, I still don’t think I understand why.