Real Women Have Curves (As Opposed to Fake Women?)

Model and actress Karrueche Tran recently posted a picture of herself wearing a bikini to social media. As you might have already guessed, the response to this was…varied, as it usually is whenever a woman reveals to the world that she has a body. Because, let’s face it, whenever a woman does this, everyone and their dog feels entitled to giving their opinion on how she looks.

Probably most notably, rapper Ralo told Tran that she “looked better” with her clothes on, and while this is problematic, as he had absolutely no right to objectify and police Tran’s body like this, the comments that I want to focus on are the comments that were not made by celebrities, comments like “she look like a 10 yr old girl” and, even more interesting, “she look like a boy in his early stages of transitioning into a woman”.

There are a few reasons why I find these comments interesting. One of them is the obvious transphobia, especially in the latter comment, as this person is likening a cis-gendered woman to a transgendered woman, presumably as a method of undermining and insulting her, as though there is something wrong with being transgender (and, yes, I am acutely aware of the fact that this commenter used a male pronoun to refer to a transgender woman). But another reason why I find this response interesting is this idea of failing to live up to the image of “woman” through the simple act of having a body – even a genetically female body. Tran is described as looking like a child, or as though she was not born in a female body – she is described as being distinctly un-womanly, simply because she has smaller breasts.

And maybe I’d be able to forgive this as an isolated incidence if it isn’t something that I’ve seen before. There’s this idea that gets passed around, frequently on social media, that “real women have curves”. Sometimes this is used as a way to defend plus-sized women, because let’s not deny it: plus-sized women have a very difficult time having a body in our society. They are deemed less beautiful than thinner women, they are frequently and publicly shamed, by both the media and the people around them, sometimes even by complete strangers. So in an attempt to take some power back, some of them will make comments about how a woman should look in order to be “real”. But sometimes comments like these don’t have reasons so deep: sometimes they’re just meant to uphold the status quo, to say that women with breasts and hips and ass are hot.

But what about women who don’t have curves? Aren’t they real women? After all, they identify as women. They live as women. They get treated like women do in our society, they get objectified and picked apart just the same. So why do we keep using this language?

The strange thing about referring to specific people as ‘real women’ is that it implies that the opposite exists – that there are fake women. But there aren’t. You cannot fail to live up to the image of a woman, because there is no one specific way that a woman should look. Society may have made up a few phony ways for you to fail, but they aren’t real.

Because here’s how a real woman looks: any which way she wants. A real woman has curves, and a real woman doesn’t. A real woman can have large breasts or small breasts or none at all. Hell, there are some real women out there who have beards or penises, and that doesn’t make them any less real. The only qualification to count as a ‘real woman’ is to identify as a woman. As long as that is so, then congratulations – you’re a real woman.

And, people: let’s stop policing the way that women look. Let’s stop shaming every last woman, celebrity or not celebrity, for having a body and letting people see it. Because at the end of the day, we’re never satisfied as a society. There has never been a woman who posted a picture of herself wearing a bikini on social media, and the general consensus was simply “yeah, great picture”. Karrueche Tran might have been deemed not curvy enough to be beautiful, but singer Rihanna was recently deemed too curvy to be beautiful, one blogger even going so far as to make the comment that her “high key thiccness” would lead to “a world of ladies shaped like the Hindenburg.” We as a society are never satisfied with a woman as just having a body – we are constantly finding ways to pick it apart, to make it not live up to our expectations, even if they do align with our society’s definition of beauty.

And, yes, making these comments are policing – they tell women that, if they would just get breast implants, or eat more, or eat less, or do this, or do that, or go get that surgery, or whatever, then they would suddenly become more beautiful. When the truth is that they won’t. Society en masse is never satisfied with the way that women look, because society en masse is never satisfied with the presence of women to begin with. No matter what you change, there will always be someone out there who will pick you apart, so please, don’t change for them. If you want to change, change for yourself, because you are the only person who has to be satisfied with how you look at the end of the day.

Why You Need to Talk About Suicide

Every once in a while, something will happen in the news that will bring the issue of depression and suicide to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Most recently, this news has been the death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington.

Bennington killed himself on July 20 after a lengthy and somewhat public battle with depression. And none of us can judge the choice that he made, or think any worse of him because of it. Even those of us who have dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts before do not know what his precise situation was or what he was going through. I wish his loved ones all the best, and I truly hope that he has found peace now.

But all that being said, we do need to talk about suicide. And not because Bennington killed himself. Not because it’s a trendy topic to pass around now. Because there are still people out there who are considering taking their own lives even now, and those people need someone to reach out to them.

Suicide is an awkward topic of conversation for many people, and it can be hard to approach someone who you know and love and ask them, “are you considering killing yourself?” Unless we have dealt with suicidal thoughts ourselves, we tend to think of it as something foreign, as something other, as something that can’t touch the people we care about, but it very much can, and it’s not as strange or unusual as you might think. In fact, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, on average there are 121 suicides per day. The only reason why we don’t think of it as common is because we just don’t talk about it.

We are told, indirectly, that we should not talk about it. We don’t want to come forth because we don’t want anyone to worry about us, we don’t want to burden them with something that they don’t have to deal with. I know that when I was dealing with suicidal thoughts, one of the main reasons why I didn’t want to tell anybody about it was because then they’d think that I was going to kill myself, and I didn’t want to be thought of as a risk. We as a society hold such a huge stigma against mental illness and thoughts of self harm that we silence people who are actually dealing with them, people who don’t want to be perceived as weak or risky or bothersome or attention-seekers. And so, silenced, they deal with these thoughts on their own. They mull over these thoughts within a mind that is already ill, already enforcing beliefs that are not true, and so it isn’t at all surprising when they come to the worst conclusion.

The more that we talk about depression and suicidal thoughts, the more that we are willing to approach someone who we think might be dealing with either illness, the more that people who are dealing with them will feel comfortable talking about it themselves. We need to talk about depression and suicidal thoughts because talking about it could quite literally save lives.

And if you are a person dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, then you deserve to have your life saved. You deserve to be listened to and loved and understand, and you deserve to live a long and fulfilling life. You deserve all the amazing things this world can offer to you.

And I understand that, if you are dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, then you might not believe that right now. The problem with these illnesses is that they cause your mind to lie to you, to tell you things that aren’t true and skew your perception of the world. You see everything through the lens of your thoughts, like that old line about seeing the world through rose coloured glasses except the exact opposite. Your illness tells you that the world would be better off without you and that you don’t matter, but you need to know that that is a lie. You do matter. You matter so much that I don’t even have words to fully encompass it. And if you were to die, then your loved ones – friends, family, pets, maybe even that neighbour who says hello to you every morning and has come to depend on your smile and wave, they would all care. I would care. With you gone, there would be a great hole in the world that can never truly be filled.

But let’s ignore all of that for a moment, because I know that your depression and suicidal thoughts might be contradicting everything I just said: you simply deserve to live for your own sake. No one else’s. You deserve a chance to find something that makes you happy. You deserve a chance to feel the sun on your face again. You deserve a chance to chase your dreams and maybe see them come true, to fall in love with someone new (or someone old again) and to build a whole new life, different from the one you’re leading now. Because the only thing constant in this world is that things change, and maybe you aren’t happy with where you are now, but maybe you will be one, two, ten years from now. Maybe you’ll look back on this day and find it difficult to believe that that was you, that you ever felt this way. Don’t you at least deserve the chance to know if that’s true? Life, after all, is full of possibilities, while death is so final.

And maybe your depression will never fully go away, and maybe your life will never be entirely perfect, but pain can be dealt with. You can learn to live, not defined by your pain, but existing alongside of it, understanding and respecting it but not run solely by it. I know that I may never be completely rid of my depression, as it’s something that I’ve dealt with on and off for as long as I can remember, but that doesn’t mean that my life isn’t worth living. Quite the opposite, actually; the moments of pain and emptiness make the moments of joy and fulfillment all the more spectacular.

And if I can give you a bit of advice right now, since we’re talking about depression and suicide, I would say that you need to keep talking about it. Reach out to someone – a friend, a family member, a therapist, a doctor, a diary, a stranger on the internet, a suicide crisis line, your pet gerbil, whatever might make you feel comfortable. Because an amazing thing happens when you start to talk: you are no longer dealing with everything on your own. There is someone else in this world who knows how you feel, who can be there for you and make you feel like you aren’t alone. And sometimes, when you can hear or read your own thoughts expressed outside of yourself, you might even begin to realize that the things your depression have been saying to you are lies. And as much as it might be difficult to make yourself un-believe them, the first step in overcoming them is at least identifying them as lies.

Whenever anybody takes their own life, celebrity or not, it is always a great tragedy. It is someone who has succumbed to an illness that they could no longer control, and that is always a huge loss in this world. But so long as you are still alive, you still have a chance, and you still have control. You can reach out and talk to someone, you can seek help in dealing with your illness. In the words of the late Chester Bennington, “I came to a point in my life where I was like, ‘I can either just give up and f****** die or I can f****** fight for what I want,'”, and so long as you are still alive, the fight is not yet over. You are a warrior, you are stronger than you will ever know, and you can beat this. You deserve to beat this – for your loved ones, for the world, and most importantly, for yourself.

Why We Still Need Labels

I have a lot of labels to go by.

I am a woman. I’m bisexual, I’m white, I’m cis gendered. I’m able-bodied, but I am not completely neurotypical, as I have dealt with anxiety and depression.

And, admittedly, some of these labels get exhausting to live with sometimes. Just today, I thought about sitting down and writing something feminist, to which some part of my brain responded with an endless groan and the question, “do I have to be a woman today? Can’t I just be a person, without any concern about rape culture or objectification or whatever the topic of the day is?”

And I don’t think I’m the only person who has felt this way either. You see this opinion pop up constantly on the internet, though perhaps not always from the specific group of people being referred to.

For example, whenever a movie studio makes a big deal about outing a character as gay, you tend to see a plethora of reactions, and one that always makes its appearance is the question, “why does this matter? As long as the character is good, who cares who he sleeps with?” And although I am not trying to condemn the people who say this, I do want to point out that the majority of people who hold this opinion are straight people who have not experienced what it is like to be LGBT+.

Another example of this that I’ve seen is the internet’s reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. Many people (and primarily not black people) saw this movement and felt offended by the name, offering up the question, “don’t all lives matter?”

When questions like this are asked, I feel that it comes from a very similar place as my own internal grumbling about writing something feminist: they’re tired of dealing with it. They’re tired of people segregating themselves under different labels, of feeling as though one person is different from the other because of their race or their sexual orientation or whatever the case might be. They just want all that to end and for people to just be people already, not a label.

And trust me, I get it. I do. The fact that all these different labels exist in our world is exhausting. But there is one glaring problem that arises when you suggest that we should just label everyone as people and move on with our lives: society doesn’t work that way. We are still living with huge imbalances between people that will not get fixed if we don’t address them.

Yes, all lives matter, but Black Lives Matter was created for a very specific purpose – to address the fact that black people in America are killed by the police at an alarmingly high rate, and that needs to stop. The Black Lives Matter movement is trying to bring attention to something that specifically affects black people, and if we are ever going to find equality, we need to talk about that. If we continue to ignore that issue, then cops are going to continue to brutalize and kill black people because no one is telling them that it’s wrong.

Yes, at the end of the day, who cares who that character in the movie wants to sleep with – he’s a fictional character and none of us are sleeping with him anyway. But at the same time, it matters that he’s gay – especially if it’s in a genre that doesn’t typically feature LGBT+ characters or if he’s the lead in a mainstream movie. It matters because gay characters are too rarely seen in mainstream films, or if they are seen, they’re sometimes delegated to minor characters or stereotypes. It matters because the invisibility of LGBT+ characters in mainstream media leads to a generation of LGBT+ people who have internalized that there is something wrong with them, that they shouldn’t be seen, or even in some cases, that they don’t exist. And if we don’t make a big deal out of the fact that this character is gay, if we don’t celebrate and encourage it, then Hollywood is not going to get the message that we want to see more LGBT+ people represented in our media, and thus, nothing is going to change for LGBT+ youth who need to have their existence validated.

And as much as it might get exhausting from time to time for me to talk about feminism, it’s still something that I need to do, because if I don’t, then I’m part of the problem. I’m sitting back and allowing these injustices to my gender to continue on.

Don’t get me wrong – I am in full support of getting rid of labels someday and forming a society that does not even notice our differences, but the key word there is someday. We just aren’t there yet. Systemic sexism still exists, systemic racism still exists, systemic homophobia still exists, etc., etc., and if we are ever going to actually end it and form a society where we can all just be people, we need to address that. Because until we end these issues, we are not treated as just people – our lives and experiences are still determined by the labels that we have no choice but to live under.

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.

“Men Get Raped Too”: Why Rape is Still a Gendered Issue

Increasingly, there is this phenomena across the internet where a woman will talk openly about rape, and about how rape affects women, and when you scroll down to look at the comments, they will be filled with male commenters pointing out that “men get raped too”.

Now, I know that a lot of people say that you should ignore the comments on anything on the internet. The comments are a free-for-all where anyone can say anything, and sometimes they aren’t always intelligent anythings. But this specific comment, this “men get raped too” has appeared again and again, across multiple videos, articles, Facebook statuses or posts, and so the more often I see it, the more often I find myself wondering why so many men feel the need to place it so frequently on posts about female rape.

I’ll admit, the first few times I saw this comment, I rolled my eyes a little bit – not because I don’t believe that men can be raped. They very much can be. According to SexAssault.ca, approximately 20% of sex crime victims are men (more on this in a little bit). But when I saw these comments initially, the fact that they were very brief and placed specifically on discussions of female rape made me think that these commenters didn’t really care about male rape victims at all – they were just trying to derail the argument of the woman who initially posted. The way I saw it, it was their way of saying, “yes, women get raped, but men get raped too, so shut up and stop complaining about it”.

It was only recently that I saw a posting that made me change my mind on these commenter’s intentions. This particular post was, again, made by a man, and again, it pointed out that men get raped too, but it went a little bit more into detail about it. What this man was trying to argue was that men get raped too, and therefore rape isn’t a gendered issue – it’s a universal issue. It isn’t a topic for feminism, it has nothing to do with women’s issues.

And I have to admit, that is an interesting perspective – but, respectfully, I disagree. Although I will agree that rape is something that happens to both men and women, it is still a very gendered issue, and it is still an issue that should be addressed by feminists.

Now, why do I say that? What about rape is gendered if it is something that happens to both men and women? Well, the thing about rape is that it is something that people experience differently depending on gender.

Let’s start with the way that women experience rape. Women are raped more frequently than men are. In my home country, Canada, 80% of sexual assault victims are women, and one in four women will report being raped in their lifetime. That, however, is only the reported rapes, and the majority of rape victims will not report being raped, for a plethora of reasons. Although women face no issue being told that it is possible for them to be raped, they are still doubted when they come forward, and often times for very gendered reasons. Women who go to the police face a barrage of invasive questions, designed to make the crime seem as though it were her fault. What were you wearing? Were you drunk? Are you sure you didn’t lead him on at all? Because, you know, if you dangle a juicy steak before a dog, what else is he going to do but bite? And you, as a woman, are less of a human being and more of a juicy steak, a hunk of meat to be taken advantage of and fulfill a man’s pleasures. Women who have gone forward in an attempt to report a rape have described the experience as being a second violation. She is forced to relive her experience again and again. She is doubted, villainized, told that she has no chance of winning her case because it’s her word against his and a man’s voice will always be trusted before hers. And many women don’t even try to come forward, because the man who raped her was a friend, a boyfriend, a husband, someone who she trusted and doesn’t want to hurt, or someone who she knows will be trusted before she will. Who will ever believe that a boyfriend raped his girlfriend, after all? She must have consented and just changed her mind later. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to bother, to go through the whole terrible violation of seeking justice when she knows she won’t win anyway.

Female rape victims continue to be classified by the misogynist worldview of the virgin or the whore. If you were raped and you were wearing revealing clothes, or you flirted with him first, or you were promiscuous before even meeting your rapist, then you’re a whore and you were clearly asking for it. If you were raped and you were a virginal nun who never so much as touched a drop of alcohol or saw a party, then it’s a terrible tragedy and how could those boys do such a thing? Even women who haven’t been raped are classified in this way. Party girls who go out every weekend are told to “look out” or they might get raped, as though rape is the inevitable punishment for wearing a skimpy dress and drinking alcohol, whereas girls who stay in every weekend and read are praised by their fathers, who say that “something like that would never happen to them”, despite the fact that they are still at risk, simply by being a woman in a society that excuses the aggressor. Just because they don’t go out to party, that doesn’t protect them from the boyfriend who feels entitled, the employer or teacher who pursues more than he should, just because they are women and their aggressors are men.

Now, what about male rape victims? Men report being raped much less frequently than women do, but when men are raped, they too will rarely report it, but for very different reasons. Many men live under the illusion that men cannot be raped, simply because they’re… well, men. They’re big and strong. They can fight off any woman who expects more from him than he’s willing to give. And more than that, as a man, he wants sex constantly. If a pretty girl is asking him for sex, then of course he consented. He’s a man. Many male rape victims aren’t even aware that they have been raped because of this myth. But some male rape victims are aware, and yet they still don’t report, and often times, the reason for that is that they feel as though rape is a threat to their masculinity. They are supposed to be big, tough men, so why couldn’t they fight off their aggressor? Are they lesser men because of it? After all, the typical image that we as a society have of rape victims is a frail, small woman being attacked by a aggressive, predatory man; it is very difficult for men to accept themselves in the role of that frail, feminine victim (not that being a victim is at all a feminine thing to be, I am merely discussing society’s perspective). And if they were raped by another man, internalized homophobia might also play a role in their refusal to come forward.

When men do come forward, however, they face just as difficult a time as women do, but for different reasons. Women are doubted because they must have somehow been at fault; men are doubted because it simply couldn’t have happened. Men can’t be raped, not the way that women can be, or so they are told. There have even been cases of men turning to rape crisis centres and being turned away because they are doubted. Even the community that has dedicated itself to helping them refuse to do anything.

And to return to statistics, 15% of sexual assault victims in Canada are boys under sixteen, which adds an entirely new layer to the discussion. When children are being raped, they have a very hard time reaching out to anyone, or even understanding what’s happening to them, but the mental side effects will last a lifetime.

So to return to the commenters on the internet, I will agree that, yes, men can be raped too – that is most certainly a fact, and I agree wholeheartedly. But that being said, rape is still a gendered issue. The reasons that we as a society have for doubting victims when they come forward are extremely gendered, and the ways that we respond to them are gendered as well. Men are doubted because of our society’s understanding of what a man should be, and women are doubted because of our society’s understanding of what a woman should be. This results in very different experiences for the victims (each of them equally terrible), and very different reasons for why the crime is committed. But when I say that rape is a gendered issue, I am not saying that rape is an issue of men vs. women. At the end of the day, the crime is the same; it is only society and society’s expectations around gender that makes the experience different. And it is the goal of feminism to create a society where these expectations around gender are no longer relied on so heavily – for both men and women. My hope is that we as a society can someday reach a point where male and female victims are not treated differently, if they are raped at all; they are equally believed and they equally receive justice and support from their community. But the thing is, we simply are not there yet, and in order to get there, we must continue to discuss and dismantle the gendered issues around rape.