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.


Finding Beauty By Shaving My Head

Today, I shaved my head completely for the first time.

I’ve played around with short hairstyles for a while now. I’ve even shaved bits and pieces of my hair – side shaves, mohawks, but this was my first time going completely bald, although it’s always been something I’ve been curious to do. Ever since I was little, when I first saw Sinead O’Connor, I always wondered if it was something that would look good on me. And today, I decided to just do it.

And when I first looked at myself in the mirror, I cried.

I think a lot of women would have that reaction. Heck, I think a lot of women would refuse to shave their heads in the first place. Because, as women, we tend to rely on our hair quite a bit.

I still remember the days of having long hair and getting upset when the hairdresser cut a little bit too much off, thinking that it made me uglier or whatever. And, from what I understand, this isn’t a rare occurrence.

Admit it, women: don’t the majority of us relate to Samson – as in, we think our strength is in our hair?

Women are often made to feel as though their beauty and their femininity is in their hair. They’re told that, if they cut their hair, then they’ll look too boyish, or too masculine, or not pretty enough. So women cling to their hair like a lifeline, their symbol of beauty and femininity in a society that values this above all else in women.

I did this too. Until a few years ago, when I very gradually started cutting my hair short. First a long bob. Then a short bob. Then a pixie cut. Then a mohawk. Now, nothing.

And there were a few times where my femininity was called into question. One time, at a convenience store, a woman trying to sneak passed me said, “excuse me, sir,” but upon seeing my face, she apologized profusely. But that’s pretty much the full extent of it.

I’ve never felt ugly with short hair. I’ve never felt more masculine than I was before. In fact, if anything, I’ve always viewed short hair as an improvement for me – I’m not really the sort that enjoys styling my hair all that much, so when my hair is long, it just sort of hangs there like a bunch of dead weight on my head. Short hair was always… cuter, I suppose you could say. It allowed me to look nice and stylized without actually having to do much. Short hair was my quick trick to looking like a supermodel in ten minutes, no hassle, no waiting.

Which leads me to where I am today – bald.

As I said, it was always something that I’d wanted to do. I’d almost done it a few times, and then talked myself out of it. I suppose that, even though I was comfortable in my femininity with short hair, I always worried that no hair would be a little bit too much.

But today was the day. I was going to do it, because I felt that I needed a change. Maybe not necessarily externally, but internally. I was feeling stagnant. I was feeling stuck in my own head. And maybe shaving my head wasn’t going to fix that entirely, but at least it was doing something that I was afraid to do. It was a sign that I was welcome and open to change.

As Coco Chanel said, “a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”

Women rely heavily on their hair. For us, hair is the perfect representation of what society expects from us. Beauty. Softness. Femininity.

And that isn’t to say that we can’t be any of that without hair. Quite the opposite, in fact; hair represents these things for us, but at the end of the day, it is but a symbol. Beauty and femininity is something much deeper than that. Both are individual experiences, something for each person to define and explore in their own right. We’re given a set definition by society, but this definition is malleable. We can change it to fit our purposes.

I suppose that, what I’m trying to say here is this: I shaved my head because I wanted a change. I expected the whole process to be freeing, the way that you read about when you’re looking stuff up on the internet, trying to talk yourself into doing it: and with each lock that fell away, it felt as though a weight had been lifted from my head, that sort of idea. But the truth is, no: it was kind of scary. When I first saw myself in the mirror, I cried, because there was still that part of me that was worried that I had just shed away every sign of my beauty and femininity.

And then, once I dressed myself up to my liking, and I got used to the sight a little bit, I began to feel a bit more confident. I began receiving compliments. I began to realize that I still looked good. And the freedom that came from that was not necessarily the freedom that I expected, this shedding of patriarchal ideals of what a woman should be. I was still beautiful. I was still feminine. I just was these things, without the universal symbol of all that attached to my head.

And, yes: women are more than physical beauty. That should not be the end-all and be-all of womanhood. But we live in a society that rewards women for being beautiful, so it’s very difficult to stop wanting to fit into that definition. And so long as that’s true, I think that it’s important that we realize that we can expand what beauty means to us. And there are many ways that we can do this. Whether we are talking about hair, tattoos, piercings, body shape, body hair, stretch marks, cellulite, wrinkles, or what have you – beauty is whatever you feel confident in. It is whatever makes you, you. And you can play around with what that means, you can experiment as much as you want, and in all of your experimenting, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you are still beautiful.

Whatever you do, don’t allow society to limit your freedoms, just because you’re afraid to fit into a narrow, incomplete definition of what beauty is.

Genitalia Does Not Determine Gender

On January 20, 2018, the second women’s march was held.

Strong, beautiful, capable women filled the streets, wearing their cute, pink pussyhats and wielding signs like, “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding” and “pussy power”. And I’m proud of these women. I am. But looking through these pictures online, there is one question that keeps coming to my mind:

Since when is my vagina (or the colour of it, or the fact that it occasionally bleeds) what makes me a woman?

Because there are a lot of women in this world. And amongst these women, a lot of variety. Some women don’t bleed from their vaginas, for one reason or another. Some vaginas aren’t pink. Some women don’t even have vaginas, because some women were born with penises, and some women chose to keep their penises. And yet, despite all of this variety, these are still women, and these women deserve recognition and validation and basic human rights, as much as any of us.

And, I know, I know; there are a lot of women in the world. It’s difficult and, in some cases, impossible to constantly be inclusive to every single one of them, especially when some issues that the women’s march are trying to gain attention to are specific to certain women (like, say, women’s rights to reproductive health). And the vagina is, to a certain extent, an image to be reclaimed by some.

But if we’re going to move forward with this whole equal rights thing that we’re all hoping for, we need to make sure that we’re being inclusive toward all women. And this idea of equating femininity with vaginas and masculinity with penises is a slippery slope.

I often hear it joked about amongst cis-gendered male company. This idea that having a big penis means that you’re somehow a bigger and better man. This idea that, without a penis, you aren’t a man, that even if a cis-gendered man lost his penis for one reason or another, then – poof! suddenly, he’s a woman, just like that.

Heck, another word for penis is literally ‘manhood’.

And part of striving for equal rights should involve spreading this message that, just because you were born with a penis, that doesn’t mean that you’re a man. And just because you don’t have a penis, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t a man. Some feminists are legitimately trying to do this. And some feminists seem to be taking a page from the same book that all of those men bragging about their big dicks are reading.

Which, you know, would be cool if it weren’t for the fact that transgender individuals really should not be ignored right now. Like, they really, really shouldn’t.

Trans people are four times more likely to live in poverty than the general population due to several workplace issues – including violence and discrimination (trans people also experience homelessness at twice the rate of the general population).

41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming individuals have attempted suicide (compared to 4.6 percent of the general population).

One in two transgender people are raped, and some have even speculated that the statistic might be as high as 66 percent.

In 2017, 28 transgender individuals were murdered in the U.S. – meaning that violence against trans people has actually been increasing (in 2016, 23 trans people were murdered). Nearly all of them were women of colour.

This is the reality of living as a transgender person in North America. This is something that feminists should be talking about – and talking about prominently. I understand that we have other concerns to deal with as well, but we need to make space for this at our marches. Because this matters. This is important. We can’t just ignore it, because it doesn’t fit into our pussy-centric narrative.

And I see your little pussyhats, and they’re very cute. I do not for a second believe that they were made with ill intent, or to exclude anybody from the march. But when we put them on and agree that what unites us as women is the vagina, then we aren’t really being fair or true. What unites us as women is that we all call ourselves women, and we all have to deal with the hardships that comes with that. And it’s a different hardship for everybody. Some women only have to deal with sexism. Some women have to deal with sexism as well as racism. Some women have to deal with sexism, racism, and transphobia, all at once. Some women have to deal with more. And I understand if you don’t relate to that experience because it isn’t your own – but that doesn’t mean that those women aren’t your sisters. That doesn’t mean that those women aren’t suffering, and that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn about their experience so that you can help them.

And, really, all you need to do is learn. Learn, and make sure that you are opening up our marches and our movement to every women out there.

If I lost my vagina tomorrow in some sort of awful vagina-losing accident, I’d still be a woman. Because, end of day, my vagina has absolutely nothing to do with my identity. I identify as a woman because I feel like a woman – end of story. Not because of what’s between my legs (or the fact that it bleeds, or the colour of it, etc., etc.). Genitalia does not define us as much as we have allowed society to make it define us. End of day, it is society that tries to make us think that you can’t be a man with a vagina, or a woman with a penis. And if feminism believes in anything, it is that society can be changed.

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.

I Am A Feminist. Not A Humanist.

Let me begin this discussion by saying that I am a feminist. I support and believe in feminism. I think that feminism is extremely important and multi-layered, and that supporting feminism works in the favour of women, men, and gender non-conforming people everywhere. And, by extension, I believe that everyone should identify as a feminist as well.

Not everyone agrees with me. And I’m not just talking about your typical overt misogynist who believes that all women should be barefoot and pregnant and all men should be burly, tough-guy, macho-men lacking emotion.

In 2014, actress Shailene Woodley, who has in the past discussed women’s issues, caused controversy when she refused to call herself a feminist. When asked by Time Magazine if she considered herself a feminist, she said, “no because I love men”. She then continued on to say, “my biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism”. This then prompted many to ask, does she even know what feminism is? After all, the dictionary definition of feminism is, “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”. Loving or hating men has nothing to do with it; it isn’t about that. It’s about equality, by nature.

But who cares about the dictionary definition, right? As anyone who has studied linguistics can tell you, the definition of words has a tendency to shift and change over time (fun fact: the word ‘awful’ originally meant something more akin to ‘awesome’). So is it possible that what Woodley is reacting to here is a shift in what feminism means? Because she isn’t the only woman who appears to believe in equal rights between the genders, and yet doesn’t identify as a feminist.

Actress Susan Sarandon, for example, has stood up for women’s reproductive rights and other human rights issues over the years, and yet she will not call herself a feminist. Instead, she refers to herself as a ‘humanist’, saying that she finds it “less alienating to people who think of feminism as a load of strident bitches”. And she is not the first woman (or individual, more generally) who I have heard come up with other terms for supporting equal rights, like “humanist” or “equalist”.

And yet, I still call myself a feminist. And I still fully believe that everyone should identify as a feminist. And why?

Well, first of all, I want to get the least important issue out of the way first: humanism is already a thing. It has nothing to do with gender equality, but rather takes a more human-centric view of the world, as opposed to a more theological view.

There. And now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about feminism more specifically.

Feminism is a movement that has fallen under a lot of criticism, and a lot of these criticisms are the reason why some women have chosen to distance themselves from it.

For example, let’s return to Susan Sarandon’s claim that feminism is “alienating”. Why is it alienating? Well, perhaps the reason for that is the prefix – “fem”, meaning woman. There are many people out there who have asked that, if feminism is truly for everyone, then why is it called “feminism”? Shouldn’t it be something more inclusive?

Well… no. No, I don’t think it should be.

Why is it called “feminism”? Because the sort of equality that feminism fights for is an incredibly gendered type of equality – so, of course, it makes sense that the name for the movement would refer to gender. And not only any gender, it refers to the female gender, which is the one that has, historically, been most obviously harmed by gender inequality.

That isn’t to say that the patriarchy doesn’t harm men. It does. But generally speaking, it is women who have been more overtly shunned, marginalized, and looked down upon because of it. Changing the name so that it doesn’t refer to women anymore ignores this history and cultural context.

And, I would argue, it is because of the patriarchy that many men feel uncomfortable identifying with a movement that refers to women in its very name. The patriarchy, after all, always presents femininity as something vapid, stupid, and lesser. Men are encouraged to cast off their feminine side, while women are mocked and belittled, creating a culture where the majority of insults that are thrown at men refer to them as, somehow, feminine – sissy, queer, girl, etc. Of course men don’t want to identify as feminists, if feminist means woman and women are inferior.

But it is exactly this kind of mentality that feminism is trying to fight. So changing the name so that men feel less alienated sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? We are trying to create a culture where men would feel absolutely no shame in being a feminist, even if it does contain the prefix ‘fem’. After all, there is nothing wrong with being a woman, and there is nothing wrong with supporting women.

As famed feminist scholar bell hooks once said, “feminism is for everybody”.

But part of this distance from the term is born from a bit more than that, as well. Generally speaking, feminism has been accused of plenty of unsavoury things – such as man-hating, or trying to strip men of their masculinity, and therein lies Shailene Woodley’s comment that she isn’t a feminist because she doesn’t hate men.

And to argue against this, I am tempted to return to the dictionary definition, as many feminists before me have done. But, as I pointed out before, the dictionary definition means little, doesn’t it? So, instead, I’m going to focus on what feminism has actually done.

Recently, feminists have been involved in such movements as #metoo and #timesup, both of which deal with supporting victims of sexual assault or harassment. Feminists have been fighting for women’s right to reproductive health, fighting rape culture, and combating the wage gap. Some of this might indirectly relate to men, but for the most part, the focus is on women. And even when men are considered in feminism, it is usually in an attempt to better their lives as well – allow men the chance to explore their emotions, move away from toxic outlets for masculinity such as violence, and admit to vulnerability when they have been hurt or victimized.

In fact, feminists have been trying to distance themselves from this image of man-hating for years now. As actress and feminist Emma Watson once said, “The more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”

Feminists have been dismissed as ‘feminazis’, and yet nowhere in the world, at any point in history, have men been forced into concentration camps by evil feminists. So why do we live with these assumptions?

Well, I, for one, am tempted to side with the argument that dismissing feminists as ‘man-haters’ is, quite simply, a way to dismiss the movement en masse. It is a way to say that what we fight for doesn’t matter, that it isn’t true equality. But I disagree; I have never seen anything, in all my years of identifying as a feminist, that indicates that the entire movement, en masse, does not desire equality.

Now, that isn’t to say that all feminism is created equal. As I mentioned before, feminism is a complex, multi-layered issue, and there are many different types of feminists. There are intersectional feminists, radical feminists, liberal feminists, and so on and so forth (for the record, I tend to aim toward intersectional feminism). I do encourage you to read up on the differences between all these theories in your own time (many of these differences are related to arguments about what equality means, and who women should strive to be equal to, which is much too intricate a discussion for me to begin here). But the simple fact that feminism is such a complex issue, with such extensive history and intense academic research put into it proves to me that it is not a movement to be discarded so easily. This is a movement with a solid groundwork, with so much history and importance, that it seems sort of ridiculous to just cast all that aside in an attempt to distance ourselves from some made-up criticisms that don’t even truly reflect what the movement is.

Historically speaking, feminism, as an umbrella movement, has been the term that we use to refer to the fight for gender equality. It is a term that states that there is nothing wrong with being a woman. It is a term that states that men should be comfortable with the feminine, and women should be allowed to inhabit spaces that have traditionally been reserved for the masculine. It is a term that is backed up by history and culture and academic research, all with the intent of creating a more equal, loving, and accepting society.

To quote Maya Angelou, “I am a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”