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.

What is Sex Positivity?

As a society, we have pretty complicated opinions when it comes to sex.

We want to see it constantly – in our advertising, in our movies, in our music – but we want to see it subtle, full of euphemisms, and on our own terms. We don’t like it when it’s too explicit. We don’t like it when it challenges our preconceived notions of heteronormativity. And we don’t like it when it forces us to think of people who we do not personally find sexually attractive as sexual beings.

In other words, we like to find individuals sexy, but we do not necessarily like to think of them as sexual.

Is it any wonder that we have a difficult time understanding the concept of sex positivity?

I’ve often seen sex positive individuals mocked as being aggressively sexual nymphomaniacs who just want to have non-monogamous, kinky, pansexual sex with everything that moves. I’ve heard it said that, not only do sex positive individuals fall into this stereotype, but they want you to fall into this stereotype as well; if you aren’t comfortable having sex with everyone, if you aren’t comfortable talking about sex in great, almost disgusting detail with every individual you ever come across, then you aren’t sex positive enough.

Oddly enough, I’ve only ever heard this opinion raised by people who do not identify as sex positive.

So what does it mean to be sex positive? I mean, it’s totally possible in our hush-hush-wink-wink society of closed doors and whispered euphemisms that you might have heard this word before, but were too embarrassed to ask what it meant.

Well, acting as a sex positive individual looks different for everybody, but what this essentially boils down to is a few common beliefs.

Sex positivity is a subsection of feminism. That isn’t to say that every feminist is sex positive. That isn’t to say that feminism is only about sex positivity. But, generally speaking, sex positivity tends to be regarded as falling under that same umbrella of liberating women or other marginalized people.

Because, historically speaking, it’s been women who are both uncomfortably sexualized and denied the opportunity to so much as speak about sex (I mean, 66% of women aged 18 to 24 don’t even feel comfortable saying the word ‘vagina’, even to a doctor; whereas the ‘penis game’ is fun for the whole family).

But that isn’t to say that women are the only people who would benefit from a sex positive society. In fact, we all would.

What sex positivity essentially means is that we, as a society, need to get more comfortable with the idea of sex – in all of its forms.

We need to become comfortable talking about sex. We need to become comfortable teaching our children about sex – because too few children are. 71% of Americans will have sex by the time that they are 19 years of age, but only twenty states require sex education to be taught at all. And, hell, even when it is taught, the actual information tends to be lacking. Only thirteen states require the sex ed that is taught to be medically accurate, meaning that in thirty-seven American states, people are walking around with either no education in sexuality, or medically inaccurate education in sexuality.

What I remember most from my own sex ed class is my teacher laughing uncomfortably until she was red in the face (I got an A in that class).

This means that children are going out and having sex without fully understanding what they are doing or the possible repercussions that could come from it (like STIs or pregnancy).

In fact, education on sexuality is so poor that, to this day, there are many people who are still confused about what consent is, or how to ask for it from a partner. And this is a huge problem.

But sex positivity is about more than simply educating children. It’s about allowing people to express their sexuality in whichever way they feel comfortable.

Do you want your every sexual experience to be a kinky, pansexual orgy? That’s totally fine; go out and do that.

Do you want to have vanilla sex with one individual for your entire life? Cool. Do that.

Do you want to never, ever, ever have sex because the very thought makes your stomach curl? Great. Don’t feel pressured to have sex. You’re cool the way you are.

As I mentioned before, in our current climate, we are weird about sex. We don’t want to hear about it, but we at least want to know that you’re doing it, and doing it ‘correctly’. If you’re sleeping with multiple partners, then you run the risk of being labelled a ‘slut’, a ‘whore’, ‘cheap’, ‘easy’, ‘frivolous’ – and as such, you are dismissed as a person. If you identify as asexual, then you’re constantly assaulted with comments such as, “oh, you just haven’t found the right person yet”.

But true sex positivity does not uphold any of that. True sex positivity is about allowing people the information that they need to decide how they feel about sex, and then the freedom that they need to explore it however they choose.

You should feel allowed to explore your sexuality. You should feel like it’s okay to have many sexual experiences, with many different people, and you should also feel like it’s okay to not have sex. Whatever you want to do should be accepted as totally fine.

End of day, sex positivity is about creating a world where sex is not a shameful thing. Where being a sex worker is a valid way to make money, if that’s what you genuinely want to do. Where women are allowed to wear a hijab or a mini, mini, mini skirt, and feel the same level of confidence and acceptance. Where men are allowed to wear pants or a mini, mini, mini skirt, and feel the same level of confidence and acceptance. Where being monogamous and non-monogamous and asexual is all totally fine.

End of day, sex positivity is about being allowed to explore who you are sexually, and feeling okay in that. Feeling like you won’t be judged. Feeling like you have the right information to do it safely. And sex positivity is for everyone – male, female, transgender, gender non-conforming, straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, demi-sexual, or whatever-kind-of-sexual-you-want-to-identify-as.

End of day, that is all sex positivity is.

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.