Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen, A Review

Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman addresses a problem I, and many other women, have been chastised for: not being “feminine” enough. My dissertation is on British volunteer nurses and … Continue reading

OMG!! A man finds a curvy woman beautiful! Give him a prize!

When you work in a university library during the summer, you end up spending a lot of time on Buzzfeed. I’m guilty of taking all the stupid quizzes (I took this one twice and still got Cora. Oh well). I know that Buzzfeed is a mix of some good journalism, trashy quizzes, and a list of things I should spend my money on. I’m usually entertained during my 8 hour shifts in a basement. However, one article posted today really pissed me off.

The title, “People Are Applauding This Man For Celebrating His Wife’s Curves on the Internet,” was enough for me to roll my eyes. I’m sorry, should we give this guy an award for loving someone who doesn’t fit the stereotypical size 0 that the media tells us to worship? All right, well let’s look more and see how it proceeds. The subtitle is “I’m not crying, you’re crying.” Trust me, I’m not crying. There are no tears. We’re introduced to Robbie and Sarah Tripp. Robbie’s instagram captures show us how much he gushes over his beautiful wife. Sarah is really pretty. She’s described as a “body-positive fashion blogger” and owner of Sassy Red Lipstick. We’re shown pictures of the couple, one of them on the beach with Sarah wearing an amazing bathing suit (seriously, I want it). Then we’re given this gem of a caption from a picture Robbie shared:

“I love this woman and her curvy body. As a teenager, I was often teased by my friends for my attraction to girls on the thicker side, ones who were shorter and curvier, girls that the average (basic) bro might refer to as chubby or even fat.

Ok fine, good job on not being a dickhead who bought in to the patriarchal ideal of beauty. You’re able to see a woman as a person and go beyond the initial look of a woman. Moving on, here’s more:

“Then, as I became a man and started to educate myself on issues such as feminism and how the media marginalizes women by portraying a very narrow and very specific standard of beauty (thin, tall, lean) I realized how many men have bought into that lie.”

OK fine, I’m happy you were able to educate yourself and realize what kind of bull shit world we live in and what your wife had to deal with all her life.  Here is the rest:

For me, there is nothing sexier than this woman right here: thick thighs, big booty, cute little side roll, etc. Her shape and size won’t be the one featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan but it’s the one featured in my life and in my heart. There’s nothing sexier to me than a woman who is both curvy and confident. This gorgeous girl I married fills out every inch of her jeans and is still the most beautiful one in the room. Guys, rethink what society has told you that you should desire. A real woman is not a porn star or a bikini mannequin or a movie character. She’s real. She has beautiful stretch marks on her hips and cute little dimples on her booty. Girls, don’t ever fool yourself by thinking you have to fit a certain mold to be loved and appreciated. There is a guy out there who is going to celebrate you for exactly who you are, someone who will love you like I love my Sarah. 

Well, porn stars are real women. Sure, not many women get paid for having sex and (possibly) faking orgasms (much respect, by the way). But they’re real. So are the gorgeous actresses who play those movie characters. Sure, they are part of the media that perpetuates the myth and ideal of a perfect women, but they are real. I bet they work their asses off and don’t eat what they want and they can afford the trainers to make sure they stay that way. I can’t call mannequins real, so I guess he wins that. Now, it’s great to see a man call other men out for not willing to give a chance to women who aren’t size 2. But I definitely don’t need a man to tell me to that I will be “loved and appreciated.” Look, does it feel good to be told you’re attractive and sexy by a guy who you care for or are sleeping with? Yes, of course. So Robbie should tell Sarah every DAMN day how gorgeous she is and how lucky he is that she married him. But should I applaud, or cry, because one guy can own up to realizing that a woman who is curvy is beautiful inside and out? No.

On the surface this is a sweet testament to a beautiful woman. But he doesn’t deserve our applause, tears, or cheering for saying he’s found curvy women attractive. It’s 20-fucking-17 and we need to be further on body positivity than we are. I know that change doesn’t happen overnight, but as a curvy woman, I’m also tired of being led to believe that I should be thankful for men like Robbie for finding me beautiful. This article is sending the message about how amazing it is that a good looking guy finds a curvy woman beautiful. Rejoice!! You, woman with a full-figure, can indeed be loved! And maybe he too will go on social media and tell everyone how perfect your dimpled butt is!

Getting back into academic writing

Since my decision to get back into my Ph.D. program and finish my dissertation, I’ve felt pretty good. Dare I say it? I also felt a bit confident (that’s a strong word to use in a world where constant doubt is the norm). I am confident in my decision to come back and get the degree. Only a two-week stint in the 9-5 world was enough to show me that I need to teach and, whether I like it or not, my mental illness demands a job where there can be some flexibility (like being able to cancel a class when you’re having a breakdown).

A lot of the confidence I felt when I came back last month has vanished already, as soon as I started writing. It’s almost been a year since I’ve done academic writing and it is NOT an easy thing to get back into. Even when I was writing, I knew that one has to write every day, even if it’s only a paragraph. But still, I’m barely writing a paragraph per day and while it’s still something, there’s still always the feeling of “this isn’t enough.” I know that this is normal. Friends who have finished their degrees tell me that. I’ve seen online articles about different styles and different goals for writing. I’ve tried to apply them and yet I still haven’t found the best formula for me. I feel that I should have figured it out already and maybe that’s the fear: that if I haven’t figured out how to write productively constantly then how can I be an academic?

Not having the best communication with my previous director, I felt that everything I wrote was shit. Obviously, he never said anything close to that, but impostor syndrome is real y’all. Every one needs something different from their advisor. My good friend prefers to rarely speak to her advisor; another friend says he feels like “sunshine and rainbows” after meeting with his advisor and always seeks her advice. I’m somewhere in-between. I want the independence to write, but need a particular type of criticism; my new director, who I worked with at a literary journal and had as a professor, always writes positive notes (“great!” “this is really good!”) along with the criticism of what needs to be improved. This mix really helps with the constant presence of imposter syndrome: you’re good, you’re not great, but you can do this! He did tell me once “You’re not the smartest Ph.D. we’ve had, but you’re good and you need to get your degree.” Maybe it’s weird, but that’s just what I needed to get back into it. Now, if only I can focus on writing the dissertation instead of writing about writing the dissertation.

 

 

 

Feeling Like a Failed Feminist

(originally published on Progress and Tea)

I’m a feminist (gasp, surprise!) and as such there are things I know:

I know my worth as a person is not based on the male gaze.
I know that gender is a construct and has nothing to do with the sexual organs a person was born with.
I know that there are more than two genders.
I know that a person’s sex life—as long as it is consensual—is no one else’s business.
I know that it is important for women—ALL WOMEN—to support each other, be it by coming over with wine and/or chocolate, standing up for each other in public, protesting against the racist, misogynistic president, etc.
I know that equality for all means for all, no matter the person’s race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, etc.
I know that sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault.
I know, and yet…

Yet after being sexually assaulted I kept quiet for ten years and blamed myself.
Yet after trauma therapy, I still blame myself.
Yet my self-esteem went up when a person I thought was very good looking was attracted to me and wanted to have sex with me.
Yet my self-esteem plummeted when that arrangement ended.
Yet while I am proud of my independence, I want to be married and I want a partner.
Yet I’m worried when I get a cat, I’ll be considered a “crazy cat lady.”

It’s hard being a feminist. We have to be critical of the world we live in and ourselves because I believe we can always be better. But that criticism can be exhausting when it’s constantly aimed at ourselves. We can always work to be better humans, better feminists, but I feel like I fail to meet those standards I’ve set myself… I feel like a failed feminist.

While I have these thoughts I’m torn between those emotions—loneliness, shame, self-doubt, self-hatred—and being angry for having them. I feel like a bad feminist because there’s no way I would let any of my friends say these things to themselves. There is the logical and critical side of my mind that says, “You’re a great person. You’re beautiful, even if it’s not the standard. You’re smart. There was nothing you could do without risking more harm.” The problem is the other side, the side that has been raised in the patriarchal society, is louder. It says, “He didn’t like you enough, so you’re not good enough. You’re fat and ugly, and no one is going to want you. Why did you go into the house? You kissed him, thus giving him permission. It was your fault. You let it happen.” When this happens, which has been pretty frequent lately, I feel like a bad feminist. I’ve failed to believe for myself what I believe, and am willing to fight for, for others.

Feminism is a critical way of looking at the world. It demands thought and action. And it starts within ourselves. But we also have to remember that we are human—we have our faults. We have been raised in a society that has told us to think one way and it’s difficult and a lot of work to unlearn all that. My promise to myself is that every day I will work to unlearn what I’ve been taught. When I think “I’m not good enough,” I will remember all that I have accomplished. When my brain says, “It was your fault,” I will talk to myself the way I’ve spoken to the students who have come to tell me about their assault and remind myself that it was not my fault. It’s easier to fight for other people, to want to show them that they are amazing and are loved, than it is to love ourselves. But that’s part of feminism too. To love yourself the way you are, even if that means acknowledging you can do better.

This post features depression! Anxiety! And, bonus! a picture of the late Rocco!

The last month or so has been really difficult for me. I’m not one to share too much in a public forum, but basically I ended up having a mental/nervous breakdown. There was uncontrollable crying, panic attacks, inability to eat, and the urge to self-harm. It lasted about 5 days and it was the death of my brother’s–and my–dog, Rocco, that sparked it. He was 13, but had just had eye surgery and was able to see up to 50% so he was happier. His seizures, and consequent death, were sudden. He was a good pup.

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With the support of a daily Xanax pill and my friends, I was able to get through it without harming myself or causing any other damage. I did make some big changes in my life because of that, including leaving a job that I didn’t like and reenrolling back into the PhD program with a new director for my dissertation. My short time at the new job reminded me that I want to be in front of a classroom–that’s where I can actually help students and that’s where I feel the best. These changes, along with my breakdown, mentally and physically exhausted me. I’m lucky enough to have awesome parents, cause they bought me tickets to come home for two weeks to relax and refresh before going back to the academic world.

This experience made me think about my mental illnesses. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and general anxiety disorder. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much. While I wrote this my first thought was “who isn’t diagnosed with one of those?” During my breakdown, I was still going to work and it was one of the hardest things I had to do. I kept thinking, “If only my illness was physical, then I would have a legitimate reason to go home and take care of myself.” Now that I’m out of the fog, I’m angry. I’m angry at myself for thinking like that and I’m angry that the society I live in does not see mental illness as “legitimate.” I have three really good friends who have physical illnesses that affect their daily lives: one has rheumatoid arthritis, another has Hashimoto’s, and the other has had brain cancer since 2013 (in remission since 2014). Don’t get me wrong, these women are badass, but I’m also thankful that I don’t have to deal with what they do. Then again, I also deal with my depression and anxiety every day. Some days, getting out of bed and moving to the couch is all I have energy for. Some days, I’m fine and happy, can see a positive future. The next day, I have no energy and can’t see anything good to look forward to. It affects my physical health; it affects if I can do my job; it affects how I interact with others. I (we) have been conditioned to see mental illness as something completely different from physical illness. It’s something that can be “cured” if you just think positively, work out more, do yoga, cut out gluten, just be happy! Except it can’t be cured. It can be managed through meds, therapy, and, for some people, exercise, if they have the energy for it. It can be managed the same way one manages an autoimmune disease. It won’t be cured, no matter how often I’m in down dog.

I do wonder how if someone like me, who suffers daily, has a hard time accepting that I have is an illness that is just as legitimate, just as scary, and just as exhausting as any physical illness, how can someone who doesn’t have it understand? Even my parents, who have both been on anti-depressants for a time and have suffered from the occasional panic attacks, can’t understand the difference between me being depressed, or in a bad mood, and having depression. I try not to lose my patience when explaining to them that I will be on my anti-depressants forever, that therapy is not the same as talking to my friends, and that sometimes I need a pill to function.

I don’t know when the next breakdown will be. I haven’t had one for almost 4 years and the first one was 2 years before that. Neither were as bad as the one I just had, and this time I am on the highest dosage of Celexa I’ve been on AND have been going to therapy regularly. This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. Some days accepting that you have such an illness is just as difficult as dealing with that illness. I’m pretty damn lucky to have close friends who take mental illness seriously and are always ready to ask what I need instead of telling me to “buck up,” while others don’t have that support. I don’t know how mental illness will be taken more seriously. Sure, awareness is important, whether it’s sporting a green ribbon or urging people to read Hyperbole and a Half, but I’m guessing larger change can happen when most of us who have mental illnesses can acknowledge that we have a legitimate illness. Unfortunately, the nature of most of those illnesses mean we’re too exhausted to fight that fight, even with ourselves.

Click here for Allie Brosh’s comic on depression.

 

 

Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

I’m super behind on reviewing books, but that’s ok cause I’m also in a reading slump and haven’t been able to focus on anything, even my beloved Jane Eyre. I’m slowly getting through Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology now. Since it’s been a while though, this review is going to be short.

Mahon’s book, Scandalous Women, is based on what started as a blog. It’s categorized by “Warrior Queens,” “Wayward Wives,” “Scintillating Seductresses,” “Crusading Ladies,” “Wild Women of the West,” “Amorous Artists,” and “Amazing Adventuresses.” Mahon covers famous (and infamous) women such as Boudica, Zelda Fitzgerald, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Calamity Jane, and Frida Kahlo. Mahon’s writing is simple, clear, and funny. It’s like she’s talking to you and gushing about how cool some of these women are. I read some reviews on Goodreads where some people were annoyed by the tone. Personally, it’s why I enjoyed it. I don’t need my nonfiction to always be academic — I did enough of that reading for the almost 7 years of graduate school. Mahon’s book is a great way to learn some history and learn about some amazing women. Even if you know some of these women, you’ll learn some new things about them. If it wasn’t for some of the sexual aspects, I was ready to give this to my friend’s 11 year-old daughter who is a burgeoning feminist. However, this is a great book for some youngsters to read and learn more about some of the top players in history that tend to be ignored.

My next review will be of The Light Between Oceans. That review might be a little longer since I remember more of it! I’m also thinking about watching the movie, though I haven’t heard great things. Meanwhile, back to Gaiman and the Norse gods!