Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Bit on Pleasure

DISCLAIMER: this post includes the use of words that may disturb. But they only disturb sissies.

We live in a society obsessed with instant gratification from diet pills to cell phones, infatuated with numbness, and fixated on pleasure. Despite phrases like "no pain no gain," or "beauty is pain," we are a culture that intentionally avoids real pain like the plague, preferring instead to constantly seek new ways of fulfilling a shallow yet unquenchable ideal of gratification. We'd rather text all day than spend a single moment alone, we'd rather have 700 "friends" on facebook to keep from feeling lonely (or admitting it), we'd rather spend our mental energy on physical appearance, worrying about how tan you are, what brand shoes you have and how thin you are, instead of facing our own internal demons.
Paired with this addiction to pleasure and fear of pain, there's this undeniable hypersexualization of women as a way of trying to quench that thirst for satisfaction. Because we live in a heterosexual male dominated society (though the waves of the Feminist movement have made leaps and bounds over the past century), the desires and pleasures of heterosexual men are the primary concern. Thus, we've come to accept billboards of nearly nude women in advertisements for everything from cars to cigarettes to sandwiches; everyone knows, "sex sells."

As it stands now, this hypersexualization is almost background noise; we've gotten so accustomed to the constant inundation of images of greased-up, nearly-naked women on the verge of orgasm convincing you to buy those sunglasses, we hardly stop to notice it, nevermind to question it.

But it hasn't always been this way. If we go back, say 50 years, just as the Pill was just being introduced into mainstream society with relative safety and married women were just being granted the right to use oral contraception (as protected under the Constitution as a "right to privacy")- sexualization of women in public spaces and advertisements was not nearly to the same extreme as it is today. Granted, the exploitation of women has always been a strongly used tool in nearly every industry, but the public's level of tolerance has grown significantly over the years.
"We grew up in a time in which sex itself was largely taboo. When I was a kid, young people didn't even know where babies came from." Hugh Heffner in the documentary, Inside Deep Throat.
The introduction of the Pill was a huge turning point in the world of Feminism; it signified the beginning of a recognition of a woman's sexuality, her right to choose how her body is treated and her right to privacy. There is still widespread ignorance and denial about women's ownership over their own bodies, their own vaginas (I choose to spell it wrong because vaginae just sounds awful), their own sexuality and capacity for pleasure.

In 1972, the film, "Deep Throat" premiered in Times Square; the first pornographic film to feature a plot, and the first to introduce fellatio as a heterosexual activity, thus deeming oral sex (fellatio in particular, cunnilingus remains, if you ask me, taboo) a "legitimate" sexual act. The plot of the film is this:
An unsatisfied woman wants more from sex (gasp! can you imagine?!) and so she calls a doctor. The doctor diagnoses that the woman's clitoris is actually buried deep inside her throat. His prescription? Deep throat.

Okay, so the film had some good qualities: acknowledging women's sexuality, capacity, desire, and if I may add, the necessity of pleasure for women. Further, because the focus was on giving this woman a clitoral orgasm, the film thereby protested the proclamation that the only "legitimate" orgasm for women is a vaginal orgasm. This claim comes from the fact that in order to give a woman a vaginal orgasm there must be something inside the vagina, preferably a penis. A clitoral orgasm, on the other hand, can be stimulated without said parts and is a viable orgasm for those sinful lesbians (full on sarcasm, fyi). Plus, it humorously addressed the age-old issue of finding a woman's clitoris. The film also was part of a revolution to mainstream the discussion of sex, sexuality and to de-taboo-ize pornography (the New York Times called the film "Porno Chic" as high society (Jackie Kennedy!) adventured to the slums to see it). Deep Throat was on the front line as the first mainstream, widely advertised hardcore porn film that liberated terms like "fuck," "suck cock," "eat cunt," etc. In response to it's premiere in NYC, Nixon allotted money for research on the effects of pornography on the adult brain- the final report determined that there were virtually zero harmful effects on an adult exposed to pornography. "Sex was in movies, sex was on t.v. Sex came out of the closet." Yay Deep Throat!

Except, hold on. A woman's clitoris is NOT hidden deep inside her throat! And for the most part, women do NOT get a great deal of pleasure from performing fellatio. The idea that giving head, not to mention deep-throating, is as pleasurable for a woman as it is for a man is nothing more than a wet-dream. Perhaps unintentionally, the movie propagated the dangerous fantasy that women get off from giving blow-jobs. I know I'm not the only woman who's had to face this fantasy head-on (excuse the pun) nearly 40 years later. The film also, as was the goal, opened the door for the porno industry, as we know it today. Porno is no longer a revolution of discovery and rebellion. When the original pornography premiered in NYC, people saw the title and thought, "What could deep throat mean, certainly not what I'm thinking..." Whereas, these days, most sexually active young people don't consider it sex. (Inside Deep Throat)
"Sex is a force, it's a force like lava and there haven't been too many successful engineering projects in diverting the flow of lava."
So now there is this type of sexual discrimination- with a few exceptions, most men are ignorant (or pretend to be ignorant) to women's pleasure. It is far more socially accepted to discuss male pleasure. Every issue of nearly every popular women's magazine has some newly discovered tactic to "please your man," yet its far more common for men to orgasm than it is for women- as so aptly illustrated by Deep Throat the lack of men's knowledge of where the clitoris even is.
The sad part, though, is that there are a huge number of WOMEN who don't know where their own clitoris is, who have never experienced an orgasm, who are afraid that they physically can't, or are so ashamed of their sexuality that they don't want to find out that they can.

And when the topic of masturbation comes up, chances are we're talking about male masturbation. Many women don't know that they can masturbate (or how); they don't know that they don't need to wait for a man (or woman) to come and give them an orgasm. In fact, if you Google "how to masturbate" the first hit you'll come across is geared towards women and the topic of the first episode of the Midwest Teen Sex Show ( is female masturbation- precisely because men don't need to be told how- it is popularly discussed casually in movies, on television, between father and son- and yet us women are left in the dark, waiting, hoping, praying for someone to deliver us to our own orgasm. Why not take the driver's seat?

Besides the lack of women's popular knowledge of how to give ourselves our own pleasure, there is also widespread self-hate. From general and postpartum depression to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders; women's statistics are rising. Maybe if we learned to love our woman-selves, in the most literal sense of the word, we could also be a little happier. Maybe learning to love ourselves would also lead us in the direction of facing those internal demons and bring us a little closer to reality instead of hiding behind text messages and facebook status updates.

So here's to the female orgasm- vaginal or clitoral- from yourself, from a female or male lover- who cares?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Reflection; No Mirror Required

Sometimes it's surprising how much we change. Sometimes it's surprising how little we do.
Either way, it's important to look back and see where we've been, where we've gone, and how far we've come.
Sometimes the person I've been is someone I barely recognize as myself, and yet I know her all too well. It's as though I've changed so much that my previous self is an entirely different person from who I am now, and while I can understand and relate to the deepest feelings and experiences of that person, it is no longer who I am.
Most of the time.

When I was 15, I developed Anorexia Nervosa. Classically defined as "the refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height (generally less than 85% of expected weight) accompanied with an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, disturbance in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight. Additionally, in women who have not yet gone through menopause, the absence or loss of the menstrual cycle is a key indicator." ( It is a disease perceived of in this culture as a lifestyle choice or confused with vanity, obsession and conceit. But what most people don't see is that the illness is a coping mechanism in which internal pain or frustration is manifested in physical terms on the body and in preoccupation with weight and physical appearance. It is the cognitive process of masking personal issues with physical ideas of perfection and transforming life problems into bodily dissatisfaction.
"It is important to remember that there is not one single simple thing that causes a person to develop an Eating Disorder. It usually lies in some combination of the social, environment, and biological attributes, and/or the family dysfunction of each individual."
There are a number of reasons I've explored for why I personally developed this disorder. Part of it can be attributed to
the panic felt by an adolescent to control my life and to create an identity for myself- I fell back on the identity of the "little one"- the youngest grandchild in my family, the little sister, the smallest in my class etc. I was craving love and feeling worthless but because these were too painful for me to recognize and deal with, my I subconsciously converted them and any other less-than-pleasant feeling into "feeling fat." I did everything I could think of to avoid this feeling, from dieting, exercising, restricting calories and eventually food groups, self-induced vomiting, purging by laxatives and abusing diet pills. The feeling of accomplishment when I lost a pound, while exhilarating, was nonetheless fleeting and the "fat feeling" would return only momentarily.

I did not know that this was not normal. I was convinced by the little Eating Disorder (ED) voice in my head that this was how I was to live; this was all there was. I did not think there was anything wrong with me, and I most certainly did not think I had a disease. My first therapist explained to me:
"an eating disorder is like standing in a room, and deciding you don't like the color of the wall to your left, so you paint the one on your right. Now you still don't like the color of the left wall, and you again, paint the right one. What happens is, there is something within yourself that is causing some stress, but you don't feel like you can deal with it, so instead you change something on your outside (i.e. your weight etc.) but, like the walls, it doesn't satisfy your discomfort, so you keep changing your external, until you finally pay attention to the internal."

A few quintessential memories of this time in my life come to mind:
One afternoon, after an exhausting day of school, I came crashing into my mom's office (she worked at my high school) and told her I couldn't go to play rehearsal (I was cast as Alice in Alice in Wonderland). I kind of collapsed on the floor, crying, as my muscles ached and I approached one of my own breaking points, sort of beginning to realize that my behavior was taking a toll on me. I leaned against the wall and my skirt fell above my knee. This allowed my mother to see the multiple straight-line scars on my thigh. I saw her eyes dart to them and a millisecond of fear and sadness flashed in her eyes before I pulled my skirt down and ran out of her office and to her car where I waited for her to take me home. I think this was when my mom realized that something was really wrong. After this incident, I told my parents, in a rare state of mental clarity, that I needed help, that I was hurting myself in multiple ways, and that I was scared. I remember my dad's response: "Want to go for a bike ride?" He wasn't treating me differently, he didn't pin my identity with this disease- I was still his daughter, and he wasn't treating me like a porcelain doll. I smiled- YES, I wanna go for a bike ride. This was the most perfect thing he could have done in that moment.

One evening, kneeling in front of the toilet like a throne, crying, breaking down and realizing that I was no longer in control- my "dieting" was controlling me, and I was powerless. My mother opened the bathroom door, saw me, and calmly shut the toilet seat, pulled my close to her and told me "It's going to be okay, we're going to get through this," as she stroked my head. This was the most perfect thing she could have done in that moment.

Arguing in the kitchen with my mother because I wouldn't eat dinner again. I was getting ready to go out and was waiting for her to drive me, but she wanted me to eat something before I left. She didn't push hard, but I refused, over and over, and eventually erupted, lifting my shirt up and asked her if she could see my ribs. "If you can't see my ribs, I'm not thin enough!" I shouted. I can just remember the look on my mother's face; a look of sheer sadness and hopelessness, with a plea in her eyes for me to get healthy.

I remember being so angry that they had diagnosed me. It felt like an unnecessary limitation; the obligation the therapists and nutritionists put on me to gain weight seemed like a misapplication of their expertise. I was a waste of a patient because there was nothing wrong with me, they should spend their time helping people who actually are sick. I particularly remember seeing a girl from my middle school in the mall. She was part of the 'popular kid' crowd when I knew her, but we had gone to different high schools and I hadn't seen her in two years. When I saw her in Forever21, she was very thin, probably at a similar weight to me at the time, and I thought, "I know that girl, and she doesn't have an eating disorder, why can't I look like her, and not have this stupid diagnosis?!" A few weeks later, I saw her sitting in the Office of my Eating Disorder-specialized therapist/nutritionist.

Anorexia Nervosa is a disease most commonly mistaken as a lifestyle choice or confused with vanity, obsession and conceit. During the time I spent engrossed in anorexia, my mind and my body were metaphysically at war. My mind, once a close ally, betrayed my body. I became caught in the battle and was forced to choose sides. Anorexia double crossed me, turned me against my own body and vice versa. As my body begged for respect and nourishment, my mind attacked it as an enemy crossing the border. My mind became the territory of my eating illness and my body was intruding. Eating illnesses are blood thirsty and merciless. Except, those struggling with them generally believe they've got a friend, not a life-threatening illness.

Beginning in October of my sophomore year, my parents had me seeing an Eating Disorder specialized nutritionist regularly, and I had had a few consults with therapists in the same field. They came to the same conclusion and diagnosed me with Anorexia Nervosa, and warned me that if I didn't gain weight soon, I'd be in the hospital in no time. I was of course deluded by my conviction that continuing on this path (destructive as it was) would bring me happiness, and did not believe their threats.

By Halloween, I had successfully isolated myself from most of my friends, was rapidly losing weight and was all-the-more dedicated to my disease. An average day consisted of a piece of fruit and 3 pieces of gum throughout the day, constant obsessive thoughts about my body, losing weight, what to eat or not to eat, and setting weight loss goals for myself. Any binges I had as a result of a starving body would be purged because of the intense guilt I felt after eating- as though I didn't deserve it. I remember thinking that my body's needs were less than others, and while others needed to eat three balanced, nutritious meals a day, I did not, and if I did, it would in fact destroy me and everything I was working for. I felt that I had a "higher standard of beauty," one which I would never hold any of my friends to, but that was the bare minimum for myself.

A few weeks later, on a Wednesday, I had an appointment with a therapist at the same office of the nutritionist I had been seeing, and ignoring. They weighed me, brought my family in, and talked for some time about the possibility of hospitalization- a conversation I had heard with distant ears several times and it never worried me. I had tickets to go with a friend to see my favorite band of the time in two days and I was more concerned about that. Two days later, Friday, I was in Honors U.S. History class, taking notes and using the margins of my notebook to count calories and doodle as my mind wandered due to lack of nutrition. My mother's face unexpectedly came to the window of the classroom door, and she cautiously beckoned my history teacher over, whispered something, and then motioned me to come with her. I walked out of the classroom and had a conversation that would change my life. I was told I was being taken to the hospital. She would drive us back to the house, I would pack a bag of clothes for about a week and then I'd be taken to the hospital for an evaluation. I stormed back into my classroom, grabbed my notebook, made no eye contact and left.

I was furious, but I was not worried. I was certain that I would not be deemed "sick" and would not be admitted, my mother would be made into a fool and I would return to my "life," having only wasted a few hours. We drove to the hospital in total silence. After measuring my blood pressure, heart rate, taking an EEG, and asking me questions about how I saw myself in the mirror and inquiring about scars on my wrists and thighs, they weighed me.
this. terrified. me.

The average, healthy 15 year old female weighs between 120-140 pounds. I weighed in at 78 pounds. Hello, hospitalization.
I asked the nurse if I could go to the concert that night and come back on Monday, or something. The answer, obviously was no- but that just goes to show the value I had placed on my health.
The next 2 and a half months of hospitalization, Intensive Outpatient and Partial Hospitalization Therapy were some of the hardest times in my life. I had to face fears of food and gaining weight, but also even more intense fears of losing control, inadequacy, and dependence. I had to come to terms with issues that I had masked with body preoccupation, and I had to learn to be assertive- to use my voice to tell people how I feel, rather than to express it with my body. I had previously expressed my pain through starvation- through making my body sick, and now I was learning to express myself healthily.

Since being discharged from the hospital almost four years ago, I've come a long way. My path on recovery has been far from straight and narrow, it's been more akin to a roller-coaster ridden backwards and blindfolded most of the way. Its an issue that I face every day, a battle I fight from sun-up to sun-down, but some times are easier than others. There are moments when I feel like I've got this down, settled, under control, and there are times when it feels like I'll never stop hurting, never stop fighting. Relapses have come and gone, and every time I have to fight, it feels just as hard but every time I fight, I'm stronger for it. And while I may not ever be completely "over" this, life is about doing the work, so I'll keep working, getting better, learning and never quitting. Because it's just not me anymore. Most of the time.

peace, love and strength to all who are fighting, have fought or support those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and EDNOS.

If any of this sounds like you, or someone you love, please seek help:
Feel free to comment or contact me- this is nota joke, we are in this together.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Us vs. Them (Part Two)

And here we go, again...

Value systems like the US patent system and capitalism bring with them their own baggage. You cannot integrate a patent system in a society that values community or communal wealth. Patents, in and of themselves, necessitate a drive towards privatization and personal gain. Imposing the "Western" mode of financial operation on other parts of the world consequentially changes the moral and social ethics of the area. In introducing capitalism through globalization and foreign investment to "non-Western/developed" areas of the world, standards of self-worth, beauty and the Earth are corrupted. For instance, when eco-tourism (the fastest growing sector of the global travel industry) has been introduced to Indigenous cultures, (often without prior informed consent of the native people) their land is regularly taken out of their control for construction of hotels, shops, and restaurants. After time, a once-self-sustaining community becomes dependent on foreign capital, and much of the original land has been converted from crop fields to hotels and bars; once foreign financial markets hit a rough patch, that once-independent culture is suddenly starving. Additionally, after exposure to "Western" culture, the Indigenous locals' perceptions shift to regard themselves as "poor" for the first time (Suzanne York, Mixed Promises of Ecotourism, Paradigm Wars).

Standards of beauty are altered as foreign ads plaster the mountains and countryside in Mexico. Billboards of tall, light-skinned, blond women with Cokes in their hands and Revlon on their lips don't need to be able to speak to tell Mexican women what they "need." Hollywood floods the cinemas dubbed in Spanish and Cosmo magazine is sold on the streets of Mexico City alongside shops selling appetite suppressants and fat-burning tea. Campesinos are disappearing as cities sprawl, t-shirts with slogans in English are more common than native dress, and "traditional" dances are more spectacle than ritual.

and so much more, but like I said, I have mush for brains.
And now to write my final paper...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Us vs. Them (Part One)

So I'm leaving Mexico in a few days. And I can't believe it's been a month. In an attempt to begin to consolidate what I've learned here... here we go:

There's this dominant worldview, often labeled as the "Western," "European," "Northern," "modern," or "developed" perspective which includes a value system of capitalism, globalization, economic growth and profit, technology and domination of land and peoples. It is a static system of hierarchy based on positivism and keeping up with the Joneses. It values the scientific method, categorical pigeonholes of "right" and "wrong," and standardization and it strives for uniformity.
Dominant, however, does not mean majority; nor does it mean balanced or healthy. There are other approaches, suppressed and restrained. Indigenous worldviews- native cosmovisions- tend to be more dualistic, sustainable, community-oriented, and holistic. These epistemologies are more fluid, respecting the ever-changing nature of life, passed down orally. It is, as Sylvia Marcos has said, a "harmony of tensions," a perspective of things in motion- moving constantly for equilibrium. It is an integration of the individual, the community, the Earth, and spirit. It values the collective, the wisdom of ancestors and nature, it isn't afraid of the gray areas, and it fosters biodiversity. However, these opposite views of how to live on this planet have created a paradigm war. Native lands, bodies and minds are being commodified and exploited because these two paradigms are so dissonant- they simply cannot continue to co-exist the way they have.
"Economic globalization, and the corporations and bureaucracies that are its driving forces literally cannot survive without an ever-increasing supply of oil, natural gas, forests, minerals of all kinds, fish, freshwater, and arable lands, among other crucial needs. They also require supportive infrastructure- new roads, pipelines, dams, electricity grids, airports, seaports, etc.- to take the resources from the often pristine places where they are found and carry them across vast terrains and oceans to is no small irony that the very reason that native peoples have become such prime targets for global corporations and their intrinsic drives is exactly because most indigenous peoples have been so successful over millennia at maintaining cultures, economies, worldviews and practices that are not built upon some ideal of economic growth or short-term profit-seeking." - Jerry Mander, Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples' Resistance to Globalization
Multinational corporations and foreign investment have wreaked havoc on Indigenous lands and the life it had supported for thousands of years. There are examples out the wazoo of the exploitation and destruction caused from Argentina and Bolivia to Mexico, Niger, and Zimbabwe. The "short-term profit-seeking" corporations are boundless, and the world has been their oyster. And we have allowed this. Treaties and trade agreements including (but not even close to limited to) NAFTA and TRIPS have eliminated obstacles of globalization and destroyed whatever protection these marginalized peoples and lands had. NAFTA removed the ability of Indigenous peoples to own land communally- stripping them of a basic right inherent in their community-based culture and essential to their identity. TRIPS made it legal to patent life forms; i.e. seeds, plants, herbs and animals based on the obscene assumption that biological living organisms could be owned as private property despite the fact that a life form is inherently self-organizing. It imposed the corrupt and broken US patent system on the rest of the world, it rewards biopiracy and turns those who have developed the crops over centuries into thieves. And all this without prior informed consent. This "Western" system demands that every place on Earth adopts identical economic systems and thus political and social structure and the values and lifestyles that go along with them. In short, it is working towards a Global Monoculture: a world with zero diversity in land, people, culture, food and ideology- a planet that cannot sustain living organisms, and a world that cannot be sustained on a finite planet.

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

¡ Bienvenidos a Tu Vida !

This is it.

So I was on skype with my mom a few days ago, and was talking about a little bit of apprehension I'm feeling about returning to the States. As of right now, I feel removed, in a sense, from much of the nerves and anxieties that usually accompany me, and I was telling my mom that "I'm a little worried about the backlash I'm going to face when I return to my life."

"...when I return to my life..."

And she said, "Well, what do you mean, your life, you're living right now, aren't you? Maybe this is your life, and California is a trip!"

What I meant was, when I return to my habitual routine, my norm. But I compartmentalized the schedule I keep in the States to remain there and the routine I've picked up here, to stay here. Who's to say, however, that I can't integrate a bit of them both?

There will always be variations in the habits and routines we accumulate in different places, but that's not to say that you become a different person, nor that those schedules are tied to those places indefinitely. Wherever you go, there you are. You are still you, no matter where you go and you can still be true to yourself and your values. If I value physical fitness, I can find ways to exercise without a gym at my disposal. If I can exist with a lesser level of anxiety here, than I can absolutely do that in the States, too, no?

Wherever you go, there YOU are.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mush For Brains.



I remember driving with my sister in Portland, Or. (definitely in my top five favorite cities, btw) and she had this revelation:
She was running late for her graduation rehearsal because we had decided to stay at the beach (about an hour away from the college) just a teeeency bit longer. She didn't want to speed for fear of being pulled over, but she also did not want to be too late to her own graduation rehearsal. We were one our way back to the campus, watching her MPH and the clock hoping we'd get there only 2 or 3 minutes late. She was clearly frustrated, but instead of being angry and complaining (see below post) about the situation, she realized that she had created the situation by indulging in some extended time at the beach. Her less-than-responsible decision to stay longer contributed to her desire to speed, but her commitment to responsibility contributed to her desire to remain within the speed limit. Instead of seeing these two decisions as opposing, she recognized them as causal.

I think everything is like this. I wrote briefly about the relationships between multiple institutions here in Mexico in a previous post, but I'm becoming more and more aware of the infinite connections surrounding me.
I'm in Mexico right now, because I and my parents are active parts of a hierarchical, capitalist system promoting globalization and colonization. This active participation has enabled me to attend the small liberal-arts college, for which I am so grateful, that is also deeply entrenched in this system. So I'm in Mexico with a program organized and funded by my school, learning about traditional healing techniques and rituals, indigenous cosmovisions, different concepts of space and time and of relating to each other, and the Earth. And its turning me into a socialist.

Well, not really. But kind of.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears"

Men, Women, Children, Lend Me Your Eyes, Ears, Tongues, Fingers and Noses!

It doesn't matter who you are, we are all constantly bombarded with images, in whatever form, of the "perfect body," beauty (according to someone else) and ideals we are supposed to live up to.

We see magazine covers telling you how to "Get a Great Bikini Butt!" we hear conversations and advertisements right and left discussing what to eat, not to eat, how to lose inches, fat, burn calories etc. The tension is so high between our realities and the ideals imposed upon us, you can taste the anxiety. And, oh no, does that have calories?!

These images and soundbites are a global phenomenon. The tall-skinny-blond-white-girl standard of beauty has spread like mono at a make-out party, as illustrated by the picture above, showing the first page of results of a Google search for "perfect body." It amazes me how widespread the issue of body image is, and the slight differences in the way cultures handle it.

Friends of mine in another Spanish class here in Mexico had a lesson based around vocabulary and verbs having to do with (drumroll please..) weightloss. Mexican culture is such that discussions about bodies are less sensitive and a lot more common. Apparently, the teacher discussed in depth her dissatisfaction with her body (like I said, nearly a universal sentiment at this point) as well as techniques she's tried (and suggested to some specific students in the class) to lose weight. Every morning my host here and I have a cute little back-and-forth in which she urges me to eat yet another mango because she doesn't want me to get too slim! (Even though she's told me now three times that she's gotten fat since moving out of the city and that she wants to lose weight) To which I laughingly respond, "si, pero no quiero volver a estar gorda!" (yes, but I don't want to get fat!) We laugh, and sometimes I have another mango. Sometimes I don't.

And despite the fact that I am at a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and am fairly well educated about my personal health, and despite the fact that my digestive system is in better working order here than it usually is in the States, those images and soundbites make their way crawling back to my mind.
"lose x # of pounds.."
"just a little bit thinner"
"not quite good enough.."
"Argh! Shut up!"

Just goes to show.. it's not about the weight, the jean size, the number. Something else must be up.. and I wonder if it's connected to this notion of a globalized, standardized image of beauty.
Of course it's connected. Everything is connected, it's the 21st Century.

So maybe it has to do with the fact that in colonizing lands around the world, our identities have been destroyed, our roots have been ripped out from underneath the soil we've fled/been kicked off, and the sense of self that was once innate, now is sold to us. Our minds have been colonized and so we're left with the only option we can see, and that is to purchase it- to buy into the system that feeds insecurity, to feed the system that sells self-doubt.
We are generationally predisposed to self-dissatisfaction.

However, I watched a documentary several months back, "America, The Beautiful," in which Darryl Roberst investigates the "Western/Northern/European" standard of beauty. He covers topics from modeling agencies, fashion industry, cosmetic surgery, to eating disorders, and some opinions of some men. He conducts an interview with Eve Ensler, someone for whom I personally have tons of respect (if you don't know her, she's the playwright for the Vagina Monologues- and if you don't know the show/movement, don't be grossed out, go see a performance). In this interview she recounts a story taking place in the Nairobi Desert in Kenya. She was talking with Leah, a 74 year old African Masai Woman and the conversation went like this:

Leah: Do I like my body? Do I like my body? My body. My body. I love my body. God made this body. God gave me this body. My body. Oh goodness, I love my body. My fingers, look at my fingers. I love my fingernails, little crescent moons. My hands, my hands, the way they flutter in the air and fall, they lead right up to my arms- so strong-they carry things along- I love my arms – and my legs, my legs can wrap around a man and hold him there. My breasts…My breasts, well look at them, they’re mine, my breasts still round and full and fine.

Eve: Leah, wait, I don’t know how to do this. I want to feel like you. I want to love my body and stop hating my stomach.

Leah: What’s wrong with it?

Eve: It’s round. It used to be flat.

Leah: It’s your stomach. It’s meant to be seen. Eve, look at that tree? Do you see that tree? Now look at that tree. (points to another tree) Do you like that tree? Do you hate that tree ’cause it doesn’t look like that tree? Do you say that tree isn’t pretty ’cause it doesn’t look like that tree? We’re all trees. You’re a tree. I’m a tree. You’ve got to love your tree! Love your tree.

So maybe we can begin to love our trees. Maybe loving our trees will bring us back to our roots, and we won't need to buy into insecurities that give us a false foundation. Maybe we can begin to actually be grounded, in ourselves, in the wonders we hide from ourselves.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"What've You Got to Complain About?"

sometimes, you need to vent.
sometimes, you need to shut up.

There's a difference between complaining and expressing your dissatisfaction in productive and healthy fashion. Granted, it's a thin line, but it definitely exists.
There's something about complaining- the tone of voice, the facial expression and body language, the perspective engaged, and the amount of time taken up- it just really irks me.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for expressing oneself, it's totally important. Screaming, crying, talking about feelings etc- it all has it's place. Its human instinct to relate and build connections to others, many times through our shared experiences. There's a point at which releasing tension, or venting about a grudge or a particular event is helpful in moving past it, and when the goal of such discourse is to dissolve anxiety, procure a solution or to find a positive aspect of a negative position, then the complaining has a purpose.

There are times when I talk to my mom on the phone and she truly needs to let it out. When there's no one else she can discuss things with and the tension is building up inside her, we talk. I think she finds it helpful to get the issues off her chest, and our conversations will sometimes result in a solution or alternative perspective.
Sometimes you need to vent.

But there's this fine line to cross when you stop being productive and you start whining. If you're in a somewhat sour situation, its understandable that you want to release some of that less-than-positive energy. Here's the deal, though: negative energy only creates more negative energy, and chances are, you are at least partially (and I might argue wholly) responsible for much of your discomfort. All your complaining is going to do is to make you focus on the negative, thereby attracting more negative to you. Besides, whatever sour situation you're in, where you're complaining, you are sharing that experience with those to whom you're complaining. They get it, stop making them focus on it, too. You only end up feeding off each others' negativity. Its unproductive.

I remember being in Miami, spring break, senior year in high school. A friend of mine and I were thoroughly enjoying the beach, sun and Cuban food, and despite our severe sun poisoning and possible exposure to melanoma, our mantra for the week was, "What have we got to complain about?!" This (rhetorical) question should be asked more frequently. It made us realize that even though we could complain, why would we?

Now we've all been in uncomfortable circumstances, but having a sense of humor about it, not focusing on it, understanding when there's nothing you can do about it or being proactive in changing the situation- that's where your energy is better directed. Most of the time, there's something better to focus on.

I was hiking in Colorado for a couple of days. I was grumpy, tired, and a little lost. I was feeling frustrated, challenged, and a little bitchy. At some point, my friend and I took a break, and he asked me how I was feeling. I responded, "I feel inadequate, like I can't do this. Frustrated. Tired." Or something along those whiny lines. He looked at me, and said, "Would you shut up?" I was slightly taken aback, and in that moment I caught a glimpse of my surrounding environment at 1200 feet in altitude in the Colorado Mountains, snow covered peaks, the sun just over the crest. And I thought, "Wow. I've been harping on all this negativity, when THIS is surrounding me?! What a waste of energy." I looked back at my friend, and thanked him for telling me to shut up.
Sometimes, you need to shut up.