Tag Archives: Girls

On Beauty

“Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?”

With that song playing in the background as I write this, I am struck by the sadness that minor chords inspire. It is that feeling of sadness that keeps me drawn to Lana Del Rey’s piece, which I recently learned was written for Baz Lurhmann’s 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I very often have a song in my head that echoes what I’m doing, where I am, or how I’m feeling. There are songs I associate with certain emotions, people, or places and they arise unbidden very much like songs on a film soundtrack. Ask me about it sometime and I’ll happily tell you what’s playing!

The refrain I’ve been hearing lately is linked above. I’m actively listening to it on repeat in an effort to get it out of my head and shut off the demons that come with it. But they’re insistent, which is why I’m writing this.

Beauty Then
When I was around fourteen, I walked by a mannequin in a store and sighed aloud that it would be nice to be a mannequin when I grew up. My mum and sister pounced on this and I defended myself by saying that I just wanted someone to pick out my clothes.

Admission: That wasn’t entirely truthful.

As a teenager, around the time I was seriously crushing on a boy or two or three, I was very conscious of how I looked. My eyeliner was too dark when I was finally allowed to wear it and I spent too much time worried about my non-existent hips and how my jeans made my bum look. Finding a bathing suit was torturous and I was never happy with my hair so I straightened it for a few years before finally cutting it all off to start over.

In high school, I would have described myself as “pretty” or “attractive” and maybe even “pretty attractive” on a good day. At the same time, I would have described all of my friends as “beautiful”. Being beautiful meant a lot of different things to me, even then, though it took years to develop the confidence to describe myself that way.

Being Beautiful
So what does it mean to be beautiful?

It means being creative and inquisitive. There is certainly such a thing as a beautiful mind.

It means being compassionate, kind, and caring. I’m lucky to know more than a few truly beautiful souls (stay with me for the moment, even if you don’t believe in souls).

Being beautiful also means being strong, healthy, and physically fit.

Beauty means happiness. A smile is just about everyone’s best feature, especially when it’s unexpected.

It means being able to listen to others and appreciate what they have to offer.

It means confidence. It means being able to stand in front of others unapologetically and express ideas, especially when people listening will disagree.

But bubbling underneath all of those examples of real beauty is the far more superficial and completely unattainable image of a supermodel. As Lana Del Rey asks, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” According to that question, what matters? Youth matters. Beauty matters. That’s what yield love. Looking at pop culture, love is what matters.

You want love? You need to be young and beautiful.

Or so I thought.

The Shift
My conception of beauty underwent a fundamental shift during my first year teaching. I was teaching one section of a psychology elective and my department head and mentor was teaching the other. He suggested I show Jean Kilbourne’s documentary Killing Us Softly 4 (read about it here or purchase it here) during our unit on gender.

Jean Kilbourne discusses the ways in which advertising views women and uses ads that she has collected over the years to explore society’s obsession with physical appearance, thinness, whiteness, and youth. She argues that we have accepted cutting women into parts and displaying only legs or lips or torso, which dehumanizes women and leads to sexual violence. Kilbourne also delves into the role that Photoshop plays in creating an impossible ideal for both women and men.

Had I been exposed to such a stark analysis of the media and its advertisements in high school, I would have been a lot more confident in who I was rather than worrying about what I looked like. That is not an exaggeration.

As part of a follow-up assignment, my students and I started looking at ads. These already confident students at an all-girls secondary school brought in catalogues they received in the mail, constructively criticized the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that was on that week, and put together a variety of pieces reflecting on their experience with the film. I don’t know for sure whether it changed their outlook on beauty, but I do know that it made them think about who they were and who they were told to be.

Beauty Now
It has been a while since I was first allowed to wear eyeliner at 15. My hair is curly and I don’t own a straightening iron, my favorite makeup item is purple mascara, and my jeans are comfortable. End of story.

The unnerving soundtrack in my head, however, still playing the Lana Del Rey song, has made it clear that I am not without insecurities. I am far more adept at seeing beauty of any kind in others than I do in myself. Maybe this is because I’m a lot harder on myself than those around me.

The chorus of the song ends with, “I know you will.” The irony is that she still had to ask, as many of us do.

Seeing myself as beautiful now, though it sometimes requires effort in self-compassion, means accepting myself as I am and for who I want to be. It involves living up to the ideal that I have created for myself as one who is continuously learning and acting to make the world a better place. Considering myself beautiful means placing the greatest value on how I treat those around me and what I do to improve the world.

Are you beautiful? You are, in so many ways. The beauty that actually matters does not diminish with age. If anything, it is likely to grow along with you.

LeftRightLeftRight

When I was in college, I went to a Coldplay concert with a group of friends. I can still feel the electricity of that night, and I still get chills when I hear certain songs. At the end of the night, after releasing a cloud of butterflies, Coldplay passed out CDs with the title LeftRightLeftRight. I didn’t understand the title at the time; after all, the album was a recording of one evening on the Viva La Vida Tour, which is what I had just paid to see. Over the past week, however, I started to wonder if the title could be a nod to creativity, and to the importance of stepping out of the boxes in which we put ourselves, in order to look for something more.

I have to give my friend Mary credit for providing the impetus for me to explore creativity this week. I don’t consider myself a creative personal at all. I’ve always wanted to be, but I am (regrettably) a perfectionist in much of what I do. In terms of the IB Learner Profile, I am not much of a risk taker. Call it a personality flaw.

ib-learner-profile-diagram
Source: http://blogs.osc-ib.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/IB-Learner-profile-diagram.jpg

School on the brain at all times, right?

Anyway, I reached out to Mary and another friend, Ally, earlier this week to share with them how alone and afraid I’ve been feeling. I’ve written about it before – the difficulty of finding a new job, the challenges of moving, and just trying to do as much as I can before I leave here. I’ve been feeling quite lost in the choices that I’ve made and continue to make, both in terms of employment and my personal life. Like many women in doubt, especially across oceans, I reached out to my girlfriends. I’ve known Ally since the first day of high school, which is still one of the most frightening experiences I’ve had. I went from a K-8 school of 120 kids in one town to a high school with 1,000 kids in another town. A couple weeks late, I met Mary and she introduced me to rest of the people who became my core group for the duration of my high school career. The rest, as they say, is history.

In their remarkably quick replies to a very long, rambling, I-am-crying-out-for-help-please-help-me email, both women were thoughtful, caring, supportive, and compassionate in everything they wrote and in the subsequent actions that they took. It is no surprise that I was sleeping better towards the end of this week than I have in the past month.

In the course of her response, Mary shared an interesting activity that she came across, presumably online. To paraphrase, Mary told me to ask myself an open-ended question and write the answer with my dominant hand and then my other hand. She had used ,”What animal best describes me?” in her example (quite possibly from this blog) and the two animals that she came up with beautifully capture two very different aspects of her personality. Seeing this, I gave it a try with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My dominant hand told me teacher, which I expected. As I picked up the pen in my other hand, I felt a huge smile on my face because I knew exactly what I was going to write. In the awkward letters of one who is not ambidextrous but trying to be, the word writer appeared.

And I knew it would.

The second my pen left my dominant hand, which is really the only place it ever spends any time (and quite a lot of time as I work on grading the 51 grade nine essays I got on Wednesday), I literally felt a different part of my brain activate. As a teacher of psychology, I was not entirely that this happened but I was fascinated. I found this interview with a researcher also mentioned in this article to simply explain how to activate cognitive processing in a different hemisphere than normal. Have a quick read if you’re interested, or ask the different hemispheres of your brain a question.

So I wonder if that’s what Coldplay meant with that album title. I wonder if they were reflecting on their own creativity or encouraging others to literally try another hand.

I generally have a lot of questions and, “Now what?” is a question that I ask myself every time I send out another cover letter or resume or file another “thank you for your submission” email. It’s a question I ask myself whenever I read position descriptions for jobs I should be qualified for when, in the back of my mind, I know I’m not who schools want (to be explored in another blog post at a later date). It’s something I wonder when people ask me if I’m excited to move to NYC or if I’m sorry to leave Singapore.

The difficulty is that I am not patient, I am not comfortable with uncertainty, and I am trying very hard to be both. My dominant hand says “keep trying” and I am afraid to ask my other hand.

Let’s Talk About Sex

As all men, women, and increasingly younger groups children are fully aware, we live in a society obsessed with sex. We live in a culture that make oodles of money developing products that convince people they’ll look, feel, and even be sexier just though wearing that dress, rolling up the sleeves on that shirt, eating that low-everything meal, and smelling like that new product. As any woman who has recently walked through the blindingly pink “feminine hygiene supplies” section of any supermarket or pharmacy knows, there’s always something new to try to get us whatever we’ve been missing. (Increasingly, we’re told that we’re missing more and more, but that’s a topic for another blog post.)

Today I stumbled across a feminine hygiene product I certainly will not be buying: green tea scented pantiliners.

Enough said, but I’ll say more.

Like many women, I wear a pantiliner every day. I’ve done this for so long that I can’t remember not doing it. Like most people, I also wear deodorant every day. Same story regarding length of time, though I do remember that I was really upset the night my mum told me I smelled.

I have never, however, worn anything scented. I’m really sensitive to smells and the concept of having armpits that smell like flowers or ocean breezes just doesn’t make sense to me. If the idea is to not smell, the logical thing is to buy unscented deodorant. I know I’m in the minority here, especially with women. However, I can’t say I’ve ever walked by a woman and thought, “Mmm ocean breeze.” (Alternatively, when I walk by a man wearing a certain brand of deodorant favored by high school athletes I generally think, “Ew Axe,” which I’m sure is not what that hopeful teen or immature 20-something is going for.) When you’re not wearing deodorant, though, I notice.

When choosing pantiliners, I have one rule. They need to be unscented. For several reasons:

Firstly, chemicals. I don’t need any chemicals down there, thank you very much. There’s enough to worry about without the itchy feeling that I get from even thinking about chemicals in that particular area.

Secondly, the point is to be dry. The point is not to smell and also to not smell, which are different things if you think about it closely.

Thirdly, we all know that scent matters. Back in high school, I wore a vanilla body spray from Bath and Body Works (as did about ten million other girls, I’d imagine) and the boy used to like to kiss me on the wrist because that’s one of the places where I put it. You can do that in public without people staring. If a different scented region is the spot you like to kiss, there are far fewer opportunities to do so.

But hey, if green tea scented private areas make you feel beautiful, go for it. In the end, that’s what matters.