in good company

It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote my last post and I would like to think it was for good reason. These last two months have been filled with new adventures. I moved to a new state, kicked off another semester of teaching for Eastern University and spent time with some amazing women. Early in September I met with a group of women who are part of a Mastermind Group that is led by my brilliant friend (and former boss) Desiree Adaway.

The purpose of the Mastermind Group is not only to receive leadership coaching from Desiree, but also to support each other in attaining our goals, no matter what they are. The group I am part of is all female and our needs range from wanting to branch out into a new career, trying to recruit new customers for our current businesses or simply making time to take care of ourselves, because as women we are not always great at putting our needs first.

We met in Asheville for a weekend retreat and I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. Even though our group had virtually met through a couple of webinars and various conversations in our private Facebook group, I didn’t know what it would be like to meet face-to-face. For some reason I had this idea that all of the women in the group would be miles ahead of me in identifying and attaining their goals. I also didn’t know what they would expect from me in terms of support.

As we started to meet that Friday afternoon I was surprised at how comfortable I instantly became with the group. These women were so genuine. One of the initial discussions we had was around what we considered to be non-negotiables and one of the women let us know that using the F-word (which she called F-bomb) was something she was not willing to give up and it was at that moment that I knew this group was for me. Throughout the weekend we shared, were vulnerable, questioned each other, pushed each other, shed a few tears and danced like nobody was watching (or at least we tried to…baby steps).

I have to say I was surprised at how much I liked these women. Usually after a weekend retreat my introversion would be kicking in at full force and I would be exhausted, but I left Asheville feeling energized and ready for what was next to come. I’m not sure how Desiree did it; how she managed to assemble this group of women that were able to get along so well, because as someone who has led teams of volunteers I know first hand that this is not an easy thing to do. I am certain Desiree has a secret formula for this, even though she denies that she does – you’re not fooling me Adaway!

It wasn’t just my comfortability with these women that made me like them but a number of other things. It was their courage, creativity, sassiness and even, sometimes, their humility. For example, one of these women was a graduate from Harvard, but failed to highlight that with all of us in our initial conversations. Why? I have no idea. If it was me I’d be sharing this factoid with every introduction I made. She talked about reforming the education system in her community with so much passion that her eyes welled up, however, she had not taken action on her ideas because of the doubt that plagues us all – the uncertainty of rocking the boat and the consequences of doing that. It was amazing to me that even this genius woman was hesitant to make her voice heard. It also made me think about all of those other brilliant women out there who have thoughts and ideas on how to make the world better but don’t know they can have their own Desiree (or even this Desiree) and Mastermind group to coach them on. Because sometimes we need this. We need each other’s support and fearlessness.

I’m not sure if I’m putting out some kind of vibe into the universe that is asking to surround me with amazing women, but earlier this month I also traveled to Prince Edward Island, Canada, and spent a week building a Habitat for Humanity home with a group of women from all over the U.S., and even one Canadian.

Again, before arriving in PEI I was apprehensive about whether this group of women was going to get along. Group dynamics can be a tricky thing. Everyone comes with their own expectations and motivations and it doesn’t take much to create a dynamic that is almost unbearable for everyone. Sometimes it only takes one person’s bad attitude to ruin the experience for everyone else. Fortunately, the week proved to be so much a success that on the morning we were to depart and go home there were many sad faces and a few tears which is usually the sign of a good trip.

Throughout the week we helped build a house which will soon be purchased by a woman who will be living there with her four children all under the age of five (yikes). As we tackled numerous framing tasks we all got a chance to challenge ourselves, bond, crack a few jokes and even learn the electric slide. A personal triumph for me was that I got on the roof for the first time and spent an afternoon nailing down sheathing. In the past I had always avoided this task because of this little fear of heights I have but I decided to eff my fear and get the hell up there – knowing I could always come down if my knees really started shaking. By the end of the day I felt like a total badass, I think I even had an annoying swagger to my walk, which also could have been a result of the heavy Canadian steel-toed boots we were required to wear by law.

On the roof! I'm in the pink hard hat. Photo by Kathy Guilbealt
On the roof! I’m in the pink hard hat. Photo by Kathy Guilbealt

Although the roof could have easily been my favorite part of the week, what actually wound up being my favorite part was during one of the break times when the mother we were building for brought one of her sons who started roaming the yard (away from the construction area) looking for caterpillars. I kept thinking about how that boy will be moving from the cramped space he is living in now to this amazing yard where he will have so many adventures. He will find endless caterpillars, make mud pies, catch fire flies, build snow forts, play tag – the possibilities are endless. This home we were hammering away at will help shape the type of person he grows up to be.

Photo by Kristin Lash
Photo by Kristin Lash

I have come away from these recent adventures feeling hopeful. Feeling pride. Reaffirming that women are everything I have grown up knowing. They are strength. They are limitless. They are catalysts for change. They are anything they want to be – maybe even a little nasty (?).

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why do we need the term plus size?

Last week I was reading a Washington Post article by Tim Gunn from the show Project Runway titled “Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women,” and in this article he criticizes fashion designers for making clothes that are only for smaller women that where sizes 0-12. He also criticized the designers that do make clothes for plus size women that wear sizes 14 and higher for making what he called “unattractive clothing.” I agreed with so many of the points that he made but one thing I kept asking myself is, “why do we need the term ‘plus size’?”

In Tim’s article he mentions the average size of American women which actually falls within the plus size category that the fashion industry has outlined which tends to be size 14 (sometimes even 12) and higher but I’m not going to go there, because I don’t see how it’s relevant. Why does it matter what the average size of women in America is right now? We don’t need to break up women shoppers into separate categories and the only reason we do is for the benefit of the clothing designers and retailers, not the consumers. Not to mention, using the word “plus” is just as insulting as it is unnecessary.

There are multiple reasons why designers chose to only make clothing for smaller sized women. The first one being that it’s easier. Think about it. Women’s bodies are complex, which also makes them beautiful, but dressing smaller women means not having to deal with as many curves, which makes it simpler and faster for the designer.

Another reason is that designers want their creations to be worn by people who are going to make them look good and according to America’s current beauty standards we think clothing looks better on slimmer women versus bigger and curvier. That’s why you usually only see Glamazons on runways.

Designers have a horrible understanding of what curvier women want to wear. I remember watching an interview Melissa McCarthy was doing on her new fashion line where she recounted how when she first started she met with multiple designers who consistently told her that curvier women did not want to wear prints, stripes or bright colors and they would tell her this while she was wearing all of these items.

Finally, there are not enough designers who are brave enough to break away from the pack. There have only been a couple of high-end designers who do make clothes for a diversity of sizes, including Christian Siriano who made the news this past summer when he dressed Leslie Jones for the Ghostbusters premier after she struggled to find a designer that would. A lot of people praised him for dressing the taller and curvier Jones which Siriano did not accept because he did not see his efforts as heroic. He was just dressing a famous woman, something he does every day, what’s the big deal?

In addition to the designers let’s not forget about the role that retailers play in keeping the term plus size alive. As much as designers don’t want to make clothes for curvier women, retailers don’t want to sell clothes to these women either. The majority of stores only carry sizes 0-12 and if they carry sizes that are higher they usually create a “plus size” section that is separate, because there is no way all of these sizes could be kept together (in my sarcastic tone). As if we need to create the illusion that there is a “normal” size and “other” size. There are also whole stores that only carry “plus size” clothes because we wouldn’t want to expose “normal sized” women to these “plus sized” monsters (again, in my sarcastic tone). It is ridiculous!

And why do we allow this to continue to happen? Why do we continue to put women into these small boxes. Why haven’t we learned that healthy bodies come in every size. I personally know women who eat way healthier than me and could run circles around me at the gym but because of various factors, like their body shape or height, will never fit into a size 6, and for this we punish them by making them shop in a different section of a store or a different store entirely.

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My plea is that designers and retailers stop using the word “plus” altogether and start offering a greater range of sizes in their lines and stores. Ideally they should do it because it is better for women, but realistically they should do it because at some point (I believe) the term “plus size” will be severely outdated, and because they are missing out on the potential to make lots of money from a market that has been underserved.

My other plea is that women do not let these ridiculous terms that the fashion industry has made up and put on us determine how we see ourselves. Our bodies are allowed to be different, difficult and complex. We do not need to fit ourselves into meaningless categories. We have what the fashion industry wants, our hard earned money, so let’s make them work for it.

 

not every woman aspires to marriage

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You know those people who at age five knew what they wanted to be when they grew up? Maybe they wanted to be a doctor and they would spend time dissecting insects or frogs whenever they could. Or maybe they wanted to be a chef and made their first three course meal when they were ten years old. Or maybe they wanted to get married, have children and be a stay-at-home parent. Well, I was not one of these people. I’m still not sure what I want to do when I grow up, but what I have known since I was a young gal is that I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world.

When I graduated from high school an aunt of mine took me to London and we did it all. We saw Big Ben, the change of guard, Westminster Abbey, Picadilly and much more. We ate fish and chips, drank at pubs, and went to Harrods for high tea. It was amazing. I loved all of it. When I came back to the States I started to plot my next adventure.

As of today I have visited 42 states and been on 6 continents. During my travels I have couchsurfaced, stayed in hostels, AirBnBs, cruise ships, hotels, resorts, retreat centers and even a few school gymnasiums. In Australia I stayed in the scariest hotel room I have ever come across (thankfully, I wasn’t alone) and in Hawaii I stayed in the nicest resort suite I will probably ever see again (where I also survived my first earthquake and hurricane).

I drove a car on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car and managed not to hurt anyone. I arrived at Amsterdam at 6 am and saw a grown man in a Superman costume walking around and kicking trash that was on the street and had to ask my friend if I was hallucinating, due to lack of sleep, to which he assured me I was not. I teared up when I saw the pyramids in Egypt. I drank more wine than a person ever should when I was in Paris. I tried to sing along with the two bachelorette parties I stumbled across at a pub in Ireland who broke out in energetic song to John Denver (yes, John Denver). In the Caribbean I swam with sting rays who were terrifying. I got the worst stomach bug I’ve ever had in India. In Uganda I met women who filled me with pride when I saw their strength and determination. In West Virginia (yes, here in the U.S.) I met children who had to use a bucket as a toilet, and shower at school because they had no hot water at home and it broke my heart.

I have had a lot of experiences that I am proud of, and I truly love this life I have been able to live, but I’m always amazed that the question I get first and the most, whether it’s from a stranger or someone I haven’t seen in a while is if I’m married yet. As if I have somehow dropped the ball on what every grown woman should be aspiring to do. When I tell them I am not, and sometimes more quickly then I mean too, they seem either perplexed or sad for my situation. I kid you not. Let me give you two examples from this past year alone.

Example #1 – I was at the doctors office back in late May getting an annual exam and the nurse was updating my chart. She confirmed my birthday (I’m not sure why because that never changes) and then asked if my marital status had changed and I told her no. She then looked at me and asked, “don’t you ever want to have children?” I was so shocked by her question that it took me a minute to process. Did this woman have a crystal ball and could see that I was going to die in the next three to five years? Or did she have some kind of super power that allowed her to x-ray my ovaries and see I only had a few viable eggs left? Also, what does being married have to do with having kids? You can be single and have kids, many people do. This nurse truly seemed concerned about my “situation” of being single and barren so I tried to let her down easy by saying that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or not (which is honestly how I feel right now), to which she responded by looking at me silently for a very uncomfortable 10 seconds and then tried to joke off the situation by asking if I wanted to take her kids (yikes!).

Example #2 – At the end of July I was at a hair salon in San Antonio having my hair done for a wedding I was about to be in so of course the stylist and I were chatting about marriage and she told me all about her recent wedding in Vegas. I have always loved the idea of a destination wedding so I was happy to hear about how she had a cheap Vegas wedding and then she and her hubby spent their money on a glamorous Hawaiian honeymoon. It sounded perfect to me. She then asked me if I was married, and I told her that I wasn’t. She told me that she could see it happening for me soon. For some reason she was trying to comfort me and I thought it was a sweet thing for her to do. I should have just said thank you but instead I told her that I wasn’t sure if marriage was for me. She went silent for a few seconds and I could see her face in the mirror and could tell she was struggling with what to say next. She didn’t look sad for me, she just looked uncomfortable, like she had never heard anyone say something like this before. I quickly changed the subject and asked her about Maui because I have only been to the big island of Hawaii and our friendly banter was soon resurrected.

It is amazing to me how much value we put on women getting married. We could come across a woman that we haven’t seen in a while and she could be accomplished in many ways. She could have just completed her graduate degree, started her own business, ran her first marathon or climbed Mount Everest, but what we start jumping up and down over is whether she has a ring on her finger or not, as if marriage is the ultimate accomplishment, which it is not. Let me say that again, marriage is NOT an accomplishment. It is wonderful for women who want it, but as Natalie Brooke put it in her Huffington Post Article, “you don’t have to have a brain, drive or special skill set to get married. You just have to have a willing partner.”

Need further evidence of the value we put on marriage? Take some time over the next few days to notice what people react to on Facebook. This weekend a woman from a mastermind group I am a part of made the comment that she will post something about a social justice issue, like a brilliant article about how schools can better meet the cultural needs of students of color, and it may get 10-20 reactions, but then she will post a picture of her and her hubby, or a picture of her children and she will get 100s of reactions. What does it say about our culture when we don’t feel compelled to react to an article about Brock Turner’s early release but manage to heart the relationship status update of a person from high school we haven’t talked to in 11 years?

My plea is that we find a balance in what we celebrate for women. Marriage should certainly be celebrated but so should a number of other things. At the very least let’s have the question we ask first be about what she has been working on, or where she has traveled to, or maybe just a simple how is she doing. My other plea is that women not feel bad if they have not aspired to marriage. You are still able to live one heck of a life and although nobody may ask you about it or like it on Facebook you will still have the joy and lessons of those experiences to fill your thoughts and reflections. Also, if you ever find yourself traveling alone in Cannes River, Australia looking for a hotel room for the night just keep driving to the next town. Trust me.

 

 

not all women hate each other

“Some say, it’s in a woman’s nature to be jealous of another woman but a woman who knows her true self-worth can never be jealous of another. Not every woman has the habit of hating other women.” – Ikeke Nkem

All of us have guilty pleasures that we may not want to admit too. For some of us it may have to do with eating junk food, or buying trashy gossip magazines or maybe watching the same bad movie over and over until we can recite almost every line word for word. I could go on but you get the picture. My guilty pleasure is the Real Housewives of New York City. For those of you who have never seen any of the Real Housewives braches on Bravo they are real women (but not necessarily housewives) who are usually wealthy and usually have strong personalities. Bravo puts these women together, throws some alcohol at them, requires that they interact with each other and then points a camera at them. The result of all of this is that the women are usually gossiping about each other, trying to make someone feel left out, then confronting each other and sometimes full out fighting. It is ridiculous and uncomfortable…and I love it. I know I probably shouldn’t but that’s why it’s a guilty pleasure. Also, I think when you grow up in a small town in Iowa where folks are very nice and not confrontational at all you sometimes crave anything that is the opposite.

Another reason why I watch the show is for Bethenny Frankel. Back in 2008 a couple of friends told me about the new show on Bravo and how their favorite was this woman who wasn’t actually a housewife, she wasn’t even married and she wasn’t wealthy either. I asked why she was even on the show and they said they weren’t sure but she was very honest and she had the best one-liners. After the first episode I was hooked. I watched as Bethenny went from being a chef to coming up with the Skinny Girl Margarita while on camera and then started the Skinny Girl empire and left the Real Housewives for her own spinoff show.

When Bethenny left in the housewives in 2010 I stopped watching but when she came back last year I did my best to resist but I just couldn’t. It was great to have Bethenny back and to catch up with the other ladies who are still on the show, and to have Carole Radziwill join the cast who is quickly starting to tie with B as my favorite. This current season has been especially tense and it is mostly because of one man who is currently engaged to Countess Luann De Lesseps (another housewife) but had dated both Ramona and Sonja (also housewives). I’m not sure why Luann even wanted to date a man who had dated two of her cast mates. I have to think she knew what she was getting into, but it didn’t stop her from going full steam ahead and getting engaged after only knowing the guy for two months. She was flying high for about a week and a half before somebody sent pictures to Bethenny of this man making out with another woman. Bethenny showed these to Luann, on camera of course (because that’s good TV), and after confronting him about it and hearing his side Luann decided to stay with him. I’m not sure what reason you give that excuses away making out with someone for over an hour in a crowded New York bar…actually, I don’t have anything witty to say about this, I actually found the fact that she took him back to be very sad.

As sad as I was the thing that upset me the most was that she seemed to get more upset with Bethenny who told her about the make out, and also upset with the other ladies who had gone out with this guy prior to her even meeting him. These ladies did nothing to Luann. They really didn’t. So why was Luann directing her anger at them? I mean, maybe these ladies haven’t always been that great to her, but at least they’ve never put a ring on her finger and then made out with somebody else. At least I don’t think they have. So, why does it seem that for some women, like in Luann’s situation, that it is easier to give anger to another woman then to a man (especially when that man really deserves it)?

It isn’t just housewives that do this. Have you ever been at a party when a gorgeous woman walks through the door and then you start to hear a small group of women behind you tear her down in hushed voices that aren’t that hushed? I have. As a woman, have you ever been introduced to a group of people and had that one woman that after looking you up and down became an ice queen? I have. Have you ever been at a bar and seen a woman getting lots of attention from men while every other woman is staring daggers at her? I have.

I have seen all of this and much more. I have been victim to it, and, I hate to admit it, but I have also been a perpetrator of it as well. I have misplaced my anger, anxiety and insecurities on women who did not deserve it, and now that I am aware of it I have to question why this continues to happen and what impact it has on my gender.

After doing some research on the topic there were some recurring themes for why this “Mean Girl” mentality still exists. The first one is around the pressure women feel to fit a certain standard of beauty. I have often felt this pressure myself and instead of dealing with my insecurities with my weight and looks I would decide to be mean to anyone that I felt was thinner or prettier. So wrong.

The next theme was around competitiveness in getting attention, and for heterosexual women there especially seems to be a lot of competition for male attention. Ever seen The Bachelor? The whole premise of the show is that women will compete for one man’s attention (and we are entertained by this!). I read an interesting study on how in olden times this competitiveness was almost a necessity for a woman’s survival. Back when women were dependent on their husbands for their income, security, safety and even social status then there was a definite incentive to compete for either the best potential husband, or just any potential husband. It seems that this behavior has continued and women are still competing for their potential partner. The question I have is why? Women don’t need men for any of these things. At least not anymore they don’t (not in the U.S.).

Although I have only talked about competitiveness when it comes to gaining male attention, the competitiveness can expand to multiple areas. There can be competitiveness in the workplace which can often stem from women feeling like there are only so many spots for them, especially in more male-dominated fields. There also seems to be competitiveness when it comes to parenting as well. I read an article about a country music singer who had recently posted a picture of some baby food she had purchased on Instagram and got a ton of flack for it from her followers who thought it was wrong that the woman wasn’t breast feeding or making her own baby food.

I do need to say that although this mean girl-ness is especially highlighted in the media (Real Housewives, the Bachelor, etc.) that doesn’t mean that all women are mean to each other or compete with each other, however, there is still enough of this mentality out there and for those women who still subscribe to this type of thinking I am sending you my plea that this meanness needs to stop. We need to stop competing with each other. We need to stop taking our anger out on each other.

Who cares if somebody prettier than you walks into the room? You don’t know her story and you don’t know what she’s been through. Who cares if the guys at the bar are giving their attention to somebody else? You’re not really mad at that woman, you’re mad at those guys and you’re probably even more mad at yourself. Also, please stop competing with your female co-workers, even if you work for an organization that does have a limited number of seats at the table for women it’s not okay, in fact, it makes us weaker and nothing will ever change unless we support each other.

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women can be introverts too

“The unintentional training I received when I was little was that because I was a girl and an actor, I must love being pleasant, and making everyone smile and feel comfortable all the time. I think all little girls are trained this way, even those who aren’t entertainers like I was. Women are always expected to be the gracious hostess, quick with an anecdote and a sprinkling of laughter at others’ stories. We are always the ones who have to smooth over all the awkward moments in life with soul-crushing pleasantries. We are basically unpaid geishas. But when we do not fulfill this expectation (because we are introverted), people assume we must either be depressed or a c***.” – Amy Schumer, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

I have loved Amy Schumer ever since I watched her first special on Comedy Central many years ago. I thought she was not only hilarious but refreshing as well. I watched as she fearlessly roasted Mike Tyson, got her own show on Comedy Central, starred in her first movie (that she also wrote) and gave a hilarious acceptance speech at last year’s Glamour awards. When I found out she was writing a book I was ecstatic because I am a fan of memoirs that are written by funny women; from Tina Fey to Mindy Kaling to Amy Poehler to Lena Dunham – I have them all! One of Amy’s first essays in her book is on how she is an introvert and it made me happy to know that she and I had this in common because not many successful people, let alone successful women, like to admit that they are introverted.

I first learned that I was an introvert back in 2005 when I joined AmeriCorps and was asked to take the Myers Briggs test. For anyone interested I am an INFJ which is the rarest personality type and makes up only 2% of the population. Isn’t that neat? I won’t dive too much into what it means to be an INFJ but I will talk some more about the ‘I’ part of it. What I learned is that the difference between an Introvert and an Extrovert has to do with energy. Introverts are energized by having quiet alone time. Extroverts are the opposite and get their energy from being around and interacting with people.

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It wasn’t a surprise to me that I was an introvert because the definition fit me to a T, but what I couldn’t help but notice was the negative connotation I immediately put on being this way. For as long as I can remember people have commented on how quiet I can be, and often not in a good way. Sometimes people seem surprised by it because they think I should be more outgoing, or they’re perplexed by it because they think there’s something wrong with me, like I’m depressed or socially awkward, or they’re annoyed by it because…I’m not sure why, that one has always confused me. When I was younger these comments bothered me and for a little while I thought maybe there was something wrong with me; why was I so quiet? Why wasn’t I more outgoing and bubbly? At one point I was almost convinced that it was due to a lack of confidence or self-esteem, but I soon realized that was wrong and that these were perceptions being put on me.

As I’ve gotten older the comments still annoy me but I’ve learned to deal with them. I know that as a culture we tend to put more positivity around being outgoing and I don’t see this changing anytime soon, although I am starting to see more content being put out there around the value of introverts. Want a few of my personal bullet points? Okay!

We’re pretty easy to be around. Our very nature tends to make us chill and laid back. I actually hear this quite a bit from my co-workers and even my bosses. I have especially received accolades on how calm I can be when working big events where stressful situations often arise but I manage to keep my cool and sometimes end up consoling others who become overwhelmed.

We really take the time to get to know people. Yes, crowds are usually very draining, but we often thrive in a small group of people or in a one-on-one interaction. I think the reason for this is because we feel fueled when we are having a deep discussion with someone and feel like we’re really getting to know them. My personal version of hell is a crowded cocktail party where I have to make small talk with people about superficial topics that never get below the surface. I would make it about 20 minutes before I’d either have to leave, hide or hit the bar.

We choose the people we want to have in our lives very carefully.  People deplete our energy, sometimes very quickly, and because of this we have learned to cut out the things, or people, that want to take more than they want to give. A friend once told me she had observed how picky I was about who I hang out with, and it made her feel special.

Again, these are just some of my personal bullet points. There is a lot more to value in introverts and if you want to learn more I’ll put one of my favorite TedTalks right here for you to check out when you get a chance – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4.

Although I now know the power of my introversion and am comfortable with it I still struggle with how introversion seems to be more accepted in men then in women. Men can be introverted and nobody seems to question it. I remember when I was growing up that whenever there was a family gathering of some kind going on it was not uncommon for the guys to take a break on their own and either go to the basement, or the garage, maybe even the barn if it wasn’t too cold. For some of them it was a “smoke break” but for others it was just getting some alone time and nobody ever commented on it. However, you never saw any of the women in my family doing that. They would usually hang out in the kitchen or dining room chatting and laughing, which was great, but I bet at one time or another one of them wished they could claim the same solitude that the male members of my family were able to take without feeling like somebody was clocking them.

These days, even if I’m at a family function, I don’t care and when I’m done socializing, I’m done. I have no problem hiding out in the basement or tuning everyone out while I join Dad in the living room to watch the latest rerun of Law and Order (his favorite show). However, I will sometimes get flack for it the next day.

Why is it that women are expected to be charming and accommodating – the hostess with the mostest, but men are not? Why is it that a man can be quiet and stoic, even standoffish and be considered mysterious or even cool and gets to date Natalie Wood (James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause), but when a woman is quiet, stoic and standoffish she is considered mean or weird.

As an unapologetic introvert I dream of the day when my calm and quiet manner will first be viewed as mysterious and interesting, instead of cold and reserved, and that I’ll also get to date my own version of Natalie Wood, AKA Milo Ventimiglia.

 

your virginity is not a precious gift

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A few months ago I decided to finally check out the TV show Jane the Virgin on Netflix because I had heard so many great things about the show. I thought the idea of the show was cute and Gina Rodriguez is amazing to watch, however, I couldn’t get past one of the first scenes of the show which is Jane’s grandmother telling her that her virginity is like a beautiful flower in her hand, once you crush it the flower will never have the same shape again, it will be crumpled and wrinkled…basically ruined. I wasn’t shocked at the message because as a woman I have heard many versions of this while growing up, I think I was more shocked that this message is still as relevant today as it was many years ago when I was a young girl. At least relevant enough to be the theme of a show on the CW.

First, why do we have to compare virginity to a “flower” or “gift”? I mean, I do get that the underlying message is that sex shouldn’t be taken lightly, it is a responsibility, and I agree, entirely, but why does it seem that this message is only targeted towards the female gender? Why is it that women are the only ones that should take their virginity so seriously that it often induces guilt and anxiety?

For women virginity is equated with being a pure, innocent and ultimately good person which I just have to call bullshit on. Abstaining from sex does not automatically make you a warm, kind or caring person. Nor does having sex make a person cold, mean or destructive. Again, I have to point out that this only pertains to women. Hardly ever is a man’s goodness tied to his virginity. In fact, he could be spreading it all over town and still be considered a hero – I’m looking at you every high school football captain in America ever.

What even is virginity? Most people think of the physical aspect which for women is all about the hymen. There seems to be a misconception that a hymen can only be broken through sex which I hope most people know is NOT the case. A hymen can be broken through many other physical (and non-sexual) activities. If you did not know this and have concerns about it I encourage you to seek the counsel of a medical professional who could give you much better information than I can. Please do not WebMD it, or anything for that matter. Trust me.

So if we take away the physical indicator of virginity then what is this thing we are wrapping up and putting a bow on? Is it simply the act of abstaining from sex? To speak in grade school terms, is sex only when you score a “home run” or do some of the other “bases” count as well? If “home runs” only count then can a woman who has spent several innings on “third base” still claim the same “virginity virtue” as a woman who hasn’t even made it “up to bat”? I can’t believe how well I’m rocking this baseball metaphor.

I know I’m getting very technical but the point I’m trying to make is that we may not have a clear understanding of what we are valuing. Are we valuing a woman’s technical virginity of having an intact hymen and having abstained from the physical act of the dictionary’s definition of sex, or are we placing the value on women not doing what society perceives to be any act that makes them not seem pure, innocent or tainted in any way? If the latter is the case then why is it that sex is seen as something that “taints” women? And more importantly why does it only taint women and not men? Is it because we don’t think sex has the same consequences for men as it does for women? I feel that is what some people think, but is that really true? Really?

Let’s talk about the consequences for a minute.  Are there not physical, mental and emotional consequences for both genders? Are we both not susceptible to the same sexually transmitted diseases? Are we both not at risk of growing emotional attachments, having our feelings hurt,  having our hearts broken or falling in love? About the only difference is that women can get pregnant, however, does that mean that men are totally free and clear of this consequence? The answer should be absolutely not, but as a society we have done a horrible job in the past of making men just as accountable for unplanned pregnancy as we do women. Don’t believe me? Spend an afternoon binge watching 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, Teen Mom 2 or just about any reality show on MTV and you may see that my argument does hold water. That even though it has been scientifically proven that it takes two to tango, it is women who are expected to bear the brunt of the consequences of pregnancy because it is seen as solely their responsibility to not get pregnant to begin with. How fair is this? Is it really that hard to not only tell my gender to keep their knees shut but to also tell the male gender to keep it in their pants? Because if they don’t they will have to deal with the aftermath just as much as a woman does and there are no longer any hall passes. It doesn’t sound that hard to me at all.

I think it’s time we re-evaluate the messaging we put out around women and virginity. We need to stop tying virginity to a woman’s value where they are either the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene. We need to recognize that there is an actual spectrum where between these two famous but extreme figures there can be Mary None-Of-Your-Damn-Business because she choses when, where and with whom and is neither a better or worse person for doing so.

 

 

you don’t owe prettiness to anyone

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When I was a little girl growing up in Iowa I remember the exact moment when I was in the third grade and an adult person in my life told me that I needed to watch what I eat because “fat doesn’t look good on girls.” No joke. They said this, as if it was okay. I was 8 years old, and the pressure of being pretty was already being put on me.

Of course, this statement wasn’t as much of a shock as it should have been. I had already started to pick up on how much being pretty was important if you were a girl. Yes, I was only 8, but I have always been a quiet person and therefore a very observant person. I still am, I think it’s one of my greatest tools. I notice the things that most people don’t because they’re too busy talking. Anyways… as long as I can remember people were always telling me how cute I was, and how blessed I was that I looked so much like my mother because she is so pretty, and she is, my mother is a good looking lady (and has aged very well). I know the people who made these comments meant well, but I thought it was funny that at family gatherings I was only ever complimented on my looks whereas all of my male cousins would receive comments on how funny they were, or smart or rambunctious. Hardly anyone ever commented on how cute or handsome they were.

Adolescence was even worse. I was inundated with “products and tips” on how to be pretty and they came from every direction. Cleanser, moisturizer, makeup, dieting tips, exercise tips, fashion advice, hair styling tips, they came from my family, friends, magazines, TV, and even random strangers at times. We even had school functions that encouraged it like the homecoming queen position or the prom. I always thought teenage-hood was filled with mixed messages. One minute I’d be sitting in health class hearing about eating disorders and how girls should think more positively of themselves and not be ashamed of their bodies, and then the next period we were voting for homecoming court. Is this still happening in schools, or have we moved past this yet?

As much as I have been affected by the “pretty gaze” society has put on women, thankfully I am not in the spotlight like other women are. I cannot believe how harsh we can be on female celebrities or public figures. People get downright mad when a famous woman isn’t their idea of pretty. In fact, that seems to be the first thing they care about, is how the woman looks, more then everything else, her talent, intellect, strength, capability, all of it comes second. Don’t believe me? Let’s talk about a movie that recently came out, Ghostbusters.

A couple of weeks ago I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie. I was so excited for it and not because it was an all-women cast, but because I love funny people and the stars of this movie are hilarious, and probably some of the biggest hitters in comedy right now, the fact that they are women is just a bonus. I understood why some people were upset about the movie because you never want to see a good thing be messed with, and let’s be honest, there have been a lot of movie remakes that have gone horribly – I’m looking at you Footloose. If anyone ever tried to remake my favorite movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it would be game over for that production company. Unfortunately, these were not the only reasons for why some people were in an uproar about this movie. Some were upset because the cast was all women, and some were even upset because they felt the women were not pretty or sexy enough. Are you kidding me?

First of all, I don’t remember anyone criticizing the original Ghostbusters on this, and, this is just my opinion, they were not exactly sex symbols. Or maybe they were, it’s so hard to tell who was hot in the 80s.

Second, these women ARE gorgeous. I would kill for Melissa McCarthy’s hair and complexion, and was I the only one who saw Leslie Jones rock that dress on the red carpet? Who cares if their “uniforms” were not fitted enough? They are FIGHTING GHOSTS and doing it so well that Kate McKinnon’s fight scene actually gave me goose bumps. I do want to note that I think one person should have had their uniform fitted and that was Chris Hemsworth. Just sayin 😉

How ridiculous is it that a movie this entertaining and with amazingly talented performers could be judged primarily on looks as if these women owe us that. And only because they are women do we feel like they owe us that, because again, I don’t remember anyone evaluating Dan Aykroyd with this same measuring stick, and I love you Dan, but you were not a beef cake.

I am tired of this. I am tired of reading articles about Mindy Kaling where the first questions are always about how she gets away with not being the “ideal body type” in Hollywood. This woman writes, produces and stars in her OWN TV SHOW. This doesn’t just happen. This takes an incredible amount of talent and hard work. Ask her about that! Or at least ask her about that first. Maybe this wouldn’t bother me as much if I was also reading articles on Kevin James where the interviewer asks him how he continues to get starring roles even though he has a spare tire. But I don’t! Because they don’t exist! Because nobody asks these questions of men.

As I have aged the pressure to be pretty has somewhat subsided but I think this is mainly due to the fact that with each year I care less and less what people think of me and also because my perception of pretty has changed drastically. I remember in college one of my good friends was this crazy frat boy who I think I liked because he was not only fun but he was honest, and there’s nothing I like more than people who tell it like it is. I remember one morning during finals a few of us went out for breakfast and somehow started talking about what men find attractive. My frat-boy friend gave a shocking answer when he said that what men find most attractive is when they can tell a woman is comfortable with herself. At the time I was very doubtful of what he said and I’m pretty sure I followed up with the question, “and she bleaches her hair too, right?” Now that I’m older I think I finally understand what he means.

As a woman you can spend endless amounts of time and money to make yourself pretty but at the end of the day it means nothing if you don’t know who you are and your happiness depends on what other people think of you. To me the most attractive woman is the one that knows what she’s about, she enjoys her life and she gives zero f*cks about what anybody thinks. You could put this woman in flip flops, yoga pants, a baggy t-shirt, a messy pony tail, sans make-up and she would be killin it as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t know how, but there needs to be a shift in or society’s attitude towards pretty when it comes to women. We need to stop putting unrealistic expectations on women, we need to value them for more than what they look like, or at the very least we need to get to a point where it is not okay to fat shame an eight year old girl.