On body dysmorphia, misogyny, body-shaming, the Silicon Valley, and being pretty: Or, why I practice yoga.

I finally got back in the yoga studio yesterday. Oddly, I did not want to go. This is very unusual for me – I am pretty dedicated to my practice and I know without qualification that no matter how I am feeling, I always feel better after I go to yoga. Still, I did not want to go.

I had not been practicing for several weeks. There are lots of reasons – there always are. For one, I got really sick in the first week of June. Like really sick. I imagine if you live in the Bay Area you got some variety of this sickness or know someone who did because it was insidious and vicious. After days of a sore throat that prevented swallowing anything, talking much at all, and sleeping soundly – all amplified by the fact that I was in the final week of instruction at school dealing with surly teenagers and oh yeah, also packing up for a major job transition – the sick morphed into some sort of monstrous hacking chest cough. “At least it was productive.”

The Pantone array of my phlegm rainbow.

And then some.

This lasted from 7 June through 17 June. I realize that this is not actually an eternity, but whatever.  In this same time I conducted final projects for around 100 students, graded said projects, deleted untold numbers of unauthorized selfies on my phone, tried to be an adult and be mad at my students for participating in the very-rapey senior streak that happens at BHS but still endorse my one student who dressed up as a giant dick as a protest statement, packed up my classroom wherein I downsized 20+ years of my “teacher life” into fewer than 10 boxes, said goodbye to some people I will really miss, was mature enough also to say goodbye to some people I will not miss at all, watched every minute of the NBA finals (okay, except for 28 minutes of Game 4, which I am certain contributed to the longevity of my illness), got my hair done and attempted to get headshots for my new job (not wildly successful), packed my bags and went to the wilds of North Idaho to visit my parents with my boyfriend.

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NBD.

While en route to Idaho I read Roxane Gay‘s new memoir, Hunger. It is an important read for a lot of reasons, but I found it especially significant as I was spiraling into my 1980s-programmed body dysmorphic mind as a consequence of the 80s (obviously) but also from being sick and a little depressed, overly tired and not being able to do the things I have convinced myself I must do in order to feel a certain way – which no matter how much I wish was not connected to how I look, is completely connected to how I (think I) look.

This is not a new problem, nor is it a particularly unique problem. One of my favorite (now former) coworkers and I have an ongoing “joke” when we get teased by our young  female students of color for having “no cakes” [a term I had to actually research via Urban Dictionary after my girls were first discussing my said lack of cakes in class while I was writing on the board] telling them that we grew up in the 80s, so no cakes is a win for us. Sometimes I have gone so far as to say – out loud – that one of my adolescent goals, in spite of Sir Mix-A-Lot, was to be a stick insect. I know this is not exactly true (in my personal chronology only) because I co-opted the expression from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones  many years after high school, which only goes to show that my body issues are not bound by any decade. Interestingly, this year I inadvertently served as a nutrition guide for several of the young women in my class as we often found ourselves discussing how we felt hungry – or not – and how our food was influencing our energy levels in various capacities (many of them are incredible dancers… and wondered why they felt like shit after a breakfast of Hot Cheetos.) Also of note, these students are some of the most honest and authentic people I know about body reality – as well they embrace reality literally and figuratively. One of them was the one dressed as a giant dick in the streak. They get things I never even thought of at their age. They somehow escaped the neuroses that I continue to adhere to in spite of many supposedly healthier, confidence-inspiring, and therapied years later.

So, feeling shitty, literally and figuratively, and then reading Gay’s book gave me pause. In particular the articulate way she wrote about how/why women are viewed and valued in society and how maintenance of said ‘value’ is inherently dangerous spoke to me. I thought about how almost always the best compliment a person can think to give a woman is that she “looks like she has lost weight!” or that she “looks so tiny!” I thought about all those coveted compliments, and their intentional double entendre. They punctuate the times in my life I was certain I looked best. When I returned from living in the ashram in India and had stopped having my period because I had lost so much weight, I felt so proud of how everyone loved how I looked (except for A – she said I looked sick. She was probably right.) Still, I think about how my clothes fit then and I get pissed off with myself now.

At this point I decided to stop at Yoke’s north of Sandpoint to buy a bunch of fashion magazines and then go back to the parentals house and drink a ton of wine. Seems legit. I did not go to yoga. And I continued my self-care by rewarding every hike with cold beer. I was on vacation after all. And I told my boyfriend, who truly and sincerely does not have a single issue with how I look (not to be confused with having not a single issue with me, btw) that if he posted any photos of me I had better look thin. Repeatedly.

Typing that really highlights how completely annoying that must have been.

On my return to the city, I knew I would be going back to yoga. But for the first time that I can really remember, I felt uncomfortable about it – like not in shape enough to be allowed to take care of myself or something. I have heard about this phenomenon – even seen it in action, remember this peach? I know rationally it is totally fucking stupid. But there it was taking up space in my brain. And, just to be clear, I have a totally healthy build, there is nothing wrong with me. I am 5’10” and weigh between 150 and 155 pounds (I can push it to 160 easily and have been down to 140 and some change in my adult life – see the India reference above) but I really am just, you know, fine.

Plus my yoga studio is downstairs from my house, so seriously, not to cop a phrase, but just do it already.

Before I went downstairs for yoga, I caught up on some breaking news out of the Silicon Valley. For those of you who do not follow this kind of stuff, the gist of it is that it seems like finally some of the rapey, bro culture in the tech/venture capital world is getting called out with some actual consequence. This is due on large part to the investigative work of people like Sarah Lacy at Pando.com and it would be worth reading her stories about Uber (she warned us all about them years ago) and Binary Capital (the story of whose behavior inspired this worthy purchase.) I read the latest article (Binary related) and left a comment on the post expressing my surprise that people seemed to be taking umbrage with the photos in the story and not the actually rapey/gropey/assault covered in the story.

Clearly it was time to return to yoga.

As soon as I sat on my mat, I felt better. I always do and I know this. It felt safe, and positive, and welcoming. LIKE.IT.ALWAYS.DOES. I was so glad to be back in class.

When I got home I saw that someone had responded to my comment and tried to (re)explain her counterargument to me – a position I had totally understood, just disagreed with. She kept coming at me doing that thing people do who believe that if they say something over and over and over again they will get people to agree with them. This is not an effective approach with me. When she would not stop I went to her Facebook page to see who she was. She describes herself thusly: Wellness Professional. Practice Financing. Personal Health. Relationships . I am not even sure I understand what that means as a single declarative sentence. She also has an unbelievable number of public photos (odd considering this was her beef about the original post in question) of which I could have poached any. Here is one that gives you an idea.

Sally Albright: What’s she look like?
Marie: Thin. Pretty. Big tits. Your basic nightmare.

As soon as I saw her, I had an immediate reaction that maybe I should rethink my behavior in the comments because of how she looked. I am completely serious. It was this weird thing like, no matter that she could not spell (true statement) or that she was being totally patriarchally-bound (also true) and generally snotty (💯 my opinion) she suddenly mattered more, or was someone I would want to be allied with because she was hot (this seems rather objective – although this too can be misleading).

Acknowledging this reaction, I was so pissed at myself for wasting all the good intentions of a yoga class (which, for what it’s worth, was amazing, re-centering, welcoming, challenging, and generally perfect while I was there) to come up against this. I closed Facebook and turned on Law & Order SVU (as an aside with added context in this post, when I saw Roxane Gay speak last spring she talked about how she watches this show incessantly so I have accepted that this addiction of mine is okay.) Sitting there watching an episode I have probably seen ten times, the power of social media compelled me and I found myself (again) scrolling through my feed where I came across two articles (shout out to Colette for both posts). One I will only screenshot because it deserves no hits, and one I will link because it should be widely read.

The first article is by a random white guy (not a doctor) telling people they are psycho if they do not have kids. He claims to have three. I feel confident he did not birth one of them. The second is about the privilege of prettiness by Janet Mock who should need no introduction, but if she does you can go here.

These two articles present diametrically opposed ideological bookends to my earlier train(s) of thought. To be fair, random-not-a-doctor-dude was not only calling out women, (but really, who has the babies after all and what valuation is placed on those women who do/not) and let’s not forget how women’s bodies are dissected in terms of how they change (or should change) around pregnancy and childbirth (this was also “coincidentally” covered extensively in the fashion magazines I purchased to enhance my dysmorphic slide while in the wilds of Idaho. )

Janet Mock talks eloquently and effectively about the privileges that looks bequeath upon those who manage to meet the societal mark of having looks. Her take is especially valuable and addresses intersectionality with great clarity.

I sat and reread Ms. Mock’s article. I thought about Ms. Gay’s book. I revisited Ms. Lacy’s story of the women founders in Silicon Valley being groped and demeaned all the while maintaining necessary (literally prescribed, it turns out) appearances in order to get entry to the club (though not necessarily a seat at the table).  While it is not directly tied to the chitta vritti I’m currently battling, it all explains perfectly why we – I – would be so caught up in appearances, why I might freak out if I feel “fat” because I missed a yoga class, why I might rethink my “place” in taking a stand against a pretty girl (would I have felt different if she had not been traditionally attractive?)

Our appearance is often the primary currency with which we – women – are able to trade: it is a core element of my societal value.

While I was in Idaho I was talking a with a friend – a sister, really, because I have known her since she was in utero – who is now 28 (I think that puts her in a different generation than me). We were talking about how we have capitalized on people’s prejudices at various times (specifically we were speaking of fake-woke-feminists vs. blatant sexists) and it got us talking about bodies and image. She said, “Yeah, you know? I have decided that if my body works and does the things I want it to do, then I look just fine.”  I hope she really, really means this. I don’t know if I am there yet, but as they say: #goals.

I do not look the way I think I look. I know this when I see photos and I am surprised positively or negatively by the image looking back at me. This is my issue. But my concern about my value to this society – my actual self-worth – is not some internal psychosis. It is real, and it has been put on me, though it has become my cross to bear.

And this is why I went to yoga again today.

And why I will go tomorrow.

Is that truly getting at the heart of this matter?

You be the judge.

 

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That’s So Gay! And That’s So Awesome!

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The recent Pride celebrations in San Francisco – and across the nation – were especially festive as they coincided with the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision forbidding states from denying gay people the right to marry. This decision has unsurprisingly upset a lot of people. I have no idea why. I mean, I have an idea because they are always saying it is because it is against their beliefs and the Bible forbids it and therefore it should be forbidden to all people… and some folks throw in some nonsense about how the sanctity of marriage is some sort of cornerstone of our society… I guess I mean I do not understand the “marriage” of these realities, or how people who preach freedom feel that the freedom of others shits on their own. Rainbow sparkly unicorn shit, apparently.

I don’t even want to be bothered to explain how something being against one person’s beliefs cannot be made into law because in the same way they get to hold their beliefs, others get to hold theirs (oh hi First Amendment to the US Constitution), or how the Bible forbids all sorts of shit (like wearing mixed blend fibers and shaving) and encourages all sorts of shit (like infidelity and spousal abuse) and so selective enforcement of Biblical law might make a person a hypocrite (because I really do not care what you believe – only that you do not [and legally cannot] make me believe the same because: America.) I also am not interested in explaining how the “sanctity” of marriage is evolving if it is even still a thing. The divorce rate is actually dropping, only about a third of marriages now end in divorce, but the interesting reality behind this trend includes a whole bunch of inconvenient truths for fans of “traditional” marriage. It turns out that the reasons marriages are lasting longer has to do with increased reproductive rights and work equality for women. Also, as more educated people marry, and marry later, marriages seem to last longer. Another painfully obvious reason divorce rates are dropping is that marriage rates are also dropping. People who live together and then break up (often as traumatic and costly as a divorce) don’t figure into the stats. But there remains a positive correlation between some of the most rabid defendants of “traditional” marriage and divorce, which is a little awkward.

I don’t want to talk about all that because I really do not care about marriage. At all. I also do not care about, say, American football. You might even go so far as to say I do’t really believe in either of them and what they stand for. But why on earth should that preclude other people from being crazy about either institution? Their passion for football or marriage has no impact on my life.

I am far more interested in the freedoms and protections that our Constitution guarantees. And with expression being one of them – along with equality under the law – it seems that the whole gay rights thing should be redundant.

Of course it is not because, well, because people everywhere feel compelled to tell people that they “are doing it wrong” and bent on proving that rather than just living their own lives.

After the marriage equality ruling came down, the world exploded in rainbows (really literally in a lot of cases) and landmarks across the country got rainbowed.

So of course people got angry. Because, rainbows and ponies and glitter.

I think – aside from the obvious reality that I am in favor of any ruling that is going to prevent the government from getting involved in personal matters – like who is marrying who (remember when interracial marriage was illegal? #awkwardtruehistory) – the rainbows struck a personal chord with me because I am a child of the eighties. For real. As I watched the eruption of positivity and joy around Pride this year I realized it all feels like coming home. I was raised – culturally, with no specific familial influence – in a Pride parade. Consider my early cultural imprinting:

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I-love-80-s-fashion-the-80s-27117898-250-330patrickNagel

It is all so fabulously gay! And all the men I loved? Well, you be the judge:

Even the straight guys seem pretty gay…

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I have a completely ineffective gaydar because of all this… Seriously – who could tell? And who cares (well, except for the inconvenient truth that those super cute waiters I was crazy for as a tween at the Crest Cafe in Hillcrest were never gonna be waiting for me – outside of some John Waters style of fiction.)

This was also a time when we were trying to work out WTF about HIV/AIDS and lots of our standard popular culture was littered with the pejorative, “Fag!” Strange bedfellows fear creates indeed. When I revisit those films now I always have a double take because it’s always coming from someone dressed like the above, and I am like, “Really.” It was around this time that I once referred to something as “So gay” in a disparaging way in front of my (gay) aunt who perfunctorily said, “Oh really? Gay? Do tell.” That was awkward. But important. And as I think about all the parts of my life that really are “so gay” I realize they are fundamental parts of me, my person, my taste, and my mind. In the most awesome ways.

I guess my point is this: I love the rainbows and the glitter and the gay. And for people who do not, and who are allowed to not, don’t. The difference is now you can’t legally discriminate based on your personal beliefs – which you were never supposed to do anyhow. #LOVEWINS

And if you don’t believe me, ask Jon Stewart.

The Political Line: Keith Haring @ The De Young

 

Keith Haring was the first artist I chose to love all by myself, outside the influence of my parents, or however else it is that we begin to understand our tastes. I have several pieces in my home, (prints of course…) and have always kept my eye out for his work (see poster ripped from a wall in Salzburg above.)  Haring broke out on the scene when I was at the perfect age to grab on to a new type of pop art. It was bright, bold, the lines spoke to me. I mean I was a pre-teen in the early eighties… I was loving the slick, stylized feel of big colors (Esprit anyone?), smooth lines (Nagel – don’t hate…), and looking for something that made sense to me in a world that seemingly made less and less sense. But these were strange times, and they were going to be all the more stranger for me as I started to see the eighties emerge around me.

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Things I remember? Telling my mom to vote for Carter not John Anderson because in our mock election at school, the Anderson votes had led to a Reagan victory, and due to the narrative I was generally exposed to, I was pretty sure we were all going to die a soon as Reagan took office. John Lennon’s murder. Xanadu. Some drama in Iran. No-nukes rallies. Michael Jackson. The emergence of the Anti-Apartheid movement. Olympic boycotts. Live Aid. Our first Mac. My step-dad’s first cell phone: the Brick. And some artwork that was showing up in New York’s subways.  Today I got a screaming refresher course in the decade that took me from 10 to 20.

From the first time I saw Haring I knew that this was an artist I understood. I understood the frenetic feel, contrasted with super clean lines and bright colors. I understood the politics. He spoke to things I knew about and would grow up under the influence of: AIDS. Crack (is Wack). Oppressive governments. Racism. Homophobia. Environmental devastation. The computer age.

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I learned somethings I didn’t know about his work and his life, and his techniques. I learned that Larry Warsh is maybe the most bomb-diggity art guy in New York. I learned that a Sheikha in Dubai owns a couple of amazing pieces of Haring’s work. I learned a new phrase: VISUAL VOCABULARY. And I like that a lot. And Haring was basically right that more people go to the subways than go to the museums – although today, it hardly seemed that way. A huge crowd – nearly as interesting in its diversity as the exhibit added much to a stunning exhibition.

There has been a lot of discussion of Haring’s work and it’s intention – aesthetic? political?commercial? sell-out? watershed? Maybe it is all of the above. I like to think so. I can say, more than 30 years later, his work has a prescience and a relevance that is almost eerie. And seeing this amazing exhibit at the De Young in San Francisco today took me right back to a crazy period of time that shaped me and informed so many of my sociocultural priorities and concerns… so how cool to see it all before me today.

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For a ton of amazing images from museum visitors, go to Instagram and click on the De Young Museum Keith Haring Exhibit location tag. #Awesome.

 

Revisiting Susan.

The other night as I slipped into the deep end of the first weekend of summer break I flipped through the movie options offered by my cable monopolizer provider, I came across this old gem.

desperately-seeking-susan-1985

When I told the Cowboy I had picked a movie he responded with the appropriate enthusiasm. And then I pushed play. He looked at me. I grinned. He kept looking. “What?” “Desperately Seeking Susan? Really?”

And we settled in to watch.

My immediate thoughts on the film had much to do with Madge herself. Bearing in mind that, as a legit child of the 80s who remembers the first time I hear Holiday and was surrounded through highschool by girls (braver than me) who fully embodied the Madonna-wanna-be stylings with great success, her first album is firmly imprinted somewhere deep within me. As I sat watching I was struck how on trend 1985 Madonna remains. And I was as dramatically impressed by my initial reaction to Madonna’s physique… which was somewhere along the lines of “Wow, Madonna looks big…” As the movie progressed and I got used to looking at the old version of Madonna (in my opinion far more attractive than the modern version that has varied between exercise fanatical and positively underfed) I realized how lucky I was to grow up in a time where I felt good about a normal body. Madonna is tiny – IRL and in the film – but our standards have shifted to such extremes, at first glance she looks… pudgy. Well, that is overstating it, but at the very least she has a softness and fleshiness that is frowned upon these days. Even Rosanna Arquette, a tiny human by all accounts – looked, *normal* in the movie. I guess normal isn’t what we want to look at as a model anymore, but it was certainly refreshing.

The film held up pretty well, I thought, likely because it was (I think?) purposefully kitsch in ’85. Of course, the fact that the clothes donned by all the characters set the tone for hipster trends also give it that oddly contemporary feel. Apparently Madonna is the muse of every one of the customers in my favorite store. Further, I found that the lack of technology contributed to character development in a way that is also lost. Remember when we used to wonder about things? ‘Who wrote that?’ ‘What is so-and-so doing tonight?’ ‘Where is such-and-such?’ I realize that I am as guilty as anyone for noting – on the regular – that we no longer have to wonder about anything anymore… just whip out the smart(er) phone and look it up… But I also miss that thin veil of not knowing; and it was the unknown that really drove the entire story in Desperately Seeking Susan after all. I mean, with an internet search, or even online newspapers, that whole debacle of a search would not have made a 30-minute sitcom (which is really only 21.5 minutes of program time…)

Product placement in the movie was also delightfully antiquated. There were very few actual commercial products in place – the most notable, the regularly visible Miller beer bottles. Remember these squat little things?

l-vpexdmobu0f2fhI guess they had the time.

The style and aesthetic of the film were also really vivid. These days it seems like movies work so hard to be devoid of texture, you know, so slick and stylized. Not so here. It makes you look. And when you look you see all these other cool details, not the least of which includes the cast (beyond the two female leads) of this movie: John Turturro (and his mom!); Will Patton; Steven Wright; Aidan Quinn; Laurie Metcalf; and remember the garage attendant from Ferris Bueller – What country do you think this is?? Yeah, Richard Edson is in there too. So that is all pretty cool.

Ultimately, one of the things that really got me thinking a lot about this movie was an article that a friend of mine posted somewhere in the world of social media. The article, How Hollywood’s Disinterest In Women Could Waste A Generation Of Outrageously Talented Actresses, talks about how there just aren’t movies built around women anymore.

Last week, NPR’s Linda Holmes did the math on movies that were screening in the Washington, DC-area on Friday, and calculated that of the 617 movie showings on the calendar, 90 percent of them were for movies about men, and only one of the movies in theaters was directed by a woman. And this is in a major metropolitan area.
“I want to stress this again: In many, many parts of the country right now, if you want to go to see a movie in the theater and see a current movie about a woman — any story about any woman that isn’t a documentary or a cartoon — you can’t. You cannot,” Holmes wrote. “There are not any. You cannot take yourself to one, take your friend to one, take your daughter to one. There are not any.”

The irony of coming up in the 80s when it was becoming cool to never be too rich or too thin (remember that Omega Watches ad campaign?) was that somehow, we were still allowed to be girls and we were audacious and healthy and got to see movies about cool chicks – without the pressure to be them, just the choice.

Of course, as absence makes the heart fonder, years soften the actualities of experience and I am aware much of the 80s blew – hard. And that we are still suffering from much of it. I mean, am I right?

But, today, and many other days, I am grateful for Madonna. Say what you want about her weird British accent phase, the Kabbala nonsense, the obsessive midlife body issues, and plastic surgery (all of which I would like to blame on a mainstream media that would never have let her be herself for long.) Madonna got real, when little else was, by being audaciously ridiculous – and she was definitely in on the joke.

And that is bitchin’.