On the Selfie

A few days ago Kim Kardashian posted another naked selfie that got the internet all in a tizzy, as her naked selfies always seem to do. And, to be fair, because such photos become so wildly popular (I read somewhere it had been reshared over 100 million times?) it does seem like a good opportunity for people to start talking about all the various cultural ideas and issues that are encompassed in the whole thing.

And there are a lot of issues, and have been a lot of responses. Famously, Chloe Mortez questioned Kardashian about being a role model and admonished her for ostensibly suggesting to young women that we have nothing more to offer the world than our bodies. And while, in my opinion, Mortez is barking up the right tree in wanting someone as famous as Kim to be known for more than her naked body, the comment is problematic for a few reasons. First, Mortez herself is a model. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with modeling, it seems odd for someone whose career is, at least partially, based on using her body to promote a product, to bash someone else for posting a picture of themself online. But moreso, as Kim herself points out in this post, we as a society kind of need to stop reducing Kim Kardashian to her moments of nudity.

I may not be a Kim fan, and I may not fully understand why she is so popular and how, exactly, she became famous, but I do agree with her that it is insane that her fame is reduced to a sex tape from 13 years ago when she has created an entire empire for herself and her family. And I also agree that how she decides to portray herself, and the things she wants the world to see of her, are absolutely up to her. Maybe I would never post a nude selfie because I don’t really want people who aren’t intimately connected to me to see my body, but if Kim is proud of her body and wants people to see it, who am I to say she shouldn’t show off?

The most important takeaway from this whole situation that I’ve run into, however, comes from a 14 year old girl, Rowan Blanchard, who not only hit the nail on the head where Kim was concerned but also brought up a critically important point about selfies in general that I’d like to explore a bit. Rowan’s argument is twofold: first, in a world where far too many women are the victims of revenge porn and leaked nudes, why do we seem to get more upset when a woman posts a picture of herself? What Kim allows us to see is up to Kim. Wouldn’t we as a society be better served concerning ourselves with the things we are seeing that people don’t actually want us to see? The countless women whose phones have been hacked or whose bitter exes have betrayed their trust to expose their bodies to the world without their consent?

Second, isn’t it important to teach girls “to be accepting of yourself and to use the Selfie to choose how you want to be viewed and to try to gain control of your own image?” She goes on to say that image control is something women have never had, and in a later tweet reminds us that we have always had images of nude women in art and in photography but that, where the selfie is concerned, women are both the subject and the portrayer of the image.

I might be in love with this girl, and I am certainly in awe of how she is able to think deeply about these things and to express her thoughts on such complex subjects so perfectly in small, 140 word tweets. I admit I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Selfie as a thing. While I certainly take more Selfies than I’d like to admit to, the Selfie seemed to me an almost dangerous thing because of how many of my friends I saw using it in a search for external validation. I have friends who post multiple Selfies a day and will sometimes publicly complain when the picture gets no attention, or who will quietly question their own self-worth when there aren’t a ton of likes. This, I think, is the dangerous aspect of the Selfie, but really of social media in general: it plays into the idea that our self-worth is based on external validation. It’s not. That’s all I have to say about that.

And Rowan helped me understand how the Selfie is powerful but also simultaneously undermines this dangerous need for other people to tell us we have worth. Because the Selfie is controlled by its taker. When I take a picture of myself, I am looking at myself, I am choosing to be seen, and I am choosing to let other people see me the way I saw myself. It’s a quiet power, but it is very powerful. We live in a world where humans, particularly female humans, are constantly the subjects of a societal gaze, both literally and metaphorically. There is the unconscious gaze that tells us how we are supposed to present ourselves, that gaze that we self-police, and the very real one that consists of other people looking at us, people believing our bodies are theirs to see, and that they have a right to comment on our bodies and to police them. While my hope is that we can move away from this image obsession as a society, in the meantime I will be viewing the Selfie differently.

However you feel about Kim (and articles like this are making me think very seriously about her and what she means as a cultural symbol), I think there is something really important about the way she has owned not only her body but her ability to project her own image. Her ability to see herself and to show the world her body through her own eyes is key. And I think there really is something to the Selfie that we can learn from her, and from each other, something powerful in knowing that we can capture our own images and choose how the are to be shared. So I say go, take those Selfies. Show us that you love what you see. And keep loving it.

On Closing Bathroom Doors

I woke up this morning around 6 to feed my cats because it is quite impossible to sleep in my condo if they expect to be fed and haven’t been. This means on the weekends I get up, feed the cats, have some water, then go back to sleep for a blessed few hours. The only thing is, this morning when I went back to sleep I had a series of disturbing dreams, the kind I have more often than I would like but can’t figure out why I am having them.

I call these dreams my “distress” dreams, and in most of them someone has done me some small slight and, while in real life I probably would not notice it or wouldn’t much care, in the dream I become extremely distressed and then more and more so when the other people I encounter think I have no reason to be upset. In one such dream my younger brother came into my room while I slept and left a book he had borrowed on my bed, and when I was angry with him I kept telling him that he knew I didn’t like anyone to come in my room while I was sleeping. Everyone else was telling me to calm down and get over it because he’d just been returning the book I wanted. When I wake up, though often the outrage and hurt remain, I usually look back on these dreams and think, “What the actual heck, brain?”

But this morning I had somewhat of a revelation. To be fair, the dreams I had this morning were somewhat worse than those I’ve had in the past. Without going into much detail, I was driving with someone who kept tickling me while I was driving and I told them I needed them to stop because I didn’t feel I had control of the car, so they didn’t and I pulled over and stormed off, which somehow attracted the attention of a middle aged man who planned to do me sexual violence and even though I was able to escape, get back to the car, and get home, the man broke into my home and one of the other characters in the dream had to kill him in my defense. When I first woke I just kept asking myself what I’d been reading and/or watching before bed because dreams that turn into absolute nightmares are not very common for me.

But when I sat down on the toilet I looked over at the door I’d left open and I realized something: it was all about boundary crossing. Every emotionally distressing dream I have contains the common element of someone crossing a boundary I’ve set and often the then truly disturbing reality of no one else caring that this happened or seeing a problem with it. Thankfully, in my personal life, this is not much of an issue. I have learned to communicate my boundaries with relative clarity and have been fortunate enough to surround myself with those who respect said boundaries and understand that boundaries, in and of themselves, are important. But I also live in a world where my experience in this is extremely uncommon.

I had this realization in the bathroom because I normally close the door when I’m using the bathroom, but every now and then when I am home alone I’ll leave it open because the cats get very upset when I close it and they haven’t had a chance to come in. But why do I close the door when I only live with my husband and when the cats think it’s the end of the world if I’ve closed them out? Because my husband and I, at the very beginning of our relationship, decided that we would like to keep the door closed, that we would like to not witness each others’ bathroom time. In many ways I think this has been an incredibly important decision for our relationship. Not that anything would necessarily change if we were to accidentally leave the door open sometime. Many, many couples leave the door open and are not bothered by it. Some even feel strengthened by it.   

The reason it’s important for us is that it was a clear, somewhat arbitrary boundary that was set early on that we have both respected for the entirety of our relationship and never questioned or pushed back against. And I cannot possibly highlight how important this is. Boundaries are critically important, even and especially in our most intimate relationships. Being able to establish boundaries and believe that they will be respected is what builds trust between friends, family, and partners. The ability to say “no” once and know that it will continue to be a “no” without question is what allows people the confidence to say “no” in the moment, to express discomfort or merely disinterest and believe that they will be listened to.

One of the biggest problems we face right now as a society (really as a species) is that there seems to be an almost universal lack of respect for other people’s boundaries. Often boundary crossing is something people don’t even realize they’re doing, or even realize is wrong. We are raised to believe persistence is a virtue, that the ability to persuade someone to your way of thinking is a valuable skill, and that, worst of all, certain relationships entitle us to a breakdown of boundaries. Most of the people in this world who cross boundaries, sexual or otherwise, do not perceive themselves as having done so. Too many people simply do not understand that the word “no” is itself the establishment of a boundary, not an invitation to negotiation.

This is sometimes, like in my dreams, not necessarily a huge deal. Someone tells their brother not to come into their room while they sleep, but he does. And even if it’s just to return a book, a kind deed in itself, it is a small breach of trust, a tiny lesson that says, “Your boundaries will not be respected.” And maybe everyone will say, “Get over it, he was just returning a book,” and you will be taught that some of your boundaries do not deserve respect because they are not perceived as important. Which means that, sometimes, when these are major boundary breaches, when things like relationship violence and sexual violence enter the picture, it becomes harder for people to believe they have a right to feel wronged. It means that when people are in relationship with each other they often engage in activities–physically or otherwise–that they don’t want to because neither partner fully understands what those boundaries are. Maybe no one has set boundaries. Maybe no one understands when they’ve crossed one.

So, my dreams seems to be screaming to the world, please remember that boundaries are important. Please remember to set them. Please remember to respect them. Please hear the word “no” as it is intended, not as you wish it to be. And please teach each other the importance of those boundaries in the small moments, so that we all might better learn to set and respect them in the bigger moments. Close those bathroom doors, whatever they may be, and keep them closed so that you can be more comfortable closing your closet doors when you need, and you can be more confidence knowing no one will open them.    door

On Last Names

Really this post should be called “Do what you want, as long as you know what you’re doing,” but “On Last Names” seemed more on point and sounded a bit better.

As an engaged woman in the 21st century in the United States, the issue of marriage and last names is one that is often on my mind. This is due, in no small part, to the frequency with which the subject is brought up in casual conversation. Friends, family, and even virtual strangers want to know whether I’ll be keeping my own name or taking my husband’s. This question is one that is generally welcome and one that I am more than happy to answer, though I admit I do get annoyed that my fiance has never once been asked whether or not he will be taking my last name.

Still, it heartens me to know that we either live in a world where it is no longer assumed that women will be changing their last names or at least that I am the sort of person that people tend to think might go against the grain. I make no secret of my identity as a feminist, and while I tend to surround myself with men and women who are advocates of gender equality it does make me happy to know that there is an expectation that I should have a choice when it comes to the name game.

Of course, this also makes me feel a touch guilty when I tell people that, yes, I will be taking my husband’s name. I always go on to explain why, and no one has ever seemed upset or offended that I will be joining the ranks of women who leave their father’s name behind in the interest of their husband’s, many people do seem surprised by it. I think, maybe, I was too, when I made the decision. But then I think about how ridiculous it is that I am feeling guilty about making a decision about my own future. The important thing is that it was my decision, and that’s what matters, right?

I read an article a few months ago by a woman who is appalled that the last names issue is no longer a hot button issue, even in feminist circles. Apparently, according to this article, not only are people no longer really talking about last names as a thing that matters but that more and more women in recent years have “reverted” back to taking their husband’s names, rather than keeping their own. I appreciated the spirit of the article, but I did not quite get on board. I understand, in theory, that there are issues of ownership and appropriation that underlie name-taking in marriage, but it doesn’t seem to be quite the issue that it was made out to be in the article. For one thing, children acquire their parents’ names, whether that be father’s name, mother’s name, or both. That is how you go about getting your last name. Maybe that’s an ownership issue, or an identity issue, but it is still a thing that is given rather than chosen. There is something powerful, to me, in the ability of a person to choose a new name, or even to acquire it passively through marriage, assuming no choice is offered. I know there is room for argument here, and I would be happy to discuss it because it is an issue that interests me, but the main issue seems like it should be one of choice.

That’s what feminism is about, isn’t it? The power to be able to choose. Too often, I think, ideas of feminism get wrapped up with ideas of what women should be doing, which is more than a bit problematic. The idea of equality, to me, means the idea that men and women are awarded the same choices and the same opportunities, ideally with the same ability to succeed in the opportunities presented. In the last names debate, that manifests itself in my mind as a simple matter of the couple sitting down, having a frank conversation about desires and expectations, and making a decision that they are both comfortable with.

I’ve seen this played out quite beautifully in my own life. In the last five or so years most of the people I know have been getting married; we’re just at that age, it seems. I know many men and women who have both kept their own names, I know women who have taken their husband’s (or wife’s) names, men who have taken their wife’s (or husband’s) names, couples who have hyphenated, and even several couples who have taken both of their names, mashed them together, and created a whole new name for themselves. There is no right or wrong way to go about it that fits everyone’s situation. The only right way is to approach the last names issue intentionally and thoughtfully and to decide, together, how to move forward.

For my fiance and I, it was a quick and straightforward process. We agreed that we wanted to have the same name as a symbol of our unity as a couple and our new identity as a family unit. We also wanted to share a name for the practical reason that we wanted to have the same name as any children that might result from our union. We were not interested in hyphenating for purely aesthetic reasons and making up a new name wasn’t appealing to my fiance because he has a rare and unusual last name that he’s quite attached to. I am in no way attached to my current last name. In many ways I think I just don’t put that much stock in last names as a rule, but I also have one of the most common names in the world so I suppose it also makes sense that my name wouldn’t hold any particular magic to me. In the end it was not only that I wasn’t attached to my name and my fiance was attached to his, but also that I genuinely just wanted to take his last name. I like the name, I like its story, and I also like the idea that I get to change my name and take on a whole new identity while still remaining entirely myself.

There is certainly still much that can be discussed in this area. It does irk me more than a bit that more men do not consider changing their names, and it makes me sad to think there might be people out there who felt pressured to take a name they didn’t necessarily want. And while I don’t believe that the taking of last names should necessarily be considered a hot button issue in modern feminism, not when so much else is going on, I do hope that people are, at least, talking about it.

On Being a Reader

This week’s post features a lot of questions but probably no answers, because sometimes even I have to admit that I don’t really know anything.

library-1024x691

I suppose that I do know that I am a reader. I’m not really sure most people would consider this an identity, but for me, and for most of the readers I know, it most certainly is. Every time I’m asked to define myself, the first words that come out of my mouth are, “I’m a reader and a writer.” For me the identities are inextricable from one another; I go hungry, emotionally and creatively, if I am away from books for too long, and I go crazy if I don’t get my thoughts out on paper often enough. Writing makes me want to read, reading makes me want to write. It’s a beautiful thing, except when people actually want to spend time with me or talk to me and my mind is too filled with the world of fiction for me to be much use socializing.

This is not true for all readers. I am lucky to have surrounded myself with people who also enjoy their addiction to the written word, and also lucky to have found people whose addiction is shaped entirely differently from my own. I have friends who read nonfiction obsessively, friends who find poetry delightful, friends who can’t get enough literary fiction, friends who still read classics even though we aren’t in school anymore. I’m even blessed with one friend who can and will pick up any book that has words in it and read it. Usually, she even likes whatever she’s laid her hands on, unless it’s especially terrible. All of my friends who read have at least a theoretical interest in writing, but not a single one has the compulsion I have, and that does not matter. What matters is the reading.

What we do have in common, as we likely do with any readers out there, is our own small library that we carry with us wherever we go. I am still young enough to be almost constantly on the move, and most of my friends are as well. This means that, every year or so, we all pack up all of our belongings and lug them from one home to another. All of us, I can say with the certainty of one who has assisted in far, far too many such moves, will pack more boxes of books than all of our other possessions combined. And we are not alone. The world is filled with readers, and this is a fact that makes me happy but also often puzzles me.

I am especially puzzled today, as I sit on the couch in my living room trying to find some kind of emotional stability. I recently finished a book, you see, the kind of book that I am always seeking when I begin to read. It’s the kind of book that leaves you with what has so aptly been called the “book hangover.” While the book ended happily enough, I didn’t finish it with any kind of satisfaction. Instead it left me feeling absolutely agonized. The emotional tumult of the story itself was gripping and engrossing, but I also loved it so much that, now that it’s over, I feel like I’m grieving the loss of a loved one, like something beautiful in my life has been cruelly ripped away. There’s a pit in my stomach and pain in my chest, and while that might be due in part to my extreme sleep deprivation due to my inability to sleep before I finished the book, it is mostly due to the emotional hangover that follows a truly good read. I’ve gone back and re-read my favorite parts about eight times in the last day or so to try to stabilize my emotional state, but there’s nothing that can really be done about it. It’s not like someone took the words away from me.

It’s just that reading a book–a really good book–for the first time is like being in a relationship. It’s an exciting and emotional journey, filled with ups and downs, but once it’s over it’s over. Looking at pictures and remembering the good times doesn’t change the fact that, well, you had your journey and it’s gone. Don’t get me wrong–I am an avid re-reader of my favorite books. I often enjoy them more the third and fourteenth time than I did the first time, but the emotional impact is never the same. I never grieve at the end again.

And the thing is, I’m certainly not the only person that this happens to. The internet tells me it’s a relatively common phenomenon. My friends who are readers certainly know what I’m talking about and respect my need for ice cream and cuddles to deal with the pain of finishing a truly good story. But what I want to know is why. What is it about books that does this to a person? What is it about reading that is so powerful? Is that that the engrossing nature of books awakens a part of our brains that is otherwise left dormant? Is it that highly sensitive people are more apt to read? Maybe. But, really, is anyone out there actually not a reader, or have some people just not found the right book? And if that’s the case, as I tend to believe it is, then what does it say about the human condition that we can become so emotionally involved in a written story?

I ask these questions because I am actually curious, and I’d love to hear some answers if anyone thinks they have them. Meanwhile, I’ll be curled up on my couch, eating ice cream and getting over my most recent loss so that I can dive into the next emotional rollercoaster that is sitting on my table, waiting.   

On Being a Fat Woman

I have been seeing a lot of posts lately about body positivity which always puts a smile on my face, but for every post I see there are fifty others about the need and desire to be thin, especially among women, so I feel like it’s time for me to talk a little bit about being fat, being body positive, and my hope for the future of bodies in this world.

Those of you that have seen me, at least lately, know that I am a fat woman. When I say this I am not putting myself down or despairing, merely stating a fact. I am a woman. I am 5’2″ tall, and I weigh a little over 200 pounds. I believe the clinical term for my size is “obese.” Those of you that have known me for a bit longer know that this was not always the case. I was a skinny little scarecrow of a child, and when I hit puberty I became chunky and remained so for a long time. While I would not call my pre-teen and teenage self “fat,” I was certainly overweight and definitely never thin. When I got to college a combination of the end of puberty, access to free and unhealthy food, and a constantly waning concern about my appearance pushed me over the edge into fat territory.

The summer before my senior year of college I ruined a family camping trip because my size and general inactivity made me susceptible to dehydration and I got so sick that we had to head home much earlier than expected. So I began my first official diet and, because I was eating less than 500 calories a day, I started to lose weight rapidly. The incredible positive feedback I was getting on my weight loss from friends, family, and the wider world led me into a yearlong period of anorexia, where I was eating between 400 and 500 carefully controlled calories a day, doing intense workouts for at least an hour every day, weighing myself twice, and obsessing every moment of my life about my weight loss and my goals for the perfect body. I lost ninety pounds in under seven months and by the time I weighed 123 pounds I was no longer able to lose weight and I was panicking because my twice daily weigh-ins were no longer making me happy and I didn’t know what else I could do to keep the weight loss going.

Around this time I moved to a new city and began a new job which seriously interfered with my ability to work out as much as I wanted to, and my less than living wage made it absolutely impossible for me to have access to the five foods I allowed myself to eat, especially because I was feeding another person. Stress and anxiety took over, and just as some of the people I held most dear were beginning to understand that I was living in a very dangerous way, I reached out for help. The damage I did to my body in that year is likely irreparable. My heart will never be the same—my resting pulse is still disturbingly high, even though I’ve been taking measures to lower it. My metabolism will also never recover. What was a slow system to begin with is now barely functioning, so much so that even though I still eat 1200 calories or less a day because my stomach is still shrunk from my eating disorder I have been gaining weight rapidly and uncontrollably for three years now. I am, once again, a fat woman.

The thing is that now, this is not a fact that makes me cringe. I am fully aware that many of the people in my life miss that brief period where I was an acceptable size. Most of these people are in my family, and while I know they love me dearly and always will, it scares me to know that it was preferable, for them, to have me destroying my body so that I might look like they want me to look. I know that most of the people who see my body dislike that it is a fat one, and I know that even the people who don’t really hate my fat body would still rather it was not fat.

And this is the heart of the issue, really. While I am all about body positivity and I love all the “you are beautiful the way you are” and “I am fat and beautiful, too!” posts, this is not true body positivity. Any movement that focuses on how bodies appear, no matter how well meaning, is problematic. Yes, it is very nice to say that even fat people can be beautiful. It’s nice to hear, though I am past the point in my life where I need to hear it. I know that I am a beautiful person, physically speaking. I know people would find me more beautiful if I was less fat, but I have been blessed with a pretty face and big eyes and thick hair, so I am fully aware that I am pleasing to look at. I am also aware that it doesn’t matter what people say about me, so long as I am happy with what I see in the mirror. And, the vast majority of the time, I am. I deeply wish this was true for most people, because I know that insecurities do not only plague the fat ladies. The women I know with the lowest self-esteem are the ones who most perfectly fit conventional beauty standards.

The point is that, as one of my favorite sayings goes, our bodies are not ornaments made to decorate the world. As lovely as it is to find beauty in the human form (and yes, it is incredibly beautiful), the way a body appears is by far the least important thing about it. The body itself is a thing of incredible beauty. The fact that it works, that you are reading this and taking it in while you have thoughts of your own and are at the same time breathing while your heart beats and you smell something and hear something, is astounding. All bodies, no matter how able or functional they are, are not only incapable of incredible things but are doing incredible things every moment of every day. So yes, every body is beautiful. Amazingly so. And it has nothing at all to do with how that body is perceived by other humans.

More importantly, the body is the thing with which every single human experiences the world. There is nothing you do without your body. Nothing. So it becomes incredibly problematic when so many people have such a negative view of their shape, of the body that is who they are. If you don’t love the instrument with which you are living, how in the world can you be expected to love the life you are living with it? There is nothing in this world that is more important than embracing yourself and having a positive relationship with yourself. This includes, in a big way, your body.

I am not sure if anyone will actually read this, and to be honest that’s not the point. I am perfectly happy to throw this out into the void and know that it was said, because that’s all I have the power to do. But if you are reading this, whether or not you are a fat woman, do me a favor and think about it. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, do me an even bigger favor and sit down with your body for a while. Get to know it, and learn to love it. Learn to see the beauty in what it does, the power in what it is. And for the love of all things good in this world, stop obsessing over how it looks. There is nothing in this world that matters less.

Rats. Right?

 

Rats can be found in almost every pet store in this country that sells live animals–they are more commonly sold than dogs, cats, ferretts, guinea pigs, etc, yet 70% of the people I talk to who find out I have pet rats think it’s weird and crazy. I’ve spent a lot of time having to explain to people why I have rats as pets and I still have people, like my mother, who shudder at the thought and feel the need to tell me that my beloved pets are disgusting and gross. My boss recently took down pictures of my rattie gals that I had up in my cubicle and told me they were gross and he wanted students to feel comfortable when they came to see me.

I’d love to say what will follow on this delightful page will be primarily my battle against the stigma rats carry, but that’s not quite what this is about. While I do hope to contribute to education about pet rats–both to people who think they’re gross and people who are trying to be better rat parents–my primary goal here is to share a little bit of my love for my girls with you all because I have way too much of it to hold in.

The characters in this story will be as follows:

Me– Rumy, rat mother to seven rats, two guinea pigs, and one cat.

Boyfriend/Partner/Fiance–my live-in main squeeze, companion, and father to our zoo

Roommate–the lovely lady fortunate enough to share our house. She comes with her own cat as well as a beautiful snake.

The cat–Sake, a grumpy but loving and wonderful cat

The piggies–Echo and Glitch, the quirky muffins

The rats–Euphie, Lulu, Yuki, Nirvash, Luna, Ashe, and Nora. More (oh so much more) to come on them.

 

The stage:

Our lovely little house in somewhere, Tennessee, which we will soon vacate to move up north to the great land of wind and snow.

 

The plot:

Life, love, and all the wonderfully exciting and terribly boring things that come with it.

 

Enjoy. Image