Tag Archives: being a teenager sucked ass

FRIENDS: Where Are They Now

5 Jan

Friends first aired just over 20 years ago. To celebrate its recent release on Netflix, let’s take some time to speculate where might be now. Rachel, the youngest of the group, would be 43. Ross and Phoebe, the oldest, would be 46. What has everyone been up to?

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Rachel Green

Obviously Ross and Rachel are divorced. Their split started out amicably enough, with promises about always staying friends and being good co-parents for Emma’s sake, but things went downhill pretty quickly after Rachel accepted another job in Paris and Ross accused her of resenting him for begging her to stay the last time she’d tried to move overseas. Sick of Ross’ unending sob circus, Rachel bluntly told him that yes, she did resent him, not just for Paris but for all the other times he held her back career-wise. Rachel then asked Ross to give her some space, but he continued to send her a barrage of texts and messages until she finally blocked his number and email address. They now only communicate through their lawyers.

After returning to New York in 2011, Rachel started her business as a “sartorial curator” (her term). She specializes in revamping the wardrobes of recently divorced women, and has gained a strong reputation as the It Girl of that niche market. She’s absolutely merciless when it comes to throwing out old pieces that are either outdated or the wrong size or have bad memories associated with them, and is a genius at filling in the gaps with new items perfectly suited to her clients. Socialite Tinsley Mortimer recently said that she has no idea how she would have made it intact through her split from Topper without Rachel’s help.

Two years ago Ross’ son Ben, then in his late teens, reached out to Rachel, saying that he wanted to get to know his half sister. Since then, Rachel has become very close with Carol and Susan, and they’ve been a huge help in raising Emma. Saturday night often finds Carol, Susan and Rachel drinking wine and laughing about how terrible Ross is. Sometimes Emily skypes in from England (she and Rachel reconnected while Rachel was living in Paris). It seems funny to them that such an amazing friendship was born out of the ashes of three terrible relationships (“like beautiful flowers growing out of a pile of manure,” Carol said once), but they can’t help being grateful for the strange circumstances that brought them all together.

Rachel can quote most of Sex and the City from memory.

Ross Geller

Ross is still at New York University, in spite of being widely known as one of the worst professors there. He has dated several of his students and each time has manipulated them into not telling the university administration about their relationship by saying that if he gets fired, he won’t be able to pay child support and his children will starve. Because of this, no formal complaints have ever been made against him, although he does have a reputation on campus as a whiny womanizer. Female first year students are often warned not to go to his office after hours unless they want to be coerced into pity makeouts.

In 2012, Ross published a book called The Science Behind Jurassic Park, which spent a remarkable twelve weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He and Neil deGrasse Tyson began a friendship on twitter, which then progressed to email and finally meeting in person. Phoebe recently bumped into Ross and Neil while they were out for coffee together, and although Ross was dismissive and condescending to Phoebe, Neil was completely charmed by her. Ross doesn’t know that Phoebe and Neil have met twice since then for herbal tea.

When the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones aired, Ross posted a lengthy Facebook status shaming people who hadn’t read the book before watching the show (and gleefully pointing out every discrepancy between the two).

Ross worries on a daily basis that George R.R. Martin will die before finishing his next book.

Phoebe Buffay

Phoebe is still married to Mike, and they are happily childless. Phoebe has come up with a variety of hilarious responses when people ask her why she doesn’t have children, but the truth is that she just doesn’t want to. People kept telling her “Wait until you’re older, you’ll change your mind,” but she’s 46 now and still has no interest in having her own kids. She prefers being the cool aunt to her brother’s triplets and often lets them stay over at her place when Frank and Alice need a break.

With Mike’s encouragement, Phoebe went back to school in her late thirties and became a social worker. She now counsels homeless teenagers through a youth outreach project. She tells herself that if she can help at least one kid get back on their feet then she’ll have repaid her karmic debt, but the truth is that she’s almost certainly done more for those kids than she’ll ever realize. On top of everything else, the teens all especially love the fact that their counsellor actually knows what it’s like to live on the streets.

Phoebe continues to work as a masseuse, although only on weekends, and only with animal clients. She recently developed a combination of essential oils that combats even the strongest pet odours. She markets it under the name Smelly Cat, and it’s available at both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

Phoebe still does not own a smart phone, and swears that she never will.

Joey Tribbiani

Joey spent a few years in pretty dire straits, with all of his acting jobs drying up and few other sources of income. He spent some time living in Chandler and Monica’s basement, trading babysitting for room and board. It turns out he’s pretty good with kids, and he was thinking of starting his own nannying business when his big break came in 2013.

Just weeks after dropping his critically-acclaimed album Nothing Was The Same, singer Drake tweeted “Shout out to Drake Ramoray, the inspiration for my name.” The character Drake Ramoray instantly became a wildly popular internet meme, and  Joey was suddenly flooded with job offers. As he made guest appearances on popular sitcoms and charmed his way through the talk show circuit, his popularity only increased. He most recently collaborated on a soap opera buddy comedy with Seth Rogen, and is currently working on a memoir called From Ramoray, With Love.

Embracing the medium of twitter after Drake’s now-infamous tweet, Joey was soon turned onto hashtag activism. He uses it to promote ideas about enthusiastic consent, a concept that’s been important to him before he even knew there was a specific term for it. Joey considers himself to be a sex-positive feminist, although he’s still not entirely sure what “feminist” means.

Monica Geller

Combining her love of food with the emotional scars left from a lifetime of her parents’ bullying and fat jokes, Monica became a body-positive nutritionist. A fierce advocate of Healthy At Any Size, Monica works primarily with teenage girls, encouraging them to love and care for their bodies.

With Chandler’s help, Monica recently started a public awareness campaign called Stunning At Any Size; the campaign showcases bodies of all sizes, ages, races and ethnicities, and though Monica has received a lot of flak for it from various fat-phobic jerks, it is generally considered to be a resounding success.

Monica does not allow anyone to use the term “obesity epidemic” in her presence.

When Monica’s parents visit, they only ever talk about Ross’ career, especially his book. By this point, Monica actually prefers it that way. Her father once refer to Stunning At Any Size as “your little thing with the pictures of the fat women,” and Monica politely but firmly told him to leave her house. He hasn’t mentioned it since.

Monica loves Taylor Swift.

Chandler Bing

After years of fighting his attraction to men, Chandler finally gave in and had an affair with a hot young coworker. After lying to Monica, his children and everyone else for months, Chandler had a breakdown over Thanksgiving Dinner (of course). This led to a brief hospitalization, and after his release and weeks of intensive therapy, Chandler was able to admit to Monica that what frightened him the most was the idea of turning into his father and abandoning his family.

Monica told Chandler that she loved him but didn’t want to stay together with him just for the kids, especially if he wasn’t attracted to her. He insisted that he was, in fact, attracted to her and still very much in love with her, but that he also wanted to sleep with men. After a few false starts and some stumbling along the way, Monica and Chandler now have a loving and supportive non-monogamous relationship. Monica did initially have a hard time with Chandler dating other people, but seeing how happy he was made it easier for her. Last year, Monica reconnected with Richard, and the two have been an item ever since. Monica now channels all of her controlling tendencies into her carefully-maintained Google calendar, which she uses to schedule plenty of time with both Chandler and Richard, and also to make sure she gets the kids to soccer practice on time.

Monica and Chandler are doing their best to raise Erica and Jack in a healthy, loving household. Monica makes sure never to make comments about their weight or how much they’re eating, and Chandler spends quality time with them by taking them out to Broadway musicals and his queer parenting drop in group. Monica, Chandler and the kids attend Pride every year, and it’s become a family tradition. Erica and Jack attend an alternative school, and plenty of their classmates have non-traditional families. They have lots of friends and love telling people that Thanksgiving turned their dad gay (although every time Monica overhears this, she reminds them not to engage in bi-erasure).

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Virginity, Violence and Male Entitlement

31 May

I’ve seen a number of articles written this week by men – nice, well-intentioned, feminist men, I’m sure – about how they empathize with Elliot Rodgers.

Oh, of course they’re disgusted by his actions and of course they think he was a terrible excuse for a human being, but, well, on some level they get it. Because they know what it’s like to be a lonely dude who feels isolated and unloved. They know what it’s like to want female attention but not know how to get it. They know what it’s like to be embarrassed and ashamed at finding yourself still a virgin at the age of twenty two. So while they condemn his actions, they can’t help but somehow feel a little bit sorry for him.

I can find it in my heart to feel many things, but being sorry for Elliot Rodgers will never be one of them.

I feel sorry for his victims, whose lives ended because of a misogynistic asshole’s wet dream of “retribution.”

I feel sorry for the victims’ friends and families, who have to live with their loss every day.

I feel sorry for Elliot’s family, because of the guilt and shame and sorrow I’m sure they’re experiencing.

I feel sorry for the staff and students at UCSB, who will no doubt struggle to feel safe on their campus after this horrible event.

I feel sorry for all the women everywhere who are reminded on a daily basis how little value their lives have in the eyes of so many men.

I can even manage to feel sorry for the men who empathize with Elliot, because I’m sure that recognizing that part of yourself is difficult and frightening.

I cannot, however, feel sorry for Elliot himself. I don’t especially care how sad and lonely he was. I can’t find it in me to feel badly that women rejected him over and over. I definitely don’t have time for people who seem to think that all of this could have been prevented if only Elliot had gotten laid.

I was a virgin when I was twenty two, by which I mean I’d never had penetrative sex with a man (or any kind of sex with anyone, to be honest). And yes, I believe that virginity is a social construct and not an actual thing, but at the time it was very real to me. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my virginity, and I definitely felt unwanted, undesirable and unattractive. To make things even worse, there was (and continues to be) this persisten myth that any woman can have sex whenever she wants, because all men are animals and will fuck anything they can. But they didn’t want to fuck me.

And you know what? Literally at no time ever did I think, gee, I should go on a killing spree.

I never felt entitled to men’s bodies just because I wanted them.

I never blamed all men everywhere for my inability to get it on.

Never. Not once.

And while I understand that there is more social pressure for boys to be sexually active than there is for girls, that doesn’t mean that girls experience any kind of expectations surrounding their sexual initiation. To be honest, being a twenty two year old virgin made me feel like a freak – no one else I knew was as inexperienced as I was, and the older I got, the harder it became to admit to my peers that I’d never even seen a guy’s junk, much less done anything with it. By the time I got to university, whenever I told people that I’d never had sex, they gave me the once-over, like, what is wrong with you.  I worried that I had some kind of sell-by date, like there was an age that I would hit when no one would want to touch my virginal self with a ten foot pole. I just wanted to get the damn thing over with already so that I could get on with the rest of my life.

But I never considered blaming all men everywhere for my problems.

See, the difference is that I didn’t feel like sex was something that men owed me. I didn’t believe that other women, the women who dated the people with whom I was madly, hopelessly in love, were unfairly co-opting something that was rightfully mine. I didn’t think that being nice to men meant that I was entitled to date them. I was miserable and lonely, but I didn’t try to pin the blame for that loneliness on anyone else, let alone an entire gender.

The problem with all of the talk surrounding how nerdy and awkward Elliot was as a teenager and how he just didn’t have anyone to tell him that sex isn’t all that important or that things would get better is that these discussions minimize the role misogyny and male entitlement played in this tragedy. Elliot didn’t murder six people because he was too shy to strike up a conversation with a woman; he murdered them because he felt that he deserved unlimited access to women’s bodies and if he couldn’t have that then by god he was going to kill those women and the men who dated them. This is a man who had fantasies about putting all women in concentration camps and slowly starving them to death. This wasn’t about his virginity – although I’m sure that played a part in what happened – it was about his belief that women owed him sex just because he was a man.

Yes, the idea that being sexually active is directly tied to a man’s masculinity is toxic. Yes, this is a hard thing for men to live with. Yes, being a twenty two year old virgin (unless you’re doing so by choice) will impact your self-esteem. But Elliot Rodger didn’t go on a killing spree because he couldn’t get laid – he did so because he was infuriated that he wasn’t being given the attention and respect that he felt he deserved.

I know that we need to talk about toxic masculinity and the ways that it hurts men. That is something that I feel incredibly passionate about. But right now I’m not ready to have that discussion, or at least not framed around some kind of empathy with how desperate and lonely and confused Elliot Rodger was. Right now my priority is talking about all of the ways that women are dehumanized in our culture, and the ways that dehumanization affects us every day. I want to talk about how our culture teaches men to dominate women, and tells them that violence is the way to do this. I want to talk about the dangerous consequences that women are painfully aware of every time they tell a man no. And maybe this is all part of the same discussion, but right now I just don’t have room to consider how Elliot Rodger might have felt. Because, as weird as this might sound, this isn’t really about him or his story. This isn’t about rationalizing or empathizing or sympathizing with a man who believed that he needed to punish women for not wanting to sleep with him.

This is about how society views women, and how unbelievably frightening it is to live under that lens.

My virginal self at age 20, not thinking even a little about murdering all men

My virginal self at age 20, not thinking even a little about murdering all men

 

 

I just want to break that song into pieces and love them all to death

2 Apr

TW for talk of police brutality

I just finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and dang. It gave me a lot of feelings.

I read it for Young Adultery, which is a) a book club where a bunch of fabulous grownups sit around and talk about YA literature and b) the coolest book club around. Like, what up, I spent last night sitting in a gorgeously hip Queen West book store talking about a super great book with some of my favourite people in the world. It was so great (and the perfect diversion from all the mental health stuff that I’ve been dealing with).

What was interesting for me was that for a lot of people in the group, this book brought them back to their first romance, their high school crush, their awkward first kiss. And, I mean, Eleanor & Park is primarily a love story, so that makes perfect sense. For me, though, the book stirred up a lot of memories about what it was like to be the poor kid in high school with a group of nice middle class friends.

I was always embarrassed when people came over to my place. We lived in this ugly brown townhouse, which was part of a low-income housing complex owned by the city. The places had probably been nice back when they were built, which is to say back when they were all privately owned. But the lot was right next to a former landfill site that everyone called Mount Trashmore, and sometime in the 70s there had been a health scare about it. It turned out that the giant mound of decomposing trash (covered by some very attractive sod) leaking methane into the air, so they evacuated everyone and for a while the houses were abandoned. And then the city bought them and moved the poor people in. We all had to have methane detectors in our basements and here was this giant industrial flame that burned day and night. It was supposed to burn off the methane. 

None of my friends had to worry about dying of methane poisoning in their sleep.

It wasn’t unusual to see the cops in our complex. Like the night we heard gun shots and my mother tried to laugh it off and pretend for our sake that she wasn’t scared. Or the time the police came to our door and said that a neighbour had accused me of stealing their car. I didn’t even know how to drive a car, but they wanted to question me because, they said, I matched the description of the thief exactly. Or when another neighbour’s brother showed up high as fuck and stark naked. Someone called the cops and when they came they immediately started beating him. Like, they didn’t even give him the chance to come quietly. And he was rolling around on the ground screaming, “Oh god, oh god, oh please no,” but they just kept going. I was on my way to school when it happened, and I stopped and watched because I felt like I should do something. But what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t call the police, because the police were already there. They were there and they were hitting a man senseless with their batons.

And the next time I saw the cops in our neighbourhood, I made a point of smiling at them. I wanted them to think that I was harmless. I was afraid of what would happen if they didn’t think that I was harmless.

All of my friends lived in nice houses on tree-lined streets where no one was ever high or naked or puking on their front lawn because it’s Christmas and the whole family, even the five year old, is drunk. My neighbours thought it was funny to get their five year old drunk. But only on special occasions.

I always had the wrong clothes. Always. I was so embarrassed by my clothes. And when they ripped, which they often did because I wore them to shreds, I didn’t know how to fix them. I would put safety pins through all the tears, and I was always so worried that someone would see the flash of silver in my armpit or my crotch and realize that my clothes were pinned together and, like, not in a cool way. Not in an on-purpose way.

Speaking of clothes, this one tine time in English class my jeans were sagging low enough to show my underpants. I figured this out too late, after a kid called out, “Hey, nice panties.” I was mortified. My body was the biggest it had ever been and I didn’t want them to see the rolls of fat above the waistband of my pants. I didn’t want them to know that I was wearing stretched-out baggy underwear full of holes. But they saw everything and they all laughed. Even the teacher laughed. Having a grown man laugh at my torn up worn out purple grandma panties felt unbearable, but it must have been bearable because I still came back to school the next day.

I could never afford anything. I had to beg and beg my mom for money just to go see a movie with my friends. Sometimes after the movie my friends would want to go out to a restaurant because hey, we were young and fancy-free and why not stay out late on a Saturday night? I would tag along because I always wanted so badly to be included in everything, but I would always just order water because I couldn’t even afford a Coke. Watching my friends eat would always make me so hungry, so I would ask if I could have one of their fries and then they would get mad and say that if I’d wanted fries I should have ordered some. They weren’t being mean they just didn’t know why I never ordered food, and I didn’t want to tell them.

Speaking of food, it was all canned soup and grilled cheese and frozen dinners at my house, because my mom got home from work late and then often went out as soon as she got home, because she was finishing her bachelor’s degree in night school. This meant that a lot of the time, I would end up making dinner, but I didn’t know how to cook. I mean, I knew how to make pancakes and fried hotdogs and stuff, but nothing with actual nutritional value.

Sometimes my friends would invite me over for dinner, and their parents would prepare this amazing meal made up of food that I’d never even seen before, like eggplant and zucchini. They would make stuff like macaroni and cheese from scratch and, like, that wasn’t even a thing that I knew you could make from scratch; I just thought it only ever came in a box. And I didn’t want to have my friends over for dinner because I didn’t want them to know that we had Chef Boyardee not as a once-in-a-while treat, but all the time because it was fast and easy.

One time my friend’s mom gave us a giant box of food for Christmas and she started crying and I was so mad at her for crying. No one else got boxes of food for Christmas.

I remember telling my friends that I was going to my dad’s on the weekend and he wanted me to go a rave with him. His friend was going to bring some speed for us. I’d thought that my friends would think that my dad was such a cool, bad-ass parent, but instead they just looked uneasy. Having a forty-something dad who went to raves and did hard drugs was apparently not the same as having laid-back middle class hippie parents who were hiding but not quite hiding their pot habits. They didn’t think my dad was cool – they thought he was scary and weird.

I had this boyfriend who lived in a beautiful house in the next town over, and I was excruciatingly embarrassed whenever his parents dropped me off at home. I didn’t want them to see where I lived. I didn’t want them to think that I wasn’t good enough for their kid. I could tell that they didn’t like me. It was like my poverty had a smell, somehow, coming off me in waves. They wrinkled their noses when they saw me, even though I could tell they were trying to be nice.

Being poor meant that I couldn’t afford the twenty dollar student card fee in grade twelve, which mean that I couldn’t collect the extracurricular participation points that year. This meant that I wasn’t eligible for the giant silver participation plaque that they gave out at graduation and you know what? I am still fucking sore about that. When I am super-famous my high school will call and BEG me to take that stupid plaque and I’ll be like HEY, FUCK YOU, WHERE WERE YOU FIFTEEN YEARS AGO but also I will be like, yeah, give me the damn plaque because I am still not too cool for this. But the point is the office would happily have waived the fee for another kid, a cleaner, nicer kid, but they did not give a shit about me.

Being poor meant constant vigilance over how I acted, dressed, even smelled. It especially involved hypervigilance when talking about my family because there was just so much to edit out, or else to purposely misconstrue so as not to make our family life sound so bad. And I should clarify that it wasn’t bad – my mother did the best that she could for us, and she did a fantastic job. Our life wasn’t bad, but it was so different, and I knew that I was being judged and found wanting on a daily basis. Appearing to be middle class was especially critical when meeting my friends’ parents, who all seemed to size me up as soon as I went in. I was irrationally terrified that they would tell my friends not to bring me around again.

Being a teenager was just so much trying to hide our economic status. It was avoiding awkward questions from the school counsellor, because what was she going to do about it? It was using money that my grandmother had given me for Christmas or my birthday to buy the disgusting nachos at the school cafeteria, because for once in my life I wanted to be someone who was rich enough to buy nachos in the cafeteria. It was telling teachers that I couldn’t go on field trips, because I couldn’t afford them. It was scouring the Value Village down the street and learning to develop this cheap funky style that no one could make fun of because it was obviously intentionally tacky. It was borrowing a prom dress from the mother of the kid I babysat for, because I couldn’t afford anything new. It was a million stupid little humiliations, and a few big ones.

And everything, all of this, had to be kept hidden at all costs. Because I was already being made fun of, and I didn’t need to add fuel to the fire. And I didn’t want me friends to think of me as so different from them just because they had more money. And I sure as hell didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.

Eleanor & Park fan art by Simini Blocker Illustration http://siminiblocker.tumblr.com

Eleanor & Park fan art by Simini Blocker Illustration http://siminiblocker.tumblr.com

 

On Learning To Love My Nose

2 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about this interview with Lisa Kudrow about the nose job she got when she was in high school.

My first thought is that I want to go back in time and hug teenaged Lisa Kudrow. I want to tell her that it sounds like she made the best choice possible given the options she had. But I also want to tell her that it sucks big time that society presented her with so few options, that it’s unbelievably shitty for a young girl to think that her only chance not to feel hideous is to surgically alter her face.

Most of all, I want to tell her that I get it, because I’ve been there. And if surgery had seemed like a viable option when I was fifteen, I probably would have jumped at the chance. But it wasn’t, so I just had to live with how my nose looked, and eventually I learned to like it. I’m not entirely sure, though, that telling a fifteen year old to suck it up and wait it out until they feel loveable is the best way to go.

I hated my nose for a long time. A long, long time. It’s large and pointy, and, as my friend Steve once helpfully remarked, it’s hooked, like an eagle’s beak. It’s what, on a man, would be called “strong” or “aquiline” – on a petite woman, it looks out of place, or so I thought. My sister once told me that my squinty eyes and prominent nose gave me a rat-like appearance. A friend once avoided the question of whether I had an ugly nose by telling me that I have a nice personality. The first time I saw Cyrano de Bergerac I cried, because I thought I would have to spend the rest of my life composing eloquent love letters for friends who wanted to date the dudes that I liked. I hated my nose.

For a really long time, I would only let people take pictures of me from head-on; I avoided shots of my profile at all costs. I looked up makeup techniques that would somehow minimize the appearance of my nose. I kept my hair long so that I could tilt my head and let my hair fall forward, covering my face. I thought about getting a nose job. My grandmother once told me to get a nose job. Or rather, she said, “Annie, you only live once, and you only get one body. If surgery will make you feel happier living in the body you’ve been given, then more power to you.”

Not long after that conversation, my cousin, whose nose resembled mine, really did get a nose job. I worried that when I saw her I would feel envious, but I didn’t. I just felt sad.

Mostly I feel sad that we live in a world where there is such a narrow definition of beauty for women. I feel sad that I scrutinize every photograph of me that goes online, because I don’t want people to think that I’m “ugly.” I feel sad that when I put on makeup it seems more like painting on a mask, one that will hide or at least distract people from my actual face. I feel sad that I’ve spent most of my adult life feeling so goddamn unattractive.

I have, somewhat pathetically, tried to remedy this situation by getting outside validation for my appearance, but that’s a double-edge sword, isn’t it? Relying on people other than myself to make me feel attractive is foolish and misguided at best. First of all, doing that puts a lot of pressure on my friends and family to constantly reassure me that yes, I am pretty, and no, I’m not ugly. I mean, it’s fine to like compliments and everything, but requiring them as some sort of clause in our friendship contract isn’t cool. Second of all, feeling that I need an outside source to provide me with self-esteem just isn’t sustainable. Third of all, when I feel bad about my appearance, it doesn’t matter how many compliments you lob at me, I’m just not going to believe them.

Part of the problem is the format in which I tend to look for validation; usually it’s by posting pictures of myself on Facebook or Twitter. But it’s well within my power to make sure that those pictures don’t necessarily contain what I think is the truth. That doesn’t mean that I edit or doctor these photographs in any way, but I do tend to do things like take pictures in full sunlight, so that my face is completely washed out, or hold the camera above my head, so that it’s a more “flattering” angle. I’ll also often take twenty or more pictures of myself in a row and then delete most of them for being too ugly. And if most of my selfies are ugly, if the vast majority of pictures of myself make me cringe, then doesn’t that mean that the select few that make it to a public platform are really lies? So even the pictures where I think I look good somehow end up making me feel bad.

Look at it this way: yes, I can take photographs and look at these images that I’ve created and recognize that the subject is, in fact, attractive in a mostly conventional way. But that doesn’t mean that I can recognize that I, myself, am attractive in a mostly conventional way; it only means that I know how to use things like angles and lighting and sneaky makeup tricks in order to produce a static version of myself that I find palatable. And then I can take these photographs and post them to social media sites and receive positive feedback on them, but again, that doesn’t so much make me feel attractive as it makes me feel like a liar and a manipulator.

I always worry when meeting someone offline for the first time about how they will react to my appearance. I worry that they will think that I’ve misrepresented myself, made myself seem prettier, my skin smoother, my nose less prominent.

I always worry that when friends who know me in real life see the pictures that I post online, they just roll their eyes at how unlike me these photographs are.

I always worry that I’m never, ever going to learn to love how I look.

I am learning, though, albeit slowly. Over the past year or two my nose has gone from being this huge blemish on my face to being something about myself that I like a lot. It’s different, and it makes my face more interesting. It gives me character, makes me appear somehow both dignified and a bit oddball. It just plain looks kinda good.

I wish it hadn’t taken me twenty some-odd years to learn to love my nose, though. Nobody should have to feel that badly about themselves for that long. And though it would be easy to blame the kids who teased me or grownups who rolled their eyes and told me to get over it, the problem is so much bigger than that. The problem is that we only ever see women who fit one specific model of beauty in the media. The problem is that we put way too much emphasis on women’s appearance, and not enough on their thoughts or character or actions. The problem is that we criticize people for posting selfies “for attention,” but don’t ever talk about why those people might want, maybe even need, positive attention paid to their looks. The problem is that there are so many problems and I don’t even know how to start solving them.

Here’s my first, faltering step at trying to find some kind of solution. A picture of my nose, in all of its enormous, pointy glory:

IMG_4180

Miraculously enough for me, I don’t hate it.

Nostalgia Machine: Re-watching The X-Files

28 Oct

I’ve been re-watching The X-Files since I’ve been sick, and it’s weirdly been more emotional than I thought it would be. I mean, yes, I snarkily posted this mini-review on Facebook:

So the x-files is basically a show set in the far distant past, back when they didn’t have cell phones or digital cameras. It centres around a 15 year old boy with daddy issues named Fox Mulder. He sulks around and breaks rules and believes in every ridiculous thing ever and uses his Feelings and Troubled Past to justify everything he does. He has a lot of Feelings, by the way. The show also features an actual bonafide adult named Dana Scully who is literally the most patient, tolerant person on the planet and also understands how things like Science and Logic work.

And I still stand by all of that.

But, still.

Emotions.

I was eleven years old when The X-Files first came on the air.

I looked something like this:

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I was in that weird place between childhood and puberty; I had the beginnings of breasts, but no period yet. I liked boys, but had no idea what to do about that fact. I read grownup books, but still secretly played pretend. The siege of my childhood had begun, and I wasn’t yet sure whether to welcome the invading army or fight at all costs.

As if there was even a fight to be had.

I don’t know why I started watching The X-Files – I think I overheard someone talking about it at school, or maybe it was because my Aunt Carolyn, the arbiter of all things cool, was a fan. I’m certain that most of the appeal was because the show seemed so forbidden in our house. My mother has the lowest threshold for fear when it comes to scary movies; even Jumanji was too much for her to stomach. She saw one episode of The X-Files, said that it was disgusting and grotesque, and swore that she would never watch it again.

So of course I had to find a way to see it.

I would tape it off the television, onto cassettes labelled Star Trek or Road to Avonlea. Even though we only had one VCR in our house, this wasn’t so hard because the X-Files aired at 9 pm on Friday nights, at which time my parents were either bribing, cajoling or threatening my sister Catherine to go to bed, or else they were holed up in their own bedroom, trying to pretend for an hour or two that they had no children. If they happened to be in the living room when the VCR started clicking and whirring, I would make up a lie about taping some old movie musical off CBC and then change the subject. Somehow, I never got caught.

I would set my alarm for one in the morning, and when it went off, I would creep downstairs and settle myself into a little nest of blankets and pillows on the couch. I didn’t dare turn any lights on, so the house was completely dark. I would sit there in rapt attention, drinking in every tiny detail of Mulder and Scully’s weekly adventures, even the stuff that I didn’t understand. Especially the stuff that I didn’t understand. Afterwards, I would rewind the cassette to the beginning and tape an hour of test patterns or infomercials, so that no one would know what I had been up to.

I was a cautious kid by nature; nothing that I’d done up until that point had ever felt so daring.

The X-Files gave me the same queasily excited feeling that I got from looking through the Victorian medical dictionary we had in the basement. I didn’t exactly enjoy poring over highly detailed drawings of deformed fetuses or diseased genitals, but I couldn’t seem to look away. Those crumbling onionskin pages had some sort of pull on me that I couldn’t quite explain. And as much as aliens and deadly parasites and ageless dudes who wake from their hibernation every thirty years in order to gruesomely murder people and eat their livers terrified me – and let’s be clear here, as an eleven year old, The X-Files fucking terrified me – I couldn’t look away. Part of it was that I was sort of daring myself to be cooler, less wussy than I was, but part of it was that I was genuinely, horrifyingly fascinated.

It wasn’t long before that horrified fascination somehow turned into love. I loved Mulder, whose deadpan goofiness fit perfectly with his desperate need to believe that there was something, anything out there. I loved Scully, with her take-no-bullshit attitude and her scientific smarts. I loved Skinner, and Deep Throat, and the Cigarette Smoking Man. I loved their stupid basement office with its stupid UFO poster. I loved all of it.

I guess I sort of grew up with The X-Files. That show might have been the first inclination that I had that the government didn’t always have the good of the people in mind. I learned about conspiracy theories, and unethical experiments carried out with the full knowledge of legislative officials, and exactly what happens to the people who go against the official party line. Most of all, I learned to trust no one, and if there’s ever been a more fitting slogan for being a teenager, I haven’t heard it yet.

The X-Files also acted as a touchstone between my father and I after he left. He started watching the show too, and during our weekly phone calls we would compare notes on the latest episode. My father had always had strange nightmares about being abducted by little grey men, so aliens were already a bit of a family joke; once my father and I were both watching The X-Files, that joke amplified in and echoed across the distance, both literal and figurative, between us. We would buy each other alien and spaceship-themed presents at Christmas and on birthdays, and those became a sort of code between us, a code that translated to mean, “I love you. I’m proud of you. No matter what.”

I kind of lost the thread of The X-Files plot towards the end of high school. The mytharc was too complicated, and anyway, I was too old to be watching the same babyish shows that I’d liked when I was eleven. I had new and more exciting ways of feeling daring, like drinking and kissing boys and smoking pot. I didn’t have time for Mulder and Scully anymore, in the same way that I didn’t have time for my family anymore. And then in the last season Mulder wasn’t even there, which, I mean, fuck that. Right?

I did watch the last episode of the show, though, which aired just a few months before I turned twenty. And when I say watch, what I really mean is cried through the entirety of. Because, fuck, man. The Lone Gunmen were dead. Mulder and Scully were finally together. And the siege of my childhood was definitely, without even a shadow of a doubt, over. The city was conquered, the population killed or enslaved, and the buildings razed.

I was a grownup, and The X-Files was gone.

But re-watching it? Re-watching brought me right back to that dark living room twenty years ago, the light from the screen flickering across my impossibly young face. It was like rewinding the tape to the beginning, back to the hard, bright cynical innocence of the early 90s, back to Scully’s boxy suits and Mulder’s enormous wire-framed glasses. It was falling asleep and dreaming something lovely, or else maybe like finally waking up. It was perfect nostalgia.

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How To Be A Grownup

19 Oct

It’s late afternoon on Thanksgiving Monday. I’m lying on a chaise longue on my mother’s back deck, a ratty old knitted blanket across my lap and a book that I am not reading in my hands. I am pretending to be a 19th-century invalid, recuperating from a non-specific ailment at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. I am breathing deeply, imagining that I am taking something called the fresh air cure. The sun is warm, its light buttery and yellow. I can hear my son laughing in the distance as my husband chases him around my mother’s small garden, and I pretend that he is a small Swiss child who lives in a nearby thatched cottage. I tell myself that he is amused by the antics of the goats he is herding. This is, I assume, what small, 19th-century Swiss mountain children do: live in picturesque cottages and laugh heartily as they herd their goats.

I am thirty one years old and I am still playing pretend.

Is this what grownups are supposed to do?

Ten years or so into my purported adulthood and I’m still not really sure how to be a grownup, or what that even means. As a kid, I thought that being an adult meant that you did whatever you wanted, although for some reason all of my grownup fantasies were oddly baking-specific. For instance, I imagined myself making cookies whenever I pleased, and thought about how I would be allowed to use the electric mixer without any help. I would, I told myself, be able to wear party dresses every day of my life. And while all of these facts are empirically true and have been true for over a decade, the ability to do these things is neither as satisfying as I thought they would be, nor do they make me feel especially like a grownup.

What does adulthood mean? What is it supposed to look like? As a kid, there seemed to be recognizable difference between adults and not-adults, but now that demarcation is becoming less and less clear. There also seem to be more stages on the way to adulthood than I’d first realized – I used to think that you were either a child or an adult, but now it turns out that, rather than being a binary, it’s more like an evolutionary process, from infant to toddler to preschooler to that nebulous age between when grade school starts and puberty begins to teenager to university student to young adult to – what? Just plain adult, I guess.

Except that I’m not really sure if I feel like an adult.

Mostly I just still feel like myself.

It probably doesn’t help that I don’t look so very different from my teenage self; sure, there are a few lines here and wrinkles there, but the basic structure is exactly the same. I dress the same way that I did as a teenager, too, or rather I dress the way that my teenage self would have had the funds been available. I don’t wear what I think of as grownup clothing: crisp white shirts, tailored suits, prim polyester dresses in black or grey or navy. I like the same things as I did when I was a teenager, more or less – reading, writing, watching painfully earnest indie movies, dressing up, acting out, telling bad jokes, sitting on people’s living room floors while drinking and playing board games. I still read Little Women when I’m feeling down and want literature that’s akin to comfort food. I still get that same funny ache at the end of Empire Records when everyone is dancing on the roof, just like I did when I was sixteen. I still put waaaay too much sugar in my coffee. When we drive past a cemetery or over a bridge, I still hold my breath.

I’m still me, and I can’t help having this weird sense of disappointment over not being the prettier, smarter, more capable creature that I thought growing up would turn me into.

Maybe  part of the problem is that I’m no longer certain of what being an adult looks like. I used to think that there was a sort of set formula: you finished high school, went to university, started a career, fell in love, got married, bought a house, had kids, then watched your own kids repeat the same steps. But then I watched as this blueprint, which seemed to be the  How-To guide accepted and promoted by family, teachers, guidance counsellors, and just about every movie or book that I’d ever seen or read, failed my parents and many of their peers. They hated their jobs. They hated each other. My father stopped being a lawyer, left my mother, and moved to the city where he lived in a bachelor apartment and worked as a bike courier. My mother was exhausted and miserable, trying to raise three kids by herself on a secretary’s salary – by the end of the day, once everyone was fed and bathed, once the homework was done and the dishes were clean and half a dozen petty arguments had been mediated, it was all she could do to sit in front of the television and fall asleep to the sound of the laugh track of some corny late-90s sitcom.

That wasn’t what I wanted for my life.

I didn’t know how else to move ahead, though, so I tried my hardest to follow that old How-To guide. As the end of high school approached, the adults in my life encouraged me to apply to universities. Or rather, there wasn’t even much encouragement – it was just assumed that this was what I would do, and any divergence from that plan seemed impossible. There didn’t seem to be any alternatives that my parents or guidance counsellors felt were acceptable. College, it was intimated, was for the not-so-bright, and with my critical thinking skills I belonged in an undergrad program somewhere. Getting a job was out of the question, unless I wanted to be stuck working at McDonald’s for the rest of my life. Even taking a year off to figure my shit out was frowned upon – I was too flighty, they said, and would almost certainly never go back to school if I left. So my mother scraped together the hundred or so dollars needed for the application process, and I filled out the forms, and it felt like we were doing the right thing.

And I don’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t want to go to university – I did, I swear I did. I just want to make it clear that it also felt like that was the only way that I had of moving forward with my life. And I was desperate for some way, any way, of moving forward.

The problem with university was that while everyone agreed that I belonged there, no one seemed certain how I was supposed to pay for it. The provincial loan system was Byzantine, the forms and online application difficult to navigate, and the resulting funding amount impossible to understand. For example, the government could refuse to give you a loan if your parents earned a certain amount per year, even if said parents were not helping you pay for your education. Lines of credit from the bank weren’t much better – I mean, they were fine, I guess, if you had someone to co-sign. I didn’t.

When I asked the grownups around me how I could possibly afford this education that was supposed to be so critical to my life, they gave these strange sort of blank stares and suggested that I get a summer job.

Because when they’d gone to post-secondary school, a summer job had been enough to pay a year’s tuition and then some. That was obviously no longer the case.

The good old How-To guide hadn’t anticipated changes like this.

I managed to finish two years of university on a combination of government student loans, kind student affairs workers and a healthy state of denial. By the end of that second year, though, my finances were so badly fucked up that there was no question of finishing my degree. Two steps in to my path to adulthood, and I was already failing the model. Or rather, the model was failing me.

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to figure out if and how I can make the old blueprints work for me. It’s true that I can check off a few things on the list – I did manage to fall in love once or twice, I am married, I do have a kid. On the flip side, I haven’t finished school, I’m not sure that I would call my hodge-podge of jobs a “career,” and I can’t imagine a time when I will ever be able to own a house. Even the things that I’ve managed to check off seem, upon closer examination, to grow a bit murkier. My marriage doesn’t necessarily always look like what I thought a marriage should be. I don’t spend as much time with my son as I could. I often worry that I’m a bad partner or a bad mother. I am slowly learning that marriage and motherhood aren’t so much accomplishments as they are a lifelong work in progress. I’m also learning that being a wife and mother aren’t necessarily fool-proof indicators of adulthood; it’s not as if some magic switch is flipped when you say “I do,” or in the moment that your child is first placed in your arms.

So where does that leave me?

It’s both freeing and terrifying to realize that the old formula for adulthood doesn’t apply to my life is both dizzyingly freeing and incredibly terrifying. On the one hand, in theory, my life gets to be whatever I want it to be. On the other hand, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing, and the potential for failure seems high. It’s like wandering in the forest without a map, or even a guide to the flora and fauna – this glade seems like a nice place to build my home, but what if it floods every year during the spring thaw? These berries look tasty, but what if they’re poisonous? Of course there’s always the possibility of a happy ending, but it seems to be equally probable that I will die alone, frozen to death, maybe, or else eaten by wolves.

Lately I’ve been looking hard at my friends’ lives, trying to pick and choose the things that I want to emulate. What’s funny is that it’s not the friends who have the most material successes, the ones with the best jobs or the nicest houses that I’m drawn to, but rather the ones who have certain traits and behaviours that I covet. I admire, for instance, my friend who makes difficult choices, who goes ahead and does things even when he’s afraid or thinks that something is impossible. I admire another friend who’s an expert at saying no. I want to be more like the friend who seems to have that extra split second to figure out if their emotional reaction to any given situation is warranted and appropriate. I want to be like the friend who seems effortlessly organized, who holds family meetings every week to figure out who will be where doing what when during the next seven days. I want to be the person who fights for their beliefs without being disrespectful or unnecessarily cruel to the people who don’t agree with me. I want to be measured, calm, and collected.

And I want to do all of this and still be able to get a little weepy over Empire Records.

What I’m realizing is that, while creating a guide to my own personal grownup life, the best place to start is with myself. I need to work harder to build the type of person that I’m happy with before extending my energy outward. I need put a dot in the middle of the map marked you are here and then radiate all other lines outward from that spot. When I write this all out, it sounds unbelievably selfish, but I also can’t think of any other way to make a guide that suits the kind of life I want to live; because before I make that guide, I have to figure out my own shit, which means answering all of the big questions like what the fuck do I want, and why am I even here, and where do I go next?

Maybe that’s the best way to be a grownup.

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Slut-shaming, Suicide, and Mrs. Hall

6 Sep

Most of you have probably already seen Kim Hall’s post FYI (if you’re a teenage girl). Both the original and the many, many brilliant take-downs written in response have been circulating social media this week, so it’s been pretty hard to avoid. If by some chance you’ve managed to miss out on all the fun, I highly encourage you to take a moment to go read Mrs. Hall’s open letter to all girls everywhere. It sure is something.

A lot of really smart folks have written some incredible posts touching on Mrs. Hall’s contribution to societal problems like slut-shaming, rape culture and body image issues. I don’t have anything new or brilliant to say on those topics, but I do want to talk about an aspect of Mrs. Hall’s message that hasn’t really been touched on yet: the very real link between the ideas that she’s putting forward and the recent rise in cyber-bullying, online slut-shaming and teenage suicide.

When I read Mrs. Hall’s letter, the first people that I thought of were Amanda Todd, Retaeh Parsons, Audrie Pott, Cherice Morales. In each of these cases, photographs of the girls that showed them either in various states of undress, or else showed them being sexually assaulted, or in some instances both at the same time, were circulated on social media. In each of these cases, the girls became social pariahs. In each of these cases, the girls committed suicide after enduring bullying and slut-shaming both online and offline.

I am not saying that Mrs. Hall is consciously suggesting that her children should shame or bully their classmates, especially those who have been sexually assaulted. If you asked her, I’m sure that she would tell you that those ideas are so far from what she intended to communicate as to be almost laughable. But still. Slut-shaming, ostracizing and bullying are the end-game of everything she is teaching her children.

When she writes:

And now – big bummer – we have to block your posts. Because, the reason we have these (sometimes awkward) family conversations around the table is that we care about our sons, just as we know your parents care about you.”

And:

And so, in our house, there are no second chances with pics like that, ladies. We have a zero tolerance policy.  I know, so lame. But, if you want to stay friendly with our sons online, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent.  If you post a sexy selfie (we all know the kind), or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – it’s curtains.

What she is really telling her children is that girls who do not conform to her particular ideas of “modesty” are bad. She is telling them that the girls who post sexy selfies are worth less than the girls who cover up. She is telling them that the girls who pose with an “extra-arched back” and a “sultry pout” are not good enough to associate with her children. Worst of all, Mrs. Hall is telling her sons and daughter that it is fine – in fact, actively encouraged  in their household – to shun and ostracize these girls.

By saying that these teenage girls do not respect themselves, Mrs. Hall is teaching her kids that they are undeserving of anyone’s love or respect.

And that’s a pretty fucking toxic message.

If you think that this is too much of a reach, think about it this way: when Mrs. Hall and her family sit around their dining room table and critique the selfies posted online by her sons’ female friends and Mrs. Hall announces that yet another girl needs to be blocked because she’s showing too much skin, what her children learn is that the way that those girls are behaving is shameful and they deserve to be shamed in a way that makes them face real-life consequences. And when a Hall boy goes to school and tells his friend that he’s not allowed to hang out with so-and-so because her pictures are too slutty, and that friend tells a friend, and that friend tells a friend – well, it’s not hard to imagine what those real-life consequences will be.

And, of course, in high school, as in the Hall household, there are very rarely second chances.

When Mrs. Hall advises her son’s female friends to, “take down the closed-door bedroom selfies that makes it too easy for friends to see you in only one dimension,” I can’t help but wonder how many dimensions her sons and her sons’ friends saw those girls in before they heard those comments. Probably they saw them in the same way that they saw all their other female friends: as girls who were funny, girls who were smart, girls who were good at sports or art or music. Probably the Hall boys saw them as brilliant, well-rounded individuals, each contributing in their own interesting way to their lives. Probably they saw them as people.

But now?

Well, now they likely only see them in, as Mrs. Hall says, one dimension. That dimension being, of course, their physical bodies. Mrs. Hall has successfully reduced these girls to little more than pretty, shiny, skin-baring objects. And it’s pretty fucking easy to treat an object badly. It’s pretty easy to treat it cruelly, sub-humanly, even, because objects don’t have feelings. Objects don’t have thoughts. Objects exist only for the pleasure of others.

Objects are not people.

And so I worry about those girls, the girls that have already been branded as impure and immodest. I worry about the other girls that her sons will meet and, armed with their mother’s opinion, brand on their own. I worry for them because of the teasing and humiliation that they might have to endure; I worry about them because of the ways that the Hall boys and their friends might other, might even dehumanize these girls. I worry that when these girls tell adults about how they are being treated, they will be made to feel as if it is entirely their own fault, as if they were asking for it. I worry that they will start to think that, as Mrs. Hall said, there are no second chances. I worry that these girls will feel like their worlds are closing in on them, that one stray picture has ruined everything forever, that there is no way out of the mess that they believe they’ve created.

I worry for these girls’ lives.

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