hello, babies

Kid President is pretty amazing. I think most people need to watch that video sometime before or after their high five just for getting out of bed in the morning. Because the world IS amazing, and we all mess up, and we do need to forgive each other’s mess ups. And maybe dance some more and have some more corndogs.

He actually echoes a favorite bit of Kurt Vonnegut that I’ve loved since I found out I was pregnant with twins. It’s from a baptismal speech the protagonist of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater plans for his neighbor’s twins: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

This quote actually led to me experiencing a moment of kindness. I had tweeted about my love for the quote and how I wanted to hang it up in my babies’ room. Then I almost died and came back again, and a friend I had only met via Twitter said she had made me something to celebrate my survival. One night soon after we had both babies home, she came by and gave me this beautiful (and slightly censored because kids) canvas:

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It’s one of my favorite things in my favorite room of our house. I want my kids to know that they have to be kind. But I also want them to know that people are kind. That the world is full of good and beauty, if we look for it. I guess that’s my answer to Kid President’s question about what kids need to know.

It reminds me of a bit in Thomas King’s The Truth About StoriesKing’s refrain throughout the (excellent) book is that the truth about stories is that’s all we are. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and about the world literally construct the world we experience. He points out in one passage that we can tell ourselves or our children that “life is hard,” but we can equally teach them that “life is sweet.” Each perspective constructs a way of being in the world. Sometimes life is just hard, it’s true. To quote Vonnegut again, “so it goes.” But I think the balance bends toward the beautiful and the good, because I believe in a God who is at work on a great project of reconciliation, re-creation, and renewal. And I think we get to participate in this project, to be agents of beauty and goodness and change. I’m raising up revolutionaries to participate in this project, too. So I want them to be kind and see kindness, in their hundred years here and beyond.

life lately: the long and short of it

Greetings from the den of our new house! We’ve been here going on 3 weeks, and I am proud to say we are mostly unpacked. The lingering boxes are almost entirely books and things that go in the linen and hall closets, and we have grand plans to get some nice built in shelving up to hold all of that stuff. There’s still nothing hanging on the walls, either, but I’m pretty happy with our progress. Being surrounded by boxes really stresses me out, so I kind of go crazy to unpack as quickly as possible. I was lucky to have a weekend without the babies, so I got a lot done in that time.

Of course, the babies weren’t here because our AC broke when we moved in, despite having passed an inspection only a few weeks before. Three different people told us we needed a new unit, and worse still, we were told it would be weeks until they could install it. Going AC-free in the humid Arkansas summer, with two tiny tots, is not a good time. So the girls were sent off to Nonni and Poppi’s, which was nice and cool. The good news is, we finally had an AC guy come and look at it, who assured me that while most people want to sell new units, “most folks just need a $5 part.” He had it working in under an hour for $90, and gentle readers, I very nearly kissed him on the mouth. He was a humble fellow, though, so I refrained, because I didn’t want to give him a heart attack. He said it may run for years to come. (If you’re local and in need of an HVAC repair guy, let me know– I’d be happy to pass on the info of such an honest guy!)

Another update is that Baby Claire has still not had her shunt surgery. It got rescheduled thanks to a bronchial infection that made having surgery soon after too risky, and we are expecting to get it on the books soon. I will let you know!

I also realized that something big happened to me lately, and you may have noticed on Instagram, but I never wrote about it….

After over 3 years of dreaming, I CUT OFF ALL OF MY HAIR.

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The initial chop in December. The front was still long enough to tuck behind my ears.

Now, this actually happened back in December. After a few months with a bob, I decided to go all the way to pixie town. And ever since then, each appointment, I’ve gone a little shorter. Six months later, the verdict is: I love it. It feels very “me,” as if my hair somehow matches my sensibilities. Which, considering I have been described as “impish” by others, a hairdo most suited to some sort of sprite just seems to make sense.

Since there may be some of you out there waffling on a drastic external change, can I please be the one to say: GO FOR IT.

My thinking on taking a step I had been waffling on for years was partially influenced by my recent brush with death. I mean, once you’ve faced down mortality, something as insignificant as hair just seems like a blip, not even worth agonizing over. The worst that could happen wasn’t anything scary, it was just the possibility I might not like my hair for a while until it grew out.

At the girls' first birthday.
At the girls’ first birthday.

Of course, instead of hating it, I loved it. I strangely feel more feminine with short hair, perhaps because my face can stand out that much more without hair detracting from it. Now I’m very proudly #teampixie, and I have gathered a whole pin board of continued inspiration.

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If you’re thinking of going short, I think now is a great time. I called it when I first saw the trailer, but I think Carey Mulligan’s Gatsby bob is going to have lots of girls wanting to go short. A picture of her is already my most-repinned pin. And then you can declare the Lumineers’ “Flapper Girl” to be your summertime jam as you enjoy the feeling of cool breezes on your neck in the sweltering summertime heat:

Cut off all of your hair
Did you flinch, did you care
Did he look, did he stop and stare
At your brand new hair

real beauty is a revolution, not an ad, man

Last night I posted this to Facebook:

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 7.26.47 AMIt was in response to the latest Dove video, which you can see here:

And look, here I am writing about it anyway! (Just as I have before about earlier Dove ads.)

As far as the video goes, I absolutely agree with the seeming diagnosis that many women have a kind of body dysmorphia. They focus on the qualities they hate rather than the qualities they like, and this causes them to perceive themselves as vastly less attractive than they are perceived by others. However, I think this video suggests the wrong treatment for their diagnosis. They suggest that beauty, physical beauty, “couldn’t be more critical to happiness.” And they suggest focusing on the things you do like about yourself, and, presumably, buying Dove products to help you mitigate and feel better about the stuff you don’t like, like your armpits, for example.

deodorant
I literally can’t get my mind around “beautiful underarms” as a concept. Underarms are just underarms. If someone is scrutinizing yours, the problem is THEM.

Like I said, I absolutely agree that there is an epidemic of low self esteem in our culture. I would say, however, that the underlying cause is not that we don’t value our physical beauty enough, but that we put too much stock in it altogether– that we make it “absolutely critical” to our happiness.

If the strangers in that video thought the women they met were more beautiful than the women saw themselves, how much more beautiful are those women to the people who know and love them? Think about the people whom you love most in the world. They’re gorgeous to you, right? There are moments with them that simply take your breath away. And it’s because the truest beauty we see and love in others, the kind we need to see in ourselves, comes from love. When you look at people through the eyes of love, they become beautiful to you, a beauty that is pervasive and total and has nothing to do with the shape of their jaw and everything to do with the shape of their heart.

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I just loved this vow from mooshinindy, seen on Instagram. It’s part of what kicked off my thinking about seeing my babies and myself through the eyes of love.

One of the most mind-exploding aspects of becoming a mother has been the way it has utterly changed how I feel about beauty. Into my life have come these two absolutely gorgeous, utterly and totally beloved little creatures. They take my breath away. Daily, their beauty brings tears to my eyes and a pang to my chest. There is not a bit of them, not even their underarms, that needs to be made more beautiful.

And here’s the truly mind-bending part: I came into this world the same way. I took my parents’ breath away. To them, I am heart-stoppingly beautiful. And I am that way to others who love me as well. And even crazier, bigger, more mind bending? I am beginning to see that I am that beautiful to the One who created me as well. And if that isn’t enough to revolutionize our thinking, what is?

The Beatles say, “You’re talkin bout a revolution, well, you know, you oughta free your mind instead.” The Bible says, “Do not be conformed to the ways of this world, but be transformed, by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Freeing and renewing our minds can’t be done when we accept consumerist culture’s premise that beauty is external. It can’t be accomplished by cheerleading brands for ever-so-slightly widening the cultural beauty standard. It can only be done by trying to get our heads around just how deeply we are loved, and seeing ourselves and others through the eyes of Love.

Now, I know this is a much more difficult premise than simply obsessing over parts of ourselves that we like, or buying a cream. Learning to love yourself is tough stuff. But it doesn’t happen if we’re simply focusing on another aspect of our physical appearance. It can only come from the amazing, crazy, transformative power of an encounter with Love. For me, that’s the Love of God. For you, it may be simply meditating on the way you deeply love someone in your life, and trying to see yourself through those same eyes. But this is the revolution folks. You gotta free your mind.

wearing ugliness

ugly doll. Image via Flickr user walknboston under a Creative Commons license.

I have to confess: until The Bluest Eye was assigned for one of my classes this term, I had never read any Toni Morrison. And WOW. She’s amazing. Her prose is amazing. I can’t get over it. I’m so glad Beloved is also on my comps reading list.

I just finished The Bluest Eye and one of the things that stuck out to me is the theme of beauty vs. ugliness. Now, of course, I have to preface this by saying that race and socioeconomic status play huge roles in this theme throughout the book. I am a person of racial and socioeconomic privilege, and I do understand that I cannot fully relate to the characters in the book, but, who really can fully relate to the experience of another, ever?

Anyway, one passage just so aptly described what I KNOW to be true that I have to share it. It’s describing a family that everyone perceives as ugly:

You looked closely at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each of them a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question. The master had said, “You are ugly people.” They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. “Yes,” they had said. “You are right.” And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it.

I feel like society hands women ugliness every day. It’s the message leering at us from the billboards and movies and magazines full of women who literally do not exist. They have been created in Photoshop and through lighting and makeup and editing and styling to become fictional representations of all that we are not. And these mirages reach out to us and hand us ugliness. They tell us we can be them, if we use the right skin cream, have the proper surgical procedures, wear the right clothes, follow the right diet, but they can’t even be them. They don’t even exist.

Another passage describes a character who comes to believe she is ugly in comparison to the women she sees in movies, women like Jean Harlow. Worse than judging herself, she judges her own daughter by that standard of beauty. She hands her own daughter ugliness:

She was never able, after her education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of absolute beauty, and the scale was one she absorbed from the silver screen.

I know so many beautiful women who are utterly convinced that they are ugly. That they are less-than. That they are not worthy. But the truth is, their ugliness doesn’t really exist, not on their faces. It’s just a garment they’ve been handed and they choose to wear it. Eventually it maybe even becomes a part of them, but they weren’t born that way.

Are you wearing ugliness where you should be acknowledging beauty? You don’t have to take it from them when it’s offered, you know.

every BODY is beautiful

Bodies like these are beautiful. So are larger ones. So are smaller ones. So are shorter ones. So are taller ones. So are differently-abled ones. So are ones who don't even realize it yet.

While I’m very interested in body image, body acceptance, and the Healthy at Every Size movement, I don’t write a lot about body image. Because I recognize that as a thin, able-bodied, white, heterosexual, cis-woman, I carry around a whole lot of privilege, and really, no amount of whining about how someone called me Olive Oyl or “walking toothpick” or “knobby knees” in Jr. High is going to compare to the experience of someone who is told over and over in the media that she is unacceptable, that she is unhealthy, that she is the reason Americans spend so much on healthcare, that she is going to die, that she is unworthy of love, that she is not allowed to wear the things she wants to wear because it “grosses” others out, just to name a few.  I get that that is not my experience, and so I try to take a backseat and be a good ally. I creep on blogs like Shapely Prose and the Rotund and Fatshionista, and I try to get schooled.

That said, I was SO HAPPY to read this post by Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat (she left me a comment the other day! woo!) over at Jezebel called “Things I’ve Heard About Thin Women.”  Her post is about the tendency of some in the body acceptance movement to tear down those whose bodies are considered by mainstream society as “more acceptable” than fat bodies.  She points out seeing the following comments:

“Stick women just aren’t sexy, it’s just gross.”
“What man would want a twig anyway?”
“It’s just impossible to be healthy when you are that thin, you have to be anorexic or a drug addict to look like that” “Real women are curvy and LOOK like women”

I’ve written about the whole “real women have curves” thing before and concluded that real women come in all shapes and sizes, and real women love themselves, no matter what they look like. I’m not going to try to play Oppression Olympics, or claim that skinny shaming even BEGINS to come close to the kind of fat shaming so many people deal with on a regular basis.  Instead, I’d just like to reiterate Ragen’s point here:

I believe that if you say that you want a size positive world, you have to mean size positive for everyone. That means not making judgments about others based on their size; sticking up for the model being called anorexic with the same fervor you would use to defend a fat women being called lazy; respecting other people’s decisions when it comes to their bodies – even when you don’t agree with them.

That’s what it means to be the change you want to see in the world.

Amen!  Women are a powerful force when we have each others’ backs and are united in the fight for fairness.  Distracting us into some sort of competitive game where we’re pitted against each other trying to define what a “REAL” woman is, or what a truly acceptable, beautiful body looks like is just another way to keep us down.  Don’t let The Man distract us with such petty crap. We are ALL beautiful, we are ALL deserving of love and acceptance, starting with loving and accepting ourselves, and branching out to love and accept each other.

dear vickie b.

Work should be cancelled on spring’s first sunny and 65 day.  Since I’ve yet to get this passed into law, I had to make do with a lunch break spent outside in the sunshine, in a little sculpture garden near my office.  I picked up the latest issue of Glamour and just relished some free time on a beautiful day.

The lovely Lizzie Miller. She makes me want to hang out in my underwear and a tiara. I need a tiara.

One reason I continue to support Glamour, even though I’ve slowly cut most fashion mags out of my life (why is the subject of a post for another day), is that they seem to actually be trying to include a wider variety of beauty and spread a more empowering message, and I like to vote with my dollars to encourage that.  Indeed, this issue featured a shot of plus size model Lizzie Miller, made famous by her naked photo that appeared in Glamour.  It also featured an ad that says “YOU are beautiful” that I’m thinking of taping to my computer monitor.  Other things I liked seeing included a letter from Eve Ensler encouraging readers to embrace themselves as emotional beings, and advice from Ellen DeGeneres to “Find out who you are and be that person. That’s what your soul was put on this earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth, and everything else will come.”  Stuff like that almost makes up for ads targeting me for 0 calorie jello snacks (God forbid a woman consume a calorie!), ads for SlimQuick supplements (yay quackery!), and ads for tobacco products (can’t we just say no to accepting money from companies that peddle death?).

Anyway, this month’s cover girl is Victoria Beckham, with an adorable spread featuring her looking glamorous while cuddling with puppies and schlepping groceries and trying to seem “normal” as a pop star turned fashion icon with a soccer hottie for a husband can seem.  And, as I read through the interview, I found myself wishing Glamour had maybe edited Posh’s interview a bit. Because reading that Posh said this made me mad: Continue reading “dear vickie b.”

better left to the pros

My hair BEFORE the incident.
My hair BEFORE the incident.

Some things, I like to say, are better left to the professionals.  Like teaching.  And doctoring.

And now, hair cutting.

I have a difficult time with getting my hair cut.  I’m pretty sure my mom trimmed my hair as a small kid, and the same lady cut my hair from the third grade until my wedding day.  I even drove home from college to have her cut m hair, because she was the only one who understood my cowlicks, my hair’s weird ways of refusing to hold both a curl and a straightening, my baby-fine texture, my scalp’s sensitivity.  She saw me through the great DIY highlighting disaster that left me with ORANGE HAIR.  We went through a lot together.

And then I moved 1000 miles away, where all our friends were also transplants, where I worked with a bunch of dudes.  How was I supposed to find a good stylist?  How would any stylist be as good as Joan?  So I went to MasterCuts and kept to simple styles.  And other women always seem shocked, but seriously, MasterCuts can give you long layers or a classic bob as well as anywhere, don’t hate.  But after a while with MasterCuts, I began to feel that trimming my hair would be easy enough for me to do myself.  Or better yet, since I can’t reach or see the back of my head very well, for Jon to do!  He can even cut a straight line better than I can!  So today we decided to try it… Continue reading “better left to the pros”

untag!

sarah cracks upUntag! Untag!

Have you ever seen this, written by someone on Facebook, as a comment on a photo of herself?  Have you ever WRITTEN this on a photo of yourself?  Have you ever snatched the camera after a group photo, checked out the photo on the tiny screen, and either deleted the photo or insisted it be retaken because you don’t like the way you look?  Has a friend ever shown you a picture of yourself, told you how great you look, or how funny, or what a great moment it was, and all you’ve been able to see is how weird your nose or chin or hair or ears or *insert pet insecurity here* looks?

I have.

It’s because we’re completely irrational about our own appearances.  I think most women go through life with NO IDEA how beautiful they are.  And I’m not just saying that in a completely naive, kumbayah sort of way.  I mean it.  I have friends who look all sorts of ways, and there are moments with each of them when I just think they are heart-stoppingly beautiful.  And as I have begun to realize this about them, about all the people I know, in all their shapes and sizes and with all their hair textures and nose shapes and smiles, and with all their beauty, I have realized that this is the way they see me too.

All of this comes to mind, NOW, because of a post I read over at The Rotund (for friends who have enjoyed Shapely Prose, the Rotund is a site by Marianne Kirby, who cowrote a book with Shapely Prose’s Kate Harding), about Marianne coming to accept having her picture taken.  She writes,

Every time a friend comes to me and says, oh, I have this great picture of you, it is a chance to see what they see….it’s beautiful to have these images of everyone. Different bodies, different people, different lives.

When I hid from photos, I stole that from people. Every time I dodged out of a photo, well, that person might remember I was there but they can’t share it with anyone else the way I can share these images with you.

When I really think about the way I see my friends in pictures, the way I love captured moments, and laughter, and smiles, and the way I am not in any way thinking about their ears sticking out or their chins looking “fat” (this is a common thought of mine, and yes I know, it’s ENTIRELY INSANE), when I really think about that…then I have to think about pictures of myself differently too. Even pictures in which I am making insane facial expresses (I tend to overdo it with the facial expressions) or have horrible posture or just generally look less-than-stellar. When I think about the way I see my friends and loved ones in pictures, I have to see pictures of me differently. I have to be a little bit kinder to myself.

So tag away.  Sure, frame that group shot in which I look gawky and slightly deranged but am laughing my head off.  Because you know what? Maybe a lot of the time I DO look slightly deranged while laughing my head off.  And I can’t just give up on capturing memories because of silly insecurities.  I don’t want to steal that memory from myself or anyone else.  Because I’m learning to look at myself the way I look at others, with a more loving gaze.  I’m sure in 50 years all we’ll be thinking when we look at them is how beautiful we were and what good times we had.

sarahandtree

insane sarah

(To test my own courage, I’m showing my full face on this blog for the first time, and also, I’m including pictures of myself that I have looked at less than generously, not so that you’ll tell me how pretty I am or try to reassure me– I know most of my fears are silly and irrational, but I hope you’ll realize that maybe I feel the same way about YOU.)

off with her…hair

I have this pattern that I always repeat.  I get bored with my hair, hack it off, enjoy the new do for a little while, decide I hate it, and then start growing my hair out again.  About a year ago I had a cute “Posh” bob, but got frustrated with having to straighten it every single day in order for it to look right, and decided to grow my hair out so I wouldn’t even have to blow dry.  Now, it’s just past my collarbone, long enough to startle me when it brushes on my arm because I think it’s a bug crawling on me, long enough to hang down the back of my neck and hold in heat, long enough to get trapped under my body when I’m lying down and necessitate a position change so I don’t feel like I’m pulling my own hair.  Sure, it looks pretty, I’ve embraced my natural waves, it’s healthy.  But I’m beginning to be annoyed.

And I’m kind of wondering if now isn’t the time to just do something crazy and radical and hack it all off for once in my life, just to see what that’s like.  August in Charleston would be a great time to not have hair hanging down my neck.  Jon says I should go for it.  He’s not hung up on long hair as the one way a woman should look, and he’s not one of those retrograde men who tell their women how to wear their hair, which is wonderful, but sometimes infuriating because I’m indecisive and need a little input now and again.  I often wish I could be a contestant on a makeover show, just so someone would do my hair FOR me, without me having to decide.  But I figure, hey, that’s what the internets are for, right?

So, just like with the buying of a purse, I figured I’d ask the interwebz for advice.  I will say that I have fine hair that is on the thin side with a natural loose wave to it that I describe as “wrinkly” because it is neither straight nor curly.

My hair currently looks like this:

It looks like this when I straighten it:

This is the shortest it’s ever been:

And these pics sort of illustrate what I’m fantasizing about doing with my hair:kiera hair

keira-knightley-short-hair-photos-01

Anja Rubiksienna hair

agyness deyn hair

Am I insane? Would this be cute?  Could I pull it off?  Would this exacerbate my irrational insecurity about the shape of my chin?  Would these styles work if I didn’t want to straighten/blow dry? Do you have better suggestions?  Do you know of a kickass stylist in Charleston I should go to?  Right now I go to MasterCuts, and I’m not sure I trust them with radical change of this nature.

Of course I may just chicken out altogether.

real women have…

If you are a human, and you have say, eyes, and have encountered either internet, television, magazines, or advertising in any form, you know that society seems to have certain ideas of what is and isn’t beautiful, what is and isn’t feminine.  And for a long time, this has been basically a very narrow concept that (at least as I’ve assimilated it in my little mind) involves whiteness, fairness of hair and eyes, thinness, but with a certain amount of curve in the breasts and hips, and a certain sort of go-along-to-get-along-ness that doesn’t ever make anyone uncomfortable or threatened or challenged.  I could get all feministy and theory-ish on ya, but seriously, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

And I totally get that there is a natural desire on the part of anyone who falls outside these narrow strictures to push back, to challenge that, to say, that’s not what a beautiful woman is, THIS is.  But, it seems to me, more often than not, those attempts to break out of the narrow bounds of societally accepted femininity end up creating just another narrow definition.  Now, I’ve been in enough internet arguments on feminist and feminist-leaning websites and even just websites for women to know that most of the time, people don’t really mean what they say so narrowly.  And yet statements like “Real Women Have Curves” make me incredibly sad.  Of course, “Some Real Women Have Curves” doesn’t have the same ring to it, doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker or a tee shirt quite so nicely, and yet, isn’t that what most of us REALLY mean when we say stuff like that? Not to mention, if you look at those Dove models, it’s still obvious that there is an upper limit to what they’re going to put in the ads.  Beth Ditto wasn’t chosen to sell us our thigh-firming cream.  You might not think Beth is pretty (many people do!), but she’s still a REAL woman, just the same.

What set me off TODAY was seeing this on Meghan McCain’s Twitter feed: Picture 1

Isn’t the idea that a “real ass” is “big and juicy” just as reductive as the societal idea that an acceptable ass is the opposite?

I understand that many who know me, who know what I look like, might read a post like this and say THIN PRIVILEGE! And it’s true, my body as it naturally is generally fits into the societal standards of “acceptability.”  I know I come from a place of privilege in that regard.  I know that I do not know what it is like to be looked at and judged in the same way someone who struggles with weight or other physical issues does.  Though I would say that I do know what it is like to not love myself, to hate my own body, to cry because of hurtful things that others say about it, I do not see the world the same way as Meghan McCain, who has been unfairly snarked on by people as high-profile as pundit Laura Ingraham for her weight and appearance, an appearance I think is perfectly lovely.

And yet, really, aren’t we all in this fight together? Don’t these narrow standards hurt all of us?  And when we push back against them and try to overcome them and get rid of them, can’t we do that in a way that doesn’t leave just another group out?

The idea that female bodies are objects for public consumption and judgment is really the problem.  Meghan McCain shouldn’t have to defend her “big and juicy” ass to anyone any more than I should be subject to cat calls while standing at bus stops.  The real slogan should be WHAT MAKES A REAL WOMAN IS NOT FOR YOU TO SAY.