Sunday, March 11, 2012

How I See the World as a Black Woman--Part II: Standards of Beauty

Black is beautiful. That is a phrase that was invented in the 1960s to affirm black peoples' sense of self that was robbed from them by slavery and Jim Crow segregation, and later, the media bias against black people in the United States. For many years, having dark skin and kinky hair, full facial features, and elaborate curves to one's body was considered ugly. Black people did things to themselves to change the aspects that they were taught to hate, such as enduring hours of painful hair treatments such as straightening and relaxing their hair. And in the later 20th century, plastic surgery became another tool in arsenal of self-hate. Why not have one's African features cut down to look European, or one's skin lightened? We bought into that assertion that something was wrong with the way God made us.

I had my hair relaxed when I was a young preteen, and for years, I adhered to a semi-regular regimen of hair relaxation, and other treatments to keep my hair healthy because I had fundamentally undermined its natural integrity. I took Biochemistry in college, and I learned why my hair was curly, the unbreakable sulfur bonds. I also learned what relaxer did to my hair, it broke those bonds in my hair and made it weaker and more susceptible to damage. That was around the time I said no more. I cut out my relaxed hair and went natural. I haven't gone back. That was about twenty years ago. Honestly, I don't miss it. Before someone gets mad and decides to send fifty angry retaliatory posts, I'm not saying that one cannot be proud of one's heritage and have relaxed hair. What I am asking or trying to get one to think about is why you need to relax your hair to meet someone else's standards of beauty? What is a standard of beauty? Is there one or many?

Yes, I could go on and on about beauty standards, and I don' t have to stick to the ones that impact black women specifically. What about the thin body beauty standard, which is unrealistic and especially hurtful for women? What the modeling industry does is hire pre-teens and physically immature girls to model a lot of their clothes. Most grown women don't look like that. They have breasts and hips. Their contours are naturally more lush, and that's the way it should be. So why should a woman have to starve, diet, and exercise herself to a shape that's not realistic for her? I think we all can agree that being healthy, eating right and exercising is important. What we don't all agree on is what is a normal body size. Some people are going to be larger than others. Instead of trying to be like a 12-year-old model, maybe their focus should be on being healthy for themselves.

It's interesting going to the doctor and getting the "You need to lose weight lecture" every time. I am prepared to get it. I know I need to lose weight. I don't need a body chart to tell me that. However, I know that my cardiovascular state is pretty healthy. My cholesterol levels are normal, and my blood sugar is normal. However, I was told I was pre-diabetic because of my weight and that my blood sugar is on the high end of normal. The second tells me more objectively what my status is than my weight. So, I work on that, exercising and trying to eat better (although I don't always succeed with the latter). And I honestly feel better when I take care of myself. That's why I want to lose weight. Not because the media says fat is ugly and thin is in. Personally, I don't find unhealthy thinness attractive, either in a man or a woman. Notice I said unhealthy. There is a difference between natural slenderness or athleticism and a thin body due to dieting. I call it the "Barbie Doll Syndrome", ie, the head is bigger than the body. When a person is dieting and has not maintained a healthy body fat ratio, their head starts looking two times as big as their body. Yes, some people just have big heads, but that' s different. I don't like to put a lot of stock into scientific treaties on racial differences, because a lot of that feeds into racism. What I do know is that like breeds of animals, if you have a population of certain people who breed together, there will be a concentration of genes. Some of those genes code for physical characteristics, such as shovel-shaped incisors in Asians, and a fuller aspect to the nasal base in African-Americans. Along those lines, you might see differences in body shape that would cause certain groups to wear their weight differently. Is that a get out of jail card for obesity? No. But what it does mean is that one weight chart won't work for every woman of every racial/ethnic group. And along with that, not all women would be able to hold to a standard of size zero. Have you ever looked at most of the actresses on TV? How many of them are full-bodied, and I don't mean overweight? Not too many. Most are stick-thin, with the "Barbie Doll Syndrome" going on, and no curves except for the fake ones. Watch a Victoria Secret commercial, and you will see that these adolescent girls actually have to cock their hips and stick their chests out to give the appearance of curves. Watch the Dove commercials, and you will see normal looking women. Go walk around at the mall, and you will see what normal women look like. Why should television be such a profound difference? What message is that sending girls and women? A very poor one. To hate oneself because you don't have the skinny look of most of the women on television and in movies who are lauded for their beauty.

Why is brown skin undesirable and pale skin sexy? Who said that was the case? Personally, I don't think one is better than the other, other than the bone-deep rejection of pale skin as the ideal. I like the rich variety of skin colors that nature provides us. From blue black to porcelain white. All beautiful. I don't think a person should be afraid of being called names because their skin is dark, nor should a person subject themselves to harmful UV rays just to be brown. Embrace what you are. Make the most of what you've been given, and own it. And let's be clear, the color issue is deeply entrenched within the African American culture. We take it way too far. If you watch BET music videos, do a head count. How many of the video girls are lighter-skinner with long hair? How many are darker-skinned with shorter, kinky hair? What lessons does that convey to young black girls in this country, on top of the ones that mainstream media show when you see consistently that the lists of the most beautiful women are all white, or lighter-skinned women with long, straighter hair? Not a good one. Did I ever wish I was blue-eyed with blond hair? If it did, it was for a hot minute. I don't want to be either. I like my curly/wavy hair brown skin, and brown eyes. Again, whatever floats your boat. If you want a weave, knock yourself out. But why do you need to put fake hair on your head to feel womanly and beautiful? I personally find short hair very attractive and flattering on women. Some women don't look good with long hair. And the long, straight weave that some black women sport looks unnatural. I wonder how gorgeous they would look with their natural curls or whatever length God gave them. I wonder how much happier they would be if they didn't have to spend hours upon hours at the beauty shop, and thousands of dollars on getting their hair done, even when they can't afford it.

I touched on plastic surgery. This is not race-specific. I watched 20/20 when they talked about plastic surgery, and it was disheartening. An 89-year-old woman had gotten breast implants. Really???? What about a surgeon who was operating on his own daughters since they were young teens? And the men who were getting their legs broken so that they could be taller. They have these rods implanted that they have to flex in a painful and wrong-looking procedure several times a day to stimulate the necessary bone growth so they could be taller. When does the madness end? Will the surgeon's scalpel give you the ability to love yourself that you lacked beforehand? No. That comes from within.

I'm just a pilgrim here. A person with eyes in her head and an opinion. My opinion is no more important than anyone else's, but I choose to exercise the opportunity to get this off my chest. I love womanhood, very much. I think women should have all the opportunities, the love, the acceptance, and the freedom to be happy in life and with themselves as they can grasp in life. I hope that women can break free of these fears of never measuring up to unrealistic beauty standards that hurt more than they heal.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bullying Long Distance

In the past week, there was yet another explosion in the online reading communities. Author/reviewer meltdowns. (Deep, heartfelt sigh!) I hate drama, avoid it like the plague, unless it's between the pages of my Harlequin Presents novel. I have tried to stay out of it, because that pathway is madness. I have my opinions on the whole debate, and I think I can see both sides. I don't want to get into that. I want to talk about the aftermath, and the ugly pattern I see here.

This is a woman who was bullied most of her childhood in school. I had a permanent pick on me sign attached to my forehead. Strangely enough, I went out of my way to be invisible and to do my own thing. But still, the bullies always found a reason to make my life hell. Something good came out of it, though. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and all that. I have found there is freedom in not being part of the crowd. The crowd will take you places you don't want to go many times than not. As for the bullying, one hopes that people grow out of this. It's not the case. The bullying just grows a more high-tech skin. It seems at though the internet is the new tool for bullying.

Here's the scenario.

Let's say Person A wrote a review/blog that said some things that people didn't like, you go and recruit your friends to go and bombard said blog/review with reasons why those words and actions were so heinous and how wrong they are. The crowd overwhelms the opinion of that one person. That person starts to second guess their position. They run and hide and decide to keep their mouths shut. Free speech loses this day. Because the majority has overruled the minority by sheer force. I see this is internet bullying.

Why is it bullying? Because if two people don't agree, that's one thing. They talk things out, and decide they can either see the opposite side or they can't. They agree to disagree and move on. But one person goes and gets all their friends to come say why the other person is wrong, how do we really know that the other person's argument wasn't sound or correct? We don't. Their voice has died away, and all is left is the fact that they slunk away to lick their wounds. Or they keep it going, and things escalate into Internet Community Smackdown #1001. There is no winning in this scenario.

The internet is a beautiful thing. It's a way for people to connect to each other over mutual interests, to educate, and to entertain. Like any invention, it has its dark side. I think that this is definitely a dark side of the internet, with the various internet social communities. There is only freedom if you are strong or loud enough, or have enough friends to support you. There is only a voice if you don't have many others drowning you out. That's not freedom to me. That's a form of slavery. You become the big bully so you don't get bullied. You're now a slave of the system, the person keeping the lone voice down. Maybe you thought you were doing the right thing at first. But the ends don't justify the means.

That leaves us with a choice. We can creep back to our own corners, keep our mouths shut, keep a low profile. We can become part of the problem, or we can do our part to keep the lines of communication open, in the ways that feel right and honorable to ourselves. I know which one I'm going to do.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How I See the World as a Black Woman--Part I

How I See the World as a Black Woman—Part I

In light of some of the issues that I have faced lately and seen around me, I thought I would spend some time on my blog talking about this. What does the world look like through my eyes as a black woman?

You’d be surprised (or not) that my view of the world is not overly different from the view of a white woman. One thing that I’d say first and foremost—every person is unique. Making generalizations about all people of a certain group is fruitless, inaccurate, and fallacious. Because everyone has their own story to tell, their own life to live, even if they might be the same color, ethnicity, from the same neighborhood, or even the same family. My sister and I are very close. But even we don’t see things the same way. So, that’s my caveat here.

I think the main difference I might have from a white woman’s view of the world is that I am more sensitive about race issues, and rightly so. Being a black person in America, I am not allowed to bury my head in the sand. Race comes into the picture a lot more than it should. I learned this the hard way.

When I went to High School in Dallas, TX, that was my first real personal acquaintance with racism. I was treated differently from whites because I was not white. I was assumed to be less intelligent, and of less value. It was automatically assumed that I couldn’t handle academically rigorous subjects, even though I have always been considered intelligent and done fairly well in school. I started reading when I was four, and I read at an advanced level. I would have been put in 2nd grade as a kindergartner, but I couldn’t do the math (this math block became a psychological thing, because I have found later in life that I love math and I am very good at it). When I started high school in Illinois, I was in honors classes, despite the fact that I had missed at least two months of school in eight grade because of a hip problem. When we moved to Dallas, my counselor (a white woman) automatically put me in the vocational track, even though my family made it clear I was going to college and there was no question about it. I didn’t dispute this, because I didn’t know better. I trusted her to do right by me, because she was an authority figure (na├»ve of me). It was only when my new counselor, a black woman intervened and changed my courses, slotting me into honors courses, which weren’t difficult at all for me. I thank her to this day for believing and fighting for me! I like to think she helped a lot of students in the same way because she cared about each one, regardless of their color. I even had a teacher who told me to my face, she didn’t know I was so smart. Yeah, that’s crazy, but it’s true. Also, there was the issue of how the administration treated black students. You could stand in the office for at least five minutes without being acknowledged. Every white person who came in got acknowledged immediately. I wasn’t being sensitive about this. It’s a fact.

I won’t even go into all my varied racial experiences at college. Suffice it to say that I got a lot of looks that said that I didn’t belong at the school I attended (one of the big public universities in Texas, not the one in Austin, but one of their rivals). Other than that, the anonymity of being only a student id number was very freeing for me. It didn’t matter what my color was. I got the same chance as everyone else. I relished that. And vet school, more of that jumping through hoops. More justifying that I deserved to be here, and I didn’t get her because of Affirmative Action. Yes, racism exists. It hardens a person, especially if you let it. Personally, I try not to.

How about in the literary world (a special interest since I am a die-hard bookworm)? Why is it that I can’t see a person who looks like me on a Harlequin cover unless it’s under the Kimani line? Maybe I want to read a Harlequin Presents with a black person. I like those stories, and maybe I don’t like the kinds of stories they do in the Kimani line. Why do I have to read those just to read about black people? Why do blacks have to have their romances segregated? Why is it that any books written by a black person automatically end up in the African American section, most of which at Walmart fall under the Thug Lit category? How is that right for a writer to be judged just because she’s black? It’s not!

What about urban fantasy and paranormal romance covers that show a light skinned woman with straight hair who could be white, when you open the book and the character is brown-skinned with curly, African hair? Why does this offend whites to have a black person on the cover? Why, on earth should it offend you when you are reading about humans having relationships demons, vampires, werewolves, and other varieties of paranormal creatures? As a black person less worthy than a demon? This is 2012 people! It offends me that it offends them. Do I not belong here in America, and deserve the same freedoms? Hey, my family has been here over two hundred years, if you count my Native American ancestry and my African ancestors. I am just as American as most whites, and probably more American since some of their ancestors came over after mine did. I don’t say this to be contentious (since let’s face it, we were all immigrants at some point), but these are the things that go through my head when I am smacked in the face with pervasive racism.

As far as ambitions and desires, I would say they are the same as a white woman. I want to be loved, have the same marriage prospects (any man I choose regardless of his race), have children and a family, have financial security, have emotional freedom, be recognized for my contributions to the world, like whatever music I want, read whatever books I want, and have my interest require validation only by me. I want the same freedom to be me without having to qualify everything I do with, “As a black person..” It shouldn’t matter. I should just be able to exist and be me! Instead, I have always felt I had to jump higher, work harder, strive more, just to prove I deserved what I worked hard for. It gets tiring. It does.

Yes, I can look at myself as a human being. That’s what I want to do, first and foremost. Actually, I think of myself as Christian first, and a human second. I like being able to look at myself so simply. I like that freedom. At the end of the day, I think a white woman would want that same freedom.

In my next post on this issue, I will focus on the Woman aspects more. This post is more focused on the black person aspect.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What is with the addictive quality of TrueBlood?

Okay, I just finished watching TrueBlood season one on dvd. I have a problem. I have been addicted to this show since last year. I was living in a hotel room, and I found myself watching a lot of stuff I wouldn't normally ask. It's the hotel phenomenom. If you've ever stayed in one long term (except Vegas b/c they have crappy tv), you probably know what I'm talking about. Anyway, I got sucked in as they showed season two.

This show has quite a few disadvantages:
  • Bad language
  • Disturbing violence
  • Disturbing actions from the characters
  • Lots of gratuitious, sleazy scenes (and naked flesh)--I have a low sleaze tolerance

The perks of this show:

  • Completely engaging
  • Interesting storylines
  • Stephen Moyer as Bill (drool)
  • Alexander Skarsgaard as Eric (drool some more)
  • Other cute guys
  • Great acting
  • And it's vampires and other paranormals--I love them!

As far as season one, it's good to go back and see it from the beginning. I have to confess, I read the first book by Charlaine Harris, Dead Until Dark. I wasn't blown away. It was a little silly and kind of dark in an uncomfortable way. For some reason, it's more palatable as a movie/tv show. Normally, I admit I prefer the books to movies. But, this is definitely one where I like the movie/tv version better.

I have to say, Sookie is very annoying. I think she's a good person, but she's judgmental, self-righteous, insensitive, reckless, you name it. It's interesting that she's imperfect, because it can be annoying when the heroine is so perfect. I think the secondary cast make the show. Lots of interesting, but not always likeable people. I wish they didn't make Christians all look like hypocrits, but I loved Sookie and Jason's grandmother. She was such a sweet lady. At least she was a positive image for Christians.

Jason is such a dumb man. It's frustrating how clueless he is. He might be hot physically, but I am not attracted to stupid men! And he's so arrogant at the same time. I like Tara, although she's completely screwed up. How does she always manage to get into such bad trouble? Is she the male equivalent of Jason, except more intelligent? I love Lafayette, even though he's quite amoral. At least he's honest about who he is. He's one of my favorites. I also love Sam, even though he's so against vampires. I love Bill. I just do. I adore him. He's conflicted, dark, brooding, but he loves Sookie so much. (Yes, I know he betrayed her, but I think he really does love her). Eric grew on me in season two when I saw how he felt about Godric. I like Pam too. She cracks me up. I also like Hoyt. He's a sweet and genuine person. Arlene can be annoying with her bigotry, but she's basically a sweet person. And Terry is a darling man! I'm not sure how I feel about Andy Bellefleur. I wonder how Southern people feel about its portrayal of the South. I think it has some things down. Probably over-exaggerates other aspects.

I am totally rambling here. I just wanted to spout off my feelings about this show and try to figure out why I am so transfixed by this show! Any thoughts on this phenomenom?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's Too Darn Hot

I tell you, hot weather and me don't agree. It's well into the 90s now, and it's only the first of June! I am afraid, very afraid for the rest of the summer. My gardening has been put on hold. I honestly don't think I can handle working out there in the hot sun. I feel like a french fry in a vat of boiling oil.

Hot weather brings out all my bad traits: laziness, grumpiness, and the tendency to be a hermit. I just don't want to go outside until the sun goes down.

I have a theory about me and hot weather. Did you ever watch that show called Farscape, that came on the Sci-Fi Channel? Well, Aeryn Sun, the female co-star who ends up falling in love with John Crighton, was a Sebacean. They are a race of humanoids who don't do well when they get overheated. I decided that I am a Sebacean. If the external temperature gets above 85 degrees F, my body starts shutting down. My mother thinks I'm a werewolf. That works for me, since I love werewolves (at least the fictional variety--haven't met any in real life). I have this burning secret desire to be a werewolf, except for the hunting and killing part. Ugh. I don't even like my meat pink. Raw and twitching is definitely not my style.

My goal is to get through this hot summer and try to enjoy it. My plan of attack:

1. Spend as much time in air conditioning as possible.
2. Develop night-time outdoors hobbies, such as stargazing (I like that already).
3. Get my tbr pile down by staying indoors and reading.
4. Use my Wii Fit in the comfortable air conditioning instead of doing things that will make me hot and sweaty outdoors.
5. Take lots of cold showers.
6. Enjoy lots of cold drinks and ice cream (I hope)
7. Try to go to places that have air conditioning--such as the movie theater and bookstore (what a chore).

I would appreciate advice on how to survive the hellish Texas hot weather! If you're a Sebacean/werewolf/cold-natured person like me who lives in a hot climate, we can definitely commiserate.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What is it about CS Lewis?

I just love this man. I can't even really articulate why I love CS Lewis so much. It's like he clicks something on, somewhere inside of me. I think that if he was alive, or I was alive then, I might have stalked him. That sounds awful, doesn't it? I won't lie. I love brilliant men. And he has a brilliance about him when you read his writings. I love his story. Not a new one. But a very powerful story of conversion from atheism to faith in Christ. He set out to disprove God, and the power of the testimony changed his heart. And the great thing about Christ is, he doesn't change you into a Stepford. He makes the intrinsic you better. And that's what he did with CS Lewis. If you have never read anything by him, don't start with the Chronicles of Narnia. I don't say that because they aren't good. I say that because that would be the easy route. Start with Mere Christianity. If you don't appreciate CS Lewis then, well, that's okay. But I have a feeling you will. His rational explanations carry serious weight. He doesn't do that whole "you must believe because I said so" thing. He gives well-thought, reasoned points for why Christianity is valid.

I don't put him on a pedestal. He was human. But, I've heard some really demonizing things said about him, that I disagree with in my heart. I admit, you can be mislead about people. But my heart seems to know him. I have evaluated him as a person, and I really like the man that he was. Okay, yes, it's creepy, my love for CS Lewis. But, at least I'm owning up to it. :)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Try a Little Kindness

I've noticed that kindness seems to be in short supply in the world. It's sad. It doesn't take that much more energy to be kind to others. I imagine it sounds naive. But, I'd like to think that if we all do that, show others that we care enough to treat others well, that the world will be a better place. It's not about religion. It's not about creed. It's about humanity. As human beings, we have choices. We have the choice to do the right thing. We often fail at that. We all have bad days, where it is really hard to be nice to others. But, we should all take a second and put ourselves in each other's shoes. It really hurts when someone is mean to us, and we didn't do anything to that person. It hurts, even if we know that we earned a harsh word from someone. Because we feel that pain, I would like to think, we can try not to cause that pain to someone else.

I'm an animal lover. I can stand for hours and watch an animal do rather mundane, every day things. One thing I've realized about animals is, they don't have the instincts for cruelty and ugliness that humans do. Yes, cats will play with their food. I don't particularly like that behavior. But, it's training to be better hunters. What do humans gain from hurting others? Material things, a sense of satisfaction that you 'got one over on someone else', a good laugh. But, how much does that really measure up to in the end? I think it will lead to a lot of regrets. People who are known to be cruel, hurtful, and callous, do they really have many friends? Do people love them out of choice instead of obligation? Will they look back on their lives and be happy with what they did in the past? I don't think so. My goal is life is to be able to look in the mirror and be proud of the person looking back at me. This helps me to govern my behavior. I find that I have little to be proud of when I've hurt someone. Even if I won an argument, and I have the empty satisfaction of being right, the echo of the guilt of knowing that I won that battle at an ugly price (a Pyrrhic victory) in the end.

This day, I ask myself and others to do something. Just be kind. Try it. You may find that it becomes a way of life. Disciplining oneself to work that much harder to be nice to others will lead to a greater facility at doing so, even though some people seem to beg to be told off, to be spurned, to be disliked. Instead of starting mess because you don't like someone, try to sow seeds of peace. Why? Because you'd want the same to be done to you. After all, the Golden Rule is an old rule that never goes out of style.

Just a thought.