When I was a young child, my grandmother would pick me up after school every day. Our routine was almost always the same; we would go into town, have a snack, and then do homework. Every day after I had my snack, I would be pulled onto the scale to be weighed. It was an embarrassing, and at times, humiliating practice. After stepping off the scale, I would be lectured about the dangers of overeating and getting fat. Horrible and hurtful phrases such as “no man wants to date a fat girl,” and “you won’t have any friends if you’re fat,” were often thrown around with little regard for my feelings. One of the more disturbing facts about this is that this was happening to me from the ages of five and ten. I ended up spending most of my childhood overly concerned about how I looked and what I weighed. These obsessive habits continued to develop and grow until it was something I could no longer control.
As a direct result of my childhood, I became anorexic around age 11. I continued to battle with my eating disorder until I was 18; even now it still pops its head up every once in a while. Around age 16, at the height of my eating disorder, my hair was falling out, I didn’t get my period, and I could barely look in the mirror. When puberty finally hit me freshman year of high school, it was horrible. Everything I knew about my body totally shifted. Being anorexic made me feel in control of my own body, and this sudden change in my appearance radically altered that. As a result of this change, I became very depressed and started using unhealthy coping mechanisms. To escape reality, I would fantasize about what it would be like to be in my 20s and live in New York City. In these fantasies, I was always successful, skinny, in love, and famous. These delusions put too much hope and emphasis on the future. I am now in my 20s and live in New York City, but the things I dreamed about, the things that kept me going for so long, haven’t and most likely aren’t going to happen. In some ways I’m glad I gave myself hope, but at the same time, I wish I hadn’t cared so much about these fantasies. I wish I had been able to realize that overcoming my eating disorder would be challenging enough to live up to. When I got to college, I was so tired of having this battle within myself that I just gave up. I started eating regularly and made more of an effort to become healthier. It was still a journey learning how to accept myself and how I looked. But doing so made me a happier person overall; I could finally look in the mirror and smile. Moving forward was a big step for me and I was proud of myself for getting better.
The impact of my eating disorder has affected every aspect of my life, and will likely continue to do so until the day I die. The anxiety I developed from being anorexic has never gone away, and it holds me back from being a truly happy and healthy person. Dating is hard, going on social media is hard, talking to someone on the street is hard. All because the phrases “no man wants to date a fat girl,” and “you won’t have any friends if you’re fat,” still ring in my ears. There are moments where I struggle more than others, but these days the things that set me off are very different. When I was younger, it was as simple as looking in a mirror or getting a compliment. Now, the things that set me off are more connected to how my body feels, not how it looks. It could be when I feel a roll of fat protruding from my back, or when my jeans just come out of the dryer and are a little tight on my thighs. These are the moments where I struggle to keep my cool and remain a healthy person. And sometimes I can’t keep my cool, and I get into an overly critical and hypersensitive mindset. At times it will last only for an hour, but when it’s bad it could last for a few days. It is in those hours and days that I consider becoming anorexic again. I think about how easy it would be to just skip some meals and work out a lot. But what accompanies those thoughts are others that are much more venomous. These cruel and dark thoughts are more directed at other people than myself. If I see someone thinner than me on Instagram, I assume that they are only skinny because they do drugs, or they work out to an unhealthy extent. These kinds of thoughts are not ones to normally cross my mind; I’m aware of how unfair and cruel they are. But when I’m in this dark and toxic place, I feel the need to berate and bring other people down; I can’t stand that I feel so low. This looming toxic energy is directly connected to my eating disorder, so in some ways, I’ll never fully shake it. Which is why it’s so important to me to treat my body kindly and accept myself so that I don’t turn into this bitter and pessimistic person. The extended impact of my anorexia is kind of terrifying. I can honestly say, that I never thought that having an eating disorder would disrupt my life for so long.
The far-reaching effects of eating disorders are frightening, which is why it is just as important to talk about the eating disorder itself. When I connected the dots and realized that I was still struggling with this issue, I was shattered. It made me question if I had even gotten better. But sometimes realizing that something is still holding you back makes you fight against it. Often times, admitting what you are feeling is half the battle. Releasing yourself from toxicity is hard, but frequently the hardest things are the best for you.
There’s no doubt that a new year is a perfect time to curate a list of things you want to accomplish, but when it becomes a cycle of goal writing, attempting, and never thinking about them again, I have to ask. Is it worth it?
Every year I find myself writing down goals for the new year in the same beat up journal– how I want to get to the gym more, take pictures more, travel more. And while these all sound plausible and obtainable in the moment, the more into the year I get, the more I stray away from them. The excitement of a new year is replaced with phrases like, “better luck next time,” or “next year will be my year.”
And you know what? That’s bullshit. Look, there’s no secret that 2018 was a shitshow for a lot of us, especially for the world as a whole. But there was also a lot of good that came out of that year, and it’s not fair for the negatives to overshadow them. Late 2018, I created a 3 column list with the titles “seasons,” “lessons,” and “blessings” written across the top. What I found was that although 2018 was filled with a lot of heartache and sadness (hint: lessons), the blessings column was packed. I saw 3 of my favorite artists in concert, I went to San Francisco Pride for the first time in five years since coming out as pansexual, I hosted a cozy kickback after a concert gone wrong with 4 of my best friends, and I met some incredible people that I know I’ll be friends with for the long haul. It was a really, really rough year, but it was filled with more blessings than I was ready to admit to.
But I want 2019 to be better.
There’s no way of telling what the year will bring, but I decided that instead of starting my new year’s resolutions with “go to the gym more,” I’d stop acting like I had to completely change who I was in order to make it in the new year. Instead, I wrote down more realistic, personal goals, like watching good movies, becoming more financially literate, going to places that I’ve always wanted to visit instead of just going somewhere for the Instagram location, taking more time for myself (which doesn’t always mean forcing myself to go to the gym, and can actually be staying home with friends and cooking food together), leaving my toxic job that’s caused me multiple mental breakdowns (thank you for that, now I know what not to stand for in the future), and finally, not allowing social media to be the end-all-be-all of my happiness. See, the difference between this list and those of past years was that 1) the others focused on wanting to become the “best” version of myself so that others could recognize it and 2) it didn’t require having to change my entire persona in order for me to be able to complete them. I want 2019 to be filled with real character development, not a facade of meaningless accomplishments. It’s time to stop wasting your own time, and that you can start doing now, regardless of what time of the year it is.
I wanted to be white. A small nagging want that transformed into a consuming, cavernous yearn as I got older and the world more complicated. I had blueprints in my mind of the perfect version of me, a name like Kate or Elizabeth, that rolled right off the tongue, it’s letters bonded by privilege and generations of untainted bloodlines. Limp, blond hair, that lay flat against my scalp, rendered greasy after skipping one wash. Cornflower blue eyes and the special type of pale skin that blistered red after just 30 minutes in the sun. For years I tried in vain to assimilate to standards of beauty that did not apply to me, to a culture that did not want me. And ever so stubbornly, my genetic code did not allow for it, my heritage ingrained within the twists and spiraling proteins of my nucleic acids. Because being Muslim was hard enough in a world where knowledge of the Ten Commandments, stained glass mosaics of St. Peter, and Jesus on a gilded cross took precedence; but passing for White in the most fleeting of instances was even harder, there are times when the facade cracks, when the foundation slips off its axis and people begin to ask questions. Questions motivated by innocent curiosity, similar to that of a toddler newly discovering the workings of the universe, others motivated by a morbid fear or hate or ignorance. Terrorist, ISIS, unamerican, white girls hate you, white boys will never love you, white moms are scared of you, hair straightener at 350 degrees to press away curls into stick straight strands, blue jeans, the Grand Canyon, apple pie and years of correcting the way my father rolled his r’s and snipped his t’s.
A fundamental rule of survival in the United States of America, the easiest way to secure some variation of Norman Rockwell’s American dream, the four bedroom house, the white picket fence, the emerald green lawns, a baseline salary of 80,000 dollars, a golden retriever named Max, and the unvaried calamity of suburban life, was that the lighter the skin, the easier the existence. Dutifully filling out tax returns, always dropping a quarter in the parking meter, never forgetting your “pleases” and “thank yous”, tipping your college aged waiter with pockmarked skin and the weight of thousands of dollars of student loans resting between his shoulder blades at the local Applebees the customary 15 percent, is not enough. The key, rather, is assimilation - to shed your identity, to strip yourself bare of any hint of culture, imitate the staged candid clean cut models in magazines and billboards; induct your tastebuds to the taste of unseasoned chicken, to dinner before the sun dips below the horizon, and to splicing your ancestry into odd numbered percentages from nondescript Eastern European countries.
There are mostly white women between the glossy, synthetic pages of American Vogue, pages so sharply chiseled that if you were to flip them a smidge too fast, your index finger would be the recipient of a paper cut lasting weeks. They all had perfectly symmetrical faces, not a blemish in sight, dewey skin, noses upturned 30 degrees and no body hair; legs cleanly shaven, upper lips waxed, eyebrows threaded, smooth arms. Body hair on a woman in Western culture is an uncustomary additive of female anatomy, disgusting and unwelcome. Yet I have hair sprouting out of every available square inch of flesh, on my arms, on my legs, a fine dusting on my cheeks on jaw, everywhere where hair is not supposed to be. A fixed part of me that for the longest time, I saw no fault in.
As I reached the cusp of adolescence, the insults began, sharp, biting words that if they were to take physical form, they’d manifest themselves into dark, thick, inky black liquid, cobwebs, and the husks of dead insects. Insults that even today bounce around within the confines of my grey matter. Perperated by young boys on the school bus, boys too young to know any better. Gorilla, monster, was there something terribly wrong with you? One of them, the corners of his mouth crusted with the remnants of a lunch his mother had painstakingly crafted for him the night before, a sandwich cut into triangular halves, sliced fruit and a note telling him she loved him; leaned in close, so close I could feel a hot mist of saliva powdering my face, and told me I was so ugly that no one would ever be able to love me. His words meant nothing more to him than an assortment of consonants and vowels, that would fade into wisps of a half remembered memory within the hour. But to me, they would dictate how I lived my life, the way I would dress, my mannerisms, my relationship with what I saw in the mirror. Starting at eleven years old, I whittled away my days in the poorly lit guest room bathroom, cheap pink disposable razors slipped between my fingers, gashes on my legs, blood trickling down and pooling into rivulets at my ankles, ironic that something that cheerful and vibrantly colored could cause so much pain. Congealed half peeled wax strips on the chipped formica countertop and crusted to the dirty tiles, empty bottles of strong smelling bleach proven to make your hair 9 shades lighter, but served nothing but reducing my arms into a mismatched checkerboard of alternating black and blonde hairs, my upper lip marred with red scars from pink Nair left on far too past the 10 minute limit.
In a sense, it was more than simple hair removal, but rather a desperate self deprecating attempt to prove my femininity, to those boys on the bus and most importantly to me, to achieve hairless smooth skin only brought me closer to checking off all the boxes that came with white standards of beauty. Today, I can’t wear t-shirts, even in the most scalding and humid of heat, I’ve got a hair straightener on permanent standby, I’ve forgotten how to read and write Arabic, unable to decipher my own book of faith. I am still coming to terms with my obstinate physical features, and the yearn to be white, while it has dulled and dimmed over the years, it still nags the pit of stomach, unrelenting and evermore present.
It’s 2018 and nobody keeps a diary anymore -- at least, not in the traditional way. We each have a “finsta,” a “fake” Instagram account that exists without the rules, etiquette and limitations that society usually employs with social media. But this is not news. The concept of a more private, alternate account in addition to one’s main Instagram has been in action for years now. Think of it as a combination of both a blooper reel and a digital diary. On our “real” accounts, we post filtered, perfect images that convey the perfect life. On our “fake” accounts, we post anything else that doesn’t fit the standards of the typical Instagram post. This includes unedited or imperfect photos (think “the ones that didn’t make it to the ‘Gram”), long and personal captions, funny memes and anything else our hearts desire.
What started as an outlet to post funny photos privately became what the kids of our generation considered a safe space to share our innermost thoughts and feelings, go on the occasional emotional rant and connect with peers on a more interpersonal level. It all seemed so exciting, the ability to curate our own little community of carefully selected friends and share things that mattered to us. But as time went on and our posts developed into more personal matters resembling diary entries, the concept of a “finsta” changed -- at least for me.
Over the span of a few months, I noticed that I was conforming too much to what I thought my 64 followers would like to see. Everything I posted had to be funny or profound or aesthetically pleasing, and that is not always what life is. Even in this world where -- supposedly -- no expectations or judgment existed, I was still tempted to create an alternate reality to the one I was actually living. Yes, I genuinely love my life and am filling it with things that make me happy,
but nobody lives a totally perfect life day to day. Things happen, we feel upset at times, we need to share our thoughts and emotions with people we trust.
I recalled the days of my childhood when I felt free to write anything I wanted in my actual diary, a pink fluffy journal with a lock on it. If this account was supposed to resemble a diary, why was I censoring myself? I felt trapped with the thoughts that I couldn’t type out, for fear of oversharing. Suddenly this oasis for personal expression was preventing me from doing just that. The girl behind the account didn’t feel like me anymore; it was like an overly optimistic, semi-filtered, flawless skinned alter ego was posting for me instead.
We can’t control much in the universe, but our social media presence is one thing we can. The image I was projecting was starting to feel unauthentic, which is when I decided to take a step back and reassess my values. I began to remove some followers from my list (a relatively new feature on IG that allows you to let people stop following you, without blocking or notifying them), and then some more, until only my closest friends remained on the list. At that point I thought, “if these are actually my best friends, can’t I just share my feelings and ideas with them face to face?” And so I did.
I also turned a trip to Target into a trip down memory lane, where I bought a good old fashioned marble composition book. This journal has become a more efficient way of recording and expressing things that matter to me. It’s filled with song lyrics, personal thoughts, poems, inspiration and ideas. It doesn’t require ideal selfie lighting, filters or a certain amount of likes. It just requires a pen, a few spare minutes and an open mind.
Our generation barely knows the definition of privacy. We overshare, overpost, we feel the need to document almost everything we do and share it online. Why? To project a certain image to people we went to high school with, or impress followers we don’t even know? This journal is something that is truly private, for my eyes only and whoever I choose to share it with on my own terms. After all, sometimes paper listens better than people can.
Last month, our Culture Editor wrote about cultural appropriation on Halloween; little did we know that the disgrace of our ethnicities would become someone’s face, a face that they put on because white women find it “attractive” or “trendy”. For years, we were told that our features were not “attractive”. With larger representation of our ethnicities in media, the superior can’t help but see our ethnic features as something that they can steal. There are multiple Instagram influencers that use heavy makeup of a darker shade, and edit their creases out of photos - all the while having the privilege to go back to society’s beauty standards, and being able to get the jobs that we deserve, not experience the oppression that we encounter, not hear the hate that is yelled at us.
On black women:
An un(wise) person once said: “I do think that people should not be so quick to call everything cultural appropriation. They should be flattered when people take things from their culture. Culture is shared. Everyone takes something from someone. And it’s like that time-transcending idiom: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” -Katrice Perkins
Let’s makes this very clear once and for all; culture is not something that can be simplified to mere exchange between those who choose to take from it. “Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.” When you borrow from another culture to achieve some trendy aesthetic, you are blindly disregarding the history and experiences behind your taking for your own benefit.
“What’s the big deal anyway?”, many say. Let me give you a prime example:
Imagine being the most disrespected person in America, the Black Woman. Imagine that notion being imbedded in your culture not because that’s what your people wanted, but because that’s how history played out. Imagine your women being mocked, raped, sexualized, trivialized and made profitable for the same traits that white women reconstruct their entire physical appearance for. And no, not all of our people possess the same physical traits, but it is evidently apart of our identity.
We keep shouting cultural appropriation when we see it, because when you take from us, you don’t see us, you see an opportunity. You hate us but you want to look like us. We’re deemed as less than human when you take from our identity as if it just an accessory. Our lips, our butts, our hairstyles, our music, our fashion, our vernacular, our darker skin are made trends and disguised as “flattery”. You love all of these things, but god forbid you take a stand against police brutality or wage gaps.
And of course, you have those that say, “I don’t see race”. Well guess what, if you don’t see race you don’t see us either. You probably aimed to resonate with some sort of deep comment that transcends what we know to be true, but really all you did was admit to being ignorant to racism. “Race is such an ingrained social construct that even blind people can ‘see’ it. To pretend it doesn’t exist to you erases the experiences of black people.” If you choose to not acknowledge what makes someone different from you, then you are also choosing to not fully appreciate and understand them.
If we’re being honest, maybe we wouldn’t keep shouting cultural appropriation, if we were respected for our lifestyle, defended against the harsh discrimination we receive in America, and seen as more than just pop-culture. We are not just another privileged person’s next plastic surgery inspo. You cannot wear us all day, and hang us in the closet when the day’s over. And we definitely aren’t here for you to leech off of us at your convenience.
Whether you participate in the leeching or not is ultimately your choice, but consider the long-term damage that could wreak havoc on young, maturing, black girls who you cause to see themselves as less than; as an object. Be human enough to actually see us for us, and watch the world follow.
I’m not insinuating that people should be forbidden from any inspiration that may spark from the black woman, but realize your place and position; proceeding respectfully, responsibly and mindfully.
On Asian women:
Being Asian in a mixed family, I told people that I was half-white when I wasn’t - it was to preserve my family’s history, to keep private parts of my life, private. But this would become the downfall of me hating my Asian features. Half-white, half-Asian girls would tell me that I did not look half-white, and pride themselves in their white features, telling me, “your hair is too dark”, “your eyes are too small”, “your nose is too wide”. This would lead to me hating parts of myself that made me distinctly Vietnamese. It took years of loving myself and years of accepting that this was the way that I was born, and is still a struggle that I encounter almost everyday. Society, my family, the girls who loved their white features more than their Asian ones, made me hate who I was. The audacity for a white girl, a girl who fits society’s standards of beauty, to choose to look like me is beyond any struggle I could imagine. I wake up and look like this. I used to wake up and hate what I saw in the mirror. What these white women do to their eyes to make them smaller is not appreciation of my own. It is using my ethnicity as something that is “cute”, when really, my eyes have been something that society has told me that I am not good enough - not good enough to be taken seriously, not good enough to be strong and independent.
My eyes tell stories of fetishization, tell stories of men looking down at my small stature and thinking of it as something they wished to conquer. My eyes hold anger and frustration of constantly seeing people being surprised that I was capable of doing something on my own, capable of speaking up, capable of not being so submissive that it catches them off guard. Someone’s first impression of me is that I am small and quiet, until I speak up. Until I tell them that my small eyes, my wide nose, and my dark hair do not determine who I am. For someone to wish to look like me, take advantage of the fetishization of my entire ethnicity and be able to go back to society’s beauty standards whenever they wished, disgusts me. I am born this way. I am stuck with the constant oppression and the constant disrespect from my own peers. I do not get to wake up one day and have all of that vanish, or decide when I get to look that way. The way Asian women are treated, with the assumption that we are obedient, is continuously present for me everyday. For a white woman to rebel, there is no thought, she is allowed to. For me, people get angry. People don’t understand why and how this could have exploded from me. Why? Because of the features that lie on my face that give away the bias that I am compliant, docile, weak. A weak girl who will never speak up, never fight for what she wants. But despite my fraile traits and features on my face that were told were ugly - I fight through it all. Daily, I fight the bias that was held against me that no white woman would ever be capable of understanding.
It’s that time of year again! With Halloween just around the corner; children, teens, and adults alike are brainstorming their costume debut as we speak. They take on every role imaginable from vampires, superheroes and princesses - to food, household items, and animals. Among the vast selection of options include modeling the customary appearances of cultures and identities from all over the globe. Doing so can and has caused a great deal of controversy.
In 2015, a campus wide debate and protest at Yale University sparked from two emails about Halloween costumes fueled the conversation about this ongoing, nationwide argument. The first email was sent by the University’s Intercultural Affairs Committee to the student body; in its request it stated to avoid wearing “culturally unaware and insensitive costumes that could offend minority students. This statement includes the specific listings of pieces such as feathered headdresses, turbans or blackface. Is that too much to ask of people?
The second email arose when faculty member and administrator at a student residence, Erika Christakis, responded by expressing that on behalf of those “frustrated” by the advice; students should be able to wear whatever they want, even if they end up offending people.
So, the question remains, how far is too far?
For those who agree with Christakis, is there a point where possibly-culturally insensitive overpowers creative expression? One of the main problems that occur when we decide to dress up as one another for a day, is that dressing up is all that we are doing? There are real experiences and oppressions that come with being in a marginalized population, and when we dress up as a particular group of these people, we don’t have to actually take on their reality.
This can be very offensive when, for example, a white American decides to where dreadlocks on Halloween, when a black male who wears dreadlocks every day is discriminated against in the workplace. Another example would be dressing up as a Native American or in their headdresses for a “cool” aesthetic, when in fact while preserving their culture, there is deep history of genocide and deprivation.
And then we have scenarios that are just downright wrong, with no ounce of justification. Let’s rewind to Julianne Hough dressed up in blackface as “Crazy Eyes” from the Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black. Whether her deliberate decision is pure ignorance or not, it is each of our own responsibility to educate ourselves on the historical context and implications of our actions.
This isn’t to say little girls with blonde hair shouldn’t dress up as Mulan or Jasmine, but in situations like this, one should consider whether they are coming from a position of systemic privilege that reinforces stereotypes and not their own personal background, and proceed to make that apart of their decision. In our youth’s case, it is imperative for parents and/or guardians to have these conversations with them. A start could be posing this question to them: “Imagine how someone else would feel if you dressed up like them?”
It is not a simple concept, but it also is not as complex as we’re making it.
We as a nation lack empathy, and it manifests through debates such as this one. Instead of placing oneself in another’s reality, we’d rather rationalize for our own overall benefit, or not even think twice at all. The reality is that there is extensively flawed history and present-day aftermath that we must always be aware of. And although our intentions may be innocent, it is our duty to face the repercussions of the past and present, and be carefully thoughtful towards how we appreciate one another’s culture. With that being said, don’t be a WITCH! When costume shopping this year, proceed with caution.