Joy is a Net of Love by Which You Can Catch Souls

My first reaction is what beauty? I’ve definitely crossed over to the invisible side. I rather prefer it that way…

My whole life my weight has fluctuated quite a bit and my self-image with it. When I’ve been fat, I’ve been ugly — at least in my mind.

I noticed that the more weight I gained, the less teasing or ogling I’d get from boys and men. Being fat was safer, damn it. I liked being safe. I hid there.

But at different times I would go on diets and lose weight. That happened in my late twenties, when I went down to what I weighted in sixth grade after the summer diet my grandmother put me on.

Connecting the dots

I feel the connection between the colorful visuals and the magical vibrant world I’ve created in my writing. The pictures reflect who I am as a creative spirit.

This process has nudged me back from the ledge of self-loathing, especially where photos are concerned. Going forward in my life necessitates being seen in person, on paper, and perhaps even in some forms of media.

Yes, my beauty is about a lot more than gorgeous photos. But if it took seeing myself through Barbara’s eyes to get on board with my full, vibrant, impish, playful, radiant self, so be it.

Now that I am “out” so to speak, it’s up to me to feed myself with beautiful images and stories of women close to me in age who are enjoying their fine physical selves and letting others see them through their eyes, not vice versa.

Let’s unsubscribe from magazine culture and sign up for honoring ourselves in the full glory of just how good it feels to be alive in our skins, with our eyes, our hair, our unique ways of moving and being and shining.

The Tattoo Taboo for the Asian Woman

Tattoos have been around for centuries. From the Native Americans to the ancient Egyptians to the Maori tribes. Tattoos have held significance in a lot of cultures. They symbolised a person’s identity in a number of ways, whether it be status within a community, passage into adulthood or a connection to a spiritual group.

Being the complex creatures that we are, we communicate in multiple ways. Art and symbolicism are some of the most consistent forms of communications us humans have sustained over the span of our existence as a species.

I like to think it is probably because of man’s fascination with art which is as old as time itself. Art, drawings, symbols- they have, time and time again, helped us express ourselves; be it to communicate with others, or to communicate with ourselves. It is only natural that we decided to wear this symbolic form of art on our skins forever.

For some, tattoos are indeed a form of rebellion. A way of finally making a stand after being asked not to rock the boat their whole life. Tattoos empower one and give the confidence to walk with pride. You can only appreciate the importance of this if you have had to follow without question; like an ideal Indian girl.

It is a coming of age. A graduation ceremony. A reclamation of identity.

The critical need for self-expression for an Indian woman is a symbol of liberation and a rejection of oppressive and limiting rules. Although not everyone expresses themselves in this manner, it is important to let the ones who choose tattooing as a form of therapeutic self-expression be themselves because dare I say, tattoos save lives.

The stigma may never really go away but so long as there is a need for us as humans to express ourselves, tattoos will be there. Besides, public opinion is of the least concern when one gets a tattoo. One may come across negative comments but as long as you are firm in your decision, who cares what others say?

Now, excuse me while I go plan my next tattoo. 😉

Impossibly High Beauty Standards Are Ruining My Self Esteem

Impossibly High Beauty Standards Are Ruining My Self Esteem

In my excitement, I whipped out my iPhone for a photo opportunity the moment I got into my car after leaving the salon. I placed one hand on the steering wheel of my Volkswagen and used the other hand to take the photo. Then I looked at the picture on my phone screen in horror.

On the screen, in high definition and vibrant color, was one giant beefy paw with cheerfully bright nail polish. It was my giant beefy paw. And I didn’t like it one bit.

How could I have believed that a coat of polish would make my large, chubby hands appear less manly? My palms looked so wide. My fingers were thick. And the lines — so many lines everywhere. There were creases on the backs of my hands, creases on my knuckles, creases on my palms. What was happening to me?

In my mind, I remembered hands — other people’s hands — as being perfectly smooth, lineless, flawless, artistic arrangements of elegant fingers and slender palms. My hands were the exact opposite of the hands in my mind’s eye. They weren’t hands; they were anti-hands.

Is the Natural Hair Movement Coming to an End?

While watching some videos on Youtube one day, something off-topic came up on my ‘Auto-Play’ pane. A video titled ‘Dear Natural Hair Police’.

Ironically, this video popped up as I was in the middle of my wash day (aka a drawn-out process in which I wash and style my hair). I didn’t want to touch my computer with my hands — soaked with hair product/oil — so I just let it play. In short, the Youtuber goes on to talk about why she decided to chemically relax her hair after several years of wearing it in its natural state. She also goes into detail about the backlash she received from other naturals (what she refers to as the “natural hair police” or “hair nazis”) regarding this decision. The first thought that came to my mind: When did it ever become this serious?

I’m going to pause to define terms for readers who may not know what’s going on here:

Natural Hair Movement: a movement which encourages Black women (and men) to embrace their natural Afro-textured hair rather than chemically straightening. this movement spiked between the years 2008–2014.

Relaxer: a chemical straightening cream that is designed to alter kinky/coiled hair texture by a process of controlled damage to the hair’s protein structure. When not handled properly and over a long period, some consequences could lead to lasting or permanent damage to the hair and scalp.

There’s no doubt that, within this sub-culture, some reform is in order. I went natural for a few simple reasons:

  1. I Hated Relaxers — my mom can vouch for this. As a kid, I was not a fan of going to get my hair done. I hated the entire process: going to the salon, wasting what felt like an entire day, having chemicals in my hair that would eventually burn, not being able to get my hair wet afterward, not being able to scratch my scalp, etc. As I got older my sister started doing them for me, which was a nuisance for both of us. I may not have made a fuss about it as a teenager but I still hated getting them.
  2. Curiosity — I had my first relaxer by the time I started kindergarten, so I had no idea what my real hair looked like. I wanted to at least try it.
  3. Expenses — I knew that when I moved to Northern VA I was going to have to either find someone to do my relaxers for me on campus or go to some salon that would charge way more than I was used to.

The keyword here is “chose”. I didn’t feel I had to appease anybody on either side, I just wanted to do something for myself. And it should be the same way for anyone else. If you’re going natural (or staying natural) because of external pressure to do so, then don’t. Not everybody wants to, some people just want to try it out, and some people just don’t like the work or maintenance. Whatever the reason, it’s no one’s business but your own what you choose to do with your hair and body. The ‘police’ of natural hair is not interested in empowerment, but in having people conform to a specific standard of beauty in order to be considered adequate. Now, where have I heard this narrative before?

Beauty is Gene Deep but give me those little imperfections

Q. Why do pretty people get away with murder?

A. Preservation of the species.

Huh? How could those two ideas possibly be connected?

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That’s partially true, but the symmetrical face with a particular set of characteristics such as how wide apart the eyes are and what the distance is between facial features, is seen as universally beautiful.

As Shania said, that don’t impress me much. So you’re pretty. So what?

Might not impress you, Miss Twain, but there is a gestalt quality about beauty. The cute child will not be disciplined as harshly as an ugly one. The pretty girl will have more boyfriends. An attractive defendant in court will usually receive a lighter sentence than an ugly one — sometimes, perhaps getting away with murder.

Not fair. Yes well — life isn’t fair. Few of us are beautiful enough to merit such allowances.

But how does any of this connect to the preservation of our species?

Survival of the fittest.

What? You’re saying beauty is a survival factor? Are you nuts?

I have yet to see a healthy person who is not beautiful. Doesn’t matter what colour their hair is, their skin, their eyes — there are hundreds of kinds of beauty. What does matter is vigour, strength, vitality. Trivialities like height or size of breasts are a matter of personal choice. A healthy person isn’t overly fat, nor is he or she skinny. A healthy person has glossy hair, good teeth, clear skin, bright eyes, smells good.

But those are the very things that make each one of us unique. Freddie Mercury, bless him, saw his teeth as a problem, but actually they helped to define him. Certainly didn’t put anyone off him as a person - or as an artist. David Bowie had his teeth straightened, but he lost something of himself when he did that. Barbra Streisand’s nose, Mick Jagger’s lips, Prince Charles’ ears, Sarah Jessica Parker’s narrow face, Julia Roberts’ mouth, John Goodman’s large build — not conventionally acceptable, but those small imperfections give them their identities and draw us in more than mere surface attraction.

Little flaws are what make us attractive. Beauty on the outside does not equal beauty on the inside. Pretty people can be vain and self-centred. If you’re not a gorgeous babe or handsome hunk, you have to try harder to cultivate other qualities like kindness, creativity or the ability to make someone laugh.

Our genes may want to make merry with sturdy strands of DNA but our humanity says otherwise. And fat, thin, bald, or buck-toothed — we are much more than the sum of our parts.

What I Should Have Said to Your Weight Loss Advice

I had just walked in the door when you sidled up next to me.

“Can I show you something?”

You showed me your iPad, face lit up with eager excitement. You watched me closely, looking for a happy or grateful reaction — something to reinforce your discovery. Instead, you watched my face fall.

On the screen were before and after pictures from surgeon’s offices, advertisements for gastric bypass and lap band surgeries. On the left stood a woman my size, slouching and exposed, in fitted workout clothing. Next to her, that same woman, beaming and standing tall, reduced to half her previous size.

I looked at the woman my size, her stony expression betrayed by the deep disappointment behind her eyes. I looked at the shape of her body: the soft slopes of her breasts, belly, hips. Her body looked so much like mine. I am before. I am always before.

“I saw these pictures and I thought of you,” you explained. When I didn’t respond, you went on. “Think of how much healthier you would be. The partners you could date. I know you love clothes — you could wear whatever you want!” You paint my body with stencils, my life made up of negative space. You aren’t describing me — you’re describing what you’re sure I can’t have.

You paged through the pictures, eyes fixed on my face for the happiness you were sure would come. You had, after all, found a miracle cure. You must have imagined I’d be so relieved to learn that there was a way out of the body I have — all it would take was $23,000 to cut that body open, truss its organs, and leave it to wither.

But in that moment, I had already been gutted. My rib cage had been hollowed out, heart and lungs set aside, cored like an apple. Breath scraped in my throat before evaporating into the crater my ribs had become. I was awash in the desolation you imagined my life to be, and the wonderland you envisioned for thinner women.

Korean Beauty Standards, My Mom, and Me

One evening when I was about 10 years old, I found my mom sitting cross-legged on the living room floor by a lamp. She was gazing at herself in a hand mirror, and an open rectangular box wrapped in red satin with Korean writing on the lid sat nearby. As I got closer, I noticed the box contained several vials and a pack of microneedles.

Both fascinated and horrified, I observed in silence as my mom dipped the tip of a needle in the serum, and used it to painstakingly prick a dark spot on her face over and over again. She did the same thing to another spot. Then another. When she stopped to stretch her back, my mom asked if I wanted her to use her “special medicine” to remove the mole on my cheek. I said no, and ran to my room.

That was 25 years ago, and my mom pays just as much attention to her appearance now as she did then. In my eyes, the way she scrutinizes her looks — and the way she’s taught me to think about my own — has a lot to do with the East Asian standards of beauty she grew up with. While all cultures have their own measures of physical attractiveness, South Korea and some of its neighbors set a particularly high bar for women.

It’s painful to feel “consistently devalued” by how you look, Mok says. That, in turn, can translate to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and even body dysphoria. In fact, a 2017 study published in International Journal for Equity in Health found that young Koreans who experienced discrimination based on their physical looks (also called “lookism”) were more likely to report poor self-rated health.

For those who do find themselves preoccupied with unrealistic beauty standards and thus feel unhappy about their appearance, Mok suggests working to change your mindset about what beauty looks like by making small but intentional changes, such as rethinking some of your role models or finding spaces where more people look like you. It may also be helpful to address some of the comments you’ve heard from family members or others, if it makes sense culturally to do so.

But, Mok adds, there’s no easy answer to figuring out how to deal with the impact of extreme beauty standards. Everyone’s experience with them is different, spanning an array of cultures and countries. And while there is a growing movement in South Korea, for example, to challenge these long-held standards for women, the global popularity of K-beauty products suggests the expectation to stay flawless is here to stay.

Because those ideals are so deeply ingrained, I expect my mom to also continue working to enhance not only her appearance but mine as well. Recently, at her request, I drove her to a new skincare clinic. A red-headed white woman had apparently recommended the place after my mom had approached her to ask what she’d done to make her skin so white. “You could hardly see her freckles,” my mom said.

After talking to the skin consultant, we learned the red-headed woman had most likely gotten a chemical peel. My mom turned to me excitedly and asked: “Do you want one too? I’ll pay for it.”

I politely declined.

Why You Shouldn’t Rush to Slow Down or Obsess Over Self Care

I recently took a bath for the first time in the small bathroom of an apartment where I’ve lived for five years. That’s a long time to neglect such a simple pleasure.

As I lay there, all warm, rubbery and relaxed, I started thinking about why. Practically, there was no stopper for the tub. I always showered. The fix could not have been easier. I bought one for six dollars at the hardware store down the street, while there for other things. That night, at long last, I took the plunge.

A friend I’ve known for years gets up early enough to take a bath every morning before work. This has always seemed fantastically indulgent and, frankly, a waste of time.

As I lay there, all warm, rubbery and relaxed, I started thinking about why. Practically, there was no stopper for the tub. I always showered. The fix could not have been easier. I bought one for six dollars at the hardware store down the street, while there for other things. That night, at long last, I took the plunge.

A friend I’ve known for years gets up early enough to take a bath every morning before work. This has always seemed fantastically indulgent and, frankly, a waste of time.

With my body submerged in water the other night, I also reflected on her ritual. Maybe it really could be a pleasant way to start the day. Certainly more bucolic than running around the apartment, mug of coffee in hand, using caffeine as fuel to get out the door or open my laptop and get to work with ever-quicker speed.

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