Reclaiming My Femininity

For the past two years, I’ve been focusing on practicality: sublime productivity, getting stuff done. As a university student living abroad, that’s what I ought to do, right? Focus on getting. stuff. done.

And so I did.

Day-in-day-out I’d sloppily slap on some concealer, press in some translucent powder, yank my hair back into a ponytail, slip on my joggers, and head out to the library. I was on a never ending mission of academic success.

In the meantime, I had lost the joy of doing my make-up and dressing up; something I used to enjoy back in high school when life was just a tad bit easier. During these last two years, the only time I’d put effort into my appearance was on weekends. That’s when the complete 180 transformation would take place; when I’d give my eyebrows a little shape, pat in my concealer rather than bludgeon my under eye with my finger, and unveil my mascara wand from the cobwebs in my make up bag. My hair would be unstuck from its usual cowlicked, slicked back ponytail. I’d give it volume – yes, you heard me right, VOLUME – and on good weekends, after an especially productive week, I’d even go as far as curling it as a reward. I’d feel really good and would hi-five myself for investing in my appearance.

As soon as the weekend shenanigans were over, Monday hit me like a bag of bricks and it was go back to the unflattering clothes and shapeless hair. I’d quench my lack of self confidence in my looks by telling myself I was going to school to get my education, NOT to be pretty and cater to the male patriarchy!!! But the truth is, I didn’t feel good about myself – and no amount of telling myself that “beauty comes from the inside” was enough to deflect me from the truth.

It wasn’t just my appearance that was suffering. My mission of living life as a goal-driven, highly efficient woman affected my enjoyment of the little pleasures of life. My appreciation for all five of my senses were diminished.

My room? Bland. Was it a jail cell? A hostel room? You couldn’t tell – it lacked any semblance of personality. “The less I have in my room, the less dusting I have to do!” was my rationale for not decorating my dorm; for not giving it a little sprinkle of me. I couldn’t even justify lighting a candle for some ambiance. 

What I ate was affected by my highly mechanized, robocop mentality as well. I ate not based on my cravings or for taste, but rather for MAXIMAL NUTRIENT INTAKE and what was considered the perfect ‘healthy’ balance. That is, carbs, proteins, fats; rice, boiled chicken, and vegetables. A bodybuilder’s diet; a doctor’s exemplary patient. I was completely numb to my body’s senses and cravings.

I had one perfume (why have more? This one does its job!), no facial or bodily creams besides my SPF-infused moisturizer (2-in-1? Count me in!), and all my scented body creams remained untouched since they were first purchased. They were the remnants of my feminine past.

My mindset had diminished me to a one-dimensional canvas. Although I excelled in academia, this way of life took its gravest toll on my ability to feel. I’d been suppressing my emotions for so long in favor of achievement that I forgot what it was like to feel without restraint. Instead of allowing myself to feel, I’d shun myself and try to get rid of those feelings as soon as possible so I could get back to the “grind.”

 I was constantly in action mode; I felt so uncomfortable when I’d just let myself be. I’d feel the urge to do something – anything –  that would benefit my future employed self. Otherwise, I’d get stuck in a mental rut of feeling everything I’d been avoiding. Living life on the premise of delayed gratification came at the expense of my current self: I was burning out.

The tipping point was when this mentality seeped into the summertime. Instead of enjoying the short time I had back home with my family, I was huddled up on a chair in the living room doing online courses to enrich my CV. That’s when I realized something was off; although it was no medical diagnosis, I arrived at the conclusion that my so called ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ energies were off-balance. I was steadily drowning in my masculine energy.

The masculine archetype, in short, “does.” Masculinity thrives on challenges, logic, achieving, and decisive action. The feminine archetype on the other hand, just “is.” Femininity is creative, intuitive, nurturing, receiving, and emotional. These two forces don’t compete with one another in an individual; they complement each other. 

Until I had discovered the importance of embodying both energies, I thought emotions were to be avoided. I viewed them as a display of weakness representing a person ‘succumbing to the irrational.’ This resulted in me finding it difficult to figure out what I liked and disliked as I was vehemently refusing to sit down and reflect.

I attribute my unhealthy drive for academic/career success to the enforced Westernized definition of achievement. It’s the hustle and bustle, the constant grind, the never ending ‘bop to the top’ that’s celebrated. Masculine endeavors are put on a pedestal while feminine ones are seen as rewards to said hard work. But I, nor you, could function solely on one type of energy. 

This year I have made it my mission to embrace the feminine. It’s been a couple of months since I have granted myself the permission to indulge in things that won’t necessarily raise my IQ or skyrocket me into corporate stardom. I now spend time creating, and daydreaming about, outfits and sophisticated make-up looks as a creative outlet. My dorm room’s adorned with countless polaroids of me and my friends, and its window sills display an assortment of scented candles. I even treated myself to my first manicure and, with the help of gel nails, finally overcame my stress-induced, lifelong nail-biting habit!

To beckon my feelings out of the cave of shame they’ve been retreating in, I also started journaling. I write about everything and anything that crosses my mind, particularly the negative emotions that surface from time to time. It’s cathartic. And overwhelming. Finally allowing yourself to feel the buildup of emotions you’ve been repressing for two years makes quite a change. The toughest emotion I’m dealing with is loneliness: the inevitable byproduct of my exhausting workaholism.

Is there a ‘productivity guilt’ that I have yet to overcome when I take time for myself? Of course. But while I may not be productive in the ‘I’m-assuring-my-one-way-ticket-to-the-capitalistic-slaughterhouse’ way, I am grasping a better understanding of myself. I am, for once, cutting myself some slack and getting to know myself outside the mold shaped by external forces.

So, allow me to (re-)introduce myself. Hi, I’m Derya. I love red lipstick; cinnamon-scented things; my morning ritual of coffee, oats, and True Crime videos; personal, non-academic writing; long, aimless walks; and fashion. Oh, also, I’m a final year Business Administration student.

 

Photo by Johanna Bommer.

Oversharing is Unhealthy…

I remember when I first got Instagram. My first post was a picture of sunglasses on the sofa in my bedroom — heavily edited with too much saturation and probably some emojis as a caption.

Back then, that was all Instagram was. Maybe a selfie captioned “~a r t s y~” with a weird copy-and-paste font, or that thing we did when we wrote on our hands “U R Beautiful” and put our hands over our eyes. (What was that?!) Snapchat was the same way. We sent each other disappearing ugly selfies and took screenshots of our friends being funny. Stories didn’t exist, and we weren’t trying to document every single moment of our lives. We were just posting, for fun.

The more popular Instagram and Snapchat became, the more pressure I felt to keep up. We now curated our accounts to look perfect. We deleted all of our old pictures and changed our usernames from @glittergirl325 to our full names. Cringey pictures appeared time to time, and we were still over-editing, but it wasn’t as carefree anymore. Instagram became a highlight reel, and Snapchat became the prime teenage communicator.

But things really took a turn when the finsta showed up.

Our beloved finstas… finally an account we didn’t have to curate. Somewhere we can actually be ourselves. Actually, I love the idea. But what I don’t love is what it has become. 

Finstas started as funny pictures we didn’t want to share with the whole world. They started as inside jokes and meme reposts and stupid videos. But now, it seems like every finsta is a mix of emotional breakdowns, gossip, and rants. Then Snapchat added the private story. Another platform that allows us to curate our audience exactly as we want it, and we used it for the same reasons — to say what we were too afraid to say in intimate conversation.

With these two platforms, we are digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole of invulnerability. We’ve unknowingly trained ourselves to respond to our emotions in this unhealthy and indirect way. We’re swamped with schoolwork, so we post a picture with tears running down our faces — “Finals week.” We have drama with another friend, so we get in the car and post an angry selfie — “I hate everyone.” Worst of all, we’re having a breakdown, so we post another red-faced photo — “I’m going to kill myself.” 

We’re dramatizing everything, and the more we do it, the harder it is to go back. Instead of calling a friend and letting them listen, we’re expressing ourselves in a way that no one can listen — much less reply and help.

For whatever reason, it feels safer for us to post something about how we feel that 50 people will see rather than telling one trusted friend. We’re acting like we don’t care, like everything is a joke, when really, we’re all desperately hoping for that one person to swipe up and ask the simple question — what’s wrong? 

So let me ask this: why are we depriving ourselves from sacred vulnerability just because we’re afraid of it?

The finsta/private story problem adds to the larger issue of social media. We seem to be losing the art of communication — of that intimate connection in a face-to-face interaction. Social media has brought me some of the greatest friends and connections in my life—I don’t deny it. But when I’m home alone, feeling lonely and unhappy, my social media friends aren’t the ones to nurse me back to life again. Quite frankly, there aren’t many people I actually trust enough to be vulnerable with. And I truly do think that social media has robbed that from me.

I’m not trying to be a typical 21st century mother — blaming every problem I have in my life on social media. But I do think that we rely too heavily on our phones to make us feel good. We justify our emotions with a private story post, and we shy away from real conversation by talking only on Snapchat, sending forehead pictures back and forth. 

I’m afraid that I might forget how to feel things without posting them. I’m afraid that I’ll lose the capability to be content in my social life. I’m afraid that in a few years, I won’t know myself anymore, except through the eyes of everyone following my Instagram account. 

I don’t think we should all throw social media out the window. Because, quite frankly, we all know that will never happen. But I think we need to take a step back and look at ourselves. We need to find the balance between sharing important milestones to stay in touch and oversharing ourselves to the point of no return. I never want to reach the point when my life doesn’t belong to me anymore. Some things are meant for me, and only me. 

Our lives may be long, but they move quickly. When we’re gone, for the first time in history, these apps will share our life stories from the time we were thirteen and posting cringe selfies. That’s absolutely bizarre and amazing. But there are some things I want to take with me. There are some things that I want to own the rights to. I want to keep my memories my memories. My mental breakdowns, my rants, my emotions. My nostalgic, human, childish, and beautiful mental property. I think it’s time to claim back what social media took from us and look around more. Talk to your friends, listen to your friends, listen to yourself.

Social media will no doubt play a huge part in our lives. But don’t let it take over your lead role. 

 

Notes on Appearance

When I first started getting acne as a preteen, my step-dad’s cousin was visiting and she said something to him in Spanish, which he then translated: “She’s pretty, but she has that acne.”

When I was in high school, a boy in my class said I was awfully young to have worry wrinkles in between my eyebrows.

This past October at a wedding, an extended family member said that I actually wasn’t that thin, just tall. 

*  *  *

I remember each one of these moments in my life with absolute clarity. Some of these events happened over 15 years ago, yet they remain fresh and untouched by time, unlike many other moments throughout my life which have faded into the oblivion that is my brain. When I close my eyes and think of them, I’m right back in that classroom or feeling my face flush with heat when those harmless Spanish words turned out to be not so harmless.

Maybe people think it’s okay to make comments about the way women/femme-presenting people look, because they assume their words will eventually be forgotten. Instead, these thoughtless quips have the potential to change the way we feel about ourselves for years to come. 

It was because of comments like these that led to me becoming obsessed with my appearance for a long time. I checked myself in the mirror every chance I could, sometimes going out of my way to make sure I hadn’t become shiny or frizzy or zitty in the past five minutes since I checked. I would spend hours – and I mean hours – getting ready for a mere 30 minute trip in public. I can’t even begin to calculate how much money I have spent on makeup, beauty treatments, and other services of the like, including but not limited to Botox and Fillers in between my eyebrows, lash lifts, teeth whitening, etc etc.

Now, this obsession didn’t just activate one day like the flip of a switch, rather it was like the little plastic mouse in the game of mousetrap: caught as a result of events which started way before the cage descended upon it.

Throughout my whole life, my board was set with all the elements necessary for a full-blown obsession to take place… all it needed was that marble to set everything into motion. For me, that marble started rolling right after college.

I graduated college at 20 years old after three years of accelerated study. During that time I put on a solid 15-20 pounds of depression weight. Though I always had an athletic body, erring on the thinner side through my tweens and teens, I didn’t perceive this new weight gain on myself. I think because it was so gradual over the course of three years that I didn’t notice the subtle changes, or maybe because I wasn’t used to being hyper-aware of my weight, having grown up with thin privilege my whole life. As far as I was concerned I still looked fine.

Post graduation I moved back in with my parents in Los Angeles to save money as opposed to going broke by remaining in San Francisco. However, the transition back home proved harder than expected, made more so by the fact that all of my friends were either still in SF or in school elsewhere. I was lonely and bored (a dangerous combination) so I sought out something that I had flirted with in my last year of college, but hadn’t taken the time to really get to know: cocaine. 

Within a span of a couple of weeks of railing lines every day, I lost that ‘freshmen 15’ plus an additional 5 to 10 pounds.

Just like my brain had a tough time perceiving the gradual weight gain, my brain also had a tough time perceiving my weight loss because it dropped so precipitously so fast. The grams of cocaine coursing through my bloodstream didn’t exactly help with my self-perception or cognitive functioning either, so it wasn’t until my 21st birthday in Vegas, a month or two after the weight plummet, that I realized just how different I looked to other people. 

“Hot.” Unhealthy.

“Smokin’ bod.” Emaciated.

“Goals.” Unwell.

“Sexy.” Sickly. 

Despite the multitude of negative adjectives used to describe how I looked, all I heard were the ones about my attractiveness. I hadn’t seen the distraught look plastered on my mom’s face every time she looked at me during that period of my life. What I did see were the looks of desire on every man’s face as I walked down Las Vegas Bluebeard. As someone who had been awkwardly ‘cute’ her whole life, the attention I got for being ‘hot’ was even more seductive and addictive than the cocaine.

Chasing the dragon with regard to appearance might not be as chemically toxic as chasing the dragon with regard to drugs, but it sure is emotionally, mentally, and financially toxic. Because yes, from that point on I was ‘hot,’ but it was never enough – I was never enough.

Each time I snuffed out one imperfection, there would be another one glaring back at me. The vast majority of comments made about my appearance during that time were not made from other people, but from me. All those comments became my own internal thoughts.  But I knew – I knew that if I could just manage to fix all those imperfections I would be…

……? What? I would be what? Happy? The object of everyone’s desires? Secure in myself? Confident? Successful?

If I had asked myself those questions back then, I wouldn’t have been able to give a clear answer. Because I didn’t have one. The advertisements and commercials and marketing campaigns for the endless amount of beauty treatments and services certainly seem to know the answer though. Buff away all those imperfections, and your life could be perfect too. Buff away all the aspects of yourself that show you’re an actual human being and maybe you’ll forget you ever were one. Is that not why women’s looks are prioritized over everything else from the moment we are born, because we are only meant to look pretty? To exist to please others? To be a companion as opposed to being our own person? To have an appearance, but nothing underneath?

I looked up the word ‘appearance’ when I wrote this, and I was not disappointed by its accuracy or relevance. Appearance: external show; outward aspect. Adjectives which convey otherness, separateness, lacking in completeness, lacking in genuineness. Appearance aims to create an illusion, not depict the truth. As women, we are expected and pushed to create illusions of ourselves from the moment we are born. Create the illusion that this is what you actually look like. Create the illusion that you are just fine. Create the illusion that you are happy. Create the illusion that this is what you care about. Create the illusion of yourself into what we want you to be.

I think that’s why I became obsessed with my appearance. I was collapsing in on myself emotionally, physically, and psychologically, but I wasn’t able – or willing – to see it. I could see my reflection though. I could see my reflection and better yet, I could perfect it. I could sweep all my inner trauma under the metaphorical rug of looking hot. And why would anyone care, myself included, if I had a size zero waste and long eyelashes. I was doing exactly what I had been trained to do my whole life: be attractive. I became nothing more than my appearance. I nearly killed myself trying to create the illusion that I was okay. 

I’m 26 years-old now and though I can’t say my appearance doesn’t matter to me, I can safely say that I am no longer obsessed with it. I am no longer plagued by the need to perfect my appearance.

It took me healing my inside before I realized that I didn’t need to create any illusions on my outside. Certainly not illusions that prescribe to fatphobic, white-washed, Eurocentric standards of beauty. That is an illusion that I never want to cater to again. I don’t want to cater to any illusions that womxn are expected to create ever again. But I’m not quite there yet, like I said my appearance still matters to me and probably will for awhile because unlearning shit that has been programmed into you since birth takes time. 

But I can say this: from here on out my appearance will be mine and I will own every part of it. Any illusions I might try to create with beauty treatments or botox or lash lifts will be revealed. Maybe I can’t stop creating illusions just yet, but I can make sure that every person knows it is just an illusion. My appearance will be an outward aspect with a caption, an external show with subtitles.

For now, I hope that’s enough.

 

Photo by Gabriela Velasco

Slowing Down to Make a Connection

My name is Adam Hwang. I’m a 19 year old college student and I am demisexual.

First off, let’s get something out of the way: I love sex, every inch and drop of it. Sex is a release of tension, a key to what makes us human and a  gateway into self expression. But to me, sex has become an abstract concept, despite it being the most raw and natural activity anyone could partake in.

As I’ve grown and matured, especially in my later teenage years, sex began to change for me.

For years after losing my virginity, sex was as simple as could be to me. Whether if it was with a man or a woman, I never had second thoughts about my pleasure nor did I really fathom the connection between emotions and sex. Then came college.

I saw college as an opportunity to start things from scratch. I wanted to try new things, meet new people and of course have as much sex as possible. Little did I know that these experiences would cause an awakening that I didn’t see coming.

To my surprise, hitting a “home-run” became a challenge. It felt as though a change in my body happened overnight. I cannot count how many times that an intimate experience fizzled out because I couldn’t get started. It didn’t matter how attractive I thought a person was, whenever we got to the bedroom, I just wasn’t getting excited. I lost myself in self loathing and I began to fear sex and especially commitment, despite having been in a few serious relationships and feeling as though I knew how to handle these situations mentally.

I felt like I was failing as a man because I felt I wasn’t meeting the standards of what a real man should be.

For about a year I accepted this placebo induced falsehood. Everything changed when I met a woman named Vanessa at my summer job. To make a long story short, we hit it off and went on a couple dates, it had been a long time since I felt such a connection with someone emotionally. She understood me even though I didn’t understand myself.

One night she came to my apartment and we started running singles, doubles and triples. Let me tell you, I never felt so sexually charged in a long time. This was the night I found myself. From that point on I knew what turned me on – a connection.

But what sets demisexualism apart from an individual who likes to take things slow?

Whereas most people who like to take things slow share similar qualities to a demisexual individual, their main difference comes in attraction. Sexual attraction doesn’t manifest itself until an emotional connection is strong enough. Hookups and one night stands are out of the picture. We need to completely immerse ourselves in each other’s emotions to achieve sexual interactions. This not only takes more time but also narrows down our options.

But that’s not a problem because it makes it all the more special when we find that special person. Demisexuality is a very complicated concept, but to me, it’s summarized best by the term “an eye for an eye.” If I give you my heart and you give me yours, we can fuck all night long.

Suddenly, all of the smoke had cleared. To me, great sex isn’t qualified by what I do with the person sharing my bed but rather who that person is. I always knew that there was something missing from my sex life and that was self reflection. However, even when I came to terms with my sexuality, I still couldn’t help feeling self conscious about how people would perceive my sexuality, especially my partners. I was still scared of not being the man I thought I should be rather than focusing on the man I want to be.

Since then, I’ve learned that, as a man, one of the best things you could do for yourself  is to filter out what the world thinks a man should be. The manliest thing you could do is to define your masculinity through who you are as an individual. Masculinity is everything but an objective concept.

Another one of my struggles that comes with being demisexual is sometimes you can feel very restricted in relation to other peoples sex lives, especially when you are young and free. You feel like you’re being left behind because everyone else is moving forward. It’s tough finding the “one” person to truly be able to allow themselves to be not only physically and mentally involved but also emotionally, most people are hard pressed in terms of being emotionally available.

Some people just don’t like taking things slow and those people shouldn’t be ashamed of that. Being demisexual is difficult when the world is moving past you at lightspeed – but there will always be someone who is willing to slow down for you.

 

 

Photo by Gabriela Velasco

 

The “Jezebel” and the Generational Trauma of Black Women

 

 

Though American Black enslavement is over, the effects of it are far from so. Due to societal anti-Blackness and slavery-rooted trauma, things such as imposter syndrome and a variety of mental health issues have perpetuated throughout generations of Black families. Generational trauma affects all of the Black community, but it takes a different toll on African-American women, affecting various aspects of their livelihood such as mental health and sexuality with specific roots in the historical ‘Jezebel’ stereotype and its links to modern Black fetishization.

The correlation of racism to sexism is often left out of conversations surrounding feminism.

Historically, Black American women have been subjected to a number of stereotypes that exploit them and paint them as oversexualized objects. One of the most common surrounding African-American women is the ‘Jezebel’ stereotype. The Jezebel stereotype was originally used as justification by white slave owners to rape Black women on plantations. The stereotype created an idealized version of Black women as some sort of hypersexual crazed animals who were unsatisfied and actively wanted a white man. This was used to make the rape appear consensual and not as the crime it was, due to Black women being considered property to be owned and dominated. 

Though the Jezebel stereotype might not exist to the same extent today, it has still manifested itself in our society’s constructs. According to RAINN, 67% of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by white men and according End Rape on Campus, 60% of Black women experience sexual abuse by age 18. For every woman that reports her rape, at least 15 Black women do not report. This pattern shows a trend in the normalization of the suppression of Black female voices, particularly in instances where they are in danger. 

There has been a historical double standard in how Black female culture is responded to. One aspect is the fetishization of Black physical traits, and the other is ridiculing them and deeming their features unattractive – both are intertwined. The Jezebel stereotype is one example of Black female fetishization, but there are modern displays of it as well.

The internalized racism embedded into the fabric of our society has convinced the public that Black features are unattractive except in “special cases” or in the instance in which white people can benefit from it somehow. 

There are many situations when I myself along with other Black females find themselves hearing comments such as “You are pretty for a Black girl”, perpetuating that idea that Eurocentric features are the singular standard of beauty. There are further examples shown of this in today’s media. For generations, Black women have been ridiculed for their features such as lips and figure. However, when their white counterparts and celebrities receive plastic surgery and augmentations to achieve these same features, it is suddenly praised and considered beautiful.

Celebrities such as the Kardashian family have received backlash for that, consistently being accused of fetishizing Black culture. They’ve capitalized off the appropriation of Black traits, and the influence their large platform encourages others to emulate that. 

These negative responses to Black females at the hand of society for generations manifests within Black families and can affect their image of self-worth and perception of themselves. They all serve to create extreme discomfort and lead Black women to believe they cannot exist in traditionally “white spaces.”

Growing up in a majority white community and currently attending a predominantly white institution, there have often been instances where I question whether I belong and/or deserve to be there. Many of the people in the spaces I’m in often have little experience interacting with women of color and it can leave me feeling “othered.” This type of mindset is called “imposter syndrome” and is the result of generations of white colonization enforcing the ideal that Black people are somehow inferior to their white counterparts. 

The conversation surrounding generational trauma in Black women and its effects on Black communities is not often discussed. It is not solely a problem within the Black community, but has to do with the larger problem of the perpetuation of anti-Blackness in America. Once the cycle of societal racism begins to be dismantled, conversations about these issues can be held more openly, it will be a step in the right direction toward intersectionality in the liberation of Black bodies. 

 

 

Photo by Daniela Guevara. 

Uncensored

 

*The following may be triggering to those affected by sexual assault.

 

It’s January 25, 2020 and my friends and I are throwing a party in our dorm room. Well, technically, I’m in my room and there is a party in my common room. 

I can hear Doja Cat’s “Go To Town” playing and the loud convoluted chatter of my friends who are taking shots, playing pong, and standing in conversation circles. I was just there, smiling and laughing – talking about how I was “so drunk last night” and “don’t remember anything.” Just the usual party small talk. 

And that’s when it hit – suddenly, with no trigger. It’s not like the movies. The room doesn’t spin and the only sound is not my own heartbeat. There is no slow-motion movement or blurring together of sounds into some euphoric rush of overwhelming feeling. And while I am acutely aware of everything around me, I remember.

Instead of looking my friend’s eye as we talk, I see him. I see him giving me a handle of vodka and watching me drink half of it. I see him grabbing me by the wrist and slinging me back into the cement wall. I can feel him thrusting in and out of me as I daze in and out of consciousness. I can feel his hot breath on the back of my neck while he whispers, “I love you.”

I didn’t want to be at the party anymore. 

Five years ago, in 2015, my boyfriend repeatedly raped me and emotionally abused me. But five years is a long time. Since then, I have dated, hooked up, felt heartbreak… all in all, I have moved on with my life and sought out therapy for those moments when PTSD creeps back. I tell everyone around me that it was a long time ago and I have grown, changed, and healed from it.

Although it is true that time brings growth and change, I have begun to realize there is a deeper complexity to healing from abuse.

Healing is not linear, and the quantitative and qualitative factors of my experience do not equal how I “should” heal. I’ve since realized that if I continue to say I’ve fully healed – I wouldn’t be telling the truth. I am healing, constantly. But I am not healed. To continue saying I have healed completely would be a disservice to myself and other survivors. 

After five years, I can’t help but feel my panic attacks and tears are no longer justified. It feels as others expect me to be capable of talking about my assault in a calm way – one that doesn’t make them feel obliged to comfort me or feel uncomfortable themselves. It is as though they want me to say it so matter of fact – well, a few years ago, I was raped. But none of it was a matter of fact. It was violent and rough. 

Does healing mean I have to talk about it medically? I’m diagnosing myself. Taking apart symptoms and side effects and treating my wounds with sterile words. Instead of saying that I was raped the first time I had sex, I self-censor. No, I have had sex. It is exhausting to be quiet – to reel in the passion and pain I feel when I speak about what happened. It is as though my calm words will materialize into finally being ‘healed.’ So instead, I withdraw into my room and leave the party. 

There is inconsistency in this society that encourages speaking up and speaking loudly. I don’t feel powerful – I feel muffled. This culture of social movements and empowerment tells me my experience is worthy and powerful so long as I have already healed from it – so long as I have come out the other side stronger.

But the truth is that I have flashbacks every day. The truth is that there are days where I can’t look at my own body or eat. There are nights when I can’t sleep because I have flashbacks so painful I can’t stop scratching my arms until they bleed onto my sheets and I have calmed down. The pain is still there, and even though I am working through it in a safe environment in therapy, I am done saying that I am “fine now.”

But how then, do we as a supportive and empowering community talk about sexual assault’s long-term effects and still address this lasting pain in a healthy way?

Art and pop culture seem to be leaning towards a hyper-exposure of rape and sexual assault. Art exhibits, poetry, and writing show-and-tell sexual assault in graphic detail. While these images pack a heavy punch of shock factor, they don’t share the long-lasting psychological and emotional effects of assault.

It’s similar to watching a movie that relies solely on jump scares to frighten the audience, as the reality of the horror is shrouded by the simplicity of a single perceived picture. These images may scare you in the moment but they don’t affect the psyche for as long as a movie that raises deep psychological and warped problems. In order to leave the audience with a better understanding of the deep psychological problems that accompanies sexual assault, we need to unearth more artistic expressions that explore and represent these complex experiences. Short films like Naima Ramos Chapman’s “And Nothing Happened” are just the start to using art and film to discuss the long-lasting effects of assault. 

Do these physically explicit images only reinforce the idea that rape is solely a physical act that can heal medically? These pictures don’t encapsulate the long-lasting effect, but they are a good start to exposing others to the pain and topic of sexual assault.

Survivors of sexual assault do not go around describing the moments of their assault in the same excruciating detail that art portrays. The art may show it, survivors and supporters may feel the pain, but no one will say it. People want to hear you are healed, and even though we are told we don’t have to be, we feel like we should be. There is importance to displaying and encouraging healing; however, we may have crossed the line between support for survivors and self-oppression and self-censorship. 

Turning pain into artistic expression is an outlet for many. I have used poetry as a way to capture and identify my emotions and feelings. I’m done turning my pain into poetry. I cannot do it anymore – I cannot continue to focus on those seven months of my life and explicate every moment like a Longfellow poem.

I cannot make art out of my pain because the pain I feel has evolved and changed so much in the past years that I feel detached from the initial suffering and emotional struggles. I can no longer isolate or identify my feelings. I feel so much. I feel used. I feel strong. I feel broken. I feel, and I feel, and I feel – until I can no longer feel anything. They say too much silence is deafening, but too much feeling is desolate. It is empty, and it feels like there is no space in this empty place for so much feeling this long after my assaults. 

My uncensored truth is that I was repeatedly raped and manipulated by my boyfriend. My truth is that even saying those words aloud makes my body ache.

Besides the violence and coerced sex, I was told no one would ever love me again and that I wasn’t worth all the trouble – each of these phrases salted by his reminders of how much he loved me. I will always be a person who was sexually assaulted and emotionally abused, and the effects are so much deeper than physical pain. My experience is something that will never leave me and I will live my entire life continuing to heal from those moments.

When talking about assault, it is always important to remember that no one person’s story is the same. Yet, we are all doing our best to live our lives past the assault. I will no longer censor what happened to me or reduce my truth by numbly saying I am ‘fine now.’ I will no longer feel like my scars should be healed, because healing is not ever linear or skin-deep. But, I will share my uncensored truth with as much passion and feeling as I want. 

 

 

Photo by Gabriela Velasco

Critical of the Norm: Anette Sidor on “Fuck You”

 

DoubleTap is an interview series with creatives whose work explores sex, body and identity.

In terms of pure, visceral eroticism, Swedish director Anette Sidor’s prize-winning short film, “Fuck You” is off the charts. It serves as a potent reminder that the stigmas limiting our sexuality are not only in regards to how we define our orientation, but how we choose to explore it.
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Newcomer Yandeh Sallah, of the Swedish series “Eagles,” plays Alice, a young woman who finds herself drawn to wearing a strap-on phallus, much to the amusement of her peers and bewilderment of her boyfriend, Johannes (Martin Schaub). Yet Alice’s journey of sexual discovery isn’t played for mere laughs or titillation. Once the film arrives at its deeply satisfying climax, the audience is able to share in Alice’s newfound sense of fulfillment, which she has achieved by revealing a part of herself that would normally be cloaked in shame.
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Sidor recently took time to chat via e-mail about her efforts to obliterate such norms, the vitality of representation and the power that exists in us all.

 

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What provided you with the initial inspiration for this movie? Was it spawned from research or personal experience, or perhaps a combination of the two?

The idea was pretty clear to me from the start. I was thinking a lot about how me and my friends behaved during our teenage years, especially when we were both girls and boys hanging out together. Inspired from that time of my life and with the knowledge I’ve gained since then, I wrote “Fuck You.” So it’s a combination of personal experience and my interest in gender norms, what I saw around me as a teenager and what I still see around me now 20 years later.

 

How have sex toys like strap-ons provided both genders with an alternative forms of sexual expression?

Sex toys are often seen as taboo and they challenge gender norms since they encourage people to explore their sexuality, try new things and to play with power. In “Fuck You,” there is a situation where the main character gets the opportunity to challenge gender norms by questioning her boyfriend’s thoughts about girls. Instead of following the norm, he gets curious about her new side and they both get the chance to explore their sexuality and experience new things together.

 

Yandeh Sallah, who is so marvelous as Alice, exudes a sense of empowerment while wearing the strap-on. To what degree would you say she is empowered, and what sort of conversations did you and Yandeh have about it onset?

We had conversations about how we see gender norms around us, how norms can affect us and how important it is to see images that are questioning norms. Power is something within us. We all have power and control, no matter who we are – but gender norms often create situations where men gain power rather than women.

In “Fuck You,” the strap-on is a symbol of power, which Alice first tries on as a funny thing, but then she decides to keep wearing it. This ends up challenging her boyfriend and their friends, who don’t know how to respond. Later when she takes it off, she still feels the power within herself. The image of a girl with a strap-on is challenging and for some people even frightening, even though it’s just a toy made of plastic or silicone material. The lack of stories and images of women in power is something that drove me to make “Fuck You.”

 

How did you and cinematographer Marcus Dineen go about visualizing the internal experience of the characters through such techniques as keeping the camera at the eye-level of Johannes as Alice approaches him with the strap-on?

Marcus is an amazing cinematographer and our idea was to let the camera move as one’s own character. In that way we, as an audience, can observe and follow the characters in a very close way and see what they see. When Alice is in power, the camera choses to show Johannes’ perspective so that we can experience the situation with him, from his POV, as well as follow Alice without knowing what she’ll do next.

 

The final encounter between Johannes and Alice is viscerally erotic. What do you feel both characters are discovering about themselves during this sequence?

I’m happy you find the scene erotic and that image is also one of my favorites. In life, we learn that love, attraction and sex are supposed to exist in a certain way if we are a girl or a boy. We all want to fit in the norm, to belong, and most of the time, we do what people expect of us. For me, this film is about a young couple who, for the first time, ignore the norm and try something new. They both discover something they like about their own sexuality.

 

Has this film broken certain taboos in Sweden regarding frank explorations of teenage sexuality, and what sort of provocative conversations has it sparked?

Some of the strongest reactions I received came from women of different ages who said they thought the sex scene was really erotic and they realized they wanted to try and explore more of their own sexuality. There were also some men who came up to me and wanted to talk more about gender norms as well as why it’s so taboo for men to be passive and women to be active.

I’ve had discussions about why femininity and masculinity seem to belong to certain genders and I’ve heard stories from people longing for change. I have received a lot of love from people of color, especially black people saying they felt empowered by the film, people who felt that they could identify themselves with film characters for the first time.

I’ve also had many conversations about the lack of films with both women and non-white actors who gets challenging roles. A lot of people have reached out to me saying that the film inspired them to explore something they never felt before, something they didn’t even know existed within them. For me as a director, it’s an amazing journey and I’m very grateful that “Fuck You” has been, and still is, screened at some of the greatest film festivals around the world. I have gotten the pleasure to meet audiences from around the world—interesting, smart and fantastic people who have shared so many personal experiences and emotions with me. It means a lot to me and it has given me energy to keep on doing films that are critical of the norm.

 

For more information on Anette Sidor’s “Fuck You,” visit the film’s official Facebook page here

Bushes and How We Style Them

When I was 16, I drove my friend to her appointment in a strip mall to get a Brazilian wax. The only body hair I’d ever waxed were my eyebrows, sometimes my mustache. Nonetheless, I went for moral support and because she only had a learners permit and couldn’t drive herself. 

I sat in the entrance of the salon and she was shown back to a curtained room. I studied all of the creams, serums, and products I had never heard of or used before. What is a female douche?

Everything was pale pink or purple and sterile looking. But the lady at the reception table was nice and the place smelled good so I sat there and waited. Some 10 minutes later my friend limped out of the room and paid for her wax. Once in the comfort of my car she said It fucking hurts, but it’s so smooth. It’s worth it.  

The tedious efforts of maintaining standards, styles, and fads of pubic hair is not only the modern woman/womxn/person with a bush’s dilemma — pubes have been styled, removed, flaunted and hidden many different ways throughout history. To look at the history of bush trends, we also have to highlight some events, inventions, people, and culture that shaped our hedges.

The history of female grooming began in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, where copper razors found dating back to ancient times. Commonly, women in Egypt removed pubes with pumice stones and women in Turkey used a method called sugaring: a natural removal using hot sugar and lemon juice. Other methods were far more painful and dangerous.

The ancient Greeks were obsessed with pure and immortal bodies which is why all of their nude depictions of Gods via sculptures were hairless. Men and women of the time were influenced by this and therefore removed their own, mortal body hair. Literal statues were setting beauty standards. The western world followed suit, art wise, depicting nude men and women without pubic hair. 

In 1450s Europe, women would shave their pubes for hygienic reasons — pubic lice was popping off so they removed their hair, but still preferred not to be bald. This trend birthed the Merkin, a wig for your pubes. Sex workers were also known to wear these to cover up signs of STIs like syphilis. 

The next revolution of female body hair removal came in 1915, when Gillette released the first women’s razor, though it was advertised for shaving leg and underarm hair. Women’s grooming through shaving was now in the public consciousness. Then World War II brought a nylon shortage in the US; women could no longer use pantyhose to conceal their leg hair — shaving was in.

Shortly there after in 1946, the bikini was invented. So women started shaving or tweezing their “bikini lines” to go to the beach.

As time progressed and trends in fashion changed, so did the hair on women’s bodies. The 1960’s brought the mini skirt; as hem lines hiked, women were expected to shave their upper thigh among other places.

Fastforward to the counter cultural free love and women’s movement of the late 60s and 70s — women embrace the notion that they could do whatever they wanted with their bodies, including sporting natural body hair. In fact, doing so became sexy. Sex symbols had full bushes and luscious armpit hair, rather then the manicured and conformist hair line down there. They were so popular that a thick bush earned the nickname of “70s bush.”

Despite the widespread popularity of this trend, something was bubbling underneath of cultural surface. In 1974, the first hairless vagina or “pink shot” was shown in Hustlers magazine.

Porn magazines like Playboy and Penthouse competed with one another for who could show the most revealing and exotic images. Researchers at George Washington University studied Playboy’s representation of genitalia beginning in 1953 — through the 70s and 80s, more than 95% of centerfolds and naked models had full, natural appearing pubes. 

But as the way we viewed porn became more voyeuristic, people didn’t have to stash their magazines under their beds, they could tune in on their computers… by the 1990s, more than ⅓ of models in Playboy had removed some of their hair. Now, less than 10% of nude models sport the full pubic bush. 

Men and women’s standards of what women should look like were affected by this. Many took to razors to shape their hair — during the 80s and 90s, landing strips were common. However, not everyone agreed.

Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, published in 1994, argued that removing pubic hair to please a sexual partner was silly at best, inhumane at worst — why would you want to look prepubescent?

In 1987, a skincare specialist in Manhattan from eastern Brazil named Janea Padilha began offering a signature service. Inspired while lounging on the beach sunbathing, she saw a woman walk by with her pubic hair protruding out of her bikini bottoms. She was struck by an epiphany — why not just wax it all off? The Brazilian was born. 

Janea and her six sisters opened their own salon called the J Sisters Salon, however, their signature service would remain latent in culture for about 13 years, until something happened.

In 2000, the popular TV show Sex and the City was enjoying its third season. In episode fourteen, Carrie goes to get a bikini wax — a wax removing the pubic hair on the sides of your bikini line. She’s shocked when the waxer gives her a Brazilian, leaving her completely hairless for the first time ever. She’s uncomfortable at first but the sexual confidence she gains from the wax leaves her radiating and ambitious. Arguably overnight, America had a new standard. While everyone had HBO or subscribed to SATC’s standards, but the show’s influence on women is undeniable — completely hairless was in. 

Celebrities of the early 2000s reinforced this trend by being wildly outspoken about their waxed parts — models Naomi Campbell and Eva Longoria famously waxed. A Salon article in 1999 noted the rapid increase of celebrity photos decorating the walls of the J Sisters establishment. “You changed by life!” Gwyneth Paltrow wrote. Victoria Beckham announced that she thought Brazilian waxes should be compulsory by the age 15. Kim Kardashian bragged to People Magazine in 2010 that her entire body is hairless. The beauty standard was set, being backed up by celebrities. 

Early 2000s fashion triggers a flashback memory of terrifyingly low jeans and odd styles — clothes were smaller than ever. Underwear and bathing suits were skimpier than ever. Digital and video pron featured almost exclusively hairless women and a bush had become a niche fetish. Laser hair removal was more available than ever and so were the number of salons where you could get a Brazilian wax. We were on the cultural precipice of the bald vag, and it seemed here to stay. 

And just when the U.S. was ready to declare the bush dead, American Apparel mannequins sported bushes in window sills in 2014. Gaby Hoffman sported her full bush in an episode of HBO’s Girls. Ilana Glazer also had a bush in an episode of Broad City, though it was partially censored due to cable TV guidelines.

Where are we now?

In 2018, Vogue published the headline “The Full Bush Is The New Brazilian!” According to NY Mag/The Cutas of 2016 an estimated 84% of American women reportedly engaged in some form of public grooming, including but not limited to waxing, trimming, shaving, tweezing, threading, lasers, and hair melting chemicals.

With the rise of a new wave of feminism, ideas around female beauty standards are changing, and we have begun to talk about antiquated or oppressive standards. Talking about bush styles used to be more taboo, we are having more conversations about our pubes. The attitudes around women’s bodies are changing — we’re reaching a point in culture and feminism, where women are questioning antiquated beauty standards. We are working our way towards celebrating all kinds of bodies, ones with bushes, landing strips, or bare, the attitude seems to be shifting to “each their own.”

Politically charged and inspired women have developed ownership of their bodies: shave or don’t or have a landing strip or write your name. Just don’t shove a ‘standard’ down our throats.

Paz Stark, owner of Stark Waxing Studio, told Voguethat cultural moments do have an impact on women’s preferences, “Ladies are saying, ‘I do want a cleanup, but I want it to be fuller and more natural feeling.’ I feel like Brazilians are 100% here to stay, it’s just on people’s own terms now.” 

 

Art by Travis Swinford.

 

 

Let Women Call Themselves Sluts

Fun fact: I’ve never been called a slut. Despite years of talking and writing about sex, it’s just never happened. That’s not to say the word hasn’t held power in my life.

I grew up seeing it in movies and TV shows, watching women’s faces crumple when they were sexually shamed and stigmatized. I knew it was bad to be deemed a slut, and that was only reaffirmed by my mom telling me not to wear slutty clothes and my friends writing other girls off for their sexual behavior. By high school, I was careful to avoid being seen as a capital-S Slut. I dressed modestly; I only told my closest friends what I was doing with boys; I kept my social media free of skin and sexuality. 

But then, the word started popping up in new ways. During junior year I read Karley Sciortino’s book Slutever, which defines a slut as “someone who has no moral obstacle between themselves and their desire to enjoy sex.” That same year, a young woman named Samirah Raheem went viral after openly declaring that even virgins can be sluts because it’s all about “feeling empowered.”

Then, in my senior year of high school, I found Call Her Daddy, a saucy, salacious podcast hosted by two self-proclaimed sluts named Alex Cooper and Sofia Franklyn. These women lovingly address listeners as sluts and whores, offering sex tips and even telling them how to ask their partners to call them sluts in the bedroom. To say the least, my world was rocked. Women were obviously more sexually open and liberated than ever before, and “slut” wasn’t a universal insult like I’d thought it was. Instead, women were redefining the term and giving it a new kind of positive power. 

Despite these constant progressive revisions to the definition of “slut” à la Linguistics 101, there are countless essays arguing for the word to be retired and not reclaimed. These authors say “slut” is a mere capitulation, a submission to systems which shame women for indulging in their sexuality. They ask, “How can it be subversive for women to define themselves using language which has been so historically harmful?”

To be fair, it’s true that slut-shaming hasn’t ridden off into the metaphorical sunset. I’m in college now, and I still hear boys calling girls “sluts” and “easy” behind their backs. But just because men are weaponizing the word doesn’t mean there isn’t power in women reclaiming and redefining it.

In fact, reclaiming “slut” can be revelatory. For some sexual violence survivors, it’s a coping mechanism; for girls in high school and college, it can be a newfound source of community or even pleasure. Over the past few years, I’ve found plenty of girls who celebrate their sluttiness. When telling me about her most recent conquests, my friend Remi, a 20-year-old editor living in LA, often tells me she’s a slut with a light, breezy laugh. My friend Monika, an Ivy League freshman, loves when her boyfriend calls her a slut in the bedroom.

These women are claiming the word on their own terms, and it’s working. Remi and Monika have robbed “slut” of its traditional power, refracting it through a kaleidoscope of autonomy and profound sexual empowerment. Because of this, both women agree the word doesn’t have the ability to hurt them as much as it might have before. “If some guy at a party called me a slut or something, I think I’d probably just laugh and say I know,” Monika told me. “They just can’t hurt me with it anymore.” So not only can reclaiming “slut” offer a personal sense of pride and community — it can lessen men’s ability to hurl the word at women and cause real damage. Obviously, the bigger problem lies in how our society treats sexual women — but reclaiming “slut” is certainly one step toward freedom.

The word “slut” shouldn’t be a dirty one, but one that’s celebrated. Whether being a slut means enjoying casual sex or feeling empowered by your body, I think every woman should decide for herself if and when she wants to take the word back and call herself a goddamn slut. She should decide what that word means for her.

As much as feminists might want the word to be retired so women can progress past sexual shame, “slut” doesn’t have to be universally negative; it doesn’t even have to be about sex. “Slut” can mean whatever women want it to mean, and letting them redefine and reclaim it isn’t going to halt feminism or prevent women from reaching their most fully realized selves. It’s true that we aren’t at a point yet where every woman across America can go around publicly calling herself a slut — but that doesn’t mean we have to keep the word confined to conversational whispers or the bedroom. Women should use “slut” on their own terms in a way that makes them feel good and empowered.

Me? Instead of censoring the way I talk or dress or post on Instagram, I might just buy a Slutever necklace.

 

Photo by Emma McMillen

Yoga, Gender, and Consent

I am a yoga instructor and I take my job very seriously.

An instructor may just seem like a fitness-oriented job, but it’s a lot more intimate. It’s my job to make every single person in the room feel safe and comfortable, while also challenging students with different affirmative goals and themes they can hopefully learn to practice off the mat. While that description may sound dangerously similar to any other exercise franchise, like SoulCycle — there is an added layer of closeness in yoga.

We don’t have machines to run our practice: instead we guide students into getting to know their bodies and breath in a way that is, for many people, almost a spiritual experience. This is no small feat, especially considering everyone’s different physical abilities, experience, and even different levels of trust. Further, things like tailoring tone of voice, wording of queues, and especially physical adjustments to fit the demographic of each student is essential in building that trust. 

In creating a safe space, gender becomes a component that often dictates the dynamics in the room. Just by looking around when I teach or even in class as a student, it’s plain to see that the majority of practitioners are female. After watching the Netflix documentary about Bikram Choudhury — founder and leader of the cult-like Bikram Yoga franchise — and his twisted empire resting on sexual harassment and a heinous abuse of power, I couldn’t help but wonder: how do male yoga instructors navigate gendered boundaries and build trust with female students? 

Unfortunately, this disgusting and predatory behavior of Bikram Choudhury, though extreme, is not unlike the decades of disregarded patterns of unwanted touch and attention in the yoga community.

According to a New York Times article by Katherine Rosman titled “Yoga Is Finally Facing Consent and Unwanted Touch”, while in many professional fields where jobs involve touching people are usually regulated by the government, “yoga teachers are not, and there are no industry trade groups that police these issues.” In other words, when you walk into a yoga studio yoga instructors can “touch you as they see fit” without any governing bodies checking in to make sure it’s kosher. In this way, the issue of consent becomes less and less of a necessity.

Further, Rosman notes how the yoga community has a history of turning a blind eye to these issues. Similar to how Bikram was able to manipulate his loyal followers into ignoring his web of abuse and mistreatment, teachers in the community are reluctant to discredit those they see as “gurus.” Thus fueling the power dynamics between teacher and student, and “many teachers have built their businesses and personal brands in part from associating with these figures.” In a yoga class, without respect, trust, and consent, there is simply a person in a powerful position telling — in some cases, forcefully — someone else what to do with their body. 

Nonetheless, as a female instructor my role as leader and physical adjuster is not read as nearly as sexualized or forceful as a male instructor’s.

Yes, I am still respectful, nurturing, supportive, and non-judgmental in order to create the safest and most comfortable yoga environment possible. However as a woman, I am seemingly non threatening and, even as the leader of the class, the power dynamics between teacher and student tend to be more equalized.

I talked to a male Vinyasa yoga instructor, Adam, about how his gender has shaped his teaching style and affected how he may customize his teaching voice. “If you’re watching this as an outsider who has no idea what yoga is, it looks like a pretty strange situation. For instance, it may be one male instructor and maybe twenty women in a room,” he told me. “They’re all moving their bodies and doing the physical positions that he’s calling out. That power dynamic needs to be constantly kept in consideration.”

Adam also noted the importance of not only keeping himself in check when it comes to these power dynamics, but also building trust so that students have space to do the same. According to him, while his gender doesn’t fundamentally change the way he would structure a class, he says, “I want to be cognizant of the different experiences that people have. As a man, as a white guy, as a straight guy, these are experiences that are mine and people in the room may have different ones.”

Adam’s unique identity as a teacher is then separate from his identity as a cis-gender, white male, as he “tries to incorporate an understanding of different perspectives” in class while still being himself. Additionally, he noted how even smaller aspects of his presence as a male instructor have to be tailored to make students more comfortable. Things like wearing certain clothing to teach versus to practice as a student require that extra thought, as Adam said he’ll sometimes wear leggings but will try to avoid “revealing clothing” or  “those skin-tight leggings” when teaching. Adam said, “I need to create a safe and nurturing atmosphere. To make sure everyone is comfortable and can practice without worrying, it’s best to play it safe.”

Playing it safe, it seems, is the best way to approach finding the balance between being a male, being a leader, and respecting boundaries. 

Wording and tone can also be read differently because of gender, which is something that Adam tries to be actively thinking about when he teaches. Even the way he may queue something needs to be considered when taking into account his role as a male instructor. Adam noted, for example, how a “strong willed, long-standing female instructor” may have more legroom to queue than a male instructor of the same reputation. A female instructor who has years of experience and a loyal following may be able to queue things bluntly with commands like “Do [insert pose]” or “Get into this position right now.”

On the other hand Adam, no matter how much experience he has or how many regulars come back to his classes, says he generally avoids “very strong commands” in his teaching unless he’s sure it’s appropriate. His classes are still physically challenging, but only because of the poses and exercises his queues, not because of how he queues it or because he’s forcing anyone to do it. Instead of commands, Adam chooses to consciously “offer a range of suggestions” and frame his classes in a way that he is merely a “guide” for students. 

Physical adjustments are a whole other story when it comes to navigating people’s levels of trust and physical limits. Even as a female instructor who is often adjusting female students, I still am getting comfortable with the idea of touching strangers or students I don’t know outside the studio. Many times corrections involve rotating someone’s hips or tilting their pelvis, manually rolling open their shoulder or chest, or supporting their legs, hips, or midsection in a balancing pose. These areas of the body are quite personal and intimate, and places that many would be alarmed to have poked and prodded. Thus, consent becomes essential to the building of trust and that safe space. Unless a student in my class happens to be another instructor at the studio, no matter how well I know someone I always ask, “Do you mind if I adjust you?” before even moving towards them.

Consent in yoga creates a sense of respect for others’ bodies and boundaries that will ultimately help students feel like they are in control of their own practice.

I also discussed the importance of consent with Adam to explore the ways in which it takes on a deeper meaning for male instructors, especially considering the community’s history with unwanted touching in class. At times, even the verbal consent that I typically ask for may not cut it. When a male instructor comes up behind a student and asks if they want an adjustment, again we can see how power dynamics may affect how that student will answer. They may feel intimidated or pressured in the moment to say “yes,” especially in the middle of class where ‘everyone’ is getting adjusted and directed.

Adam then brought up how helpful his studio’s use of ‘consent chips’ has been for ensuring that students who are not comfortable with adjustments don’t have to worry about saying so on the spot. These chips have two sides: one gives consent to being adjusted, and the other says no, thank you to being touched. Adam explained how he’ll put one next to every student’s mat at the beginning of class with the ‘no, thank you’ side faced up indicating non-consent to begin with. That way, students start out the class opting out of physical adjustments, instead of starting with opting in and then feeling like they have no choice. Those who then want adjustments have the option of flipping their chip to the consenting side. Adam said that this system has helped him “give more adjustments in ways that are helpful to students because they have decided that they want to receive them.” Additionally, students are allotted the security that their mat will be a safe and uninterrupted space for them unless they indicate that they want the instructor to intervene. 

Interestingly enough, Adam noted how he does not give savasana adjustments. Savasana is the final rest or meditation at the end of a yoga class where students are in stillness for several minutes with their eyes closed, and one might argue it is perhaps the most vulnerable and personal portion of class for most students. I myself have never given an adjustment in savasana, as Adam and I both agreed that there’s something invasive about touching someone who has their eyes closed. Even if their consent chip is flipped up for adjustments, I feel I would be interrupting someone’s personal peace by intervening in their meditation. Female or male, giving adjustments specifically in savasana seems to be based on instructor preference and teaching style.

Yoga, like many things in today’s world, is influenced by gender and instructors are therefore tasked with navigating the implications that their own gender identity has on their power in the studio. Though I am a female instructor and am inherently viewed as less demanding and intimidating, I still must go to great lengths to fine tune my teacher’s voice to fit the room and cater to the needs of students of differing levels and physical boundaries.

Considering this community’s past lack of recognition of sexual harassment and issues with abuses of power, it is then necessary for male instructors to take even more precaution in considering their role as gendered and the implications of that. Adam is one yoga instructor who recognizes the power dynamics that are constructed in an environment where a male leads a predominantly female group through physical postures. He’s taken the necessary steps to still create relationships of trust and respect with his students by being aware of his tone, wording, clothing choices, and always making consent a first priority in approaching physical adjustments. Unfortunately, the broader yoga community still has an immense amount of progress to make in addressing and reforming the oppressive and abusive nature of certain gendered circumstances in the studio.

That being said, my individual community and many others are some of the most supportive, nurturing, and positive groups of people I have ever been a part of, and teachers like Adam are the reason the yoga community continues to provide students with loving and safe spaces. 

 

Gif by Ash Sta. Teresa