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.

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

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. 

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

Bra Shaming and Slut Shaming

We live in a world in which wearing a bra is a given. You hit puberty, someone takes you to get your first bra.

I understand why my not wearing a bra would be considered questionable. I don’t not wear a bra specifically as a show of feminist activism or to piss off the patriarchy, but I will say that the feminist within me is revved up about constantly being judged for it. 

When I was in seventh grade, I hated the way my first real bra from Victoria’s Secret —  a chunky thing with tan straps — looked slinking out of my tops. I used to feel like I was just waiting or that moment of freedom, that gasp of fresh air, when I finally returned home and could peel the thing off from under my shirt. 

So, at a certain point, I stopped caring and never wore a bra again. If it didn’t feel good, why wear it?

My chest was a modest C in high school, but I honestly just felt better in my clothes and skin without the restraints of bra straps and underwire. Now, in college, I go to class in sweats half the time and haven’t owned a bra in years. I’m still the same type-A, perfectionist girl who’s good with parents and teachers — just bra-less. Nevertheless, people always seem to be making assumptions about why I’ve made this stylistic choice. 

Other times, when people ask why I have so little regard for bras and my now D cup chest being exposed at all times, there is a lingering whiff of judgement; there’s an underlying tone that questions my womanly integrity and wants to label me as a slut. 

Historically, the womanly figure was regarded as a sort of siren-esque temptation in which women only served to distract and corrupt righteous men. Kristen Houghton noted for the Huffington Post how breasts have, more often than not, been either hyper-sexualized or regarded as sinful and dirty. Historically art has greatly accentuated and sexually appraised curvaceous, feminine bodies and ample breasts. Houghton points out how, in the nineteenth century, society shifted back to its prior, more biblical views of shame and discomfort towards female nakedness.

Today, however, it seems as though a woman’s body (namely her breasts) are always compartmentalized into one of these two views. Why is there no middle ground of indifference?

This is not to say that breasts don’t have their rightful place in sexual attraction, but the ways in which this sexualization follows a woman outside of the bedroom teaches her to be embarrassed and ashamed of her assets. This attitude also creates environments in which women’s intelligence and abilities are undermined by her physical appearance. UK professor and author Sarah Churchwell calls this the “Monroe Syndrome.” A phenomenon in which a woman’s identity in the workplace and the merits of her career tend to be overshadowed by their level of sex appeal. Named for Marilyn Monroe, whose reputation and work was always contextualized based on her physical appearance.

Churchwell also notes that while male biographers, even men who identified as gay, consistently discussed and applauded Monroe’s implicit sex appeal, female biographers seemed to “condescend her from a great height”, patronize, and even pity her. Again, here we see the two polar plains on which women’s bodies are judged: either through sexual appeal or on the basis of condescension and disgust. 

Even as my body has grown into womanhood along with — well, me — I haven’t felt particularly different or more vulnerable by not wearing a bra. There is no deeply rooted, anti-patriarchy-fueled reasoning behind this decision — I simply just don’t feel like it. 

I am not offended by a culture that normalizes and romanticizes bra-wearing, nor do I judge or think less of the millions of women who wear bras to feel more comfortable (or even sexier) in their skin. I am, however, offended by others’ need to assert the reasons why my not wearing one offends them.

Their feelings about my body are superficially fueled: I haven’t demonstrated any inappropriate actions or spoken of anything disrespectful, and there isn’t some glaring character flaw that I have that causes them to glare and be distracted by the outline of my breasts in a T-shirt. It is the idea of my physical body, staring them in the face, that makes them wholly unsettled and unable to think of me as anything more than this body that I live in. Because of my lack of coverage and obvious ignorance to their discomfort, I am no longer seen as a dignified adult with class, manners, or self respect. Even if I’m wearing seemingly appropriate or “conservative” clothes with no cleavage bared, the mere outline of my breasts are enough to marginalize who I am and categorize me as distasteful. 

Most people close to me don’t even notice it at this point. To them, I am just as I always am. Meanwhile, others have implied that those who don’t know me personally may get the wrong first impression and assume that I am unprofessional or inappropriate. I would argue that maybe they shouldn’t have been focusing on my chest in the first place.

I’d like to note that yes, I recognize that others are completely entitled to feeling uncomfortable by being exposed to a young woman’s more intimate body parts. It’s no surprise that centuries of breast coverage and the sexualization of women’s chests have wired us to gawk and grow unsettled by these regions being exposed. Further, my future employers, older family members, friends’ parents, and other people who I may address more formally are all folks that I would always choose to dress more conservatively in front of as a sign of respect and self-preservation. I would never go into a job interview or to dinner with my boyfriend’s parents with my nipples staring daggers at everyone in the room. Because yes — I am also capable of recognizing that these are settings in which their comfort matters just a little more than mine. 

This all being said, is it not time to redefine how we, as a society, view women’s breasts?

For the time being, I can respect others’ boundaries in more formal settings and cover myself up to avoid any distractions or discomfort. On the other hand, why should my not wearing a bra automatically connote a lack of class or self respect? Am I less qualified for a job, less capable of making sound and mature decisions, or less intelligent for having this particular body part outlined under my clothing? Does my choice to not wear a bra mean that I am a “slut”? That I am concertedly making this choice to feed into my own sexualization and attract male or female attention? Social narratives and norms would argue so. 

I am not trying to impose how I feel on anyone else; everyone is entitled to dress and wear clothing in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable in their skin. For me, I won’t be wearing bras simply because I don’t feel like it. To me, a boob is a boob. An areola is an areola. It is a region of my body that I don’t feel like dropping hundreds of dollars on to uncomfortably cover up.

To those who love to buy new bras and feel more confident in a sexy lingerie set, who wear bras to help with back pain or need extra breast support, or those who wear bras because they feel better in their clothes with one — I salute you. 

And for those who are uncomfortable with my choice, I would suggest you keep your eyes away from my chest and look me in the face when we encounter each other. If someone wants to judge my intelligence, my choices, or my level of self respect based on my appearance or this choice to not wear a bra, then I’m not sure they even have the capacity to judge me fairly as a person to begin with. 

 

Photo via Giphy.com 

Letter to My Rapist’s Mother

The following content may be triggering. Names have been changed.

Dear Marie, 

I am not sure if you are aware of a particular incident which occurred, involving your son, Jack, but I wanted you to be aware, as a woman and as a mother. I understand and appreciate how this may be incredibly difficult to read/hear but I think that you need to hear what happened from the other perspective. 

Jack raped me while I was under the influence of alcohol and strong pain medication that I take for a chronic pain disorder. I was very visibly inebriated and in absolutely no state to participate in any type of sexual activities. 

We were at a bar, I remember him putting his arm around me, I felt uncomfortable and also quite nauseous so I went to the bathroom, I told him this and then left to the bathroom. I spent around ten minutes vomiting in the bathroom, and when I exited the restrooms, he was waiting for me outside of the door to said bathrooms. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but I continued to make my way back outside. He asked me whether I needed to go home, which I assumed was an innocent and caring observation that I was too drunk. He whisked me away and away from my friends. We were standing out front of the bar – my friends were on the right side. He grabbed my arm and told me to follow him left, towards a taxi.

I was too drunk at the time to have any judgement as to what was happening and why he was secretly ushering me away. In the Taxi I faced the window, he started asking me about my life: what I did, etc. I explained that I live with chronic irritable bowel syndrome and how it has ruined my life. He then proceeded to explain why Irritable Bowel Syndrome was the most “bullshit” excuse of an illness. I then don’t remember anything in between then, and going into my flatmates room and explaining that I thought this guy expected sex from me and I didn’t want to do anything. I then went into my bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. From then on, I do not remember a thing. 

The next thing I remember is when I started to sober up, Jack was on top of me, he was inside of me and making loud noises. I felt paralyzed, I had no idea what to do. Never once in my life have I ever felt so terrified. I felt numb, staring at the ceiling until I figured out exactly what to say and what to do. I told him that I needed to go home and made up a lie about having a curfew. He then said, “Oh what?” He got off of me. I was getting dressed as fast as I could and I deliberated just grabbing my clothing and running out to get changed somewhere else. I asked him if he could pass me a lighter which was on the bed, Jack looked at me and said, “That is my lighter, you whore.”

I then went to leave and he followed me out the front door, when we were on the road he said nothing, put his hood up, and jogged off. 

When I got home, I stayed in the shower for three hours, for the following weeks I had at least three showers per day. My thighs ached. I constantly felt sick. I struggled to eat and I couldn’t sleep. I felt as though I was no longer in control of my own body, he had taken total authority over it. There has not been a day since where I haven’t replayed this event in my head. 

I have struggled immensely with my mental health the past year. I have experienced death, debilitating anxiety, depression, a pain disorder, and eating issues. I have worked harder than I’ve ever worked before to improve these things, and hopefully, my over all quality of life. It feels as though that night, what happened, has set me so far back and made my efforts of recovery almost redundant. 

Again, I apologize if this is difficult to read, but I believe that it is important that you also are aware of my side, and how I felt / feel. 

I sincerely hope that as a woman you can understand how traumatizing this was. If not, please think about how you might feel if I was your daughter. 

 

Photo by Delaney Shuler

 

When I Grow Up, I Want to be a Slut

I have a friend who is the most sexually adventurous person I’ve ever met. From threesomes to sex parties, she’s practically done it all. I absolutely love her because for it. Like, to death. If there were posters of her out there, I’d buy one, put it in a little frame, and hang her over my bed like the Virgin Mary.

She lives out my fantasies. She’s done everything I’ve ever wanted to do and done it well. Some months ago, my mom and I were having a heated debate about her. We were talking about my “wild friend” when my mom, honest to God, said that people who had threesomes or orgies were “mentally deranged.” 

At that moment, all I could think was: Thank God I’m not 12 years old anymore, because this would have fucked me up for the rest of my life.

Obviously I didn’t grow up in a sex positive family. The first time I said the word “masturbation” in front of my mom, she looked at me like I’d told her I was selling my soul to the devil. And for whatever sadistic reason, the universe or God or whoever, made me a really sexual person. It would eat away at me when I was younger. My heart sank like a ship whenever I touched myself — like I’d done the worst possible thing on Earth.  

The only people who talked openly about sex when I was younger were boys. My girlfriends only mentioned it between giggles, quickly followed by “I’m kidding!” I remember nights where after an orgasm, I would type on the Google search bar: “Am I a sex addict?” because I couldn’t imagine that anyone else thought about sex as much as I did. I felt alone. 

When we were 13, my friends would fantasize about their future boyfriends who’d hold their hands and kiss them on the mouths tenderly like they were made of paper. All I could think about were a bunch of different hands on me, and making out with two people at once against walls and doors and beds. I wanted the tender and soft experience of a boyfriend, but I also wanted him to be comfortable with me making out with other people at parties because one person didn’t feel like enough. 

When my friends started losing their virginities, they learned a new catchphrase to validate the act: “But, I’m not, like, a slut.” Whenever they said that, I would think, all I want to be is a slut. What’s wrong with that? 

They seemed to think that sex was only okay if you did it with the same person. I, on the other hand, wanted to do it with a bunch of people — sometimes, all at once.

It wasn’t until we turned 16, sitting among the debris of a party, drunk out of our minds, that we mentioned masturbation for the first time aloud. One of them asked us if we masturbated and we all said, “No, eww! Do girls even do that?”

The next day, hungover on the bus ride home, all I could do was hate myself because I truly thought that I was sick for even thinking of touching myself. That Monday, during lunch, I decided to come clean and tell them that I did masturbate — every day, in fact.

They didn’t shun me like I thought they would; those who also masturbated simply admitted to it, while the others asked us questions about it. It was really nice. 

Talking about masturbation with my friends in high school made me feel comfortable to start talking about all the other things I wanted to do. I told them about the threesomes I fantasized about, as well as the wild sex parties and being tied up and spanked and whatever else it was I had been made to feel guilty for wanting. 

And it felt freeing because women’s desires are always used against them. So much so that we’re called brave for doing anything outside of the “norm” — for not wearing makeup in public, for expecting and demanding pleasure from sex, for saying no. Things that we shouldn’t even have to advocate for. And we’re constantly being punished for this supposed bravery. Words like “slut” get thrown around whenever we express a love for something we’re supposed to pretend we don’t want. People don’t understand how heavy a word like “slut” can be. So heavy, we carry it around everywhere, and not uncommonly, for lifetimes. We even carry it home, to our beds, where the only ones who can judge us and our touch are ourselves. 

The reason why we keep fighting so hard against slut-shaming, why I keep arguing with my mom about it, is because I don’t want to have to be brave anymore. I want to masturbate, or have threesomes, or have multiple sexual partners without feeling like I’ve fought and won a war every time. I simply want to be. 

I’m proud to say that I’m a sexual person. It’s something I really love about myself now. It made losing my virginity so much less stressful because I didn’t care about impressing the guy; all I was after was the experience. It gave me the push to sleep with a girl for a year and a half without feeling confused or guilty about my sexuality. In a world that constantly insists this is a quality that should evoke nothing trouble and shame in women, I have discovered nothing but liberation and opportunity from it. I can’t wait for younger generations to have more sexually liberated parents like my adventurous friend, and now, myself.

Growing up in a sex positive family is my idea of the new American Dream.After all, isn’t a happier, healthier future generation the goal?

 

Photos/gifs (in order of appearance) by Alyssa Llorando, Sara Andreasson, and Daniela Guevara

 

Thank God Pride Month is Over

I won’t beat around the bush — as a queer identifying woman in 2019, I felt immense relief when June 30th turned into July 1st. Pride Month was officially over.

My first experience with the phenomenon was the first time I went to San Francisco Pride in 2016. I was in the weird half-closet space I’m sure most queer people are familiar with — I didn’t resonate with any of the indicators “gay”, “lesbian”, “pansexual”, or “queer” — but I definitely wasn’t straight.

I had had the most intense romantic feelings for a girl in my after school theater program, and had even “dated” another girl for about two months (well, dated her as much as you can when you are both in tenth grade and live 20 minutes away from each other). I wasn’t straight, I wasn’t gay, and most of all, I wasn’t “proud.” 

Although it may not seem it, in 2015 — when I first begin to accept my non-straight identity — it was a very different social landscape than it is today.

Most straight people, at least from my semi-rural high school, didn’t go to the Pride parade. There were two, maybe three out gay people at my school, and even fewer lesbians. Our production of Romeo and Juliet, with both title roles played by women, was mired in controversy. Multiple parents disapproved and said it made them “uncomfortable.” It wasn’t uncommon to hear the word “faggot” tossed around as a casual insult, and even less common that someone would speak up about it.

Living and going to school in such an environment made me miserable. I wasn’t a complete social outcast because of my sexuality, but that’s because I made such an effort to conceal and brush over the fact that I wasn’t straight, even when I was relatively “out” (i.e. dating a girl).

Many months into my relationship with a girl who went to school in a far more diverse and accepting community, I had to think of reasons to convince her to not come to my prom. I

had avoided introducing her to my friends at all costs. Maybe this was partially because she was not a good person and it was a vastly unhappy relationship, but it more likely stemmed from my fear that if people knew I was dating a girl, or worse — saw me being intimate with her, it would change their opinion of me. 

I don’t think my sexuality was the only thing that differentiated me from my high school peers — we were different in many other regards, too. From having the financial necessity to actually get a job in high school instead of being gifted a Lexus, to a desire to escape the suburban bubble we grew up in, etc… but I would be lying if I said my identity didn’t play a major role in my feelings of alienation and isolation throughout high school.

For the better part of those four years, I was made to feel — by family, “friends”, the school community, and popular culture — broken, wrong, disgusting, unwanted, and completely alone. I compensated heavily, trying to be “straight” in every other regard besides my actual sexuality. If I had to pinpoint one word to describe my coming-of-age, coming-of-queer experience, the word shame is much more accurate than the word pride

For the better part of four years, I was made to feel wrong, disgusting, unwanted, and alone.

This is why, several years later, seeing the same straight people from my school post pictures of themselves at the SF Pride made me so angry. Why I didn’t even want to attend the parade the past few years. Rather, I’d opt for chilling in Dolores Park with my friends, miles away from the festivities at Civic Center. Nonetheless, it’s not easy to escape the “iconic” parade made up almost entirely of corporate floats, straight girls in cheap butterfly wings (bound to be discarded almost immediately), and straight guys who would leer at a real lesbian couple in any other situation. To really complete the experience there are huge lines, crowds of chaotic drunk people, a handful of semi-predatory men, and a police presence to rival a riot. 

While queer people do show up to Pride, their presence is usurped by the hordes of straight people attempting to cash out on a tradition that has historically been about opposing their oppression. To steal from the “Queer Nation Manifesto” — a manifesto passed out by people marching with the ACT UP contingent in the New York Gay Pride Parade, “It is easier to fight when you know who your enemy is. Straight people are your enemy. They are your enemy when they don’t acknowledge your invisibility and continue to live in and contribute to a culture that kills you.”

It’s true that straight people took part in Pride celebrations in the past. They were the cops who were beating and bashing “out” queer people, notably trans women of color, who have always been a target of immense violence but are still some of the most silenced members of the “community.”

One of my most defined memories of my first Pride was not celebrating my burgeoning sexuality with my friends and reveling in how loved, accepted, and equal I was made to feel — as I’m supposed to believe Pride is all about — but watching an actual queer couple be shoved into the door of a crowded Bart train by a group of belligerent straight people.

Straight people are trying to cash out on a tradition which, historically, is about rejecting their oppression.

This year, when a large group of straight high-schoolers came into my train car identically dressed in shorts and rainbow crop tops for the girls and basketball jerseys for the boys, I yelled something along the lines of, “It’s so brave of you to come out and support the community. I love seeing queer people at Pride.” I hope I helped them feel some of the same sense of humiliation and alienation that is integral to the experience of growing up queer when I did and even now, in 2019 (as much help as the occasional Target ad feauturing lesbians provides). 

I don’t think yelling at some asshole kids on the BART makes me an activist. For all I know, some of them might actually have been LGBTQ. I’m not even writing this to help convince straight people to not go to Pride, or queer people to boycott it as an act of “resistance” and “praxis.” I acknowledge that for some queer people, Pride is a positive and necessary experience. However, I want people to acknowledge the strangeness of corporate Pride, which exists as an isolated day of “support” by pandering companies that contribute greatly to a culture that wants to minimize or silence voices of opposition– radical voices, anticapitalist voices, queer voices — every other day of the year. The cognitive dissonance of the event happening in SF and other city centers with a malignant culture of displacement, homelessness, and gentrification, blows my mind. 

Despite my position of relative privilege, as a white, able-bodied, educated woman who has the ability to choose the physical safety and normalcy of a straight relationship (and be satisfied with it), I cannot just shake off the sense of shame inherent to my relationship to my queerness for one day, and no part of me wishes to.

Pride, as it exists today, wishes to make us forget our queerness and assimilate into a society that hasn’t valued us until it realized it could exploit our identities to turn a profit. I am as attached to my shame as straight people are to going on dates in Target, or having bad trips at music festivals, or streaming Ed Sheeran. My shame kept me company at a time when I felt I had almost no one who would accept me as I am, and I refuse to abandon it to assimilate into a culture that is built on values of hatred, fear, division, and self-interest — values that are antithetical to queerness as I have come to know it.
Photos (in order of appearance) by Daniela Guevara, Francesca Iacono, and Disco Duckie

 

Dear Deadname

Deadname, 

Sometimes I miss your face. Your long hair, and your wild tendencies. For most of my life you were all I knew, you were my only option. But you were never at home in me. For 20 years you sat and festered like an open wound, rotting my sense of self away. I tried to make myself one with you. After all, you were put upon me at birth, and who was I to say that my parents were wrong in giving you to me?

It took me years of discomfort and shame for me to get fed up with you. Removing you has given me so much freedom, it has given me the chance to live authentically. Most of the time I can say I do not miss you at all. 

You inhabited this body with me for 20 years, you dominated the space while I was curled in the corner, letting you have the reins. You repressed me for years, and when I started to take up space it still took me a long time to eliminate you. I had to have no mercy for you in order to reclaim my body and brain. I had to be unforgiving and brutal so that I could transition and live a genuine life. 

Now that I have the opportunity to explore myself, I’d like to extend a hand to you. I want to say that I see you. I understand that you weren’t trying to hurt me, you were just pressure from the outside world. You were just a child, unaware of the other options out there.

We were called a girl, given your name, and it never felt right to me, so I resented you. My insistent gender defying thoughts were a constant source of guilt and fear. I was so ashamed and afraid of what people might think of me. So I kept myself hidden.

I still resent you a little bit, because you are more easily digestible for people. They struggle with me, they can’t swallow that this is who I am, that you were a parasite in my body, sucking me dry.

I know it’s not your fault, it’s the world around us that told me you had to be the one that was seen. That I was broken, a mutant, a deviant.

But I still felt hurt by you. I still feel hurt by you. So much of my life was given to you, and I just had to wait my turn, hoping that someday the world would be ready enough for me. I wouldn’t say that they were ready, but I got tired of waiting. I was done with your facade. Even though you were just a little girl in the wrong body and mind. You were probably just as hurt and confused as I was. But it’s my body and mind, and it was given to you.

You embodied this being for so many years, and you ran us into the mud.

I know it wasn’t completely your fault — you had trauma, a load of mental illness, and substance abuse issues to deal with. You were trying to find yourself, but you were never really meant to be there. But I’m still truly hurt and scarred by those years of self destruction. You could never accept me, so you tried to drown me out with whatever you could. Whatever substance, sexual partner, or shitty coping mechanism you could get your hands on.

Without you I’m taking care of myself.

I’m transitioning, taking my meds, I’m sober, and I choose relationships that fulfill me and take care of me. I couldn’t have done those things with you steering the ship. I’m sorry I had to kill you. I know you were innocent, but in order for me to thrive there was only room for one of us in this body and mind. The two of us were not fitting well in here, and I couldn’t take anymore time being silenced and beaten down. I don’t regret doing what I did, but I thought you should know that I see you.

You’re in a better place now, this wasn’t home for you. Rest easy. 

 

Love, 

Bobbi 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Dakota Varney, Nikki Burnett, and Kathy Fernandez