Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A Letter From a "Skinny Bitch"


Few things are more frustrating than annoying songs that are hauntingly catchy.

So you can imagine why I nearly jumped out the window recently after a car ride with my mom when she turned Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” all the way up on the way to our destination.

My mom, a proud plus-sized woman always loves a song that encourages women to feel comfortable in their skin. But as the lyrics marched their way into my ears, I was slightly frustrated at how this artist, who I’ve never heard of before, went about doing that.

The song refers to slim women as “skinny bitches”. Trainor determines that skinny women think they’re fat. She also assumes that skinny women don’t have booties, can’t shake them, and a few other pieces of nonsense not worth repeating, but certainly worth discussing.

I love a cold hard case of irony. But this is the type of irony really gets me questioning society. The same society, in fact, that people seem to be so hell-bent on fixing, despite contributing to the issues while on their quest for change.

Here’s a little anecdote:

Growing up, I had to drink nutritional supplements in addition to my meals because I was what Trainor called, a skinny bitch, even in my adolescence. I ate a fair portion of meat, vegetables, and every other food group, often in excess. Truthfully, I still do. But I am constantly told that I am envied, disliked, and even hated (yes, really) for my body’s ability to ingest food and not suffer typical consequences of weight gain.

The sad part of the story is that during my transition into teenage-hood, I had heard that I was “too boney”, “too scrawny” and “too mawga” (a name for skinny in West Indian culture) so often that I did actually believe that something was wrong with me. I actually believed that I needed to gain pounds and have curves and that I was ugly.

So when I heard this song, I just got fed up with it all. I guess I just thought society was past referring to excess fat as “junk”, be it in the trunk or any other part of the vehicle. I also assumed, perhaps wrongly, that not all skinny women need to be likened to Barbie dolls. Are we still on that? And lastly, I was really hoping that after the word skinny, did not come the word bitch.

But sadly, women as a whole are on our way to being society’s bitch, if we’re not already there. We do exactly what we’re told. Collectively, women spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on breast implants, Botox, medications to slow the natural process of aging, and diet pills. And we just keep going in whichever direction society’s wind blows when they tell us that big boobs are sexy, but not too big of course, that’s gross. Or skinny is sexy, but if you’re too skinny, you’re anorexic. Or short hair is sexy, but only if it’s styled a certain way…

I imagine that there are readers wondering who I think I am to be criticizing this emerging phenomenon of skinny-bashing. In fact, discussing this blog idea with a few friends yesterday, one of them said:

“Ugh, fat people have been bashed by skinny people for like, ever. Nicki Minaj came out with her song calling skinny girls bitches and now everyone’s upset.”

In a weird way, she made the exact point I was trying to.

Do we have to get even before we can stand as a united front against the real enemy?

I mean, who wins when women hate each other based on these differences? Certainly it can’t be our sisterhood, which is more crucial than ever in fighting off the opposition we face from in our domestic lives, the workplace, and in the public sphere. Better yet, who causes this disconnection amongst women? How have we, for years and years, let men dictate what and who is beautiful? How have we relinquished control on how we appear naturally, and furthermore, how that is perceived and accepted by society?

But most importantly, how long is this going to go on?

The same friend also said, "I still think anyone that takes offence to skinny-bashing is extremely ridiculous."

And from that came a point I wasn't expecting to make, but certainly need to.

What determines how a person is entitled to feel about how they are made to feel by society? Are my feelings automatically excluded from this discourse because I'm skinny? If so, I find that type of silencing method to be very tragic.

I got to a point where I, like many plus-sized women have at one point in their lives or another and said screw it, this is who I am.

My question is: why is that such a bad thing?

I cannot train my body any differently than the average person can on what to do with what it is fed. I cannot dictate to my metabolism what pace to digest the food I eat at. And I cannot for the life of me pack on pounds any faster than you can shed them.

I have interesting and very old news for everyone that assumes the same thing Meghan Trainor or Nicki Minaj does.

1. We do not think we're fat.
2. We are not all anorexic Barbie wannabes.
3. We are not all bitches.

Ultimately, it’s getting harder and harder to feel beautiful. Not to be beautiful, but to really and truly feel that we are. And to every woman out there who can still look in the mirror and find something she doesn’t feel the need to fix, I applaud you.

But for all the people, men and women, who in some way contribute to the never ending list of why women aren’t good enough no matter what they do with their bodies and themselves, and to everyone that ever told me I was “too this” or “too that”, in similar words to Tyra Banks:

Kiss my skinny ass.

  

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Here's Why Everyone's Talking About Nyesha

Every once in a while, a story breaks and it gets people talking.

Could it be the crisis in Syria? Thousands of people are left with nowhere to go because Turkey has closed its border to refugees. Could it be the story that predicts that the Ebola virus will have affected upwards of 1,000,000 people by January if it continues at the current rate? Or could it be that Canada was recently threatened by ISIS who are suggesting Jihadists start killing Canadians too, and that we “will not feel safe in our bedrooms”?

It couldn’t be any of that stuff. All of those issues are too far away from home for young people to actually be concerned about. And young people are much too naïve to believe that any of that stuff will actually affect us in anyway.

So instead, we find something that doesn’t require a lot of intellectual capacity to discuss. And if you’ve been following up with the story as much as I have, you’ll notice that very few developments have been made to the story.

And do you want to know why?

Because there really isn’t much more to it.

Nyesha McPherson was arrested at JFK attempting to smuggle weed, guns, and ammunitions with a ticket to Barbados. Whoopty-doo.

So out come the social media users who are struggling to add to it. They talk about things she did in high school, who she hung out with, how bad of a person she must be, how stupid of a person she must be for thinking she could get away with it. And they go on and on and on until they exhaust themselves of possibilities and start back at square one. We become engrossed in determining her character and feel the need, as well as the authority to judge her entirely based on a news story. How wrong is that?

Meanwhile, life is happening. People are dying. We are dying. Seconds of our lives are passing us by that we will never get back but who cares? Let’s gossip anyway. Let’s blow this thing way out of proportion anyway.

Because we have nothing better to do.

Over the last two days, I have seen horrendous displays of character and immorality from strangers, people close to her, people who had no idea who she was, and people who, quite frankly, shouldn’t speak about an issue they know nothing about.

As a media student, I know that we only know what the news tells us. Where does the news find out their information? Official sources like airport security and police. And gee, we ought to trust what they say. 

This is how messed up the world we live in is. We overlook the issues we need to commit ourselves to fixing so that the children we birth can have a better life to spend a couple days laughing and making jokes about a situation that really isn’t all that hysterical.

And you wanna know how I know that?

Because if that was your friend, you wouldn’t be laughing.

And that’s the irony of it all. The irony of all the pictures, all the statuses, all the comments people make whenever someone from our community gets thrown in the gutter. You laugh, you make jokes, you make memes, but when your friend gets locked up for something ridiculously crazy like rape, murder or assault, “free up!” shouts everyone.

Did anyone watch Emma Watson’s speech on feminism? No. Did anyone read a book over the weekend? No. Did anyone watch CNN for a half hour segment? Listen to CBC radio to hear the six o’clock newscast? When was the last time you read a newspaper? And not just a snippet shared on your timeline because there was a mugshot of someone you think you know on it.

You think you know. But you have no idea. There are much more important things going on in the world and I really and truly urge you to get in touch with those matters instead of constantly refreshing your feed to see if anyone else said anything. Or to see if that little orange block with a quote bubble or a heart or a follow has appeared. There is so much more to life.

I didn’t write this because I feel bad for her.

I wrote it because I feel bad for you. 

Kensington Market in 23 Photos

As a journalist, writing simply doesn't cut it anymore. With tons of different platforms to present our work on, I have to be skilled in a lot more than just knowing how to throw a story together. So over the summer, I purchased a Canon T3i and tried my hand at photography. While picking up this new hobby has been extremely refreshing, what is even more refreshing is how differently a camera causes you to look at things; the simplest things. 

All of the photos below were taken on a field trip (exciting to still have these in my fifth year of post-secondary schooling) to Toronto's Kensington Market. The instructor suggested we think of a theme. A seemingly impossible task, I thought, "I'll just photograph everything and let the pictures speak to me." But it wasn't the pictures that spoke to me, it was the things that I captured that did all the talking. And I hope that I told their story the way I would my own. Here are 23 photos that summed up my adventure in the K.

































Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Trying To Move On? Read This.


Once, in an anti-smoking ad, producers sent kids to the streets on a smoke break.

They smoked faked cigarettes around adults that were on a smoke break as well. Nearly every single adult was bewildered by what they were seeing, and told them to stop. When the kids asked why they should stop, the adults said, “Because it’s bad for you.” And the kids responded, “Then why do you do it?”

Now that is a good ad. It gets the message across clearly and very effectively, but more importantly, it illustrates a very familiar human concept:

That many things are easier said than done.

Not swearing in fits of rage, not eating food we know is bad for us but tastes so, so good, and lastly, walking away from something we know is bad for us.

One thing I’ve been hearing about since my entrance into womanhood, and a thing that I have certainly experienced for myself at one time or another, is how hard it can be to move on from someone that does us no good whatsoever.

The tough part of this whole thing is that once someone enters into your life, it is next to impossible to imagine a life without them. Not everyone can be so easily dismissed.

What if the smoker never picked up the first cigarette?

A lot of people think that moving on is the part where you’re just over someone. You’re over their ways, your over their words, and you’re just so fed up. But that, simply, is just being over someone.

Moving on is different because you get to a place where you genuinely wish the best for this person. It might even mean smiling at them finding love with someone other than you. But most of all, it’s being at peace.  Peace with the past, peace with the present, and peace within yourself.

How does one find peace?

The best, and sometimes the only way to find peace, is to give it time. It is the most dramatic and cliché saying and suggestion, but that’s because it is deeply rooted in truth.

In many ways, a broken heart is like a wound. Sometimes it’s so deep and so internal you don’t even know it’s there. But after a while, the pain becomes unbearable, and you finally realize it. It then turns into a scar or a cut, and while it can be so present for the first little while, time passes and it slowly starts to fade away...

And even after it’s almost fully gone, you’ll see the little mark, the little difference between who you were then and who you are now.

Don’t be afraid to be changed by your experiences. Don’t apologize for being more careful. And don’t apologize for the steps you took to grow. You are the result of your life experiences.

But being bitter about the past is perhaps one of the most toxic ways to be. It disables us from truly basking in the greatness that is our present, even if it doesn’t feel so great at times, or ever. Because greatness doesn’t come from what we have. It doesn’t come from our luxuries or our ability to fulfill our materialistic desires.

Instead, greatness comes from being at peace. It comes from knowing that even if you were stripped of all that you had, you would still be at peace because of the greatness that lives within you.

So, if the greatness lies within us, why are we so caught up with people who only seem to take it away?

Simple.

We have not realized our greatness yet.

And to you, I say that you are worth the discovery of your greatness. And you’re certainly worth the discovery of your peace. You do not need to exhaust yourself with the process of trying to extract blood from a stone or assign meaning to things you know will mean nothing in the end.

You’re better than empty words and broken promises and repeated mistakes.

The good news is that you can still love a person and get over them, and you can still love someone and move on. But hate fits nowhere. Because all hate means is that a part of you is angry at the person, the situation, or yourself. And frankly, all three things go hand in hand.

Fill yourself with love. Look for love and light in everything that you do and everyone that you meet. Smile when you want to frown and be thankful when you feel there is nothing left.

I know it sounds like the most abstract and indirect route to getting to the place you know you need to arrive at, but there really is no final destination. Just a journey. And you ought to keep an eye out for the beautiful things you’ll see along the way.

So what if the smoker never picked up the first cigarette?


They would not have learned the beautiful lesson in finding the strength within themselves to conquer something they once felt they couldn’t.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Why Girls Really Post Explicit Photos (and How it Really Makes Men Feel)



I’ve been told I have terrible taste in television.

And that’s a fair statement considering that lately, I’ve been eating up excessive amounts of TLC’s Gypsy Sisters. I really didn’t think I’d fall victim to it but one day, while flipping through channels, I saw two catfights and horrible crimes against the English language and for some reason, got hooked. 

There is, though, a method to my madness.

Today, while my new show was on commercial break, I turned to my phone for entertainment during the intermission. I came across the photo profile of a rather beautiful girl.

Beautiful women always seemed to ignite a curiosity within me into their lives. I felt that maybe, they led these interesting and fun-filled lives that were so extraordinary that I myself might, for a brief period of time, be made to feel ordinary.

As I scrolled through her photos, I couldn’t help but realize the increasing explicitness of her posts. And what came to stand out more than the natural grace of her face was…her butt.

Literally.

The more I scrolled, the more of her body I saw. I couldn’t comprehend why someone this beautiful would feel the need to post these tasteless photos. I wondered if I was being too judgmental or too pretentious, but I truly felt that she deserved better than to be reduced to this.

That is, until I overheard the conversation taking place on my tasteless show.

I tuned in just in time to understand what was happening. One of the gypsy sisters had suggested flashing the people of New Orleans in order to get beads during Mardi Gras.

The tour guide had responded with a simple, but meaningful statement:

“The locals don’t do that. Only the tourists flash people. The locals know that they’re gonna get the beads anyway. So really, there’s no need to.”

If I hadn’t been looking at these photos, perhaps I wouldn’t have understood the significance of what the tour guide was saying. But I was.

And I did.

The truth is: I think we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. We feel like we have to over-compensate for something, anything. We might feel that we’re not smart enough, not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not rich enough, not cool enough, and the list just goes on and on and on.

So we find ways to draw attention to other parts of ourselves, our lives, or our bodies to remove the attention from where we don’t want it to be. It’s also safe to assume that everyone is ten times more aware of their flaws than anyone else. We tend to magnify our imperfections and minimalize our assets. And how sad is that?

I think that women think that if we show ourselves off, it gives men something to lust after. And while that’s true, they’re only lusting after what we show them. And if all that they're seeing is our body, all that they'll want is our body. 

But if it’s our accomplishments, our wisdom, our education, our passion, and should they be so wise as to be attracted to that, then it’s not just our bodies they want. But our minds and our spirits and our intellect.

I think the other reason we do it is to make other women jealous. So we’ve created this culture of women who are all head-to-head with one another to see who can get the most naked, who can get the most likes, and lose a lot of their respect in the process.

Now I’m not suggesting that we sit down and wear aprons and become housewives. But I am suggesting that we did not fight and march and demand the right to vote to maintain and sadly, expand our reputation as sex symbols.

If you think about it, women like this have a habit of throwing the whole steak to the dogs. We let them eat it all in one bite, and wonder why they want it all at once all the time, or leave after they’ve had their dinner. 

And if you think it's inappropriate or rude to be comparing men to dogs, I ask you to please consider how often women are referred to as bitches. Even amongst themselves.

This new perspective provided me with 3 small, but significant lessons.

The first is that there is knowledge everywhere, if you are willing to be a student. You could be watching trashy television, talking to a child, or in a class. If you are willing to learn, the universe is willing to teach.

The second is that there is a huge difference between tourists and locals. It’s up to us to portray ourselves accordingly. Tourists are here for a good time, not a long time. They can come party and drink all the alcohol they want and not worry about what they do while they’re here, and might not remember it anyway. And while the romance of this idea is so intriguing for many of us, we have to establish a home base somewhere, sometime. Locals might not be as exciting, but they know what they’re doing. And they know they’ll get the beads.

Lastly, it’s not one’s face that makes them extraordinary. It’s not their body or their poses or their captions. In the same way that it’s not one’s lack of beauty that makes them ordinary. Instead, it’s the choices that they make, the choices they do not make, their self-portrayal, the understanding of their worth, and the beauty of them figuring that out independently that makes them extraordinary.

When another commercial intermission came, I revisited her profile. I had tried to give her the benefit of the doubt and suggest that maybe she was reclaiming her womanhood and celebrating radical feminist theories. Logic and probability told me that it was likely not the case. Hiding or running away from her flaws? She didn’t appear to have any. Low self-esteem? Perhaps.

But the most likely answer was that she was figuring out her worth. And a couple hundred likes on a nearly nude photo might seem like her yellow arrow to "worth" and "significance". But it is misguiding.

A lot of things are misguiding.

Listen to me carefullybreasts and butts are located in the same place on every woman. As are the other sacred parts of their bodies we have come to devalue. You might know where to find her heart and her brain, but without heavy pursuit, you will never learn what is inside of it. And if we don't make it worth the wait, and certainly worth the while, he won't care to look for where your beads are hidden. In turn, you won't get his.

Sometimes we have to trust that we are enough. In our natural and bare, but not bare naked, state. We have to believe that fully clothed, and soft-spoken, we can get our messages and points across loudly and clearly.

We have to believe that we too, in our own flesh and skin, will get the beads anyway.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Why I Had to Grow Up Even Though I'm in My Twenties

Let-Go

I always detest it when people say cheerfully, “Change is good!”

I mean, change is very subjective. How can we possibly assume that all change is good?

Personally, there are a lot of changes going on in my life right now, and yesterday my head nearly popped off and rolled itself around on the ground at all the madness.

Firstly, my parents have decided to put our house up for sale and move us into an apartment.  They say home ownership is becoming too costly, they’re getting older and mowing the lawn and plowing the snow is not as easy as it looks.

Secondly, one of my sisters and I are on the outs. The last time we had a dispute it lasted three years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this one followed suit.

Lastly, I’ll be attending a new campus this coming September. After spending the last four years familiarizing myself with the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, I’m afraid of petty things; where I will park my car, whether I’ll find the washrooms easily or have an accident in the hallway, and whether the doors are push, or pull.

While all of these changes seem manageable, for some reason they seem to have been interfering with my life a lot lately.

Yesterday, to avoid my head popping off, I decided to go to my old elementary school to take a walk around one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. The houses that fill the tree-lined streets are just beautiful. They’ve got big bay windows with beautiful panes and decorative doors, and long front porches that I would love to sit and drink tea on.

But when I turned into the parking lot, I saw my old school being bulldozed. As I exited my car and looked at the pile of concrete that had once been the place I made amazing memories, I had to answer one question about my resistance to all the changes going on.

What’s the real problem?

As I began walking, one foot in front of the other, step by step, I realized that the problem wasn’t that I was going to have to make small talk with people I did not know in the elevator until I got to my floor. I realized that it wasn’t about the fact that my sister didn’t care to speak to me, or that I would have to face the possibility of the door not opening if I leaned on it.

I realized that the problem was that I was going to have to grow up. And I mean really grow up.

Through all of this, my partner has repeatedly told me that I need to let things go.
“But how?” I sobbed to him with tears and boogers streaming down my face.

This was the question I would have to answer if I wanted to enter the next phase of my life with grace and dignity. I would be 23 years old in exactly 8 months and I had a lot of changes to make.

As I continued to walk, I felt the sun on my skin. Even though it was setting, it was still bright enough for me to feel the warmth of it touch me. And it felt really good. The warmer it felt, the more I was able to really understand the root of my emotions.

As I walked, I realized that I wasn’t upset we were selling the house. I knew it would be so much less of a burden on my parents. I had thought about this idea a hundred times over, more concerned with their well-being than waiting on an elevator. I realized that instead, I was upset that they hadn’t asked me about how I felt about it.

This was a good sign. It meant that, sure, I was an adult now, and wanted to be a part of our family’s decision-making instead of just dragged along in whatever worked best. Despite them being the parents and not really having to run anything by me at all, I wasn’t (contrary to popular belief) just a little kid anymore.

I was upset because I didn’t have a say.

When it came to my sister, I don’t think I was upset because she wasn’t speaking to me. I was upset about the circumstances surrounding the issue; the lack of closure. While explaining this to my partner, I told him, “I like there to be periods at the end of my sentences, not just ink that fades away.”

Truthfully, there was no period at the end of this sentence. There was no closure, no finishing statement. It was just one of those things that would hang in a cloud until someone decided to clear the air.

I walked back towards my car, parked in the lot of my old school. I stared again at the pile of concrete. I had flashbacks of recess, track-and-field day, and running long jump. I looked over to the two baseball diamonds I played slo-pitch on. The grass was growing over the gravel, what a shame.

Then I thought about how sad I had been to hear of this place getting bulldozed. When really, what did it matter? I didn’t go there anymore. It was no longer my school. It was just the school I had gone to at one point in my life.

It was then that I realized that I was too focused on the institutions where my memories took place, my house, my school, rather than the actual memories themselves. I was so fixed on cherishing the home of my moments that I almost forgot that the moments would have happened anyway.

As I walked back to my car, I hoped that my new school would have a parking lot just like this one. And I hoped that I would even be lucky enough to get a spot. I felt the fear of starting at a new place start to fade, and the excitement start to grow.

Maybe it wasn’t the fact that it was a new school, but that it was the last of two years that I would be a student. And truthfully, I loved being a student. I loved learning, I loved doing tests, I loved doing assignments, I loved reading. I loved the student life.

When I got home that night, I talked to my parents. I asked them if I could help in the search for our new place; townhouse, apartment, or shack. Surely, as long as I got to live with them, I would be fine.

And when I woke up in the morning, I apologized to my sister. It wasn’t about who was right or wrong, it was about the fact that I didn’t want to be the one who didn’t try to make it work.

And then I googled my new school. There is a parking lot. It looks just like the one my old school had. I even located the washrooms on the map. Couldn’t find any information about the doors, though.

I can’t say I always detest people who say cheerfully, “Change is good!” But maybe I can say I envy them. Because they don’t have to go soul-searching for answers to questions other people are too afraid to find out. They can rest assured that it isn’t about the change, it’s about the process.

And if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that in life, we have to do one thing, and one thing only; trust the process.

Perhaps the reason change is so scary is because we become content with where we’re at, afraid that it won’t get any better than this. We’re afraid of who we’ll meet, whether they’ll be better than who we have in our lives already, and if the grass really is greener on the other side.

Why not just water our own?


But the refusal to believe that yes, there is better out there, illustrates a complacency that many of us, you and I included, are simply too good for.

So I can't face these upcoming changes with resistance. Instead, I can welcome them, walk with them, one foot in front of the other.

Step by step.